"Only God Will Make Us Clean"
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
St. Mark 7:14-23
September 3, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
Peter must have forgotten the Lord's words in our text. When we move ahead in the New Testament, we hear that Peter saw the Lord in a vision who commanded the apostle to "kill and eat." "But Peter said, 'Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.' And a voice spoke to him again the second time, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common'" (Acts 10:13-15). In our text the Lord said to the multitude gathered around Him, "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man" (v. 15). In explaining the parable to His disciples, the Lord said, "Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" (vv. 18b-19). By a word the Lord declared all foods clean. There is no need for us to set limits where the Lord has removed them. Not eating a particular food because one does not like it is likely another matter. I seriously doubt the Lord would condemn someone for not eating his vegetables…or me for my dislike for tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons of every variety, as they leave me melancholy.
Our Lord employs a basic Hebrew style of argument that begins with the lesser and ends with the greater. What is important, He says, in not what goes into us, but what comes out from us. Here the Lord speaks not of the digestive process but of the heart. What makes a person clean or unclean is what is born of his heart. The Lord says in our text, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (vv. 20-23). These are the fruits of sinful man, the fruits we bear, for we too are poor miserable sinners, who have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved Him with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. When we examine ourselves according to the Ten Commandments, we immediately see that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Whether we think of something sinful, or say something sinful, or do something sinful, we are still sinful. We are unclean, for nothing good can come from us. From the Psalm that is the basis for our Introit for today, the Psalmist, King David confesses, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Ps. 51:5), a confession that we all must make, as we all must confess our sins and our sinfulness before God the Father Almighty.
Even then we do not say what we ought, for our hearts are not right with God as they are unclean. In this same Psalm, David prays, "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise" (Ps. 51:15). We cannot speak as we should unless the Lord opens our lips so that we would speak to Him what we need to say, as the tax collector who "would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'" (Lk. 18:13). The Holy Spirit came upon David to compose the so-called Penitential Psalms, of which the psalm for our Introit is one. He wrote Psalm 51 after his sins of adultery and murder were exposed. Grieved over his sins and moved by the Holy Spirit, he prayed that God would make him clean, penning the words from our Introit and words from our Offertory: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. …Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit" (Ps. 51:7,10-12).
David knew he could not become clean from within but from without. He called upon the Lord, who alone could make him clean. The Lord who by a word made many clean of their diseases also by a word made David clean, speaking through the prophet Nathan, "The Lord…has put away your sin; you shall not die" (2 Sam. 12:13b). The Lord said to His disciples on Maundy Thursday evening, "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you" (Jn. 15:3). The Lord has cleansed you by a word already this morning, speaking through me, His called and ordained servant of the Word who acts in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ as I forgave you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. He made you clean a long time ago, in a land far away, and on the tree of the cross, where He by a word made us clean: Tetelestai…"It is finished!" By this one Greek word our Lord made us clean, for He who was clean before His baptism in the Jordan River became dirty through this sacramental act, for He submitted Himself to baptism, taking our sins upon Himself, becoming unclean for our sake and giving His body and shedding His blood on the cross, "and the blood of Jesus Christ [God's] Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn. 1:7b). By His death and resurrection, our Lord has blessed us to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:22-24).
"Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:4-11).
Yes, fellow redeemed, reckon yourselves to no longer be unclean but made clean in the blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, "for God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness" (1 Th 4:7). And so He bids us to come to His Table, that He would give us the body and blood of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins, for the continual cleansing of our hearts, for He makes us clean through His Word and Sacraments. He declares us clean. He declares us FORGIVEN for His Son's sake, thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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