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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 6, 2015
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor

ONLY CHRIST CAN MAKE YOU CLEAN
Mark 7:14-23

Grace, mercy, and peace be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. Amen. Today we turn our attention to the Gospel of Mark, chapter seven, beginning with the 14th verse, as follows [ESV]:

And he 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." And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, "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 evil things come from within, and they defile a person." So far the Holy Word.

In the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ, Who said, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me," Dear Fellow Redeemed,

This week a news item appeared about a young football fan who was worried about his heart. Ivan Applin, a 10-yr.-old from Toledo, Ohio, was scheduled to have open heart surgery at the University of Michigan Hospital. And he was frightened. But according to his mother, Jennifer, it wasn't the procedure that scared him. "He asked me if the Michigan doctors were going to make his heart love the University of Michigan instead of Ohio State." But his mother reassured him. And when the surgery-which was a success-was over, sure enough Ivan was still a Buckeyes fan.

It's kind of a charming story. But it points up an important fact: that the condition of your heart is central to who you are as a human being. Even children recognize it! But there is a lot of misunderstanding about the heart, as well. Some people think that you should always follow your heart, and if you do that you can never go wrong. This morning our Lord Jesus tells us just about the opposite. When it comes to the most important issues in life, like how to be righteous and clean in the sight of God, you'd better not rely on your heart for that. That's why our theme for today is:

ONLY CHRIST CAN MAKE YOU CLEAN

I. The human heart is desperately dirty.
II. The Gospel of Christ provides perfect cleansing.

Americans are obsessed with handwashing, did you ever notice that? I was thinking of that yesterday as I was visiting the hospital, and I noticed how medical personnel are now required to use sanitizer on their hands whenever they enter or leave a patient's room. We all wash our hands frequently with antibacterial soap; we keep hand sanitizer on our counters and in our cars. Do you know where we got that custom? We inherited it from the ancient Jews! Alone among ancient near Eastern cultures, the Jews were very fastidious about washing their hands before meals. So much so, that they gradually came to see it as a religious duty. And that's what made the Pharisees so upset when they noticed, in the section just before our text, that Jesus disciples didn't wash their hands before meals the way they were supposed to. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" 6 He answered and said to them, "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. -- Mk. 7:5-6.

And that's what leads into our text for today. There is this huge conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, and it seems to be about handwashing. But it's not, really. It's about what makes a person acceptable before God. Exactly what, in God's eyes, renders a person pure or impure, clean or unclean, saved or damned. The Pharisees said that salvation lay in a meticulous keeping of all the external, man-made rules and regulations that they themselves laid down. They thought God would accept them if they washed their hands the right way, counted their steps on the Sabbath day and said the same prayer 50 times in a row. And especially if they carefully regulated what kind of food they ate - - beef yes, pork no, fish yes, eels no. If you ate the wrong things you'd be defiled, ritually impure, unacceptable to God. Jesus said they had it all wrong! And he 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."

This was a huge change. What kind of physical food you eat doesn't make you morally clean or unclean before God, Jesus said. This left his disciples completely bewildered, and when they were alone with Jesus they asked him about it again. And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" Physical food can't make you unclean, Jesus said, because it completely bypasses the one organ of the body that really matters to God - and that's the heart.

When it comes to the heart, ONLY CHRIST CAN MAKE YOU CLEAN. And we need cleansing, because the human heart is desperately dirty. Jesus said, "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 evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Here's what really makes you unclean, Jesus said - your own sinful heart! The Bible says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind." -- Jer. 17:9-10. One writer said that this dreadful list of sins and vices - sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery - "…reads like a list of crimes from a modern police court." But he was writing in the early 20th century. Now, in the early 21st century, not only are many of these things no longer crimes, they are fully accepted and even celebrated by the wicked society in which we live. How else do you explain the legalized murder of abortion, which claims the lives of over 3000 children each day? Legitimized adultery, living together outside of marriage, even so-called same-sex "marriage" - these are no longer the exceptions, but the commonly accepted rule. Demonstrating once again that the human heart is desperately dirty. Paul's description of first-century Roman society sounds hauntingly like America in 2015: Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. -- Rom. 1:27-32.

Of course, it's all too easy for us Christians to point the finger at other people, as if the uncleanness lies with everyone else, not us. If we do that, we're no better than the Pharisees. In fact we're worse, because we know better. We know, because Christ has shown us that hateful thoughts are just as bad as murder. Lustful thoughts are as condemning as the act of adultery. Covetous, greedy and envious thoughts condemn a person just as much as the act of theft. And we don't have to look far to find those sins, do we? They lie right here in our own hearts. As they say, when you point your finger at someone else, there are three more pointing straight back at you! Jesus put it even better; He said, "Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? 42 "Or how can you say to your brother,`Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother's eye. -- Lk. 6:41-42. You need to be right with God. You need cleansing for your heart!

And when it comes to the human heart, ONLY CHRIST CAN MAKE YOU CLEAN. Here's the good news. The cleansing our Savior offers is not partial. It leaves no stain behind, for the Gospel of Christ provides perfect cleansing.

If you glance through the nine verses of our text, it might seem to be all Law. Nothing but a scathing condemnation of the kind of awful sins that proceed from the hearts of sinners like us. But there's Gospel here too, and for that I'd like to take you back to the first verse of our text, verse 14: "And Jesus called the people to him again and said to them, "hear me, all of you, and understand." If the disease is listening to our own corrupt human hearts, then the cure lies in listening instead to infallible Word of our Savior, Jesus.

Jesus called the people to Him. He had compassion on the people. He didn't abandon them to the false notions of the Pharisees. He didn't leave them languishing in the erroneous belief that they could be saved by keeping external rules. He told them the truth, as only the son of God could. True understanding comes from the Word! Real cleansing comes from believing the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone. Paul put it concisely in his sermon to the people of Antioch: "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man [Jesus] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 "and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. -- Acts 13:38-39.

It's not an outward keeping of the law that makes us clean. Thank God for that because, as we've seen, none of us have kept the law even outwardly, let alone inwardly, in the heart. No, ONLY CHRIST CAN MAKE YOU CLEAN. Once again today, Jesus calls us poor sinners to him. Once again he says, "Hear me, all of you, and understand." Understand the way to be truly clean! Bring all your sins in repentance, and wash them clean in the blood I shed for you on Calvary's cross! In his most tender voice, Jesus invites you today: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. -- Matt. 11:28-29.

For you see, ONLY CHRIST CAN MAKE YOU CLEAN. In one of the most well beloved and often memorized passages all Scripture, the Apostle John said, "The blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanses us from all sin." -I John 1:7. From ALL sin? Even from that secret sins that lies so heavy on your conscience, even from that thing you did of which you're so ashamed? Yes! That's exactly what the Gospel says to you today! In your Lord Jesus you have perfect cleansing. You couldn't keep God's law, so He kept it for you, in your place. You couldn't atone for even a single day's worth said, let alone a lifetime's worth. So Jesus carried your sins, and the sins of the whole world, up that last lonely hill of Golgotha. And there He made perfect, complete atonement for them.

Now, not a single one of your sins remains to be atoned for! Nothing now stands between you and everlasting life, the life that will go on in perfect lives, forever! For, Paul says, "…You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." -- 1 Cor. 6:11.

Speaking of cleaning, here's one for you homemakers. There's a widely-recognized principle of chemistry called "Imbesi's Law of the Conservation of Filth." It states that, for something to become clean, something else must become dirty. But Freeman's Extension to that law states that "…It is possible to get everything dirty without getting anything clean." I don't know who Freeman was, but I suspect there were small children in his household. Counter-intuitive as it may be, this morning we've learned that there is a way for a person to get completely clean and leave nothing behind that is dirty and corrupt. There is a way-but only one. ONLY CHRIST CAN MAKE YOU CLEAN. The human heart is desperately dirty. But the Gospel of Christ provides perfect cleansing. God grant that we may rest our souls in the cleansing power of Jesus' blood, until that day when we meet Him face-to-face in paradise, AMEN.