[Author’s note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you’d like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]
Go ahead and turn in your copy of God’s Word to Mark chapter seven. As you turn there I’d like to give a brief recap of where we’ve been and where we are now. We began our journey through Mark with the launching of Life Journey Church last September, where we see Jesus arriving on the scene as a grown man and is baptized by John the Baptist.
Jesus wasn’t declaring that He Himself was repentant for His sins in His baptism, because He’d never sinned! Instead He was symbolically putting himself in the place of sinners and immersing Himself into the sins of His people, giving us a picture of the reality to come, where some three years later He could stand in the place of sinners, take that sin upon Himself, and bear His Father’s wrath in the place of His people while on the cross.
After His baptism, Jesus spent over a year traveling throughout the Galilean area, calling disciples to Himself and preaching the Kingdom of God. Along the way, friction is created between Jesus and the Pharisees, the religious elite among the Jews. They hated Jesus for his message of grace, instead of works. Of grace, instead of rules.
Jesus is now on the move, transitioning from Galilee to the surrounding areas. As He moves around, His message begins to morph a bit, and He begins to do things that only God can do. He demonstrates the power of creation in the feeding of the 5,000. He shows His power over creation last week as He walked on the water.
He has begun to live out the reality of the New Covenant, that the “God who was once far away from us is now united to believers in the new creation.”
Today’s personal, though. Today it gets ugly. Today, reality is made known and the truth is exposed in a not-so-pleasant way. Today we’ve got to asked ourselves, “What if we’ve been wrong all along?” I mean, what if we’ve been totally backwards in our way of thinking?
Sometimes this is amusing, right? I mean, who doesn’t like watching a football player running into the wrong end zone and then wondering why he’s the only one cheering? And I don’t know about you, but I love shows like Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire when the contestant blurts out an answer and then immediately realizes that they’d given the wrong one!
Some mistakes are amusing. But Jesus isn’t on the scene telling people “Hey, your prayer shawl is on backwards, haha!” No…it’s a bit worse than that. What if our errant way of thinking has catastrophic results? What if the mistake we make is the final nail in the coffin of our damnation? What if we’ve had it all wrong, all along?
With that in mind, let’s jump into our text. We find that Jesus is again being badgered by Pharisees and some of the scribes who had made their way up from Jerusalem. Remember- they’re only there to find something wrong with Jesus, some way in which He is violating the Law of Moses.
And they can’t find anything. Big surprise, huh!? Jesus came to fulfill the Law in our place- or course they can’t find Him violating it. What they do find, though, is that Jesus’ disciples are eating food without washing their hands first, and this was a no-no to the Pharisees.
Mark tell us that there were many traditions passed down among the Jews, things like washing their hands before eating, or bathing after returning from the marketplace, and they’re meticulous about how they’d clean their cups and pots and copper vessels- even the couches they would dine on!
And we’re not talking about a lackadaisical hand-washing here. We’re not talking about the “someone else is in the bathroom, let me as least wet my hands” kind of hand-washing. No sir. Washing up before eating was a little more complex than that.
One scholar tells us that, “For these ceremonial washings, special stone vessels of water were kept, because ordinary water might be unclean. To wash your hands in a special way, you started by taking at least enough of this water to fill one and one-half egg shells. Then, you poured the water over your hands, starting at the fingers and running down towards your wrist. Then you cleansed each palm by rubbing the fist of the other hand into it. Then you poured water over your hands again, this time from the wrist towards the fingers. A really strict Jew would do this not only before the meal, but also between each course. The rabbis were deadly serious about this. They said that bread eaten with unwashed hands was no better than excrement.” – Guzik
The Jews took their hand-washing seriously. Why? Because they didn’t want to contaminate their food and make it unclean. If they eat unclean food, they’re in violation to the Law of God, right? For so long, God’s people were simply accustomed to washing up at mealtime, but not Jesus’ disciples. Not all of them.
And so the scribes and Pharisees ask him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Ooooh boy. You done screwed up now. Y’all hands is filthy!
I think that Jesus’ patience is beginning to wane a bit. Listen to His reply: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
That’s you! Jesus says. Isaiah is talking about you! You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.
“Oh, and you have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother.‘ Moses said ‘Whoever reviles father and mother must surely die.‘ But you? You tell people that they can withhold needed money from their parents under the guise that it’s God’s money! Therefore you make void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down- and many such things you do!”
You wanna jump on me for not keeping your traditions? Your stupid traditions have trumped the Law of God!
Then Jesus called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me- all of you- and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
What? What did you just say? Did you really just say a person isn’t defiled by what they eat? Come on, Jesus! Haven’t you read the Law of Moses? You know we can’t eat pork. You know we’re defiled by lobster, by frog-legs, by all sorts of things. Jesus, what are you talkin’ about?
And then we have an interlude between Jesus saying all of this and then leaving the crowds to go back to the house of one of his followers. I don’t know what transpired immediately after Jesus made this audacious claim. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Did you know you offended the Pharisees earlier?”
Ha! Yeah, I think He knew. But his disciples pressed him on it. They knew the law. They knew something wasn’t meshing right.
Jesus said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? You don’t get this? You’re not seeing this? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from the outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”
Jesus says, “There is nothing on this Earth that upon your eating it, is going to make you defiled before God. Whatever part of it that isn’t useful isn’t going to contaminate you. It going to come back out.”
And in that simple statement, Mark tells us that Jesus thus declared all foods clean. I mean, how much of the Law did that unravel? How many years, how much time and effort went into ensuring that no unclean foods were eaten, for fear of becoming unclean?
See, that was the problem all along- the Jews were of the mindset that inwardly all of them are clean, and it’s up to a good law-abiding Jew to make sure they stay that way. That’s why they were fanatical about their hand-washing.
But here’s the fundamental problem… righteousness in the sight of God isn’t based on protecting our cleanliness…Jesus says we have none. Listen to Him.
Jesus continues, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within, and they defile a person.”
And so of course this begs the question, are we depraved in the sight of God because of the things we do, or because at our core we are spiritual dead? What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Are we considered righteous until we have evil thoughts, lust, pride, etc? Was Pelagius right? Are we born in a righteous state with the ability to sin or not sin?
I would say Scripture is clear on that point. None are righteous. All have sinned. Death passed upon all men through the sin of Adam. There are no blank slates. So what is Jesus talking about here?
To get at the bottom of this I need to draw a mental picture for us here, one that I hope is beneficial to you. Ok, I want you to imagine with me that your body is a well, a reservoir, a container of water. Buried deeply within you is a wellspring, the source of this water that is intimately connected with the water around it.
Whatever flows from this wellspring is going to eventually take up all of the space around it and start to over flow. Now- what if the wellspring within was full of and distributing poison? This poison would seep out, grow deeper, fuller, expanding, and finally it began to spill out. Like a contaminated well, nothing coming from this well would be healthy. It’s no good.
That wellspring is our heart, and here’s the problem: if our heart is corrupted, everything else will follow.
So here is why the message of Jesus was so radically offensive to the scribes and Pharisees. While they were thinking themselves righteousness and creating new ways to avoid contamination, Jesus is here saying “You know the lust you have? It’s coming from your heart. Hatred for your brother? Your heart. Lying, stealing, envy, pride- everything that makes a person unclean comes from the heart.”
Jesus is telling these men that the very core of their being was so radically depraved and fallen, simply washing hands and watching what one ate was a waste of time and missing the point- men don’t becomes sinners because they sin; men sin because inherently we are sinners. We don’t need clean hands and good food- we need a heart transplant!
I think it’d be best for us to spend some time putting this into perspective. Let’s zoom back a little bit, dig into history, and find why this isn’t just revolutionary for the Jews of Jesus’ day, but why this is earth-shattering even today.
If you’ll remember, the first announcement of the Gospel is found in Genesis three where God says that a descendant of Adam and Eve would crush the head of Satan. Almost 2,000 years later, God approaches Abraham and tells him that He is going to make a great nation out of him, that through Abraham all the nations would be blessed.
We see this promise begin to come to fruition through the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac, and from Isaac we have Jacob, whom God called Israel. As Jacob fathered 12 sons who became the heads of their own tribes, this collection of individuals came to be known as Israel, also known as Hebrews or Jews.
Part of God’s interaction with Israel was in the giving of the Law, an extensive collection of commandments which were meant to form the basis of behavior for Israel. In return for their obedience, God would bless them. In fact, perfect obedience to these commands would result on one’s righteousness, or right standing before a holy God!
On the other side of that coin, there were also repercussions for failing to keep the Law, though God repeatedly, graciously and mercifully, withheld full judgement from His people. Oh- judgement was coming, but it would fall upon the shoulders of Another.
As the centuries pass, we see over and over God’s people falling away from Him and His Law. They pursue other gods, they abandon their unique identity as God’s people, yet still God lovingly refrains from judgement.
But see, this story isn’t about us. It isn’t about our being blessed or cursed. It isn’t even really about righteousness vs. damnation. Undercutting all of this is a story of God’s fame, of His holiness, and His desire to create for Himself a people who would follow Him as their God.
God says, you are my people. Live this way. I am holy- you be holy. I am perfect- you be perfect. Reflect who I am to the pagan nations around you. Israel’s response? No thanks, God. That’s not what my heart wants.
Because it wasn’t! Through the Fall, man’s heart, the wellspring of their entire being, that core aspect of who they were, because hopelessly corrupted, defiled, separated from God. As a result, all those born to Adam (in other words, all of us) now have a poisoned wellspring, and from within our hearts come all thoughts of sin. It’s why we’re born at odds with God.
God’s people didn’t want to obey God. Well, they wanted to as long as they benefited from it. But God tells us that the inward thoughts of a man’s heart are always set to evil. Perhaps restrained evil due to God’s common grace, but evil nonetheless.
So what happens when God builds for Himself a nation of people who, instead of following Him and living holy lives, pursue the desires of their wicked hearts and look just like the nations around them? Well, what happens is that God’s name is defiled. The onlooking nations mock this God of Israel who is powerless to change His people. They look at Israel and see no difference between their worship of Yahweh and their own worship of Ba’al or any of the other gods they worshipped.
Well God isn’t going to stand for that very long. He’s got two options, really. He can utterly destroy Israel, which had crossed His mind on more than one occasion, or He can change them.
So God chose to enact yet another covenant with mankind. There were several throughout the pages of the Old Testament. There was the overarching covenant of works, which in Adam we all trangressed. There was the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, Mosaic covenant, Davidic covenant- this one would surpass them all in scope and magnitude.
The prophet Jeremiah speaks of it in Jeremiah 31:31 where God tells us: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Ok, God. This sounds great, but wait a minute. Jeremiah also told us that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. What good is putting your law on my heart, if my heart wants nothing to do with you? If you’re talking about a New Covenant that deals with the heart, but Jesus says that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart, then how’s this going to work?
This Old Covenant has a lot of issues. God’s people are giving God a bad name, the heart is the root of the problem, yet a New Covenant is promised- how’s this going to work?
And amazingly, we don’t have to turn to the New Testament to find this out. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God says this to Israel: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
The New Covenant works because there is also a New Creation. There must be. God will not unite Himself to fallen beings. He will not place His Spirit into uninhabitable temples. So for God to dwell within the heart of a men, there must be a new heart, a new wellspring. As Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, you must be born again. Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God- much less enter.
So Jesus’ point to His hearers is this: our actions will never result in our own righteousness, because the very core of our being is poisoned, dead, against God. Yet these Pharisees were throwing a fit because Jesus’ disciples hands were dirty?
Jesus’ message was this: “The Law cannot save you, because it’s not about you protecting yourself against outside ungodliness. The problem is within! You need a new heart, and you’ve known that you need a new heart!
Let me tell you this- there’s nothing a religious person hates to hear more than someone else saying that their actions will not result in their justification. And Jesus has just announced that it’s not about the external. It’s not about the food. It’s not about the rules. It’s not about the obedience or lack thereof. It’s about the need for a supernatural heart transplant.
So here’s how this works, because the need for a heart-transplant still exists. In our depravity, we cannot seek God because we will not seek God. And yet showed His love for us in that even while we were sinners, Christ died for us.
On His cross, Jesus stood in the place of lawbreakers and absorbed His Father’s wrath in their place. Now God is free to pardon guilty people like you and me. We unite to that work of Christ by faith in Him, when we see ourselves as sinful rebels and embrace the person and work of Christ on our behalf.
In His death, Jesus purchased our redemption. In His burial He promises forgiveness. And in His resurrection He gives new life- a life we’re given in our conversion by which God removed our lifeless heart of stone and replaces it with a living, beating, God-loving heart that is wed to Christ through the Holy Spirit. That’s the Gospel!
So if you’re here this morning and you’re still on the fence, trying to figure out what you’re going to do with your faith, whether you’re going to place it on Jesus or not, I beg you- believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. Don’t rely on your own efforts- what you need is a heart transplant. Beg God for it. Your prayers will not fall on deaf ears.
As our band comes forward and we wrap things up, I want to spend just a few moments addressing a remaining issue- one that Jesus’ hearers wouldn’t have been able to relate to, but definitely one that we and Mark’s original readers can.
‘Cause there’s a disconnect here, isn’t there? Jesus tells us that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart, and the good news is that in the New Creation, in this New Covenant, we’ve been given a new heart. But if the old heart was responsible for the outward sin…how do we come to terms with the sin we still wrestle with?
In other words, if there is truly a new creation, a new core, a new heart, a new inner man, if the wellspring of our lives in wed to Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit and the old man is crucified with Christ, wouldn’t that make us sinless?
Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, man…I still have pride issues. I still battle lust. I fight envy, with covetousness, there’s still sin there, and if external sin is a reflection of who I am inwardly, does this mean I’m not saved? Does this mean I don’t have a new heart? Does this mean God’s hasn’t forgiven me?
That’s not what it means. God has replaced the wellspring, but think about this- does the creation of a new spigot, of this new wellspring mean the instantaneous transformation of all the water in the well that is you? No, it takes time. Now thankfully for us, God sees only the new creation, but this new creation is still within our fallen flesh.
And so for us the Christian life isn’t about working for our salvation. It isn’t about looking at the flesh and taming it to make God happy. It’s about letting this new wellspring of life permeate our entire being, slowly but surely pushing out the contaminated water and replacing it with Christ.
And here’s the key to that- it’s the renewing of our minds. Our minds act as the valve between this new creation and the rest of us. It’s that valve that, when fully opened, releases the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, transforming us outwardly into who we are inwardly. And when that valve is closed, change is slow to come. You’re gonna struggle more with sin. You’re going to see slow progress. The writer of Hebrews told His readers, “some of you should be teachers now, yet you’re still spiritual babies!”
Advancement in our Christian walk comes through the intentional renewing of our mind as we dive into the Gospel and not only see what God has done for us through the Cross of His son, but to also see what His Spirit has done in the recreating of our hearts and our union with Christ. We will never advance beyond this. This is the Good News.
As we enter into our time of response, we’ll put our JourneyMaker on the screen. Let it penetrate. Believe it. “The Heart of the Problem is the Problem of the Heart, but in Christ We Have New Hearts.”
You say, Richard, what do you want from me in this time of response? If you’re here and not trusting Christ as Savior, I implore you to throw yourself at the foot of the cross and receive His forgiveness. Trust Him with your life.
If you’re here and a child of God, this is the time we’ve carved out for you to think about the Gospel and worship God for who He is and what He’s done. Repent from thinking that His love for you is wrapped up in your performance for Him. It was never about your performance. It was about your heart- and He’s fixed that.