Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 Rev. Kenneth Frey
Pentecost 15 9/2/18
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ (Isaiah 29:13) 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” 14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
How to be clean
1. Don’t get dirty
2. We are dirty
3. We need to be washed
Dr. James Dobson once said that cleaning a house with young children in it is like shoveling the sidewalk while it is snowing. We have experienced that when our grandchildren come to our house. The basement has toys all over. Train tracks here. Legos there. Cars everywhere. Balls and plastic animals and noisy things. Lots of noisy things. And it doesn’t pay to pick up until they go home. Just leave the mess for now.
Is your house clean? I would guess your answer to that has a lot to do with whether you have children at home. Less children, the cleaner the house, in most cases.
But now, what about you? Are you clean? No, I’m not talking on the outside. I’m talking on the inside. That’s what Jesus is teaching us this morning. He is teaching us how to be clean.
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
The ceremonial law of the Old Testament had a lot to say about clean and unclean animals. There were many things that could make a person unclean and many rites to do if you became unclean. Among these rites there were some official washings that were regularly required. You had to wash if you touched an unclean animal, if you walked into a house with mildew, if you had a skin disease or if you came into contact with a dead person. There were plenty of washings in the Old Testament.
Yet, this was not enough for the Pharisees. They thought they were clean and it was their goal to keep it that way. So they added more regulations and more washings. About 300 years before Jesus was born they came up with a total of 613 rules that regulated Israel’s life right down to the smallest details. All of it was so that they could be clean in their eyes.
These traditions of the elders became more important than God’s Word, because they thought they were clean and these would keep them clean. Jesus called it hypocrisy. He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ (Isaiah 29:13)
Labels on things are handy. More often than not the label identifies the contents of the box, can, jar or bottle. Labels on people are, more often than not, unfair and destructive. If someone is labeled “weird,” “a wimp,” or “a loser,” we may be certain that these labels hurt.
But of all the labels tossed around, one of the hardest to accept is the label “hypocrite.” Church people are often labeled hypocrites by non-church people. They point to the life of church people – all of the public sins – the compromised morality, the foul language, the ill temper, the gossip, the pettiness – all of the things which are at odds with what is taught and they proclaim, “The church is filled with hypocrites.”
But is that hypocrisy? Not according to Jesus. Jesus shows that it is a matter of the heart. All of the proper, outward, visible forms are present. There is the singing, the public praying, the proper piety in life. But the heart’s not right. The Pharisees were clean on the outside, but not on the inside.
Could Jesus also label us as hypocrites? Is there a wide gap between what we say and what we do? Too many Christian say they love Jesus and do things that seem to indicate they are not serious about their love. We say that we take God’s Word seriously, but then fail to search it or study it. We say that we love our church, but then do little or barely the minimum to support it.
Do we not see how wide the gap can be between our profession and our actions? Do we not see why the charge of hypocrite is leveled at church people? If we think that we are clean and can stay clean by going through the motions of worship, we are hypocrites.
The problem is with our hearts. Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
The problem is not the filth outside of us. The problem is the filth in us – in our own hearts. If someone has heart disease, they may not live long. If our heart is not working, the rest of the body won’t work either. We can’t live without our hearts.
Our spiritual hearts are diseased. Jesus said, For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed. You can’t tell in English but the first six words are in the plural. They are things that come out of our hearts over and over again.
He then follows up with attitudes that come from our hearts: malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. These are not attitudes that some have. These are the attitudes that come from every one of our hearts. And that makes us unclean. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
When we fool ourselves into thinking that I’m a good person or I’m not as bad as some others, we are ignoring the reality of what’s in us, the evil that is in our hearts. When we try to blame the devil or the world for our behavior, we are missing the real problem and that’s what is in here. And there’s nothing you can do about it. No matter how much you try to clean up on the outside, no matter how much you try to keep clean, it won’t work. You are sinful down to your core.
2018 marks the 500th Anniversary of the Heidelberg Disputation written by Martin Luther. It was, in many ways, much more important than the 95 Theses that we celebrated last year. In the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther began to make clear his gospel teaching and it is the first time he used the expression, “The theology of the cross.” Thesis 18 said, “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.” That’s Jesus message in our text today.
When we have learned that we can’t make ourselves clean and have despaired of our own efforts, then we are ready to look somewhere else for cleansing. We find that cleansing in blood – the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. The Apostle John wrote, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) In the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we have the cleansing we need. Believe you are clean in his shed blood. Returning to the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther wrote, “He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.” (Thesis 25) And “The law says, ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.” (Thesis 26)
To make clear the cleansing we have through Jesus, Christ instituted a washing to communicate that to us. He told his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) In baptism, you receive a washing that cleanses you completely. The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)
So when you doubt your salvation, say, “But I’m baptized.” When you doubt God’s love for you, say, “But I’m baptized.” When you feel the strain of life weighing on your shoulders, say, “But I’m baptized. I am God’s child and he will not forsake me. Nothing will separate me from his love.” When you are tempted to live in a way that doesn’t match our profession, say, “But I’m baptized. That’s not what a child of God does.”
You are clean, not because you keep yourself clean but because Jesus has washed your heart. May our lives reflect what Jesus has done for our hearts.