September 2, 2012
Text: Mark 7:14-23
Appearances can be deceiving. Balloons have colorful outside, but empty inside. A house can look beautiful and sound peaceful from outside, but inside may be a dry rot or a quarreling family. In China, because of corruption there are a lot of fake products. They look good from outside but they are bad or even dangerous to customers inside. Nevertheless we live in a culture of appearance, people, especially young people, they still buy things that look good or make themselves look good. Appearances of a person can be more deceiving. People tend to misjudge a person by confusing what is outside of a person with what is inside, even when judging him or herself. It’s like a box. We see the outside. But we don’t know the inside. Jack-N-Box is an old toy. Nowadays you hardly buy one in a regular store. Toys-R-Us doesn’t even have one. Jack-N-Box is a beautifully decorated box seen from the outside. It has a crank (a handle that you can wind) to play music. As children listen to the melody and watch this beautiful box, all of a sudden, there is a “surprise,” a Joker, or an animal, pops out of the box. Or if the toy is for the Halloween, a zombie or Frankenstein pops out from inside. In recent mass shooting or man-eating-man incidents, most suspects were described by others as a very nice guy. These incidents certainly revealed their darkness inside. James Holmes dressed like the Batman villain the Joker went into a theater during a midnight screening of the film “The Dark Knight Rises” with four guns. He killed 12 and injured 58 people. James Holmes grew up in a very nice family with very good parents, who are very active in a local Presbyterian church. He was a honors student at the top of the top and was described as a person with good demeanor. However, all this is just his appearance. It’s what people see him from the outside. So, what does his inside look like? Few people know his private life not to mention his heart. On July 20th, the Joker pops out and fired his guns. He surprised a lot of people. He may have had some depression at that time. But no matter how you explain it, at the very moment of the shooting, his heart, that is his inside, was as dark as the night.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “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.” “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” The context of this text is some Pharisees and the scribes from Jerusalem asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” That is, they didn’t wash hands before meals. How did Jesus answer? He said to them, “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.” So, we know the problem of Pharisees is what is inside is different what is outside. But what about other people? Does hypocrisy apply to us? The answer is “YES” although it is too painful for a lot of people to admit that. What Jesus describe here in today’s text is a universal condition of human beings because He is describing “the heart of man,” a generic term for what is inside of every person in this world with you and me included.
While what Jesus says is laud and clear, a lot of people still believe otherwise. They try very hard to look inside of themselves for something good. And the most troublesome is their reason. They depend on something inside for peace and comfort. Even some Christians, they seek what they think is “Jesus inside” for assurance of salvation. It’s true that Bible promises Jesus will live in us when we believe in Him. But, that’s to remind us our identity and encourage us to do the will of God. It never meant to be our assurance of salvation. For from within, out of the heart of man, come all sorts of evil things. So, the problem is, “How can you tell that you have Jesus inside?” Well, one may say, “I can search for holy feelings.” Then how do you know they come from Jesus, not from Satan and that you are not deceived. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Feeling can be deceiving too. The real question is “Do we look to ‘Jesus’ in our heart for our salvation? Or let me put this way “Can you find Jesus when you search inside?” Mother Teresa, the “Saint of the Gutters,” received the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 11, 1979. Her Missionaries of Charity had grown from one woman in Calcutta to 500 centers around the world taking care of the poorest of the poor, the homeless, the orphans, the abandoned ones of society. But that’s what people see from outside. What about her inside? She had been searching for Jesus in her heart. Documents revealed that she had been struggling with spiritual loneness and emptiness for more than 50 years. Less than three months before she received the Nobel Prize, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, she wrote, “Jesus has a very special love for you. But as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear.” Again, human being is like a box. One day, you receive a gift box. After you open it, you find a smaller box inside. Then you open the smaller box, another smaller box is inside. You open it, yet another and then another… But you keep opening and looking until finally you find a small piece of paper. It reads, “The gift is on the cross.”
Our God is hidden God. He reveals Himself in His Word, which comes from outside. And the Word became flesh when the Son of God coming from outside the world and revealed Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, who died on a cross, which is outside of us. Then He resurrected to be with His church and His people in His Word and Sacraments. Our object of faith and trust is crucified Jesus, not some cozy or so-called “sanctified” feeling of Jesus inside. Our assurance of salvation does not come from inside but from outside because we are justified not by what we do, what we have, who we are or something we feel in our heart, but by the blood of Jesus who died outside of us on a cross. Our source of comfort and strength is the Christ, who laid down His life for us on a cross and resurrected. I am not denying that Christ lives in you. Just the opposite, I’m affirming that Jesus is already in you when you believe in Him. That’s His promise. I’m saying that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus on the cross, not so-called ‘Jesus’ inside of us. Whenever we take in the Word of the Gospel and receive Christ’s Body and Blood from the cross does His love pour from outside into inside and His Holy Spirit dwell within us. Whenever we trust Christ without, do we have Christ within. If you keep looking for so-called “Christ” inside, you may find all sort of ugliness that Jesus talks about in today’s text or you may find sheer emptiness that Mother Teresa experienced.
What’s your inside? What’s your outside? We could be deceived by our own appearances and our own feelings. I am not saying that we should be going around doubting other people’s motives or even ours. What I am saying is that in terms of assurance of salvation, we cannot trust what is inside of us because Jesus says “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Our source of comfort, peace and strength comes from Jesus of Nazareth who died outside of us on a cross. We are justified by the blood of Jesus, who not only died but resurrected to forgive us and give us eternal life. Only when we hear the Word of the Gospel and trust Christ outside on the cross does He live in our heart.
Evil comes from within; salvation comes from without.
September 2, 2012