By Simon ManchesterSunday 17 Sep 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 17 minutes
We’ve been working our way on these Sunday mornings through the little gospel of Mark. Today, we come to this section in chapter 7 verses 14 to 30, and we see something remarkable where, Jesus, the greatest doctor the world has ever seen, the greatest diagnostician the world has ever seen, puts his finger on the problem of the world.
It’s not a diagnosis that the world likes to hear, but he puts his finger on the problem of the world, and then he brings in his good time, the solution or the medicine for that problem. And I hope you’ll find this vital information for us this morning.
I know that stories of the Titanic are getting tedious from the pulpit, but I was interested to read recently, that a very wealthy lady, sitting in one of the lifeboats waiting to sail away safely, ran back to her room on the Titanic. Although the ship was slightly tilted, she ran down the corridor, and she went back to her room which was full of her jewellery and her money. And she ran right past all the jewellery and the money, and she reached for three oranges sitting on the table and went back to the lifeboat because all her values had been changed in the face of life and death. Suddenly, she saw what was important and not what was seen to be important.
And I think Jesus helps us here to see what is important. If you look at Mark chapter 7 verse 14, Jesus calls to the crowd. And he calls to the crowd and gives them a parable which lasts for one verse, must be one of the shortest parables or stories that Jesus ever told. And this is what he says..
He calls out, “Don’t worry about what goes into you, worry about what comes out of you.”
And what he means by that is if there’s anybody listening to me who’s serious about God and fellowship with God, the danger is not food and food rules. The danger is the sin of the heart. So he’s calling to the crowd and saying, “The problem is inside you, the problem is not outside you.”
This is very, very revolutionary thinking because the secular world is wedded to the idea that people are good. We like to say this, don’t we? That we’re good, they’re fundamentally good; they’re a good person. And the problems we want to say are out there somewhere. You know, it’s those difficult people, those dangerous people. It’s that system; it’s that religion. It’s the lack of this, the lack of education, the lack of police. “No, no, I’m good, the bad things are outside.”
And Jesus turns all of this completely around, and he says, “Don’t point away from yourself if you wanna know the problems of the world because I’m pointing,” he says, “to you.” Notice he’s not pointing to himself.
Now, the crowd and even the disciples we see in verse 17 and 18 don’t know what he’s talking about and so he has to explain a little more to them. And let me tell you that the lead-up to this particular parable called out to the crowd is that some religious leaders have come down from Jerusalem and have attacked Jesus verbally. And they’ve attacked him with very strong opinion that their religious or their ceremonial washing before eating is crucial to being saved, the way to please God.
As we listen to this and we understand these religious people saying, “You’ve gotta keep the rules, you’ve gotta keep the traditions.” We’re tempted to say we don’t ever do that. We don’t fall for that kind of rubbish. I do want to remind you that all of us in some way try to manage God with our own little rules and regulations. They may not be church traditions, but in our funny ways, we think that we can kind of manage God, keep him happy, solve what’s unhappy. So this strange behaviour is very close to the bone for us.
Jesus points out that the religious leaders think this way because they’ve turned away from the Scriptures and they’ve turned their attention to human tradition. And because they’ve turned from the Scriptures to human tradition, they’ve turned from the truth to a lie, and they’ve turned from what is constructive and life-giving to what is destructive and fatal.
So let’s think about this passage this morning just for the few minutes we have, I hope this will be helpful to you. And I want to do it under two headings because this will be a way of remembering this. I want to talk first of all about the good news and the bad news. And then my second point is the bad news and the good news, and they are different. The first is the good news and the bad news.
The Good News and the Bad News
Now, this is the good news says Jesus, “Food will not put you off side with God. And food rules will not put you off side with God.” Now, notice what he’s not saying, he’s not saying all food is good for you. We know that some food is not good for us. And we know that some food like sweet and sour should not be served to normal people. But Jesus is not talking about food. He’s not trying to teach us that food will make or break our fellowship with God.
He’s also not saying that everything that you take in will be fine, he’s not saying if you take in lies and images and if you take in destructive things it will do you no harm whatsoever, he’s not saying that. He’s saying that food and all the rules about eating food cannot endanger your fellowship with God.
Now, why does Jesus teach this when the Old Testament had many, many food rules? As we know from those letters to the people where people will write and get angry with Christians because Christians are stressing some things but are failing to keep the Old Testament food rules. So why does Jesus teach this? And the answer is because the food laws in the Old Testament were God’s instruction to his people, the Israelites when they lived in the land of Canaan on how they were to be a clean, chosen, distinct people among the nations.
In other words, God worked out a way of asking them to behave in certain ways that would outwardly show that they were different, that they were his people in the Promised Land. But God’s people no longer live in the Promised Land, that is not all God’s people live in the Promised Land.
And we’re no longer under the Old Testament food laws because those food laws had no ability whatsoever to make a person clean, but we had to wait for the person of the Lord Jesus to come who could make a person inwardly clean. And you’ll notice in chapter 7:19 that Jesus with one stroke cancels all the food laws. Astonishing. Imagine somebody just standing up and saying, “All those Old Testament food laws, they are now old news because,” says Jesus, “I have come.”
So these Old Testament rules about clean and unclean food were very powerful signs for showing the chosen people of God, but they had no power to change the heart. And you can see that Jesus makes this very clear because he says, “I want you to forget about food and stomach when it comes to fellowship with God.” And he might just as easily have said, “Forget about rules and regulations, and church traditions because they cannot, none of them will make or break your fellowship with God.” They’re just externals.
“But what will break your fellowship with God,” says Jesus, “is what’s in your heart. And what will make your fellowship with God is going to be in your heart.” So, the good news, and it is good news, is that all these rules and regulations especially around food, we do not need to worry about because they are of no those significance or consequence in making or breaking our fellowship with God. But the bad news in verses 20 to 21 is that the human heart, my heart and your heart, is a factory of sin. It unstoppably produces self and sin; it’s kind of like a jungle in which lots of killers live or a swamp in which lots of dangers lurk.
So that’s why Jesus says in chapter 7, “It’s what comes out of a person that defiles them. It’s from within; it’s from a person’s heart that comes the evil thoughts.” And he lists 12 or so. Sexual immorality, and theft, and murder, and adultery, and greed, and malice, and deceit, and lewdness, and envy, and slander, and arrogance, and foolishness. And he says all these come from inside and they make us unclean.
Now, what does Jesus mean when he talks like this? He doesn’t mean the blood pumping heart; he means the nature, the fallen nature that we have inside of us. In other words, it’s the nature inside us which thinks, and plans, and plots, and decides, and acts. It’s what motivates us, that’s the heart inside us. And he doesn’t mean that our heart or our nature is as black as it could be, there’s nobody in this building, I suspect, whose heart is as black as it could be. But there’s nobody in this building whose heart is as white as it should be.
Every person in this building has been made in the image of God, and we’ve been given God given faculties so that we would think well. But no part of our mind, no part of our heart, no part of our will, no part of our conscience is uncontaminated. It’s all affected; it’s all polluted, it’s all poisoned, it’s all infected. The poison has gone everywhere.
And this is revolutionary thinking because it reverses the idea that we are profoundly good and that all the problems of the world are outside. And it helps us to see ourselves as we are, it makes us into realists, and it also makes us appreciate our Savior. The other revolutionary aspect of Jesus’ teaching here is that we can’t clean ourselves up. We can’t get into our system inside and just improve it; it’s like saying you know, “This week I’m not gonna tell a lie, all week. Or “Even a white lie or a grey lie. I’m gonna be ruthlessly honest all week.” Or “I’m going to be completely selfless all week.” Its just not going to happen.
The nature that we have inside us continues to produce this sinfulness. So we can’t clean ourselves up, you can’t clean yourself up, I can’t clean myself up, and if we think we can improve ourselves, then we’ll never really understand what Jesus is saying here. And we’ll never really understand what Jesus was doing when he came and died on the cross.
Now friends, doesn’t this explain the world that we live in? I mean, when we watch the political world of those who are presenting themselves for leadership in various countries of the world…read my lips. Does it surprise you? Does it shock you that somebody will be found to have been dishonest? Does it shock you that somebody will be aggressive or offensive? And when we think about our political leaders, just to point the finger away for a minute, does it surprise us or shock us that people in politics in this country would betray one another and remove one another, and then do it again and that relationships would fester?
Doesn’t this explain the news that we watch on the television? Do we think that with a little more education and some more police everybody will just become cooperative? Do we think that utopia is just around the corner and that we’ll be able to do it?
When we watch a program like ABC TV’s Q&A when we can afford to watch a program like Q&A on television, and we see people discussing a big global problem, and they say, “What we do with this big global problem?” And then they say this, they say, “We’ll teach people.” And you know that the education is not going to make a person new, it’s not going to change the heart, it’s not going to make a person unselfish. And in case where you sort of look at this list and we think, “Well, there’s none of this list that applies to me.” Is that the case? Is there anybody here who can say I’ve had no evil thoughts, that I’m not deceitful, that I’m not envious, that I’m not arrogant?
To say nothing of the more blatant things like sexual immorality and even murder. No, our hearts are very murky, very, very murky. Every now and again we realise just how murky we are. And that has two good effects, it makes us a realist about ourselves, and it makes us extremely appreciative for our Savior Jesus Christ.
This last week, I’ve been in Melbourne, and I’ve been giving some talks to pastors and students. And each morning, I’ve been saying to these pastors and people, you know, “We can get stale in our understanding of the cross, get a little bored with it. But it helps, you know when we understand a little more of our sinfulness because then we get more grateful for what Jesus has done for us on the cross.” And as I was saying this to these other people I was thinking to myself, you know, “I heard this is helpful for you, but I was working all week with somebody who was so difficult to work with.”
I mean, I was a pleasure to work with, but they were was so difficult to work with. It’s just day after day it got more and more difficult. And I’m saying to them, you know, you discover a little more of your sinfulness. And I’m discovering deep reservoirs of my own sinfulness this week, as I wrangle with this personality.
There’s a story of a very holy man who the devil decided to bring down because he was so influential and he was so respected, and the devil said, “It’s time to bring this holy man down.” So the story goes that he sent his demons off to the holy man, and the demons went over, and they said to him “We’ve got all these fleshly options for you.” And the holy man said, “No I’m having nothing to do with it.” And they said, “Well what about these lies that you know; you could believe and enjoy?” And he said, “No, I’m having nothing to do with it.” “What about all these luxuries, what about all these compromises? And he turned everything down.
And the devil saw that the demons were getting nowhere and he stepped forward, and he said, to the very holy man this sentence, he said, “Your friend Stephen has been made Archbishop of Alexandria.” And he said that this great black scowl of jealousy came across the man’s face because inside us is that waiting to be surfaced.
Now, we need to take, therefore, this information very seriously. This is not to make us negative, pessimistic, depressed, gloomy. This is to make us realistic, informed, liberated. And as I say, appreciative to Jesus.
Old Bishop Ryle, who was a Bishop in the 1880’s said this,
“We ought to remember this in the training and education of children. In all our management, we must never forget that the seeds of all mischief and wickedness are in their hearts. It is not enough to keep boys and girls at home and shut out every outward temptation; they carry within them a heart ready for any sin. And until that heart is changed they’re not safe whatever we do. When children do wrong, it is a common practice to lay all the blame on bad companions, but it’s mere ignorance, blindness, and foolishness to do so.
Bad companions are an evil, no doubt, and an evil to be avoided as much as possible, but no bad companion teaches a boy or girl half as much as sin in their own hearts will suggest to them, unless they’re renewed by the Spirit. The beginning of all wickedness is within if parents were half as diligent in praying for their children as they are in planning their activities there would be great blessing for all.”
And that’s a pointed comment and a good reminder to us.
So, we face the good news which is that all the traditions, and the rules, and the regulations are not going to make or break your relationship with God. That’s a relief. And we face the bad news, and it is bad news, that the thing that makes us unclean is inside us, it’s a corrupt nature. It needs to be faced, and it’s beyond us to fix. So that’s the good and the bad.
The Bad News and the Good News
Now, let me say something about the bad and the good. I was talking with a man this week, and he told me of a little old lady who was knitting while she was driving. And a police car drew alongside, wound the window down and called out, “Pull over.” And she called back, “Socks,” and kept driving. Quite a cheesy little story really, but I tell you that because it’s no good hearing this and then just saying, “I’ll keep going.”
The Pharisees assumed the little bit of ceremonial washing on the hands would keep God happy. And so, I want to say the most important and significant thing of all to you right now, from this passage, which I could ever say to you if I had 100 sermons to preach to you… and this is the most important thing.
If you think the problems of the world are fairly shallow, you’ll look for a shallow solution. If you think the problems of the world are as deep as the heart, you won’t settle for a solution unless it reaches the heart.
If you think the problems are fairly simple and shallow and that we can solve them with a little bit of moving the chess pieces, well, you’ll just move the chess pieces. But if you know that the problem is in the human heart, you won’t settle for anything unless it reaches and it transforms the human heart. And that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why we need to pray for our children, that’s why we need to pray for our friends, that’s why we need to bring people under the sound of the good news of Jesus.
Now, you see the Pharisees, as I say, they saw the problem as shallow. The hands, wash the hands. So, shallow problem shallow solution. This is the way so many people think today. They think, simple problem, get the baby baptised. Simple problem, have some kind of link with the church, Christmas, Easter or not get the kids to classes, that’ll do it or “Maybe I’ll write a check, and that will keep God happy. Maybe I’ll join the church. Maybe I’ll take communion on a weekly basis. Maybe I’ll really change and become a good person.” All of that is just shallow, shallow, shallow.
The problem is in the corruption of our nature. The only person who can solve that is the Lord Jesus. The way he solves it as we know is by coming and dying to pay for that long list of sins and disobediences, and then giving us his new life by His Spirit in the heart so that we find ourselves with two natures when we’re Christians, an old and a new. And they struggle together. And there’ll come a day where the old will be eradicated, and the new will be totally transformed, and we will be by grace, by Jesus, fit for glory.
So don’t fall for a shallow solution it’s a very profound problem, the heart, and it needs a profound answer. That’s why the little incident that happens at the end with the woman versus 24 to 30 is so important. It’s not an accident that this happens immediately after the teaching because here’s a woman, she’s not a Jewish leader, she’s not a Pharisee, she’s a gentile. But listen to this, she knows that her daughter has a problem that is so profound, there is nobody, nobody, nobody who can do anything but Jesus.
And that’s why she goes to Jesus; she’s absolutely determined. Her daughter is possessed, it’s not a small issue, she’s got no time for shallow issues. She goes to Jesus, and she begs him. And you may remember from the reading that Jesus response is very tough, he says, “Shouldn’t the chosen people, the children of God, the children of Israel, shouldn’t they get my priority shouldn’t they get the Bread? Aren’t you one of those Gentiles?” Says Jesus “Aren’t you one of those people the Jews call dogs?”
Now, why does Jesus talk like this? It looks incredibly heartless, but he’s putting up these questions because she is coming at him so fast, and so surely, and so wonderfully, and so confidently he knows all of that is going to be completely steamrolled and it is. And she asks for what she wants, and she gets what she wants, and she goes home, and her daughter is delivered.
So, you see this simple woman; we might say, with no religious training knows that her problem is deep and goes to the only person who can really solve it who is Jesus Christ, and she leaves the Pharisees far, far behind. This little phrase about, yes, but even the dogs get the crumbs under the table has been written by Archbishop Cranmer, into the Book of “Common Prayer” of the Anglican church, so that when we come out to the communion table we will echo or voice what she said, which is “We do not deserve to even take the crumbs under your table. But you’re the same God whose nature is always to have mercy.”
And so he helps us to verbalise what she has wonderfully verbalised. Now, you might say at this point, “Well, that incident of the lady with the sort of the wild possessed daughter, that’s a very long way away from me.” But it’s not a long way away from us because the Bible tells us that every single person is spiritually dead in sin and trespass until Jesus gives them new life. And the Bible says that Jesus loves people so much that he would lay down his own life on the cross so that the person might be forgiven and made a brand new person when they put their faith in him.
I hope that God will give to you, and to all of us this morning the humility, the wisdom, to see that the problem of the human race is in the human heart. And that the solution to the human race is in the heart of the Lord Jesus who comes and pays and makes new.
A pastor was making a phone call to his wife in the last century; he’d walked into a phone box…it was the days of the phone box. And it was the days where the operator would need to make the connection for the caller. And he said to the lady, “Would you please put me through too.” And he stood there in the phone box, and as he was waiting, and it was a little bit of a wait, he said the words of a hymn. He said these words “My knowledge of my life is small, the eye of faith is dim, but it’s enough that Christ knows all, and I shall live with him.”
Just a little verse quoted in the phone box. And out of the phone came this extremely sad voice of the operator and said, “Could you say that again? So he said it again “My knowledge of my life is small, the eye of faith is dim, but it’s enough that Christ knows all, and I shall be with him.” And she said, “Thank you. Thank you” Because the deep need in our heart was hearing a deep answer found in Jesus Christ.
And you will measure your grasp of the sin in your heart by your gratitude and appreciation for Jesus. And you’ll also measure the grace of the Lord Jesus by realising the sin that he looked at and still came to die for and solve.
Let’s pray. We thank you, gracious God, that even though our hearts are so full of corruption and there’s nothing really enough to attract us to you, yet you looked in great mercy and grace and sent your Son with a completely pure heart to take our place and bring forgiveness and transformation. And we ask that these two great realities, our need, and your mercy, would be driven home that we might praise you as you deserve and serve you as so many need. And we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.