Of Doctors, Lawyer, and Saviors
There doesn't seem to be much love lost between doctors and lawyers. It seems lawyers only get involved with doctors when a doctor is accused of doing something wrong. Well, let me tell you about the Savior who's also a doctor and who will rescue you from pettifogging lawyers.
But first we have to deal with the fact that sometimes doctors do get it wrong. They do come to an incorrect diagnosis. The Great Physician is dealing with such a case in our text. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were wrong to conclude that what defiles you, makes you unclean, what profanes you before the holy God comes from outside of you.
These doctors of souls had ancient tradition supporting their position. Although the Old Testament itself never said eating with unwashed hands defiled a person, there were hand washing rules for priests (Ex. 30: 19, 21) and a man with a discharge (Lv. 15:11). However, tradition grew up during the 400 years between the Old Testament and the time of Christ that built a wall around the written Law of God to guard against any possible breaking of it. So hand washing to prevent defilement was a fiercely held tradition by the Jews who considered themselves most serious about their faith.
Jesus corrects their misdiagnosis. It wasn't even that priests or men with discharges were actually defiled or profaned by something they didn't wash off. Jesus shows this in a section of our text left out. Verse 19 says, "Thus Jesus declared all foods clean." It wasn't that pork, fish with scales, owls, or rabbits were actually unclean in and of themselves. More about this later. For now, get this point. It wasn't really the spot on Lady Macbeth's hand, real or imagined, that defiled her. Likewise, it's not the drug dealer next door, the strip club up the street, or the sex and violence on TV and movies that profane you, defile you, make you unclean.
The Great Physician, Jesus, makes the right diagnosis, and here I don't have to take New Testament truth and make a 21st century application. What was wrong with 1st century man is wrong with 21st century. Man is not defiled, profaned, made unclean by what is outside of him but by what comes out of his fallen, sinful, unclean heart.
Twelve things are listed here. Although not translated that way the first 6 are all plurals. They are actions which defile us. The second 6 are singular and they describe generic states of fallenness. In short, Jesus lists sins and sinfulness which profane us all. A respected Greek commentator (Mann) takes 5 of the 12 as referring to sexual sins. Our insert translates one more that way "lewdness." In the perversion of sexuality, whether it is sex apart from marriage, homosexuality, or lusts in general, our fallenness, our uncleanness, or profaneness is most sharply seen and keenly felt. But that's not the point here.
I've told you in many Bible classes that when the Holy Spirit doesn't put "ands" between words in lists, He doesn't want us to pause, dwell, or debate them. We are to hear this as Jesus says it: "For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly." Feel the flood of sinfulness? Smell the mountain of manure we're buried under? Taste the uncleanness; shudder over the defilement; blush at the profanity.
I don't know if this is the right way to say this medically, but there is no cure for a wrong diagnosis. If I have a sinus infection and am treated for a migraine, I haven't been helped. I know theologically that if you think your problem comes from outside of you, you'll look for the wrong cure. You'll make outward changes. You'll observe rules. You'll stop watching TV so you won't be prompted to lust. You'll stop drinking so you can't over drink. You'll stop eating so you can't be guilty of gluttony. You'll follow one rule after the other until you've cleaned up outwardly, and then you'll keep yourself clean by those same rules.
We've got to be real, real careful here because we can do this even with good things. We can think we can treat our problem of a fallen, defiled, unclean, profane heart by outward observances which are good in and of themselves. We can follow the rules of church-going, Bible reading, giving, praying, and liturgical worship thinking by these outward acts we've at last triumphed over our inward wickedness.
Outward acts, even meet, right, and salutary ones can't change or heal the heart. And if the heart continues to pump out the 12 flavors of fallenness, all we are is the hypocrites Jesus charged the Pharisees and scribes with being. Our word hypocrite is a transliteration of the Greek word hu-po-kre-ta's. One Greek commentator translates pettifogging lawyers' (Mann, 313). Look up pettifogging lawyer when you get home. It applies in this way: when only our outward behavior has changed and our heart has not we take up every argument imaginable, nitpick every situation, use the rational and irrational to defend or excuse our sins and sinfulness.
Put the stethoscope down and back slowly away from the patient. You've got the wrong diagnosis if you think your problem is outside of you. The problem is not scantily glad women, a poor economy, a mean boss, a Bible that you can't understand. The problem, the sickness is not outward things that make you greedy, worried, lustful or hateful. The problem is your heart, your fallen nature that pumps out 12 flavors of profanity, of defilement, of uncleanliness 24/7, 365. And you know, at least you ought to know, that even if you could reach down and tear that filthy thing out of your chest, you wouldn't heal the sickness. No medical procedure can heal you. You don't need a doctor and certainly not a pettifogging lawyer. You need a Savior and you need Him STAT.
God heard our predicament even as He heard the Old Testament church crying out in their bondage in Egypt, even as He heard their misery in the time of the Judges. God hears your cry every Sunday as you sing to high heaven "Create in me a clean heart.Cast me not away from Thy presenceUphold me with Thy free Spirit." And He answered it by sending His only beloved Son into the world as a Man to live the spotless life that you and I never have, never can, never could. No matter how clean you make Jesus you haven't made Him clean enough. There was no deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance or folly in anything Jesus ever did, said, or thought. He challenged His enemies to find one thing He ever did wrong, and they couldn't. Couldn't your friends point out at least 12thousand?
And remember Scripture says Jesus was tempted in all ways just as you are. I don't care what sin tempts you; I don't care how keen, sweet, sharp, or mouthwatering it is: Jesus knew it. Jesus felt it. Jesus overcame it. He was pure as the driven snow. Butter really wouldn't melt in His mouth. There were no lusts, sinful doubts, secret, shameful thoughts in the corners of Jesus' mind.
So out of Jesus' heart come good thoughts: sexual morality, helping people keep their goods, protecting their lives, promoting marriage, generosity, bonhomie, truth, beauty, contentment, speaking the best about people, humility, and wisdom. And there is our heart pumping out sewage before the eyes and nose of the Holy God. Have you ever gotten mad at a sick child for throwing up and making a mess? I have. It really wasn't his fault but I was mad just the same. You have no excuse for the filth and profanity beating in your heart and befouling the nose and eyes of the Holy God, and He is justifiably angry at you, but instead He punished Jesus.
The slap from the Roman solider is for that evil thought of yours; the spit from the Jewish leader running down Jesus' cheek is for your sexual immoralities; the blow of the hammer is for that thing you stole as a child and have long forgotten about. This lash mark pays for your lewdness; this one for your envy; and rather than turn away from all the filth and ugliness we are in our sins and sinfulness, God the Father turns away from, forsakes His beautiful, pure Son on the cross because all 12 flavors of your filthiness were on Him. And there, right there, they were paid for by Him and then declared forgiven by His Father when He raised Him from the dead Easter morning.
All the little ways your conscience pricks you, punishes you, accuses you, or even soothes you are of no avail. You are not to listen to it but to God's Word of Absolution. You are not to look into the cesspool of your fallen heart which will be there till the Lord at lasts delivers you from evil by taking you to Himself in heaven. You are not to look there and continue to kick yourself, berate yourself, humiliate yourself, shame yourself for the ugliness, the putridness, the profaneness that is really there. Look outside not inside. Look to the cross and see that all your guilt was there. Look to the font and see all that filthiness was washed off you into it. Look to the altar and know that same Body and Blood that bore your sins and sinfulness is there today bearing Jesus' merits and forgiveness.
We've got to return to the verse that is not in our text. Verse 19, "Thus Jesus declared all foods clean.'" By just a Word what the Old Testament bound people to consider unclean, profane, and not to be eaten was made clean, holy, and to be eaten. For Jesus' sake, because of the clean living Jesus did and the filthy, guilty death He died in our place, God the Father declares you clean, not guilty by the Word applied to you in Baptism, spoken to you in Absolution, and eaten and drank by you in Communion.
Yes, your problem is inside you, but the answer is outside you. In what Jesus did in life and death and God the Father's acceptance of it to satisfy His wrath against the sins and sinners of the world. You are to go forth from here with God's Word of Absolution declaring you clean and forgiven. You are not to deny it, dismiss it, or ever even doubt it. This is the correct medicine for what ails you; so says the Great Physician and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, TX
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23); 20120909