Sunday, October 28, 2007

The New Ad Campaign

All over town, I find churches that have invested in slick multicolor banners with big bold letters stating, "Casual Dress, Contemporary Worship," and other slogans which aim to catch the attention of a certain audience. One church I passed today had scrolling across their electronic marquee, "We Serve Starbucks Coffee." Recently another church I saw had a large banner advertising "Blended Worship." This caused me to wonder how many unchurched people were out there shopping for "blended worship," or how many even knew what that phrase means. It seemed to me that the target for that ad campaign was people who were unsatisfied with their present church's music. So all of this got me thinking, and the following was the brainchild of that thought process:

I am curious to see what kind of attention it draws. I will keep you posted ....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

God and Sports

With hockey season resuming, and the Triad being home to a team once again, I return to service as a volunteer chaplain this year with the Twin City Cyclones. My ministry to the team is under the umbrella of Hockey Ministries International. I will be conducting chapel services for interested players once a month, and providing services as needed and requested at other times. Yesterday, I went over to meet the players after practice, and was received well by them all.

Tomorrow night is opening night for the Cyclones. I will be speaking to the players prior to the game and offering prayer for them before they take the ice. So, what do you say in a time like that? Well, I won't be telling them that God wants them to win or praying for an on-ice victory. Neither do I want there to be a superstitious perspective on my presence and the prayer we offer. If you are a pro sports fan, you know that players develop superstitions about many things -- baseball players don't step on the baseline as they come on and off the diamond; some players have a "lucky shirt" that they don't wash all season, etc. The last thing I want these players to think is that our pre-game prayer is an amulet for success, or an omen of doom. So what will I say?

Something to this effect:

God, and prayer to God, is not a means to our own ends, but rather He is the greatest end of all our means. Our entire life is about pursuing Him. So my presence in the room with the team, and the prayer we lift up is not a good luck charm. God loves the other team as much as He loves us. Rather, my purpose here before the game is to remind you that you were made by God for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify God with your lives. First Corinthians 10:31, "... whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men." Because whether you win or lose, God is working in your life to bring you into a deeper knowledge of Himself and to shape your character for His purposes. In the film "Chariots of Fire," Eric Liddel is depicted as saying, "I believe that God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure." So our prayer before the game is that each player will glorify God by giving his best effort on the ice. We pray that each will play with honor and sportsmanship, that each will play to the best of his ability, that the players will be kept safe from injury, and that God would be glorified in all our lives, including the time spent on the ice in this game.

For an interesting look at God and Sports, see Slate Magazine's post today entitled "Are the Colorado Rockies Blessed? Examining God's Effect on the Baseball Diamond" by

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mark 7:31-37 -- “The Ears of the Deaf Will Be Opened … And the Tongue of the Mute Will Shout for Joy”

Audio of this message available by right-clicking here or subscribing to the podcast on iTunes.

Around 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the prophet Isaiah declared that when the Messiah came, the “eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy” [Isaiah 35:5-6]. In the passage before us today, Jesus demonstrates that He is this long-awaited Savior by performing these very tasks.

In the passage immediately prior to this one, Jesus had gone to the city of Tyre. We are told in verse 31 that he is now leaving Tyre, traveling through Sidon, and then down to the Sea of Galilee into the region of Decapolis. We don’t know why He chose this route, or how long His travels would have taken, but we do know that this was a circuitous route of somewhere around 120 miles. It would be similar to traveling from Greensboro to Winston-Salem by way of Danville, Virginia. Previously, when Jesus came to Decapolis in chapter 5, He cast a legion of demons from a severely afflicted man into a herd of pigs, prompting the locals to implore Him to leave their region. This time, when He entered, His reception was much different. As He came into the region of Decapolis He was met by a group of people who were bringing a deaf man with a severe speech impediment to Jesus, imploring Him that He might lay His hand on the man. And in the events that follow Jesus transforms a life and reveals Himself to be the promised Messiah. Let’s look at the events that unfold before us here in these verses and see Christ as they saw Him, and find application for our present situation as well.

The first thing that strikes us in the passage is …

I. The Important Work of Intercession (32)

Jesus is met by a group of people who bring to Him a man who is described by Mark as deaf and speaking with difficulty. Notice here two things.

A. A Man with a Helpless Condition

We are told that the man is deaf. We are not told if his condition is congenital or if it is the result of an injury or illness. He also has a severe speaking disorder, not uncommon with people who are deaf. He was not a mute; he could speak. But, his speech is described with the Greek word mogilalos, literally rendered in the NASB as “spoke with difficulty.” This is the only occurrence of this Greek word in the New Testament. Interestingly, when the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, a translation we call the Septuagint, the word occurs only once there as well. Where do we find it? We find it in Isaiah 35:6, where the NASB reads, “The tongue of the mute will shout for joy.”

So here is a man who cannot hear what others are saying to him, and cannot speak to others about his own needs. Others have heard about Jesus. He has not. Others have spoken their concerns to Jesus. He cannot. His friends are leading him about, but he can’t hear them say where or why. He can’t even tell them whether or not he wants to go. He is at the mercy of those who are leading him. He is a man with a helpless condition. But he is also …

B. A Man with Helpful Companions

Not content to leave their friend in the silence of his condition, his friends decided to bring him to Jesus. Perhaps they had heard of His healing power; perhaps they had witnessed the incident with the pigs when He last visited the region; perhaps they had heard the testimony of the man who had been set free from the legion of demons. Whatever happened, these friends were convinced that Jesus could help their friend. So they brought the man to Jesus and began imploring Jesus to lay His hand on him. They were confident that the touch of the Master’s hand could transform the life of this man.

When I was growing up we had some very close family friends who had a son who was deaf and could utter sounds, but not in plain speech. When I was just a young boy, I learned to say in sign language, “My name is Russ.” No matter how hard I tried to communicate with my friend, all I could do was say, “My name is Russ.” My guess is that my deaf friend got really tired of me telling him my name over and over again, but it was all I could say to him. Some of us know folks like this, others perhaps don’t. But all of us know people who are spiritually deaf and mute. We try to communicate with them about Jesus, but they don’t hear what we are saying. It does not register with them, and they often do not know the right response to make. Surely most of us have experienced this frustration. But we must get them to Jesus because only as He touches them will they be able to comprehend the spiritual truth about their condition and God’s salvation in Christ. The Holy Spirit must do the work of convicting and converting! And so our efforts to witness to our friends will only be as effective as our labor of intercession – bringing them to Jesus in prayer and imploring Him to touch them. And as He does, our witness will be understood by them and they will find the salvation that we so desperately want them to know. We cannot emphasize enough the important work of intercession.

Now, notice secondly in the text …

II. The Individual Manner of Interaction (33-35)

We don’t know how many people came with this man to see Jesus, but we are told that there was a crowd of people present. And Jesus takes the man off by himself, aside from the crowd. It is the way of Jesus to deal with people one on one. This episode is about what He is going to do for this man, not what He is going to do for the crowd. They would be amused and entertained to be sure, but that is not His purpose. Jesus’ purpose is to transform the life of this man and He takes him aside individually to interact with him.

A. He Interacts Privately (v33a)

Mark notes carefully here that Jesus takes the man away from the crowd and He takes him off by himself. We aren’t told why, but two things seem obvious.

1. The private interaction minimizes distractions

Being deaf, the man relied upon his other senses more heavily. It has often been noted that people who have lost one of their five senses have keener abilities in the others. Therefore it is important that Jesus deal with this man in private lest he become distracted by others moving about around him, brushing up against him as they crowd in to see and hear what Jesus is doing. It might have increased Jesus’ popularity to entertain the crowd as He healed this man, but Jesus was never interested in popularity. Most of it was misguided anyway. Instead, He minimized the distractions for this man by taking him aside privately.

2. The private interaction maintains dignity

The man had already been made a spectacle of, by being led to Jesus and made the focal point of a crowd of onlookers. But Jesus doesn’t further the spectacle by using the man as a prop in a sideshow act. It is very important that this man have confidence and trust in Jesus, and Jesus demonstrates that He is worthy of that trust by maintaining the man’s dignity interacting with him in private.

When I was in Kenya ten years ago, the hotel where we stayed brought in local entertainment every night. One particular night we had this comedy magic act, and you know the guy was pulling coins out of ears, stuff like that. And then he asked for a volunteer from the audience. So a few guys on our mission team started pointing to another one of us, saying “Pick him, pick him.” And so the magician picked this poor guy, a pastor from Texas. Now the magician didn’t know this guy was a pastor, and maybe he wouldn’t have cared if he did know, but he started doing some rather crude and offensive little jokes and tricks with the guy, and this poor pastor was turning redder and redder. And all these German tourists and local Africans were laughing and having a great time, but the guys who had thrust our fellow team member into the spotlight were noticeably ashamed that their friend had been made into a spectacle. The pastor was a good sport about it all, but the mood of the evening was definitely altered from that point on.

No one likes to be made a spectacle of. Well, there maybe some who like it, but something is wrong with them. And in order to assure this man that Jesus respected his human dignity, He took him away privately to interact with him.

As we deal with those who are spiritually deaf and mute, we must also know the importance of private interaction. By talking one on one with a person away from the distractions of crowds and noise, and preserving the dignity of that person by not making a spectacle of them in front of onlookers, or causing them to put up a defense in order to maintain an appearance, we will have far more respect in their eyes. This is why I question so much of the stuff being done by so-called “faith-healers.” They rent out these big arenas and put on these grand and elaborate shows and people flock in there to watch them supposedly heal people. Jesus would have never done this. He deals with people one on one. And when He deals with a crowd, it is to preach the gospel to them, not to amuse them with His act. We must learn to value the importance of private interaction in dealing with people who don’t know Jesus, and we will be far more effective with them as we do.

Now notice, not only does Jesus interact with this man privately …

B. He interacts personally (33b-34)

Jesus does not follow a step-by-step method when He deals with people. G. Campbell Morgan said, “He never did anything the same way twice. There was infinite variety in all His dealings with men. He never healed more than one blind man in the same way. He never cast out the demon from more than one man in the same way.”[1] And so here, we see Jesus interacting with this man in a way He has not interacted with any other.

This man could not hear anything Jesus said, so Jesus communicates with him physically, using as it were a sort of sign language. First, He puts (or more literally in the Greek, He thrusts) His fingers into this man’s ears indicating that He was going to pierce the deafness of this man. Then Jesus spit. Now the NASB adds the thought that Jesus touched the man’s tongue with the saliva. If you are using the NASB (your own copy or one of the pew Bibles) you should notice that the words with the saliva at the end of v33 are in italics, which means that they do not occur in the original Greek text, but have been added with the intent of clarifying the passage. However, here they do not clarify, but rather add unnecessary information. “Mark does not say that Jesus spat on the man’s tongue, nor yet that He spat on His own hand and applied the saliva to the man’s tongue.”[2] We should be careful to note that neither does Mark say He did not do this. We don’t know.

Now, frankly, it kind of grosses us out to think that Jesus would put His own spit on another man’s tongue. But even if He did (and again, we don’t know if He did or not), it “would not have been as surprising to those in the ancient Mediterranean world as it is to us.” In addition to stories involving superstition and magic “where saliva was used as a curative agent, … there are also mentions of its use in more normal medical practice.”[3] Obviously, it was not important to Mark to indicate whether or not Jesus put His saliva on the man’s tongue or not. The more important question is why did He spit? Just as placing the fingers into the man’s ears signified the opening of the ears to hear, so here, spitting indicated that the impediment of the man’s mouth was about to be cast away. And then Jesus touched the man’s tongue to demonstrate that his speech would be restored.

Then Jesus looked into heaven. Looking up into heaven would have communicated to the man that what was about to take place was coming to him from God. This was to be no ordinary medical procedure, it was going to be a divine miracle. And then with a deep sigh, Jesus uttered the Aramaic word Ephphatha, which would have been an easy word for the man to lip-read, meaning “Be opened!”

So we see that Jesus went to great lengths to communicate to this man in a way that he could understand what was going on. Without hearing a word, he understood that Jesus was going to open his ears and loosen his tongue with power from heaven. And all of this was done so that the man would personally commit his faith in Jesus. It is not enough that his friends had faith that Jesus could heal him. This man must believe for himself. But he couldn’t hear the message that others were speaking about Jesus. He couldn’t ask others about Jesus. He had to come into personal contact with Jesus, who would communicate to him in a way he could understand. Everything Jesus did for him was to awaken and develop an intelligent faith within him concerning who Jesus was and what He was going to do.

And so Jesus continues to deal with people in this personal way. You may have difficulty sharing Jesus with someone, but as you witness to that person, you must be prayerful that Christ will make Himself known to that person in a way that the person will understand. You must pray that He will, as it were, thrust His fingers into the person’s ears and loosen their tongues as personally and individually as Jesus did for this man. And this should also cause us to beware of “one size fits all” evangelistic methods. I tell people that I don’t have any magic bullets that will always do the trick to convert a sinner. I just have the same gospel that you have. But as Morgan says, “If we are really going to deal with men in the name of Christ, we cannot deal with all men in the same way.”[4] For some, a gospel tract will suffice; others may need to hear our personal testimony; others may need a logical apologetic argument; others may need to see our faith demonstrated in our lifestyles. Some will respond well to a sermon, others to a film about the life of Christ. Some may need to be challenged to take up God’s word and read it for themselves. But each individual must be dealt with uniquely, just as Jesus shows us with this man. There is only one gospel, but there is a multitude of ways to share it. And this is why it is important for each of us to be about the business of sharing the gospel, because where one of us is weak, another will be strong, and together we join our efforts in reaching lost people. And it is also why we must be adaptable – not changing our message or compromising our convictions, but finding unique ways to bridge the gap of communication with each individual we come into contact with in order to share Christ with them.

I am speaking here of the individual manner of interaction with people, and how Jesus dealt with this man privately and personally. But notice also …

C. He interacts powerfully (35)

Immediately the man could hear again and speak plainly. The effectual element in this miracle is the divine power and authority of Jesus voiced by the word of His power to speak authoritatively this divine decree that the man should be healed. Here is this Jesus who can speak and the winds and waves obey Him, the demons surrender to Him, and even physical ailments obey His command. Just as the word of God’s power spoke the universe into existence, so here with one word, the ears and mouth of this man are opened.

We must see here the power of proclaiming God’s Word. There are so many exercises and activities that can consume a church calendar, but only one thing transforms lives. It is the proclamation of this powerful Word. I once heard Howard Hendricks say that there are only two things on this planet that are going to last forever – the souls of men and the Word of God. So why should we not invest our time and effort into things of eternal significance and proclaim this Word to these souls?

This week, Christianity Today featured on their website a story about Willow Creek Church in Chicago. Willow Creek pioneered the seeker-sensitive movement of church growth, and for 30 years has packed crowds of people into their facilities, literally redefining the way church is done all over the United States. Largely based on the model of secular business plans, Christianity Today summarized their philosophy of ministry this way: “church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage.” However, a recent multi-year self-study of their ministry effectiveness revealed a startling conclusion: their enormous slate of programs and “consumer” church model has produced very little spiritual maturity among their members. To which I said, “Duh!” You cannot convert people to God-centered living using self-centered methods! It will not work. What “works” is feeding people on the Word of God. His Word is powerful and authoritative and sufficient to open deaf ears and loosen bound tongues to declare the praise of His glory. His word transforms lives and those transforms lives then become contagious in the work of sharing His word with the world around us.

And so it is significant that here as Jesus deals with this man, He does so by speaking. And what His word does for this man, it will do for us as well. Our ears are opened to hear God’s truth, and out tongues are loosed to declare His praise. And we now have this Word of God in the Scriptures. And now if we would see His power at work around us, it will be as we take up and proclaim this powerful word in our work and in our witness.

Now briefly and finally, notice here …

III. The Intriguing Nature of These Instructions (36-37)

Here again, as elsewhere throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus gives orders not to tell anyone. Let’s observe the reason for these instructions and the response to them.

A. The Reason for the Instructions

We’ve discussed it before, so we won’t dwell too long on this now, but the reason for this gag order was to prevent becoming popularized as a side-show magician out doing tricks, and to prevent misguided messianic fervor from diverting Him from His Father’s plan. His true identity and purpose could only be fully understood after the Cross and Resurrection. And so to speak of Him only in reference to these physical cures He has worked is to speak with only a partial understanding. These miracles were foretastes of the complete redemption that He would accomplish for humanity in His suffering, death and victorious resurrection. And so following the resurrection, the command is not to keep quiet but to go and tell, because His work of salvation has been accomplished, and He has been declared with power to be the divine Son of God by His victory over death. So no one today can claim to be keeping the Messianic secret, because we have now been commissioned to take the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

B. The Response to His Instructions

So utterly astonished were these people of Decapolis that they were not able to heed the command of Jesus. Notice …

1. The audacity of their disobedience (36)

The more He ordered them not to go and tell, the more they went and told – each time farther and wider. It is kind of funny – winds, waves, demons, diseases – all these obey Jesus. It is people who just can’t seem to do it. So Ezra Gould says, “The conduct of the multitude is a good example of the way in which men treat Jesus, yielding Him all homage, except obedience.”[5] Alan Cole says this is an illustration of “the strange perversions of human psychology.”[6] So totally depraved are we, that if God commands us not to do something, it creates a desire in us to do it all the more. Here Christ commands to keep quiet, and they go tell. And we marvel at the audacity of their disobedience, but have we overlooked our own? Now He has commanded us to go and tell, and we keep silent. We are as audacious in our disobedience as they are. But may we not view the Great Commission as a law which binds us as slaves, but rather may we be so caught up in utter amazement at the greatness of Christ that we must go and tell!

2. The Accuracy of their declaration (37)

Even though they were disobedient by going and telling, at least we can say that what told was true. “He has done all things well!” they said. Indeed He has. Just as God looked upon His work of creation and declared it to be “very good,” so we are able to look on all that Jesus has done and say that He has done it well. There are no mistakes in His will or His work, and like these folks of Decapolis, may we declare this daily in our lives as well. He has done all things well.

And they said, “He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” Here they are not just reporting the facts. There is spiritual significance to what is being said. You recall from the opening words of this message that Isaiah had prophesied that when Messiah comes, “the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy” [Isaiah 35:5-6]. This congregation of people were witnesses to the fact that He had come in the person of Jesus, with all the accompanying signs that were promised. They understood exactly who He was and what this meant for the world. The salvation that God had promised for centuries to bring to all nations was here in their midst. And this was good news they couldn’t help sharing.

This same good news we share with you today. Each of us is born in a state of spiritual blindness, deafness, muteness, and lameness, but Christ has come to open our eyes and ears, to loose our tongues and raise us up. If we will turn from sin and recognize that He has died to save us, then we can receive this salvation in our own lives as well. So if you never have before, then come aside alone with Jesus and let Him do His powerful work in your life just as He did for this man in our passage today.

[1] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1927),176

[2] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 214.

[3] R. T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 303.

[4] Morgan, 176.

[5] Cited in Hiebert, 215.

[6] Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to St. Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 125.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Up Willow Creek Without A Paddle

Well, it seems that the folks at Willow Creek have finally realized that the Burger King ("Have it Your Way") philosophy of ministry is not all its cracked up to be. Turns out, all of their catering to the self-centered appetites of their "consumers" has done very little to promote real spiritual growth. Read all about it here.

Here's the good news: They admitted it without trying to rationalize, make excuses, or spin the story. I applaud that rare expression of humility.

Here's the bad news: For 30 years, churches across the country have been abandoning the Biblical message and means of ministry for the Willow Creek model, assuming that numerical growth was as important or perhaps indicative of real spiritual growth and disciplemaking. My first concern is -- how many of these churches will even discover the startling revelations of Willow Creek's self evaluation? Will they continue blissfully along the primrose path of their status quo without even being aware of this cause for concern? My second concern is -- how many will learn of these discoveries, but refuse to change because of fear of losing people, having to trim staff and/or salaries, having to cut programs, or God-forbid downsize facilities? My third concern is -- will those who recognize and change return to Biblical means or will they seek the latest fad or trend to replace Hybelsism? My fourth concern is -- why did it take 30 years of doing ministry this way and several years of study to discover this? It seems to me that a cursory knowledge of the New Testament and some personal familiarity with the people to whom they are "ministering" would have revealed it long before now!

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Mark 7:24-30: Faith that Moves Mountains

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If you knew in advance that this message was entitled “Faith that Moves Mountains” you might assume that our text would be Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move.” Or perhaps you might think of Matthew 21:21, where He says similarly, “If you have faith and do not doubt, … even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen.” You would probably not expect to take up the subject of faith that moves mountains from a passage where the words “faith” and “mountain” do not even occur. Yet in this passage, we see a woman who is a remarkable example of faith overcoming mountainous obstacles that stand between her and the God who is able to help her.

Mark tells us here that Jesus has gone into the region of Tyre, a Gentile region directly northwest of Galilee in modern day Lebanon. We do not know whose house Jesus entered there, but we are told that He wanted no one to know about it. It is unclear, apart from the theme of secrecy that dominates Mark’s gospel, why this was. Perhaps because of the ongoing and rising opposition from the Pharisees and Herod Antipas, Jesus desired a little season of private respite. Or, it could be like the situation in Mark 9:30-31 when Jesus retreated to have some private instruction time with the disciples. Or maybe it was to finally have that time of quiet rest He and the disciples attempted to have back in Mark 6:31. You may recall that they were spotted by a multitude of thousands which Jesus began to teach and miraculously feed. We must confess that if the reason for this sojourn to Tyre was important, Mark would have told us, and he doesn’t. What he does tell us is that, as usual, “He could not escape notice” (v24). We don’t know how many were aware of His presence in the region, but we are aware that one particular individual found out and came to Him immediately in a state of desperation, and with tremendous faith.

This particular woman in the passage has a daughter, and the diminutive form occurs in Greek—a little daughter—who is afflicted in the grips of demonic possession. The woman has heard of Jesus. Perhaps she has heard a buzz around town that Jesus is there. It may be that she didn’t even know who Jesus was, but someone told her of His teaching and His miracles—how he had healed many diseases, how he had fed a multitude with just a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread, how he had cast out demons. And believing that this Jesus was the only one who could help her little daughter, this woman comes to Him immediately (Mark’s favorite word), and fell at His feet repeatedly asking Him to deliver the girl from her affliction. And in so doing, we see her tremendous faith overcoming several mountainous obstacles.

I. Faith overcomes the mountain of social status

This woman is given a thorough introduction in the passage. But it is not her impressive credentials which demand our attention, but rather the lack thereof. As James Edwards says that the description of this woman “reads like a crescendo of demerit.”[1]

First of all, though it does not offend us as much as it would a first century Jewish male, this is a woman. It would have been deemed highly inappropriate in the prevailing sense of decorum for a woman to approach a man as this one has. The fitting thing to do would be to send her husband to Jesus rather than coming herself. But that brings us to our second consideration of her social status.

Secondly, she is mentioned without relationship to a husband, which some believe implies that she was possibly widowed, divorced, or had never been married. If she had been divorced or never married, then she would have born an additional social stigma of being an undesirable woman at best, an unclean and sexually immoral one at worst. We aren’t told anything about her marital status, so it would be speculative to suggest which of these situations might be true. Nonetheless, it compounds the cultural scandal for a woman to come to a man in this way, when nothing is known about her husband, or if she even has one.

Third, you will notice that she is called a Gentile, or more literally as the original language reads, a Greek. Though she was not from Greece, this label was applied to all Gentile peoples. In the mind of the Jew, there were only two kinds of people: us and them. If you weren’t Jewish, you were Gentile. And if you were Gentile, you were unclean in the estimation of most traditional Jewish people. Because of this Jews typically wanted no contact with Gentiles or anything associated with them. For this reason, as Mark tells us in verse 4, the Jews would cleanse themselves after visiting the market, lest they be contaminated by coming into contact with Gentiles. Though Israel had been commissioned by God to be a missionary light to the Gentile nations, their nationalistic pride caused them to despise the Gentiles with extreme prejudice.

Next we see more specifically that she is not just a Gentile, but “of the Syrophoenician race.” Now the word “race” in the NASB is sort of a modern interpolation. Prior to the rise of evolutionary thinking, people were not thought of as being part of different races. In fact, most folks are unaware that Darwin’s most influential work, The Origin of Species, was subtitled “The Preservation of Favored Races Through the Means of Natural Selection.” Before Darwinism came to prominence, it was generally accepted that all peoples shared a common origin, just as the Bible declares in Acts 17:26, “He made from one man (or one blood as the KJV says) every nation of mankind.” The Greek word used here in Mark 7:26 is genos, and literally carries the idea of family. It is much more biblically accurate to speak of different ethnicities as families of people, people groups, or nations rather than races. And this woman’s ethnic roots were Syrophoenician. Tyre had been a prominent city of the Phoenician empire, and the Phoenicians had a long history of antagonism against Israel. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus said that they were “notoriously our bitterest enemies.” The Syrophoenician people represented the most extreme expression of paganism that a Jewish person could encounter.[2]

There was scarcely a rabbi in ancient Israel who would have welcomed the visit of a woman of this social status. In fact, Matthew records that the disciples were imploring Jesus to send this woman away. But her desperate faith overcame the obstacle of her social status and drove her to Jesus, and He did not turn her away.

Today there are many who are separated from God because they have not the faith to overcome what they perceive as a stigma on their social status. Perhaps it is the color of their skin, their ethnic heritage, their marital status, or some other factor. These things stand in their way looming large as an insurmountable mountain. But we see in this woman a desperate and determined faith that would not keep her from the God who could help her, and she overcame that mountainous obstacle to encounter Jesus. So what is it that is keeping you from Jesus? Is there some shame you bear, that you fear will cause Him to turn you away? Oh no. Jesus has said, “The one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (Jn 6:37). Faith overcomes the mountain of social status.

II. Faith Overcomes the Mountain of Demonic Devastation

The woman’s little daughter “had an unclean spirit” we are told in v25, and it is explained to us later in the passage that this is a demon. We are not told how it happened or why. Those things are of lesser importance than the fact that her present state is one of absolute devastation. Mark does not supply detail about how this demon manifested itself in the daughter, but he has done so elsewhere. Most notably, we saw a severe case of demonic possession in Chapter 5 where a Gerasene man was possessed by a legion of demons. He lived among the tombs running about screaming and gashing himself with sharp stones. And we are told there that no one could bind him, for every time they tried to shackle him with chains to subdue him, he would break the chains. While we are not told that this little girls case was as severe as that man’s, we do know it must have been similar, even if on a smaller scale. And though the neighbors likely feared and jeered this little child, and pointed blaming fingers at her and her family, there was one who could not do so. This little girl was someone’s child. And her mother loved her and was concerned for the life of her daughter.

As a pastor, I have on too many occasions had to minister to families where a little one was sick with a terrible illness. Some of you have experienced this in your own family, or you know someone who has. And you know in those cases how the mother will pace, and worry, and she won’t sleep and she won’t eat until she knows that something is going to help her child. And we can only imagine how much more intense that must be when the child suffers not from a disease but from a demonic affliction. Where could this poor woman turn for help?

A doctor can do nothing about a demon. A psychiatrist cannot help. There are no medications or surgeries that can help. No human agent or invention can compete with the supernatural powers of Satan’s forces. In fact, in the epistle of Jude, we read about a confrontation between the archangel Michael and Satan – two ontologically equal beings, both being created angels. And there Jude says that Michael “did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” But the Syrophoenician people did not worship the Lord.

Her people were historically pagan idolators, but idols would be of no help. Jezebel, the pagan queen of Israel’s King Ahab during the days of Elijah was of the same heritage as this woman. She was a Syrophoenician. And perhaps you recall from 1 Kings 18 the showdown between her prophets and Elijah at Mt. Carmel. They built an altar and asked for the true God to make himself known – would it be Jehovah or the idol Baal? The prophets of Baal cried out to their idol, “O Baal, answer us.” But the Bible says there was no voice, and no one answered. So they began to leap around the altar, but still there was no answer. Now, Elijah began to jeer and mock them, saying “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened." So they called out louder, and began to cut themselves, and this continued for some time, but still “there was no voice, and no one answered, and no one paid attention.” The Psalmist said in Psalm 115 that the gods of the nations have mouths but cannot speak, they have eyes but they cannot see, they have ears but cannot hear, noses that cannot smell, hands that cannot feel and feet that cannot walk. Though some pagan may turn to an idol in desperate faith, the idol will be of no help in a time of trouble. Perhaps this Syrophoenician woman had called out to the idols of her people and been left in deeper despair when she found them powerless to save her little daughter.

So no idol could help her. No human could help her. No angel could help her. This woman’s only hope was the true and living God, and somehow she had come to believe that Jesus was the only answer to her daughter’s demonic devastation. You may not be battling demonic possession but you are in the crosshairs of a spiritual battle that is being waged. Satan is at war with God but he is powerless to strike Him directly. And so he is out to bring devastation to God’s image-bearer—mankind. And when we find ourselves under attack, like this woman, we must overcome by faith in Christ. The faith that this woman had in Jesus would overcome the mountain of demonic devastation.

III. Faith Overcomes the Mountain of Personal Pride

David Garland writes, “Pride stiffens the knees so that they will not bow down and muzzles our voice so that we do not call out in humble supplication.”[3] It might have that effect on many, but we don’t see a trace of it in the woman in our text. She is not concerned what others think of her when she runs to Jesus and falls at His feet begging Him repeatedly to meet her need. She was neither too proud to bow, nor too proud to beg. And when she put her case before Jesus, if there was any vestige of personal pride in her heart, it would have surely been revealed when she heard His response.

He speaks to her with a parable, saying in v27, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Now in the mind of the first century Jew, they were the children of God, and the Gentiles were dogs. They spoke of them often with that very term. And what Jesus seems to be saying here is, “Leave me alone woman! I didn’t come to help you Gentile Dogs, I came for the children of God.” That is what it seems like it He is saying.

Now, we don’t mind reading about Jesus calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers and a bunch of hypocrites. They deserve it. We kind of like it when He says those things to them. But we don’t like it when He calls a helpless and desperate woman a dog. That is shocking to us. Numerous efforts to soften it don’t do much to help us. Some have suggested that He spoke this with “half-humorous tenderness,” and others “with a twinkle in the eye,” perhaps nodding and winking at the fact that this is how she would expect to be treated by the average rabbi. Some have tried to make much of His use of the diminutive form, not the wild pack of dogs that roam the streets, but the “little dogs” that people keep as pets. But all of these efforts of interpretive ingenuity are without warrant. Famed NT scholar F. F. Bruce said, “A written record can preserve the spoken words; it cannot convey the tone of voice in which they were said.” All we have to work with here are the words on the page, and they are sharp and jagged. But although we may be tempted to be offended at these words, the woman who had come to Him was not.

Personal pride would have stimulated her to argument and accusation. She would have called Him a hypocrite, and plead that her case demands special treatment. She would try to change Him into who she wants Him to be to satisfy her need. But she doesn’t do that. She recognizes the parabolic nature of what Jesus is said, and enters into it in her response. She perceives that the word First has not shut off herself or her people from the gospel’s power. She recognizes the ordering of His mission – to the Jew first and then the Gentile, just as Isaiah had prophesied. In Isaiah 49:6, God says that His Messianic Servant would raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved ones Israel, saying next, “I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” She does not plead for special privilege, but enters into the parable and says, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs.” Pride does not prevent her from identifying with the dog in his parable, and as a dog sits beneath the table waiting for a crumb to drop, so she demonstrates that she has rightly heard and rightly understood the parable, and offers to receive whatever crumbs He may graciously allow to fall to her. Interestingly enough, she is the first person in the entire Gospel of Mark to correctly grasp the meaning of Jesus’ parables.

How shall we describe such faith? Humble, desperate, determined, persevering—yes all of these and then some. And Jesus says to her, “Because of this answer, go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And she went back home and found that it was so. Her faith overcame the mountain of personal pride, the mountain of social status, and the mountain of demonic devastation.

Let me conclude now with some points of personal application.

1) Perhaps you find yourself in a desperate situation in your life. Do not let any mountain stand between you and the God who can help you. Are you of a different cultural heritage? Have you come from a religious background of false belief or unbelief? Are you poor, single, widowed, divorced? Have you been cast out by those who claim to be religious? Perhaps some are on the other side – too wealthy, too successful, too happy in this life to see their need for Christ. Every person is in need of God’s help: high, low, rich, poor, urban, rural, Jew, Gentile, American, International. These mountains are not insurmountable. Come to Jesus in faith and find that those mountainous obstacles crumble beneath you as He makes His help available to you.

2) As you read the Bible, you will come across many sayings like the one in this passage which at first glance are very bitter pills to swallow. What will you do in those cases? Will you pretend those words don’t exist? Will you turn your back to God in anger? Will you turn to gods of your own making who are less offensive than the true and living God? Many have done just this. But to do so is to cut yourself off from the only possible source of real help. Embrace the mystery and the scandal of His truth, find yourself in it, and respond to Him from within His word, and you will find His grace falling, not just as crumbs from the table, but a satisfying feast of mercy in your life.

3) Jesus is the Savior of all nations, and He will receive all who come to Him in this state of humble faith, regardless of their ethnicity, their gender, their social status, their shame, or their present circumstances. The world needs to hear this message, and the church needs to hear this message. For the church is the body of Christ, the visible manifestation of His Kingdom in this age. And many churches have been derailed from the purposes of God by personal prejudice and pride. Historically, this church has not, and for that we praise God. But we must not rest on memories of the past. We must ask ourselves what we are doing in this day to make Christ known among all people. Would we venture into Tyre like Jesus and make His salvation available to those who are despised and rejected? For much of the world, Christianity seems to be a white man’s religion. For some in this community, this church seems to be a white person’s church. They do not know about 1967, they only know about 2007. Will we show those in this community and those in the ends of the earth the Christ we see here who crosses the borders and boundaries of nationalistic and ethnic pride and makes Himself available to all who will come to Him?

[1] James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 218.

[2] Edwards 217.

[3] David E. Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Far Different Jesus

Being a sucker for books, I recently purchased a volume from CBD that was too cheap to pass up on the Gospel of Mark. I thought, if nothing else, it might give me some fodder for the present preaching series. I had low expectations, having heard of neither the book nor its author. Being published by Fortress, the book did not promise to deliver dispensational fundamentalism, to say the least. The book is entitled Preaching Mark, and is by Bonnie Bowman Thurston. Dr. Thurston was, at the time of writing, (according to the back cover) the William F. Orr Professor of NT at Pittsburgh Seminary. According to that Seminary's website, it is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), one of the more liberal wings of Presbyterianism, and the Orr Professorship is now occupied by Edith Humphrey. Pittsburgh Seminary has an interesting history, having had among its faculty in its history the likes of A. A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield (both in the early years when it was operating as Western Seminary), and later John Gerstner, and producing notable alumni R. C. Sproul (whom I heard recently claim that he attended one of the most liberal seminaries in the country, referring I suppose to Pittsburgh) and Mr. Rogers. Thurston is apparently now a special adjunct professor for the Emmanuel School of Religion.

I should say up front that in my first use of the book, I found some helpful information on Mark 7:24-30, though nothing that could not as well be found in other volumes. However, I nearly choked upon reading her treatment of Jesus' statement in Mark 7:27: "And He was saying to her, 'Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."

Thurston writes:
"The response of Jesus in v27 is disturbing and, in spite of many ingenious attempts to soften it, remains so. ... We see here, unvarnished, the contempt of the first-century Jew for the non-Jew and apparently utter disregard for the feelings of a distraught mother. ... I have read many interpretations of this exchange. I think it presents an honest, if unsettling, picture of Jesus. He is weary. ... Who could blame him for responding sharply? Jesus was, after all, human. Mark's is no Docetic Jesus. What makes him "Lordly" in my view is his recognition of the wisdom and faith-filled-ness of the woman's response. ... I agree with Sharon Ringe that this text is at core a remembered incident in his life when Jesus 'was caught with his compassion down.' And yet in response to the one who comes to him in faith, in the engagement with her, he is freed to heal, to move beyond what, on the surface of it, seems to be racism. In my view, the Syrophoenician woman teaches Jesus a valuable lesson. The narrative ends with both ennobled."

Let me admit where I agree with Thurston in this treatment. First, yes, there was great contempt for Gentiles in the minds of most Jews in the first century. Second, yes, at first reading, and isolated from its various layers of context, this quotation from Jesus is "disturbing" and "unsettling," as well as "sharp." As Sinclair Ferguson writes in Let's Study Mark, "Jesus' response has often been a puzzle to students of Scripture." Third, yes, Jesus was fully human, contrary to the Docetic heresy. Fourth, yes, there is no denying that the faith exhibited by the woman was in some way effectual in securing the desired result of healing and restoration for her little daughter.

Now I must say where I disagree with Thurston, and where I believe she is not only incorrect, but dangerously so. She very plainly accuses Jesus of racism, contempt (based on nationalistic prejudice), and responding in the flesh. Therefore, it seems that the Jesus presented in Thurston's treatment of this passage is peccable, that is capable of sinning, and more than capable, culpable -- He has in fact sinned if Thurston is correct. However, she presents a false dichotomy of the human (and therefore peccable) Jesus and the Docetic Jesus (who never actually took upon Himself a human nature, but only appeared to be human, not even leaving footprints in the sand when he walked). The omitted option is the biblical Jesus who was both fully human and fully divine, the two natures miraculously (and mysteriously) joined together in the hypostatic union. If Thurston believes in the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ, she has a strange way of showing it. She presents a Jesus who is capable and in fact guilty of sin, and one who is need of being taught and corrected by the Syrophoenician woman. It seems that in effort to present the humanity of Jesus, she has discarded His deity altogether. His "Lordliness" is not an ontological reality inherent to His divine nature, according to the view of Jesus Thurston presents here, but rather is something demonstrated or evoked as he stands corrected from this seemingly wiser and more sovereign woman. This flies dangerously in the face of the Christ of Scripture and orthodox Christian belief.

Traditionally, and dare I say "correctly," the difficult statement of Jesus is understood best as a "testing" of the nature of this woman's faith. That is to say, was her faith rightly focused on Christ as the all-powerful Lord who was sovereign over the demonic realm and could deliver her little daughter, or was she like so many others who viewed Him only as a means to their ends -- a sideshow magician and snake-oil salesman? His statement drew a response from the woman that demonstrated to Jesus and to all present the mature faith of someone who had rightly considered His person, His saving mission, and His limitless power, and who was casting herself at His sovereign mercy. That is a far different perspective, indeed a far different Jesus, from the one Thurston presents to us in her volume.

Consider as a corrective these words from James Edwards' excellent commentary on Mark in the Pillar series (Eerdmans): "Certain feminist interpretations of Mark 7:24-30 see Jesus as a villain and the Syrophoenician woman as a heroine, often implying that the word of salvation comes from outside Christ or in contrast to him .... While it is true that the woman wrests a blessing from Jesus that he might not otherwise have given, it is not true that the blessing derives from a source other than Jesus. The blessing comes from within the parable spoken by Jesus, and the exorcism results from his authoritative word. That the woman responds to Jesus from 'within' the parable he speaks indicates that she fully affirms the conditions implied in the parable, i.e., that Jesus has brought salvation to Israel, from whose abundance Gentiles may also partake."

Organizing the study ...

Several months ago, I began a process of organizing my library. The church was gracious upon my coming here as pastor to grant me space for a library adjacent to my office. A few weeks ago, I finished the process, and I now have it like I want it (but the second law of thermodynamics insists that it will not stay this way for long).

Here is the before picture which I posted here when I was getting started:

And here is how it looks now:

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mark 7:14-23 - The Condition of the Human Heart

Audio for this message is available here, or on the podcast at iTunes.

One of the Christian church’s sharpest minds of the twentieth century was C. S. Lewis. I suppose most of learn of Lewis sometime in elementary school when we are introduced to his most popular book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. However, in addition to that book and it larger series, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Lewis wrote many volumes explaining and defending various aspects of the Christian faith. Perhaps no book, outside the Bible itself, has shaped my thinking more than C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I would strongly encourage any of you who have never read it to do so, and those who have, to read it and reread it several times over throughout your life. Lewis opens with a discussion about people quarreling. And in all cases of quarrels between individuals, Lewis submits that there is some appeal to what is right or fair. And Lewis suggests that this understanding of right and wrong to which we so often appeal is universal. It would be hard for us to imagine, Lewis says, a culture where “people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him.” He says, “You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five.”

Now, given this universal sense of right and wrong that undeniably exists, Lewis goes on to say that we all have failed to practice ourselves the kind of behavior we expect from other people.” We are always quick to make excuses for ourselves when we violate this standard, but even our quickness to make excuses is in itself confirmation of the existence of such a standard. And so Lewis concludes the first chapter of Mere Christianity with these words: “These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.”[1]

Indeed, every culture under the sun throughout the history of the world has been aware that there is a standard of right and wrong, and that we have not lived up to that standard. That is why almost every culture in history has sought some means of justification – the making right of what we know is wrong. For some, justification has been sought in rituals, for others, it has been in the making of excuses. In our own day, it is very commonly seen in the shifting of blame. There is a standard, and we know that we do not live up to it, but it is not our faults, we say. We are victims. Left to ourselves, we would be OK, we think. Our problems come from the fact that we have been victimized by some person or circumstance in our lives that was beyond our control, and therefore the way I am is not my fault, but rather the fault of that person, that event, or that circumstance. And therefore, I think, because of my victimhood I am thereby justified. And this kind of thinking is fueled by an unscrupulous psychiatric industry which enriches itself by telling people what they want to hear. We pay them big money to tell us that we’re fine. Tell me I’m OK, tell me it’s not my fault, and name your price, because its worth it for me to hear those words. We live in a culture which shouts aloud that your problems come from the outside, and the solution is on the inside. The diametrical opposite of this is what is found in biblical Christianity. The Bible alone proclaims that the problem is inside, and the only solution is outside.

The Pharisees had helped to shape a religiously superficial culture in first century Israel, where one’s righteousness was obtained through the right rituals, the right foods, and the right associations. If, therefore, one was in a state of defilement, it was because he or she had been in contact with something unclean on the outside of himself or herself – an unclean person, such as a Gentile or a Samaritan; or some unclean food; or else because they had not undergone the right rituals. This was at the root of their complaint against Jesus’ disciples back in verse 5: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” The idea was that their hands had become defiled by contact with “common” things in the going about of their daily tasks. Therefore, unless their hands were ritually washed (an act that probably accomplished very little in terms of real hygiene, but was done for more or less religious significance), they would pass that defilement to the food, and then the defiled food would enter their bodies and defile them on the inside. Translation – we’re all OK, unless we get the spiritual cooties from something on the outside. Then we become victims of an alien defilement, and must undergo some ritual to restore us to our state of natural purity. Jesus stands this notion on its head in his statement to the crowd and in his explanation of it to His disciples.

I. The True Condition of the Human Heart

Contrary to the traditions of the Pharisees, Jesus insists that defilement does not come from outside the person. He says in v15, “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him.” He restates this and explains it further in vv18-19, saying, “Whatever goes into the man from the outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated.” Now, remember here that the issue is not health and hygiene. Yes, there are some things that might make you sick or harm you if you put them into your body. But these things are not what make you morally undefiled. They do not alter the condition of your heart. What you put into your body does not make you a sinner, nor does abstaining from putting certain things into your body make you righteous. When food enters your body, it takes a biological journey in one end and out the other. There are no spiritual transactions taking place. It is all biological.

Mark adds an editorial comment at the end of v19, saying parenthetically, “Thus He declared all foods clean.” When Mark wrote this Gospel, questions relating to Kosher foods and dietary regulations were prominent in the minds of Gentile converts to Christianity. It is of interest that Mark was likely writing for the benefit of Christians at Rome, who had already been instructed by Paul in Romans 14-15 concerning the matter of foods. We have good reason to believe that Mark’s Gospel is being written from Peter’s recollections, and Peter, you may recall, experienced a vision in Acts 10 concerning the end of distinctions between clean and unclean foods. And so here, Mark is assuring His readers that what Paul has taught them in his letter, and what Peter has undoubtedly shared with them about his vision has roots in the very teachings of Jesus on this matter. One is not defiled by what enters into him from the outside.

Defilement, Jesus says, works the other way. It is already in you, and you are defiled when what is already inside of you, in your very heart, comes out. He says in v15, “The things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” Again, in v20, He says, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.”

II. The Terrible Catalog of the Human Heart

What sorts of things defile the man from the inside? Jesus gives us a representative list in vv21-22. They consist of six plural words denoting defiling actions and six singular words that speak of defiling attitudes. Evil thoughts – the foods you eat don’t determine your thoughts. The evil thoughts that we all wrestle with are already in us, regardless of what we eat. And then He mentions fornications (NASB). Some of the English versions use the phrase sexual immorality here, which is perhaps a better rendering of the Greek word porneia, from which we get the English word pornography. This word is found in Greek literature with reference to a variety of illicit sexual practices, including but not limited to adultery, fornication (that is, sexual intercourse outside of the bond of marriage), prostitution, and homosexuality. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), it is used to describe any sexual practices outside of the marriage covenant. It has been well said that we live in a pornographic culture today. Everything is saturated with sexuality. And the common way of thinking is that people are defiled by the sexual images that are thrust upon them at every turn. But what Jesus is saying here indicates that we are not pure beings who are defiled by a sex saturated culture, but rather that our pornographic hearts are what has defiled the culture. And this is a truth to be understood by both genders, for as it has been said by Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that “Men are tempted to give themselves to pornography; women are tempted to commit pornography.”[2] By this he means to say that men are often led by their unsanctified desires into viewing pornographic images, but women are often likewise led by their unsanctified desires to dress, talk, or act in certain alluring ways. Both of these are defilements that are not the result of being victimized by the culture, but rather are the result of the sexual immorality that is resident within our very being.

Jesus continues the list with thefts, murders and adulteries. It is of interest that these three items occur side by side also in the Ten Commandments. Thefts and murders are self-explanatory, and adultery here is stated with more specificity than the former word porneia. Here the word is moichea, which speaks with precision to marital unfaithfulness. It should be noted that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equated anger with murder, and lust with adultery, thus indicating that it is not merely the external act of murder or adultery which defiles, but the very internal desire, which may or many not ever be expressed outwardly.

He names in v22, deeds of coveting, that is, a greedy desire to have more even at the expense of others. And then there are deeds of wickedness, a less specific term speaking generally of evil and wicked deeds. Thus we see that Jesus’ intention is not to provide an exhaustive catalog of defiling acts, but representative examples.

Then He moves on with defiling attitudes, firstly naming deceit. Then Jesus mentions sensuality, using a Greek word that speaks of unrestrained, unbridled, and shameless living, behavior completely lacking in moral restraint. It is the acting upon one’s senses, or physical urges, rather than pausing for moral reflection on the rightness or wrongness of such. The wording translated envy is a Semitic expression that might be literally translated “evil eye.” This phrase was often used to speak of stinginess, envy, jealousy, or holding a jealous grudge. Then there is slander, pride and foolishness. Again, not an exhaustive list, but representative examples.

Now, none of us would question that all of these things exist in the world around us. But where do they come from? Jesus says once again in v22, “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The human heart is a fountain of defilement, contaminating humanity from the inside.

III. The Theological Consideration of the Human Heart

In saying these, Jesus is at odds with the Pharisaic traditions, but His teachings are right in line with the unchanging truth of God’s Word as it was stated in the Old Testament. Consider what the writer of Ecclesiastes said in Ecclesiastes 9:3, “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.” God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, saying in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

You can even go back further to the days of Noah and find in Genesis 6:5, “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” We go on there to read in Genesis 6:11-12, “Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” So, the earth was corrupted, but it was not the earth which was corrupting man, but rather man corrupting the earth because of the inherent sinfulness within humanity. And so God says in Genesis 6:13, “the earth is filled with violence because of them.” The world is in the shape it is in because of humanity, and the same is true in our own day, and every era in between.

Now, the question naturally arises, “How did the human heart get to be in this condition?” And the answer is found in the sin of Adam. When we speak of “original sin,” we are not referring to the sin that Adam and Eve committed, but rather to the result of their sin. Perhaps we would better understand this concept if we spoke of it as inherited sin rather than original sin. What we mean by this is that we have inherited a guiltiness because of Adam’s sin. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:19, “through the one man’s disobedience, the many were made sinners.” We inherit the guilt of Adam because he was the representative head of the entire human race. But not only did we inherit the guilt of sin from our representative head, we have also inherited from Adam the corruption of sin. We are born with a sinful nature. Thus David says in Psalm 51:5, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” Similarly he says in Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.”

This sin nature is summarized by Paul in Romans 3:10-12, where he strings together a collection of Old Testament sayings which read, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE."

So, the inherited guilt and nature of sin in us manifests itself in that each and every one of us are inherently prone to sin. We could prove God wrong for condemning us in Adam, if only we could live in such a way to show that we do not deserve it. But alas, we bear a likeness to our great-ancestor, for we have our own sins to answer for as well. We are all sinners. Now when we say that, people jump to the defensive and say, “You don’t know me! You don’t know what I do! You can’t call me a sinner!” But that is missing the point. There is an explanatory value in saying that we are all sinners, for it helps us to understand our true condition. We aren’t sinners because we commit sin, but rather we commit sin because we are sinners. Surely all of us can relate to Paul’s struggle which he confesses in Romans 7:15, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate,” and in verse 19, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” Why do I do what I do, even though I don’t want to? Why am I unable to do the good that I so want to do? Because I am a sinner. I am corrupted within. So Augustine said of Adam that he possessed a nature which was posse non pecarre, posse pecarre, a Latin expression meaning “able to not sin, able to sin.” But all born since Adam have been born non posse non pecarre, that is to say “Not able not to sin.”

The theologians of the Reformation articulated this doctrinal understanding with the words “Total Depravity.” Unfortunately, many have misunderstood these words to mean that we are all as bad as we could possibly be. That is not true. Even Adolf Hitler, bad as he was, could have been worse. Perhaps better is the phrase “Radical Corruption,” meaning that sin has penetrated to the very core of our being. It is not external or peripheral to us. It rises up from deep within us. And so we are not conflicted beings with some good parts connected to some bad parts, but rather, every part of us is corrupted by sin – our intellects, our emotions, our desires, our wills, our ambitions, and even our physical bodies. This means that there is no inherent spiritual fitness within us, and there is nothing we are capable of doing to merit any spiritual good before God. We can’t be saved by works, because even our best works are going to be tainted by sin. We stand justly condemned in our sins.

The problem is not something out there making a mess of what is inside of me. It is a corruption inside of me that is the problem, and it taints everything I think, say or do. It is like a reverse King Midas effect – instead of turning everything I touch to gold, my inherent sinfulness just makes an utter mess of it. While the world around you tells you that the problem is out there and the solution is inside, only Jesus loves us enough to tell us the truth – the problem is in you and the solution comes from something outside of you. That solution is Jesus Christ. He lived for us the perfect life that none of us can. He satisfies the holy standard of God with perfect righteousness, and died as our substitute. And so by His death, we can be forgiven of sin, and by His life, we can receive justification – being declared righteous and covered with the very righteousness of Jesus which we cannot attain in our own effort. I am my biggest problem. Christ is my only solution.

Now, I want to close with six quick thoughts for application –

1) If you are trying desperately to justify yourself by blaming all your sins and shortcomings on external matters – some other person, some event, some circumstance – then you are cutting yourself off from the grace of God which permits you to come before Him just as you are, take responsibility for your sins, and confess them to Him, and accept Jesus Christ’s death as the punishment for your sins and His life as the righteousness by which you will be accepted before God. We must abandon self-efforts, vain excuses, and victimhood, and embrace the grace of God alone for our justification.

2) The doing or not doing of certain things is not the righteousness that God accepts. It is a condition of the heart that God is interested in. And all of us fall short of His righteous standard. So we must abandon superficial religion whereby we think the avoidance of certain evils and the performance of certain rituals makes us right with God. Rather, we must recognize the radical corruption of our own nature, and accept the mercy of God and His salvation by faith.

3) If we tend to think our own sins are a very small matter, then we commit a blasphemy of the highest order. If our sins are small, then we only need a small savior and a small redemption. But God has given to us His own Son – Himself incarnate in the flesh – to pay the redemption price for us in His own blood. How great must our sins be to necessitate such a costly sacrifice? Shall we look at this inestimable gift of God and say that it is a small thing? That would be blasphemous. Rather than dismiss our sinfulness as a small matter, we must recognize the massive magnitude of it, recognize that it cost the Son of God His very life, and stand in awe of the grace of God who loved us enough to redeem us with such unfathomable mercy.

4) As we deal with children, whether they are our own children, our grandchildren, or children who in the providence of God we have opportunity to influence, we must not make the mistake of thinking that they are born clean, and made dirty by the world around them. No, they are born sinners, even before they ever commit a conscious act of sin. And through discipline and training in righteousness, we must instill in them an awareness that corruption is something inherent within them, and our only hope is to abandon ourselves and cling to Jesus who offers to give us His very own righteousness in exchange for our sins. We must help them to see the corruption of the heart that underlies their thoughts, actions and words, and take full advantage of every teachable moment to point them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and help them understand why He died on the cross.

5) Mark tells us that Jesus hereby declares all foods to be clean. Some have abused the freedom we have been given by the grace of God, and said in a near-hedonistic way, that if those things outside of me do not corrupt me, then I will partake of them without discretion or concern. And thus we have Christians who abuse substances like alcohol and drugs, who are gluttons in their consumption of food, or who otherwise throw caution to the wind in the name of Christian freedom. But the same Bible which affords us these great freedoms also cautions us in our exercise of them. The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians that even though all things might be lawful for me, there are three caveats that I must consider when exercising my freedom: Is it profitable? Is it enslaving? Will it cause another person to stumble? I believe if we ask ourselves these questions, we will make wise and biblically informed decisions in the exercise of our Christian freedom.

6) If you think it unfair of God to reckon you guilty of sin because of Adam and to transmit to you a sinner nature because of what Adam did as your representative, you have only considered half the matter. For this same God who counts you guilty through representation is also willing to save you through representation. Paul said in Romans 5:19, “For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” That One is Jesus Christ. If you will accept that God’s condemnation is just, you will find that His salvation is gracious. By the representation of Adam, we are under sin, and demonstrate the appropriateness of it through our own sinfulness. By the representation of Jesus, we may be saved, and demonstrate the glory of His grace as He transforms our hearts of corruption through the sanctifying work of His Spirit.

[1] All quotes in this and the preceding paragraph from C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 17-21.