“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” Matthew 15:19-20
The scribes and Pharisees were very concerned about outward purity. They sought to be sure they would not become defiled and ceremonially unclean by touching something in the marketplace and then eating without first dipping or washing their hands (cf. Mark 7:1ff.). And, they had questioned Jesus in regard to His disciples not following the tradition of the elders by washing their hands before they ate bread (15:1-2).
After Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy in breaking God’s command to honor mother and father with their traditions (Matt. 15:3ff.; 1 Tim. 5:8), Jesus spoke these words: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matt. 15:19-20).
Do you grasp what Jesus is saying? We cannot be clean in God’s eyes and acceptable to Him by outwardly dipping and cleansing our hands; we need our hearts cleansed for our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). It’s not enough to appear clean outside; we need to be cleansed on the inside!
Our hearts are filled with evil thoughts and desires. As Jesus said, from our hearts spring “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” This is the sick and sinful condition in which we were conceived and born and came into this world (cf. Psalm 51:5; Gen. 8:21).
What comes from your heart? Anger? wrath? jealousy? hate? sinful longings and desires? coveting? lies? and even evil words against God and the truth of His Word?
Again, as Jesus said, “these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matt. 15:20).
And the problem is that, try as we may, we cannot drive these sins from our hearts! In fact, it often happens that, the harder we try, the more our hearts become filled with such evil thoughts and desires (cf. Rom. 7:14-19).
With the Apostle Paul, we say, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). And the answer? “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 25). Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law for us, and He suffered the just punishment for our sins and the sins of the whole world so that, through faith in Him, we have God’s pardon and forgiveness, His cleansing.
John writes in his first epistle (1 John 1:8-9): “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is because “Jesus Christ the righteous … is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1,2).
In our baptisms, we are joined to Christ in His death and His resurrection (cf. Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:11-15). Our sins were punished on the cross of Christ Jesus and, as He rose again from the dead on the third day, so we are raised up to live each day in newness of life. And we continue each day in contrition and repentance. Our sins are washed away, and the regenerating Holy Spirit raises us up to new life in Christ Jesus (cf. Titus 3:3-7).
I, therefore, ask you before God: Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner, that from your hearts spring “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies”? Do you confess and agree with God that you are guilty and deserving of his wrath and punishment?
Do you trust that Christ Jesus has truly redeemed you from the curse of God’s law? That He fulfilled the law’s righteous demands and then took your sins upon Himself, along with the sins of the whole world, and suffered your just punishment when He died upon the cross?
Do you also believe that Jesus, in the Sacrament, gives you to partake of His body and blood which was given and shed that your sins might be forgiven you?
As a fruit of your faith, do you truly desire and seek God’s help to amend your life and live it in accord with God’s Word?
If you are truly sorry for your sins and look to Christ and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross for pardon and forgiveness, I announce unto you the grace of God and, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]