A Matter of the Heart
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A Wonderful Muscle
If you put your fingers on the inside of your wrist or on the side of your neck you’ll feel a little thump, thump, thump. Those thumps tell you that your heart is pumping blood to every part of your body. Of all the muscles in our bodies, this is the busiest. On average it beats seventy-two times a minute. That adds up to over two billion beats by the age of sixty-five.
This little pump of ours works when we are awake or asleep. It beats without us consciously telling it to do so. For just this one gift, it is appropriate for us to join the psalmist in praying these words: “I praise you [O Lord] for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.” Psalm 139:14
In God’s Word we find the word “heart” hundreds of times. Only a very few times does the word “heart” refer to this little pump inside our chest. The word “heart” attempts to describe the center of our being; intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
Often times when Scripture uses the word “heart,” it’s in the context of a relationship. Scripture speaks of loving God with our whole heart. In Leviticus chapter nineteen God says “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” Lev. 19:17
Several verses in the book of Deuteronomy record God’s desire that we should keep his words on our heart, that is, we should love and trust God and his Word with our whole being.
When God gave Samuel the assignment to choose one of Jesse’s sons as the next king of Israel, Samuel looked at the appearance of these sons, did they look kingly? The Lord came to Samuel and said,
“Do not consider appearance …” He told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
The Lord is concerned about our hearts, our relationship with him. His desire is that our relationship with him be one of love, trusting in him above all things.
Jesus speaks about our hearts in today’s gospel lesson. When we think about Jesus, it’s comforting to think about his heart and his love. He showed the love that was in his heart when he performed a miracle at the wedding at Cana and the feeding of thousands of people on a hillside.
He showed his love by healing the sick and the lame, the leper and those who were deaf. Jesus showed his love by forgiving the sins of tax collectors and prostitutes. He cared for those who were considered outcasts and “unclean.” As Jesus suffered on the cross, he showed his love to the repentant thief on the cross saying to him “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
With such a loving Savior we might not expect to hear such harsh words from him today about our hearts, but it’s important that we do. As we heard in last weeks gospel lesson, Jesus had been confronted by Pharisees and Scribes who raised the issue about what made a person “clean or unclean.”
His words today bring clarity to this issue. Jesus told the crowd of people who had gathered, “Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean by going into him.” “Rather, “Jesus said,” it was what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean.”
Jesus’ disciples asked him to tell them more. Jesus told them “that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him “unclean” because it doesn’t go into his “heart.” There’s that all important word again “heart.”
Jesus continued: “What comes out of a man is what makes him “unclean.” For from within, out of men’s HEARTS, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean.”
Jesus is not talking about that little pump that pushes around our blood; he’s talking about that part of our being that controls our thoughts, words, and deeds. The source of sin in our lives is our “heart.” Our sin comes from within us not from outside of us.
Sin comes from a heart that does not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. A sinful heart is one that is in love with itself. The psalmist is right when he says, “The fool has said in his HEART there is no God.” Ps 14:1 When we trust in ourselves we harden our hearts toward God, we are foolish in the worst sense of that word.
Some of you may remember the comedian Flip Wilson. In one of his routines, he would go around saying, “The devil made me do it.” Jesus is saying, “It’s not the devil that makes us sin, it’s our own sinful heart.” We were born with a sinful nature, a sinful heart.
If we want to know why we sin, we should look no further than our own heart. The devil and the world will tempt us, but it’s our heart that makes us “unclean;” that separates us from God. In Proverbs chapter twenty we read, “Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; [Who can say,] I am clean and without sin?”” Prov. 20:9 The questions are rhetorical, NO ONE can say their heart is pure and that they are without sin.
You and I have a heart problem. It would be great if Jesus had only been talking about the Pharisees and Scribes of his time. It would be great if Jesus had only been talking about the tax collectors and other sinners that he was so concerned about.
The truth is, Jesus was talking about all people and that includes you and me. We have a heart problem and we need a physician. We need someone who will crush our hardened hearts. We need someone who will reclaim our hearts and create in us clean hearts.
We need broken and contrite hearts that look outside of ourselves for forgiveness and salvation. King David points us in the right direction when he prayed these words “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” The one who was born in the city of David, Jesus Christ the Lord, is the one who came to reclaim your heart from the power of sin. He came to create in you a clean heart..
The harsh words of Jesus in today’s gospel lesson are not meant to turn you away from him. His words are meant to crush your hardened heart and to turn you away from trusting in yourself. Jesus came to heal your crushed and broken heart. He came to save you from yourself. In Psalm thirty-four we read that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Ps. 34:18
Your Lord Jesus came into the world to reclaim your sinful hearts and to create in you a new heart, one that is clean. When David prayed to the Lord to “cleanse” him, the word he used literally meant to “un-sin” him. Jesus came into the world to “un-sin” you, to take away your sin.
Jesus did this through his death on the cross. From God’s gracious hand you receive the gift of forgiveness, the taking away of your sins, because his Son died for you. Through the Holy Spirit your heart receives the gift of faith, faith to look to Jesus alone as your physician, the one who reclaims your heart and gives you healing.
Jesus the great physician not only reclaims and heals your heart with forgiveness, but he strengthens your heart for a new life, a life of love. Saint Paul wrote in Romans chapter five that “God has poured out his love into our hearts.” Rom. 5:5
You now live a new life with a new heart. Christ’s heart now lives in you, a heart that first loved you. In his love for you he came to serve you by shedding his blood for you. That love, the love of your Savior is now in you, a love to serve. You live now with a servant’s heart, a heart that loves first, a heart that forgives, a heart that loves others because he first loved you.
May the love of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria