If you liked the old clunky digital watch, and you have a special place for the songs from the musical “Grease” in your heart, you probably lived through and remember 1972. That was the year that video games entered our American homes, and PONG became all the rage! The Swedish group “Abba” was formed that year, and it was also the year Johnny Nash wrote and performed the song “I Can See Clearly Now”. It reached all the way to the number one position on the Billboard top 100 chart. The song was optimistic, and said: “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright), Sun-Shiny day.” What a nice thought…Who can’t get excited about seeing obstacles move from your path and sun light up your way?
I mention the song, because the title sets up a series of stories from the life of Jesus that are about that very concept – seeing clearly. As the popular ministry of Jesus was waning by the time recorded in Mark 7 and 8 the disciples were still seeing Jesus in a “blurry way”, and the people in the society – especially leaders like the Pharisees, were still utterly blinded when it came to recognizing Jesus. Our text offers seven short snapshot stories (in this lesson we will see two of them), each that show something important about clear sight and recognition of Jesus.
Key Principle: In order to represent Jesus well, disciples need to see some things clearly – the depravity of the world (the extreme neediness of people) and the complete sufficiency of the Savior.
The first two snapshots of the passage indicate that neither the religious leaders nor the disciples of Jesus saw the utter depravity of people – and these two are what we want to examine in this lesson. It is an essential idea for the Gospel to make sense – people must know they are LOST to recognize the need to be SAVED…
Story One: The Pharisees couldn’t see depravity clearly; they thought they could “fix” people from the outside.
This is the common problem of religious people. Religious people honestly believe that if they change the behavior of people, they can get access to their heart and can make real and lasting change. Look at how the Gospel records the issue:
Mark 7:1 The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, 2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) 5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” 6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 7 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ 8 “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” 9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 “For Moses said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER ‘; and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH ‘; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
As you scan the passage, look at the Pharisees closely. What do you see? First, you will probably notice they were intensely watching what other people were doing, and they were all too ready to get offended at behaviors to which they didn’t agree (7:1-4). Though some could argue that these men felt particularly responsible for other Jews as leaders, the way they handled the situation demonstrated they were more concerned with being offended than correcting behavior. If you have been around religious people often, you may recognize that impulse.
As believers, we need to be very careful not to emulate this. It would be easy for us to waste our energy scanning the internet to get enraged by bad behavior. We may actually believe we are “staying informed” when we are, in fact, staying “unbelievably grumpy” because we hit the “enraged button” a hundred times a day. I encourage you to get up and talk to real people in your life. More people are changed by what you are FOR than what you are against, if you communicate it with passion and maintain a more positive sense of people. In every age since the Garden man has lived in a continual state of rebellion, and it is not healthy for you to keep binoculars focused on sinners so that you can be sufficiently upset at the “darkness of our times”.
If you keep reading, you will note that verse five (7:5) the question on the heart of the Pharisees was directly exposed when they asked Jesus a question, but the words were laden with presuppositions. The words were: “Why don’t they wash their hands?” That is safe enough. It is the end of the sentence that betrayed their thinking when they said: “Why do they eat with impure hands?” In other words, they spoke as though Jesus agreed that if they hadn’t washed their hands the way the Pharisees taught, they were eating with impurity. The truth is, they hadn’t made their case. They assumed that what they believed, because they believed it strongly, was evident to everyone – but it wasn’t.
In this, we also need to be careful not to mimic the ancient Pharisees. Frequently on Facebook or Social Media, I notice that a Christian will enter a discussion and throw their “Bible verse” into the discussion as if it is evident to all that if the Bible says it is true, everyone else agrees to that idea. The truth is that in our society most people don’t think the Biblical answers are any more than interesting ancient anecdotes. That isn’t my view, and it is probably not your view – but it is MOST people’s view. When we speak as though the verse we believe ends the discussion – they look at us with a puzzled face. I would argue that we aren’t connecting with them when we do that – but rather we sound dissonant, judgmental and bossy. Because the Word is true doesn’t mean everyone sees it that way – so we will need to remember the other ingredient in our presentation: “speaking the truth in love”. Bible verses that settle issues in our midst don’t settle issues in the local PTA.
There other way – far more effective and every bit as true – is to use care and grace to explain why what the Bible instructs has proven to be effective at making society work. Remember, you will always reach many more people with grace than with a dogmatic sound.
Take, for example, this story passed to me the other day. A woman wrote a story about a sad song Garth Brooks sang about motherhood. It was a real tear-jerker – and if you have seen it I know you agree. They posted a YouTube of the song on a morning show. Beneath it, someone wrote a comment that said something like: “I hate this. I grew up without a mom, and I am just fine. I wish people wouldn’t shove that in our faces like we all need something they think we need. I didn’t and I don’t care what he thinks!” Well… Christian friends…start your engines… Out came the Bibles. She was scolded for mocking God’s design. She was derided for whining. She was “set straight” by many who had good moms. What no one did was stop and write to her and ask her what was hard about the experience. What no one did was show her LOVE and offer her GRACE. At the end of the discussion, the Christians scored all the points on the board, but the woman was not reached. I submit that Satan kept his grip on her life, and the Christians did little but pat themselves on the back that they “held the fort of truth”. Can you see the Pharisee in the story?
Jesus answered the “Kosher Police” with a few words that are worth the time to really soak in. In verse six he quoted a prophet from long before and told them their mouths were doing a better job of sounding pious than their heart was doing actually BEING PIOUS. Can anyone relate to that problem? Would you love me less if I admitted that I live with that problem every day? I can teach truth much easier than I can live truth – how about you? Jesus’ words sting me often: “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.”
The Master went on to make plain that these men did more than live as hypocrites (since we all do that!). They elevated their own teaching to the level of God’s Holy Word – and that emptied the value of their worship – since God desires obedience over any ritual men put together. He made clear that while they emphasized their own teaching, they neglected the teaching of God’s commands, and even felt comfortable “setting aside” the commands of God when they didn’t fit into their lives comfortably.
In verses ten to thirteen, Jesus used an illustration of exactly what they were doing. They were commanded to honor their parents and care for them. Some of them, when they made money, instead of caring for their parent’s needs, gave large gifts and set aside large endowments in the public eye to get better positions and be affirmed as “benefactors” by men. They traded what was good for their parents for what was good for THEM and THEIR REPUTATION – all the while looking like it was for a reverent cause.
Jesus said they were, in effect “invalidating the word of God by their tradition” and that they were guilty of “many things such as that.” Here is another important lesson for the believer of our time. We may believe some pretty detailed theology. We may have a very good chart that explains what we believe and how we came to that point. What we cannot do, what we MUST not do – is forget to keep the main things central to our teaching and our behavior. Red-faced screaming of theological truth is invalidated by our method of delivery. You can say the right thing the wrong way – and it will become useless and vain.
The Pharisees cloaked their selfish desires for importance and affirmation in religious robes – but God was not fooled by their pious sound. Believers who truly want to please the Master must be warned – for there were several things the Pharisees didn’t seem to see that Jesus made plain.
First, purity doesn’t come from cleaning only the outside of anything. Sin is an issue of the heart, not the hands. You can be an effective sinner while paralyzed from the neck down. All you need to be able to rebel against God and His Word is a mind set to do so. Wash the outside of the hands and thoroughly clean the pots – that will deal with behavior and conformity – but won’t change the heart. That requires INSIDE cleansing of the spiritual variety – and God alone can effectively do that when we surrender to Him.
Second, no human tradition, no matter how carefully constructed, matters like obedience to the principles found in God’s Word. King Saul’s biggest post-Amalekite barbeque couldn’t make up for simple, clear disobedience. God isn’t interested in vast and elaborate religious displays made by un-surrendered people. Many people in the history of the church could just as well have stayed home as opposed to the production they put on to curry the favor of a God they didn’t worship nearly as much as they did their own appetites.
Third, the amount of rules we keep don’t equate to simple heart surrender – just religious busyness. It is possible to be incredibly busy serving a God you have little or no relationship with – people in church do it all the time. We have an elder who will tell you he was incredibly busy in church, serving for years a God he did not personally know. Serving replaces loving when serving is all we have to show with our lives.
Fourth, it is entirely possible to use religious tradition to hurt people, while ignoring my Word completely. In the case of the Pharisees, they literally took from their own parents to feed their own ego and gain in public popularity. “What kind of person would do that?” you might ask. The kind that would rather work the extra hours that spend time with their children, because their kids are “such a pain to deal with” – they would be the type we are reading about.
The bottom line was that Jesus knew what the teachers of the Law didn’t know – men weren’t innocent until ruined by society, or left behind simply by insufficient teaching on righteous practices – men and women were born irreparably damaged – apart from a move of God! The brokenness is referred to as utter depravity. The passage moved past the Pharisees, but it is clear that the disciples had learned what the Pharisaic culture was teaching well….
Story Two: The Disciples couldn’t see depravity clearly.
Look at the way Mark made clear the disciples didn’t get the picture any more clearly….
Mark 7:14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. 16 [“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”] 17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated ?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy , slander, pride and foolishness. 23 “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
When you read the account of Jesus’ words – you must be very careful. Remember that the one problem with Jesus’ sayings are that they were likely translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic forms that had poor construction for COMPARATIVES. In other words, when one wanted to say, for instance, that “Mary chose the better part” by sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha served the meals – the way to phrase it was “Mary chose the good part” – as if Martha was somehow deficient for keeping the place together instead of letting the pot boil over as she listened to Jesus. Semitic language doesn’t have the variety of ways of constructing comparatives. As a result, Jesus will urge people to love the Lord and “hate their mother and father”, when all He wanted people to do was love the Lord with so much more intensity than any earthly relationship. This passage is another comparative problem…
The truth is that there is MUCH that can go into a man or woman to defile them – and any clear reading of the Law would force you to conclude that. Jesus wasn’t actually trying to argue against those laws – only to say that the problem is minor by comparison to the HUGE PROBLEM people already have – the rebellious heart inside. Pharisees thought external practices could fix internal rebellion – but that doesn’t work. There are no rules that can be applied to a rebellious person that will make them truly obedient – only compliant. They may do what you ask because they don’t want a hassle over it.
Just like you “can’t make someone love you if they don’t”, so you “can’t make someone submissive to God if they won’t”. You can make them do what you want, but that isn’t the same thing as relieving them of the burden of a rebellious heart.
When Jesus went inside, He explained again the saying to the disciples – because they still could understand what He was truly saying. When you have been brought up in a world of religious externals, simple spiritual truths can be hard to grasp. Jesus told them the problem wasn’t defilement of the life through the stomach, but defilement by means of things that enter the heart that encourage its continued rebellion. He went on to say that even without outside help, the heart could pump out its own sewage.
Jesus taught that man was NOT basically good; he was not then subsequently ruined by poor social models and an improper upbringing. He didn’t simply “lack opportunities” that caused him to behave so badly. Jesus made clear: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts…” that we are going to see described. In other words – “the troubles between men come from the troubles within men”. Sinners don’t become sinners because of what they do – they do what they do because of what they already are. We all have sinful and rebellious inner natures – and so we rebel as naturally as we breathe. To learn to do otherwise requires the Spirit’s work of transformation.
Jesus spelled out the things that men have seeping out of the cracks of their stubborn heart in twelve sad symptoms. Look at the ways the sin nature shows:
1. He began with the term “fornications”, translated by Mark with the Greek word porneia. That term means promiscuity or if it is used in imagery it can mean idolatry. It is essentially selling myself to something that has become more important than a relationship with God. Jesus said people will easily put their sexual desires before a love for God.
2. Jesus said the sin nature causes “thefts” – the word “klopay” comes from a word that means “sneaky or under cover” and is usually used to mean dealing someone out of what is rightfully theirs. Jesus said people will try to trick people to get stuff that they didn’t rightfully earn.
3. The Master used the term “murders” and made clear that intentional, unjustified homicide came from a sinful heart. Men and women have an unbelievable capacity for cruelty to one another. Jesus said people will kill just because they can.
4. The Savior used the term “adulteries”, a word that means a casual breach of the marriage covenant – and there is little I need to say about this. Jesus said people will trash their most carefully worded commitment for a short season of pleasure because they are broken inside.
5. Jesus used the term “deeds of coveting” (pleonexia) which is a the term that comes from “counting numerically more” but is really about unbridled greed. Jesus said people will make a voracious appetite for “more” something to be admired – because of their sin nature.
6. The Savior used the terms “deeds of wickedness” (ponayria) to denote people who will deliberately causing pain and suffering. Jesus said human torture came from the rebellion in the Garden, and that we have it in the human condition because of our fallen state.
7. Jesus used the term “deceit” (dolos), a term that means deliberate “baiting” or “hooking” of people into something that will cause excessive emotional pain. Jesus said the weak would be trapped by the stronger because of the sin nature.
8. The Master spoke of “sensuality” (aselgia), which is a term for outrageous lewdness that rejects restraint. Jesus said people would become more and more vulgar and brazen about sin because they are broken inside.
9. The Lord spoke of “envy” (opthalmos: the word for the eye) by using an image word that meant excessive “gazing” at other’s things. Jesus said people will watch what everyone else has and be jealous if they don’t think they got as much – even if they don’t work for it – because we are sinners.
10. Jesus mentioned “slander” (blasphemia) which is an interesting term. Literally it is taken from the word “slow” (sluggish) to call something “good” (that truly is good). In the Christian Scriptures it is used for “switches” as in “right for wrong” (and wrong for right), i.e. One who calls what God disapproves, “right” which “exchanges the truth of God for a lie”, as in Romans 1. Jesus said people will make their own rules and trash God’s law – because they are sinners.
11. The Savior used the term “pride” (huperayfaneia)- a term that literally means “excessive shining” – but He used it to mean self-exaltation and self-absorption. Jesus said people will put themselves first because their heart is broken from the Fall of Man.
12. Finally, Jesus used the term “foolishness” (aphrosune), which is sometimes used to mean “impiety” but often should be thought of as a “lack of perspective”, emphasizing its quality (foolishness). Jesus said people will give their whole lives to things that don’t really matter because their sin nature blinds them.
He finished by making clear to the disciples the problem was already inside. In verse twenty-three (7:23) He said: “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.“
Stop and consider what the Lord was saying for a moment. Jesus wasn’t under the impression that if we offered people enough social programs, spent enough money on education and made everyone prosperous, we would live in utopia. People still would not be made well. Spiritual change – inner cleansing was absolutely essential to outer peace and harmony. People can be cruel and will be cruel until they are fixed inside. Let’s be absolutely clear: Jesus didn’t have an optimistic view of humanity apart from God’s intervention and transformation.
Another very important point to make before we close this lesson is this: The disciples were not much clearer on the true source of sinfulness than were the Pharisees that taught them in the synagogues as they grew up. That is a TREMENDOUSLY IMPORTANT TRUTH for followers of Jesus even today. We must RECOGNIZE man’s brokenness inside – it is the backdrop of all that we do.
Because of the Fall of man and the truth that we are all sinners, we must ever recognize that we aren’t good – even as followers of Jesus. We cannot trust in ourselves to fix ourselves or anyone else. Believers who forget their own sinfulness get haughty and hard to live with. Pharisees of old have nothing on Christians of the present. Some of us act as if we never have sinned when we deal with the co-worker who is obviously floundering, or the brother who has clearly fumbled their testimony. We do well to remember that we are among the sinners Jesus was speaking of when He talked about the fallen condition and its symphony of sounds.
There is another reason we should recall the sin nature that is just as important, and related intricately to our mission. We must not see the lost as our enemies but as victims of God’s enemy chained to their own fallen nature and in need of the key that will open the lock – that will keep our presentation gracious. When we see ourselves as broken, we don’t talk down to the lost – but across to them. We whisk with a cool and refreshing wind of freedom instead of stifling the room with fetid condemnation.
In order to represent Jesus well, disciples need to see some things clearly – the depravity of the world (the extreme neediness of people) and the complete sufficiency of the Savior.
We have mentioned much in this passage about the PROBLEM of man – the brokenness of his heart and the wickedness that lurks beneath the surface of the masks that we wear – but we would be remiss if we didn’t speak of the GOOD NEWS. God has broken the curse of sin in Jesus!
Paul told the Galatians:
Galatians 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
• The law leaves me with a need to perform, and I am not consistent.
• The law leaves me with atonement – a covering – but not truly clean. The dirt is under the covering.
• The law leaves me needing to do right things again after I do wrong things – it never stops.
Then came Jesus. He became the curse. He embodied it. He grabbed it and wore it for me. He was a condemned man – even though none of the punishment was for His own wrongdoing. He was ME.
Now I can have what I couldn’t manufacture – His righteousness. His complete cleanliness of spirit. His child-place in the Father’s house.. because of Jesus.
There was a certain old recluse who lived deep in the mountains of Colorado. When he died, distant relatives came from the city to collect his valuables. Upon arriving, all they saw was an old shack with an outhouse beside it. Inside the shack, next to the rock fireplace, was an old cooking pot and his mining equipment. A cracked table with a three-legged chair stood guard by a tiny window, and a kerosene lamp served as the centerpiece for the table. In a dark corner of the little room was a dilapidated cot with a threadbare bedroll on it. They picked up some of the old relics and started to leave. As they were driving away, an old friend of the recluse, on his mule, flagged them down. “Do you mind if I help myself to what’s left in my friend’s cabin?” he asked. “Go right ahead,” they replied. After all, they thought, what inside that shack could be worth anything? The old friend entered the shack and walked directly over the table. He reached under it and lifted one of the floor boards. He then proceeded to take out all the gold his friend had discovered over the past 53 years – enough to have built a palace. The recluse died with only his friend knowing his true worth. As the friend looked out of the little window and watched the cloud of dust behind the relative’s car disappear, he said, “They should have got to know him better.