Unclean
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Mark

Unclean

Mark 7:1 -- 30

It is a peculiar fact: Jesus dealt with any number of sins in kindness and gentleness – but the Pharisees he treated with wrath and contempt. Why is this?

  • The Pharisees were committing the unforgivable sin. They saw righteousness and called it evil, so that they might consider themselves sinless.
  • They took upon themselves the authority God had given to the prophets. They were dragging his name in the mud.
  • Worse yet, they added their regulations to the burden of God’s people.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) 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?" And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.' "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. "For Moses said, 'HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER'; and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH'; but you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),' you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that." After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, "Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. ["If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."] When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 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, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

(Mark 7:1-23 NASB)

Unclean

This business of being unclean can be hard to understand. Think of it this way: it is the shadow of sin. It is the portrayal of what sin is like.

Sin is caused by…

Being unclean is caused by any number of things in the Old Testament. It is useful to classify them.

  • First, there are forms of being unclean in the body. These forms would include leprosy, a woman’s menstrual discharge and others. There are lessons in this. First, this shows the nature of sin as proceeding from within. (In other words, the devil did not make you do it). Also, these sins may be completely visible or invisible – so we are cautioned not to judge others, for the appearance may be fine but the disease within.
  • There are other forms which relate to touching something – for example, a dead body. If you will, the unclean person was in the wrong place (as in, where somebody just died). We understand that in terms of sin also. Your mother taught you that bad company corrupts good morals; therefore you should watch the company you keep. This also applies to geography; there are some places that most Christians should not go.
  • Eating certain foods was another source of uncleanness. This is a relatively easy one to see in sin; have you been reading Playboy again?
Crime and Punishment

Lest you think this to be something which is ceremonial only, remember that God gave these regulations to the Jews for a purpose. We should have a sense of remaining clean, in God.

  • We may not think so, but to be unclean is to be guilty.[1] It doesn’t matter whether or not you are aware of it.
  • The prescribed punishment for one who is unclean (and will not cleanse himself) is that he is to cut off from his people. Isn’t that a picture of how Christ will cleanse the church at his second coming? Even now, we are told to excommunicate those who disobey willfully.
  • Uncleanness is removed from a person on the completion of two things: washing and sacrifice. This is clearly the picture of baptism and communion.
Passover and being unclean

In the Old Testament, Moses was confronted once with a tough theological problem.[2] The Jews were commanded to celebrate the Passover. But some of them came to Moses with the problem: they were unclean because they had just buried someone. Should they celebrate the Passover or not?

Moses passed the buck – to God. God’s answer was that they should celebrate indeed – but on the same day the next month. This shows us, in shadow, that the Christ (the Passover Lamb for all the world) is above the commands of the Law.

Diagnosis

How can we know if we are suffering from this disease of the Pharisees? It’s not easy to tell; especially if we’re talented at keeping up appearances.

The example

The example in the Scripture here needs a bit of explaining. Corban means that which has been dedicated to God. This had become quite a racket at the time (and it’s been used nicely since). Often a man would decide upon a pious act of giving to the synagogue some property or money he owned. As is common in our time, the gift could be made effective at the death of the owner. To this day churches and religious institutions will solicit such charity. The custom had arisen, however, that once this decision was made it was irrevocable.

See the problem coming: suppose I’m a young man with aged parents to support. Suppose I think I have better things to do with the money. By dedicating everything to God, I can use it my lifetime, not be burdened with my parents – and still appear pious.

Most of us don’t have this problem today.

More general symptoms

There are four things you should look for in yourself, if you wish to discover this. These four are the internal methods.

  • Justification by works. Some of us have an area in our lives which we desperately want to keep from God. One way to do this is to pile up good works somewhere else so that they will balance out. God does not look at it that way – even though we do.
  • Another method is outward obedience. Go to church on Sunday, give money, sing in the choir – and never let anyone know what’s going on inside your head.
  • A third version – worse than the previous – is the glory hog. Outward obedience hopes to go unnoticed; the glory hog wants praise for his righteousness.
  • Neglecting the truth. If you will not go to God in prayer; if you will not read the Scripture and ponder its truth, this hypocrisy cannot be far away.
Examine the results

It’s an old categorization but still useful.

  • Sins of the flesh – the sins of the body. These are lust, adultery and fornication, as listed here. Not mentioned is gluttony.
  • Sins of the world – things such as greed, envy, malice.
  • Arrogance

Why does Christ give us this list? He wants us to examine our outward lives to see if these are present. If so, it’s a certainty that your inward life is not right with him. We see next: what we can do about it.

The Cure is found in Christ

Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice. But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 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." But she answered and *said to Him, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs." And He said to her, "Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter." And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.

(Mark 7:24-30 NASB)

The woman

The woman here is a model of one who truly seeks Christ. This incident takes place in a different locale, but it appears to be a continuation of the previous thought. At the very least, it follows logically. The Pharisees got it wrong; she got it right.

  • First, note that she begs. She knows she has no standing before this man; her plea is entirely that of one begging. The Christ is under no obligation to her. Likewise, Christ is under no obligation to us, no matter what good things we have done.
  • Next, she pleads not only for herself but more for her daughter. It is the Christian’s duty to intercede for others.
  • She comes to him in faith. This is the essential for anyone who goes before the throne of God.
  • Finally, she accepts the humbling that God gives her. It is in such humbling that God’s great works are done.

Self examination

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • How is your thinking? Is it in accord with Christ? Or do you harbor thoughts of greed, malice, envy or lust?
  • What are you watching? What’s coming into your mind through your eyes, feeding your soul?
  • What are you doing? Is your life a testimony to God, or is it “Sundays only?”

[1] Leviticus 5:2-3

[2] Numbers 9:6-13

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