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TEXT: Mark 7:1-37
SUBJECT: Mark #13: What Makes a Man Clean
When I was in high school, there was nothing I liked more than watching a good fight. My best friend, at the time, got into plenty of them, and they were always the best part of a dull day. At the end of a fight, I always knew who started it and who won it (unless a teacher broke it up), and if he did, when and where they would finish it.
What I didn't know most of the time is, What it was about. Did Steve cut in on Rick's girl? Did Rob insult Jim's car? Did Brian say something about Jose's heritage? Fights could be about a great many things, and until you knew what they were about, you didn't understand the fight.
What's true of high school fights is also true of Mark's Gospel. With the healing of the paralytic in chapter two, a quarrel begins between our Lord Jesus Christ and the leaders of Israel; it runs through the whole Book and it does not end until He is crucified, dead, buried, and raised.
The scribes start the fight by calling Him a blasphemer; when the charge doesn't stick, they say He's a Sabbath-breaker; when that gets them nowhere, they connive with the Herodians to destroy Him, bribe Judas to betray Him, and stir up the people to reject Him in favor of Barabbas.
For a time, it seems the leaders have won the fight with Jesus, but the decision is overturned by the Resurrection. Paul says He was-
Crucified in weakness
And raised in power.
The Pharisees started the fight, Jesus won the fight, but what was the fight about? In one word, it was about cleanness. Both Jesus and His enemies agreed God is clean and His people ought to be. Where they differed is-What makes a man clean. This is what they were fighting about, and it's also the topic of Mark Chapter 7.
The story begins with some Pharisees and scribes coming down from Jerusalem to confront the Lord. What they object to is His lack of concern for cleanness. Following the learned rabbis, they wash their hands before they eat, and also the utensils they eat with and even the furniture they sit on while eating.
What they want to know is why the disciples don't do this. Most of these men were observant Jews at one time, but now, they ignore the holy customs of Israel, evidently because their Master did and taught them to do the same.
There is a reason they brought this up when they did: Jesus had just broken bread in the wilderness to feed the multitude; He also handed the bread and fish to the disciples who passed it out to the others. And neither He nor they had washed their hands first!
This means Jesus had not only defiled Himself and the Twelve, but five thousand men besides! To their way of thinking, He was a Man who was defiling Israel, making them less distinct than God wants them to be and more like the filthy Gentiles. Going by their beliefs, He was also delaying Messiah's coming, because-they thought-He wouldn't come until the Jewish people proved worthy of Him (as they had under the Maccabees, when men submitted to torture and death rather than eat pork).
The accusation, therefore, is a serious one. If Jesus is the New Moses, how come He's not feeding God's People with clean food? How come He's blending them together with the heathen?
Jesus has an answer to their charge, but before He gives it, He charges the men who charged Him. The scribes and Pharisees pose as the guardians of God's Law, but is it the Law they're protecting or something else? The Lord says, it's something else-
Well did Israel prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
'This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
and in vain they worship em,
teaching as doctrines the
commandments of men.'
For laying aside the commandments of God you hold the tradition of men.
God never commanded His people to wash their hands before eating, or their pitchers, and cups either. They were free to, if they wanted to, but it is not in the Law and must not bind the conscience of Israel. What was the Exodus about? It was about God liberating His people from man-made laws to serve Him only!
Now the scribes and Pharisees have become new Pharaohs, enslaving the nation God set free.
To prove them the tyrants they were, Jesus gives one example of how their traditions-rather than explaining the Law-mutilates it-
For Moses said, 'Honor your father and mother'; and 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death'
But you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever profit you might have received from me, is Corban, that is, dedicated to the temple, you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother, making the Word of God of no effect through your traditions'
If you had asked a Pharisee if he believed in honoring his parents, he would have said he did; and if you had asked him if dishonoring parents was a capital crime, he would have said it was. But, taking care of aging, sick, and penniless parents, is expensive, and if there's a way around it, without breaking the Law, the Pharisee would find it. Which he did by leaving his whole estate to the Temple when he died. In the meantime, of course, he could spend his money anyway he wanted to-except giving it to his family who had a claim on it.
But where did God command anyone to leave his estate to the Temple? Nowhere. He was free to do it if other obligations were met, but the scribe turned his liberty into an excuse for letting old mom and dad starve to death!
They were publishing and enforcing man-made laws that nullified the Law of God. The laws they made were themselves capital offenses, for telling a man to dedicate his fortune to the Temple when his parents needed it, was-
Cursing his father and mother.
The men who were so eager to trap Jesus in His words are now trapped by their own. In this matter-and many such others they do-they were bringing down the judgments of God on themselves and the nation. (Which came inside of forty years).
Jesus has answered the objection: He doesn't wash His hands before eating because God never told Him to. But He doesn't leave it there, though it would have been easier to do so-and a whole lot safer!
The main reason our Lord doesn't care about washing His hands or pots and pans is because-
There is nothing that enters a man from the outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.
In context, this means: it is not what you eat or drink that makes you unclean, but what you say and do. The Pharisee who would rather starve than eat with unwashed hands had no problem sleeping with his neighbor's wife or deflowering his daughter or killing the man if no one was there to see him, and a host of other crimes and sins.
In a word, he was a hypocrite! Pretending to preserve the Law of God, he was, in fact, its worst breaker.
On first hearing them, the words of our Lord make us happy-He cut the Pharisee down to size, didn't He? The more we think about them, however, the more murky they become.
How can a Man born under the Old Covenant, and honoring God's Law say-
Whatever enters a man from the outside cannot defile him.
The Law of Moses gave a long list of foods that did defile the man who ate them, the Jewish man, at least. Pork is the best-known example, but also-
The mole, the mouse, the large lizard after its kind; the gecko, the monitor lizard, the sand reptile, the sand lizard, and the chameleon, these shall be unclean to you.
If eating these things made the Israelite unclean, how could Jesus say they don't? Two answers, one breaks the surface, and the other goes deeper:
The shallow answer is: this is a comparative statement: the Lord could be saying, 'What comes out of a man defiles him far more than what goes into him'. This is in line with His own teaching and the prophets', as for example-
I desire mercy and not sacrifice.
Not that God had no desire for sacrifice-He did and He commanded it-but He desired mercy more. This is a true answer-I think, but it doesn't quite fit what Mark says.
This is what he means: The Law of Moses was designed to keep Israel separate from the nations until the Messiah came, at which point He and His people would become The Light to the Gentiles. Not by huddling up by themselves behind their distinctive customs, but by going into all the world to preach the Gospel to every creature.
Therefore, if the Messiah has come, the ceremonies of Israel are abolished. In my Bible, the last part of v.34 is in red letters; it shouldn't be. This is not what the Lord said to the scribes, but rather, what Mark was saying to us-
'In saying this, Jesus was purifying all foods', or as Paul would say-
Tearing down the middle wall of partition that was between us, thus making one man.
Do the traditions of Israel make a man clean? No. Does the Law of Moses? No. What does? The next two stories tell us.
Weary of debate, Jesus leaves Israel and makes His way up north, to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These were the great cities of the lost Phonecian Empire, and also the hometown of Israel's most notorious queen-Jezebel.
There a Gentile woman meets Him and begs His favor. Her daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit. Got the connection? What makes a person clean, the Jews wanted to know, and here's a woman who is unlcean if anyone ever was, and a girl who is even less clean. What's going to rid them of the unclean spirit? The customs of the Pharisees? The Law? Good luck!
Jesus reminds her of His mission. He's come to Israel, not to the unclean dogs of Tyre and Sidon. They'll find God's mercy later, but for now, God's children first.
But, picking up on the word, dogs, she reminds the Lord that even they are welcome to the crumbs that fall of the children's table.
On hearing this, and knowing the faith behind it, He grants her the favor she asked for. When she got home, as Jesus said-
The demon has gone out of her daughter.
Now, what makes a man clean?
THE DEAF MUTE
Leaving Phonecia, He comes back to the region of Decapolis; He has been here before; it's where He cast out the Legion of demons some time ago. This is a mixed area, mostly Gentile, but with a large minority of Jews, whom-their brethren back in Jerusalem took for 'bad Jews'-unclean, defiled by contact with the Gentiles.
There's a man there who cannot hear, and consequently, cannot speak plainly. He's brought to Jesus who touches his ears, and commands them to 'open up', which they do, but this is not all He does. He also, v.33-
Spat and touched his tongue (with the saliva).
This took away the man's speech impediment and made him praise God with a loud and clear voice. What freed his tongue? The Lord's spittle!
Which, under the Old Covenant made a man unclean (cf. Numbers 12:14). But no more. Jesus does not make men unclean; He makes us clean.
What was the fight between Jesus and the Pharisees about? It was about What makes a man clean. They proposed either the Law or their interpretations of it. They were wrong. What makes a man clean is.Jesus!
John, seeing a heavenly host clothed in impeccable white robes asked who they were, and was told-
They who have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb.
If you are clean, it is because of Jesus: He made you clean. This means there is no room for boasting, for you didn't clean up your act-He did! There is also no room for despair, for as the Syrophonecian woman proves, no one is too unclean for Him to make clean.
We must live, therefore, both in humility and in hope.
And never in the fear and the narrowness and the legalism of the Pharisees then or now.
God make it so, for Christ's sake. Amen.
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