November 1, 2010 David Balzer

Mark 7: When Cleanliness ISN’T next to Godliness

I was reading about an ad that started out “Men, you need to read this ad. Pornography can destroy families. The betrayal and hurt it causes is enormous. Viewing it at work can lead to getting fired.”


It sounds good enough so far! Warning men of the dangers of pornography. Exhorting them to stop. Advice on resisting temptation.


But no! Here’s how the ad finished. “Make sure you don’t get CAUGHT. Deleting your browser history isn’t enough. Get this software to remove every trace of your pornography”


In other words, it wasn’t the SIN which was the problem, just GETTING CAUGHT! As long as you cleaned up the OUTSIDE, EXTERNAL signs of your dirtiness, then that’s all that mattered. The INTERNAL damage didn’t count.


1-23: cleanliness isn’t next to godliness

And it’s the same set of priorities we see in the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Focussed more on fixing up the EXTERNALS that worrying about the INTERNALS.


Following every little law. Laws that focussed on clean and unclean. What things made you UNCLEAN. And what to do to make you CLEAN AGAIN, if you became UNCLEAN.


And even though the law was full of these things, it wasn’t THE MAIN POINT. They were always meant to be a POINTER to something deeper. What are you like on the INSIDE? THAT was the priority. Not the externals.


Jesus knew it. But it put him on a collision course with the Pharisees. Look at chapter 7. Verse1, where Jesus is under scrutiny again.

“The pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were UNCLEAN, that is unwashed”.


Everything you eat, wash your hands first. That’s the rules. Come home from the market, or from work, and you’ve got to go through a very special ‘ceremonial washing’.


And having watched the disciples do the ‘wrong thing’, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law put the challenge to Jesus.

v.5 “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with UNCLEAN hands.”


And Jesus flashes a great big mirror up in their faces. To help them take a good hard look at themselves. He says (v6),

(Mark 7:6-8 NIV)  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 but rules taught by men.’ {8} You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”


See the priority? LIPS are more important than HEART. Rules taught by MEN are more important than rules taught by GOD. TRADITIONS more important than COMMANDS.


It’s more important what you’re SEEN to be doing. Than it is to actually DO the right thing. More important what MAN thinks than GOD.


And the result? It’s obvious enough if you think about it. They worship IN VAIN. WASting their time. God’s not interested in DEEDS. Or WORDS. It’s HEARTS he’s interested in.


And then he gives them an example of how they’ve TWISTED God’s law. They knew they were supposed to honour their parents. But the basic problem was/ people were GREEDY. And they didn’t WANT TO.


So, they went hunting in the LAW for an EXCUSE. And they came up with one. The sort of twisted logic a lawyer would be proud of. “Suppose I had $10,000 I COULD use to help mum and dad. But instead I pledged it as a gift devoted to God. Then THE LAW says I can’t go back on that promise. So when Dad asks for help, I can HONESTLY say, “sorry. Love to help. But no spare cash!”


Externals of keeping the LETTER of the law, but ignoring the SPIRIT of the law – which was to honour your parents.


And Jesus finishes (v13) “That’s just ONE example. Want another? I’ve got a Million!”


And then he says to everyone, v. 14, he says it’s not the OUTSIDE STUFF THAT COUNTS. It’s the INSIDE. He says,

“Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him UNCLEAN by going into him. RATHER, it is what comes out of a man that makes him UNCLEAN”.


The disciples ask Jesus to what he means. And in frustration he says:

v.18 “Are you so dull? Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him UNCLEAN? For it doesn’t go into his HEART but into his STOMACH, and then out of his body”.


You can’t affect your SOUL by eating unclean food. The worst it will do is give you FOOD POISONING.


They just don’t get it do they? And neither do so many people today, including lots of Christians! They frown on people for smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol.


But they’re just HEALTH ISSUES! Not spiritual issues!


Or getting tattoos, or piercings.


That’s a matter of personal taste, not spiritual right or wrong.


What Jesus wants us to understand is that the things that come out of our HEARTS, the things that motivate us, the things that are at the core of our sinful being, the rotten things that drive us, …come from an UNCLEAN HEART, …they’re the things that make us UNCLEAN.


Our basic orientation is to do everything against God.


But it’s more than EXTERNAL things NOT be UN-clean. The world is full of GOOD things. Things God intended for our enjoyment.


But we’ve managed to TWIST them. Pervert them. Devalue them. Find the WORST in them. And so they become SIN.


Sex. God’s wonderful gift used rightly. But abused by mankind to become sinful is so many ways.


Food and wine. Given by God to gladden men’s hearts. But abused by us in gluttony, drunkenness, sensual satisfaction.


We could say the same for many of CULTURE’S creations – Money, technology, art, music, politics.


Wonderful things which can be used for MUCH GOOD. But often devalued and twisted by greed and wickedness.


MANKIND – ROTTEN FROM THE INSIDE OUT. And then, so we understand completely what he’s on about, Jesus lists these rotten things off.

v. 20 “What comes out of a man is what makes him UNCLEAN. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man UNCLEAN”.


It’s a tragic sort of list, isn’t it? You don’t have to cast your eye down it too far/ before you realise you’re looking straight into a mirror.


It’s not just ACTIONS. But THOUGHTS and ATTITUDES. Greed. Evil thoughts. LEWDNESS. Arrogance. Envy.


And the implication’s clear. EVERYONE is unclean. Everyone needs someone. Something. To make them clean.


And the question is, where can you get CLEAN from stuff like that? What does it take to be clean?


And the message of the last couple of chapters is that/ first of all, you must acknowledge your uncleanness; and then reach out to the one we’ve just seen who came to MAKE THE UNCLEAN CLEAN.


Jesus. He’s the one who touches a bleeding woman, and cleanses her. Who touches the dead body, and RAISES her. Who CLEANSES the man with evil Spirits.


And we see it in the two section immediately AFTER this one. Jesus – he can even cleanse FILTHY GENTILE DOGS. Because he recognised the wonderful CLEANSING gift of FAITH.


Look down to v27. A Gentile woman’s come to Jesus with a demon-possessed daughter. Jesus tests her.

(Mark 7:27 NIV)  “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”


Why should I bother helping YOU – A GENTILE, when there’s plenty of Israelite children who need helping?


And look at her answer. It’s an answer that shows that EXTERNALS matter NOTHING to her. Priorities that reflect God HIMSELF.

(Mark 7:28 NIV)  “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”


I deserve NOTHING from God. But I come with faith and expectation and gratitude. Like a dog under the table.


And Jesus sees what noone else sees. FAITH. On the INSIDE. Rather than skin colour or rule-keeping on the outside.


Same in the next story. A Gentile man who was DEAF.


And then, for those of us pre-occupied with EXTERNAL cleanliness, he does about the GROSEST thing we can think of. For some reason, he took him away from the crowd. Around a corner. A nice secluded spot. Maybe to avoid a controversy. Maybe to protect the guys feelings.


(Mark 7:33-35 NIV)  After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. {34} He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). {35} At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.


Jesus is the one who can CLEANSE you. Whether it’s deafness, or demon-possession, or death, or bleeding. Or even if it’s just evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery or greed.


It’s your attitudes and behaviours and thoughts that make you UNCLEAN. But HE can DO it. Forgive you. Cleanse you. Give you a NEW heart. One which can actually PLEASE God.


But some people just can’t believe it. There’s just so much stuff in their lives that they don’t see that IT’S POSSIBLE for anything or anyone to clean it up. Their life is just one dirty, filthy, black mess.


A friend of mine visited his father a couple of days before he died. He was nervous. But he told him about Jesus, and that he hoped he’d accept him to be his King, and his Saviour and his Friend.


But his dad said no. He said, “It’s too late. There’s NO ONE big enough to help someone like me. Especially not YOUR GOD.”


The way he saw it, the blackness of his life was just too much for anyone to handle. Unshiftable stains. That no-one could help.


His father was not only wrong in his thinking, he was wrong about God. There was an angry arrogance about those last words, an arrogance that got in the road of him experiencing here on earth, what it could have been to be cleansed by Jesus.


There’s a GREAT OFFER here in this picture of Jesus. The one who makes the UNCLEAN CLEAN. Even the real uncleanness – that’s right there on the INSIDE where nobody can see it. But where it really counts. The CLEAN ONE – the one to reach out to if you want to really deal with what’s on the INSIDE.

Is that YOU? Is that something YOU need to turn to Jesus for?


Look at how the people responded at the end of CH 7. They saw it clearly.

(Mark 7:37 NIV)  People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”


And he can do it in YOU TOO!

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