The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 3, 2017
Text: Mark 7:1-8,14,15,21-23 Revised 3-year series B 17:2028
Theme: “Lord Jesus, Make Me Clean”
A little boy noticed that the old family clock had stopped. Taking it off the shelf, he tried to wind it. But it slipped from his hands and hit the floor with a thud. As he picked it up, he noticed that the clock’s hands weren’t moving. He removed the glass, withdrew the hands, and took them to a repair store.
When he entered the store, he told the repairman, “Please sir, fix these hands right away. They don’t work right.” The repairman examined the hands and said, “Son, the hands are fine. However, if you would like me to fix the clock to which they belong, you’ll have to bring me the clock.” “But the hands aren’t working,” cried the little boy. “True,” replied the man. “But that’s because there is something wrong inside the clock.”
It’s the inside that governs the workings. That’s true of people too. It’s things within, the heart and mind, which govern the outward behavior.
When our hands go wrong, or our feet take us places we should not go, or the tongue, eyes, or ears behave in bad ways, the source of trouble is not the part of the body as much as it is the heart. If your hand hits someone, steals, or does other wrong things, putting medicine on your hands won’t make them better. To fix what your hands do, God has to fix your heart, on the inside of you. Jesus said: “From within, out of the heart, come evil thoughts.” First we think wrong, then we do wrong.
God fixes us on the inside by giving us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us a new heart, a heart that loves Jesus, our Savior, and wants to be like Him. So we pray, Lord Jesus, fix me. Or in the figurative language of our text: Make Me Clean.
I. Cleanse my heart.
We actually say that almost every Sunday. It’s in the words that we sing following the sermon, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” The psalmist is saying, “Lord, fix me. Make me clean by cleansing my heart.
You see, our lives of faith, the Christian life is first a matter of the heart. If we have a problem in our lives as Christians, the symptom may reveal itself on the outside, but the real problem is within. Jesus had to make that clear because the Pharisees had made religion a matter of the hands, that which a person did outwardly. The matter in our text had to do with washing the hands.
Now, God does not really have a lot to say about hand washing in the Bible. And what He had to say about it, dealt with the priests and their handling of the sacrifices (Ex.30:17; Lv.22:4). It had to do with worship and ceremonial things. God didn’t have much to say about personal hygiene and its relationship to faith, but the Pharisees did. They made it into a religious matter.
That is the reason that when they saw the disciples eating without washing their hands, they accused them of wrong. Actually, they wanted to accuse Jesus of sin. But notice how they said it, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the traditions of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
Ah, the problem did not really lie with the washing of hands, nor with the Word of God, but with the disciples not keeping the traditions of Israel’s leaders. They made it a matter of religious “truth” saying that one became unclean and therefore unworthy before God if one ate food without washing one’s hands.
Now, you will search the Scriptures in vain to find any statement like that from God. These were rules taught by men who then made what they said the basis for a true religious life.
Stop and think a minute. Do we or could we do a similar thing as the Pharisees did? Do we make human traditions or rules of men sacred – as though God Himself has declared it to be and it can’t be done otherwise? Could we do that in the way that we worship, or in the way that we govern the congregation, or when we try to do something that perhaps we have never done before? Do we put traditions or rules taught by men above the Scriptures?
Traditions can be good and give meaning to that which we do; rules can be helpful to guide us in an orderly and God-fearing way. But if our traditions and rules are not commanded by God and are not motivated by grace and the love of Christ, we burden people’s conscience, demanding that things, neither commanded nor forbidden by God, have to be done the way we say otherwise it is not Christian. Then we have gone too far. And should our demands ever supersede Paul’s reminder that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Ga.5:1) then we have crossed over into the area of work righteousness and not of grace. We will have taken religion out of the heart and made it a matter of the hands – not a matter of what we believe that God has done for us, but a matter of what we do.
True religion isn’t a set of rules that governs what we do. True religion is about what God through Christ the Savior has done for us. It’s a matter of the heart and faith, not a matter of the hands and works. If we make it that, then we would descend to the point that the Pharisees did in making religion just a matter of outward show.
Jesus once described people who did that as “whitewashed tombs.” On the outside they appeared clean and white, but on the inside they were crawling with filth and decay (Mt.23:27). He compared them to cups that were clean on the outside, but dirty on the inside (Mt.23:25). There’s a little bit of that in all of us because of the Old Adam who still lurks within us.
That Old Self likes it when others think that we are good Christians on the outside. But the outside is governed by the inside. What if people could look into our hearts and see what is really there? It’s bad enough to think bad things, but to have people see them would be terrible! So we hide our sins within with great determination and feel safe in pretending by what we do that we are better than others. Yet God sees all motives and thoughts.
It is by His grace that we are saved and by His grace that we are clean – our sins washed away in Jesus’ blood. Through Him and through the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts, we have become new people. As the Bible says, “You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1Co.6:11).
God makes you clean before Him. It’s not a matter of rules or traditions; it’s not a matter of what our hands do; it’s a matter of God’s grace. And believing it you will one day be among those of whom it is said: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rv.7:14).
So it is that we pray, Lord Jesus, Make Me Clean, cleansing my heart through what You have done for me.
II. Cleanse my life.
When the inside is clean, the outer life will reflect it because clean hearts produce clean deeds. It’s like the clock. When the inside is fixed and running right, the outside hands will run too.
Likewise, when hearts are clean then lifestyles will be clean, too. Oh, not perfect mind you, for we still live in an imperfect world. We are tempted and we fall. Here we have no perfect hands, no perfect minds, no perfect eyes, tongues, or ears. And that truth distresses the Christian. If it were only a matter of outward appendages we would be lost forever for so often they fall prey to doing the wrong thing.
But true faith and true religion is not of the outward appendages; it is a matter of the heart, as Jesus implies. The Pharisees did not believe in Him and their hearts were filthy. It showed in their work righteous attitude.
But the heart that believes in Christ as Savior is a heart that is washed clean in His blood. And it will show itself in how it runs on the outside, not in perfection but in repentance and faith and the desire to change and live in God’s ways. It’s not demanding but loving, not insisting our way, but living God’s way. It’s done not because one has to do it, like the Pharisees proclaimed, but because one wants to do it to thank and honor Christ who saved us. And when we fail we run back to Him time and time again to have that heart forgiven and renewed. A clean heart will lead to a clean life.
If it is true as Jesus said that dirty things come from dirty hearts, then it is also true that clean things come from clean hearts – hearts washed in the blood of Christ.
So, don’t despair when the hand or the tongue or the eye or the ear seems broken. Instead run to Christ and pray, Lord Jesus, Make Me Clean, cleansing my heart within – not through man-made rules or human traditions but through faith in You. And with such faith being present, cleanse my life without. Lord, what You do within will affect me on the outside, too.
Hold to that faith, dear friends. Hold to your baptism by which He washed away your sins. Hold to His Supper by which He forgives you directly and empowers you to live for Him. Hold to His Word of grace and He will make you clean. God grant it to us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.