Find time to pray this week. Steal a few minutes from your schedule, from your sleep, or from your TV watching, and pray. Pray for your neighbors, co-workers, and the people of Shore Community Church. Pray the Model Prayer of Jesus that we are preaching through this summer. Pray the Psalms…Psalm 1, 23, 51, 91. There are 150 of them, pick one. Ask us to pray for you. Your circumstances may or may not change. But, the people around you need you to pray for them. Let your heart and mind influenced by God in prayer. Let your will and desires be shaped by God in prayer. Let your anxiety and troubles be affected by God in prayer.
Contrasting the story of the religious leaders who exploit poor widows, in Mark 12:41-44, Jesus points out a poor widow. The important and wealthy people are throwing large sums of money into the temple offering and they are making sure everyone sees them do it. In the middle of this, along comes a poor widow and she drops two small coins into the offering. The value of these two coins was about 1/64th of what a laborer might earn in a day. Let’s say a person in our day makes $100 in a day, this offering would be $1.56. She had only two coins, she could have kept one for food or something, but she gave both.
There were others in the Temple whose spirituality was noticed. The wealthy threw lots of money in the offering and it made them look and feel spiritual. Yet, their spirituality cost them very little. It didn’t require them to sacrifice. Everyone recognized they must be very spiritual because of their show they put on. But truly and deeply, their spirituality was anemic and had no substance. Yet this woman’s genuine spiritually goes unnoticed because she only tossed in two coins. She has done what Jesus said his followers must do – deny themselves and take up the cross. She has loved God truly and authentically, unlike the others, yet no one even knows about it.
What Jesus points out here is that her worship and love for God was true and genuine. Even the person of humble circumstances can come before God in worship. God doesn’t consider one’s wealth or social status when we come in genuine worship. She had no means and no influence yet she worshipped God properly.
Jesus talks about money enough to make it uncomfortable for us. But, really this passage is about a person’s heart. This poor widow’s heart belonged to God. The wealthy people worshipped themselves, not God. Where we place our money is a great indicator of whether or not our hearts belong to God. The way we give tells us a lot about the condition of our hearts. The way we see others give tells us little about the condition of their hearts. Whether you see someone give or not, whether you see the amount they give or not, only God knows their situation and motives.
In discussing this passage, it isn’t necessarily vital to apply it in the context of giving money to the church, although that is important. What is most important though, is that you understand money in terms of worship. Let it be a means of worship rather than an object of worship. Be generous and honor God with your money whether you place it in a basket at church, or give it randomly to those in need, or contribute to alleviating poverty in 3rd world countries through microfinancing. There are lots of ways to worship through giving. Be like this widow. Have no concern for what others see, but use your money as a physical and tangible way of worshipping God. We can worship God by giving in a way that only he knows. Do it publicly, do it secretly, but worship him in this way.
If Jesus is not Lord over your life, you will find yourself worshipping yourself, or your money, or your desires, or any number of other things. Life is disjointed, it’s out of sync when we worship ourselves or other things. Worship Jesus, not your money.
The story of this wealthy man in Mark 10:17-31 is a contrast to the previous few verses about those who enter the Kingdom like children. This story describes again the intensity and seriousness of following Jesus: he tells this man to sell everything he has! Although God may not call me or you to do that, we have to be careful not to temper this message. Jesus does and will call people to forsake everything in a physical and tangible manner. Some have given away wealth, others fame, and still others their physical lives. So, when we approach a passage like this we need to make sure we feel the tension and the weight of what it would mean for us to sell all that we have and give the money to a homeless shelter. For some of us it is inconceivable that we would do this. For others of us, we know that if we had to do it, we would immediately get to work rebuilding what we had. God gives us everything we have to leverage for his Kingdom and his glory. Our temptation is to leverage it for our own comfort and pleasure. God gives us the time we have, the talents we have, and the treasure we have to bring people to him, to build the church body, and to honor him.
You might call these things “The 3 T’s” – Time, Talent, and Treasure. We are all given the same amount of time in our days and weeks, and it’s up to us to make the most of that time for the Kingdom of God and not squander it. Everyone is busy, the question is, are you busy in a way that honors Jesus? Also, we all have some type of talent or gifting that God has given us. People are naturally good at certain things or are naturally inclined to doing other things, and we have opportunities to use those talents for the glory of God. The Bible also talks about spiritual gifts like mercy, giving, leadership, teaching, hospitality, and many others. God equips each of us with gifts to serve the whole body. Although some gifts are in plain view, others are behind the scenes, but if any of us neglects to practice our gifts, the whole body suffers. In the church, our lives in Christ are intertwined; we are not completely separate and autonomous. There needs to be those who teach, those who listen, those who perform acts of service, those who encourage, and those who practice lots of other gifts. Many times, each of us have a combination of talents of differing degrees and it practicing them, we find how we can best serve the body. Practicing our gifts is to build up the church: to build in numerical growth, and to build the body spiritually. We all are given time, we all are given at least one talent or gifting, and then we all have Treasure. Some of us don’t have much and some of us just think we don’t have much. Whatever we have, we have an opportunity to leverage for the Kingdom of God and to see it as a tool rather than a goal, as a means of worshipping God rather than an object of worship itself. In the Gospel of Luke we see this element of our treasure discussed in several places especially in Luke 16:10-13 where Jesus says we cannot love both God and money.
This was the source of the internal struggle of this man in Mark’s Gospel. He had lived his entire life properly and uprightly, but there was a void, a problem in his soul. He followed all the rules and lived morally. But, he was trying to serve both God and money and Jesus knows it. So, this man asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, and Jesus responds with theology, with love, and with application. Jesus’ response is deep, authentic, and simple.
First, in verse 18 Jesus responds to this man with theological depth. He responds to the man’s greeting “Good Teacher” by saying “There is none good but God.” Jesus recognizes this man has come to him with sincerity looking for answers, but out of the gate, Jesus reminds him that even with his moral achievement that doesn’t make him good. Only God is good. There are aspects of goodness reflected in humanity because we are made in God’s image, but the only one who is good in essence, who defines goodness, and who is the embodiment of goodness is God himself and God alone. Jesus responds this way because if we properly understand goodness, this man is correct. Jesus is good because he is God. So when Jesus responds to this man’s search for filling that eternal void in his spirit, this isn’t simply moral advice dispensed by some guru. Jesus speaks the word of God. He speaks from authority and he speaks not just advice, but truth. This man has undoubtedly heard of Jesus’ reputation and authority and this is why he comes to this teacher and healer. But Jesus lets this man know a little more about him than most do, although he does it in a cloaked manner. Jesus hints to this man at his divinity. He’s not just a healer and teacher, but God in human flesh. This is a deep theological truth, but it is also immensely important for people who follow Jesus to understand. Jesus is a man, he is a teacher, he is a healer, and he is also God. He is God and man together in one person. So when we speak of God we speak of Jesus and when we speak of Jesus we speak of God. Jesus is our friend and brother, and he is also our King and God. This should give us comfort when we are lonely or discouraged and it should cause us to fear when we are tempted by our sin.
Another theological point of this passage is found in the interaction Jesus has with his disciples about this discussion with the rich man. In verse 17 the man asks about eternal life and in verse 23 Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. Then Jesus mentions eternal life in verse 30 in speaking of the age to come. Our understanding of eternal life should be more shaped by Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God than by popular conceptions of clouds, harps, golden halos, and angels. Living in God’s Kingdom is eternal life and there is not eternal life outside of God’s Kingdom. There are quite a few more references to the Kingdom of God than to eternal life in the New Testament. Eternal life is much bigger than we can conceive it to be. Eternal life exists in the context of God’s Kingdom. He is infinite and so is his rule, so life in and with him will surely be much greater than the popular conceptions of the afterlife. Jesus teaches about the Kingdom that has come and has begun, but it continues eternally and we are invited into eternal life in his Kingdom if we believe and repent. Jesus calls this rich man, and his disciples to a greater depth in understanding who he is.
Secondly, Jesus responds to this man in Verse 21 with authentic love. Before Jesus gave instruction to him, he loved him. He felt compassion for him. Remember that Jesus is the true King who has compassion and love for his people. This man is often referred to as the Rich Young Ruler because Matthew notes his youth and Luke refers to him as a ruler. In Tim Keller’s book “King’s Cross“, he notes that one of the reasons Jesus loves him is because of his status. Like this man, Jesus is young, around 30-33 years old. Like this man, Jesus is a ruler, his Kingdom knows no end. Like this man, Jesus possesses great wealth, he owns the cattle on a 1000 hills. The rich man recognizes Jesus as a good teacher, but has no clue with whom he is speaking. Jesus has authority and wealth in an infinitely greater way than him. And yet, at the prime of his life Jesus in his early 30’s Jesus will forsake it all and go to a cross. He tells this man to give away his wealth because of its stranglehold on his heart. But Jesus can tell him to do so with integrity because he is doing the same thing, but to an infinitely greater degree. Jesus gives up a heavenly throne to rescue people like this man, and when he says, give your wealth to the poor, he knows exactly what that means because he has done no less.
The third ways Jesus responds to this man is with simple application. Jesus says, all you have to do is sell everything and follow me. All you have to do is deny yourself and pursue the cross for your life. The man understands this command because it is simple, but it is so difficult for him that he leaves full of sorrow. It says he’s “disheartened”. Other translations say he is “grieved”. Why? Because he knew he wouldn’t do it. Jesus requires him to forsake what is most dear to him, his wealth. And he loves God, but not quite as much as he loves his money. More than this Jesus doesn’t require him only to give up what he has, but to set a new course for the future as well. Jesus says “follow me”, no longer is he to pursue God and money, but only God. Jesus is calling this man, to give up what he can gain in this life, to gain the next life. He has said this before in other places. He says it in chapter 8 when he says “deny yourself” and he has just said it in verses 13-16 saying that we must receive the Kingdom like a child. For some people, God will remove obstacles that prohibit us from coming to him, but in this case, he asks this man to remove the obstacle himself and give away his wealth. Sometimes we need to pray for God to remove what is holding us back, and other times we need to pray that God would change our hearts to help us love him more than our stuff and ourselves. Jesus’ Disciples sensed the magnitude of this simple command as well. We see Jesus interact with them in verse 23-31. In verses 23 and 24 Jesus tells his disciples twice “How difficult is it for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God”. He says it twice so we should make sure to hear it. In verse 25 Jesus says his famous saying that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” than for the rich to enter the Kingdom. It’s impossible Jesus says. There’s not a chance it’ll happen.
Verse 24 says the disciples were amazed at this and in verse 26 it says they were exceedingly astonished. They say in verse 26, “Who can then be saved?!?!” Jesus says that God will make a way in verse 27. It is impossible for us to save ourselves. It is impossible for us to squeak by and obtain eternal life in God’s Kingdom. But, what is impossible for us is possible with God. He would make a way for people who continually turn away from him to pursue ourselves and our own desires and pleasures to enter his Kingdom.
Then in verse 28, ol’ Peter chimes in. He calls to attention that these disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus. “But we have given up everything, does that mean at least we will get eternal life.” “Look at us” he says. “Look at me!” – I left everything, I give 10%, I go to church every week, I sacrificed something for God, I, I, I….If you are still looking at what you have done, then you aren’t looking to Jesus for your salvation, but to what you have done. Jesus’ response to the question “Who can be saved?!?!” is crucial. Though we would attempt to gain the Kingdom through wealth, influence, power, or even our own righteousness, it’s insufficient and sub-standard. This is not how eternal life in the Kingdom is gained. Jesus changes everything. This is why he says in verse 31, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Whatever you forsake or lose in this life will be gained in the next.
But the difference between what you can gain in this life and what you can gain in the next is infinite. The more we realize this, the less we will live for the things of this world and live for the one to come. What are you living for? Can you sincerely and truly say you love Jesus more than your financial portfolio? Jesus loved this man and he saw that the greatest obstacle to life with God for this man was his wealth. Jesus loves you and if there are things in your life before him it is dangerous and destructive whether they are matters of wealth, relationships, hidden addictions, or anything else. When we read this story, it should cause us to repent of anything we are pursuing or loving more than Jesus. Do you love God more? More than your wealth? More than your hobby? More than your job? More than yourself? Don’t forget that he loves you so much he went to a cross for you, so anything that hinders us from loving him, is not good for us. Open your heart and life to him today and give him everything.
Working through books of the Bible like this is a good thing. It helps us to understand broad passages of scripture and themes that run through scripture. Another thing it does is forces us to deal with some of the more difficult passages. Mark 10 brings us to one of those types of passages. Jesus talked about things that many people would rather not hear. But, if Jesus takes on a subject, it is certainly worthwhile for us to hear what he says about the matter. In Mark 10:1-12, Jesus teaches about divorce, but this passage is about more than divorce.
All of us are deficient in our relationships with other people. God designed us to live together, not isolated, and he designed us to love one another, not to look out for ourselves foremost. But, all of us eventually and inevitably will put ourselves first in some ways in our relationships with other people. One example of this fracture in our relational abilities has been divorce. Divorce has been a human problem across cultures and throughout history, and it’s no different in our day. Most studies will show that around %50 of marriages end in divorce. There’s a University of Connecticut sociology professor named Bradley Wright who published a book in 2010 called “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told”. In this book, he deals with how research is conducted and how statistics about Christianity are interpreted. He challenges his readers to view statistics about Christianity with critical eyes. One thing he discusses is the statistics of divorce amongst Christians. He takes on the stat that 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce. He analyzes it from a different perspective because a lot of how you interpret that statistic depends on who you understand to be a Christian for the purposes of the study. About 6 out of 10 Christians who rarely or never go to church have marriages that end in divorce. About 4 out of 10 Christians who attend church regularly have marriages that end in divorce. That means that you are %50 more likely to get divorced if you are a married Christian who doesn’t attend church. But, again, statistics are only as valuable as their accuracy and their interpretation. One example is that studies like this often count two people who are divorcing one another and this changes statistics as well. What this does show, is that regular church attendance makes a large difference in our marriages. So, be encouraged because statistically speaking, all you have to do is show up!
Divorce is symptomatic of the larger human problem of sin. If husbands and wives weren’t sinful people, divorce wouldn’t be a problem. One of my favorite principles about relationships is “sinners react sinfully when sinned against”. This means that when people are sinned against, our reactions are often sinful. This is something that leads to divorces, but it also leads to sibling rivalry and severed friendships. In examining Mark 10:1-12, our task isn’t to figure out how to avoid getting divorced. This isn’t a “5 steps to a successful marriage” passage. Our task is to understand what Jesus says about divorce and how, by teaching about divorce, he is calling us (married or not) to believe the Gospel and align our lives with it.
There are four lessons that we can learn from this passage:
First, divorce is a case study in human sinfulness. In verse 1, it says he was teaching the crowd which was his custom. And verse 2 says, the Pharisees came to test him. Their custom was to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and ministry. Jesus was not teaching about divorce, he was teaching what he had always been teaching: the time being fulfilled and the Kingdom of God coming near. But the Pharisees’ bring up a tricky and obscure aspect of the law as a ploy to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and make him mess up in front of the crowd. So, when they ask him about divorce, he simply says in verse 3 “What did Moses say?” In verse 4 they say, Moses said there were rules that had to be observed if divorce was going to happen. Then Jesus does what he did over and over in verse 5. He explains why the Law says what it says and in doing this, he also explains why the Law is deficient to cure our hearts of their sinfulness. He explains the background to the laws just like he did with the dietary laws in Mark 7. He says Moses allowed a concession to the best way of living in Marriage because of the people’s sinfulness, because of their hard hearts. The reason there was a law about divorce, or murder, coveting, and bearing false testimony or dozens of other laws, is because people could not live properly in relationship to one another. Nothing about that has changed. Even if divorce never happened, our ability to live properly in relationship with one another would still need help. All the laws were given because people had hard hearts. God gave the Law to Moses to teach people boundaries that they couldn’t find themselves because of their sinfulness.
Jesus teaches that there is a better way. The better way is that we would love one another. If people loved one another as God intends, there wouldn’t need to be laws about murder or theft. If spouses loved one another, humbled themselves, and placed the other first every day and in every way, there wouldn’t be any need to talk about divorce. Jesus says there was an intention in marriage from the outset when God first brought man and woman together, but ever since then it has been corrupted. Our hard and sinful hearts have wrecked our ability to live properly with one another. This is why we see adultery, prostitution, and multiple spouses, among other deviations from what God intended for marriage. I’m not even talking about what can be seen on TV or in the Movies; this is what we see in the Bible. In verse 6 and following, Jesus describes what God intended in the beginning, but with sin came corruption. It corrupts every aspect of our environment and our being, so of course it affects our marital relationship. But this is certainly not limited to divorce.
In verse 7 Jesus speaks to the separation that comes from parents when two people are married. There are countless marriages that one spouse or another hasn’t figured out how to keep his or her parents from meddling. In verse 8 Jesus speaks to the unity that marriage brings and yet there are countless marriages where people resemble roommates more than they resemble God’s intention. Rather than unity in marriage, there is competition in marriage. This is seen when each spouse has to have their own identity separate from the other. The desire for their own friends, hobbies, and places is something seen in many marriages that is opposed to God’s ideal for marriage where there should be oneness and unity.
The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but divorce is often the end result of two people who cannot figure out how to place the other before themselves. And again, this isn’t only a problem in marriages and divorces, but in any relationship that any of us have. We have to learn from Jesus by following him, how to put others before ourselves. The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but they don’t really care about it. This is a question about Jesus’ authority more than on divorce. They aren’t asking if divorce is a desirable situation, they ask if it is lawful. They expect Jesus to oppose Moses, but Jesus affirms what Moses taught and in the process he reveals the sinfulness in the hearts of those who attempt to discredit him.
Secondly, even in passages like this we need to remember that Jesus is more concerned with our hearts than our ability to uphold a moral standard outwardly. The Pharisees feel free to ask questions about divorce, because none of them were divorced. This was a way for them to declare their moral superiority over other people who had been divorced. But Jesus won’t let them get away with that. We’ve probably all seen this in the church or other Christians too. Because I don’t sin the way you do, does that put me on a higher moral plane before God? Jesus says absolutely not. The Pharisees lived impeccable lives and were nearly flawless morally. Yet, Jesus continually takes issue with them, because many of them didn’t love God from their hearts. If you’ve never gone through divorce, you should thank God for that. But you should also guard your heart against thinking yourself better than anyone who has. There absolutely are outward moral standards that we need to live according to. But, simply because we uphold a moral standard, doesn’t mean God has our hearts. Just because a couple isn’t divorced doesn’t mean that their marriage reflects God’s ideal for marriage. Jesus says the problems people have in marriage arise from hard hearts. Instead of desiring God’s best for our lives and the lives of others, our hearts are inclined to demanding our preferences and placing ourselves first. In a marriage, this often leads to divorce, but even if it doesn’t lead there, it leads us away from God’s ideal for our lives.
Having a hard heart has nothing to do with whether or not we are married. If we allow our lives to be directed by our own preferences and ambitions rather than being directed by God’s love for us and our love for him, we are leading ourselves to destruction. The Law was given to a sinful people who couldn’t figure out how to love God and one another more than they loved themselves. This is the human predicament in our sin. It doesn’t mean that we always love ourselves more, but everyone will at some point place themselves before others in some way. This problem can’t be fixed by trying harder or by disciplining ourselves. We need rescued. We need forgiven. We need restored. We need new hearts. This is why Jesus comes. He comes to give us life in him where we grow in the church learning how to love God and others more than we love ourselves. He comes so that one day we can live together with him forever in the Kingdom of God where we all place one another before ourselves. Can you imagine what that would be like? It will be heaven, because of course, it will be heaven! God designed us to live a certain way, and when we deviate from that way, we are opposing his plan.
Third, Jesus taught that divorce is opposing the plan of God. This isn’t intended to lay a guilt-trip or to make anyone feel bad. We have all opposed God’s plan in some way and at certain times. But anyone who has gone through or been around divorce knows that although sometimes it’s necessary, and sometimes it’s unavoidable, it’s still terrible. It still leaves scars. There are still repercussions. Even if it was the best thing for the long-term, it still brings problems. God’s plan for our lives is for our best and when we oppose it we see the chaos and the pain that is brought about. This is illustrated over and over again as people go through divorce. This is why it’s important to look at divorce as an example of what all of our sin does. Whether, we’ve been divorced, or we are greedy, or we are angry, or we are selfish, or we are lustful, there are consequences and chaos that comes from our sin. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this so our flirtation with sin or our tolerance for sin in our own lives will bring us to repentance. Jesus deals with sin. He does so because it is not just wrong, it’s harmful, it brings chaos, it is the opposite of loving God and loving one another.
Last of all, Jesus deals with sin…period. He doesn’t exclude divorce, but he also doesn’t highlight it as the worst sin.Jesus shows in this passage that divorce is wrong for many reasons, but that having a hard heart is worse than being divorced. All sin is harmful, destructive, and painful. Healing only comes in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness can only be found in Jesus. This applies to unmarried people, to people with horrible marriages, and even to people with great marriages. Our sin causes us to have problems with one another. It also causes us to have problems with God. Jesus doesn’t sit on his throne in heaven pointing his finger, he steps out of heaven and takes on human flesh. He places himself amongst sinful people who misunderstand and mistreat, and who reject him and kill him. But in his holy perfection, he loves them in the midst of it. Because of our King’s great compassion on his people, he allows the rebels who nailed him to the cross to be forgiven and set right and he allows us to become citizens of his Kingdom. He forgives us and he renews us and one day he will complete his work in us. He calls us today to believe in what he has done to deal with our sin, and to repent, to align our lives with his way of living. So, whether you need to repent of the ways you are living in your marriage in relationship to your spouse, or the ways you are sinning against your family, your friends, your neighbors, or even yourself, Jesus invites us to come to him and deal with our sin. He bore the punishment of our sin in his death. In his resurrection, he displays the promise of the life he is bringing us to eternally.
Last week, we looked at the first part of this story, found in Mark 7:1-13, where Jesus teaches that true religion isn’t only about what you do, but why you do it.
Read the remainder of the story in Mark 7:14-23.
In verse 14, we see Jesus take this private debate out into the crowd and the scribes are no longer mentioned. Jesus is through debating them. Jesus explains the reasoning behind his teaching on the cleanliness laws. He begins to discuss the principle of being unclean or defiled which underlies the purity laws of Leviticus 11 and 17 and the scribal tradition. Jesus moves the focus from the “how” to include the “why” because the scribes were only concerned with the outward “how” not the inward “why”. He takes this far beyond the issue of ritual hand washing. His main point is that defilement comes from the inside not from the outside. Sin isn’t only an external problem, it resides deep within us. This is why true religion isn’t only concerned with the “what” but also the “why”; not just the action but the motivation.
In verse 17 after this, Jesus retreats privately with his disciples. He calls this teaching a “Parable”. This is different from other parables, yet it is still a story with a cloaked meaning. In typical fashion, in verse 18 the disciples don’t understand what in the world Jesus is talking about. Then in verses 18-19, he explains to them in the simplest terms possible, you can almost feel the sarcasm as he explains the digestive system. “When you eat, it goes into your stomach, not your heart”. Verse 19 goes on to say “it is expelled”, which is the polite way of translating what it literally means, “It goes down into the latrine”. This is how we can be confident that Jesus is frustrated and getting annoyed with his disciples, his words are bordering on being crass.
Then there is a parenthetical application of Jesus’ words. “In saying this, he declared all foods clean.” This is important, because soon after Jesus rises from the dead, the Gospel spreads to lots of non-Jewish people who like to eat pork chops and lobster. This allowed these people to become followers of Jesus without being bound to the books of the Law or the subsequent customs that had been set up in an effort to protect Judaism. It is also a significant comparison with Moses. Moses said certain things about dietary laws in the Book of Leviticus. Here in verse 19, Jesus is now saying new things about the diet of the people of God which supplants Moses’ words. How can he do this? Because he is fulfilling these laws. The Laws don’t make a person clean, Jesus does.
The Law couldn’t remove a person’s moral defilement and it couldn’t cleanse our sinful hearts. Only Jesus can do this. There is something similar to the chicken/egg controversy going on here, but we cannot practice true religion unless our hearts have been changed. Also, if our hearts have been changed, there will be outward and external evidence of this.
Remember, Jesus is greater than Moses. He doesn’t just proclaim the Law; he gave the Law to Moses. He doesn’t just repeat the Law, he fulfills it. Jesus points out that the deficiencies of these laws and customs is that they do not deal with the person’s heart. “Heart” is a term used metaphorically to refer to one’s essential personality. Biblically speaking, it doesn’t refer only to emotions, but also to spiritual and intellectual process: the will. In our day, we speak of the heart in more soft and emotional terms, it is the place that we feel deeply. But biblically speaking it communicates much more than this. It is a person’s individuality, what makes them who they are. This is our primary aspect of personhood that is affected by a relationship with God. Jesus points out that our hearts are not affected by what we eat or drink. Food is of nutritional significance, but not spiritual. Gluttony and drunkenness are spiritual problems manifested in the vehicles of food and alcohol, but the objects themselves have no effect on our hearts. It is sin in our hearts that cause them to be abused. Many things may be “vehicles” for our sinfulness without actually causing our sinfulness. Jesus expands this with a list of different sins which reside in our hearts in verses 21-22.
The way this list reads would lead you to think that “evil thoughts” is one of the sins, but the list is actually different examples of evil thoughts or you might even read it is as “evil plans” which reside in our hearts. The list is extensive, but not exhaustive. In other words, we all will certainly find one or more of these things in our hearts, yet, to our great encouragement, more sins than these probably can be found in our hearts. We see a list like this, and we say “Who, then, can approach God saying ‘I am clean!'”? Only those who have been made clean in Jesus, forgiven by his blood payment of our penalty.
Christianity is not an inner religion or an outer religion. It is both. There is no dualism; we are one person, body and soul. Those that practice Christianity only inwardly are prone to neglect dealing with the outward sins. Those that practice Christianity only outwardly are prone to be arrogant in their morality and judgmental, neglecting the sin which resides in the heart. We know both of these deficient practices of Christianity in a more proper term: hypocrisy. Christianity deals with the heart and the actions, neither to the exclusion of the other. Rather, the mature Christian will see how the two dance together. To truly cultivate a heart for God, our behavior must reflect the character of our King. And to truly live morally and properly, our hearts must be enamored by our King. When we read a list like this, we have to be careful not to allow our attention to drift to other people. The point of a list of attitudes and behaviors like this is to delineate specific areas where our hearts must be aligned to the way God intends for us to live. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but to be a point of reflection and repentance for each of us personally.
Some might easily check off sins like theft or murder, but slander and pride are not so easily dismissed. There is an interrelationship among these as well. Coveting leads to theft. Sensuality leads to sexual immorality. So there is a progressive nature to our sin as well that must be curtailed before we reap what we sow. The inward sins lead to the outward sins. The Pharisees added customs to prevent from breaking the laws. But Jesus says, your preventative measure should have been dealing with the sin in your heart, not adding outward duties to your religion. In this passage, Jesus is dealing with people who are prone to practicing the outer aspects of religion yet neglecting the inner aspects, the matters of the heart. Jesus shows that whether we commit these sins or they remain in our hearts, they cause us to be unclean. In the Old Testament, being unclean meant you had to be separated. Separated from other people and from the tabernacle or Temple. The physical uncleanness was taken seriously because it pointed to the spiritual uncleanliness. The outward sinfulness points to the nature of our sinful hearts. Measures we would consider drastic were taken when a law was violated. Stoning was proscribed. People had to leave town because of their uncleanness. This was to teach that spiritual uncleanliness, which we also call sin, causes us separation. Separation from God and from other people. Sin is the opposite of holiness which is one of the essential characteristics of God. No sin resides in him, nor is there evil in his motivation or meditation. So when men and women, who have sin in our hearts approach God, because of his character, he must reject us as unclean and as those who have committed rebellion and treason. The only proper place for someone like this is death and hell.
A person who commits treason and rebellion against the King has no way of rescue. Such a person has earned his punishment…unless the King extends his grace. So in his infinite love and providence, God ordained a way to accept men and women, and yet exact the death penalty for their rebellious sin in order to protect his holiness. For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
Up to this point Jesus has appeared as a figure of powerful action rather than a teacher, and has been received with popularity. But at the beginning of chapter 7 controversy comes and it is met by even more controversial teaching. The religious leaders reenter the picture for the first time in a few chapters and they come back with a vengeance. Jesus doesn’t back down though, and his words only stoke the fire of their hatred. Jesus has just returned to town after some time away and the crowds of people immediately gather around him. Along with the crowds come the religious leaders who were known as Scribes and Pharisees. This next passage is about one of confrontations Jesus had with them.
Start by reading Mark 7:1-13.
Jesus’ teaching here puts him at odds with accepted religious norms. In the next passage, we will see him push the envelope even further. The Pharisees and the scribes from Jerusalem show up again to confront Jesus. Here again is the reminder that Jesus is making the wrong people angry and as his ministry and notoriety grows, so does the danger that he is going to have to face the consequences of his actions and words. The last time these scribes showed up they told Jesus he was demon-possessed, so we don’t really expect it to go much better this time. They take issue with Jesus over some of the customs of the day called Food laws or Dietary laws. Food laws were a major distinction between Jews and non-Jews. There were several things that separated the Jewish lifestyle from a pagan one and some of the major things were circumcision, Sabbath, and the food laws. Now, in the book of Leviticus there are many rules about how one might become ritually unclean and therefore not allowed in the Temple area, or potentially even in the camp or town. To these Laws, in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders had added other customs to make sure they wouldn’t even come close to breaking the laws. Hand washing was one of these customs that was not found in the Law. So, when the religious leaders see Jesus’ disciples eating without washing, they confront Jesus in verse 5, asking why he allows them to do this and why they do not follow tradition. His answer is a remarkable and gutsy one.
He quotes Isaiah 29:13 saying, “This people honors 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”. Then in verse 9, he applies Isaiah’s words to these Scribes and Pharisees saying they reject God’s commands to establish their own. With the Isaiah quotation he confronts their thinking in which they believe that by doing the right things God accepted them. In other words, Jesus is challenging the belief that God accepts us based on what we do or our ability to outwardly conduct ourselves in a way that earns God’s favor. Jesus is not advocating moral license or saying we can abandon all the rules of proper behavior. What he is getting at is that God doesn’t only look at what we do, but also our hearts.
Following Jesus isn’t only about what you do, but why you do it. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons is just as offensive in the sight of God as doing the wrong things. Some might then say, well then, shouldn’t we just enjoy doing the wrong things? That question stems from a misunderstanding or a denial of the destructive nature of our sinfulness. Passages like this one show us that God doesn’t allow people to skirt by on a technicality. You don’t technically obey God’s law, but not really. This is the attitude Jesus is confronting in these people.
If the only thing that separates the people of God from people who do not know God is technicalities, then something has been lost. Jesus is showing that there is something much more important than what is seen on the outside. There is something deeper than external behaviors that separate God’s people from the others. He has taught before, primarily in chapter 4 about what separates those in the Kingdom of God and those outside the Kingdom of God. Here he is back to this again, but this time in reaction to the religious leaders confronting him on the issue. They were saying in effect, we know we are God’s people because we are obeying the tradition which says we wash our hands. Jesus is saying, that’s not how you know you belong to God. He must have your heart as well.
In verses 10-13 he offers them an example of what he is talking about. Jesus says, you know that Moses says to honor your parents, but you have devised a way to manipulate God’s law for your own purposes through a custom called “Corban”. It means, “something offered or dedicated to God”. Though it’s not completely clear, it appears that it was possible for a son’s property to be declared “Corban” so that it technically became divine property and thus no longer accessible to the parents. But, somehow it still allowed the son to retain the benefits of the property while denying the benefits to his parents or relatives. This elevated the rule to keep vows over the rule to honor one’s parents. It has nothing to do with the purity customs they were debating, but illustrates how tradition was being misused to avoid honoring the Law. Jesus is showing that the purity laws were not to cause people to be excluded from God’s people, but to show them how to be included. The laws weren’t so anyone could gain leverage over another, yet these people are using them to manipulate people.
Jesus draws careful attention to their misuse when he says in verse 10 “Moses said…” and in verse 11 “but you say”. He is telling these leaders, they are claiming an authority over Moses. In doing this, Jesus says in verse 13 they are “making void” the Law. In other words, they rule the word of God unlawful. We see the evil in this; it’s obvious to us, even if it wasn’t obvious to them. But, If we aren’t careful we can be guilty of the same type of practice.
We like to elevate the spiritual things we are good at, and ignore the things we find difficult to practice. We can make all kinds of judgments about the way other people live, and all the while ignore the glaring deficiencies in our own lives. In our day, we use the same word Jesus did. It’s perhaps the most biblical part about our culture! We know a hypocrite when we see one. This is the only passage in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus uses this word. He uses it tons of times in Matthew, but since it is only used once in Mark, it needs to carry some serious weight. Jesus is going to great lengths to express his disgust with these people. Then, Jesus decides to take this little discussion to the crowd, and we will look at this in the next blog post.