A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on September 13, 2009 by Pastor Dale Raether The Natural Condition of the Human HeartMark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23A lot of people believe that everyone is born basically good, and that the kind of person we become is all about our choices.  The Pharisees in Jesus’ day believed this too.  They stressed heartfelt devotion to God and perfect obedience to His Law.  In fact they were so sincere about this that they often graded themselves on a scale of one to seven.  Let’s take a look at it.  1.  A “shoulder” Pharisee wore his good deeds on his should so everyone could see them.  2.  The “wait a little” Pharisee always found an excuse for putting off a good deed.  3.  The “bruised” Pharisee would shut his eyes and walk into things rather than look twice at a pretty girl; but he shouldn’t have been thinking about pretty girls in that way in the first place.  4.  The “humpbacked” Pharisee was always bent down in false humility.  5.  The “ever-reckoning” Pharisees was always counting up the number of his good deeds.  6.  The “fearful” Pharisee was always quaking in fear of God’s anger.  7.  The “God-loving” Pharisee was a copy of Abraham who lived in faith and charity. What I find interesting about this grading system, is we could change the name Pharisee to Christian and it’d still work.  There are “shoulder” Christians, who want everyone to know how hard their working.  There are “wait a little” Christians, who are always putting off their good intentions.  I don’t know how many “bruised” Christians there are, but probably all of us want to be “God-loving” Christians.  So, how do we become a seven?  The Pharisees’ would say it’s by the choices we make and what we surround ourselves with.  Would you agree?  If you do, you’re thinking like a Pharisee!  You see, The Natural Condition of the Human Heart 1. was thought to be good by the Pharisees; 2. was exposed as evil by Jesus; and the good news, 3.  has been redeemed by Jesus.   We read in our text, “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders) – Mark 7:1-3.”  The Old Testament has a lot of ceremonial laws in it.  Their purpose was to teach God’s people in a symbolic way about their need for a Savior.  For example before a priest could enter the temple, he’d have to first wash his hands and feet; and if he didn’t, he was to be executed.   Wow, what was that about?  Psalm 5:5 tells us that God hates all who do wrong, and so anyone, who serves Him, must be free of sin in all his actions (his hands) and in how he lives (his feet).  Now, certainly that physical washing at the temple did not make the priests pure.  Rather this was symbolic of how the promised Savior would wash away their sins and the sins of the whole world.     So, were the disciples breaking any ceremonial laws by not washing their hands before they ate?  They were not.  This command was only for the priests serving in the temple.   However, the Pharisees decided that everyone should do this washing as a way of showing dedication to God.  They also thought that if more people were showing more dedication, they would be sinning less – at least the big ones. How do people today show dedication to God?  By coming to church every week; by having daily meditations at home; by carefully tithing each month; and by regular table prayers and bed-time prayers.  These are all good things, and to the extent that we’re listening to God’s Word, we are helped in loving and trusting Him.  However, our dedication isn’t what makes us pure.  It can’t, because sin is inside our hearts from our first parents.  It’s been in there from the moment we were conceived; and this sin God cannot tolerate.  Now, a Pharisee would say that that’s not fair.  He would also insist, “I do feel clean before God, because  I am a good person.  In fact I’m a seven!”  However, the Pharisee’s beliefs about himself contradicted what the Bible says.  For example Psalm 14 says, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.  All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one – Psalm 14:2-3.”  This passage is all inclusive, just like “God so loved the world” is all inclusive.  But anyway how could the Pharisees believe they were clean just because of their ceremonies when Psalm 14 said they weren’t clean?  Here’s how.  Jesus told them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”  Jesus here was right on target.  A Jewish writing, the Misnah Sanhedrin says, and this is what they lived by, “It is more culpable (sinful) to teach against the ordinances of a scribe than against the Torah (the Bible) itself - Misnah Sanhedrin 11:3.” In other words, the Pharisees put their human reason and traditions above God’s Word, and that’s why they could believe as they did.   This is still being done today.  For example, the Bible clearly states in both the Old and New Testament that homosexual acts are an abomination, and that those who do such things need repentance and forgiveness.  Many church leaders today are saying that’s no longer true?  On what basis?  They’ll say that they prayed about it and this is the direction society is going, and so this is what they’ve concluded.  Isn’t that proof of an unclean heart – to tell God what’s right or wrong?   Nevertheless, rather than grade other Christians because of their false teaching, is this same uncleanness of putting human reason above God’s Word also in us?  For example, did you ever say or do something that made you feel sick to your stomach?  Maybe it was neglecting a loved one till it was too late; or maybe it was jumping to wrong conclusions and saying things that really hurt others.  Anyway, whatever the sin, when you’re sick to our stomach with guilt, there isn’t enough hot water in the world to wash away your guilt; but let Jesus wash it away! He suffered your shame and consequences for you on the cross.  You are forgiven before God.  And even if He disciplines you for what you’ve said or done, He still loves you.  You can be sure of this, because in your baptism He promised you forgiveness.  He promised to give you His Holy Spirit to make your heart His Temple.  He also promised to care for you until you live with Him in heaven.  God will never go back on His promises, and so when you’re feeling sick to your stomach, when you’re disappointed in yourself and rightly so, don’t be a Pharisee!  Don’t look for comfort in your renewed dedication!  Instead be a Lutheran.  Look for your comfort and renewed strength in God’s Word and promises.  For example, here’s the latest picture from the Hubble telescope.  They say there are 100’s of billions stars in this picture.  Did you ever wonder why God made the universe so huge?  Well, listen now to what He says in Jeremiah 31.  “This is what the LORD says:"Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done," declares the LORD.”  The heavens will never be measured, and so Israel’s sins, which were many, would never nullify His promises to them.  So also with us, the size of the universe is a constant reminder to us to believe Jesus when He says, “There is no one righteous, no not one”, but to also believe Him that He has redeemed us.  And so, from now on there is no need to add and subtract from God’s Word to feel good about ourselves.  We have Christ!  Likewise, from now on there’s no excuse for giving into sin, no matter how popular or how powerful the temptation might be.  Christ has made our hearts to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.  As a result we do have strength to make good choices.  We can decide to come to services and to work at putting our whole heart and soul into it.  We can decide to set aside time at home to chew on His Word so that our thoughts and attitudes can be guided by Him.  And we can decide to avoid those things or situations where we know it’ll feed our sinful nature.  We can do all these things, even though by nature sin still lives in us, because through our Baptism Jesus has washed away the guilt of our sin and has made us spiritually alive to serve Him.   However, the Pharisee in us might ask, how can that be?  How can the water of Baptism accomplish so much?  To get to this I want to make a comparison between Baptism and the washing that the Pharisees did.  The Pharisees followed very strict guidelines.  First, their hands had to be pre-washed and clear of all dirt and grime.  Second, the amount of water used in washing their hands was to be exactly one half an egg shell full.  Third, they had to hold their hands out one at a time, and pour the water on the wrist so that it would run down their fingers.  Where did they get these rules from?  They made them up.  And incidentally, the Greek for washing here is baptize, so don’t let anyone tell you that immersion is the only way to baptize.  That would be adding something to the Bible.  Anyway the Pharisees washing was repeatedly and its effectiveness depended on their sincerely following the rules.  God’s washing in our baptism is forever and never needs repeating.  Also its effectiveness isn’t from within us, but comes from the simple words, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, because God said so.   So, what kind of a Christian are you (show first screen)?  Are you a “shoulder” Christian, a “wait a little” Christian, a “bruised” Christian, a “humpbacked” Christian, and “ever-reckoning” Christian, or a “fearful” Christian?  Because we now know the nature of our heart, we can be all of the above.  But we also know our Savior.  He redeemed us, so that through Word and Sacrament we can fight against the sin that lives in, and more and more be “God-loving” Christians who like Abraham, live in faith and love to His eternal glory.  And finally that’s why we worship, that’s why we read His Word, that’s why we manage our resources, that’s why we pray.  He has cleaned up.  Now be clean!  Amen.    

Back to Sermons by Topic