The Pharisees even ate religiously. With big motions so that everyone could see what they were doing, they walked over to a nearby jug. They spoke words of Hebrew blessing. They dipped their hands in the water and gave them a ceremonial washing from the tip of the pinky finger to the crook of the elbow.
Then, they sat down, expecting to see everyone’s eyes filled with amazement at just how devoted to God they were.
The people weren’t looking at them. An upstart group of men who had been gaining quite a following recently had the crowd’s attention in the corner. Their leader was called Jesus and the men that followed him – disciples. They seemed like decent people who knew the law and knew religion. The Pharisees were interested in talking with them.
But as they approached the disciples, they noticed something appalling.
THEY DIDN’T WASH THEIR HANDS!!!
So, like a Preschooler, excited to tell mom and dad about the bad thing that he caught his brother doing, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
Now – this wasn’t a germ issue. It wasn’t a "when did you last use the restroom issue." It wasn’t a matter of physical cleanliness at all. It was a religious issue – a matter of spiritual cleanliness.
It’s important for us too. Today we are interesting in finding out if we are clean. (No, I’m not asking if you took a shower recently and if you used soap and if you washed behind your ears). I want you to consider if you are spiritually clean.
I. Where NOT to Measure Cleanliness
We going to start by taking a look at Jesus’ response. He emphasizes where NOT to look for the answer this question:
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’"
Wouldn’t it be really awesome to find out that a long time ago someone had prophesied about you? Wouldn’t it be pretty cool to find out that you would be a prophet? Or you’d walk on water? Or you’d become President of the United States?
Jesus was telling the Pharisees that there was an Old Testament prophecy that talked about them. But I don’t think they were too happy to find out. Because the prophecy painted them in a horrible light!
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” 7 They worship me in vain.” That word “vain” means “empty; worthless; without any substance to it.” The Pharisees sang the praises of God, sure. They followed God’s rules, absolutely. In fact, there probably wasn’t anyone who followed God’s rules better than the Pharisees.
But in their hearts? These godly actions weren’t being done for God. These actions were being done for themselves.
“Isn’t it awesome how much I serve at church? I love having people say, “You do such a great job.”
“God – notice how I didn’t drink any alcohol at the party tonight. I’m a little better than all those people who did, right?”
“God, did you see that check I just made out for charity? It’s ok if you didn’t. They’re gonna put my name on the donor list. You can find it there."
We can’t look to Godly actions to identify ourselves as “clean.” The motivation may be far apart!
The Pharisees had taken it a step farther. "Your teachings are but rules taught by men.” The Pharisees didn’t just follow God’s rules. They followed a collection of Rabbinical writings that their teachers had written down. These teachings were supposed to take it to the next level. These teachings were supposed to subscribe another level of holiness to the Pharisees!
God says, “Rest on the Sabbath.” I won’t just rest; I will also make sure that I don’t even take 1000 steps on my pedometer.
God says, “Give a tenth of your harvest to me.” I’ll go one better and make sure I give a tenth of the salt I put on my fries to him.
God says, “Fast every once in awhile.” I’ll fast today and tomorrow and the day after that (Just as long as everyone sees the hunger in my eyes and they know how godlike I am.
But what’s Jesus saying here. These laws didn’t make them cleaner. In fact, they had no relevance whatsoever on their status before God. They were mere human laws! Teachings taught by men.
How many of you went school supply shopping recently? Did you pick up some erasers, number two pencils, a 64 pack of Crayola crayons, 2 packages of tissues, a painting smock, Play-doh, a Dora the Explorer backpack, and Fruit Roll up Snacks?
How many of you got those things for your college kid? You wouldn’t. That would be mixing up the two supply lists.
When the Pharisees were fulfilling their own man made laws, they had God’s supply list all messed up. Yes, they did things that they themselves had thought of, but they failed miserably at things that God had thought of. Things like mercy, fairness, and love.
Don’t get caught in the same trap. Don’t measure cleanliness via human actions either.
II. Where TO Measure Cleanliness
Where then should we look to for cleanliness? Listen to what Jesus says, “15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.”
Ask yourself this question:
Where does the murderer plan his murder?
Where does the adulterer decide to sleep with his secretary?
Where does the boss figure out ways to cheat his employees?
Where does the pornographer think, “I should look at pornography?”
Where does the gossiper decide, “I’m going to tell everyone how much of a loser that person is?”
The answer is simple. It starts on the inside. In here (our brains) and in here (our hearts.) Spiritual uncleanness is measured in the heart!
So…how clean is your heart?
Here’s a test. Jesus next gives a list sinful things. Take a look with me: “21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
You ever done any of those? Then, your heart is unclean.
Think that you never have? Then you're full of deceit and arrogance. Your heart is unclean.
Yes, but pastor…I’ve only struggled with it a little bit. I don’t do those things all that often.
What if I told you that the Organic, GMO free, farm raised chicken was missing a key ingredient? Mercury! Maybe it’s not as clean as you thought, huh? Or what if you opened up a bottle of pure, fresh from the mountains clean Aquafina water and brown came out? Probably not drinking that one.
If your heart produces, has produced, has ever produced any kind of unclean actions, then your heart is unclean! You are unclean.
This is a big deal. It’s a big deal because God is a connoisseur of holiness! He loves his human lives to be completely devoid of any impurities. None in action. Nothing sinful in words. Nothing sinful in thoughts.
He has the palate to tell the difference! We might not; but God does. God does and when God finds impure hearts, do you know what he does? He throws them away. From his presence. Forever.
That’s a very real threat of our very real Holy God!
III. How Do I Get Clean?
1 John says this, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin.”
If you needed a blood transfusion, because your blood went toxic, do you know what would be valuable? Using blood that isn’t toxic. Similarly, it wouldn’t do any good if you needed a new lung to take the lung of the 30 year smoker with cancer.
Unclean things don’t fix unclean things. We, who are unclean, cannot make our hearts, which are unclean, clean!
But Jesus, He is. Jesus lived a life that was completely pure in every way. His actions were God pleasing always. His words were morally upright always. His thoughts were completely in line with God’s way of thinking always.
Granted, it probably helped that He was God. Did you know Jesus claimed that? He claimed to be God’s Son, the Lord of heaven and earth. If it’s true, that would explain why Jesus is as holy as God wanted – because He was God….who is holy.
But that’s hard to believe! Do you know what else is hard to believe?
That Jesus could make a blind man see with only his hands – but he did.
That Jesus could make a lame man walk with only his words – but he did.
That Jesus could calm storms. That he could walk on water. That he could change water into wine. That he could die a tragic death on a cross in front of hundreds of people, be buried and assured of his death by the many involved with placing his body into the grave, ONLY to come out of that grave, a grave sealed shut with a giant stone and guarded by the Navy Seals of that day, ONLY to come out of that grave ALIVE! And to appear to hundreds in various times, at various places, and in various ways.
Jesus did God things. Which is proof that he’s God. Which is proof that He’s miraculous.
Which is proof that he cleans hearts.
1 John 1:9 says this, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us all our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Granted, this is a faith thing. I don’t have a giant, divine X Ray machine to show you how Jesus cleans souls. It doesn’t have visible proof.
But, we do have the very words of God written down right here. If you confess your sins, God is faithful and just He will (he has forgiven you) and He will (He has cleansed you) from all unrighteousness.”
It wasn’t long after Jesus made these statements that this whole Him having the power to cleanse people thing got put to the test.
A woman approached him with tears in her eyes. She was stressed. She was appalled. She was at her wits end.
Her daughter was possessed by an evil spirit. (Talk about unclean.) The evil spirit controlled her. It led her to speak hate. She hurt herself. She tried to drown herself. She had put her mother through misery. Her little child, her daughter, was in agony.
“Lord, can you help!”
“For such great faith, go. Your daughter is healed.”
The woman returned and she found her daughter returned. Healed. Freed. Cleansed.
Stop trying to clean yourself. Turn to the One who cleans all hearts. Put your faith in Jesus. Be clean. Amen.