The Heart of the Matter

What does Jesus want from us? He wants actions and heart! He wants us to live up to his standard, not the standards of the world. Based on Matthew 5:21-27 let’s learn about “The Heart of the Matter.” February 16, 2020.

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What’s more important –your actions or your heart?

I’m two days late for you to use this advice for this year, or 364 days early (there’s a leap day in between then and now, so that math is correct) but here you go, pay attention! You can use this for next year and you can start planning Valentine’s Day 2021 today! Save up $4 a month and put it in an envelope! Write “Happy Valentine’s Day” on the front and BOOM! You’re done! I’ll even total it up for you – that’s $48 - what a great gift!! Right?

The problem is that cash is not really a romantic gift, is it? And the reason why…there’s no thought or heart behind it! It’s a kind action, a person could have some fun with $48, but your gift loses its luster because there’s no heart behind it, it’s just a hollow action!

OK – so back to the drawing board! Here’s another option that you could try. You wake up on Valentine’s Day and you say “I love you!” If you are bold enough, you could even add (are you writing this down?) You could add “...with all my heart!” BOOM! There you go! You can thank me later. You are all set for February 14, 2021! We even took care of that no heart problem, because this one has (do you remember?) all of your heart!”

But that’s not going to work either, and if you can’t put your finger on why, let me tell you – it’s because that gift comes from the heart but has no action.

It’s true that thoughts count for something, but you can’t tell your best friend that you thought about getting them a birthday gift unless you actually went through with it and bought them the gift! You have to act. And actions are important, but if they come without heart or thought, you’re no better off! A baseball team shirt might be a great gift for your nephew, but if it’s three sizes too small and for a team he doesn’t cheer for he’s not going to have much use for it!

What’s more important – your heart or your actions? It’s important for your earthly relationships to come to an answer for that question! But it’s eternally more important to come to an answer to that question when it comes to our relationship with God. What does God want from us? Does he want our actions or our heart? Does God want us to do the right things and make the right decisions? Or does he want us to be genuine and sincere and thoughtful in the lives that we live?

Are you the person that you want to be? Are you the person that God wants you to be? Jesus speaks to us and helps us to answer these questions today as he continues his Sermon on the Mount. So, sit with his disciples and listen and consider “Is it heart or is it actions that God desires?’

The teachers of the law and religious leaders of the day thought they had this question figured out. “It’s actions that God desires. He wants people who obey him! He wants to see people doing the right things. That’s what God desires!” They knew the law: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!” And they thought that they were keeping the law. They thought they were carrying out the actions that were important to God.

There’s a temptation to feel that way in our world today. God wants me to “be a good person.” He wants me to be better than the people who openly disregard his Word and his commands. He wants me to be better than the people on the news. He wants me to do the right things.

But there’s a temptation on the other side, too! Maybe it’s OK if my actions don’t line up entirely with the law of God as long as my heart is “in the right place!” I can sleep with someone that I really love, even if we aren’t technically married, certainly that’s not so bad! I can speak badly about someone who has done the same to me. Turnabout is fair play! I can get divorced if it would be better for the kids and everyone else. How could it make sense to stay in a relationship like that? I can tell a little white lie if it’s for the right reason.

Which is more important, actions or heart? Jesus knew the answer and was not afraid to speak! Jesus spoke the truth that is often inconvenient for us and that lays bare the reality of our sinful lives. Jesus demands both. He wants our actions and our hearts. You can’t separate the two. He wants us to do the right thing for the right reason. He wants us fully – actions and heart!

And that’s a problem, because that’s a kind of obedience that we aren’t capable of offering. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment… And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all…All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

What does Jesus want from us? He wants actions and heart! He wants us to live up to his standard, not the standards of the world. He wants us to live up to his standards, not the standards of pretty-good-ness that we set up for ourselves.

There’s that classmate or colleague at work that never has anything nice to say to you or about you. You don’t kill him, you don’t break his nose, you just share your opinions about him with others, trying to win them over to your side and your understanding. That seems like a level headed mature way to handle that situation…but anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

 You are the definition of a faithful spouse. You don’t even have any good friends that are the opposite sex, and when you are in mixed company, you are extra careful that no one gets the wrong impression or ideas about how you feel. In fact, you take some pride in being above the open adultery and promiscuity that you see in the world. But you read a few books with some scandalous characters, your eye often finds and stays on the attractive person walking by and if you’re being really honest, you’d have to admit that you choose entertainment hoping to see something that might turn you on! It’s not hurting anyone is what you say. But God says: anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

You hate the fact that so many people around you use your Lord’s name as a swear word. It makes your skin crawl. You imagine yourself to be on higher moral ground because you don’t speak like that! But a fib here or there, is just a necessity to get through life. That’s your opinion. God’s take: All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

What does God want, our actions or our hearts? He wants both. And a long hard look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s demands tells us the sad truth that we give him neither. We try to hide our sins in the excuses of “it’s not that bad” or “everyone is doing it” or “that’s the way people are” but God demands holiness and we aren’t! He demands perfect obedience and we don’t obey! He demands the fullness of our hearts and lives and we come up empty!

There is not a day that goes by or a second that ticks off the clock that we are the people God wants us to be. There is not a day that goes by or a second that ticks off the clock that we live up to God’s righteous and holy standards. There is not a day that goes by or a second that ticks off the clock that we are not digging ourselves deeper in a hole and further in danger of the fire of hell!

Jesus offers a solution to us: If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Many have understood these words of Jesus to be an exaggeration. They understand him to mean that you should take drastic measures to avoid sin, but you should also understand that he doesn’t mean for you to maim yourself! I’m not so convinced that Jesus is exaggerating here! His words are true, are they not? It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. It would be undoubtedly better to go to heaven missing a part or two than for you and all your parts to suffer eternally in hell! But here’s what his point really is! It’s not that easy! If gouging out an eye could keep you from sinning than you should do it! If lopping off a hand could remove sin from your life, then you better pick - right or left! The point is that those parts don’t cause you to sin. And since those parts don’t cause you to sin the removal of them doesn’t prevent you from sinning! It’s deeper than a hand or an eye. It’s a heart transplant that you need!!

Jesus wants from us actions and heart! And he knew that we could give him neither, so he gives us both. He gives us his heart in his willingness to come to be our substitute and Savior. He gives us his actions as he is willing to be born, to live under God’s law and live perfectly in our place, to suffer the fate that we should and to die a horrible death on a cross, all for us! He loves us with an everlasting love and he is forever acting in our best interests. He perfectly obeyed God’s holy laws so that we could be forgiven the times that we failed to act. He loved all people, even his enemies, so we could be forgiven for our lack of love! He gave us his heart, even though we could never deserve it! He shed his blood so that our failures would be washed away!

We needed a heart transplant, and that’s exactly what God’s done. What God promises through Ezekiel, he keep through Jesus and gives us as his free gift: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). David’s prayer is answered for himself and for us: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians is our hope and joy: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

And now we can listen to the Savior’s sermon, or any of God’s holy words and find in them an opportunity to bring glory to God. We can celebrate that we can give God both heart and action. We now have hearts that can overflow in worship and praise to our God who has gone to such lengths to save us! We now can live lives in action to serve those around us. We can obey God’s demands as a way to thank him for loving us, protecting us and saving us!

God wants our hearts and actions, and by his grace, we can give him both! We can give both, because both heart and action have been given to us – through Christ Jesus our living and loving Savior! Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on February 16, 2020