THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM IS THE PROBLEM OF THE HEART
Matthew 15:8 These people draw near to Me with their mouth And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ It was not the eating with unwashed hands that would defile, it was having an ‘unwashed’ ________. heart.
There are plenty of people in the church and in religious circles who are just like this watch. On the outside the look fine. They appear to be religious and they do good things, but they cannot function as they were designed to function. They cannot truly worship God and bring glory to Him because they have a problem that cannot be readily seen by mere surface inspection of their life. They have a problem with their heart!
Now, the fact of the matter is this: I do not know who has a problem with their heart and who does not! I do not know who in this room is redeemed and who is merely religious. In fact, I would venture to say that some people in this room do not even know their own hearts. Some may think they are redeemed, when in fact they may still be lost in sin.
God knows all about what is inside of you and me. He knows what makes us tick! In this passage, Jesus deals with some people who are suffering from heart trouble and don’t even know it. But, He does, and He takes the time to expose the true nature of their hearts. As He does, He also gives us some principles by which we can look at our own heart and determine if there may be a problem with it.
Three principles that expose the human heart. They show us how the heart works and why it is so dangerous to trust it in spiritual matters. If you have never taken a close look at your own heart, this might be a good opportunity to do so. Join me in these verses as we think together about the thought: The Heart Of The Problem Is The Problem Of The Heart.
I. V. 1-6 YOUR HEART IS A POOR STUDENT OF GOD’S WORD – WHAT IT CORRUPTS
A. Ill. The context. By their traditions, the scribes and Pharisees had elevated their human traditions above God’s Law. (Ill. The Mishnah – This was an oral interpretation of the Law of God. Over time, this oral tradition was expanded to some 4,000 plus rules and regulations that covered every aspect of Jewish life. Included in this oral tradition were elaborate rules regarding external cleanliness, especially cleanliness related to the hands. Some of the Jews actually believed that demons sat in their hands during the night. To fail to wash and then eat with your hands was to take into your body this demonic force. Of course, the Pharisees were also concerned lest they are defiled by touching something that had been touched by a “sinner”. They believed that what got on the hands was brought into the body and defiled it.)
B. Their problem was that these men had strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel! They were concerned about the fact that disciples did not wash their hands before they ate. But, Jesus shined the spotlight of truth on their real problem. They did not keep the Law because they loved God, they kept the Law and the traditions of the elders for personal advantage. Verses 3-6 point this out in stark detail! These men, by their traditions, had found a way to circumvent the Law when it came to dealing with their parents. (Ill. The Law of Corban – Mark 7:9-13 – The Jews would say that all their personal property had been dedicated to the Lord. This made them look spiritual and relieved them of their responsibility to care for their parents. They could say, “I don’t have anything I can give you, it all belongs to the Lord.” Of course, this did not stop them from using the money for their personal needs and wants!)
C. Here is the real problem with the human heart: It is a poor student of the Word of God! It will take God’s truth and twist it, change it and rearrange it to make it fit into a box that is pleasing. All you have to do is find you a version that reads the right way, find you a preacher or teacher who explains it like you want to hear it or look for an interpretation that lines up with your lifestyle. (Note: It is possible to err on both sides of this issue. Some err in the path towards license and others err in the path toward legalism!)
D. In effect, this is rank humanism! It allows man to live as he pleases without regard for what God says about any matter. As long as you can justify it, then you are all set. The problem here is this: when you live with this kind of heart, you are forfeiting God’s best for your life. Until we can come to the place where we can silence our hearts and take God’s Word as our standard for living, we will never be all He wants us to be! We will always be trying to get to heaven by our own efforts. We will always be trying to live to our own standards. We will always be living lives that claim to please God, but that really only please self!
II. V. 7-14 YOUR HEART IS A MASTER OF DISGUISE – WHAT IT CONCEALS
A. As Jesus continues His words to these religious men, He quotes from the words of the prophet Isaiah, Isa. 29:3. He tells them that their hearts have deceived them into thinking they are something they are not! He calls them by a very strong word, “hypocrites”. This is a word that literally means, “an actor, a pretender.” These men really believe that they are honestly and devotedly serving God, but Jesus tells them that they are merely actors, playing a part dictated to them by their deceptive hearts.
B. Jesus reminded these men of two truths that we need to hear loudly and clearly.
1. A Religious Showing Does Not Indicate Spiritual Worship v. 8 – Just because a person goes to church, sings the songs, bows in prayer and listens to a sermon does not mean that they have truly worshiped! Just because you go to church and do churchy things does not mean that you are genuinely saved! You see, every person in this room is religious. That is evident from the fact that they are in church today. But, not every person here has been redeemed! Only those who have trusted Jesus as their personal Savior can claim that blessing, John 3:3; John 14:6!
2. Genuine Worship Is Always Grounded In God’s Truth – v. 9 – Just because you went to a church and got pumped up by some loud preacher does not mean that you had worship! Just because you did it the same way this week as your forefathers did 200 years ago does not mean you worshiped. You worshiped when you encountered God as He is revealed to us in His Word! You worshiped when your spirit was moved by His Spirit through the proclamation of His truth, John 4:24. You can’t even claim to know God until you have come to Him His way! Regardless of what your heart tells you, to think you are saved when you are not is the ultimate in self-deception, Matt. 7:21-23.
C. These Pharisees believed in their hearts that they knew the Lord. However, Jesus lets us in on the real truth of the matter! They were not saved, they were merely blind leaders of the blind and they were all headed to judgment and to destruction, v. 13-14. They had been deceived by that Master of Deception: the human heart!
D. Friend, it is always dangerous to trust your heart! The Bible tells us that it will deceive you, Jer. 17:9. The only One Who knows the heart is the Lord, Jer. 17:10. You are far better off to trust the Word of God, it will never lie to you! You see, if you have never bowed to Jesus, confessed yourself a sinner and received Him into your life, you are just like those Pharisees. You may think everything is all right. You may think you are a child of God. You may think you genuinely worship the Lord, but you may be genuinely wrong! (Ill. When we were children, we used to play “‘tend like”. You could “‘ tend like” you were anything. Sadly, many people play “‘ tend like” with their salvation. They play “dress up” on Sunday and they look just like the saints. They sing like them. They pray like them. They even talk like them. But they are not part of them because their hearts are not right with God! Drawing near to God with their lips, but in truth, they are miles away in their hearts!) Your heart is a master of deception and disguise! Never trust it!
III. V. 15-20 YOUR HEART IS A WINDOW INTO YOUR SOUL – WHAT IT CONFESSES
A. What the heart conceals from the individual it reveals to others! Jesus plainly says that it is not the externals that are, the forms and rituals of religion, that save us, it is an internal work of God in the heart. The Pharisees thought that cleaning up the outer man would take care of the inner man. However, Jesus says the opposite is true! What you do on the outside does not affect who you are on the inside! In fact, Jesus tells us that it is not what we eat or drink that defiles us as the Pharisees believed, but the real seat of defilement is in our own hearts! All of the evils men do have their origin in the heart. That is why what you do says all there is to say about your walk with the Lord! (Note: This does not give us a license to sin! Because what we do is determined by who we are. Not the other way around!)
B. In light of that truth, John 14:15 makes more sense! If your heart is in love with the Lord, then you will have no problem in living for Him. If, however, your life is characterized by the things Jesus mentions in verse 19 and in Mark 7:21-22, then it is proof positive that you have been taken in by the lies of your heart!
C. Our attitudes and actions say far more about us than we wish they did. Your heart is a window into your soul. It serves as a barometer of your true spiritual condition! When the heart is right, there will be love for God evidenced by genuine worship and heartfelt work that honors and glorified Him, 1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 2:10; James 2:18. When the heart is lost, there may be much religious activity, but the rest of life will not line up with what the mouth confesses! As Hank Williams said, “your cheating heart will tell on you!”
A good watchmaker can repair the problem in the heart of this watch and make it right again. If there is a problem in your heart this morning, Jesus Christ can take it like it is and He can make it like it ought to be! According to the prophet Ezekiel, God can take away our faulty “hearts of stone” and replace them with new ones that will beat in turn with God’s own heart, Eze. 36:26. He can save us from the deceptive work of our own heart!