The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 7:14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He *said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensufoolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” (NASB)
Modern psychological theory says that feelings are neither good nor bad. They are just what they are, they say, the brain’s reaction to some stimulus. Feelings are morally neutral. Then movie after movie, song after song tells us that feelings are good things. They are good and reliable guides in life and we ought to following our feelings and emotions, rather than reason and our mind.
While Hollywood and big record labels go about the business of glorifying emotions and feelings, right thinking people know that such a focus and advise is a recipe for disaster. Even Elizabeth Gilbert, no paragon of Christian orthodoxy, the author of Eat Pray Love, said of emotions: “Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.” Trusting instincts, feelings, and emotions might make for good fantasy stories, but if these are the guiding forces of daily life, then your life is already or is going to be a mess. Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of people who believe that feelings and instincts work in real life, especially when it comes to choices between right and wrong.
This is exactly the opposite of what Jesus and the Bible teach. In the Old Testament lesson this morning, Deuteronomy 4 God did not say to His children, “I have created and given you feelings . . . follow them “so that you may live….” No, He said, “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform so that you may live….”
The problem of feelings and emotions, often thought of as the human heart is a problem with human nature. If you believe that human nature is primarily good and that our instincts and feelings are also good and reliable guides for choices, then you side with the crowd in Mark 7.
Judaism, then as now taught that human beings are basically good and that a person became unclean (sinful) by coming into contact with things and people that the Word of God and the “traditions of the elders” had taught were unclean.
Jesus had just taught the crowds that their religious leaders and forefathers had replaced the Law and Gospel with the “traditions of the elders” which had been created to produce and feed a system of works and self-righteousness. These traditions were established to serve those doctrines and were all about keeping a Jew or proselyte clean. Do this and don’t do that so that you do not become unclean, as if a person started off clean. Everything from the sacrifices offered in the temple to the daily traditions of washing in the home, were all built on the belief that a person natural state is one of spiritual cleanliness.
We have our own versions of this today. Everyone assumes that a new born baby is pure and holy. Most people also think of themselves a good person. People today don’t think of themselves as “poor miserable sinners” who need to confess their sins and iniquities with which they have offended God and deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. No, people today think that they must do something really, really bad if they are going to fall under God’s judgment. And of course, they don’t think of themselves as doing anything that bad.
So it was for the people Jesus called back to listen to Him preach again. He had just condemned the religious leaders who had replaced the Law and Gospel and God pleasing traditions with traditions designed to perpetuate the illusion that human being are basically good. The crowd began to disperse before Jesus had finished the theological lesson. Jesus wanted to get to the heart of the matter.
Jesus shouted 14 “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.”
At the time of the reformation the church taught and the people believed that human nature had a measure of free will that a person could employ to please God and contribute to salvation. Luther learned from his studies of Scriptures that is was a lie. When it comes to matters of salvation, the human creature does not have a free will because the human creature is born in sin and cannot free himself/herself. This turned everything upside down.
Jesus is doing the same thing here in Mark 7. He is teaching here that human beings are not clean. They are not good. They are the exact opposite. We do not enter this world and start off as “undefiled.” Rather, we enter this world as sinners. It is not true that our sin makes us sinners. It is true that we sin because we are sinners.
The book of Judges recounts some of the deepest, darkest, most immoral days of Israel. Cruelty, obscenity, greed, and unbelief reach their deepest depths in the Book of Judges. God summarizes the spiritual, theological, and moral state of Israel at the time in this way. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
Then as now some of the most horrible things were considered right because people judged by what they feel. If it feels at the moment good, then it is good. Today they even add a second part to the process. If something feels good then it is right and God must also agree since He created my feelings! The people in the west no longer take sin seriously. They can’t because they don’t know it when they see it.
One of the many points of contention in the reformation was over a doctrine called “concupiscence.” The Roman Church and many others teach that the “desire to sin” is not sin. This is a theological version of the modern psychological theory that feelings are morally neutral.
For some church denominations in order for something to be a sin it has to be acted upon not just felt. We believe because the Scripture teaches, that the desire to sin is also a sin. Our Confessions cite Romans 7:5 as just one proof text. “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions [desires], which were aroused by the Law . . . .”
Here in the Gospel lesson Jesus teaches that sin originates in the heart, mind, soul of a human being. That’s why when Jesus commanded “you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” He was speaking the Law. There is no Gospel in that command. Jesus knew that we cannot do this because the natural heart is already defiled. Only Jesus Christ loved the Lord His God with all His heart, and His soul, and His mind, and His strength.
Through the prophet Jeremiah God said of us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) After the flood the Lord God said, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:21)
Our culture wants you to believe that what comes from inside of you is good. The Bible teaches that human nature, mankind in general and every human being in particular is actually evil and must be born again in a new nature which is created in the image of Jesus Christ Himself .
Again what Jesus was saying was so radical at the time, the disciples didn’t get. 17 “When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, ‘Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him. . . , 20 And He was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.’”
We sinners take that which is good and defile it. It is what sin does. God has created so many good things in this world and they are meant to be used for our good and the good of our neighbor. But we sinners, take those good things that God has given to us and we enlisted them in the service of sin.
Jesus wanted to make sure than no one escapes the Law. So He “rattles” off a list of what comes out of the human heart. “Out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” In this list every aspect of human life is included. No one and nothing escapes. Jesus does not single out one sin as more grevious as the other. He does not distinguish here between sins of emotions, feelings, thoughts, and deeds. He condemns human nature as sinful. So much for the nice, polite, progress, optimistic humanitarian Jesus!
This is why we pray Psalm 51:10 in the liturgy: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We are praying to God to do this to us because we can’t do it to ourselves. We cannot not sin. We are not and cannot be made clean. Holiness and purity is God’s work in us. We sin daily and often. We can and ought to fight against it, but more times than not we end up losing. Thus God’s Word says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:21
As is always the case throughout all the Gospel’s Jesus’s parables, sayings, miracles, and teachings are all designed to show us who we are (sinners through and through) and what we do (sin), while at the same time showing Who He is and what He has come to do for us and for our salvation.
As the Son of God, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary – fully human and fully divine and the only one Who entered this world defiled. Jesus experienced all the temptations we experience, but never sinned. Instead, He took our sins, sins of thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds, the sins of omission and commission unto Himself and carried them to the cross. He paid the price that God’s justice demands of our sin.
In daily repentance, that is sorrow over sin and trust in the person and work of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, God puts the old, filthy, toxic, sinful heart to death, then raises us to eternal life with a new heart and mind created in the image of Jesus Christ. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter, which is your sinful heart. And He does so by giving you a new one. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.