Matthew 15:17-18 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean.’”
A number of years ago I spent a few hours with an Islamic man talking about God and faith. I was able to steer the conversation into a talk about how to deal with our sins. The man freely admitted that he was guilty of sin. He knew that he wasn’t perfect. But he was still confident that he was on good terms with God. He wasn’t afraid. He told me, “I may be a sinner, but God knows my heart.”
God knows my heart. The Islamic man thought that this was to his advantage. But this is just the problem, isn’t it. God knows my heart. He knows what really goes on inside. In fact, he understands my own heart better than I do. He reveals it in Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Can we do an honest investigation of our own hearts? It is easy to see why Jeremiah calls it deceitful. It is full of warm and friendly feelings toward the people who make my life more enjoyable–members of my family, friends, people I work with. Sometimes it even aches for poor and helpless people I have never met before, and I want to do something generous to help them. My heart leads me to think that I am a pretty good person for all of this. The Lord should be happy with me.
But what happens when some of those same people stand between me and what I want? What happens when I have to make the same sacrifice for them for the hundredth time? How does my heart feel when no one appreciates me for all my hard work, when no one cares and I am just someone they use to get what they want? What happens to all the warm feelings then?
Or what about all the cravings inside my heart that would hurt the people around me–cravings that could ruin a marriage, drain all the money in the family, destroy my own health, make me a burden to others if I acted on them? What does all of this say about my heart?
“Unclean” is Jesus’ evaluation. The sin that soils our souls is right inside of us. And just in case it is still hard for us to see, Jesus reminds us that we don’t keep all of that filth inside. From time to time it comes bubbling up to the surface, giving others a window to the real condition of my heart that cannot be mistaken.
Only one thing can cleanse our soiled hearts and souls. No amount of hand washing, diet change, or other traditions, new or old, have any effect. Only the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. Only when our robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb do they come out white and clean. Christ who loved the church and gave himself up for her makes her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and presenting her to himself as a radiant church, without stain, or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
By forgiving our sins Jesus declares us clean—right down to the heart.