1. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The message from God’s Word this morning is taken from the Gospel reading today from Mark 7:1-13, it’s entitled, “The Natural Condition of the Human Heart,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Two brothers were notorious around town for being as crooked in their business dealings as they could possibly be. But, they continued to get wealthy off their criminal acts until suddenly one of the brothers died. The surviving brother found himself in search of a minister who would be willing to put on the funeral. He finally made an offer to a minister that was hard for him to refuse. "I will pay you a great sum, he said, "if you will just do me one favor. In preaching about my brother, I want you to call him a ‘saint,’ and if you do, I will give you a handsome reward." The minister agreed. Why not? The money could help put a new roof on the church. When the funeral service began, the church was filled by all the important business associates who had been swindled through the years by these two brothers. Unaware of the deal that had been made for the funeral, they were expecting to be vindicated by the public exposure of the man’s character. At last the much-awaited moment arrived, and the minister spoke. "The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten, unconscionable thing you can think of. But compared to his brother here, he was a saint."
3. Today in Mark 7 Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for being overly concerned with man-made observances while failing to fulfill God’s Commandments. Such hypocrisy still abounds, as most people worry more about human opinions than what God thinks. Like this brother who was concerned about what people would say about his brother who had recently died. Given our own failures in this regard, it’s a good thing that the Lord not only commands in His Word, but also graciously forgives and promises goodness. Today from our Gospel lesson from Mark 7 we learn the natural condition of the human heart and how God has redeemed our sinful hearts through our Redeemer Jesus Christ.
4. Appearances may be deceiving, but our society values some appearances more than reality. Watch the “spin doctors” during an election campaign; how a candidate looks and sounds is everything. But, under my appearance is the real me. Jesus diagnoses my heart as “far from” God (v 6). Original sin spawns all manner of actual evils and leads to death. I yearn for human praise of my outward appearance more than I yearn for the welcome of God. I deny God’s diagnosis: “Sin can’t be my problem because I look so good.”
5. Mark 7:1-13 says, “1 When the Pharisees gathered to [Jesus], with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and 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.) 5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6And he 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; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
6. So often we measure our lives with what other people might think of us rather than what God our Ruler and Creator says in His Word. We worry about what will the neighbors think? No teenager dare be different from the crowd for the sake of fitting in at school. We’re told to make a good impression. Dress right for that interview. Speak the language of the people you are trying to impress. Appearances may be deceiving, but they are so normal that we have rules for how to do them well. The problem is that when we substitute deeds, especially those which look good or make us look good, we inherit their wages: death, in Romans 6:23 St Paul reminds us that, “the wages of sin is death.”
7. A young woman told her pastor about her grandpa. Everyone in the small town where they grew up thought very highly of him. After all, he’d donated the land for their church and the money for building the church. People thought so much of him that they named the church after him. Everyone thought of him as a very religious, godly man—everyone, that is, except his family. For them, his “acts of faith” were just a mask behind which he hid the truth. They knew him to be a mean, verbally and physically abusive father and grandfather. My friends, if you are just going through the motions, if you are just doing all the right things because that’s what you’re supposed to do or because that’s what everyone expects, if you’re here to put on a show or to hide from everyone an empty heart or an ungodly life, then please know this: You may fool others; you may even fool yourself; but, God isn’t fooled. He sees right through you and me. He’s not satisfied with a faith that’s just lip service (Mk 7:6). He wants our hearts to belong to him!
8. This is why for you and me Jesus died. Only Jesus can cleanse and wash our hearts full of sin and give us eternal life. Jesus chose the path of suffering going to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He did it all, because he knows the true condition of our hearts. He doesn’t ignore sin, but having diagnosed it, he now redeems me from it through His cross and empty tomb. Romans 6 says, “3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
9. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. What a telling example of honoring Jesus with the lips while the heart is far from him! Yet Jesus then died for all, even for Judas. A popular country preacher puts it, “If you want to talk the talk, then you have to walk the walk.” But we quickly need to add, “Since I have failed to do either, I must therefore flee for refuge to God’s infinite mercy.”
10. In his suffering Jesus buried your sin to give birth to your life. “You must be born again!” Through Baptism into his sacrifice you are covered and washed in Jesus’ righteousness. Your heart is new and bears new fruit. Now, as a new person through my baptism into Jesus day after day I make this commitment to live as he wants, and day after day I come back to him for mercy. Jesus’ new life lasts and lasts, until he brings us to our heavenly home.
11. When the Holy Spirit led you to Jesus by Baptism, he gave you a new life that lasts. It carries you across death’s chasm to mansions where no human traditions are needed. There we will be with Jesus, face to face, perfectly and forever. Amen.