In our passage of scripture this morning (Mat 15:1-20) we again read of the opponents of Jesus confronting Him about the conduct of His disciples. In an earlier confrontation, the Pharisees accused the Lord’s disciples of doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath (12:1-8). Here they question the Lord as to why they do not wash their hands before eating. This was not a question of hygiene, but of ceremonial defilement indicated in the Law of Moses. For example, if a person touched the corpse of an unclean animal, he or she would be unclean or defiled until evening and require washing before participating in the worship of the LORD at the tabernacle. It is against this backdrop that we understand the Pharisees’ concern; however, their accusation of unwashed hands was not based on the Scriptures, but the tradition of the elders. That tradition considered a person unclean or defiled who ate with unwashed hands.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for teaching these traditions as if they were the commandments of God. He also corrected their view that a person is defiled by what he eats. He said, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” What comes out of the mouth is in the heart. Man is defiled morally before God because of the sin in his heart which ultimately finds expression in the words he says and the things he does. That defilement can only be cleansed by the blood of Christ!
The ceremonial defilement that kept people from the presence of God at the tabernacle is a picture of the moral defilement of sin which keeps people from spending eternity in the presence of God.
But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27).