Text: Mark 7:1-23
Title: True Godliness
Theme: True godliness requires a radical change of heart and submission to God's word.
From time to time people say, So and So is such a godly person. How so? Because he goes to church every Sunday. He listens to Christian music all the time. He reads the Bible and prays. He knows the Bible inside out. Or, he doesn't smoke, doesn't cuss, and doesn't watch movies or TV.
We all have our own criteria on what godliness is. Today's passage is about a confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees over the issue of godliness. To the Pharisees, godliness mean in addition to God's commandments, one must also obey the traditions passed down by their religious leaders. In these 23 verses, Mark tells us about Jesus' response to the general issue of tradition and to one particular tradition; the washing of hands.
From this confrontation, we learn the truth that true godliness requires a radical change of human sinful nature leading to submission to God.
Since Mark goes into great length to explain the Jewish traditions, let's also take a closer look at this issue.
I. Traditions that the Pharisees held onto. 7:3-4
The Jewish religious leaders in the first century held onto 613 decrees. Out of this, 365 are prohibitions, meaning you cannot do this or that. Another 248 are positive directives; this is what one should do. These instructions regulated every aspect of their lives. Such as how to keep the Sabbath, how to pray, how to prepare meals. There was a rule for every action. The religious leaders had this saying: To be opposed to the word of the scribes is worthy of greater punishment than to be opposed to the word of the scriptures. Simply put, it is better that you ignore God's commandments than you ignore the traditions of the elders. To the Pharisees, keeping these human traditions was the key to a godly life.
There are two specific traditions mentioned in the passage. First, Corban. Corban is a Hebrew and Aramaic word, designating something as dedicated to a religious purpose. They do it by a simple vow to reserve their possessions or money as a gift to God. Once a vow was made, no one was able to use it. Therefore if a son, according to God's commandment, is to honor his parents by providing for them financially, declares a Corban over his money, then he is freed from his obligation of caring for the parents. This is how human tradition was used as an excuse to avoid obedience to God's commandment.
The second tradition is about washing hands. In Exodus 30:19-21, we learned that before the priest, Aaron, could enter the tabernacle, he had to first wash his hands and feet. This is to symbolize the cleansing of his heart. You see, without a pure heart, no one can enter into God's presence.
However, later on, more rules were added to it. Such as how much water was adequate. When washing the hands, should one wash from the wrist down or from above the wrist? What is the posture of the hands; closed or open. If the shadow of a gentile falls on a dish, a couch, then they should also be washed. When they come back from the market, where they may have accidentally come into contact with a gentile, they must wash their hands before they eat. It is not about hygiene, like we wash our hands before we eat. But it is about ceremonial cleanliness. If the person does not wash his hands, he will defile his being, his soul.
These were some of the traditions the religious leaders upheld. They were more important than the commandments.
II. True godliness is found in one's obedience to God's commandments.
Prior to chapter 7, Jesus had just fed 5K men alone. He then healed the sick and walked on the water. His popularity had reached a peak. The Pharisees came from Jerusalem to see what was going on. Mark usually depicts Jerusalem as the center of opposition to Jesus'' ministry. The Pharisees came and saw something the disciples did not do. Coming back from the market place, they did not wash their hands before they ate. So the Pharisees asked Jesus, vs.5, “ 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Imagine, Jesus just performed those spectacular miracles, they did not ask, “tell us who you are?”, but how come your disciples did not wash their hands?
Its like you have just presented a great project report. Your colleagues a re congratulating you. And a manager c omes up to you and say s , “how come your tie doesn't match your shirt?” Or after a sermon, someone c omes up to me and say s , “Pastor, that was a great sermon, thank you.” Even before I ha ve the chance to congratulate myself on a job well done, another person says , “pastor, I couldn't follow your sermon at all.” Talking about an emotional roller coaster. This must be what went through Jesus'' mind.
What was Jesus'' response? (7:8-13) He did not deny that the disciples had broken a human tradition. He went on to say how they , in trying , to keep the human traditions, ignore d God's commandments. He used the example of Corban as how they in keeping human traditions, completely ignored God's commandment of honoring one's parents. He quoted Isaiah in vs.6-7, “ 6 And he said to them, "“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘ This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;" 7 "in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” Simply put, you use your lips to worship me , you go through the motions of doing certain religious acts, but your heart is far from me, because you don't obey my words, a nd my commandments.
I think of a rather dark period in this country's history. While worshipping God, singing Amazing Grace, many Christians owned and often mistreated their slaves. Or claiming to be Christians, they segregated the blacks from the rest of the society. Public facilities had signs such as: For Whites Only. We worshipped God with our lips but did not keep the commandments of “love you neighbor as yourself”. We failed to treat our neighbors with dignity and respect.
How about us today? I think of Sunday after Sunday, we sing praise s to God. But do we care for the poor, the homeless, the helpless and the oppressed? We sings songs of our adoration and love for him. But from Sunday afternoon till next Sunday morning, there is no sign of our loving him. We spen d most of our time pursuing wealth and personal satisfaction.
We sang that we want to be like him, pure and holy. Yet, throughout the week, we consistently find ourselves being drawn to internet pornography.
We sing we are members of one family, yet when the service is over, even as we walk out of the sanctuary, we fail to greet the person next to us. We act as if we are leaving the movie theatre when the show is over. It is like what is called the Stewardess syndrome. On the plane, the flight attendants are very friendly and start a conversation with you. But once off the plane, you become a stranger to them.
We worship God here, but at home, we treat our spouses worse than we treat a stranger. We are unloving, insensitive and uncaring. We let unresolved conflicts continue to ruin our relationship with other believers. The high divorce rate among the church goers is another indication that something is wrong. Instead of loving others, we too may use and manipulate others for our own purpose. We may continue on with our unethical business dealings. We worship with our lips, but fail to obey his commandants.
To Jesus, true godliness is about being obedient to his word. We can sing all we want ; perform all those religious acts, we may even be actively serving God in the church, but if we don't obey his words, it matters little to him . He calls such people hypocrites.
III. True godliness requires a thorough change of our sinful heart .
To the Pharisees, the outside elements can defile a person's being. Therefore, one has to make sure nothing is brought in from the outside. If you just come back from the market place, you may have touched an unclean person or item, then you better wash your hands or your soul is being defiled . This is quite similar to the Chinese thinking , isn't it. We have the saying that “the lotus remains its purity even though it emerge s from a pond of mud.” This tells us not to let the outside wor l d defile us. Yes, it is true that we must not let the outside world influence us into corruption. But what does Jesus say? Vs.15, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” No, nothing from outside can make you dirty. If you eat something dirty, mother nature will take care of it through your digestive system. The source of evil, the source of sin, the source of pollutants is not external but internal, what is in your heart. The disciples could not understand this.
Therefore Jesus explained this to them. Washing hands is a symbol of cleansing what is in our hearts. What is in our hearts? Vs. 21-22 is a list of sins in one's heart that would pollute him. Let us take a look at them:
Evil thoughts. This is really the source of all sins, right? Sexual immorality. It refers to marital infidelity, having sex with someone other than the spouse, rape and homosexual behaviors. Stealing. Taking what does not belong to you. This will include using company time to do personal chores, taking home company stationeries. Murder. Taking another person's life, including abortion. Jesus further sharpens this by including malicious cursing of another person. Adultery. This is violation of the marriage bond. Coveting/greed. Wanting something that belongs to others. Discontent. Always want ing more and more, instead of give, give and give some more. Wickedness. Deliberate and malicious acts to inflict evil on another person. The day before the examin ation , remove the latest medical journal from a fellow student's mail box . Deceit. To deliberately mislead or give out misinformation to someone. Like leaving out some important steps in an experiment so that your colleagues will not be able to repeat your experiment. Sensuality. Lack of control and giv ing into impulses and engag ing in immoral behaviors. Envy. Looking at others possession with an evil eye. Slander. To speak evil, negatively of another person. To say words that would damage the other person's reputation. Pride. Seeing self as better than others. What can you teach me that I don't already know attitude. A proud person is not teachable. Foolishness. Desensitized toward immorality. Loss of the sense of right and wrong. A call o us attitude toward injustice and violence in the society.
Jesus says that these are the things in a man's heart. These are the source s of one's sinfulness. Its not the environment, but one's heart.
As we read this we begin to feel real uncomfortable . We thought Jesus was talking about the Pharisees, and now it has come a full circle, he is really talking about you and me. He paints a very dark picture of the human heart, including yours and mine. He is telling us how sin has darkened every aspect of our being. This is total depravity. This does not mean that there is nothing good in you. Instead, every part of our being, our thoughts, emotions and behavior are being tainted with sin.
Here again , Mark seems to stop abruptly in his narration of this confrontation. We know we are to keep the commandments, but we also see our sinfulness and corruption. Therefore, who can keep these commandments? Mark appears to have left us hanging in mid-air. The characters in this story, the Pharisees, the crowd and even the disciples did not have answers to this, at that moment.
However, the readers of Mark know the solution. For at the very beginning of this gospel, Mark makes it clear that this Jesus, is the Messiah, the son of God. As the Messiah, in Ezkiel words, 36:26, “ 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” This is what Jesus meant when he said, “you must be born again.” It is about a new birth, a new heart. 2 Corinth 5:17, “ 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This is a new creation. 1 John 1:9, “ 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” E nvironment cannot change our heart condition . You know, whether you are in HK, China , Taiwan or US, our hearts are dark and evil. Education cannot change our heart . You have seen the darkest hearts right in Houston , in the highest academic institution s . You probably remember that it is from the country with the greatest education system came the two world w ar s. The only way is through a new heart, rebirth, a new creation. . This Messiah, the son of God, alone can give us a clean heart .
In C.S. Lewis Chronicle of Narnia, is a story about a young boy. He had been misbehaving and rebellious. Consequently, his entire body was covered with thick and ugly scales. He became remorseful of his wrong doing and began scratching and trying to remove those scales. No matter how hard he tried, they just kept growing back. Then one day, he met Aslan the Lion. Aslan asked what he was doing. He explained to Aslan about his remorse for his behavior. Aslan then said; Let me do this for you. Aslan sank his paws into the boy's body and it was so painful. But, with one pull, all the scales came out and the boy's skin became like that of an infant.
Some of us may need to ask Jesus to come into our lives, to bring about that radical change of taking away our sins and give us a new heart. With this new heart, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we learn to keep his commandments. This morning, we are privileged to witness the baptism of these 4 individuals. This baptism is a symbol of what has taken place in their hearts. Jesus Christ has already come in and has given them a new heart, a new life.
There are also those of us who have come to know Christ already. However, throughout the years, we have become so used to doing the ‘religious things'. We do all the things a Christian should do: going to church, reading the Bible. But somehow we may have overlooked some aspect of our lives that are against God's will, incompatible with his commandments. May be this morning is the time for you to come to Christ again, to confess to him your sins, ask for forgiveness and ask him for strength to make things right again. You see, true godliness is not about doing the religiously correct things. It is about a radical change of one's heart and being obedient to God. Shall we pray?
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