In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I don’t know if you remember this a few years ago: Mel Gibson was pulled over on the Pacific Coast Highway, suspected of being under the influence of alcohol. While he was on the side of the road and at the police station, he apparently berated the police officers, yelled at them, cussed at them, made anti-Semitic remarks. Afterward, as is usual, he apologized and said that there was no room for hate in his faith, that he didn’t believe the things he said, and that he was under the influence of alcohol, with which he had struggled for his entire adult life. Well, the public debate went on: were those things that Mel Gibson really believed? In other words, did he demonstrate the truth of the Latin saying, that there is “truth in wine”? That when you’ve had too much to drink, you say true things, things you really think, things you wouldn’t say if you were sober? Or are you under an outside influence, which causes you to say things you don’t really think or believe?
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience, maybe not under the influence of alcohol. Maybe something has come out of your mouth, or you’ve done something, that you immediately wish you could take back. Something that shocks and embarrasses you. Something where you immediately say that you didn’t mean to do or say it. Now I don’t know about Mel Gibson, and I don’t know about you, but I know myself. And when I say those things or do those things, it is not something outside me, no other person who made me do or say it. The devil didn’t make me do it. It was all me. I said it. I did it. Nothing outside me went into me and defiled me.
“Understand this,” Jesus says.” Understand this. It’s not what goes into you that defiles you. Not what you eat or drink. It’s not the unbeliever who defiles you. Jesus says, “Understand this.” But the disciples don’t. You don’t understand this? Jesus asks when the disciples ask Him to explain. Don’t you see that whatever goes into a person can’t go into his heart, what is at his core? What you eat or drink goes into your body and then, Jesus says, it goes out into the toilet. The problem isn’t what goes into you; it’s what comes out of you. It’s your heart that’s the problem. It goes all the way back. In Genesis 6, what does God see before the flood? He sees that all the desires of human hearts are only evil continually. Every desire of the human heart is only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). In Mark’s Gospel also, human hearts are not good. In Mark, hearts are hardened against God’s Word; hearts question and doubt Jesus; hearts are far from God. People are supposed to love God with their whole, undivided hearts, but they don’t. Hearts are the problem. Which is why Jesus declares all foods clean. In the Old Testament, certain foods are clean and unclean, but the foods are not the problem. Out of the heart comes all sorts of evil and uncleanness, evil desires, evil actions. Jesus names twelve things, and He says, “These are the things that defile, that make you unclean.”
How do you fix that? What’s the solution? The Pharisees had their solution. In fact this whole discussion started because the Pharisees were upset that the disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. Not because of germs, or because their hands were dirty, but because they had probably come into contact with some unclean thing or person. And the thing to do when you come into contact with someone or something ritually unclean is to ritually cleanse yourself. So you had to ritually wash before you ate, and ritually wash other things, so that you could participate in the sacrifices and rituals of the temple. Perhaps that would help if the problem were really outside you, but what if it’s inside you? Jesus says that the problem isn’t what you eat or drink or smoke, or whatever else you have in your mouth; it’s not that gun, or whatever else you have in your hand. It’s not in the place you go with your feet, with those people. Even if you go into a dark room by yourself, you won’t be able to keep from sinning. How do I know that the problem isn’t out there? Because Jesus never sinned. He had the same temptations; the same sins surrounded Him as surround us. There was no shortage of opportunity for Jesus to make Himself unclean. But He didn’t. Because His heart was pure, righteous, holy.
If the problem is in your heart, how can you fix it? The only way we know is to focus more and more on our attitudes, our motivations, our thoughts. But that will only send us into a sort of whirlpool, dragging us down and down, from which we cannot rescue ourselves. The only way to get rid of a bad heart is to have a new one. But a regular heart transplant won’t cut it. Who can ascend the hill of Yahweh? And who can stand in His holy place? Only the one who has clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4). Jesus alone stands in the holy of holies by His own purity. Jesus alone can go up the hill of Yahweh and be crucified, nails in His holy hands, blood and water from His pure heart. He takes your place before God, the holy for the unholy, the clean for the unclean. But how does His death help you? How does it cleanse your heart? Your evil heart needs to die. Good thing Jesus has a way for you to die even before your heart stops. He makes His death yours. In the water, He puts you on His cross. In the water, He buries you in His grave. In the water, He washes you clean. The promise is there in Ezekiel: that He will take your heart of stone, hardened against God, and put in you a new heart of flesh, near to God. Which is really to say, He puts in you the Holy Spirit. It’s the same thing: “Create in me a clean heart and renew in me a right Spirit.” The Spirit has the right desires, the right actions, the right loves. As Jeremiah said, “Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me joy and rejoicing of my heart, because I am called by Your Name which is on me” (Jeremiah 15:16). You are called by His Name, which is on you. It is because of that, that you belong to Jesus, that you have been named with His Name, that you find the words of God, eat them and inwardly digest them, and they are the joy and rejoicing of your heart.
The problem is all us, so the solution has to come from outside us. Jesus is the unique Man who is both one with us and outside us. He speaks from outside us. He gives us gifts that don’t come from us. He gives us a faith that trusts something outside of ourselves. In the Old Testament, in the shadows of the promise, if you touch a leper, you are unclean. If you touch a dead body, you are unclean. If you touch someone else who is unclean, you are unclean. And the rituals of fasting or being outside the camp, or making sacrifices, they could not do what they promise, because they pointed to something—Someone—else. Jesus is the reality, so His words, His rituals, are new life, cleansing and restoring us. All the rituals of the New Testament are nothing other than Jesus. Jesus in the water, Jesus in the words, Jesus from the altar. It’s all Him, and it all comes from outside us, into us, to make us clean again. Now and forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/30/15