Mark 7: Inside Out – Washing the Heart

Introduction – Mirrors and Holiness

Who looked in the mirror this morning?
Here’s some dirt – get the soap, wash my face.
Oh no, it’s a pimple, a spot, a wrinkle! – Get some cream to cover it
argghhh – Here is a grey hair – I got it!
Now I’m all clean and beautiful for people to see me.
Imagine you had a special magic mirror.
It doesn’t just show your face, your skin, what you look like on the outside.
But it shows you what your heart looks like.
It shows who you are on the inside.
Would you want to look in that mirror?
If you did, what would you see?
Three weeks ago,[1]
I talked about an important verse in the Bible:
God said,
“You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, 19:2).
We tried to understand this word “Holy”
we looked at an argument between Jesus and the group of religious leaders called the Pharisees
They had different ideas about what holiness is.
For the Pharisees, holiness meant separation from sin.
Sin is wrong things that we do.
Holiness means staying away from what is wrong, keeping spiritually clean and pure.
The Pharisees even stayed away from people who were sinful and unclean.
But Jesus went to parties with those sinful unclean people. (Luke 5:27-32)
the Pharisees were angry.
They asked, doesn’t Jesus want to be holy and clean?
And so we decided that for Jesus,
Holiness also had another meaning: wholeness and healing.
Jesus is a spiritual doctor. 
he wants to heal broken hearts and broken relationships, to make them healthy and whole again.
we finished with a third meaning of holiness, maybe the most important.
Holiness as the presence of God, closeness to God.
Holiness is where God is

Washing of the Hands

today we are going to think more about what it means to be holy, to be clean and pure inside.
And to help us understand, we’ll look at another fight between Jesus and the Pharisees about holiness.
First some background from the first part of the Bible, the Old Testament.
What is the most holy place, where the presence of God really is?
The temple in Jerusalem.
And who are the most holy people?
the priests in the temple who bring offerings to worship God.
The priests and the offerings had to be perfect,
no sickness or ugly spots, nothing unclean or wrong[2]
and before the priests went into the temple, they had to wash very carefully
God said about the priests:
They must wash with water whenever they go into the Tabernacle to appear before the Lord and when they approach the altar to burn up their special gifts to the Lord – or they will die!  They must always wash their hands and feet, or they will die.
Exodus 30:17-22.
At the time of Jesus in the New Testament,
the Pharisees wanted the whole country of Israel to be as holy as the temple.
They wanted to make all the people as holy as the priests.[3]
So everyone should wash as carefully as the priests in the temple.
The Pharisees had all sorts of rituals or ceremonies, special ways of washing their hands.[4]
it was very important to them – and you can understand why from that verse: if you don’t wash, you will die!
And now let’s read our passage for today.
Mark 6:56-7:6, 14-23 (page 767)
56 Wherever Jesus went – in villages, cities, or the countryside – they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.
 1 One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. 2 They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. 3 (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. 4 Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to – such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)
 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”
 6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
   ‘These people honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.’
When Jesus was walking around in the marketplace,
lots of people touched him.
People who were sick with different diseases, and they became healthy – holiness as healing
the Pharisees don’t touch those unclean people.  Stay away! – holiness as separation
And if they accidentally do touch, they wash off their uncleanness, like spiritual germs.[5]
But Jesus’ disciples, his followers, were not washing like that.
The Pharisees weren’t happy.  They asked Jesus,
Why doesn’t he teach his followers to wash their hands properly?[6]
Doesn’t he care about being spiritually pure and clean and holy?
And what does Jesus say?
He calls them hypocrites.
Hypocrites are people who look good on the outside,
but on the inside, they are very different.
the Pharisees do and say a lot of religious things, like washing their hands.
On the outside, they look very holy, very close to God.
But on the inside, in their heart, they are far away from God

Purity of the Heart

let’s carry on at verse 14
note: If something is “defiled”, it is dirty, it needs a wash, like being polluted.
 14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”
 17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)
 20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
So it’s just like three weeks ago.
another argument, another punch-up between Jesus and the Pharisees to do with holiness.
Both of them agree, holiness is very very important. 
God said, be holy, because I am holy
But what exactly does that mean?
For the Pharisees, [7]
Holiness was about what we do on the outside, that other people can see.
For Jesus,
Holiness was firstly about who we are on the inside, where only God can see.
The Pharisees worry about dirt on their hands.
Jesus looks at dirt in the heart.
It reminds me of an Old Testament verse.
The temple in Jerusalem is on top of a mountain, so a writer in the Psalms asks:
Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?
   Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.
Psalm 24:3-4.
To come into God’s holy presence like the priests in the temple do,
we need clean hands, and a pure heart – it’s Mark 7 in a nutshell![8]
The Pharisees were big on cleaning the hands, but they forgot about the most important thing: the heart.
in the book of Matthew, Jesus said to the Pharisees:
 27 “Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and sin. 
Matthew 23:25-28.
Outside and inside.
Hands and heart.
Skin and soul.
Which is more important to you?
If I looked at how you spend your money, how you spend your time and energy, what would it say?
How much time do you spend looking at the mirror in your house to make your face pretty?[9]
do you spend as much time looking at the mirror of the Bible to make your heart beautiful?
How much effort do you put into looking good for people to see?
Buying nice clothes or a car, wanting to get a high education and make lots of money,
so people will think you are cool and successful.
Do you care as much about what God thinks of you?
Jesus said about the Pharisees:
“Everything they do is done for people to see,” Matthew 23:5
Am I the same?
do I try hard to look like a good Christian on the outside?
Like a politician, thinking about my public image.
but in private, when nobody is looking, I’m not so good!
Would Jesus call me a hypocrite too?

Character Formation

The real test of holiness or goodness, what really matters, is what you do, who you are, when no one is looking.
there are two big reasons why:
first, God is always looking – he is everywhere and sees everything we do,
even what we think and feel.[10]
Second, what I do affects who I am.
actions make our character
maybe today I say something that is 90% true – just a very little 10% lie.
it doesn’t really matter, does it?
Yes, it does,
because I have changed – I am now a slightly more dishonest person.
Tomorrow, it will be easier to say something that is only 80% true, then 70% true, 60, 50,
one day I could be lying all the time.
Or I see somebody that is hurting, it touches my heart, I know I should do something.
But I am too busy, or too lazy, I make some excuse.
And my heart becomes a bit harder, a bit more unkind.
Tomorrow it will be a little easier to just walk past.
Soon I won’t care at all.
Every time we choose to do what is bad, we become a little more ugly inside.[11]
Actions make our character.
Some good books show this very clearly.[12]
has anyone read the book The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, 1890?[13]
Dorian Gray is a very good looking, rich young man.
A friend paints a beautiful picture of him,
Dorian wishes that he could always stay young and beautiful, and the painting would get older.
His wish comes true
Over the next 20 years,
He has a lot of fun doing bad things and hurting other people
his face stays young and pure and beautiful,
but every time he does something wrong, the painting gets a bit older.
the face in the picture becomes more twisted and ugly.
On the surface, Dorian is young and clean and pure.
But the painting shows his soul: inside is ugliness and death.
It’s just like Jesus describes the Pharisees
Dorian tries to hide it.
He locks the painting away in the roof of his house, where nobody can go.
When someone sees the painting, Dorian kills him.
At the end of the book, part of him wants to change, but he finds he can’t.
Dorian stabs the painting with a knife.
A servant in his house hears a scream.
He comes running and finds the painting, looking just like it did 20 years ago.
in front of it, dead with a knife through his heart, is this ugly twisted old man with a horrible distorted face.
Who is it?  They can only tell, when they look at the rings on his finger and see they are Dorian’s.
It is a powerful and frightening book.[14]
it really shows how the things we do outside, affect our heart inside.

The Day of Judgement

If there was a painting like that which showed your soul,
if you had that magic mirror that showed your heart, what would you see?
What would you want to see?
It’s a good question to ask ourselves,
because one day, all of us will stand before God.
I will see all the things I have done in my life.
And I will see who I have become.
Some of us spend our whole lives hiding from the truth about ourselves, but
Like Dorian Gray, I will have to face the painting of my soul,
to look in the mirror that shows my heart.[15]
I will see who I really am inside.[16]
Remember Psalm 24 – to come in to God’s presence, I need a pure heart
The last book of the Bible says the same about heaven:
Nothing impure or unclean will be allowed to enter (Revelation 21:27)
And remember the priests: if you don’t wash, if you are not spiritually clean and pure, you will die.
God is holy, and sin cannot last or stay alive in his presence.
It’s frightening, because my heart isn’t all that clean
At the end of today’s reading (Mark 7:21-23),
Jesus gave a list of some ugly things that can come out of our heart and make us dirty.[17]
like stealing, hating; being greedy, dishonest, proud; saying unkind things, thinking wrong things
I know I’ve done many of these things at times.  All of us have
In places, your and my soul has become ugly.
If you don’t believe me, how would you feel,
If everything you have thought inside the last week was displayed up here on the PowerPoint screen?[18] 
We are impure, unclean, polluted on the inside.[19]
so what can we do?
We can wash our hands on the outside, like the Pharisees did so well.
when our skin is dirty, we can take a shower.
but how can we clean the soul?
In the Bible, God says,
No amount of soap can make you clean.
      I still see the stain of your guilt.
Jeremiah 2:22 [20]
How can we wash our heart?
Like Dorian found when he tried and failed, On our own, we can’t.

Washing the Heart

but there is hope.
Let’s look at a man who did terribly wrong things, but found a way to be clean.
Many of you know the story of King David in the Bible.
One day he saw a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, and he wanted her.
But she was already married, so in the end, he killed her husband.
Then David realised what a bad thing he had done.
He saw that his heart was stained, made dirty with sin and guilt
and he wrote a beautiful prayer to God: Psalm 51 (page 436)
 7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
      wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
 8 Oh, give me back my joy again;
      you have broken me – now let me rejoice.
 9 Don’t keep looking at my sins.
      Remove the stain of my guilt.
 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
      Renew a loyal spirit within me.
 11 Do not send me away from your presence,
      and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
What David did was very, very bad, but God answered his prayer.
What is the worst thing you have done?
What in your life makes you most ashamed?
Do you want God to wash you, give you a clean heart, like David prayed?
if you ask him, he will. [21]
So exactly how does God make us clean?
See that last verse – that’s the key: God’s Holy Spirit.
In the New Testament, Paul wrote:
Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God.
1 Corinthians 6:19 [22]
In the Old Testament, God’s holy presence was in the temple in Jerusalem.
Now Christians are like walking, talking temples all over the world, with God’s holiness living inside
Isn’t that amazing!
In fact, it is what the Pharisees were trying to do
 – make all of God’s people as holy and clean and perfect as the priests in the temple.
But it didn’t work for them, because they were trying to force it from the outside in.
When God’s Holy Spirit is living in our heart, he changes us and makes us clean from the inside out.[23]
that’s part of the meaning of baptism in church.
When people go down into the water, it’s a sign of the spiritual bath of the Spirit washing us inside.[24]

The Beauty of Holiness

If God’s Holy Spirit is in our heart, he doesn’t just wash away the dirt.
He replaces it with good stuff,
he gives us a new heart, like a heart transplant.
Here is what Paul found:
The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23
What a contrast to Jesus’ list of bad things!
some of us are always trying to make our face beautiful on the outside.
real beauty comes as the Holy Spirit works to grow these good things on the inside.  Are they growing in your life?
There’s an interesting saying, “we all get the face we deserve”.
You can see that in some old people, like my grandmother before she died.
Her face was old and wrinkled, with scars and cuts from operations.
but a lifetime of loving God and loving people had made her beautiful inside.
And a beautiful soul can shine through the skin.
Today we’ve seen that, like for Dorian Gray,
Every wrong thing I do or say or think makes me a bit more ugly inside.
every little good or kind or honest or loving thing I do or say, makes my heart a bit more beautiful.
So ask yourself this: what sort of person am I becoming inside?
Sooner or later, who we really are inside will show on the outside.
One day everyone will see who I really am.
When the day comes that you look in that mirror that shows your heart, what will you see?
When your soul shows in your skin, when you get the face you deserve,
will it be dark and ugly and dirty, horrible and twisted like for Dorian Gray?
Or will it be washed by God’s Spirit, pure and holy and clean,
without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish  (Ephesians 5:25-27)[25]
Shining bright with the beauty of holiness?[26]


Did you ever get a bad stain or dirty mark on your clothes and it was hard to wash away?
Which is more important to you: looking good outside, or being clean inside?
How you spend your money, time, energy might give the answer!
Think about seeing your soul, who you are inside, in a painting or a mirror.
What would you see?  How would you feel about everyone else seeing it too?
Have you experienced God washing you clean on the inside? 
How does God do that?
Who is the most beautiful person you know?
What makes them so beautiful?
How can we grow in holiness and inner beauty?
Look at the sheet of ideas on your table, and choose one to try this week!

Suggestions for Growing in Holiness and Inner Beauty

Ask God to search your heart and show you where you need to change:
 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
      test me and know my thoughts.
 Point out anything in me that offends you,
      and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
(Psalm 139:23-24)
Keep a character diary of your strengths and weaknesses.
At the end of each day, write down the wrong things you have said or done.  Say sorry to God.
When you find an area where you often have trouble, memorise a Bible verse about it:
How can a young person stay pure?  By obeying your word…
I have hidden your word in my heart, so that I might not sin against you.  (Psalm 119:9,11)
If you can, ask someone to pray for you about this area:
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  (James 5:16)
Think about the things you say:
         "What comes out of your mouth is what makes you unclean" (Matthew 15:11)
Pray, "Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips" (Psalm 141:3)
Try to go one day without saying anything:                                                   
         that is negative, critical, unkind, bad about other people.
Or without saying anything:
         that is in any way untrue ­– that deceives, exaggerates, or gives a false impression.
Read slowly and prayerfully through one of the descriptions of good character in
1 Corinthians 13:4-6 or Galatians 5:22-23 or Matthew 5:3-10
Ask yourself for each word or sentence, does this really describe me? 
Ask God to grow this good thing in you, and give you opportunities for practice!
What goes into your mind comes out in your life. 
Think about the books or magazines you read, the movies, TV, pictures or websites you look at.
How do they compare with this description:
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
(Philippians 4:8)
"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life."  (Proverbs 4:23)
Some of these ideas come from the excellent books of Richard Foster and Joseph Telushkin.

[1] See message text at:
[2] Leviticus 21:17-21 Unblemished, like the sacrificial animals
[3] And every meal table as holy as the temple altar table.
[4] the Pharisees have been described as “a pure-food club”. (Jacob Neusner).  later Jewish writings even said, “whoever eats bread without previously washing the hands, it is as though he had intercourse with a harlot.”  Babylonian Talmud
[5] We see the difference between holiness as separation and holiness as healing in two gospel attitudes to washing: The Pharisees wash their own hands – separation and shutting out others’ uncleanness to protect themselves. Jesus washes others’ feet-reaching out to serve, cleanse and heal others
[6] in Luke 11:38ff, a Pharisee complained when Jesus himself doesn’t wash before eating.
[7] in this passage, not all the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, and certainly not all Jewish people
[8] Linking purity to the great command, love God with an undivided whole heart and mind: “Purify your hearts, you double minded” (James 4:8); “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” (Kierkegaard).  “Give me an undivided heart” (Psalm 86:11)
[9]  3 Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. 4 You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. 5 This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful.  (1 Peter 3:3-5)
[10] God is he who searches hearts and minds (Psalm 7:9, Revelation 2:23). Jesus saw what was in people’s hearts (Mark 2:8)
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.  Hebrews 4:12-13. 
[11] and here is the most scary thing: the worse I become, the less I know it. The more I lie, the less I can see truth.  The more I turn away from people who need help, the less I will even notice.  “A beast does not know that he is a beast, and the nearer a man gets to being a beast, the less he knows it.”  (George MacDonald)  Sin makes us spiritually blind, but holiness sharpens our sight.  “Those who are not holy will not see the Lord.”  (Hebrews 12:14)  “God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).  maybe that’s why the Pharisees, with impure hearts, could not see God’s presence in Jesus.
[12] especially in the imaginative writings of CS Lewis, Charles Williams, George MacDonald
[13] after being in prison, Oscar Wilde himself wrote: “I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetops.”
[14] The Christian band U2 has a song, “Crumbs From Your Table”: “You were pretty as a picture / it was all there to see / then your face caught up with your psychology.”
[15] maybe like a spiritual ECG.  James 1:23-24 describes God’s word as a mirror.  It has been said, “If you want the true weight of a man, weigh his heart”.
[16] In Christ, I don’t have to fear seeing myself as I am: “we do not know what we will be like when Christ appears, but we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.”  (1 John 3:2).  in his essay, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis wrote:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
[17] Jesus taught that adultery, murder, etc really come from the heart (Matthew 5:8), and said, as a tree produces fruit, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” Matthew 12:33-35
[18] Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness
[19] “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is?” Jeremiah 17:9
[20] the Roman governor Pilate maybe thought washing his hands could make him innocent of Christ’s death.  (Matthew 27:24).  Shakespeare’s play Macbeth shows how washing the hands cannot clean the heart.  Lady Macbeth wants her husband to be King, so she can be Queen.  She tells Macbeth to kill the king, but he doesn’t want to:
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.” 2.2
But Lady Macbeth is a strong woman and thinks he is silly, so in the night she stabs the King with a knife while he is asleep on his bed.  She thinks it’s easy to wash a bit of blood off her hands and no one will know: “A little water clears us of this deed”, 2.2.  By the end of the play, she finds you can’t just wash guilt away like you wash your hands. She goes crazy.  The last time we see her, she is walking in her sleep, always trying to wash her hands. She thinks she can still see and even smell the blood on them:
Out, damned spot! out, I say!
Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.
Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!
What’s done cannot be undone. 5.1
[21]   ”Though your sins are like scarlet,  I will make them as white as snow.   Though they are red like crimson,  I will make them as white as wool.”  Isaiah 1:18
[22] and our bodies are like holy sacrifices on the temple altar: Paul urges Christians “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).  And Christians are even holy priests, as the Pharisees wanted: “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9 , fulfilling Exodus 19:6-”you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”).  Our church newsletter used to say on the front, “every member a minister”-I thought it should also say “every member a priest”!
[23] cf, Paul’s teaching on the letter versus the spirit of the law (2 Corinthians 3:2-3), and external circumcision of the flesh versus internal circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29).  Fulfilling the promise of a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26)
[24] “Be baptised and wash your sins away.” (Acts 22:16).  “This water [that Noah’s Art passed through] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21).  God saves us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).  “The blood of Jesus purifies from all sin” (1 John 1:7).  Blessed are those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14, 22:14).  Christ’s blood cleans the guilty conscience (Hebrews 10:22)
[25] Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. Ephesians 5:25-27
[26] 1 Chronicles 16:29, Psalm 29:2, 96:9.  think of Moses’ shining face after seeing God.  There’s a beautiful phrase in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: “a soul as translucently pure as a cliff of crystal”. “Gods of this place, grant that I may be beautiful inside.”  Socrates’ prayer, Phaedrus, 279
“In nature there’s no blemish but the mind;
None can be called deformed but the unkind;
Virtue is beauty.” 
What is beauty? Not the show
Of shapely limbs and features. No.
These are but flowers
That have their stated hours
To breathe their momentary sweets, then go.
‘Tis the stainless soul within
That outshines the fairest skin
Sir A Hunt