The Sermon on the Heart
A woman looked outside the window and was horrified to see her German Shepherd shaking the life out of the neighbor’s rabbit. They had had trouble with this neighbor, and this was going to make it worse. She grabbed her broom and ran outside and beat the dog until he dropped the rabbit. She looked down and the rabbit was filthy and extremely dead. She didn’t know what to do, so she picked the rabbit up by the end of the broom, brought it into the house and dumped it in the bathtub.
She turned on the spray and cleaned it off on one side. Then she tipped it over with the broom and directed the shower spray onto the other side, cleaning it off. She thought for a moment, then went and got her hairdryer and blew the rabbit dry on both sides. Then she got an old brush and combed out its hair until it looked pretty good. When the neighbor wasn’t looking, she hopped over the fence and placed the rabbit into its cage and propped it up–she didn’t want to be blamed for this.
About two hours later, she heard the neighbor screaming. She went outside, pretending that she didn’t know what had happened. The neighbor came to the fence–all of the blood had drained from her face. This lady said, “What happened–what happened?” And the neighbor said, “Our rabbit, our rabbit–he died two weeks ago, and we buried him, and now he’s back.” Many churchgoers are just like that rabbit–all propped up on the outside, but dead on the inside, reminding us that biblical faith is a matter of the heart.
Some years ago, my wife Jean broke her foot. We were playing badminton, she was wearing flaps and went back for a difficult shot, hit the birdie, slipped off her flap and broke her foot. But she made the shot and saved the game (so it’s okay). It was not serious enough for a cast, so she hobbled for months–but within days of the break, her foot began to atrophy. Her foot became increasingly dysfunctional because of disuse–her foot atrophied.
Atrophy is not only a physical problem, but also a spiritual danger. Atrophy strikes at our relationship with Christ and it tends to strike most often at our hearts. Very quickly in the Christian life, our hearts can tend to become dysfunctional because of disuse and we begin to live by the easy way out, by way of the externals–even showy behavior and not the heart.
Ever seen a Gothic building? They have such massive ceilings that the walls can’t support them. So on the outside, they have these giant support arches called flying buttresses to hold up these heavy ceilings. That’s a good metaphor for the Christian–for if you’re in Christ, you’re a cathedral, the dwelling place of the living God. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and Christ lives in you–yet, have you noticed we tend to live the Christian life by flying buttresses?
Which one is yours? The flying buttress of church attendance, ministry, family, student ministry discipleship, or a detailed list of dos and don’ts? If we were to take your flying buttresses away, would we find your inside empty? Or worse, would your faith collapse? What is holding you up? Is it Christ in you, or some external? What kind of scaffolding makes you look good without having to deal with your internal heart condition? Could it be your church, a small group, a title, friends, children, spouse, even a theological system?
Christ calls us away from external scaffolding to the internal condition of our hearts. Understand, Christianity is first and foremost a matter of the heart. Authentic Christianity is intended by God to be an inside out experience. Having a spiritually healthy heart makes the difference between being real or phony–being a godly person or a Pharisee, having a personal relationship or a fake one.
So you ask, “Is the heart really that important?” God thinks so. Just listen to what He teaches us in His Word. In Joel 2:13 (NIV), God told the Israelites to “rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the Lord your God.” Don’t put on an external show–deal with your heart before God. In 1 Samuel 16:7, God reminds Samuel and us, “For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Proverbs 4:23 says in the NIV, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” What does heart (kardia) mean in the Bible? What do our theological dictionaries tell us? The heart means the authentic you–who you really are, where you desire, deliberate and where you decide. The heart is the place of spiritual activity, the seat of your inner spiritual life. The heart is the place where God meets you, the place of our fellowship with Him, the place where God reveals Himself to us.
The heart in the Bible is often used to describe your affections, desires, priorities, how you think and how you make life decisions. A healthy heart is essential to a right relationship with God. That’s why 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” Like the Marines who’re looking for a few good men–God is looking for a few good hearts.
Will you put your hand on your heart? The internal you–that’s what Christ wants, that’s what Christ is concerned about today, not your singing, appearance, note taking or friends or emotions but who you really are. And that’s why Christ directed most of His teaching right at the heart. What do I mean? Well, after His baptism and temptation, Christ catches everyone’s attention by cleaning out the Temple, then wowing Nicodemus with the need to be born again.
After some time at the Jordan River, Jesus goes to Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. Here He begins His second year of ministry, which we might call the year of popularity. The crowds following Christ are so great, He has to get up really early to pray and the demands are so great, He has no time to eat. Why is Jesus Christ so popular?
For one, because of the people He chooses to be with–the common folk. Eleven of the twelve of His key men come from Galilee.Hey, nobody important came from Galilee. All the important people come from Judea and only one of the twelve is from Judea—and guess who that is? Judas Iscariot. Almost everyone Jesus talks to, eats with, and walks around with are the everyday people of the land. The Pharisees had a celebrity complex. They wouldn’t spend time with the common folk. But Christ spent time with hurting people like you and me–the people who needed Him. And that made Him popular.
A second reason Christ was popular was because He does miracles. During His second year of ministry, His miracles are even more spectacular than before. What do I mean? Christ finds Himself in Cana in John 4, and a royal official asks Him to heal his dying son, who is in Capernaum, which is fourteen miles away. Everyone else Christ has healed up to this point has been close by. But He heals this boy without even seeing him. He heals him from long distance–and this is without a call service or a calling plan.
And a third reason why Christ was popular was the things He said. His Words were simple enough for a child to understand, yet they were powerful enough to pierce the hardest heart. In fact, Christ talked most about the heart. Why? Because the religionists were focusing only on external traditions, not internal relationship. During this time, Jesus broke some external traditions. He heals a sick man and a withered hand on the Sabbath. Then His disciples pick and eat grain on the Sabbath–and all of this breaks the Pharisee’s external rules.
Christ reminds the Pharisees that their eternal rules about the Sabbath are not as important as a heart of mercy and compassion toward the hurting. This really ticks the Pharisees off. They think, to be right with God means keeping traditions–and Jesus says, to be right with God means an internal heart change that comes by grace through faith. In other words, you can’t do it–God must do it for you by His grace.
So the Pharisees decide to kill Jesus. As a result, Christ withdraws to the Sea of Galilee. But being so popular, a huge crowd follows Him. As He arrives, He preaches an incredible message, comparing external righteousness and internal transformation. Rule-keeping versus internal heart change, the Pharisee religion versus the Jesus relationship. It’s called the Sermon on the Mount. I call it the Sermon on the Heart—the greatest sermon ever preached.
Follow along with your outline and open your Bibles for a rapid tour through Matthew 5 through 7. Put yourself on a gradual slope by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The acoustics are great, the crowd is quiet, and as He begins to speak He’ll do open heart surgery on your soul and mine. Look at point number one.
#1 The NEED for a changed heart
As He begins His sermon, Christ shows us the kind of heart He gives to His children. He shows us the kind of changes He makes in His people, and how happy it makes them. The word blessed means happy.
First Positively, we need new heart ATTITUDES
Who are the truly happy? What’s a genuine Christian heart? Look at Matthew chapter 5, for it describes those who are genuinely saved. Verse 3, “the poor in spirit”, those who depend on God completely. Unlike the Pharisees, poor in spirit hearts have nothing to offer God on their own nor in their own strength.
Verse 4, “those who mourn” over their sin. Unlike the Pharisees, they admit they’re sinners before God. Verse 5, “the gentle”, who unlike the Pharisees, submit under God’s loving authority. Verse 6, those who have an appetite for God. Unlike the Pharisees, who were content with externals, the transformed heart hungers for God and doing right. Verse 7, God gives His children a heart that is full of compassion toward others.
Look at verse 8, God’s children are pure in heart”. What is that? It’s those whose first concern is not being outwardly correct, but inwardly holy. It’s not doing pure things, it’s being made pure inside. Christ is telling us a pure heart can only come from Him. Who are the truly happy?
Verse 9, “the peacemakers”, who find peace with God then demonstrate His peace with others. Verse 10, those who are willing to accept persecution by identifying with Christ, His children will also be hated by the externalists of our day, like Christ was in His. Plus, the happy are (verse 13 to 16) those who create a thirst for God like salt and who shine like light with good deeds that bring glory to God.
So what kind of heart do you have? Are you like this chocolate bunny I saved since Easter? You look good on the outside–but when life presses you, you fall apart and crumble, because you’re hollow inside. Christ says He gives a new, solid heart to His children–not just a shiny, thin, Pharisaic, skin-deep one. We need a new heart. Not only new heart attitudes, but also . . .
Second Negatively, we need to deal with heart ISSUES
The Pharisees were content to correct their surface behavior, but they ignored their internal heart-illness of sin. But Christ shows us how important it is to look beyond the external behavior and examine the internal sin issues of the heart. How caught up are you in externals? What do you look for in people?
If I’m not careful, I can find myself focusing on credentials. What kind of degree do you have? How much can you bench? What style of clothes do you wear? Which school did you graduate from? Are you west coast? What kind of paycheck do you bring home? It’s just like the Pharisees–what are your credentials? But you say, “Wait a minute, Chris–I’m a leader, I give, I serve, I’m involved, I know the Bible, I even know the names of the Canaanite tribes, Amorites, Hittites, and the Termites!
In a world that focuses on credentials, God focuses on your heart. In Psalm 139, David said, “Search me Oh God and know my heart.” In other words, “Do a spiritual EKG on me, Lord.” So what is God looking for in my heart? Jesus calls us in Matthew 5:21 and following to let Him do a spiritual EKG on us. Evaluate your heart in light of internal issues.
In verses 21 to 22, the Pharisees said, “Don’t murder.” But Jesus said, “Don’t just avoid murder, don’t internally hate.” In verses 27 to 30, the Pharisees said, “Don’t commit adultery.” But Christ said, “Don’t internally lust.” How serious are you about the lustful long look or internet porn? Those are heart issues.
In verses 31 to 32, the Pharisees said, “If you divorce, give your spouse divorce papers.” But Christ says here, “Don’t divorce unless your spouse commits adultery.” In verses 33 to 37, the Pharisees said, “Don’t make weak promises,” but Jesus said, “Don’t just avoid bad oaths, keep your word.” When you say, “I will do it”–do it. Let your yes be yes and your no, be no. In verses 38 to 42, the Pharisees said, “Don’t take revenge,” but Jesus said, “Don’t just avoid getting even, be a peacemaker.” Give up your rights and die to yourself.
In verses 43 to 48, the Pharisees said, “Hate your enemies.” But Jesus said not only love your enemies, but pray for them. Can you see what Christ is saying? Externals don’t make you righteous. We need a new heart from God–not only new attitudes, but also a heart that deals with internal sins in order to live righteous. And just in case you’re not getting it, Christ reminds us this new internal heart, this incredible internal transformation can only come from Him. That’s why Mathew 5:48 says, “Therefore, you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
But you say, “I can’t be perfect”–that’s right. That’s why you need God’s perfection, God’s righteousness imputed to you, God’s salvation and not your own, which only comes by grace through faith in Christ. Only God can give you a new heart. But how do I know if I have the right heart or not?
#2 The TESTS of a transformed heart
Now it’s true, I can learn a lot about your heart by how you do your internet searches. If you search for . . . 1) who would win in a fight, you have a guy/dude heart, 2) why does my husband do this?–you have a wife heart, 3) all your searches are medical, means you’re over 50?, 4) who is elder name, means you have a right heart. And Christ makes it even simpler–starting in chapter 6, Christ says you can know what’s in your heart by passing four tests.
TEST #1 Look at your Spiritual DISCIPLINES
What are your motives for living a spiritual life? In chapter 6, verses 1 to 18, Christ refers to three types of spiritual disciplines–giving, prayer, and fasting. To know if you have the right kind of heart for God, ask yourself first) do I practice these disciplines of the heart? and second) do I do them to be seen by men, or are they done in secret for God?
When you give, is it for a tax return or for the Lord? Do you only pray at church, or also in your closet? And do you ever fast without anyone knowing? Look at chapter 6 verse 1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them.” The word “noticed” is where we get the word for theater–are you putting on a show (a theater) with your faith, or is your heart yearning to give, to pray and to fast for God?
Otherwise, (read the rest of verse 1) “you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” So what’s the test? Look at verses 5 and 6, “And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to pray in order to be seen by men. 6But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Basically, Jesus is asking this–do you carry on your relationship with Christ in secret throughout the week? Or is it only a public, external, Sunday event? Do you pass test #1? Christ also says, to know what kind of heart you have . . .
TEST #2 Look at your INVESTMENTS
In verses 19 to 24, Christ says what you do with your money and time is a test of your heart. In fact, Christ says in verse 21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Christ says, “I know a lot about your heart by what you do with your treasure.” There are two treasure chests in this life—1) is the treasure chest of this world, which says what life is all about is being a winner through achievement, possessions, money, popularity, climbing the ladder, and having men’s applause. 2) is the treasure chest of Christ’s eternal Kingdom.
People who are fired up about God’s Kingdom live in a way in which they sense God’s smile. They invest in God’s purposes through love, servanthood, and giving of themselves for Christ’s cause. I can tell where the affections of your heart are pointed just by looking at two pieces of your equipment–your calendar and your bank statement (if you’re younger, your spending money). Jesus says we will know which world you’re fired up about–we’ll know what is in your heart.
If your calendar and bank statement reflect that your primary investment is this world system, that’s a bad spiritual sign. But if your iPhone calendar shows large blocks of time invested in God’s system and large blocks of money invested in God’s purposes, that’s a good sign. What do your bank statement and calendar say about your heart? Do you pass test #2? Christ says to know what kind of heart you have . . .
TEST #3 Look at your TRUST LEVEL
In verses 25 to 34, Christ says you know what’s in your heart by the level of trust you place in your Father. Look at verses 31 to 34, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?‘” Skip to verse 33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. 34Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I found it interesting that the German word for worry and anxious means to strangle or choke-and that’s exactly what worry does. It’s an emotional strangulation. Worry chokes the joy right out of life. So how do I stop? The cause of worry is a wrong focus. When you focus on this world, you worry. When you focus on Christ Himself, no worries (be happy). Do you trust God for your daily needs, or are you anxious, worrying, and nervous about each day? The amount of worry versus the amount of trust tells you what’s in your heart. Do you pass test #3? Finally, Christ says to know what kind of heart you have . . .
TEST #4 Look at your RELATIONSHIPS with others
In Matthew 7:1 to 12, Christ tells His listeners how they treat others will show them what is in their heart. Christ asks, “Do you judge others?” in verses 1 to 6. Do you expect your Father to answer you, verses 7 to 11, and do you treat others fairly? verse12. Look at verse 12, “Therefore whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Do you treat others like you want to be treated, or do you elevate yourself above others like the Pharisees did? For how you treat others will show you your heart. Do you pass test #4?
Now . . . I could go on and on–that’s what the preacher says when he runs out of material. Now that Christ has convinced us of the need for a new heart and has helped us test our hearts, He will tell us what to do. Ask yourself–what kind of heart do you want? The real internal heart in relationship with Christ, or the phony external religion of Pharisees?
#3 The PATH to a changed heart
Read Matthew 7:13 and 14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it.14For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” The path to a changed heart does not come by a wide road of external works and self-righteousness, but through a small gate and a narrow road, because you must enter alone–the turnstile fits only one at a time, and you must go through it naked.
You can’t bring anything with you–all your self-confidence, self-satisfaction, and self-achievement must be left behind. Like a child, you must depend on your Heavenly Father alone. Jesus goes on to warn us in verses 15 to 23 about the heartless, I can do it myself, external religion path of the Pharisees. In verses 16 and 20 Christ says, “We will know them by their fruits.” Watch out for the egotistical, proud, self-centered, self-indulgent, self-willed, and self-satisfied religion–the religion all about you. Don’t listen to them, don’t follow them–for if you do, your external behavior may change. You may do good works, you may look good on the outside–but when you stand before Christ and He looks into your heart, He will say, “I never you. Depart from me you who practice lawlessness” (verse 23).
The issue is not how much you know, but the kind of fruit you produce. Thankfully, Christ tells us how to get that new heart in verse 24 and following. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. 25And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.”
Ask God to give you a new heart. Seek Him, and if He calls you, He will transform you from the inside out so you’ll want to obey Him and love Him. Only the new heart that God alone gives to His children will cause you to follow His Word now and make you ready for Heaven later. How should you respond to the Lord’s heart X-ray?
A. Ask God to give you a TRANSFORMED heart
Religion can make you feel good about yourself. You can clean up the outside and make people think you’re spiritual, but only Christ can forgive you, cleanse you, and transform you from the inside out. Cry out to Jesus Christ to save you. Ask Him to awaken your heart so you might put all your trust in Him, for when He does, you will be radically different. All things will become new. You won’t turn over a new leaf, you will be transformed and given a new life.
B. Remember that the heart is the NUMBER ONE ISSUE in your walk
One famous pastor said this–the heart of the problem is a problem of the heart. Whatever you’re going through today, the first thing to look at is your heart before God. When your heart is right, your walk with be right. When your heart is in communion with Christ, no matter what is happening in your life, you’ll experience joy. But when you drift into externals, you forfeit your joy.
I know this and many of you know it too. Why are Christians not happy? Lifestyle without heart-style. We’re all prone to live by the scaffolding, become hollow at the heart, and let atrophy set in. Cultivate your heart with secret communion. Delight in Him alone, consider everything else refuse compared to knowing Christ intimately.
C. If your heart is in atrophy, REPENT now
A few years back, a friend of mine had a heart attack. When help arrived, they rushed up to him as he was laying on the ground and said, “Your shirt’s untucked. Dude, your hair is uncombed. Your shoe is untied. You are very untidy–you’re a mess.” They didn’t do that, did they? Why? There’s no time for cosmetics when you’re dealing with a heart problem.
Today, there is no time for cosmetics with your heart. Turn from externals and ask the Lord to do surgery on your heart. Repent of your Christian routine, repent of merely looking good on the outside. Repent of merely doing all the right things and saying the right words, but with an empty, independent, unrepentant heart. As God said in Joel 2:13 NIV, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the Lord your God.” Let’s pray.