12 May 2019
RC Sproul said, "It is the pleasing of God that is at the heart of worship. " Worship is not mere external rituals or ceremonies. Worship is about pleasing God. And pleasing God is about obedience. So, the heart of worship is a commitment to grace-motivated, gospel-centred obedience to God's Word. The scribes and pharisees were hypocrites when they sought to circumvent God's Word using their own man-made traditions. They looked pious by offering their "corban" to God, but really, as Jesus said, their heart was far from God. This sermon brings you to an in-depth look at the role of traditions, the heart of worship and the need for a new heart that truly seeks to please God. Discover these spiritual truths in God's word for yourself!
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We are going to look at a series, a mini-series on, ‘Exposed’. I used to work as a doctor and we have to perform surgeries on patients. And before we even get to the patient, we must be, we must make sure that our hands are clean.
So, we have to follow very strict procedures to hand washing. We use specific solutions for hand washing. You have to make sure your fingertips are clean. Your nails are clean. Your palm is clean. Your back of the head is clean. Your wrist is clean. Your forearm is clean. You want to be sure you are as aseptic as possible!
Because if you have just eaten Nasi Lemak and if you don't wash your hands, you really don't want to mess around with someone's tummy there. You are going to introduce all kinds of germs and infection and that will not be good. So, very strict on hand washing.
Today, the passage before us is also about hand washing, although for a very different reason. The handwashing that is spoken of here is not so that you will not pass infection to others. But it is for ceremonial reasons. It's for ceremonial purification.
And so we enter this story in Matthew 15:1-2, “When the Pharisees and Scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders, for they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
Sound like my wife! How come you never water hands when you eat, ah, children? And we all hear that. But again I say, “This is not about infection. This is not about hygiene. This is about ceremonial purification.”
Now, the Jews during the time of Jesus, are very particular about ceremonial washings. You can actually do some research on how they wash their hands. Elaborate procedure, even with regards to the water they use.
I quote some rabbis, these are of course not words from God in the Bible. These are words from rabbinical teachers, Jewish leaders of time past, to see how highly they regard this tradition of ceremonial washing of their hands.
One says, “Whoever eats bread without first washing his hands is as though he had sinned with a harlot…” If you ate without first purifying your hands in our elaborate ritual of hand washing, you are sinning as much as if you have slept with a prostitute. “…Whoever makes light of the washing of his hands will be uprooted from the world.” You do not deserve to live here. You deserve to die.
Another rabbi says, “A person who despises the washing of the hands before a meal is to be, is excommunicated.” You're to be put out of our fellowship, you are to be put out of the synagogue. It's a serious problem.
So, now we read that the Pharisees and Scribes came to accuse Jesus' disciples of breaking this important tradition because they do not wash their hands. Now, to be clear, Jesus himself also didn't wash his hands. It was stated in Luke 11, on another incident.
But the Scribes and Pharisees decided to pick bones with the disciples of Jesus, so they open up a committee of inquiry. They sent their chief, I think, people from the HQ in Jerusalem. The Scribes and Pharisees from the headquarters, they came to Jesus to ask him and confront Him with this question.
Now, they came all the way from Jerusalem. You say, “Where is Jesus at this point of time?” He's probably around Gennesaret. That's the lake and I know that from Matthew 14, verse 34. And Gennesaret is some 120 km from Jerusalem. That's quite a distance actually! It's like from here all the way to Yong Peng.
You know where's Yong Peng, Malaysia? If you drive, it's about 2+ hours’ drive. And that's the distance, 120 klick. And in those days, you must remember, they don't drive. To travel all the way, to send a high-powered people, it must be a serious issue.
So, they took up this issue. They came to Jesus and said, “Why do you break our traditions, teachings and rituals pass down over the generations, they are given to us by our elders probably, our forefathers and you have to answer before us.” [Matthew 15:1-2]
So, Jesus stands before an elite group of religious leaders. What would he say? His response was brilliant! He was not just going to be on the defensive. He's going to launch a counter attack. And this is his counter attack. He answered them, “And why you asked me this question, but let me ask you this question. Why then do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” [Matthew 15:3]
So, they accused Jesus of breaking their tradition, Jesus then said, “You break God's commandment by your tradition. That's worse!” You say, “Which commandment did the religious leaders break? What tradition caused the people to break God's commandment?” Well, the commandment is the 5th commandment in the 10 Commandments.
And that's why, I say today's sermon has something to do with mothers. Because the fifth commandment is this - Honour your father and your mother, and whoever reviles father or mother must surely die. [Matthew 15:4] These are quotes from the Old Testament, Exodus, Deuteronomy and so on.
So, Jesus cited for them an example. You guys are responsible for breaking the fifth commandment. And you break the fifth commandment by using your own tradition. You justify the breaking of the fifth commandment with your own man-made tradition.
You say, “Which tradition? What tradition?” This is your tradition. You say, “If anyone tells his father or his mother, what you had, you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honour his father.” [Matthew 15:5-6] So this is what they say. This is not what God said. This is not a direct commandment from God at all. This is a man-made tradition!
And that tradition is called the ‘corban’. I was told that this is a word used in Judaism. It's also a word that is used in the Islamic faith. You can actually Google it. But the ‘corban’ that you're talking about in that time, is a gift, a pledge that is to be given to God.
So, this tradition says, “That if you want to, you can actually pledge your wealth, your possessions to God. So that, when you die, all these things will be given for temple service. It will be given for the worship of God.” That is corban. That is given to God.
But the tradition says, “That if you have dedicated this as a corban to God then you cannot give it to anyone else, including your parents, even when they have need. You will say to them, “I need not give this to you, mom and dad. Because I've already ‘corban’ it, given it to God.”
So, in other words, Jesus now says, “For the sake of your corban, for the sake of your twisted tradition, that you could imagine giving to God or dedicating to God means that you can be irresponsible towards your parents. You have made void the word of God. [Matthew 15:6] You have broken the 5th commandment. So you look very religious. Because you say, “I pledge my wealth to God, but actually you are hypocrites. You wear a mask. You're pretending! You're not the real deal!”
“Well, did Isaiah prophesy of you and he said this people honours me with their lips but their heart is far from me.” [Matthew 15:7-8] It is all lip service! Your hearts are far from me! A quote from Isaiah 29, verse 13.
So, the Scribes and Pharisees opened up a committee of inquiry, accusing Jesus - You do not follow our traditions. Your disciples do not wash their hands. They have unclean hands.
Instead of addressing that directly, Jesus turned it around and said, “You hypocrites! You have unclean hearts.” And thereby exposing the wickedness, the evil, the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Now, that's a run through of the nine verses. I have actually finished explaining the nine verses, you can go home.
Of course not, you know that I always say that now. But running through the nine verses, understanding it is a basis for us to consider a few issues that we face. I like to bring you along with me to consider three things.
1]. The Issue of Traditions
Number one, let's look at the issue of traditions. This is the issue. This is a problem. This is the thing that they're talking about. Why do you break our traditions? To be exact, let's have a kind of a working definition for ‘tradition’.
I think a tradition is a teaching or a ritual, pass down over time that is not directly commanded in the Bible. For example, honour your father and your mother. That's not a tradition, strictly speaking, that's a commandment. Because God directly, explicitly stated it.
A tradition is something that is not commanded in the Bible. But it is a teaching or ritual that has passed down over time. So based on that definition, can I ask you, “Are all traditions bad?” What do you think? So clear? I give you an exam tip, alright? Some of you taking mid-year exams, right?
My school teacher used to tell me, if the question asked - Are all fruit green? When they have these ‘all’ or ‘none’, usually the answer is no, one, because in life you usually have some exceptions here and there. So, I can save you some marks if you are not clear about the answer, alright.
So, are all traditions bad? Generally [from the audience]. okay lah, yes or no lah. So, the answer is no. Probably not. Because Jesus didn't say all traditions are bad. He did say that this tradition is bad. But he didn't say all traditions are bad.
Actually, the Bible has traditions that are mentioned. 1st Corinthians 11:2, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” Paul, again also taught not just the Corinthians about traditions, but he also gave them to the people living in Thessalonica. So, in Thessalonians 2:15, he said, “So then brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”
And then in chapter 3 verse six, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”
Now we are all familiar with traditions in this world. We are familiar with traditions in Singapore. And if you are Chinese today, you will know that during Chinese New Year, we have traditions. Chinese New Year traditions : We go to people's houses with oranges. We wear red. We sing Chinese New Year songs. We eat peanut cookies. We have yusheng. And stuff… these are traditions, definitely not commanded in the Bible. These are things we do.
Now, let me ask you then, are there traditions in church? Like? Very good, Shalom. Christmas. Christmas is a tradition. Because you are absolutely right. Because the Bible doesn't command anyone to celebrate on the 25th of December. I never … unless you tell me there's a verse I have not read. But I've never seen a verse that says, “You shall hold services on 25th December.” No such command!
In fact, I'm sure you might already know, it's unlikely Jesus is born in December. Because that's when the shepherds are out in the wild, and December it's wintertime in Israel. It's very unlikely, He's even born then. But this has been something done by the Christian churches all around the world for many, many years.
Now, in Gospel Light, we hold Christmas services not because we think Jesus is born on this day. But we know that many people are most inclined maybe to come to church service or to hear God's Word. And so, we take it as an opportunity to teach the Bible, to teach the gospel to them. But this is a tradition that is a … upheld by many, many churches, right up to today.
Any other traditions? Okay, Easter. Good Friday. Okay, the Bible doesn't say hold services on Easter, alright. But we do, do it and I think the rationale will be quite similar to Christmas. Any other traditions? Four songs before the sermon. Zavier, you are wrong! Because I know the team sometimes sing five songs. Alright, that's as a kind of a tradition. It's about a liturgy. It's about the way we do things.
So, traditions are not all bad, because they help us apply principles to specific circumstances at specific times. And they can be very useful. Okay, I'll come to that in a while. Any other traditions you know of? Let me quote some also illustrations I can think of. One is the tradition of having crosses in church buildings. That's actually a, a tradition that is seen all over the world.
I say it's a tradition, because number one, God actually never commands us to build buildings, right? And number two, even if you have a building, he doesn't command you to put a cross on the building. Actually, the emblem of the Christian life, not just the cross, it's also the empty tomb. But empty tomb, harder to put up, so most people just put up the cross.
And so, in our church when we first looked at the design of the building, we wanted to have no cross in the building at all. The reason was we wanted this place to be somewhere, even unbelievers, people of other faiths would be comfortable stepping into. So, we didn't want it to be overly churchy, if you understand what I'm saying.
But after all, we realize people say, “I, I want to be married and want to have a cross.” OK lah, then we put the cross at level 2, ‘The Gospel Hall’. Alright, so you see a cross there for wedding purposes. And then the other cross we have in this building is? Is? There are only two crosses. One at level 2, one at the outside of the building.
Because when people drive pass, they tell us, “I thought this is the carpark of Flo Residence or this is a Club House of Flo Residence.” So, we have no choice, we want to tell you this is a church, we put up the cross there.
So, every church building, I think almost at least here in Singapore, I see a cross somewhere. Not commanded, but it's a tradition. Any other traditions? Sinners Prayers. Perhaps, yes, it's a tradition. Wearing a cross. Yes, similar concept to this.
Okay, let's go to dressing. And I think another tradition, you may see in other churches is that the leaders, the preachers, the pastors have to be dressed in a certain way. By the way, I'm very, I'm very glad I don't have to do that. I really am very grateful that this church doesn't make me do that, alright.
Now, by the way, there's nothing wrong with this, except that I say, the Bible doesn't command Pastors to dress in this way. But if you think that there is rich symbolism in this dress code, that's also fine. There's nothing wrong with that! Just don't imagine that these clothes are super holy or anything lah.
So there are traditions and the tradition may also be applied to music. There are some norms and guidelines to music that may not flow directly from Scripture. But it's just something that we've done for a long time. Or it may be, the way someone preaches that can be a tradition.
We have hosted Pastors from Indonesia, they have joined us and they have this time of interaction with us. Whenever I meet with them the number one question, is not that it is the first question they ask. But the question they always will ask is … They look at our church, they look at this stage and they will ask me, “Where is your pulpit?”
What's a pulpit? A pulpit is a rostrum, a kind of a place where you can put your notes and you can hide behind. So where is your pulpit? Then I will share with them, “Well, pulpits are useful if you put notes on it and so on and so forth. But typically in our church, we, we don't usually preach with notes, so we do not need a pulpit. Moreover, the Bible doesn't command us to preach with a pulpit.”
And if you think about it, Jesus did not go around carrying a pulpit, from the boat to the mountain. And he just preach wherever he is. So, we are quite cool with saying, “Pulpits can be useful, but they're not commanded.” It's a kind of tradition, they have done it for hundreds of years in Europe and so that's what happens across the world. It's a kind of tradition.
And the way we do Lord supper, the way we have our liturgies, the sequence of events - what we do. A lot of that is not directly commanded, but they are traditions that we follow. Like Zavier will say, four songs, five songs. These are the norms.
So are all traditions bad? No. They can be useful. But, let's consider the flipside. Are all traditions good? Ah, you have learned my exam tricks, trick very well. Yes, not all traditions can be good because sometimes the traditions are derived from wrong biblical understanding.
The only thing that we know for sure would never go wrong, ever is the Bible. Right? That's rock solid truths. But everything else, especially when it comes from man, could be misguided.
So, there may be traditions that are derived from wrong understandings. And even if they're not originally derived from wrong understanding, if you're not careful, over time we can value the tradition above the word of God. And that's where the trouble lies too! Just like the Pharisees here, they have a tradition of corban. And if you are not careful, it supersedes the 5th commandment.
So, I think the principle I like to leave you with, is this - we, as a church aim to be Biblical but not necessarily traditional. If traditions are helpful and biblical, sure. But we must hang on tight, cling on to the Bible and hold more loosely - traditions.
So people always ask, “Pastor, after membership class, after I apply as a member, do you have a code of conduct, a rulebook for members of this church? My answer to them, “ Yes.” “Who write one, ah?” they ask. I say, “God.”
Because the code of conduct is written in the Bible. We don't have an extra code of conduct. So, I think it's important for us whenever there are questions, controversy, we don't turn to our traditions, we must turn to the word of God. And it's also very important, we understand why the traditions are in place. Don't just do things blindly.
A story is told of a young lady, she just got married and she wanted to bake a ham. And so she got a leg of ham and she cut off the two ends and sizzles it in a pan. The husband saw that and says, “Dear, why do you cut off the two ends?” She says, “I don't know! My mom did it.”
So, the next time the young husband met his mother-in-law, he asked, “Mom, why do you cut off the two ends when you roast or prepare the ham?” She says, “I don't know! Because grandma did it.” And so the, the grandson-in-law spoke to the grandmother-in-law and says, “Grandma, why do you cut off the two ends of the ham when you roast it.” “Well, because my pan is too small.”
Some reasons existed in the past, but that doesn't mean the same reasons may exist today. We must always understand why.
Now, as a church, therefore I say, “We aim to be biblical.” Now, I'm not running down traditions by any means. But it does mean that we must constantly be willing to humble ourselves and re-examine our premises. Re-examine why we do what we do.
And as a church, we have journeyed somewhat in some instances. For example, in the past, in this church, the only music, the only songs we can sing are songs taken from a particular book. From a particular selection of hymn, you know, like there are thousands of hymns, but the only ones Gospeliters can sing is from this holy book, called the “Songs and Hymns of Revival’.
Last time, used to be green colour. This one, now red, I don't know why. But we, we could only sing from one source. Remember that? How many of you remember those days? I just want to see how many are old-timers. 剩几只猫 [shèng jǐ zhǐ māo] [how many cats are left in Chinese] ah. Literally, so few ! Those who have been with us you would know, that we were so strict. That any other song was like, you're going to hell after you sing that.
Now, we re-examined our premise. And realized God did not say, “You can only sing from Songs and Hymns of Revival.” If he said that, we will only do that. But he did not say that. So, why is it that we were so particular?
Now, there are good reasons why we should be very careful about the selection of worship songs. But that doesn't mean that it is limited only to one book. So, over time we have learned, we want to be biblical, not necessarily traditional. And so today, you have different genres and so on and so forth. We were willing to kill some sacred cows.
Another sacred cow we had to slay, is that maybe mistaken notion that all English-speaking people can only read one translation of the Bible. That was largely what we taught many years ago. Our church, we preach only from the King James Bible. And our people can only read King James Bible. And if you come to church, you better carry the King James Bible. You bring any other version, you're cursed.
But we also realized, whilst King James is a good translation, it is not the only translation. It is certainly not the inspired translation, and there can be other good and faithful translations. And that's why we also slayed that sacred cow.
And today, we preach from an ESV, a different version, that is a little bit easier for your reading. But it is still faithful to the original, as best as they could do it. And that we allow for you to read other translations. Now, we're not certainly saying, “Every translation is good.” Actually, a lot translations are bad. But we are saying, “we understand there's not only one translation.”
So, this is the issue of traditions. “What's the point?”, you say. The point is this - we must hold tightly to the Bible and assess traditions. We must never let tradition supersede the Bible and we must understand why we have traditions for specific circumstances, alright? Can?
Someone ask me about burial and cremation. I thought I should also say that. When you die, can you be cremated or buried? Both? Well, some people actually think you can only be buried. But actually, the Bible doesn't say, “Thou shall be buried or you cannot be cremated.” I don't see that. So, there's a preference, sure!
For some people to have burial but we have to be fair to the Scripture, that it is not sin, it is not, to be forbidden if there should be other ways of disposing the body. So, anyway you can think of many other traditions, but I hope the point is clear.
2] The Issue of Worship
Second thing, I want to talk about is the issue of worship. That's the issue also at hand. The Jews believe that … it's really the Jewish leaders believe that they had to worship God when they wash their hands. It's a lot about ceremony. It's about ritual. It's about rites.
They think that worship of God is seen in these purification processes, these rituals. But actually, as Jesus explained, worship is not about all these external washings. Worship at the heart of it is about pleasing God. “In vain do they worship me with their lips but their heart is far from me.”
And so, like RC Sproul would say, “It is the pleasing of God that is at the heart of worship.”
Real worship is not just going through the motions. Real worship is not washing your hands. Real worship is coming to God with a heart that says, “I want to please you. I want to honour you.” And if you want to please God and if you want to honour God, make sure you do this. What is this?
A whole church that doesn't understand worship, cannot be, right? If worship is about pleasing God then it boils down to this one thing. This is the one thing you do to worship God. You can do many other things but if you don't do this one thing, you don't worship him.
What is it? You need to? Obey. Because “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to listen …” sheme, 什么是什么，shén me shì shén me] “… listen in order to obey than the fat of rams.” [1 Samuel 15:22]
Follow the line of thinking, worship is not about external rites or rituals. The heart of worship is a heart that seeks to please God. And what pleases God - obedience. If you say you love your wife, if you say you love your husband. You don't just send flowers, you do what they want. You seek to please them.
If my children say they love me, I don't want them to just write me Birthday cards, Christmas cards, and disobey me with their lives. I want them to obey me. If we say, “we want to please God, then let us not just come to church, put money in the bags when we are living disobedient lives.”
Because what God wants is not the sacrifice of bulls and cows but the sacrifice of your heart. That is willing to humble yourself, take up the cross to die to self, in order to obey Him. That is what God delights in.
So, this morning as you came to this church to worship, let me ask you, “What is your idea of worship?” Is it just to turn up? Show face? Chalk up attendance? Sing a few songs? Bear with this preacher? Put some money in? And say, “I've worshipped God.” When you are secretly living in all kinds of sin, that is not worship! God sees your heart. God sees you, not just on Sunday morning but every day.
There are many religions that have this concept that God is limited to some locality. Oh no! The God of the Bible sees us everywhere, all the time and to the very depths of our being. This is sobering but that's what is needed.
And that's why in our church, we have this segment, Xavier says, “Four songs.” You know, where's the break in the four songs? Third song. There's a break. Break for what? Because John Chong breathless? Need to catch up breath?
You don't know our secret, he sings, sings, wah … Now, of course, John can sing for long time and he sings well. But the reason why we take a break from singing at the third song, is that we wanted this to be part of a repentant cycle. Where you are given this time to reflect and to repent. This is the time for you not to imagine that all is well. But, you can come clean before God, confessing your sins that he may wash you, cleanse you. That you may be restored in joy and fellowship with him
Because worship is not just sitting here, listening to a sermon. Worship is saying, “God, I want to please you with my life. And if I am living in sin, I want to repent of it to honour You.” So that's why and that's what I want to ask you to do each and every time we gather.
Now, let me tell you what is exciting. What's exciting is this - if worship is not about rituals or form and it is primarily an issue of the heart, then worship can take place anywhere and in anything we do. Even very mundane things like eating or drinking. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you can do all and you should do all to the glory of God”. [1 Corinthians 10:31]
Because worship is about pleasing God. And so worship takes place, not just here on Sunday morning. Worship takes place everywhere, if you do all things to please your God. And that's why Jesus also said, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” [1 John 4:24]
I believe the word, ‘spirit’ here refers to the inward attitudes - the hearts, the motivations behind what we do. As contrasted with the Samaritan woman who said, “We worship in this mountain.” Oh, no, no, no! Worship is not fixed to a locality. God is not geographically bound. Worship is in the heart, in everything we do.
And so again I want to tie it back to Mother's Day, when you honour your mother on Mother's Day and you honour your mother every day, that is worship. Do you know that? Because you're obeying God, you're pleasing him.
You say, “My, my mother is not very good.” You, you honour her because of God. “I, I don't like my husband. My husband is useless.” You respect your husband because that is worship. “I don't love my wife. She's always nagging at me.” You love her because that is worship. That should motivate everything we do.
The Bible calls us to love our neighbours, right? That's worship. The Bible calls us to love our enemies,. That's worship! And often times, you see the command to love our neighbour and love our enemy very close together. Because they are often the same people. But when you love people around you, that is an act of worship. The issue of worship, the heart of the matter is that, this is a matter of the heart.
3]. The Issue of the Heart
Finally, I just want to touch on the last point. And that is, the issue of the heart. I think these three things flow from the text, flow from the discussion. So, it's quite simple, the issue of the heart. Jesus, I think exposed the deficiency amongst the Scribes and Pharisees. The deficiency of the Scribes and Pharisees is not that they did not wash enough hands. They washed until their hands rot already, I think. That's not the problem. The problem was that they had issue of the heart.
Over sometime this church, many members actually have periodically come to tell me things like, “Pastor, do you know that the ladies in our church don't dress very well?” “What do you mean?” “They, they dress too skimpily. They, they dress not so modestly. Maybe as a church, you should set some standard. The length of the skirt must be of a particular length. Must, must be how many cm below the knee, above the knee, whatever. I do not know. But we should set some standard because otherwise the ladies’ skirts just go higher, higher, higher. Very scary.”
Now, I can totally understand why someone would be concerned. I mean, it is true that we should encourage biblical understanding of dressing, including the principle of modesty. Sure! But I did share with her or share with people who have asked me over time, that I've also known and seen people do this. When the church imposes a particular regulation or standard - must be some length and so on. The ladies will come dressed like this. They will follow. Because otherwise they don't look so good, they are marked out.
But once the pastor say, “Amen, service over.” Then, you see the toilet packed because they all go to toilet and change parade. They change into a very short one. Just now so long, cannot take it. Now, they change very short because they are leaving church anyway. They don't care! Worship is over!
The issue is not about the standards you impose. The issue is that of the heart. So, I share with them the goal is not so much forcing them to change on the outside. The goal is to help their heart to be changed from the inside.
The only way, the Scribes and Pharisees would ever really know God is not with washing of hands, ten times, hundred times more but the changing of the heart. And who can change the heart? Only God. “You…”, let me say this, “You can't change your heart.” You can go for washing, you can ask your Pastor to pray for the water, make it holy. Anyway, nothing like that, ever in the Bible.
We can wash many, many times, but you can never cleanse your heart. Only God can give you a new heart. Because the Bible says in Ezekiel 36:26, for example, “And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, I will give you a heart of flesh.” I will sprinkle your heart, so that it may be cleansed.
So, it is always God, who is the Doer, who is the Giver. I will. I will. I will. I will. Not, you can. I alone can do that.
Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” The goal is for ladies to have a heart that is impacted by the gospel in such a way that they don't just do things on Sunday for people to see. But they will obey God from the heart in everything they do. Why? Because the law of God is written in that new heart. They want to obey.
And I think that's what Jesus talked about. When he spoke to Nicodemus, a religious leader, who wanted to ask Jesus, what is the way to salvation and life? He had done many religious things. I'm sure he has washed his hands thousands of times in his life, perform all kinds of rites. But deep in his heart, he is not sure he is saved.
So he wanted to ask Jesus, “How can I be saved?” Jesus says, “ This is, this is what you need to know. Truly, truly, there is no question. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you want to be part of the kingdom. If you want to enter the kingdom of God, you must be born of water and of the spirit, you must be born from above, you must be born again.” [John 3:5]
You say, “What do you mean by born of water and the Spirit?” I think, it refers to the promises in the new covenant. Jeremiah, Ezekiel - “Where God will give you a new spirit, and he will sprinkle your heart clean.”
So God is saying or Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, “You want to be saved? It's got to be the work of God in giving you a new heart.” “Not more rituals, Nicodemus. Not more rites. Not more procedures. A new heart, you must be born from above, you must humble yourself before God and recognize you cannot save yourself.”
And then later on Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” [John 3:14-15] How can I be saved? How can I have eternal life? Jesus says, “Believe in the Son of Man when he's lifted up. Believe in Christ, in Me.” In effect, He's saying, “When I'm going to die on the cross and rise again for your sins.”
How can I have a new heart? I need to believe in Jesus who died and rose again. But what do you mean by believing in Jesus? Oh, it's actually very simple. Think about the story, last time, years ago in the Old Testament, when Israel murmured against God, complained against God and God sent them a plague of venomous snakes.
They were bitten and they were struggling. They were in pain and they died. And in their misery, they cried out for mercy and God said to Moses, “Go fashion a bronze serpent and lift it up. And anyone bitten by the snake, who will turn and look at this bronze serpent will be saved.” And just as people turned from their sin and look to the saving grace of God in the serpent, men and women today are to turn from sin and look to Jesus.
What does it mean to believe? To look to Christ. To despair of self and to trust, His finished work on the cross. Then, and only then, are you saved. That you may have eternal life. That God will give you this new heart.
During the life and times of Jesus, the religious leaders opposed Christ. But perhaps, all that he has spoken during his interactions with them were not in vain, with regards to salvation. Because I read in Acts later on, a great company of priests came to Christ. So, Jesus exposed their self-righteousness, their sin, so that they would know, I hope. And I trust that they need God to give them a new heart.
This morning, let me ask you, “Do you realize you need a new heart.” Do you realize that, by you coming to church each and every Sunday putting money in the bag, sitting here listening to the preacher, is not the means to salvation. Because you can come to church, but never come to Christ. And you'll be damned for your sin. You need to repent and believe in Jesus. May you humble yourself today and cry out to him for mercy to save you.
And for all my brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray today you will recognize the heart of worship. It is not just the externalities. It's a heart that wants to please God. A heart that delights in obeying Him. May we all come back to the heart of worship. Let's bow for a word of prayer together.
Father, we are thankful for this time that we can hear Your Word. I pray that your people would right now, even meditate upon these realities, examine their lives and be willing to humble themselves, to come clean before you. For there may be some today who pretend to worship when their hearts are far from You.
There may be some today who are living in sin and will not turn. Oh God, have mercy, convict them of their sin, show them the supremacy and worth. All surpassing worth of knowing You and walking with You. And may Your joy and Your love in the Gospel so saturate their hearts that they will be willing to deny themselves, take up the cross and once again, follow after Your Son.
I pray, as a church we will come back to the heart of worship. Once again, we pray for friends who are here. They may be thinking, Christianity is just like any other religion. Go for some rituals. Go for some washings. Go for some rites.
But Lord, let them see today, except a man be born from above, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Help them to come in absolute self-despair that they may find their all in all, in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Grant to Your people repentance and faith, turn their eyes unto Jesus. We thank You and we pray all these in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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