Unclean Heart

“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 a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Matthew 15:17-20

The Pharisees had the wrong understanding of what made a person “unclean.” They were hung up on traditions made by men that tried to keep people ritually clean through external purity. One of those traditions was to wash hands before eating so that the “uncleanness” from any Gentile item, dead or unclean animal that was touched in the marketplace would be washed away and not contaminate the food that was about to be eaten.

But Jesus clarifies to His own disciples that “cleanness” isn’t about what goes into one’s stomach, but what comes out of one’s heart. And one of the easiest ways to determine what is in our own hearts is to listen to what we say and how we say it.

It’s easy enough to flex our religious muscles and makes sure we sound holy around certain people. But when we are pressed in life, what comes out of our mouth then?

When we squeeze an orange, we expect orange juice to come out. When we press an olive, we expect olive oil to come out. What a peculiar sight it would be to squeeze a lemon and have motor oil come out. How strange it would be to press a cluster of grapes and have corrosive bleach leak out.

Yet, what Jesus is saying is that this is how we discover the broken places in our own hearts. This is exactly what happens to us. Evil thoughts come from the heart. Murderous rage comes from the heart. The roaming eye of adultery comes from the heart. The need to find acceptance and love by giving away our body to many different people through sexual immorality comes from the heart. The compulsion to take what is not ours comes from the heart. The tendency to lie, deceive, gossip, and slander comes from the heart. Harsh and critical words come from the heart.

When a Christian is pressed or squeezed by life circumstances, we should expect the fruit of the Spirit to come leaking out: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we get pressed by life and something else comes out of our heart, we need to see it like a warning light on the dashboard of our life. Something is broken in the deep places of our soul. Something in our heart needs healing.

So, what comes out of your mouth when life squeezes you? Pay attention to anything unclean that comes up. Use it as a diagnostic tool to understand that this is a place in your heart that needs healing. Our damaging and destructive words, our foul language, our bitter gossip and biting criticism are all products of a heart that needs healed by the love of God.

Resurrection Life

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Matthew 9:18-19

What kind of faith does it take to believe Jesus can raise the dead?

I am amazed by the faith of this synagogue leader. By asking for Jesus’s help, he put his position in the synagogue at risk. If the Pharisees get wind of his request for Jesus to come to his house, they could not only remove him from his position but prevent him from even participating in synagogue life.

Equally risky for the father and for Jesus is that they are dealing with a dead body. In Jewish law, touching a dead body made a person unclean for seven days and required ritual purification as a result (Numbers 19:11). Likewise, anyone in the room near the dead body would be unclean for seven days and required ritual purification (Numbers 19:14).

After healing the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years on their way to the synagogue ruler’s house, they arrive to a large funeral gathering.

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.

Matthew 9:23-26

Jesus knew He would raise this girl back to life. He declared it before He even walked into the bedroom. Jesus is the resurrection and the life! But people laughed at the very idea of it. They had seen many dead bodies before this one. They knew the look of a dead body. They knew the cold, stiff feel of a dead body. They knew the smell of a dead body. Most people there had buried friends and family members. This girl was not just sleeping. She was gone.

Imagine if we actually believed Jesus can raise the dead. Imagine the laughing and mocking that would happen at our expense as we prayed for dead people. We’d not only get laughed at, like Jesus did, but we’d likely get kicked out of most hospitals.

I believe Jesus put the crowd outside because they had created an atmosphere filled with unbelief and doubt. The only people Jesus wanted in the room were those crazy enough to believe that Jesus can raise the dead. The Gospel of Mark records that only the girl’s father and mother as well as Peter, James and John–Jesus’s inner circle–were allowed in the room to witness the miracle.

At this point everyone in the room is ritually unclean because of their proximity to this dead body. Jesus compounds His “uncleanness” by then touching the hand of the dead girl. Except, instead of her uncleanness contaminating Him, His life contaminates her death. His cleanness contaminates her uncleanness.

Things flow in reverse in the Kingdom of God (light conquers darkness, clean conquers unclean, life defeats death, healing overwhelms sickness, wholeness overwhelms brokenness, grace covers sin). Life returns to the girl, and she gets up! Suddenly everyone in the room goes from unclean to clean, from death to life!

Incredible faith connects with an incredible miracle! Jesus is still doing these kinds of miracles all over the world today. He’s looking for a handful of people who are willing to believe enough to stay in the room with Him. He’s looking for people who are willing not to laugh but instead be laughed at.

What do you believe is possible with Jesus?

Everything That Hinders

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 

Hebrews 12:1-2

Most Christians understand that sin can easily entangle us as we run our race of faith. Sin wraps like cords around our ankles tripping us up and keeping us from running. These cords of sin must be severed from our life or our faith will limp along unfruitful. Most of us have experienced this reality and know this all too well.

But what is sometimes missed is that there are things in life that are not sinful but can still be a hindrance. The passage of scripture above calls us to throw off everything that hinders. Because these things are not overt sin, they can fly under the radar of our lives. They are not like the cords of sin, tripping us up, but they do have a dampening effect on our faith.

We see the same reality represented in how the priests worshiped in the Temple. They would offer sacrifices on the altar in order to address sin. The sacrifices were about atonement for sin with blood. But then the priests would walk over to the wash basin–made of bronze mirrors–and wash with water. This washing wasn’t about being cleansed from sin but about getting the “uncleanness” off of them.

There are things that we read, things we listen to, and things we watch that aren’t necessarily sinful but do end up dulling our sensitivity to the Spirit. Likewise, there are habits of distraction and escape that aren’t sinful but lull us into a passive faith and trap us into keeping our minds on the things of the world rather than on things above (Colossians 3:2). These things gradually contaminate our mind and our heart if we continue to expose ourselves to them. These are the hindrances that need to be thrown off. These are the “unclean” things that need to be washed off.

Paul says it this way to the Corinthians:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

1 Corinthians 10:23

If we are going to run with perseverance and “not grow weary and lose heart”(Hebrews 12:3), we need to run light. In other words, we can’t run with unnecessary things weighing us down. It could be our interaction on social media or our relationship with food or alcohol. It could be our favorite way to escape that becomes a bad habit. Whatever it is, if it is a hindrance to our sensitivity and intimacy with the Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it needs to be thrown off.