Pastor David B. Curtis


A Radical Declaration

Mark 7:14-23

Delivered 07/16/2006

If you remember our last study in Mark, Jesus had been engaging the Pharisees and scribes in a conversation about tradition. They were upset because Jesus' disciples didn't observe the tradition of the elders:

Mark 7:5 (NASB) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?"

The word for "impure" does not refer to hygiene, but to hands that are ceremonially washed as a religious ritual. This particular ritual washing described here was an addition to the Law, for it was nowhere commanded in the Old Testament.

The disciples were not observing the outward rituals, which these Jews felt were vitally important. The disciples were not observing the ceremonial washing of hands before they ate. The Jews were very particular about this. They were afraid of any uncleanness and felt that washing their hands in this manner would protect them from it. They put great stock in the outward observance of certain traditions and ceremonies.

Jesus confronts them on the fact that some of their traditions violate the commands of God. He calls them hypocrites!

Mark 7:7-8 (NASB) 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.' 8 "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."

Having finished His conversation with the scribes and the Pharisees, Jesus returns to the multitude:

Mark 7:14 (NASB) And after He called the multitude to Him again, He began saying to them, "Listen to Me, all of you, and understand:

Apparently, they had retreated from the presence of the delegation. Perhaps they had been intimidated by these pious Jerusalem officials. Now as Jesus speaks to the multitude, it is concerning the false ideas of the scribes and the Pharisees. I assume that the Pharisees were still there listening to Jesus. But He is now talking to the crowd.

Mark 7:15 (NASB) there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.

Do you understand how radical this statement is? Why is this statement so radical? To the Pharisees and any Jew this statement went against their dietary laws.

This would be similar to my teaching today and saying to you: We are saved by our works. The only way for man to be right in the sight of God is for him to work very hard at keeping the law of God. Faith alone can't save you; you must keep the law.

How would you respond to that? Would you get up and walk out? Would you stand up and shout? That would be so totally radical and heretical to you that I'm sure it would get some kind of response. Well, that's about how radical this saying of Jesus was.

Up to this point in Mark, Jesus had shaken them up with His seeming disregard of the Law of God; such as when He touched the leper:

Mark 1:40-41 (NASB) And a leper came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." 41 And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."

Any Israelite knew that it was a violation of God's Law to touch a leper. This, I'm sure, caused many questions. Then Jesus seems to go against their view of the Sabbath:

Mark 2:27-28 (NASB) And He was saying to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 "Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

But now in our text Jesus directly speaks against the dietary laws:

Mark 7:15 (NASB) there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.

This was quite a shocking statement to the Jews. Food was a major consideration under the Old Covenant as is clear from even a superficial reading of Leviticus 11:

Leviticus 11:1-3 (NASB) The LORD spoke again to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, 2 "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'These are the creatures which you may eat from all the animals that are on the earth. 3 'Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat.
Leviticus 11:9-12 (NASB) 'These you may eat, whatever is in the water: all that have fins and scales, those in the water, in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. 10 'But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers, that do not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you, 11 and they shall be abhorrent to you; you may not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses you shall detest. 12 'Whatever in the water does not have fins and scales is abhorrent to you.

So, there were certain laws in the Old Testament that God had given relative to eating. The purpose of those laws was either to create a unique situation, or to keep the people from eating something that would be harmful to them nutritionally. But the primary issue in the Old Testament was that God wanted a peculiar people. God wanted His people set apart in certain ways and from certain things. By virtue of the kind of diet God had prescribed, Israel had a hard time having relationships with the peoples of the country in which they lived, because they couldn't eat together. God wanted it that way; He didn't want them to intermingle.

Leviticus 11:24 (NASB) 'By these, moreover, you will be made unclean: whoever touches their carcasses becomes unclean until evening,

The word "unclean" is the Hebrew word tame', which means: "foul in a religious sense; defiled; polluted." So the law said you would be defiled if you ate unclean things. But Jesus says it is not what goes into your mouth that defiles you:

Mark 7:15 (NASB) there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.

This is radical! Jesus is setting aside the dietary laws of the Mosaic covenant. This word "defiles" is from the Greek word koinoo, which means: "to make common, defile, pollute, unclean." It is used 16 times in 12 verses in the New Testament. It is used 13 times in relation to food defiling a person. Koinoo is used in:

Acts 10:9-15 (NASB) And on the next day, as they were on their way, and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry, and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he beheld^ the sky opened up, and a certain object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat!" 14 But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." 15 And again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy [koinoo]."

The word "unholy" in verse 15 is the Greek word koinoo. Peter says, "I don't want to become unholy by eating the wrong foods." And God replies to Peter, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." So here God is teaching Peter the same thing that Jesus taught him about 10 years earlier­ all food is now clean.

Many believe that the Law ended at the cross and would use verses such as these in Acts to prove their theory. But what do you do with Jesus' words that were spoken years before the cross? Jesus hadn't even died yet, and He seems to be setting aside the dietary laws. How do we reconcile this with what Jesus said in:

Matthew 5:17-18 (NASB) "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.

When Jesus spoke these words in Mark 7, heaven and earth hadn't passed away. He hadn't even gone to the cross yet. This poses a dilemma. Some see Jesus' statement in Mark 7 as a prolepsis. A prolepsis is the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished. This makes sense. What Jesus was teaching was that the law was beginning to fade away. The process had started and would culminate in the destruction of the temple. To help understand this, look at what Paul says in:

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB) Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Paul says don't let anyone judge you in regard Old Covenant shadows. He is saying that you are under the New Covenant and are free from Old Covenant laws. But notice what Paul does:

Acts 21:17-20 (NASB) And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 And now the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 And after he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law;

Notice what we have here: believing Jews who are zealous for the law. These were Jews who were in Jerusalem. Apparently, the Christian Jews who lived in Jerusalem continued to keep the law. We also see this idea in:

Galatians 2:11-13 (NASB) But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

Peter is in Antioch having a good time eating Lobster and ham until some Jewish believers from James show up. Then, because of fear of these men, Peter quits eating with the Gentiles and begins to eat only what the Jewish law allowed him to.

James was a leader in the Jewish church in Jerusalem. He was a notably godly man who was meticulous in his following after righteousness. Because he ministered among Jews, following after righteousness meant giving no offense to the Jews. That, in turn, meant that he was a close adherent to the customs of the Jews. If he had not been a minister to the Jews, he would not have been so meticulous about Jewish customs. So these men from James would no doubt have also followed the Jewish dietary laws.

Now let's go back to our story in Acts:

Acts 21:21 (NASB) and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

Was Paul doing this? Yes!

Colossians 2:16 (NASB) Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day

Back to Acts:

Acts 21:22-25 (NASB) "What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 "Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 "But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication."

What was Paul's response? Did he say, "You guys are nuts, I'm not going to observe the law, that is all over, you are not going to judge me." No, notice what he did:

Acts 21:26 (NASB) Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple, giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

Paul went through the Jewish purification and offered a sacrifice. Why did Paul do this? Because he was in Jerusalem! Notice again what Paul says in:

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB) Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Notice what he says, the law is a "shadow of what is to come" - the word "come" is from the Greek word mello, which means: (in the infinitive) "to be about to", and "be on the point of". The "what is to come" refers to the full consummation of the New Covenant. They were "about to come" at A.D. 70, but at the point of this writing, they had not yet come, because heaven and earth had not yet passed away.

I think the only way to understand this apparent contradiction between Jesus saying dietary laws didn't matter and what He said about all the law remains in tack until heaven and earth passed away is to understand the progression: Heaven and earth were passing away, while the church was growing to maturity. The law was fading away:

Hebrews 8:13 (NASB) When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

While the church was growing to maturity:

Ephesians 2:19-22 (NASB) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

The process was still occurring. They were "being built" for a dwelling place of God. But the clear blessing of the New Covenant was that God would dwell with His people. But man's access to God - the consummation of the New Covenant - did not take place until the Old Covenant tabernacle was destroyed:

Hebrews 9:8 (NASB) The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed, while the outer tabernacle is still standing,

Jesus spoke of this process of the Law going out and the Church growing to maturity early in His ministry. Speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees He said:

Matthew 3:10 (NASB) "And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

This axe speaks of judgment that was to come upon Jerusalem in forty years, and Jesus said the axe is already coming down. The process had started. So when Jesus speaks of the abolishment of the dietary laws, He is saying that the process has already begun.

Mark 7:16 (NASB) <"If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.">

Both of these are aorist active imperatives. The Lord commands them to, at a point in time, make an active decision to hear and to understand.

This verse is omitted by a few good authorities but has strong support. It may well have been accidentally omitted in copying, or alternatively introduced to emphasize the importance of what was being said. It emphasizes the importance of the truth that Jesus had just expressed and demands response to it as something to be carefully followed through. He did not just want people to consider a technical point, He wanted men to consider the state of their inner hearts.

Mark 7:17 (NASB) And when leaving the multitude, He had entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable.

His disciples obviously didn't understand ­ they were Jews ­ He couldn't be saying that food didn't matter.

Mark 7:18 (NASB) And He said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him;

The word "defile" refers to that which is common as opposed to that which is set aside for God's use. The Lord is referring to food and drink entering a man, which cannot make a man common or defiled.

Mark 7:19 (NASB) because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?"

What Jesus is saying in this parable is the issue is the heart. The real problem with man is his heart, not his diet, and it's this that makes him unable to stand before God as clean and acceptable without some fairly radical heart surgery.

The Greek word translated "heart" is kardia, from which we get the word cardiac. The Bible always refers to the heart as the internal part of man - the seat of a man's personality. Predominantly, it refers to the thinking processes - not the emotions. When the Bible talks about emotion, it refers to the bowels of compassion, the feelings we get in the stomach or midsection. That's because the Jewish writers expressed emotions such as love and hate by the effect those emotions produce in the abdominal area.

Proverbs 23:7 (NASB) For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, "Eat and drink!" But his heart is not with you.

We can think of the word "heart" as referring to the will and emotions because they are influenced by the intellect. If my mind is really committed to something, it will affect my will, which in turn will affect my emotions. The will is like a flywheel: The mind gets it moving, and once it is moving, it moves the emotions.

Notice what the Bible says about the heart:

Proverbs 4:23 (NASB) Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.

Our thoughts, feelings, and actions all flow out of the heart.

Ephesians 6:6 (NASB) not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

The heart is where our thoughts and actions are generated. And according to Scripture, it is out heart that is our problem:

Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB) "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?
Genesis 6:5 (NASB) Then 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.

Does anybody here want to argue with that? Do you realize how evil your heart is? That is man's problem. God wants changed hearts:

James 4:8 (NASB) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

David realized this and asked God to cleanse his heart:

Psalms 51:10 (NASB) Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

God is concerned about the inside of a person. Not hand washing! If you go to church every day of the week, carry a Bible around and recite verses, but your heart isn't pure, you haven't met God's standard. It doesn't matter how religious you are on the outside.

Our most serious problem is not our environment, our economic situation, or our lack of education. Most people think that if we make changes in those areas, all of our problems will be solved. But the problem with man is his heart.

It is not external, physical acts that defile, but defilement comes from the heart. Millions of people go to churches and go through all sorts of rituals and formalities thinking they will be clean when they come out. Some think that if they get baptized, they will be cleansed from their sins as though some physical, external act could cleanse the inner person. The problem is that defilement is in the heart, and it is purity in heart that God demands.

Man tends to measure himself by his fellow man. 2 Corinthians 11 speaks of false apostles who measured their spirituality by comparing themselves with others. The Pharisees were good at that kind of comparison. And the way such people test their character is by finding someone worse than themselves as the criterion for comparison. Generally, it's not difficult to find someone worse than yourself, so you probably won't fail such a test. One Pharisee prayed:

Luke 18:11 (NASB) "The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.

His standard was someone lower than himself.

God's standard for acceptable character is not whether a person is better than a tax collector, liar, thief, or cheat. His call was not for us to be better than child abusers or murderers. His standard is that we be 100 percent pure.

1 Peter 1:16 (NASB) because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."

Jesus stated that same standard in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:48 (NASB) "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Mankind sets the standard of "goodness" very low, but God's standard is Himself; the absolutely holy and righteous God of the universe.

Christ's words must have surprised His audience, because they were so concerned with externals. The Pharisees got upset if certain rituals - such as hand washing - weren't done correctly. Our Lord said they were great at tithing mint, cumin, and anise (Matt. 23:23). But while they made sure that they gave 10 percent of various tiny herbal leaves, they paid no attention to love, truth, mercy, and justice. Jesus said of them:

Matthew 23:25-27 (NASB) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.

Everything they did was external, and our Lord revealed their cloak of hypocrisy and shredded it in one statement.

Some of the people in the crowd that Jesus taught in Mark 7 were legalistic Pharisees. There are people like them in every religious crowd. They think they will go to heaven because of their own achievements, saying to themselves, "I'm all right. The Lord certainly wouldn't condemn me. I don't torture animals. When my neighbor needs to borrow something, I loan it to him. I've never killed anyone or ran out on my wife. I provide for my children's needs. I've done the best I can in this life." That's the religion of human achievement.

There are only two kinds of religion in the world. One is the religion of human achievement, which comes under every name imaginable. It teaches that you can earn your way to heaven. The other is the religion of divine accomplishment, which affirms that God brings salvation through faith in Christ alone, and that people can't make it to heaven on their own.

Many religious people today are trying to gain favor with God by their works. They are trying to please God by the things that they do. This is salvation by works, and this is denying the sufficiency of Christ's work. If you are trusting in something that you've done to get you into heaven, you'll never get there.

The religious leaders of Jesus' day had no excuse for relying on external ceremonialism and works. They, of all people, would have been familiar with God's standard in the Old Testament.

Psalms 51:6 (NASB) Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part Thou wilt make me know wisdom.

The Jewish leaders should have known what God wanted. Ezekiel told them that the Messiah would come and wash them clean (Ezek. 36:25-29). God has always sought purity of heart.

No one can purify themselves on their own, because no one has the power to do so. Job asked, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" (Job 14:4). Only God can. If you wonder how you can be clean, you need to realize that you can't do it by good works. You can know purity only by putting your faith in Jesus Christ and looking to Him to cleanse your heart. Jesus tells us that it is only possible with God:

Matthew 19:26 (NASB) And looking upon them Jesus said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

The Scripture says that God purifies our hearts by faith:

Acts 15:9 (NASB) and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.

God is the one who purifies the heart, and the instrument He uses is faith.

Romans 10:17 (NASB) So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Believers, we must understand that the Word of God is a cleansing agent. As we spend time reading and studying its pages, it will cleanse our heart.

Mark ends verse 19 with this parenthetical statement:

Mark 7:19 (NASB) because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)

Just in case you missed what it was that Jesus meant by, what goes into a man does not defile him, Mark makes it very clear. It should be noted that in this instance in Mark Jesus is more radical than He is in Matthew, whose parallel story (chapter 15) does not include this phrase, more radical also than He is in Luke. Luke does not have this story or these sayings of Jesus, and it is only in Acts 10 that it is revealed to Peter in a dream that foods traditionally deemed "profane" or "unclean" should not be so deemed.

Mark 7:20-23 (NASB) And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

This is very important for us to know. It is what delivers Christians from being self-righteous snobs - when we realize that what our Lord has outlined here is true of every single one of us. Do not go through this list and pick out the things you do not do. What Jesus is saying to you is, "If you are guilty of one of them, you are capable of all of them." You need only the proper circumstances to show you how true that is.

The problem with man, however, is that those sinful attitudes are there from birth. Because of the fall of Adam, we all inherited a sinful inclination.

Mark 7:21 (NASB) "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,

We're probably not going too far to see Jesus phrase "evil thoughts" as being the heading from which the resultant list of sins is being drawn. These are all categorized as evil thoughts, which shows us that the first problem is on the inside, and then it becomes a problem on the outside.

This is an important point: Here we see that temptation through evil thoughts does not come from the satan.

James 1:14 (NASB) But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.

James seems to leave satan out of the equation. Jesus' insistence here that it's from within a man that evil thoughts come (Mark 7:21), and that it's these that lie as the root cause of all manner of sin (Matthew 5:27-30). Satan is not responsible for either a believer's or unbeliever's evil thoughts - the person himself is.

James 1:13-15 relates the full process by which sin occurs in a person's life, and we find not even a casual mention or an inference that the evil one is responsible.

Jesus taught that the problem with man was internal not external. Not that nothing outside a man can influence him, but that nothing outside a man defiles him and makes him unacceptable to God. Man stands unclean before God because of his present condition and, therefore, acceptance before God is solely on the basis of God's mercy, and no amount of religious work can ever make him clean and acceptable.

Jesus says we've got a heart problem, and He's inviting us to come to Him for help. Jesus is the Great Physician who can fix what is broken in us, what makes us contaminated, unacceptable. His diagnosis is an invitation to appeal to Him to change our hearts.

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