July 31, 2016
Imagine with me two weddings. The first is not just any wedding – it is the wedding, with the bride and the groom. The bride is perfect, in every way. She has the most beautiful wedding dress you’ve ever seen. It’s breathtaking – long, white, flowing. Her makeup is applied perfectly, her appearance stunning. In fact, you’re a little scared to get too close to this bride. Every hair is in place – the hairdresser was flown in for the event. Her manicure is flawless; her wedding bouquet, the most lovely you can remember – in fact, it becomes obvious she spared no expense for all the flower arrangements, for the entire wedding, for that matter. And the rock on her finger is the biggest you’ve ever seen – it’s dazzling. She’s the kind of bride that intimidates other would-be brides – because no one could ever look like her, or have a wedding like this.
Everyone and everything, you can be sure, is in place. The guests are on time. The music is not only live, it is performed by a small group of professionals. Everyone knows just what to do and when to do it. They will respond appropriately and rightly. The ushers are perfect gentlemen. The numerous candles are lit on queue. The bridesmaids enter gracefully, perfectly and meticulously spaced – you sense they’re even counting their steps. The flower girl is as cute as a button – she doesn’t look terrified – she even smiles. The ring bearer looks handsome in his little tux – he doesn’t look bored, why, he even looks interested.
Then, with the swell of wonderful music, the congregation stands in anticipation, and the bride enters. The crowd gasps – she is indeed, perfect – her tiara glistens in the candlelight. As she walks down the aisle, she smiles sweetly at her guests.…And the thought enters your mind for the first time, something’s not right – but you quickly dismiss it. You watch as the ceremony continues perfectly, but there it is again, something’s missing. You’re not sure what it is, but an uneasy feeling settles in the pit of your stomach.
The minister takes the bride and groom through the ceremony. There are no tears at this wedding – it occurs to you tears would ruin the bride’s makeup. And when it comes time for the bride to say her vows, you notice she continues to make furtive glances toward the quests. And the thought assails your mind again – unbidden. But this time you can’t dismiss it. This wedding is all about the bride. It’s about how she looks, what people think of her. And suddenly, the uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach has words: this bride doesn’t love the groom at all – she loves herself. She wants to look good, she has prepared herself, not for the groom, but for herself. There is no passion, no warmth, no love. It looks perfect on the exterior, but it’s terribly wrong. The bride and groom exit – the bride glowing – the groom, not so much.
Now, imagine with me another wedding. A different wedding. A more simple wedding. Oh, there are guests and flowers and candles and bridesmaids and groomsmen and a flower girl and ring bearer. But they all seem to play a secondary role. Everything proceeds as it’s supposed to, but when the bride enters and the crowd stands to their feet, you notice something different about this bride – something significantly different from that of the first wedding. Oh, her dress is pretty enough, but that’s not what you notice. This bride looks rather plain, but that doesn’t seem to matter either. The thing you notice is the way her eyes sparkle as they lock on the groom at the front of the church. You look more closely and you see tears streaming down her face, but somehow, they seem to fit – more than the makeup the tears replace. She scarcely seems to notice those around her – her gaze is constantly fixed on him. And it becomes clear to you at that moment how much she loves her groom – the center of her life. And at that moment, you can’t help but follow her gaze to the front of the church – to the groom – it seems natural, it’s where your gaze belongs. You see, this bride realizes, of all the ones on earth, this groom chose her. And it amazes her.
The illustration flows from the image of Jesus being our bridegroom, and we, the church, being the bride of Christ. Among other places, this beautiful picture is painted for us in Revelation 21, where, at the end of time as we know it, the bride has been made ready, adorned for her husband. It is one of the most beautiful pictures in all the New Testament that describes the relationship of Jesus with His church. The question this morning is, which bride are you? Because I have to tell you, there is only one bride.
You see, Jesus is the groom at this wedding, and when the question is asked, “If anyone here can give any reason why this man and this woman should not be joined in holy matrimony, let him speak now, or forever hold his peace,” Jesus is the one who speaks. In that first wedding, the Pharisees are more concerned about the way they look than their love for the groom. They have no love for Him. They’ve spent their whole lives looking good for the crowds, to the guests – but there is no love for God. And Jesus leaves them at the altar.
And they begin screaming – look at all of the wonderful things we’ve done for you. Look around at this beautiful wedding. Did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? We did everything just right. We dotted all the i’s we crossed all the t’s. We tithed everything, even the mint and dill and cumin. We fasted twice a week. We washed our hands just right – ceremonially, according to the tradition of the elders. We’re not like other people – swindlers, unjust, adulterers, tax collectors – we’re better than everyone else. And they don’t understand that spiritual beauty must come from the inside out. And Jesus says, “Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness, I never knew you.” There was never any love for me – it was always about you. I’m not interested.
The church is the bride of Christ – made so not by our work, not by the things we’ve done to make ourselves look good – but by His work for us. And the result can only be breathless gratitude – where with tear-stained faces that wash away our external efforts, we fix our eyes on our beloved – the one who has done so much for us. We know the high price He paid to buy us out of the slave market to make us His bride. And we feel overwhelming gratitude and deep, deep love. Ephesians 5 says:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
That’s the kind of bride Jesus is looking for – a church composed of people who love Him – who have been sanctified and cleansed from the inside out. He’s never been concerned about external make-up, manicures and hair – He’s always been concerned about the heart. He wants a holy and blameless bride – a pure church, with changed hearts that produces changed lives – lives motivated by love for Him.
That’s what were going to talk about this morning in our text in Mark 7. You see, the theme today is the essence of true holiness. We are in the second part of a two-part sermon. Last week we saw a delegation of Scribes and Pharisees arrive, sent from Jerusalem to confront Jesus – to publicly discredit and destroy Him. They leveled a charge against Him – your disciples break the tradition of the elders. External holiness – this system we’ve erected to make us look good. Then they gave an example – they don’t wash their hands before they eat. Last week we saw that had nothing to do with physical cleanliness – it was a ceremonial washing that supposedly washed away the defilement of the sin of others. Never mind they had their own sin to be dealt with…and so do you.
Jesus didn’t even address the accusation, at least not yet. He counterpunched, first with Scripture. Rightly did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites. That’s the only time Mark uses that term. It comes from the Greek plays – it literally refers who wears a mask – you know, so the outside plays the part – looks good. You honor Me with your lips – external holiness. But your hearts are far from Me. You don’t love Me – you love yourselves.
Then He accused them of neglecting, setting aside, violating the commandment of God for the sake of their tradition. Then He gave them an example – the law says you’re supposed to honor your parents – but by your tradition of saying corban, which means a gift devoted to God, you ignore the commandment, neglect your parents, and invalidate the Law of God.
The Pharisees, and frankly any religion that teaches a system of rules to keep to clean yourself up – even Christianity if you think by being good, you’ll merit God’s attention – these were the bride in the first wedding – they looked real good on the outside – impressive to all the guests – honoring with their lips – but there was only one problem – they didn’t love the groom. They didn’t love God, so God said, in vain do they worship Me – their hearts are far from Me. There will be no wedding, because there will be no groom.
From there, Jesus launches into a discussion about the nature of true holiness. Because there’s a problem internally that must be dealt with. That’s what this is about. Read the text with me, Mark 7:14-23.
You see, this text is a lot more important than giving you permission to eat bacon. It communicates that people are wicked from the inside out – we have cold, dead, distant hearts far from God. We need a heart change – we need the New Covenant – the work of the Gospel – to take out our hearts of stone and give hearts of flesh that love God.
Now, remember verses 1-23 actually go together. In those verses, Jesus has three conversations on the same subject:
- One with the Pharisees in verses 1-13, which we looked at last week.
- One with the Crowds in verses 14-16.
- And one with the Disciples in verses 17-23.
We’ll follow that outline just to give us some structure, but I want you to remember that our theme is the essence of true holiness, and the source of true defilement. And neither one come from out here – they come from the heart. And so my desire for us, as a church, is to become more and more the beautiful bride of Christ – a bride that loves Him from the heart. Recognizing what springs from our hearts – and how the New Covenant replaced our filthy hearts of stone with hearts of flesh by which we love Jesus.
We’ve looked at the conversation with the Pharisees, let’s look at the conversation with the crowd in verses 14-16. By way of review, remember the Pharisees had relegated holiness to external performance – observing lots of rules, lots of regulations, washing your hands just right – volume after volume of rituals they had made up through the years, eventually settling in what is called the Mishna. Keep their system, and you’re holy. You’re acceptable, you’re pleasing to God. We talked about it last week – you’re heart can be black as night, but if you keep the system, if you look good on the outside, you’re okay. You’re the perfect bride, you look stunning – with no love for the groom. And Jesus says, I’m not interested.
When the Pharisees first leveled their charge against Jesus, He ignored them. But, when He spoke to the crowds, He answered the accusation. He starts by saying “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand.” I want you to get this, this is something unlike anything you’ve heard before.
“There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” As basic as that sounds to us, you have to understand how that would have shocked the crowds. All their lives they’d been told – if you don’t wash your hands before you eat, you can become defiled – the word means unclean, polluted. By that, they weren’t talking about getting physically sick because of polluted food – they were talking about becoming morally polluted, defiled. Just like you pass germs from person to person, if you touch an unclean person, a morally polluted person, say a Gentile, you can pass moral filth. Then, you eat your food without washing your hands, that moral pollution jumps from your hands to the food, and then, to you.
So, in order to remain holy, you’ve got to wash your hands. It was ridiculous, of course, but they’d heard it all their lives. And now, Jesus says, it’s not true. What? You mean we don’t get sinful by eating with unwashed hands – without going through the ceremonial mumbo jumbo? No, you don’t. Because defilement is not an external issue, it’s an internal one. Because defilement is not a physical issue, it’s a spiritual issue. Because holiness is not a matter of externals – it’s a matter of the heart. Wow, you say, this is great news. Hold on – it is ultimately good news, but at first, maybe not quite as good as you think. Which brings us to the third conversation, this one with the disciples.
At this point, Jesus and the disciples left the crowds and went into a house. In the parallel passage in Matthew, the disciples said to Jesus, “Don’t you know the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” I’m sure Jesus was shocked – He had no idea that overturning their entire system would upset them. You have to understand His statement in verse 15 crystallized the difference between the religion of the Pharisees and the kingdom Jesus came to bring. Of course they were upset – Jesus had just torpedoed everything they taught. It would be like telling that first bride – you’re wasting your time with all that makeup and hairdo. She would have gone ballistic – and you probably wouldn’t be invited to the wedding. Exactly. They were upset – they were infuriated, and they no doubt continued to plot His death – He wasn’t invited – problem is, He’s the groom. This is all about Him.
Back in Mark, at this point in the conversation, the disciples question Jesus about the parable, that is, His teaching to the crowd. They’re referring to verse 15, because that’s what Jesus goes on to explain. It wasn’t so much the parable was hard to understand as much as it was hard to accept. Remember, they’d heard this external stuff all their lives. And so they don’t get it, and so now, Jesus gets a little frustrated with them – it’s one of those times He lets out a sigh and says, “Are you so lacking in understanding also?” You’ve been with me for up to a couple years now – you’ve heard my teaching – and you don’t get it? Remember, Mark is building this case of the dullness of the disciples.
Okay, let’s try this one more time. Don’t you understand that true faith, genuine faith, is a matter of the heart? Don’t you understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated – literally, ends up in the latrine? Food is food – it’s neither holy nor unholy. In fact, Mark comments on that – he notes that by saying this, Jesus declared all food clean – no such thing as clean and unclean foods anymore. Which is why you can eat bacon. But that’s not really the point. The point is, food doesn’t make you holy or unholy. It’s irrelevant. It’s never been a matter of the externals, it’s always been a matter of the heart.
But, then He shares some bad news. The things that proceed out of the man, not the things that go in, but the things that go out of the man come from the heart – and those are the things that defile a man. What does He mean by that?
The heart reveals who you really are. Who you really are, comes out. In word, in action – it comes out. You see, all the religious performances don’t matter. What matters are the words and the actions which reveal your hearts – and where your hearts belong. On the one hand, they can show how black our hearts are. All of us. It wasn’t just the Pharisees. This is a description of the person without Christ. All of us – born dead in trespasses and sin. Without Christ and a heart change, we are all helpless and hopeless. What comes out? Jesus gives us a sample list:
The first six are actually in the plural and are actions: evil thoughts (which is probably the heading, because sin starts in the heart – with evil desires), fornications, which speaks of all kinds of sexual sin, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness. Easy enough to understand, but what you need to understand is that everyone of us is guilty of those sins – probably all of them. You say, well not really, not adultery and murder. Oh contrare, because in Matthew 5, Jesus says if you lust – that’s from the heart, you’re guilty of adultery, and if you hate – that’s from the heart – you’re guilty of murder. Everyone becomes guilty. These actions demonstrate the nature of our hearts. Black as night.
The second half of the list is in the singular, and are all attitudes. Deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. Again, we’re all guilty. That’s bad news.
So, how do you respond to this? Two ways. The first is the first bride. It’s what the Pharisees and world religions do. Okay, in order to be acceptable to God, I’ve got to make myself look a little better. I need a new dress – a cleaner dress, a whiter dress, a better dress. I’ve got to paint my nails, do my hair. I’ve got to have no evil thoughts, no murders, no adulteries, no fornications, no thefts, no coveting, no pride. So there you have it. On your mark, get set, go. Do it. Does that work for you?
Oh no, I just had an evil thought – let’s start over. And then we remember murder has its roots in anger, and I’ve got a problem with anger. We remember that adultery and fornication have its roots in lust, and I’ve got a problem with lust. Okay, so we try a little harder, and we apply a little more makeup, and we try to look a little better – and we just don’t get it. The white dress gets soiled over and over again. Now, I’m talking about all self attempts at making yourself holy apart from the gospel.
The second bride, the real bride, the one who belongs to Jesus, hears this list, and starts looking inside. And she says, I can’t do that – I really need the groom. I really love the groom. And because she loves Him, she says, I really do want to do that. And she comes to the end of herself and says, Jesus, you’re my only hope. It’s when, as the bride of Christ, we fix our eyes on the groom, recognizing we can’t do it on our own. That it isn’t all about us. It isn’t all about putting on a new dress, sprucing up the outside, putting on more makeup, new nail polish, new hairdo, because that will never work. What we need isn’t a new outside, what we need is a new inside. What we need is God, because I can’t do it. And it isn’t about me, it’s all about Him. And with breathless gratitude and tear-stained faces, we say, I have a heart for you. I love my husband, and I want to give Him everything I’ve got. I can’t give Him much, but I can give Him my heart. And this bride prepares herself in the chamber to meet her groom. And it isn’t to pay Him back, it isn’t to earn His love – it’s simply because she loves the groom.
And once she realizes, she can’t do it, she’s ready for the gospel, by which we live. Jesus, I need your help. I need your Holy Spirit to make me holy. I don’t want to be a bride that just paints the outside. I want to be a bride that loves you from the heart. I want to be ready when He comes. That is the essence of true holiness. That is the bride of Christ. I referenced Revelation 21 at the beginning of the sermon. Listen to its words as we close.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.
2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,
4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.
7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.
8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”