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Giving Christ Your Heart (e)

James R. Davis

There is no book in the entire New Testament that has more to say about the nature of Christ's church kingdom than Matthew's gospel. He shows us that Jesus sought to teach the true nature of his kingdom to those Jews who had a misconception about his kingdom. Matthew from the very outset of his writing leaves no doubt as to why he is writing. Matthew is writing to explain the nature of the church kingdom that Jesus promised to build.

The kingdom of God is more than external observances divorced from an internal condition of the heart. John the baptizer came proclaiming repentance for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven that was at hand was the church. John told the religious people coming to be baptized they needed to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. They needed something more than baptism, they need a change of heart. He warned them not to take stock in the fact that they were physical descendants of Abraham. John tells them that God can raise descendants of Abraham from stones. (Matthew 3:7-11) In the very outset of John's ministry, John challenges the Jewish concept of the kingdom of God. John leaves no doubt as to what he means. He tells them that God must rule their hearts.

As Jesus comes on the scene, John baptizes him. Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is led up into the wilderness. After forty days and nights in the wilderness, he is tempted by the Devil. Matthew shows us how each time Jesus is tempted by Satan, Satan misquotes a scripture. Then Jesus gives the correct view of each issue by making appropriate scriptural application. He refutes Satan each time he misquotes and misapplies scriptures. (Matthew 4:1-11) It is as if Matthew is saying in the very outset of his book that Jesus has come to give us a correct view of scripture. This gives us Jesus' appreciation of scripture. We realize from the very outset of his ministry his high regard for scripture and that he didn't come to take away any of its force or meaning. (Matthew 5:17ff) He came to teach us its original force and meaning that we might understand the true nature of his kingdom.

Prerequisites Essential for Hearing the Gospel

As Jesus returns from the temptation scene he begins preaching, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near." (4:17) Jesus came preaching the good news of the kingdom as he healed every kind of disease and sickness. People came from all over to hear him. Jesus goes up on a mountainside to preach a sermon; it is in this Sermon on the Mount that Jesus first reveals the internal nature of his church kingdom.

It was on that mountainside that Jesus began teaching at the deepest level of human existence, in profound simple terms. Jesus begins teaching about the prerequisites of heart that one must have before one can even began to hear what God is saying. When Jesus spoke of the poor in spirit and the mournful (5:3-4) he was saying that a person must realize their spiritual needs and be concerned about them to the point that there is mourning over what is needed. But it goes much deeper than recognizing your shortcomings and crying out "Oh, what a fool I have been!" It is the kind of poverty of spirit and mourning that leaves us empty of ourselves, and it prepares us to meekly receive what Christ has to offer as we hunger and thirst after his righteousness. These are the attitudes that will bring us into his kingdom and into his presence. Matthew wants his readers to know that these attitudes are absolutely essential.

Jesus makes promises to such individuals, theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they will be comforted, they will inherit the best blessings earth has to offer, and they will be filled with that for which they are sincerely longing. But he never says it will be easy.

In our English vocabulary the word "live" is the word "evil" spelled backwards. To meet the prerequisites for entering the kingdom of God one must "live" life backward to the way the world lives. The world has always persecuted those who have chosen to live life backwards. This is why Jesus issued a warning as well as a blessing saying, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)

These attitudes give us the potential of becoming the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is the very heart and core of what it means to be a part of Christ's church kingdom. It is the absence of these attitudes which turns our lives around and makes them evil.

Jesus leaves us with no way out. If we come to Christ with the attitudes Jesus described on that mountainside Jesus says you will find him. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8) Yet the knocking, the seeking, and the opening are all dependent upon understanding our need, desiring and hungering after that which we need. It is only then that we can be blessed.

Jesus even gives us the incentive we need to knock, seek and find. Jesus promises us that God is more than willing to give us the kingdom. "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:7-12) If we knock on heaven's door asking for understanding, God will give us that for which we ask.

External Observances Are Not Enough

In the outset of John's ministry, John stressed the external requirement of baptism was not enough to save. John told them to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. John knew that the trouble with external observances is that they can leave the heart unchanged and as callused as ever. This doesn't minimize the importance of the external observances. But it is a warning that the external observances can cause us to lead the life of a wolf while dressed in ships clothing. Externals can lead us to wash the outside of the cup and platter while being full of uncleanness. In Ephesians 6:6 Paul tells the servants they must "do the will of God from the heart." They must not do it to please men or to just appear to do what is right. It must be a heart felt response guided by the will of God.

Matt 7:21-23
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

The Jews, to whom Matthew was writing, took painstaking efforts to keep the external precepts of the law. In fact, they had reached a point where the external observances were all that mattered. They would give a tenth of their spices grown in their garden as a tithe to the temple. But they omitted the important matters of the law. Things like justice, mercy and faithfulness were neglected. They were so blinded by the externals that Jesus accused them of straining at gnats and swallowing camels. (Matthew 23:23-26) Jesus told them they should have practiced justice, mercy and faithfulness without neglecting tithing their garden spices. Jesus, in no way, tried to minimize their external observances. But he told them they were hypocrites for omitting the internal requirements.

Once I attended a funeral of a man who had spent his life in ungodliness. Some of the family and relatives were standing over the casket. One turned to me and said, "Well he never went to church, but it is a relief that he was baptized when he was a young man." In a tone of relief, the person indicated she believed it really didn't matter how he had spent his life, as long he met the external requirement of baptism. Of course, at that time, while you are standing over someone's casket, there is nothing you can say. Yet, statements like this make me question whether we are falling into the same trap that the Pharisees fell into.

I certainly would not do anything to diminish what the Bible plainly teaches about baptism. But do we leave people with the conception that all you have to do to go to heaven, is meet a few external requirements without any internal desire to be better people, with no hungering and thirsting after what is right. Is this what we are doing in our indoctrination programs? Are we teaching that adhering to some external command without changing our hearts will save our souls?

It is amazing that the commandment of baptism given in Matthew's account is not given until the very last chapter and the very last verses of his book. That in no way minimizes or diminishes the necessity baptism. It wouldn't matter if there were only one verse in the entire Bible that commanded it, its meaning and importance wouldn't be diminished. But it seems to be an indication that Matthew wants us to understand the prerequisite requirements for baptism. It is absolutely essential that we at least understand the nature of Christ's kingdom and our need of it before we enter into it through baptism. Otherwise baptism does simply become "water salvation." But that external act without giving our hearts to God has no power save. It is only God's work and power that can give an answer of a good conscience toward God. (1 Peter 3:20-21)

It is easy to pick up on a few important issues and overlook the weightier matters of the law. Some of the issues of the Pharisees were eating with unwashed hands, plucking grain on the sabbath, healing on the sabbath, tithing garden herbs, eating and drinking with sinners, etc. Doing these things didn't make them a child of God. One may not drink, engage in lascivious dance, smoke, curse, commit adultery, or have an abortion, steal, or kill. They may make the world a better place by not doing these things. But does that necessarily make the person a person after God's own heart; does it make a person a Christian? Of course not! There are many people who believe and practice these things that have never known Jesus Christ. Does the fact that the person is not a Christian by doing all these things diminish the importance of all these things? Of course not. But it shows us that Christianity is more than outward observance divorced from an internal response of the heart to obey God.

In the beatitudes, Jesus teaches us the attitudes one must have before one can even began to hear the good news of the kingdom. We understand that we can spend our lives teaching on the external requirements of God's kingdom without ever dealing with the heart of the matter, which is the matter of the heart. It is possible to spend all your time preaching on important issues, such as the ones mentioned above, and not ever teach a person what is really needed to do to be saved. This is why Jesus Christ so thoroughly taught about the internal nature of his kingdom throughout the gospels.

From Jesus' approach you could almost think that church doctrine is unimportant, but then again this is church doctrine. It is the doctrine of his kingdom. If we had these attitudes, no one would have to be knocked down and dragged into the kingdom kicking and screaming every step of the way. (Not that you can really do that anyway.) You wouldn't have to force feed them. Instead, people would be knocking the door down to get in. They would want to line up with Jesus because they are poor, hungry, thirsty, mourning and tired of bearing the relentless burdensome yoke of an empty hollow religion.

Our problem today lies much deeper than the external observances of our worship service. If presently, we can't find meaning in the songs we sing, the worship we engage in and prayers we offer, will it do us any good to change the songs, the order of worship or the words in our prayers? Or is it a matter of the heart? Jesus Christ can solve that problem. He can take away the boredom, the triteness and the lethargy. But you have to give him your heart. Hearts that are hungry respond much differently, hungry hearts would add the spontaneity and vibrancy for which we long.

We will never find that for which we long by simply changing the way we do things. If we only have an eye toward changing the way we do things, our focus continues to be on the external, and external observation will never bring the revival we so desperately need. But figuratively speaking, we can continue to tithe our anise, mint and cumin, while Jesus enlarges our hearts for compassion, mercy, justice and faithfulness. The enlarged heart will make the tithing (figuratively speaking, of course, I am not after your money, God wants your heart) more enjoyable and rewarding. Then we could rejoice and be exceedingly glad when we are persecuted for righteousness sake.

Jesus came to expose a twisted, perverted observance of the law. Observing externals without changing the heart can leave a person twice as much a child of hell as they were before they were converted. Jesus said in doing this we shut up the kingdom of heaven in men's faces and we fail to enter ourselves. (23:13-15) It is no wonder that when Jesus came to the temple that he became indignant and turned over the moneychangers tables. They had turned God's house into a den of thieves. They were able to justify any behavior they chose, as long as they met what they believed, to be the external requirements of the law.

It is astounding today at how many groups are focused on what they have the liberty to do and how many groups are focused on what they can't do. There is not really much difference in either group, for each is focused on the externals. The question is have we given our hearts to God? Those who have sincerely given their hearts to God will have little difficulty lining up with what is right, after all that is what they will be hungering for.

Sowing the Seed of the Kingdom

Jesus constantly emphasized the condition of the heart. "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." (Matthew12:35) "But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'" (Matthew 15:18-20)

In the parable of the soils Jesus demonstrates the different kind of hearts. He reminds us that it is the condition of the heart that determines the effectiveness of his word and the validity of our response. Some hearts are hard, others are shallow, some are so encumbered with the concerns of this world that the real needs are overlooked. Then there are those good hearts mourning and hungering over their spiritual needs. The good ground always produces an abundant crop.

Jesus teaches, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." (5:8) A good heart is not one free of evil, but one that understands the evil lurking within. It is a heart that understands its need to be good and mourns over its depravity. It is a heart that has a desire to seek God. When David cried out "Create in me a clean heart, O God", he knew the depravity of his own heart. He was a man after God's own heart. That made his heart good because it allowed God to be on the throne of his heart.

Jesus compares the church kingdom to the tiniest of all seeds, the mustard seed. When it is planted, it grows so large that birds come and perch in its branches. When we allow the seed of the kingdom to be planted in our hearts it also grows. When we cultivate the seed of the kingdom, it spreads like leaven spreads through the entire lump of dough. I think Jesus is reassuring us in the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of leaven that if we allow the seed of the kingdom to be planted in our hearts it will grow and eventually we will become consumed with a hunger and thirst for more.

Jesus Exemplifies His Message

The people were amazed when Jesus finished his teaching on the mountainside. But what really amazed them was what he did when he came off that mountainside. He demonstrated how the attitudes in his sermon would cause a person to live. As Jesus leaves that mountainside, he begins touching the untouchables, helping the centurion who felt unworthy for Christ to make a house call and casting out and subduing the demons. (8:1ff) The people Jesus did help were those looked upon with disdain by the religious folks.

They accused Jesus of eating with publicans and sinners. He only ate with them because they were poor in spirit; they understood their need of what he was teaching. Jesus didn't waste his time casting pearls before swine that rather be rooting around in the garbage. The sinners came to Jesus feasting upon every word he spoke because they were spiritually hungry. Living in a world of external observances left them starving for something real. They were smarter than most folks were; they had discovered the emptiness of religion. They wanted something better, and they found it in Jesus Christ. When they walked into his presence, they felt his compassion, they knew that he cared. He gave them a chance, to become what they really desired to be. That is why the common man gladly listened; they listen with delight to what he taught. (Mark 12:37) They came to feast upon his words.

Conclusion:

When Jesus promised to build his church on the truth of Peter's confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," (Matthew 16:18-19), he immediately gave the requirements for following him into his kingdom. Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed. "From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 'Never, Lord!' he said. 'This shall never happen to you!' Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 24:21-23)

Jesus said in the same breath, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26)

On one occasion, the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus requesting that her sons sit on his right hand and the other on the left. Jesus simply asks them, "Can you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" (Matthew 20:20-22) He was speaking of the suffering that he was to go through as a baptism. Yet when we desire to come into Christ's church kingdom today we need to ask ourselves, "Are we willing to be baptized with the baptism Christ was baptized with? Are we willing to take up our crosses and follow him?"

Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Paul explains water baptism represents being baptized with the baptism Christ was baptized with.

Romans 6:3-7
Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

But it is not just an outward death, it is an internal death that gives us a new life in Christ as we hunger and thirst for his righteousness. That new life can begin in each of us. I want to remind you again of the preacher Gypsy John Smith who said, "If you want a revival, go into a room and close the door, draw a circle around yourself, and ask God to begin a revival within that circle." Ask God to give you a new heart so that you might have a new life of joy in Jesus Christ.
 
 

 

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