A Heart of Holiness

August 21, 2022 | Jess Rainer

Passage: Matthew 15:1-20

As we journey through the book of Matthew, we are taking 7-weeks to look at how people in the NT answered this question: “Who is this Man?”  I want you to answer this question too.  We are going to look at a group of men who didn’t believe in Jesus.  They saw Jesus as a heretic.  As we look at them, I want us to learn how we can examine our hearts in response to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Cultivate a heart of holiness.  Why do we need to cultivate a heart of holiness?  There are two battles that take place in our hearts during our lifetime.  The first battle is faced by every person: the battle for ownership.  Your heart is either ruled by you or by God.  Satan wants to keep your heart away from God.  God wants to take your old heart, make it new, and give it back to you.  But the new heart is clean, pure, and belongs to Him.  This new heart is what enables you to have eternal life. The second battle is Satan trying to render your new heart ineffective.  He doesn’t you want to be effective in helping other people see the truth.  He doesn’t you want to grow closer to God.  He doesn’t want your faith to grow.  So, he does whatever he can to keep you stale.  How do we cultivate a heart of holiness?  There are three things we can do.  

1) Wipe the dust off your Bible. (vs. 1-6)  The past few weeks, we’ve seen several people in Matthew answer the question “Who is Jesus?”  Last week, the disciples finally saw Jesus as the Son of God.  Almost everyone else has missed Jesus.  Now, there is a group coming that not only doesn’t believe in Jesus, but they are also there to challenge Jesus.  We’ve gone from passive spectators to negative instigators.  Look at what they say to Jesus starting in verse 1:  1Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him,  This is some kind of formal group, some kind of official contingency.  There were probably decked out in their robes with their head pieces.  All marching along to some kind of soundtrack (maybe the Rocky Theme song…?)  They approach Jesus and throw down a religious barb:  “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”  In weeks past, we’ve talked about the Jewish Law.  There were hundreds of rules and laws that were required in order to stay ceremonially pure.  Some of these rules dealt with washing hands.  For the Pharisees, there was a process you would go through before you eat so that you could remain ceremonially clean.  These laws and traditions were not birthed out of a bad place.  The Old Testament Law started with Moses on Mount Sinai.  It was passed down for generations.  At some point, Jewish leaders wanted to get together to protect the holiness of the law.  In doing so, they added rules to protect the laws.  This became the “tradition of the elders.”  Think of it like a speed bump.  The speed bump is there only to help enforce the speed limit.

Again, this wasn’t a bad thing at first, but it became bad thing.  Look how Jesus responded to this group of Pharisees:  Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?   Mic drop.  Jesus tells them that their traditions cause them to violate Scripture!  Over the years, Jewish leaders kept building fences around God’s Word that they followed the fences more than God’s Word.  Jesus provides a quick example starting in verse 4. This example shows that the traditions would allow adult children to not support their parents in need because they believe their money was “set aside for God.”  For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’  But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’   Jesus lays it all on the table in verse 6:  In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition.   The problem with the Pharisees was they put their tradition before God’s Word.  They canceled God’s Word for their own tradition.  God’s Word must be your utmost authority.  In doing so, they put cleaning their hands above purifying their hearts.  It’s better to go to heaven with a pure heart than to hell with clean hands.  You can try to do all the religious things hoping it will be enough, but all God wants is your heart.

What’s your source of truth?  Remember, we are in a battle for our hearts.  Where are you getting your battle plan?  Where are you getting your intel?  Let me ask you a question that might make you feel a little uncomfortable:  If you could see all your fingerprints throughout the course of a day, where would you find your fingerprints?  Here’s why I ask that: where your hands go is where your mind will go.  I don’t say this to shame, I say this to encourage you: If there isn’t a single fingerprint on your Bible, dust it off.  You won’t win the battle if you God’s Word is not your authority.  That’s the starting point. And Jesus is not done with these Pharisees.

2) Pay attention to what comes out of your heart. (vs. 10-20)  Jesus had finished talking with Pharisees. We’ll go back and see last words to them.  Now, Jesus turns to teach the crowds and the disciples.  Look at verse 10:  10 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand.  11 It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”  Now, the disciples interrupt Jesus.  Jesus is teaching them something, but they can’t get past the interaction that Jesus just had with the Pharisees.  12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”  Jesus not only realized He offended the Pharisees, but He intentionally offended them.  Jesus was disrupting the age-old tradition and the perception of that system.  Jesus gives them a quick reply:  13 Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted,  14 so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”  “Guys, don’t worry about them. They are not on the same team as us.”  Peter now wants to go back to what Jesus was saying to the crowd:  15 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”  16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked.   17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.   Jesus was telling the disciples the Pharisees were only concerned with happens externally.  That the Pharisees were trying to purify themselves with outward actions.  But that’s not their problem. And that’s not our problem.  Man’s greatest need isn’t to fix the external, but to purify the internal.

Jesus goes on to make it abundantly clear what causes us to be impure.  18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”  It’s back to the heart!  It’s not the external things that make us spiritually unclean – it’s what’s inside of us.  It’s what’s inside of our hearts.  Your spiritual output is determined by your spiritual intake.  What comes out of you shows what’s inside of you.  As a culture, I think we’ve finally moved away from the question, “Is humanity good?”  There is a pervasiveness of evil in humans that is undeniable.  It’s no longer, “Well, there are just a few bad apples.”  The question is now, “From where does evil come?”  I don’t know if our culture will ever answer this question correctly.  Because no one wants to admit they are the problem.  It’s so much easier to point to the external.  Now, there are some things people go through that affect their lives in negative ways. Here my clearly: I am not minimizing what some people have gone through.  What I am saying is that the evil that exists in the world originates from a place that no one wants to admit: inside of us.  That’s why Jesus said what He said in verses 19 and 20. 

So what do we do?  We acknowledge the battle waging inside of us.  We let God’s Word become our truth.  And then we watch our hearts:  Pay attention to what comes out of your heart.  There should be times in your life where you step back and go, “Whoa. I didn’t realize that was is in there.”  Everyone has moments in their life where they see some evil creep out of their hearts.  When that happens, we confess it and squash it.  Don’t let it fester and grow. 

3) Examine your worship. (vs. 7-9)  Let’s go back to the few verses we skipped and look at one last way we can win this battle for our hearts.  Verses 7,8, and 9 were Jesus’ last words to this group of Pharisees.  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,  ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’”  I love the word “farce”.  It’s underused in the English language.  What Jesus says is that their worship is a travesty, a sham, a circus, and a charade.  It’s all a show.  Their man-made rules have led to a man-centered worship.  The only way to have worship central in the church is to have truth of God central in the church.  Their hearts are so far from God, that they cannot truly worship God. 

My worship lets me know when my heart is off.  There are times when I walk in here on a Sunday morning and I look to our worship time as a way to foster genuine feelings towards God.  On the surface, you may say, “That’s not bad.”  The problem is that I am looking to the act of worship as a way to foster genuine feelings towards God instead of looking to God Himself to foster genuine feelings.  We don’t have the ability to put more glory on God.  Our worship doesn’t increase God’s glory.  Worship comes from seeing more of God’s glory.  Deeper worship comes from deeper knowledge of God.  When my worship “seems off,” I know I need to look at my heart first.  It’s not the job of whoever is on the stage to pull you into deeper worship. It’s your job to cultivate a heart of holiness that leads to deeper worship.  

You can walk away from this message feeling one of two ways:

1) Downtrodden - That you are not “doing enough” to cultivate a heart of holiness.  That’s not my goal.  My heart does not seek to create shame.  My goal is to equip and encourage.  I want you to feel empowered in the battle for your heart.  

2) Empowered  - Feel empowered in the battle for your heart.  You can win the battle for your heart because Jesus won the battle on the cross.  “We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them.” -- 1 John 5:18.  When you are in the hands of God, Satan can’t touch you.  Don’t wander from the grip of Jesus.  Examine your authority.  Examine your heart.  Examine your worship.  Root out any evil and live in the joy of Jesus.  Live in the hope of Jesus. 

For those of you who are still wandering about the first battle that is taking place for your heart—for your eternity, surrender to Jesus.  Let’s go out this week empowered knowing that we can gauge the battle that is taking place.  That we have victory in Jesus.  And let’s live in that hope and freedom!

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Series Information

Who Is This Man? The Inescapable Power of Jesus is a series that examines aspects of Jesus’s character. His character is revealed by his interactions with his disciples, with those who need healing, and even with children. In these interactions, Jesus shows that his heart is for all people, even (perhaps especially) those outside the traditional community. Through words difficult and caring, Jesus declares that his people should trust in him and participate in his work, for the sake of their neighbors.

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