The Heart of the Matter (Mark 7:14-23)
I have, for many years, been rather obsessive about what I eat; I’m not going to eat a food if I can’t find its point value in my Weight Watchers app. Several weeks ago, RJ wanted to eat at Cracker Barrel, but I was using a knock-off weight loss program, and it didn’t lists point values for Cracker Barrel, so we didn’t go. I’ve switched back to the actual Weight Watchers app, and I can eat at Cracker Barrel–much to RJ’s delight.
Years ago, before smartphone apps, I was on the low-fat craze. Before my grandmother passed away, we’d go to her house after church for Sunday dinner. Nannie kept a Lean Cuisine in the freezer because she knew I wouldn’t eat what she cooked. About that same time, Tammy fixed one of my favorite dishes on Saturday night. Just before I began reviewing my sermon, Tammy let slip that she couldn’t find the low-fat cheese at the grocery store, so she used the full-leaded version of the cheese. So, instead of studying my sermon I jogged a few miles to burn off the extra calories.
Maybe you need to watch what you eat. Maybe you struggle with your weight, and it could easily get out of control if you aren’t careful. You might struggle with diabetes and really need to curtail your sugar intake. It might be that you struggle with high cholesterol, and you’ve had to cut red meat almost out of your diet altogether. Maybe because of high blood pressure, you’ve had to eliminate excess sodium from your diet.
As you know, the Jews had many food restrictions. In Leviticus 11, Yahweh had given his people laws about what they could and could not eat. Not surprisingly, the Pharisees had gone a step further and said that one could not eat until he had washed his hands. The Pharisees believed one needed to wash away ceremonial impurity that he or she had picked up in the marketplace. They would immerse their hands up to the wrists or they would pour water from a pure vessel over their hands.
Jesus said, “Wait, just a minute! What goes in your body doesn’t defile it.” If you eat with hands defiled from the marketplace, that’s okay—that has absolutely no effect on who you are. If you eat from an unclean animal, that’s okay—that has no effect on who you are.
The problem isn’t what’s in the body; the problem is what’s in the heart. Sin in your heart defiles you every day. In fact, Jesus taught: “Sin comes from your heart.”
Scripture (Mark 7:14-23)
Notice that Jesus called the people to him. The Lord had something important to tell them—This is far more than a simple “teachable moment.” Instead, Jesus had an important truth to impart to the people. Thus, he called them to him so that he could tell them eternal truth.
Nothing outside a man can defile him. The laws in the Old Testament regulating food and drink were symbolic and nothing more. As the people followed the laws, the Israelites were separated from the nations around them. The laws further gave people an opportunity to obey God.
The things which come out of a person defile him. Man is far more than a physical being. Being concerned about what a man puts in his body boils a man down to only his physical self. Being concerned with what comes out of a man respects man as a spiritual being.
Defilement comes from the inside out, not the outside in.
The disciples did not understand what Jesus had said, so they came to ask him about it further. That’s very wise. They knew Jesus was the master teacher, they had a question, and they went to Jesus to get the answer.
The disciples were slow to believe. They often had a problem understanding what Jesus was teaching.
What one eats cannot defile him, for food does not enter the heart. Instead, what one eats goes into the stomach, is digested, and then is eliminated. What Jesus described here is purely biological—it’s human digestion. A purely biological process has no bearing whatsoever on who you are as a person. Rather, the heart greatly impacts your relationship with God and with others.
As an aside, Mark added that Jesus declared all foods clean. Long before Peter’s vision of the sheet’s coming down from heaven (Acts 10), Jesus said that what one eats doesn’t bother one’s spirit.
What comes out of a person defiles him. The reason for that is simple—sin begins in the heart.
With the new day Jesus brought, what one eats doesn’t matter; however, what a person thinks still matters. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about sin’s coming from the heart.
- Murder, Jesus said, isn’t where the problem begins; sin begins with an all-consuming anger (Matthew 5:21-26).
- Adultery, Jesus said, isn’t simply a physical act; sin begins with lust in the heart (Matt 5:27-30).
Simply put, sin originates in the heart and expresses itself in action.
“Sin comes from your heart.” Therefore:
You need to watch your INTAKE.
You need to be cautious about what you put into your heart. Scripture urges you to guard what is in your heart. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov 4:23). “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).
How do you watch your intake? You need to what your intake both positively and negatively.
Negatively, you need to make sure that you are not putting evil in your heart.
This world bombards you with filth, and it’s difficult to keep filth out of your heart. But you need to take a careful look at what you purposefully put in your heart. Let me ask you:
- Do you watch TV programming that desensitizes you to sin?
- Do you have friends who desensitize you to sin?
- Do you freely listen to off-color jokes in the office?
- Just what are you allowing into your heart?
As Job was defending his integrity, he said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). Make a covenant with your heart not to put garbage into it!
Positively, you need to put righteousness into your heart.
Taking sin out of your heart is vitally important, but you can’t simply leave a void in your life. You need to fill your heart with good. You must spend time molding your heart into the image of Jesus.
- Joshua needed to mold his heart by the Word of God to be a godly leader: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh 1:8).
- The Philippians needed to fill their hearts with the character of Jesus: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
Spend time in the Word of God this week so that your heart will be molded into the image of Jesus.
You need to watch your OUTTAKE.
In other words, watch what you do, for then you will be able to see where your heart is. This week, take a careful look at the list of sins Jesus mentioned to see if any trouble you. Some of you might automatically be insulted by such a suggestion—you might say, “I don’t steal or murder or commit adultery.” Great! But can you say the same thing about envy or pride or foolishness?
You need to do a couple things with the list of sins Jesus gave.
One: You need to think back over the past week and see what sins from that list you’ve committed.
Did you covet? Were you full of pride? Did you slander someone? Did you deceive? If so, you need to follow what Peter told Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8:22 and repent of your sin and pray to God for forgiveness.
Two: You need to go through that list of sins and look at every sin and write down the positive, godly attribute, which is its opposite.
For example, out from “sexual immorality” you could write “sexual faithfulness.” Out from “theft” you could write “generosity.” Out from “slander” you could write “praying for someone.” And so on. Take the time to go through the list and write down the grace that is the opposite of each sin. Then, you must work to add those graces to your life.
Look at your heart this morning. What do you see? Do you see a heart in need of the cleansing from Jesus’s blood? If you need to come, come right now as we stand and sing.