The Heart of the Matter
The Messiah and His Kingdom have Come
The Heart of the Matter
A wise old sage once said, “Americans are notorious for spending money we can’t afford, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t even like.” Who was that wise old sage—Roy Rogers. Roy Rogers was simply stating an observable fact. We live in a world where people are constantly trying to impress other people, where people live under the constant stress of wondering what other people are thinking of them. And modern statistics bear that out. Today 55% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. And the average American is carrying $7,000 in credit card debt from month to month. Why? To buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t even like. In 2016, Americans spent 16 billion dollars on selective cosmetic surgeries. Over 300,000 women underwent selective breast augmentation, over 200,000 had their noses reshaped, and another 200,000 underwent liposuction. Then there’s social media. Today Facebook alone has over 3 billion users worldwide, and a recent survey revealed that nearly 70% of social media users admitted to sometimes lying about themselves on social media. Why? Because we are so obsessed with what other people think of us. We are so obsessed with external appearance and external behavior we think that’s what matters most. Do people think I’m happy? Do people think I’m successful? Do people think I have it all together?
That’s really what is happening here in this passage. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were focused on the wrong thing. They were focused on the external. They were focused on behavior. They thought that’s what matters most. Then Jesus comes along and throws a monkey wrench in their whole program. If you recall, last week we saw that the Pharisees were accusing Jesus’ disciples of transgressing the traditions of the elders. Transgress is the word the NASB and the KJV use to translate the Greek, which is a good translation. They were accusing Jesus’ disciples of committing a transgression—a sin—for violating the traditions of the elders for not ceremonially washing their hands before eating. Thus, Jesus uses that as an opportunity to blast them on elevating their traditions to a level equal to, and sometimes even higher than, God’s laws.
But now in v.10 he turns his attention back to the original question and he calls the people to themselves and says to them (vv.10-11), “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Catch the scene. The Pharisees are likely still standing right there. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees (vv.1-9), and then turns to the crowd and says, ‘Listen up! It’s not what goes into a person that makes him unclean, but what comes out of a person’s mouth that makes him unclean.” This would have amounted to a public rebuke by Jesus. Then he simply leaves it at that. He doesn’t explain what he means by this until v.17. And then we know from Mark chapter 7 that they leave and go into a house, and it’s there that his disciples come to Jesus and explain that he had really ticked off the Pharisees. (v.12) “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’” Now how they know this is anyone’s guess. Maybe they saw the expression on the Pharisees face, where as Jesus just walked away after saying what he said. Maybe as Jesus walked away, they overheard what some of the Pharisees were saying about Jesus and his comments. Either way, they bring it to the attention of Jesus. Maybe because they know how powerful the Pharisees are and they’re thinking: ‘Jesus, you might want to be aware that you’ve upset the Pharisees, which is sort of like upsetting the Teamsters Union. Probably not something you want to do. I mean just look at how Jimmy Hoffa turned out.’
Either way, they come to Jesus, and notice his response: (vv.13-14) “He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.’” Jesus is essentially saying two things about the Pharisees here. First, they are not a part of God’s people and, therefore, they are not my problem. Not my monkeys. Not my problem. This is what he means by his statement in v.13. “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” This echoes what Jesus just said in chapter 13. There in the Parable of the Weeds, if you remember, Jesus tells the story of a man who planted good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping the enemy came and sowed bad seed in his field. As the wheat and the tares began to grow, the servants noticed there were weeds growing among the wheat and they ask their master: “Should we pull out the weeds?” To which the master replies, “No, lest you pull the wheat up along with the weeds. Wait till the harvest and then we’ll gather the weeds and separate them from the wheat and burn them.” The point is that the Master did not plant the weeds. Thus, they don’t belong to him and they don’t belong in his field. The Pharisees don’t belong to God. They’re not his concern.
This is why he then says in v.14, “Let them alone; [don’t’ concern yourself with them] they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” In other words, don’t worry about the fact that they are upset because they don’t know what they are talking about anyway. They are blind to the truth of God’s word and the people they lead are just as blind. It would be like a physically blind person saying to you, “I don’t like your hair today.” You’d be thinking, “And how do you even know what my hair looks like? You’re blind, so you know what, I don’t even care what you think about my hair because you can’t see my hair.” So Jesus says ‘look, don’t even concern yourself with what the Pharisees say or think cause they’re blind. They have no idea what they’re even talking about.’
The point Jesus is making, the lesson we can learn from him is simply this: Speak the truth and don’t be concerned about what the world thinks. As Christians we sometimes get so concerned with what people will think of us when we say that we believe the Bible is the actual word of God. ‘What?! Oh no! You’re one of those!’ We get concerned what people might think of us if we say we believe in a literal six-day creation, or that Jesus is actually God in human form, or that the only way to heaven is to believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins and that no amount of good works will even get you a smidgen close to heaven. You say those sort of things and, more often than not, people will think there is something wrong with you. But who cares? Every plant that has not been planted by God will be uprooted and cast into the fire. The life of an unbeliever is fleeting and passing away, and they are all blind guides who don’t know what they’re talking about anyway.
When I was a high school history teacher I would use history to share the gospel with my students at every given opportunity. And this was not a private Christian school. And I was always very clear in presenting the gospel. So much so, that once I had a student say to me in class, “You could get in a lot of trouble for saying this Mr. Maldonado.” But I always thought, ‘What’s the worse they’re going to do me? Fire me? I was looking for a job when I found this one. I’ll find another one.’ I mean wasn’t worried about them throwing me in prison or torturing me. Take a lesson from Jesus. Don’t concern yourself with what the world thinks. Every plant that has not been planted by God will be uprooted and cast away, and they are all blind guides who don’t even know what they’re talking about.
Peter then says to him in v.15 ‘Ok fine. Let’s forget about the Pharisees. Help us understand what you meant by what you said.’ It’s worth noting that Peter says, “Explain the parable to us.” What Jesus says in vv.10-11, Peter refers to as a parable. This is because the basic definition of the word parable from the Greek is ‘a difficult saying’. We tend to think of parables as a literary device, and that is true, but in first century Israel a parable was quite simply something difficult to understand. Jesus then mildly rebukes the disciples (v.16) for not understanding. If you have ever struggled to understand the teachings of Christ as you read and study the gospels, don’t feel bad. The disciples lived with Jesus and they still struggled to get it.
Jesus goes on to explain what he meant in vv.17-20. “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” There are three things that need to be explained from Jesus’ words. The first is that, per Mark chapter 7, the disciples would eventually understand Jesus to be declaring all food to be clean. If you remember your OT, the Jews were not allowed to eat pork or shellfish or fish without scales. But it would take some time for them to fully comprehend the full ramifications of the life and teachings of Jesus. We see Peter still struggling with this as late as Acts 10, but eventually they’ll understand that with the coming of the Messiah the purpose for the dietary laws has been fulfilled and thus all foods are clean to eat. There really isn’t time for me to say much more than that, so for further study take a look at Matthew 5:17-18 and Galatians 3:21-25 and go back and listen to my sermon on Matthew 5:17-18 titled “The Law Fulfilled in Christ for Us.”
Secondly, behavior is not the determiner of cleanliness before God. What you eat, how you eat it, what you do, or how you behave does not put you in right standing before God. If nothing else, the Pharisees serve as a great example of this. The Pharisees were the most devout religious group in Israel. They meticulously followed all the OT laws and even all of the Jewish traditions. And yet Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 at them: “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.”
Thirdly, the condition of the heart is what matters most. Look at vv.18-19 again: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” It’s what’s in your heart that defiles a person. Thus, the heart is what needs to be changed. The desires of the heart, the intentions of the heart, the motivations of the heart. And no amount of external behavior can change your heart. This is the problem with every other religion in the world. Every other religion in the world is about doing, about following rules, and about behaving a certain way. Christianity is the only belief system that teaches that how you behave makes absolutely no difference with getting you into heaven, makes absolutely no difference with putting in right standing with God. This is because the two most important commandments in the Bible are about love. Jesus said the two great commandments are (1) love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what God wants. God wants a heart that loves him supremely and loves your neighbor genuinely.
Thus, the second point of my message this morning is this: The world looks at the outside, but God sees the heart. Hence, the question is this: How do you change your heart? How do you change the desires of your heart? How do you change the motivations and the affections of your heart? How do you transform yourself from the inside out? You can’t. Only God can do that. Only the Holy Spirit can transform you from the inside out. People change their behavior all the time. But you can’t make yourself love something you don’t like. You can’t make yourself into a good person when you’re not. For this reason, the Bible says in 1 Cor 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” In the end, what God wants from us is changed behavior, yes, but changed behavior that is the result of a transformed heart, not changed behavior that is the result of self-discipline or willpower. God wants a heart that loves him, that desires him, that desire to know him, that desires to be like Christ, and desires to glorify Christ in everything we say and do. Let’s pray God will change our hearts and make us more like Christ.
Throughout the year, in our "Current Series", we work our way methodically through a book of the Bible and occasionally take breaks for holidays and special events. This series slowly and carefully looks through the gospel of Matthew for the truth that our Messiah and His Kingdom have come.