Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s (evening’s) sermon is taken from St. Mark’s gospel account (Mark 7:1-13) the seventh chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
Here come the scribes and the Pharisees. Bound in chains and bearing the burden of their elderly tradition they approach Jesus in disgust. They’ve got a beef with Him. Truth is, their problem isn’t so much with Jesus in our text, it’s with the Lord’s disciples, people like you and me who follow and listen and seek to please the Lord of Glory with faith and good works. Only the Pharisees and scribes have their own ideas about good works. They have their own ideas about what is good or bad, common or uncommon, clean or unclean.
Their elderly tradition has taught them to wash before they eat. But these people aren’t concerned about hygiene, nor was Jesus for that matter. They’re concerned about following the LAW, their ritual baptisms, the ceremonial cleansings which were prescribed by Moses in everyone’s favorite book of the bible: Leviticus. Except, Leviticus never prescribes such things for the people, only for the priests. Only the priests were to wash before serving in the temple. Certain washings were prescribed for those who bumped into an unclean person for some reason or another, but no washings were prescribed in order to eat. It seems that in their zeal to keep from transgressing the Law the elders, scribes and Pharisees, erected another law, a sort of hedge around God’s Word. And that hedge, that man made custom, soon trumped the Divine Word of their creator and thereby bound their heart to the word and practice of mortals.
They approach Jesus because of His disciples. They go after Him on account of their tradition. In response Jesus neither defends nor renounces their traditions, rather He goes after their hypocrisy. He goes after their heart. Doing so, He goes after us and our hearts. You see beloved, it’s all to easy for us to hear this text and think, “aha, Jesus renounces everyone who follows tradition. Tradition leads to hypocrisy and Jesus is against hypocrisy so Jesus must be against tradition. But listen closely beloved, the concept of tradition is not the problem. Tradition trumping Scripture, man’s word being exalted over God’s Word, binding hearts to that which is mortal – THAT’S the PROBLEM!
And it’s a problem for you and me because we’re a lot more like the scribes and Pharisees than we think. In many ways it’s simply easier for us to keep and maintain our “traditional” routines rather than follow, listen, believe, and do God’s Word. And we all have such routines. I mean – isn’t that why we’re all here this morning (evening)? Isn’t this our routine? We all have our “ceremonial washings” that we invent, our own little “traditions” that have been handed down to us, taught to us by our peers, our culture, our media, even our conscience. Oh, it may have nothing to do with washing our hands before eating, but there’s a reason why so many are compelled to shower before and after pre-marital or extra-marital sex. There’s a reason we “feel” dirty. There’s a reason we “feel” ashamed. There’s a reason we “feel” guilty.
When we transgress God’s Law we sin. Sin makes us “unclean” and both the heart and the conscience know it, even if the mind ignores it. And so we invent ways to make us “feel” better about ourselves. We develop routines, works, “washings” that we can do. We fail to believe and do what God says, so we come up with our own words and works that we think we can keep. Humanity is replete with examples. Nearly every religion has some sort of “washing” ritual. Nearly every primitive culture has some sort of means of dealing with the pollution, the uncleanness of body and soul. And they all involve the works of the person. They are all focused inward. “I washed. I covered up. I feel better. I’ve given my heart to Jesus. I’ve found religion. I love the Lord” And perhaps my favorite one, “I have forgiven myself.” At least the last one deals somewhat with “forgiveness” even though it’s completely false and idolatrous. “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. 7 And in vain they worship Me. . .”
Beloved, there is nothing you can give to God which would cleanse you of your guilt. There is no Korban for God from you. There is only Jesus. That’s why Jesus goes straight to the heart of the matter with the scribes and Pharisees. That’s why He goes after your heart. We are more like the scribes and Pharisees than we want to think or believe. However, Jesus is for us. We must never forget this simple and important truth. Jesus is for us, for you and me and for the world. His righteousness fulfills our failures and His passion covers over our sins. He may or may not follow the traditions established by men. But he most certainly fulfilled the Law with a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees and you and me.
Thus, Jesus is for us our Korban. As our Korban He is all gift, gift to the Father for us having offered Himself on the altar of the cross – shedding His glory, seizing our sin, embracing our mortality, bearing our guilt, receiving our hell, enduring our death, and suffering our uncleanness. And He is gift to us for through the shedding of His blood He has become our atonement. And His blood is for the cleansing of body and soul, heart and mind – our whole person that we may be washed from the pollution of our sins, bathed from the filth of our society, and rinsed of the uncleanness of our generation. For Christ our Lord ascended the tree of the cross, descended into the pit of the grave, and rose triumphantly from the dead “that He might sanctify and cleanse His bride by the washing of water and the Word.”
What then was given on the cross is given to the Father and given to all who believe and are baptized. You beloved are not to look inward seeking cleansing from within, elevating your works and deeds and traditions and routines above that of the holy and cleansing Word of God. Nor are you to fix your heart on that which only covers the outside or appeases your “feelings”. Rather, you are called to fix your heart and mind and soul and strength on that which promises to wash your sins away. Look to your baptism. Look to the works of Christ given you in water and the Word. As Dr. Luther says, “Holy Baptism has been purchased for us by the same blood which Christ shed for us and with which He paid for our sin. This blood, with its merit and power, He has deposited in Baptism so that men (women and children) attain it there. For the person who is receiving Baptism in faith in effect actually being visibly washed with the blood of Christ and cleansed from sins.”
Looking to baptism you behold Christ who comes from outside of you to cleanse the inside and outside. Jesus goes straight for the heart. Our merits and deeds can never cleanse the heart. But the blood of Jesus given in Baptism, poured on us through “the washing of renewal and regeneration” saves us. Baptism forgives sins. Baptism washes away guilt. Baptism delivers the passion of Christ. Baptism pledges the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Baptism gives what the world’s religions cannot give, what your heart yeanrs for, what your conscience knows you need. “Baptism now saves you – not through the removal of dirt from the body – but with the pledge of a good conscience to God (not your conscience but Christ’s) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
Thus looking to baptism you find outside of yourself, your own works and merits, the promises of God for you. You find Jesus for you.
Beloved in the Lord, it is precisely because of your baptism into Christ that Peter boldly declares your status in the Kingdom of God. “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1Pe 2:9 ESV). What was once reserved only for priests has now made all God’s baptized children a “royal priesthood.” Where the scribes and Pharisees bound themselves to the tradition of the elders and therefore also bound them to disobey the Word of God, you, on the other hand, through your baptism have been released, set free, liberated, forgiven to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” You are released to be priests and set free to proclaim God’s wonders.
Now, priests make sacrifices. Your sacrifice is service to your neighbor. Your service to your neighbor – husband, wife, children, friend, co-worker, stranger, enemy – is your good works. Your good works do not cover over your sins, but rather the consequences of the sins of others in your neighbor. Your proclamation is the Love of God in Christ for the world and for whoever will listen. Thus while serving your neighbor you bear the Love of Christ to the world. Bearing the love of Christ to the world you proclaim the wonders of His salvation. You present yourself as a living sacrifice. You honor your father and your mother, you cling to the great Korban – Jesus your Lord for the free forgiveness of sins. Husbands are free to love their wives and wives are free to submit to their husbands, parents are free to serve their children and children to honor and obey their parents. And all of this is done according to God’s Word, not man’s word, not the media, the thought of the day, the presiding culture, not even what we think is best, all is to be done in submission to Christ and founded on His promises given you in water and the word. Thus we honor Christ with more than our lips, but with hearts drawn near, also with our lives. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Pastor Tony Sikora
Hope Lutheran Church
De Witt, MI