Sermon Text — Mark 7:14-23
September 2, 2015 — Proper 17
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 the 7th chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
God Alone is Holy
Of the four gospels Mark alone sets Jesus’ death and resurrection in the context of Old Testament purity rituals. From the very beginning we find Christ’s herald in the water, baptizing for the forgiveness of sins. We find Jesus, Himself, baptized and then driven to the wilderness to face the Prince of this World. Everything that follows in Mark’s gospel follows these events and is an unfolding of Christ’s invasion of the strong man’s house. It is a battle not just of God and Satan but of Holiness vs. Uncleanness.
Thus we find Jesus, already in chapter 1 touching lepers. The clean cleansing the unclean. We find Jesus casting out, time and time again, not evil spirits, no demonic spirits, butunclean spirits, because Jesus’ mission and ministry is to undo the works of the devil. He has come to sanctify, to hallow, to make the earth holy with His Word. He has come to make holy that which has been defiled. Hemorrhaging women touch the hem of His robe and are healed. Dead little girls hear the voice of their creator and are raised up. Everywhere Jesus goes, every step Jesus takes, everything Jesus touches He is invading territory common to humanity and yet defiled by humanity’s sin. He is the light scattering the darkness. He is the Holy One of Israel drawing near to sinners. He is the only good in an evil world.
And He doesn’t wash his hands before He eats. Why? Because the tradition of the elders had mis-understood the Levitical purity laws. The Pharisees came to believe that holiness was all about the outside, what a person does or doesn’t do, what a person touches or doesn’t touch. If they washed they were in a sense holy. If they neglected to wash they were defiled. Being defiled they were not able to share in God’s kingdom and feast at God’s table. Being defiled they were not able to enter God’s presence. Thus the defiled were lost from God. Jesus’ neglecting to wash signified His defilement.
You see, the Pharisees believed that the purity laws were given by God to protect God and prevent the desecration of His Holiness. But God doesn’t need protection from desecration – people do. Desecration of God’s holiness doesn’t injure God but rather grieves His heart. Why? Because God alone is holy – It is His essence. It is His substance. In Him is no sin, no death, no darkness. Desecration or defilement doesn’t hurt or harm God’s essence or His substance but it breaks His heart because He is prevented then from sharing Himself safely with His people. It is a dangerous thing for a sinner to encounter the righteous and holy God. That’s why Adam hid in the bushes and Moses removed his sandals. That’s why Egypt’s first born didn’t survive the Passover and Nadab and Abihu were consumed with fire. That’s why Uzzah was struck dead when He touched the Ark and the Philistines were stricken with boils when the captured it. You see, the God of the bible is not the sort of warm fuzzy, puppy loving, ever tolerant, easy going god our culture thinks He is. Such a god is a false god and an idol dressed in bible clothes. No, beloved, it is a dangerous thing to encounter the God of the scriptures in His holiness.
The Pharisees thought Jesus wasn’t taking this seriously. Jesus instead teaches that the Pharisees were the ones not taking this seriously because they were not taking their sin and the source of their sin seriously. It must be noted beloved that Jesus isn’t talking with gentiles in our text. Jesus is talking with Jews, those who were baptized in the Red Sea and shared in the Passover Meal. And in our text this morning this conversation continues with His disciples and so also you and me. For we who share Christ’s baptism and feast at this altar are bound to the Words of Christ and we do not have the liberty to discharge the words we don’t like.
You see beloved, we are a people and culture who are drawn to heart talk, love language, emotions and feelings and wonderful experiences. We have so internalized and subjectivized the gospel that we make everything we say, do, believe and think all about our relationship with God. “It’s just me and my best friend Jesus.” So we like it that Jesus talks about the heart in our text. We like that Jesus doesn’t wash his hands before eating. We like it because we wrongly assume Jesus is teaching against any outward expression of work. “It’s all about the heart.” We tell ourselves. Well, what does Jesus actually say about the heart? “Out of the heart” come all these sins. The heart is the sin factory, the source of our depravity, the reason for our demise. And out of the heart comes sin. What does Jesus say about these sins? He says, “these come from within and defile a person.” In other words, the heart does in the body what the heart loves in its depths. And what the body does not only reflects the depths of the heart but also does the defiling. Sin defiles a person and to be defiled is to come under God’s curse! Paul, Jesus’ sent one, says that “do you not know that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor. 6) Defilement grieves God’s heart because He is prevented from sharing Himself; His life, His holiness, His blessings safely with the ones whom He loves. You cannot continually practice these things and expect to survive judgement day. These sins defile a person and lead to death and hell. These are the words of Jesus and if we’re to take Jesus at His Word then we must take His Words seriously. That’s why James the brother of our Lord says, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word which is able to save your souls. Be doers of the Word not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:21-22). Or in other words, repent and believe the gospel.
Our High Priest Makes Atonement
The good news is that Jesus has invaded the strong man’s house. Not only as the stronger man, but as the Holy One of Israel, the great High Priest who bears the sins of the world before God. Jesus has come to do His Father’s will. And by that will “we have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10). You see beloved, the holiness of God is not manifested in the rejection of sinners but in their redemption. Rather than draw away from us, Christ came near. He invades this common world under the dominion of the devil and all that is unholy in order to sanctify, hallow, make you and me and all the earth holy with His holiness. For He alone is holy. And His holiness is manifested in love. The heart of God does what He loves. He loves to redeem sinners. He loves to share Himself. He loves to save. He loves to forgive. He loves to atone. For it pleased the Lord to bruise His anointed one. Jesus, founder and perfector of our faith was pleased by the joy set before Him to endure the cross, scorning its shame and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. You are that joy. Your salvation was the reason for His crucifixion. Your sanctification was the purpose of His resurrection. Jesus’ blood makes atonement once and for all. The Holy One became unclean. He alone who is Good was numbered with transgressors. The righteous arm of God was stretched out on the tree of the cross, pierced through and brought into death. Jesus was defiled by our defilement and became a curse for us. For as it is written, “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Thus in Christ God was both just – punishing sin, and justifier – making sinners righteous.
Sanctification – Close Encounters with God
Through His death and resurrection our High Priest has prepared a way of holiness that is safe for us to travel. He has enabled us to have a close encounter with Himself and survive. You have been placed along this way of holiness when you were baptized. Your baptism put you into Christ and created within you a new heart. “For you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11) “If any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation, the old has passed away. Behold the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17) In those waters you who were once blind, dead, and God’s enemy have been brought near. You have been enlightened by the Spirit, quickened from death, and are now called “sons of God” and His friend. Through water and the Word God has shared with you His Son, filled you with His Spirit, and hallowed you with His Word.
Thus when Jesus talks heart talk He does so that you not trust your heart, that you realize your constant need for a new heart, a clean heart, a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone. Sadly, too many Christians today reflect the spirit of the Pharisees and try to offer God their heart “promptly and sincerely”. Where in the bible does it say Jesus even wants your heart? Don’t give your heart to Jesus. Repent of your heart and believe the gospel. Walk the way of holiness by faith and continually receive God’s holiness through His Word and Sacraments. Be doers of the Word and put your faith into practice with love and good works towards your neighbor. For God has not sanctified you for idleness or licentiousness but that you bear fruit in this world and lead lives of holiness to His glory and for the good of those around you.
God is Good
Therefore, beloved, you who have been sanctified by the washing of water and the Word are now incarnations of God’s holiness. You are what the bible calls “saints”. The Holy One has given Himself to you, not merely to possess, like a lucky charm in your pocket, but to constantly receive. For all holiness comes God and God alone. It is a gift given in Word and water and under bread and wine. Through these the Lord who redeemed you loves you, forgives you, and strengthens you for service in His kingdom and along His way. You are no longer your own, following your heart wherever it may lead, but you have been bought, purchased, redeemed by the blood of your God and are now given to follow where He leads. His Word is your light in the darkness of this world and your refuge when besieged by the enemies of the truth. Your sanctification happens here in Christ’s church on this day at this time. The Divine Service is your close encounter with God, His means of Grace the only safe way to receive these divine blessings.
Departing from His house you enter again a world filled with blind, dead, enemies of our God, a world bent on sexual perversity, who are lovers of money, and think its okay to make commodities of women and children born and unborn. You, who are God’s saints, invade a common and unclean world. You not only have God’s holiness as your salvation but also are given holy vocations to towards your neighbor. God’s holiness is manifested in love. Sharing God’s love is sharing God’s holiness. He who has blessed you sends you out to be a blessing to others. God doesn’t share Himself to stop you in your tracks, like children playing tag. No, beloved, God shares Himself with you, allows you to partake of His holiness, not to freeze you in place but to free you, not to stop you but to start you, not to make you static but rather kinetic, not to kill you but to quicken you, to enliven you with His life and so also draw others to Himself. Therefore glorify God in your bodies. Be doers of the Word implanted within you. Live in your baptismal grace, continually renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways in this world. In this way, what is good, and right, and salutary and Holy is manifested to the world in the hopes that they too repenting and believing the gospel are spared from this wicked and perverse generation, being saved for the day of judgment. Help us to believe and do this dear Lord.
In Jesus’ Name. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!