From The Heart
Today's Scripture passage is about the human heart. No, it says nothing about ventricles, arteries, valves, or the aorta. This passage says nothing about the heart's role in pumping blood to the rest of the body. In today's passage, Jesus uses the image of the heart to describe what is going on in the depths of the human soul.
Jesus teaches us, that when it comes to worship, what is going on in the heart--what is going on in the depths of our soul--is of paramount importance to God. This is not the first time in Scripture where the heart is described as having a moral component.
In Jeremiah 17:9 we are told that "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?"(Jer.17:9). Jeremiah is talking about how we all suffer from heart disease of a spiritual kind. Jeremiah warns us, and Jesus reminds us, if we are to worship purely, if our obedience is to be total, we must be sure to guard the condition of our heart.
Our text begins with another faultfinding commission of the Pharisees gathering around Jesus and His disciples. Since the Pharisees had no success in their direct attacks against Jesus, we see them taking the opportunity to attack Jesus indirectly by pointing out that His disciples had failed to practice the required ceremonial hand-washing(7:1-5).
Jesus explains, however, that the worship and obedience of the Pharisees, though outwardly meticulous, was done in vain(7:7). Jesus means to teach us here, as He does elsewhere, that what is going on in the heart is what matters most.
We conclude then, that God is not so much pleased by the actual deeds we engage in as He is the condition of our heart as we engage in worship.
Notice the context for the word "worship" in Mark 7:7. We are not talking exclusively about those things that take place in the synagogue. Many Christians make the mistake of reducing worship to singing and praying. Don't make this mistake--the context here for "worship" is obedience to the law, that is, keeping the commandments. The Greek word for "worship" is actually a verb, which means, "to revere". Worship is, therefore, an action. And any action that is aimed at revering God can suitably be deemed worship.
This is where the Pharisees fell down. They were careful to engage in all of the religious "activities", but they did not do them with genuine reverence. I suspect they did all the ceremonial washings, I suspect they strictly observed the Sabbath rest, I suspect they faithfully attended the synagogue, I suspect they did everything that worship requires . . . Yet, one thing was missing--their heart. Jesus told the crowd, "This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me"(7:7).
Could it ever be said of you, that your heart is far away from Christ? Could it ever be said of you, that your worship is in vain? We sometimes use the phrase, "my heart just wasn't in it". I pray we might never use that phrase in reference to our service to God and to His Church.
We cannot overemphasize the fact that true religion is a matter of the heart. Human beings are prone to forget that God is a spirit, and that worship rendered to God must be of a spiritual kind. And so it is for good reason that Jesus commands us, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart"(Lk.10:27). If our heart is not "in it", our worship is in vain.
This is why I often spend so much time exhorting you to serve Christ joyfully rather than dutifully. The Pharisees served dutifully. The Pharisees were excellent at fulfilling their religious obligations. Yet, Jesus says their worship is in vain because their heart was not in it.
After telling the Pharisees that their worship is in vain, Jesus goes on to site examples, beginning with a general one in verse 8, "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." This general rebuke is of particular interest to us because it would be very easy to see our guilt in this regard. In fact, I was tempted to change in a great many things in the service this morning in order to demonstrate how we are prone to treat as sacred, man-made traditions.
Allow me to list off some of the changes I considered for this morning. And as I list off these changes, I want you to picture how you would have responded to them.
I thought about replacing the chairs used for communion servers with the less attractive wooden chairs that are tucked away in storage. I thought about placing a music stand just in front of the first pew and preaching from there. I thought about replacing the doxology with a hymn we have never sung before. I thought about scrapping the order of service altogether and making up the service as we went along. I thought about reorganizing all of the furniture on this platform.
When it comes to worship, when it comes to honouring and obeying God, Jesus reminds us not to be overly concerned with the traditions we have invented. Our concern is with what God and God alone requires. And what God requires is a heart totally devoted to Him.
Now here is our problem. God requires that we have a heart that is wholly devoted to Him, but we know from Scripture that we suffer from heart disease of a spiritual nature. Jesus commands us to "love the Lord your God with all your heart"(Lk.10:27), but Jeremiah tells us that our heart is "more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick"(Jer.17:9).
I cannot think of anything more alarming than learning that my heart is deceitful. It has become popular in our day to use the phrase, "follow your heart", yet biblical wisdom insists that our heart cannot be trusted.
And the news does not get any better as we move along in Mark 7. In verse 21, we read, "from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All of these evil things proceed from within and defile the man"(7:21-23).
As one commentator has observed, "(Jesus) has not minced matters in any degree, nor chosen smooth forms of speech, but he has just selected the very grossest shapes of human sin, and He has said that all these come out of the human heart"(Spurgeon).
Admittedly, this kind of talk makes us uncomfortable. We do not readily think of ourselves as being on par with a thief, an adulterer, or a murderer. Yet, we see clearly in this text and in other places of the New Testament that Jesus makes no distinction between sins of thought and sins of deed.
The one who lusts is as guilty as the adulterer, says Jesus in His "Sermon on the Mount"(Mt.5:28). In that same sermon, Jesus teaches that the one who curses his brother is as guilty as the one who murders(Mt.5:22). "What kind of math is this?", we ask. This is heavenly math. This is the kind of math that judges from the inside, not the outside.
So, is there any hope for us? Is there a cure for our spiritual heart disease? Certainly there is. This is why Jesus came and died on the cross. He knows we are wicked. If we could have saved ourselves, if we could have written our own ticket into heaven, there would have been no need for a cross.
Jesus knows, and taught, about the evil that exists in every human heart. And the fact that His death cleanses our heart is the very reason we treat the news of His death as Good News.
The sin of the Pharisees is that they did not worship God with their heart. The Pharisees were unwilling to admit to the evil that was within them. We do not want to make the same mistake as the Pharisees. We all need to sing Psalm 51 to our Lord, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me"(Ps. 51:10).
We gather on Sundays not because we have it all together, but we gather because we recognize our need to be cleansed.
Jesus does not want our self-righteousness, He does not want our resume of good deeds, He does not even want our chequebooks. It is clear from His teaching in Mark 7 that what Jesus wants more than anything else is your heart.
Whether you are worshipping Christ at church, at home, or at work, the worship that is pleasing in His sight is worship from the heart. Amen.