O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Opinions and Commands
"Opinions and Commands"
Based on Mark 7:1-13
Preached on August 26, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, there was a man who went to see his doctor. The doctor looked him over, and announced "You are very sick." The man said to his doctor, "Can I get a second opinion?" The doctor replied, "Yes, you are very ugly too."
Opinions are a funny thing, aren't they? We are quick to give them, quicker to defend them and we treat our own opinion as if it is God's final word on a matter - But when it comes time to listen, we are slow to hear them, slower to believe them and when we don't hear what we want, we act as if God Himself has commanded the opposite. Add God's actual commands to the mix and things get even more complicated. We treat God's commands like opinion, and human opinions like they are God's commands. We are masters of self-deception, and dodgers of the truth.
In our text today, we witness a showdown between Jesus and the Pharisees. In one corner we have the ruling religious authorities, and in the other, we have the Son of God. The dispute breaks out over what almost every dispute is started by - ceremonial handwashing. What? It doesn't get you fired up? Well it should. Perhaps not the topic itself, but certainly the principle behind it. Because at the end of the day, we are not talking about whether it is healthy or unhealthy to wash your hands before you eat, we are talking about whether or not God has commanded handwashing. Has someone who fails to wash their hands acted immorally? Should they get thrown in the eternal slammer? The Pharisees thought so, and so they challenge Jesus in public.
Ceremonial handwashing may be exciting, but we realize the actual showdown is about moral authority. Who determines what is right and wrong? Who establishes moral law? Is it merely a matter of human opinion, or has God spoken from heaven? The answer has an incredible impact on your life. It determines when you should feel guilty, and when you should not feel guilty. It dictates how you live, how you die and how you feel about everything in between. It is certainly worth fighting for, and Jesus is ready in the ring. He cannot stand by and watch humans impose "opinion guilt" on others, just as He cannot stand by and watch God's eternal commands be trampled. He fights to defend His Father's name and He fights to protect the weak from "opinion guilt."
Nowadays, the other corner of the ring is occupied by those who say you create your own truth. My personal opinion has become God's eternal command, and if you disagree, "well that's just your opinion." We have forced ourselves onto God's throne thinking we can create our own right and wrong. But in our Old Testament reading God says, "You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, "He did not make me"; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding?" Our Father and Creator has spoken from heaven, and if we do not get off His throne we should expect to get hit with a right hook.
Jesus easily dodges the false opinion of the Pharisees, yet immediately comes back with a counter-attack of His own. He reveals that the Pharisees are not only treating their human opinions as God's commands, but they are even using these opinions to override God's real commands. The example He gives deals with the 4th commandment - Honour your father and your mother. The commandment is binding forever, when your parents are old and even when they are dead. We are to fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. This would include taking care of them in their old age. However, the Pharisees taught the people it was better to give a special offering to God, one that was above and beyond what God had commanded, than to support their aging parents. The elderly were impoverished while the Pharisees were rich. They had nullified God's command with their human opinion.
This almost makes us sick, and it makes the Pharisees' actions seem so ugly. We tell ourselves we would never treat our own parents like that. But the truth is we treat our heavenly Father this way all the time. St. Paul tells us, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." Expose the things that insult our heavenly Father - yet we let them happen. All the time. At work. At home. You name it. We don't want to be a snitch. We don't want to become a target. And so we let the truth get trampled. We let God's name be overrun by human opinion. Instead of defending the truth, fighting for what God has clearly said, we find ourselves in the ring against Jesus. We find ourselves holding our human opinions above His eternal commands.
Yet even though we try to fight Him, our foolishness trips us up. We get caught up in our own feet and find ourselves lying face down on the mats. That is when our opponent surprisingly becomes our doctor. The Great Physician looks us over and announces, "You are very sick." And if we muster the strength to ask, "Can I get a second opinion?" He replies, "Yes, your actions are despicable and ugly too." What keeps us lying on the mat is that these words are no human opinion. This is God's revealed truth, your heart is sick and your actions are ugly.
But Christ does more than diagnose you. The real reason He is in the ring is to protect you. For while Christ wants you to get back on your feet and leave the ring with Him for good, there is another one working against you. Christ guards you from your real enemy, the Devil. The one who accuses you without ceasing. Who pushed you to deceive yourself. The one who wants your guilt to consume you. All the Evil One wants you to remember is how you have abandoned God's name in public, how you have deceived yourself with human opinions. But Christ intercedes on your behalf. He drives the Evil One away with the truth He shed on the cross. While you lie face down on the mat, all caught up in your own feet, your doctor, the one you thought was your opponent, covers you in His powerful blood. He shelters you with the only the thing the Devil cannot stand - God's blood. Yes, He had to suffer and die. Yes, He had to pour Himself out. But now He can defend you from the accusations of the Evil One. Now He has freed you from having to follow mere human opinions. Now you are forgiven for the careless way you held God's name and teaching. You heart is made new within you through His Word and Sacrament. Your ugly deeds are covered by His perfect righteousness. God Himself stands above you, protecting you from all harm.
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, since we have been set free by His blood, and are being guarded by Him night and day, let us rejoice that Christ has put His words into our mouths. Let us see that He has equipped us to speak up in this world, to defend those around us from the false guilt of human opinions - to proclaim peace - the peace that Christ has won for the whole world by His precious blood. Let us stand up for God's truth and protect the needs of the weak, the unborn, the elderly and the underprivileged, against whatever enemies we find across from us in the ring. Christ has won us an eternal battle, let us fight one for others.
Fellow baptized saints, there was a man who went to see his doctor. The doctor looked him over, and announced "You are forgiven, my blood has healed you and I have made you new." The man said to the doctor, "Can I get a second opinion?" The doctor looked at what He had made and saw that it was good. He said, "Yes, you are very beautiful too." In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr