NKJV - Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
… 14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man...
21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 "All these evil things come from within and defile a man."
I’d like to begin by having you do something for me. I’d like you to shake hands with the person sitting next to you. It’s a pleasurable experience shaking hands, isn’t it? A couple of statistics for you. First of all, around the world four out of five people don’t wash their hands when they’re coming out of the bathroom. How does that make you feel about the person sitting next to you? You hear a stat like that and it instantly makes you worry about the contamination you’re getting from other people. But there’s another fact you need to know. Each of you have 3600 bacteria living on your own hands. You can’t see them, but they’re there. Forget everyone else’s—your hands are dirtier than you think!
Now I’m not trying to worry you. In America we have a good hand-washing culture. And washing our hands with soap is pretty easy. It only takes a minute or two and you get rid of a lot of those germs.
But there are other parts of our lives that are not so easy to clean. Our lives are still defiled by our many sins. What can we do to get rid of them? When it comes to sin, we need to see that Christ is our all in all—because, like the unseen germs on our hands, we are “dirtier” than we think.
- The problem is more than just “surface dirt.”
We are “dirtier” than we think because the problem is more than just “surface dirt.” That’s how we human beings tend to look at sin, isn’t it? It’s a “surface dirt” problem. We think of sin as things like using bad language or taking God’s name in vain, engaging in violence and murder, eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much, stealing, viewing porn, sex outside of marriage. And we figure if we can avoid doing all those things, we’ll be able to keep ourselves clean. We even come up with little rules to help us avoid doing some of these things. We tell ourselves things like, “I will wash my hands every time I go to the bathroom.” We may even get to the point where we start to feel good about ourselves. “I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not like those four out of five people that don’t wash their hands coming out of the bathroom.” We even get to the point where we stop worrying about our own sin and are only concerned with everyone else’s sin, as though the world’s moral filth is somehow going to rub off on us.
Well, that’s where the Pharisees were at. The Pharisees and the scribes basically believed that sin was only a “surface dirt” problem—a problem of outward behavior. And they thought they had sin whipped. They had even instituted a whole system of rules—“the tradition of the elders”—to make sure that they wouldn’t be tainted by sin. One of these rules was this handwashing ritual, where, after an afternoon of buying and selling in the market, you’d come home, and before you did anything else, you’d stop at a water jar by the door, dip your hands in up over your wrists, and ceremonially wash off all the uncleanness and sin you picked up from the world. This practice was so ingrained that, when they saw Jesus’ disciples eating bread without washing first, they found fault with them and with Jesus (v. 2). They even asked Jesus about it: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” (v. 5).
And this was how Jesus answered: “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. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (v. 6-7). He called them hypocrites! The religious leaders of Israel! And yet it was true! They thought they were holy—but they were really living a lie. Instead of listening to God’s Word and trusting in His promises, they had idolized their system of man-made rules.
Jesus gathered the crowd and set the record straight. He said, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him” (v. 15). All the evil that you see in the world, all the adultery, the homosexuality, the violence, the general moral uncleanness of society—none of it can make you dirty in and of itself. But “the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man… For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within and defile a man” (v. 15, 21-23). Sin is more than just “surface dirt.” Sin—the thing that defiles us and makes us unclean in God’s sight, that condemns us before God as people who deserve nothing but hell—it doesn’t come from outside of us, but “from within”, from our own hearts.
When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then afterword had her husband killed, it wasn’t because of his upbringing. It wasn’t because adultery and murder were so prevalent in his society. It was because he was following the sinful desires of his own heart. In Jeremiah 17:9 we’re told that the heart is deceitful above all things.
So, instead of being so focused on what other people are doing, let’s put our own hearts under the microscope. When you look at your heart, what do you see? Do we see the lust in our hearts when we find ourselves looking at an attractive member of the opposite sex? Do you see the rage and hatred that flashes when you find out someone’s been talking about you behind your back? Do we really see that green monster of envy rearing its ugly head when we learn about our co-worker’s promotion? Do we see that God’s Word judges our thoughts just as much as our actions, that he who hates his brother is a murderer—and that no murderer has eternal life in him (1 Jn 3:15)? The Pharisees wanted clean hands because they convinced themselves that following these rules would keep them from sinning. Yet all the rule-following in the world didn’t allow them to see their own growing hatred for Jesus—hatred… that finally ended… in murder. If you don’t pay attention to the sin in your heart, that sin eventually comes out.
Yet a funny thing happens when you put your heart under the microscope. You begin to realize that your sin is more than just “surface dirt.” You begin to see just how much evil actually lives in your own heart—that it’s worse than you thought. That we are “dirtier” than we think.
- The solution is a cleansing only God can give.
Hand washing is important; yet it’s also true that no matter how long or how hard you scrub, no matter what kind of soap you use, you will never get all the germs off your hands. It’s the same with the sinful thoughts and desires that live in our hearts. No matter what we do, we’ll never be able to get rid of all of them. Yet that’s exactly why Christ is our all in all. We’re led to realize that the solution to our “dirtiness” is a cleansing only God can give.
We’re dirtier than we thought. We can’t get rid of every evil thought or desire. And there’s no rule we can follow that will purify our hearts. The only solution is the cleansing that God has given in His Son Jesus Christ. As true man and true God, Jesus’ entire life, even His thoughts, remained pure and holy. When the Pharisees and scribes nailed Jesus to the cross, He wasn’t thinking of how He could worm His way out; He wasn’t even fantasizing about how He was going to get even. His only thought was, “Father, forgive them.” And by sacrificing His perfect life, Jesus paid the price of hell for all our uncleanness, including every dirty, evil, sinful thought we’ve ever had. By Christ’s dying and rising from the dead, God has wiped away the filth of all our sins.
You received God’s cleansing at the waters of your baptism, when Christ Himself removed your dead, sinful heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26). He put His Holy Spirit inside you, to make your heart captive to the Word of God, so that your heart isn’t just confronted with the law of God, it’s also comforted with the good news of His grace and love. The comfort that still has the power to cleanse your heart from sin’s guilt and power, every time you hear it.
There’s nothing wrong with setting some rules and living by them; we all do it. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that these rules aren’t going to save you. One day you are going to wind up breaking them. A day will come when you don’t “wash your hands”—either the soap will be out, the phone will ring, or you will just plain forget. And if all you have are rules, then you lose out on the comfort of the gospel. We’re dirtier than we think. The answer isn’t to come up with another rule to hide behind. Instead, confess the sin—whether it’s a sin in your heart or a sin in your life. Take it to Jesus. Let Him give you the cleansing that only He can give, the cleansing of His forgiveness, the cleansing that enables you to walk in newness of life. Let Him cleanse your heart—and in turn, your life—by the power of His love.
Hands washed with soap saves lives here and now. But hearts washed with the cleansing blood of Jesus saves our lives for all eternity. Amen.