Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 30, 2009
Text: Mark 7:14-23
If you like bacon, like I do, you should be very thankful for this morning’s Gospel lesson. The key words are, “Thus [Jesus] declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19; ESV). You can have a pig roast thanks to this sentence. You can also now enjoy shrimp and lobster. Germans can eat all the Blutwurst (blood sausage) they want. The reason is that you are New Testament people. The dietary laws God gave His Old Testament people to set them apart from the pagan nations do not apply to you. God is good. Eat up. But there is a more important point Jesus makes to us this morning: It is not what goes into the body through the mouth that makes a person unclean. Sin doesn’t come from the outside. Food is not the problem. Sin comes from the inside, from your very heart. And that is hard for us to hear.
The popular preaching of our culture may be summed up in these words: “Follow your heart,” or “Be true to yourself.” This is the message of America’s favorite priestess, Oprah. This is the thesis of most self-help books. This is the lesson to be learned from almost everything that comes out of Hollywood. It’s a stock phrase at graduation ceremonies. Follow your heart. How striking is the difference between the message we hear from our culture and the preaching of Jesus Christ. According to the preaching of Jesus Christ, if you follow your heart, your heart will lead you straight to hell. Evil comes from inside you, from your heart, from the very depths of your soul. Jesus doesn’t leave much breathing room here: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (vv. 21-23).
Notice that the real problem here isn’t the actual sins that you do, as wicked as these things are. Of course you should repent of your actual sins, and every actual sin is damnable, but the real problem here is the heart from which these actual sins proceed. This is the doctrine of original sin. This is why every human being must, and finally will, confess of himself, “There is no good in me.” This is why we began the service with the words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” The heart is the problem. Don’t follow your heart. There is no salvation in your heart. There is no righteousness in your heart. Don’t look to your heart to guide you. Your heart is what defiles you. Your heart is what’s wrong with you. The Church is full of heart patients. Original sin is the heart disease that afflicts every human being who has ever lived, with the exception of Jesus Christ. And it will eventually kill every one of us. Sinners have not been able to devise a cure. It’s not for lack of trying. How many Christian churches preach that you must, by your own efforts, conquer the sinful flesh by resisting temptation and avoiding sin? Again, Oprah’s so-called gospel and that of our culture is one of self-salvation by tolerance parading as love. Beloved, you cannot save yourself by human effort, within or without. Your president cannot save you. Money cannot save you. The military cannot save you. No self-help book can save you. Your heart can’t save you, either, because your heart is the problem. Only Jesus Christ can save you. And He has.
The only cure for the heart disease, the soul sickness of original sin, is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Our Lord Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, died for your sinful heart. He died to undo the sin of Adam and Eve that was passed down to every one of their children, to you and to me. He died for every evil thought. He died for all sexual immorality, for adultery, lust, fornication. He died for the theft of every thief. He died for the murder of every murderer. He died for the malice you hold for your neighbor in your black heart. He died for your covetousness and wickedness, your deceit and sensuality, your envy and slander, your pride and foolishness. Jesus died, though Himself without sin. He died on the cross of Calvary for your sin, in your place, the punishment you deserve, that your sin be forgiven and that you be restored to God as His own precious and beloved child. Jesus came to recreate us. Jesus Christ is the new Adam, the new head of the new creation. For He is risen from the dead, the firstborn of the new creation, victorious over sin, death, and the devil, and He will raise us.
Jesus begins His new creation in us through Baptism. That is where we are drowned in our old sinful flesh, our Old Adam as we call it, along with all sins and evil desires. That is where we are raised up for new life in Christ. The baptismal font is where we receive our heart transplant. Understand that when Jesus recreates you, He doesn’t start with the heart you already have and just scrub it clean. It is NOT the case that you, or any human being, are basically good, that you basically have a good heart that is just tarnished by sin. No, sin goes to the core of your heart. So you prayed in the Introit, and will pray again in the Offertory, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). The washing that goes on in Baptism is one in which God creates you anew in the image of His Son, Christ Jesus. And this re-creation continues as you live this earthly life in your Baptism, being absolved of your sins, hearing the Word, receiving nourishment from the Sacrament.
Whatever proceeds out of your heart condemns you. That which proceeds out of God’s heart is what saves you. And what proceeds out of God’s heart is nothing less than His Son, Jesus Christ, whom He gave into death for the life of the world. Jesus’ heart is clean, pure, perfect. And God’s gracious Word to us is that because Jesus stands in our place, so also His heart stands in for our hearts before God. God declares us righteous, not because of anything in us, but because Jesus, our substitute, is righteous. And then He makes us what He has declared us to be: righteous. He creates that new heart in us so that we love what God commands and desire to do it. We are never completely righteous in this earthly life, in this fallen flesh. But we know that God will complete this righteousness within us, this re-creation, in the resurrection.
So what we eat, or don’t eat for that matter, has nothing to do with our standing before God. That doesn’t mean we have the authority to change God’s Word, mind you. Jesus can make all foods clean, but if He hadn’t, we’d dare not pop another pork rind. God’s command in Deuteronomy has not changed: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it” (4:2). Just to be clear, He says it again through the pen of John in the book of Revelation in the New Testament: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19). We don’t get to add things to God’s Word, making salvation dependent on the traditions of men, as we heard last week. But neither do we get to take away from it, discarding what we don’t like about God’s Word. This is what is so grievous about the actions of our brothers and sisters in the ELCA at their recent church-wide assembly, admittedly discarding the commandments of God because they consider the Word of God about human sexuality as recorded in the Scripture to be outdated, outmoded, and irrelevant. In case you haven’t heard, the ELCA declared last week that homosexuality is not a sin, and that openly practicing homosexuals may serve as ordained clergy. The ELCA delegates followed their hearts rather than the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ has not declared homosexual activity or desire clean. Far from it. We pray for our brothers and sisters in our cousin church body. We pray that they would repent. We pray that the faithful in the ELCA would stand their ground on the basis of the clear Word of God in spite of all persecution. We pray that this church body be called back to faithfulness. We pray that God would grant us His Spirit, that we may examine ourselves and repent of our own pride and arrogance in the LCMS, lest we, too, fall, perhaps into the same temptation. For this wickedness proceeds from our common human heart, the black fallen heart out of which proceeds every evil thought.
Likewise, Jesus died for all of us in all the blackness of our hearts. Jesus died for the members of the LCMS and the ELCA and all people. Jesus died for heterosexuals and homosexuals. Jesus died for all sinners. Jesus died to set us free from our bondage to sin. Jesus is risen and recreates our fallen hearts to beat with His righteousness. You aren’t saved by what you eat or don’t eat. You aren’t saved by your sincerity or good intentions. You aren’t saved by what is in your heart. Jesus Christ alone can save us. Jesus Christ alone can save His Church. So don’t follow your heart. Follow Him. Follow Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. And here is the promise: Whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.