Inside Out to Outside In
And he [Jesus] called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:13-15 ESV). Jesus speaks to us here as He addresses our tendency to focus on the outward influence of things. Today at International Lutheran Church, we continue the deeper examination of Mark 7:14-23 and our Lord’s coming into the very heart of our human condition. While the picture may seem disastrous, even catastrophic, His presence and Word is good news for us. Jesus has entered our “home,” not to accuse or point out our faults; He has come to forgive, heal and restore.
The argument over “clean hands” in Mark 7 that begins with a feisty exchange between the religious leaders and Jesus now turns to become a teachable moment for the gospel. Mark specifically sees here how Jesus is declaring all foods to be clean (Mark 7:19b)! What was news, and frankly unthinkable, to the religious leaders now is put in the clearest and most direct manner that even the disciples are a bit taken aback. Jesus shows that the real culprit and “contamination” of our lives has nothing to do with what comes to us from the outside, but instead has everything to do with what comes from us, from our very hearts.
Why is this so hard to grasp? Because we have from our conception been conditioned to see the problem as always on the outside of us to the point where it is hard for us to accept responsibility when something does go wrong. We defend our actions by pointing to things or people that are all beyond our immediate control. In some ways this makes sense. How can we control what happens to us? We end up seeing ourselves as victims of the evils all around us. Thus, we create ways to mitigate our relationship with the outside. We build walls and barriers that attempt to keep the problem “out there.” Unfortunately, this just makes the problem worse as the focus becomes strictly our actions and our ability to keep our selves pure, right or holy. By declaring all food clean, Jesus is driving to the heart of the matter. The problem is not what goes into our stomach but rather what comes out of our heart. As we read verse 19, Jesus is dynamically pointing to the heart as the focus of His work to make all things clean. We need a heart “transplant,” a new heart, but not just any heart. We need God’s heart.
Here Jesus’ pronouncement is good news! Only God can and does change the situation by sending into the flesh His own Heart, His own Son. Jesus gives us the heart that we could never muster up. He fulfills the will of the Father and make all things holy as He comes to us from the inside out. The prayer of David in Psalm 51 is answered as Jesus gives us a new heart, a clean heart, and a right spirit from within. Our sin is washed away in the grace of His Baptism, and now the Spirit guides and leads our lives so that we can stand firm in Him.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (6:10), he ends with these powerful words: “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power!”, as he reminds us that our lives are like a battle. We are not fleeing for safety, but standing firm in Him because He has rushed into you and me with His grace and power to save. He equips us with His Word and Spirit and fits us with the gospel of peace to take to the ends of the earth!