This morning I read Mark 7 as part of my devotional reading. (I do the M’Cheyne reading program on youversion, and yes, I’m a couple days behind.) The first half of the chapter is a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees about ceremonial cleanliness.
Apparently, Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate, which broke the tradition of the Jewish elders. (The washing of hands had more to do with ceremonial or ritualistic cleanliness than personal hygiene.) When the Pharisees called Jesus out on this, he laid into them pretty good, calling them “hypocrites” and dropping some Scripture on them. (We would call this a Jesus Juke today, but what did Jesus call it? A “me juke”? “Typical conversation”?) Then he called out the Pharisees for having traditions that contradict the commands of Scripture. There’s a golden preaching moment here about our own traditions and beliefs that we value so highly but which, ultimately, contradict Scripture. But I’ll let that one pass…
As if that wasn’t enough, Jesus goes on to essentially rewrite all of the Old Testament food laws! Speaking about food, he says, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them.” This is a bold statement in that culture, and it certainly wasn’t lost on Mark, who commented on it, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.” This is such a loaded statement that I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll just have to let that one pass, too…
But Jesus isn’t done yet! He calls the Pharisees (and the rest of humanity, for that matter) on the carpet for the sin that resides in their hearts. That, he says, is what really defiles someone.
What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, our of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come–sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.
The Pharisees made sure to obey all the food laws because they thought that, by obeying Torah and Tradition, they would be clean, undefiled. But Jesus told them they were already defiled because of the sin that lives in their hearts. Our fundamental problem is not that we become defiled by the things we do, but that we are already defiled by the sinful desires that reside in our hearts, and those sinful desires inevitably lead to sinful actions.
The Pharisees’ attempts at ritualistic cleanliness were futile. In the same way, your attempts to be good enough for God are pointless. Because of indwelling sin, you simply cannot be good enough for God. None of us can. Our only hope is if someone who does not have sin can provide a way for us to identify with himself so that, when we stand before God at the final judgment, he will vouch for us.
Wouldn’t you know it? This is exactly what Jesus has done for us, and the way he has provided for us to identify with himself is through faith. No cleanliness commands. No tradition of the elders. No impossible moral code. Simply faith. How beautiful is that?