Where is Your Heart?

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 7:1–13

By Rev. S. D. Spencer

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Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen!

Over the past 5 weeks all our lessons dealt with bread, in particular, Jesus as the Bread of Life. These last couples of lessons were extremely difficult for the original hearers to receive. 2 weeks ago the Jews learned that Jesus came down from heaven. They began to grumble and murmur among themselves. Last week the lesson caused even more despair. Jesus told them that unless they ate from the bread of life - which was His flesh, and drank the wine – which was His blood, they didn’t have life within themselves. They no longer grumbled and murmured. They began to argue to have loud objections. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Many of Jesus own disciples left Him because it was hard to listen to it. Why? Why should it be so hard to listen to truth? Why would so many leave Jesus and return home, to what? Why did so many learned teachers of Scripture come to challenge Jesus’ authority and teachings? Why do so many today reject Jesus authority and teachings?

Today we’ll answer that question. Our lesson today is a continuation of the bread dialogs, actually the post bread dialog. Our Gospel reading is from 7th chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel and it connects with the feeding of the 5000. The dialog takes place in the land of Gennesaret. This is the place where Jesus and the His disciples landed in the boat after the feeding of the 5000. Gennesaret is just south of Capernaum or about 85 miles north of Jerusalem. And yet the Pharisees and Scribes came all that way to hear Jesus speak. Not a short journey at all. It’s important to note that the Scribes and Pharisees didn’t like each other. Each considered themselves more learned than the other. But on this occasion they joined forces to become a bitter enemy of Jesus.  They came looking for a reason to declare Jesus a heretic, looking for a reason not to believe. It’s not much different than the way some act today concerning Christianity and Jesus.

In verse 2 we see that they’ve already found a problem, something they will use to bring charge against Jesus. “They saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.” "Defile" or "unclean" had a particular local usage in those days. Through "Some of His disciples," the Pharisees and Scribes cleverly and hypocritically attack Jesus.

Mark fortunately describes for us people some 2000 years latter what this unclean meant for the people of his day. Please listen to verses 3 &4. “For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches” (Mark 7:3-4).

The rule of the time, according to the elders, was that you were to wash your hands up to your elbows. Three times you were to wash your hands up to your elbows. And you would do so by having someone pour the water on your hands as you held them up and let the water run down to your elbows.  The actual Levitical Law said that you would wash your hands to your wrist. So right off the bat some elder had changed the rules. He probably said if the wrist is good the elbow is better or something like that. Also the ceremonial washing was for those making offerings of sacrifice. It was to cleanse the hands from the shedding of innocent blood. It was for the priest. (Deuteronomy 21:1-9).

But now the Pharisees and Scribes ask Jesus, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”   The Greek word indicates a way of life. The way of life of the disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders. What a wonderful observation! The Pharisees were always giving their whole zeal to mere questionings. They could never contribute anything positive. They were always asking defensive questions, always looking for the negative. The Pharisees are convinced that Jesus cannot answer their question. They are so steeped in their own traditionalism and ceremonialism that they are utterly blind to the true teaching of their own divine Torah. Remember what Mark Twain said? “It’s not what you don’t know that tend to hurt you, but what you think is so that just ain’t!” But Jesus is going to set them straight. By the way it was very likely that the disciples washed their hands but probably not in the Elder approved ceremonial way.

Mark 7:6 And Jesus said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;” The New International Version says:  "Isaiah was right when he prophesied". Isaiah spoke as God's inspired mouthpiece for his own time, for Jesus' time and our time. Jesus attacks the Pharisees with the Word of God and not on His own. "You, hypocrites" is applied personally to Jesus' questioners. Of course Jesus doesn’t mean that it’s only limited to them. The word "hypocrite" is found ten times in Matthew, three times in Luke, but only once, right here in Mark, and nowhere else in the New Testament.

The hypocrite is the man who hides or tries to hide his real intentions under a mask of simulated virtue. Even as our passage now presents it, he is one who honors God with his lips but yet his heart is far from God. Their real intention is the destruction of the Very Son of God. Hypocrisy is so dangerous because it always is linked with work-righteousness.

Jesus says: “in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the Commandments of men.” (Mark 7:7) In the NIV it says Mark 7:7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. In the 'NAS Mark 7:7 'But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'  Jesus isn’t condemning human traditions and ceremonies per se. But when they displace God's Word and when earned self-righteousness is attached to them, then hypocrisy results and the traditions of men become sin. When man’s precepts, man rules become doctrine that robs God of His glory we’ve got a problem. Let me give you an example: Paul didn’t condemn circumcision. But when the Judaizers insisted that for salvation one must be circumcised in addition to justification through faith, then it became wrong and led to hypocrisy, it led to sin.

Jesus goes on to clarify the problem. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men"(verse 8).  Why did some of the disciples have so much trouble hearing the Words of Jesus that they left? Why did the Pharisees, Scribes and Chief Priest reject Jesus with such ferocity?  Why do some in our day and time reject the truth?

I have a question for you. Where is your heart?  Is it on the things of God or the things of men? Have we forgotten that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?”(Rom 3:23) Have we forgotten that “all our righteous works are like filthy rags.” (Is. 64:6). There’s a warning in Deuteronomy 8. Listen carefully. "For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; "a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; "a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. "When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. "Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today,

The August 31st edition of Newsweek will have an article by a woman named Lisa Miller. I just happen to see it online before it’s press release. The name of the article is “We are All Hindus Now”. In the article Ms. Miller says that over 76% of all people claim to be Christian. That is the lowest ever reported in the U.S. Ms. Miller even goes so far as to say the U.S. was definitely founded by Christians. And of course we’re not all really Hindus, Muslim, Jewish or a Wiccan nation. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.

Let me read and excerpt from the Newsweek article. The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: "Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names." A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur'an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me."    

She goes on to say: Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life" Thirty percent of Americans call themselves "spiritual, but not religious,

Where is your heart? Is it on the things of God or the things of men? Here’s a divine truth for you. There are only two gods. A God that chooses you and a god you choose.  

1.      The Lord God almighty who created the heavens and the earth.  Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and became flesh for us. Who lived a perfect, holy life for us. Who allowed Himself to be crucified and die for us. Who rose from the grave on the third day for us our salvation. He is the only one that forgives your sin and gives you eternal life. He died for everyone. And He chooses you.

2.      But there is a second god, a god of your own choosing. He or she may have many names, Buddha, Mohammed, Scientology or even Yoga. It can be money, or success, or politics anything that takes the place of the God that gave His Son for you.

The first commandment says this: You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? We should fear love and trust in God above all things. You see belief in any God other than the true God is putting yourself in the place of God. All other religions have you playing God, because it’s all up to you to earn your own salvation. Plot your own path. Figure out your own way.  In reality you’re playing god. And if you’re playing God then you are responsible for your own salvation. Yielding to anything other than Jesus Christ is yielding to the devil and his plan for your life.

Jesus says I am the way, the truth and the life. No one, NO ONE, comes to the Father but by Me (T). Where is your heart? Is it on the things of man, or on the Son of God? For where your heart is, so there also will be your treasure. May Jesus be the treasure of your heart, for in Him alone is eternal life. In Jesus name, amen!

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.