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Your Heart is the Problem (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28)

January 16, 2022 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)

Topic: One Lord: What is Man? Passage: Matthew 5:21–5:28

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Children's Lesson (Click Here)

I. On the Road Again

Let me describe the scene for you (you'll have to use your imagination, since this may be one of those 'fantasy world' kinds of 'thought experiments' people like to use from time to time... but here it is...): you are driving down a local road or down the freeway, and suddenly another driver does something that leads... to you getting upset (I know... crazy, right?). But let's say that in this scenario, you end up saying something about this driver. Maybe you start yelling. Maybe an expletive or two slips out. Whatever the specifics, let's also say you are not alone in the car. And so, after a moment, you feel like you need to explain yourself to your child or your spouse or your friend or your coworker. What would you say?

  • Can you believe the way some people drive? It's just awful.”

  • It's really sad there aren't more officers out here enforcing our traffic laws.”

  • Who does that guy think he is? I'm not going to apologize for going the speed limit.”

  • People like that just really set me off. My mom drove like that and nearly killed us.”

  • Yeah, I'm just on edge right now. You wouldn't believe the stress I'm under at work.”

Any of those sound familiar? I think if we're honest with ourselves, all of them sound familiar. Why? Because it's quite common for us to identify certain people or certain circumstances as the root cause in a situation where maybe our behavior was less than ideal. But while certain people and certain circumstances are usually part of the equation, God's word routinely brings us back to another 'root cause'.

 

II. The Passage: “In His Heart” (5:21-22, 27-28)

Jesus points to this 'root cause' in a number of ways, both directly and indirectly, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7, a section traditionally called 'Sermon on the Mount'. Let's look together at Matthew chapter 5, at two of these passages. Having just talked about the “the Law” in the previous section, look at how he uses two out of the Ten Commandments to make his point. This is verses 21 and 22, as well as verses 27 and 28. Jesus declared in verse 21...

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ [22] But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [28] But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

That last phrase is crystal clear, isn't it? The problems that Jesus is addressing here most certainly involve other people ( a “brother”, a “woman”), but our King explicitly identifies the real issue in each instance: the heart... your heart... my heart. Though we are tempted to say, “But you don't know what that brother said to me” or “But you didn't see how that woman was dressed” or “You don't know how hard things have been at work... at home... in my life”, though we are tempted to point to certain people and certain circumstances, Jesus points to our hearts.

Let's take a closer look at these passages, and make sure we hear everything that God wants us to hear this morning about the heart. First, if you haven't already, it's important that you come to grips with the fact that...

 

1. Your Heart Will Be Judged

The main thrust of both passages has to do with what we might call our 'heart-based' guilt before God. Notice what Jesus says in verse 20, the verse that immediately precedes our first passage. He tells his disciples...

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The scribes and the Pharisees reveled in a righteousness that emphasized outward conformity to God's law. Now to be clear, outward conformity is extremely important. It's a very good thing to steer clear of sins like murder and adultery. Just think about how destructive and painful such offenses are, oftentimes, to a whole web of people.

But too often the emphasis of these leaders on outward conformity kept them from recognizing the 'root cause'. It kept them from examining their hearts. As Jesus explains, his followers are called to pursue a righteousness that “exceeds” this emphasis on outward conformity; a righteousness that starts with our hearts; a righteousness that understands that unrighteous anger is just as serious as murder, and lust just as serious as adultery. No, by themselves lust and anger don't have the same consequences as adultery and murder, but they inspire such things. Moreover, they are all expressions of the same me-centered corruption. And so we are “liable” before God. Christ's aim here is to sober us in light of this liability, and God's judgment.

Consider with me how Jesus will go on in Matthew's Gospel to talk about this heart-based guilt:

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (12:34)

'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me... (15:8)

...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." (15:18-20a)

It's important to note that Jesus was not revealing something new here. He was reminding them of what God had already revealed. 600 years before Jesus, Jeremiah pointed to this 'root cause' and reminded his hearers about our 'heart-based' guilt: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

It is a good thing, it is a right thing, to not act on the anger boiling up inside us or the lust that grips our imaginations. But the existence of such things simply confirms our corruption, and the entertaining of such things simply adds to our guilt. Brothers and sisters, friends, we are accountable, not only for our sinful actions, but also our sinful hearts.

But if we continue with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, God also reveals to us that...

 

2. Your Heart Should Be Addressed

If we acknowledge that our hearts are desperately sick, what practical steps can we take to address this internal corruption? Well notice that Jesus, immediately after condemning both the angry and lustful heart, notice that he offers practical advice about what to do next.

First, as we see in verses 23-25, Jesus encourages us to identify and rectify the destructive expressions of [to use the phrase from Jeremiah] the desperately sick heart. We read...

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, [24] leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [25] Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.

It's interesting that Jesus addresses the angry heart by addressing the damage caused by an angry heart. I think the prescription here is this: “If your anger leads to your hurting someone else and/or being at odds with someone else, then respond to the fruit of an angry heart with the fruit of a peace-making heart.” Not only is that the right course of action, but oftentimes, walking the path of peace can help us find peace for an angry heart. So whether it's anger or lust or fear or pride or greed, be diligent to identify and rectify the desrtructive expressions of the desperately sick heart.

Second, we see in verses 29-30 that Jesus also calls us to recognize and minimize the tempting opportunities of the desperately sick heart.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. [30] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

As many of you know, Jesus is not actually recommending physical mutilation as a cure-all for lust. No. He's asking you, “To what lengths will you go to be free of the poison of lust?” When you are honest about the struggles of your heart, will you tear out or cut off and throw away things in your life that only serve to tempt you and trip you up when it comes to that struggle, even if those things are inherently good things? I believe the Apostle Paul gave us similar guidance in Romans 13:14 when he wrote...

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

One way to address a heart that hungers for impurity is to starve it to death. Paul expressed this another way in Ephesians 4:27, “...give no opportunity to the devil.” Finally, Jesus teaches that...

 

3. Your Heart Needs to Be Devoted

Now, even though this identifying and rectifying, this recognizing and minimizing, are incredibly important, it might feel like we are not really getting to (pun intended) the heart of the matter. If your heart is ultimately the problem, if my heart is ultimately the problem, then what can be done about this desperately sick heart?

Well, I think we find one answer to that question in the very next place where Jesus uses the word “heart”. That instance is chapter 6, verse 21. Scan over or flip over to the next chapter. Let's read, but pull in the context a little more by starting in verse 19...

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, [20] but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. [21] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

How does this passage relate to our key verses from chapter 5? I think what we find here is absolutely central to curing a desperately sin-sick heart. Yes, a healthy heart is not one driven by or ruled by unrighteous anger or fleshly lust. But it's more than that. What ultimately defines a healthy heart is this: that God is treasured above all. Notice a few verses later in chapter 6 that Jesus addresses another heart struggle, greed, in this way... (v. 24)

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

You see, the ultimate problem with your heart is not greed or anger or lust. The ultimate problem is always idolatry. It drives every inward struggle, even the one you're dealing with this morning. Identifying these infecting idols is not always easy, but acknowledging that your greatest struggle is in fact a worship disorder, is absolutely essential to experiencing real inner change.

 

III. Clinging to the Promise

Remember what I said earlier: “The main thrust of both passages has to do with what we might call our 'heart-based' guilt before God.” If you haven't already, are you ready to acknowledge that in so many of your struggles and failures and frustrations and conflicts... your heart is the ultimate problem? Or will you continue to point to certain people... to certain circumstances?

When you are sobered by the fact that your heart will be judged, and are persuaded that such a heart should be addressed, and convinced that your heart needs to be devoted first and foremost to God, then I pray that you will realize your absolute inability to change any of this. Instead, I encourage you to cling to the promise given through the prophet Ezekiel over 2500 years ago... “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” (36:26)

How did God fulfill this promise to his people? Paul answers that in II Corinthians 1:20... For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]. Jesus suffered on the cross, not only for your sinful choices, but also your sinful heart. Though we are so often drawn to idols, Jesus has brought us to God by his blood; and He empowers us with a new heart. He empowers us for more than outward conformity. He empowers us for true, God-treasuring devotion through the power of his resurrection. And wonderfully, all of this is available to us, even now, when we simply believe. Will you trust God this morning for this heart change? Let's pray.