Christ Your Heart (e)
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.
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)
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.
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.
"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
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
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.
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.
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?"
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
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.