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An Uncommon Audience for a Common Message
Scripture: Mark 7:1-37
Track 9 of 19 in the Encountering a Changing World series
Running time: 26 minutes, 27 seconds.
Jesus widens the reach of the gospel to include the gentiles; unclean, etc.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, March 2, 2003
An Uncommon Audience for a Common Message
G. Charles Sackett

I have read this week's text with fascination. I have been drawn to it and repelled by it. I have wrestled with it and it has wrestled me. I just want you to turn there if you would, if you have your Bible to Mark, Chapter 7. We are going to come back now to that particular text. It's an intriguing series of events I think, at least it was for me.

The text starts out in Verse 1, the Pharisees, and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were unclean; that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands or give their hands a ceremonial washing holding to the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they wash and they observed many other traditions such as the washing of cups and pitchers and kettles.) And so the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with unclean hands? 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; they worship me in vain, their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

I read that text; and, I see myself clearly. I don't mean I see myself in the text clearly. I see myself clearly standing right beside Jesus - kind of like a shadow and I'm pointing my finger at the Pharisees and I'm saying "Are you listening, do you get it, what's the matter with you?" I mean I clearly identify with the teller of this particular story because quite frankly I don't like the legalistic attitude of the Pharisees, and so I identify with them, but I mean, after all, you see the dilemma they are creating. The disciples didn't wash their hands. I mean in a cleanly America like ours, where every bathroom you go in has that sign; Wash Your Hands. Surely we'd have figured it out by now; 20 seconds with soap, hot water, make sure you get under the nails. Only it wasn't that kind of washing. This was nothing more than ceremonial washing. Make sure you put some Holy water on your hands to wash off all of that dirt that you picked up out in the market place when you rubbed shoulders with those Gentiles, those Pagans, those Samaritans. Well you just fill in the blank, anybody unacceptable, and I'm standing there thinking; Yeah Lord, give it to ‘um cause we shouldn't be like that.

Maybe it's because I lived in that context for so long. But when I first became a Christian, I became a Christian in the context of people who said if you owned a television you were going to Hell. I don't suppose it would hurt to watch it because if your going to Hell for owning it, watching it just, I mean how much more Hell can you get than Hell, so if you got one, watch it, you know.

It was the, well there was a fellow in our church that wouldn't let his wife have a Sears catalog because he didn't want her sinning the sin of covetousness by looking at stuff she couldn't have anyway. It was this narrow, rigid kind of Christianity that forced you down this little path that somebody else had created for you. And I didn't like it and so I stand here with Jesus and say give it to ‘em.

I got so intrigued by this I discovered that these crabs that my son-in-law likes so well, these Maryland blue crabs; there's a certain point in the life of the crab when the shell cracks and they back out of it and then they have just this brief period where they can grow a little larger before this soft shell becomes hard again and then after a few hours, weeks, months, I don't know. I didn't get that much into it, it cracks again and then they back out and grow a little more and then the soft shell hardens and the whole thing is if your going to grow, you gotta back out of that hardened shell, you know.

And I thought, what a great illustration, of not getting trapped inside that hard shell and well, the problem was I got to thinking about things that I had already said in this Church. Things like this; like Church is more than just coming to Church, you know. Church is more than just being in a pew on a Sunday morning. It's not about being in a certain place at a certain time. And I believe that's true. I think there is a danger in getting caught in legalism but there is also an equal danger of being caught in, well the fancy word is, antinomianism (lawlessness) just a rejection of any kind of rules and wrestled with that text and I found myself realizing that the text was speaking in two different directions and standing beside Jesus might not be where I was, so I thought I would move on.

Verse 9 says: He said "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God, in order to observe your own traditions! Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother'; and, anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death'; but you say, ‘That if a man says to his father or mother, whatever other help you might have received from me is Corban' (that is a gift devoted to God) - then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother, thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." And so He gives this illustration of what He means and I looked at it and it's kind of an odd sort of command, but the thing was if you had a certain piece of property or a certain amount of money, you could say over this money, Corban, which meant it belonged to God and therefore couldn't be used for any other purpose. Well at least no other purpose, other than something that belonged to God and then you could use it for yourself, basically any way you wanted, but you didn't have to let your parents have it. It was a convenient way of getting out of being responsible. And I thought to myself, You know, that is really interesting you know - religion as an excuse. That is a great idea, use your religion as an excuse not to be obedient to God. I remember people doing that. I mean, well I guess what I remember is people who were religious but it didn't seem to impact, you know, the basic rules of their life.

I can remember when I first became a Christian. This little church that I was converted in, was growing, frankly quite rapidly, and they needed to add on to this little building that they had. My dad was a guy that dug foundations and that kind of thing and they were saying, well if they had some money or some help they could, and I said, well my dad will dig the foundation for you. I didn't bother to ask him, by the way, I just kind of volunteered him. Cause I knew he would do it. He had done for other people and so they made the arrangements and on Saturday he brought the back hoe and the truck and he showed up ready to dig the foundation for the addition on the Church and the preacher showed up. Had a nice shirt and tie (white shirt/tie on). He stood around and watched for a half hour or so and one of the men from the Church showed up and drove the truck and hauled the dirt over to his driveway and my dad worked all day, basically by himself, at his own expense. And I thought, I wonder what the preacher was doing that was so religious that he didn't have to take time to be with my Pagan father. See, I really thought this would be a good opportunity for my dad to be introduced to Jesus and I got angry. I admit it. Religion has an excuse not to do that which is right. Then I got to thinking about this text. You know the problem is that if you look at a text too long, that's when you get in trouble, and then I began to think about the fact that after I became a Christian, somebody said don't, don't hang out with non-Christians. So I took that pretty seriously and since my parents were not Christians, I used my religion as an excuse to become a worse son rather than a better one and so I decided I'd keep looking in the text because I wasn't liking what I'd found so far.

Verse 14 said: Jesus called the crowd and he said "Listen to me everyone and understand this; nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him; rather it's what comes out of a man that makes him unclean." And after he'd left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. He says, are you so dull? Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean. It doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach and out of his body (in saying this Jesus declared all foods clean) And then he went on, "What comes out of a man makes him unclean, for from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, ludeness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean."

And I looked again at this whole unclean thing and this whole inside/outside thing and to be really honest with you, one of the things that was intriguing to me was Verse 19. This little parenthetic statement in Verse 19 that Mark inserts into Jesus' comment when by saying this Jesus declared all food clean. And I got to thinking about the contents of Mark's gospel and realized that Mark's gospel was probably written by the reflections of Peter. Because Mark and Peter were pretty close. Maybe even related. And I got to thinking about the fact that I wonder how much impact the later events in Peter's life might have had on Mark's little parenthetic phrase. Remember Acts: Chapter 10? Peter's up on the roof top, fasting and praying, and down comes the sheet and it's covered with all kinds of unclean animals and the voice says to Peter, arise, kill and eat and Peter says I've never had anything unclean. I'm not eating that. Three times that vision comes and finally Peter says, ah-ha, well okay maybe things aren't supposed to be unclean after all and he ends up in a Gentile's house giving him the Gospel, which was really kind of strange. And then a little later in Peter's life he's up in the city and he's eating with Gentile people and still some of the Jews show up from Jerusalem and then all of a sudden he doesn't want to eat with the Gentiles any more and they have this confrontation in Galatians between Peter and Paul and I just wonder if in the back of Peter's mind he's not looking back on this text saying, ya know I don't know if I've figured it out that day but I ‘ve got this figured out now. Jesus was trying to tell us that cleanness doesn't have anything to do with externals.

And I thought to myself, you know, maybe the lesson in this sermon is that sometimes it takes us a while. You know, if you just stick around long enough, if we grow long enough, pretty soon we begin to understand things as the events occur. I looked at this text, I played with, I thought this will preach. Here's thirteen sins. If nothing else I can just stand up here and talk about thirteen sins. That's not hard to work with. I mean this goes everywhere from thoughts to actions to attitudes. You could cover the universe with this text. While I was thinking about this particular text I saw the commercials for Everyone Loves Raymond and how they had turned sex into comedy, immoral sex into comedy. And then I saw the commercial for tonight's episode of American Dream and they have turned sex into drama and I thought, well, there is plenty of that in here. We could surely use those kinds of - - ah, ah, but then I got to thinking, you know this text cuts both ways. I could pick the things out of that list of thirteen that I'm not guilty of and I can talk about those. In fact, if I were going to do that, that is exactly what I would do. I wouldn't pick the stuff I'm guilty of, I'd pick the stuff that your guilty of. I got to thinking, you know when you read scriptures, it tends to cut both ways. I got to thinking about Hebrews, where it says that the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. I got to thinking about the image of Jesus in Revelation: Chapter 1 and the image is that he has a sword with two sharp edges coming out of his mouth.

I got to thinking about comments that I - - you know I was getting ready to move to Lincoln to teach. I was in this conversation; these two conversations happened within about thirty minutes of each other and they struck me as odd then and they still strike me as odd now. Your going to Lincoln and teach, I understand. Yea, as a matter of fact I am. I start this summer. Why would you want to do that? That place is so liberal. They don't believe anything up there. About another half an hour passes. I'm in the same building, same room, two different people. I understand your going to Lincoln to teach. Yea, I am. Why would you want to go there? That place is so ultra conservative, you will feel hemmed in on every side. I thought, conservative! liberal! I guess it's a matter of what side of that sword you happen to be looking at.

I thought about how often words tend to cause us to see two different sides. I thought about a conversation I had this week. We have this place in Lincoln called the Blue Dog Inn. It's a bar, but man they have got great food! You don't know of any place like that around here, I'm sure. And some of our students were wrestling with the question: Do you go in to the Blue Dog Inn or not? And for some people in the conversation, it was a statement of courage that you go in there because you're not troubled by those kinds of locations and you want to take your Christian witness with you wherever you go and then there were others that were saying, no that's a compromise. That you go in there and your compromised and I'm sitting there thinking, you know, that depends on which side of the sword you happen to be lookin'. Well, at that point, all of the stuff I'm discovering in this text is true and it's good but I'm not sure that it's the point. And I'd be wasting your time to walk you through all that stuff. So I just kept looking.

Verse 24: strikes me - Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. Now you realize Tyre is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus is technically outside, completely outside, the territory of Israel. It's not just that he's in where there are Gentiles, he has left the country, basically, up to the northwest. He entered a house and didn't want anyone to know it; yet he couldn't keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as he heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit, came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek born in Syrophoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

Now listen to what Jesus says. This is such a troubling statement. "First let the children eat all they want, he said. For it's not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." Wow!! But listen to the woman: "Yes, Lord; even dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." And he said, "For such a reply, you can go. The demon has left your daughter." And she went home and found her child lying on the bed and the demon was gone.

And I remembered a question that somebody asked me, in fact it was the fellow that was responsible for me being a Christian. He asked me about this text one day not long after I became a Christian and I had not a clue what this text was talking about then and this week I sat down and realized I'm not sure yet what this text means. But it's a troubling text, you know, and in fact I have to be really honest with you. I'm just about half offended by this text.

Now, it's not unusual to be offended. I was reading this week - ah have you seen some of those God signs? See you at my house, before lunch, Sunday! Signed GOD. Which part of the Ten Commandments do you not understand? There's a secular humanist that has put out a thing on his web site - that he's just totally offended - He thinks that it's immoral that you would ever sign GOD's name to something that GOD didn't say. This is really interesting for a guy that doesn't believe in GOD, that he would want to defend GOD. But be that as it may, he's offended by it. Well, that got me looking around and I found a site. I'm not going to tell you where it is, but there's a site out there that sells T-shirts that are anti-God T-shirts. Here's one of them; I wish Jesus were still alive. On the back it says; So I could Kill Him.

And I'm thinking, you know, that kind of thing offends me. I don't know what it does to you. But that kind of thing offends me. One guy is offended because of the signs. I'm offended because of the T-shirts. It's not difficult for me when I understand that I sometimes am offended by people and the way they respond to the gospel or the way they treat God.

But you know I find it really troubling when God offends me. And I'm really troubled by this text. I just have to be honest with you. It sounds a lot to me like Jesus is acting like the Pharisees he just got done condemning. This woman comes. She happens to be a Greek. She says my daughter is demon possessed and instead of responding to her with compassion, Jesus says, sorry the Gospel, the truth, the bread is only for the Jews. And I go WAIT A MINUTE! That's not right. I realize I'm arguing with Jesus at this point, but I still think IT's NOT RIGHT! And then the woman says Yea, Jesus, ya know, when some of the crumbs fall off the table, the dogs still get to lick up the crumbs. By the way, Dogs, was a pretty common name for Gentiles, back in those days.

So this is just plain ole, it's pretty clear. And Jesus says; Oh, Wow, what a great answer. Go home, your daughter is healed. And lorn behold your daughter is healed. And I find myself thinking - what in the world? I got to thinking about how sometimes I live this kind of double standard that I don't allow Jesus to live.

You know, Jesus is supposed to meet every need and meet people where they are, everywhere he goes. I mean that's my expectation. That's what I've come to understand and yet, I would impose that expectation on say our missionaries that our Church supports. If we send a missionary to a country in Africa, we just automatically assume that he will understand the culture and he will adapt to the culture and learn the language. He will become something like the people he or she is trying to reach in order to cross the cultural barrier and then I find myself looking at myself and realizing, you know, there's a lot of barriers in this world I've never bothered to cross. I've never learned sign language in order to reach the deaf. I've never learned Spanish in order to reach the growing Hispanic population. Why sometimes I absolutely refuse to listen to the music so that I can just understand the next generations culture. Now I think I'm imposing a standard on Jesus I'm not even willing to live with for myself. Well the last paragraph didn't help me at all.

When Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went down to the Sea of Galilee into the region of Decapolis. (By the way, he is still with Gentiles.) There some people brought to him a man that was deaf and could hardly talk. They begged him to place his hand on the man and after he took him away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers in the man's ears, he spit and touched the man's tongue, he looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh he said, "Ephphatha" which means, "Be opened." And after this, the man's ears were opened and his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly, and Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone but the more he . . . . . . . where they kept talking, people were overwhelmed with amazement, He's done everything well. He even makes deaf hear and the mute speak. And there's nothing special about that, I've seen that all before. I've seen Him. I've read the Gospels. I've looked at every chapter of Mark up to this point. We've been through seven/eight chapters now and in every chapter He does something that gets peoples amazement and that's when it struck me. The story had become so common. They were amazed but I wasn't. And I had to be missing something.

And as I reflected on it I realized that I was getting too comfortable with the people sitting in my pew. I was too comfortable with the people that I tend to rub shoulders with all the time. I wasn't at all struck by what was going on in this text and the more I thought about it the more I realized maybe this woman is right after all. I mean, did you pay attention to Verse 27 particularly? Her comment is, Yes, but Jesus, even the dogs get to eat the crumbs. But Jesus statement was, First let the children eat. Not only let the children eat, just First, let the children eat. You see, I think in the mind of Jesus He understood what this woman understood, but he wanted his disciples to understand it, before they made the next major step in their life, which shows up in Chapter 8, when He is asking them to decide - am I the Messiah or not? See here's what I think happens. I think this woman has it right when she says, Jesus came so that all can come. I think that's what she's trying to say. And I think that's what Mark wants you to understand. That Jesus came so all can come. We're not to get caught up in whether our hands are clean. We're not to get caught up in the religiousness of our life where we have some things dedicated to God and some things not. That what is on the outside He says is not important It isn't the color of a man's skin. It isn't the language that a person speaks. It's what's inside that person that has a connection to God. And this woman identifies this incredibly fundamental truth about what God is trying to do.

Jesus came for one single reason, so that all, Jew, Gentile, Male, Female, Rich, Poor, Black, White, ALL could come. That is the greatest news that God could possibly give to us and here we have it. And the question is, are we ever going to ever offer it to the rest of the world? Are we just going to be comfortable with the people we are next to in our pew because they fit our world or are we going to be willing to look within ourselves and understand that there may be something about this message that we need to hear. That there are folks out there that desperately need to know that Jesus came for them. Maybe your one of them for whom Jesus came and He's calling you. Come to me. Eat the bread from my table. And if you can't get it from the table, get it from the floor because the bread's the bread, and it's life to you. There's really two things I'd like to implore you to do. One is if you know Jesus personally, to look around and find out who's not sitting next to you that ought to be. Who's not listening to Jesus this morning that needs that bread. Don't keep it from them. Don't be selfish. And the other is just to ask if you're ready to take the next step in your journey to walk more closely with Jesus. To take the next step of obedience in your life. He came so we could all come.