From the Inside Out
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 7:14–7:23
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 1-2, 2012
“From the Inside Out”
“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him…” (Mark 7:15a). With these words, Jesus begins to instruct the crowd that was closely watching his interaction with the teachers of the Law. Today’s Gospel lesson picks up where last Sunday’s Gospel lesson left off. There is growing tension and mounting hostility between Jesus and the teachers of the Law, and this confrontation would take Jesus all the way to a hill outside Jerusalem where he would be crucified. On a physical level, we may question if what Jesus says is, in fact, true. We know otherwise. We know from our own experience as well as others’ that what we put into our body does indeed affect us. There can truly be a defiling impact upon us from what we put into our body. To a person who is struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, to put these things into your body is to invite disaster back into your life. For those who have “been there, done that,” they always speak of themselves as a recovering alcoholic or drug user – it’s present tense, on-going, and life-long. It’s never a recovered alcoholic or addict; it’s always recovering. My mother suffers from diverticulitis. If she were to eat fresh fruit or vegetables, especially something with seeds in it, she would have to go into the hospital. For someone who has an eating disorder, or prone to an allergic reaction, or living with a medical condition, certain foods must be avoided entirely in order to remain healthy; in some cases, in order to remain alive. What we physically put into our bodies can indeed defile us. But that is not what Jesus is talking about here. So, what is he talking about? That’s what we’ll look at in today’s message under the theme, “From the Inside Out.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
The Law of God was clear that there were certain things that would pollute or defile a person, rendering that individual ritually unclean and unfit to participate in the worship life of Israel. Among these were numerous dietary restrictions (see Leviticus 11:1-47, et. al.). If a person ate certain foods that were forbidden by the Lord, that person was defiled and unclean. He or she had to go through the cleansing process established by the Lord in order to be restored. This was an outside-in understanding. Things “out there” were the cause of cutting off your relationship with God. Jesus reinterprets all of this. He flips this understanding upside-down and turns it on its head. He boldly proclaims that that the things which corrupt and defile a person are not “out there” somewhere; rather, they are “in here” – within our own heart. Jesus tells us: “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” (Mark 7:21-23). The problem is not outside-in, but inside-out.
Without a doubt, the teachers of the Law and more than a few other people said to Jesus in so many words: “Who are you to reinterpret God’s Law? This Law was given to us by God, not man! Who do you think you are?” But you see, this man standing before them was not just an ordinary, nor even a skilled teacher and rabbi. Standing before the crowd is God-made-flesh, the One who is true God and true man. No one but God alone can reinterpret what God has commanded. But in Jesus, that is exactly what is happening. Jesus is redirecting and refocusing where the true problem lay, and it is here within our own heart. It’s very easy for us to point the finger at someone or something else “out there;” blaming this, that or the other thing for our own failures and shortcomings. Just like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we don’t want to own up to the truth. Like Adam, we’ll even blame God himself if we have to (see Genesis 3:12). But you see, Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He aims the laser light of his truth at the root of it all, and it is here in our own heart. That’s where sin and disobedience start out: moving from the heart, to the head, to the hand. It moves from the inside out.
That’s not the end of the story, thanks be to God. During this fall season, when we celebrate Holy Communion, our Rite of Confession and Absolution begins with these words from the Psalms: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). “If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). Truly, the only One who can help us from the inside out is the Lord. What we’re in need of is radical open heart surgery. What we are in need of is a new heart, a clean heart. And this is what Jesus came to do: to heal the sin-sick heart within; to create in us clean hearts by the only thing that has the power to do this. And that is the cleansing blood of Jesus, which cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). This is the good news of forgiveness in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This good news comes to us and meets our need through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, through the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism, and through the blessed sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – all from the inside out.
The truth is that even with our new hearts washed clean in the blood of Jesus, we will still struggle with the sin that is so deeply rooted in our fallen human nature. That is why it’s so important for us to stay connected with the Lord and one another here in the fellowship of believers. Paul the apostle’s description of this spiritual warfare in today’s Epistle lesson (Ephesians 6:10-20) is real. Our calling is to hold fast to Jesus and arm ourselves with the weapons he has given us: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
In our journey of faith from this life to life eternal, with hearts made new and clean from the inside out through the blood of Jesus, let us offer ourselves to the Lord as a living sacrifice of praise to his glory and for the blessing of others. Amen.