What Can Make Me Pure Within? (Matthew Sermon 71 of 151)
March 11, 2007 | Andrew Davis
The greatest gift that Almighty God can give you is Himself, that He would reveal Himself, that He would give Himself to you, He can give you no higher gift. And for myself, I could not enjoy heaven if I couldn't have that. If I could just see the streets of gold, and if I could see the walls of the new Jerusalem, and if I could see the new heaven and new earth, but I were denied seeing the face of God, it would not be heaven to me. The greatest gift that Almighty God can give to you and me is Himself. The greatest gift that you and I can give to Him is our worship, that we would offer Him a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess His name, that our hearts would be moved with love and deep devotion to Him, and that moved out of that, we would give ourselves to Him. We can give no greater gift.
As I think about those two things, essential to both is a pure heart. If our hearts are filled with wickedness and defilement, we cannot receive the gift of Himself, we can't. We will not treasure it, we will reject it, we have no interest in it. And from an impure heart, God can receive no worship. So if God will bless us with Himself, and if we will give to God a sacrifice of true genuine praise, there must be at the heart of that a pure heart, a heart made pure by the grace of God. In our text, we have some people trying to purify their hearts by their own efforts through tradition and legalism and through their own man-made religion. They are failing, and they are in great danger of being deceived into thinking that they are succeeding, that their worship is acceptable to God.
Some time ago, David penned these words, "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord and who may stand in His holy place?" Is that your desire? Would you like to ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place? Well, who may do that? It says he who has clean hands and a pure heart. Now, all week last week, I was concerned about clean hands. I had that little bottle of Purell with me that kills 99.99% of all germs. I was just washing all the time. I wasn't doing it like the Scribes and Pharisees here. I wasn't seeking to wash my hands for spiritual reasons, but I wanted my hands to be clean. Some of you are concerned about this norovirus. Wash your hands, okay? It's very, very necessary. As the soap is breaking up the surface tension, and as stuff is getting uncovered, fungi and viruses and bacteria, it's getting washed away, and it's just wonderful. Clean hands. We can do that part, friends, but what about your heart? What can make me pure within? Now that's the question, isn't it? Frankly, Jesus said, "Make the inside of the cup and dish clean, then the outside will be clean too, because if your heart is pure, your hands will be pure too.” I want to know, what can purify my heart? I want to stand on the hill of God and see His face, I want to be in His presence forever and ever. He tells me I have to have a pure heart, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God." The implication is, “blessed are the pure in heart for they, and only they, will see God.” So I must have a pure heart. But how? In our text today it does not tell us how. Thanks be to God, there are other texts. This text tells us how not to try to purify our heart.
The Scribes and Pharisees were professional legalists, who thought that they could earn their way back to God in reference to their sin by keeping the laws of God and their own extra laws that they had made up to help them keep the laws of God. They had built up traditions of the elders that they had passed on from generation and generation, and in this whole machinery of religion, they felt that they could be pure and acceptable to God and worship Him. Along with this whole way of living comes judgmentalism. It's almost inevitable that you're going to feel yourself superior to other people who are not doing what you're doing, and you're going to judge them if they don't follow your patterns.
Part of it is, I think, just that human desire to dominate. The Scribe and Pharisees want to be in charge and say what's what and walk through the marketplaces with flowing robes and long tassels and have people greet them and honor them and all of that. They wanted the whole thing. So they come at the Son of God, the pure and holy Son of God, with an accusation, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat." And so they're bringing this issue of legalism and the tradition of the elders. Jesus turns the whole thing right around, they make an attack on Him, He makes a far more significant attack on them. Why more significant? Because He's the Son of God, He's the judge of all the Earth, and He's judging them. Very serious. He charges them with arrogance over the Word of God. "Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said... But you say... " You see?
They were overturning the command of God, "For God said, Honor your father and mother, and anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death. But you say, Whatever gift my parents might have otherwise received from me is a gift devoted to God." Thus he is not to be helped by it. You don't need to honor your father with it, "Thus you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your traditions." But then he gets to the even more serious issue. What does God want from us? He wants worship, He wants us to honor Him, and so He gets to this matter of hypocrisy. "You hypocrites," He said, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you. These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Oh, those words could haunt any true and righteous heart. You listen to that and you say, "Oh God, may it not be me." And we feel that it might be, not that our souls would be condemned, that our faith in Christ is of no value, but we see that our hearts are prone to wander. We're prone to go through the rituals and prone to come in here and act like we're really okay with God; we're really worshipping and singing and going through the motions, our lips are saying the right things, but our hearts are far from God, and we yearn to be delivered from that.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, not for a sham. We want the real thing, we want to be righteous, we want our worship to be right and so we are hungering and thirsting for a pure heart. That is the issue that's in front of us in this text. What can make me pure within, so that my worship really would be acceptable to God, that I wouldn't be worshipping in vain? "They worship Me in vain," He said. I don't want to waste my time in worship. I don't want you coming here week after week to waste your time, and you will do so if your hearts are far from God. It doesn't matter how many times you come, it's actually worse, because you're hardening your heart, you're learning how to give fake hypocritical worship. Don't learn that skill. But rather that we would come and give to God a genuine heart of worship and praise. That's the thrust of the text. But here it's dealing with it negatively as I mentioned.
There's no real answers in the text, only what are not the answers. Legalism and traditionalism and hypocrisy, those are not the answers. What is the issue? The issue is heart religion. When I say heart religion, what am I talking about? The heart is the internal part of you, the part of you that thinks, the part of you that feels, the part of you that reasons, the part of you that decides, the part of you that yearns and has affections, that internal part of you, that is your heart. The Bible says the heart does all of those things. That's what God wants, worship from the heart. The problem is that there is defilement in the heart, impurity. Our hearts are not pure naturally, and so we're coming to the issue of defilement. The legalists said, sprinkle water on your fingers in a certain way, and then you'll be ritually pure. Jesus says, "No, you won't. You're still defiled." There's an internal defilement. True defilement doesn't come from outside in, true defilement comes from inside out. That's what He's getting at.
Now, it's interesting, in verse 10 and 11, Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, "Listen and understand, what goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, now that's what makes him unclean." This is a very significant moment in redemptive history, it really is. Mark highlights it, he underscores it. This is the moment in which Jesus declared all foods clean, very, very significant. It's the reason that we can eat pork with a clear conscience. It's the reason that Peter could be shown a sheet with all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creeping things and snakes, and all kinds of stuff and be told, "Get up Peter, kill and eat," [Acts10]. "Never, Lord," he said, "I've never eaten anything impure and unclean." And he was told, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." It's a change. Does God have that right? Are we going to give Him that permission? It's okay for God to make that change. The Old Covenant has gone, and the New Covenant is here, and this is part of it.
If you'll look in Deuteronomy 14, there'll be a list of all kinds of animals, I'll read part of it, "Do not eat anything detestable. These are the animals you may eat... " Are you ready now? "The ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, mountain sheep, you may eat any animal that has a split hoof divided in two and that chews the cud." Those are the rules, and the text continues with the birds you can eat and can't eat, it goes through the fish that you can eat and can't eat, all of that. That was the law, and it was given by God. But here Jesus, who is Lord of heaven and earth, decrees that all foods are clean, spiritually clean. It doesn't mean you can't do damage to your body if you eat certain things, whatever, that's not it, but in terms of spirituality, you're not at any disadvantage, whatever you eat.
It's not what goes into a man that makes him defiled, it's what comes out of a man that makes him defiled. That's the issue. We're already impure, we're already defiled, and what comes out of us, that's what defiles us. Jesus made this very plain to His disciples. The disciples came later to Jesus and said, “We have a problem here. Do you realize you have a problem? You have just made quite a statement.” The disciples came in verse 12 and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" Offended would be an understatement. Jesus replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them, they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach, and then out of the body, but the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean, but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean."
Very clear, God is intensely concerned with what's going on inside in our hearts, that's what matters to Him. This is a consistent theme in the Scripture. You remember how God rejected Saul from being king? And He said, "I have sought for myself a man after my own heart, and he will be king instead of you." And that man was David. David writes of his heart after God, again and again in the Psalms, it's a major theme in the Book of Psalms. Psalm 9:1-2, "I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart. I will tell of all your wonders, I will be glad and rejoice in you, I will sing praise to your name, O Most High." It's heart worship. Psalm 13:5 says, "But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation." Psalm 16:7, "I will praise the Lord who counsels me, even at night my heart instructs me." There's an internal heart instruction. God instructs the heart, the heart instructs the rest of the person. Psalm 17:3, "Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing. I have resolved that my mouth will not sin." It's a determination from the heart not to sin. Psalm 19:14, "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Read my mind O Lord, read my heart, and may my heart be pleasing to you. May my mind be like an open book and may there be nothing defiled on those pages." Heart religion. Psalm 27:8, "My heart says of you, Seek his face. Your face, Lord, I will seek. Hide not your face from me." That's a heart yearning after God. Or Psalm 1:39, "Search me, O God and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." This is true worship then, it is a heart yearning after God, delighting in God inwardly, searching out God's wisdom, keeping purity within one's private thoughts and life, exposing one's heart to the searching out of the holy God, seeking to make the heart and the hands clean, seeking God's face from an internal drive. This is the heart religion of David, and this is what Christ means to work inside you and me. The kingdom of heaven comes first into human hearts, then it comes to the new heaven and new earth. So it's in the hearts of believers, that's where it comes. That's what he means.
Jesus was even more concerned about this then was King David. As we've already mentioned, He spoke of the ultimate blessing for internal purity. Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." He said it isn't enough just to refrain from adultery. On Judgment Day you'll stand accountable if you even had a lustful thought in your heart. Jesus said it mattered what your heart was set upon, for wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also. It means what you're aspiring after. What do you think about? What are you driving for? Jesus said that's a heart religion. How different is this from the professional religious actors that Jesus was rebuking here? Theirs was a sham. It was a show, it was hypocrisy, it wasn't reality. They delighted in traditionalism and ceremonies and did them better than anyone. They lusted after the praise of other people, they hated the Son of God, and they rejected the concept of a genuine heart relationship with God. We must have a pure heart in order to worship God rightly, but we have a problem. Scripture testifies very plainly of the nature of the human heart unaided by the grace of God. In the days of Noah, Genesis 6:5, "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." That was Noah's day. What about in the time of Jeremiah? Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?"
I met a man in Haiti I will never forget, probably the rest of my life. The man with the red-knit hat, it was 95 degrees and he had a red-knit hat on. He also had an arm that was curved, like it was bent, and had an Ace bandage wrapped around it. It looked like it had been fractured and then set improperly. I was concerned about that, I wanted to see what we could do for him. We were talking, but first and foremost, we wanted to share the gospel, so I began talking to him about his spiritual life. In the conversation I felt needed and led by the Lord to quote to him the Ten Commandments, to go through each of the Ten Commandments quickly. And he said, "I've kept all those." I was surprised. He said, "I've never sinned." I was even more surprised. I've met many people who did not think they sinned enough to go to hell. I actually think most non-Christians are like that. They'll acknowledge that they've sinned, but they just don't think they've sinned enough to merit hell. This man didn't even think he'd ever sinned. I was perplexed, so I said, "Well, you know that Jesus said, 'It's not enough just not to murder, if you're even angry in your heart, you're in danger of the fire of hell.'" "I've never been angry at anyone." I was even more shocked. So I said, "Alright, we gotta ratchet it up on this guy." I said, "If you've even looked at a woman lustfully, you've committed adultery in your heart." "I've never done that." This guy was in his 50s. So I went to the one that got the Apostle Paul, coveting[Romans chapter 7]. "Have you ever yearned for something that wasn't yours and wish you had it?" "Never. Never done it." I said, "Then Jesus can do nothing for you."
It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. That's the nature of the deceit. It doesn't know that it's desperately sick. It thinks it's okay or needs a little help. Well it doesn't. It's a heart of stone, there's no life in it. It's dead. You must have a heart transplant, and only God can do that. I asked the man if he thought I was a Haitian man. He said, "No." I said, "What if I really believe that I'm Haitian?" He said, "You're still not." I said, "Do you think it would help me if I looked in the mirror?" He said, "Yes." And I held up the Bible and I said, "Here's your mirror. There is no one righteous, not even one. No one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become wicked, worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one. Look at yourself in the mirror."
Isn't it amazing how dark a heart can be before God works in them? Now, I don't know what will happen to him. There was nothing more I could do. The heart is dark, it is wicked and it's true still today. Not just in Noah's day, not just in Jeremiah's day, not just in the apostle Paul's day. He said their hearts are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God, and even today. Jesus said that true defilement are sins of the heart. Look what He says, "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and these are what make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts: Murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. That comes from the heart. And these are what make a man unclean, but eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean."
That's God's assessment. What is the remedy? The only remedy there is, is salvation by grace. God, Christ, the Great Physician has given His grim diagnosis of our natural state apart from Him, of our hearts apart from the work of God's grace. Our hearts are defiled and polluted. A river of vileness comes naturally from them. How can the heart be made clean? How can I purify my heart? The answer as I mentioned, is not found in the text. It's not religiosity, thinking that man-made forms of worship and service to God make one righteous before God. It's not traditionalism, thinking that keeping man-made traditions in the pattern of the elders will make us pure before God. It is not legalism, thinking that obeying laws, even God's laws, will make us righteous in God's sight. It cannot be.
No, no, and no. Even God's holy law cannot clean up a defiled heart. It just can expose it for what it really is. In John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim's Progress, Christian is at Interpreter's house, learning about the Christian life, and there's these little dramas that are acted out that help him understand spiritual truth. In one, Interpreter showed him a very large living room full of dust because it had never been swept. Christian saw this for a while and then Interpreter called for a man to come sweep up the room. And as he began to sweep it up, clouds, choking clouds of dust were stirred up so bad that Christian began to choke on it and couldn't breathe. Then Interpreter spoke to a young woman who stood nearby and said, "Bring here the water and sprinkle the room." And when she did, after sprinkling the room with water, the room was quickly cleaned with pleasure.
Christian asked, "What is the meaning of this?" Interpreter answered, "The living room is the heart of a man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the gospel. The dust is original sin and inward corruptions that have defiled the whole man. The man that came and swept up the room at first is the law of God, but the woman that came and sprinkled the water is the gospel. Now just as you saw that as soon as the man began to sweep, the dust flew about the room so much that the room could never be cleaned and you began to choke because of it, this is to prove to you that the law, instead of cleansing the heart from sin by its power actually revives sin and makes it even stronger in the soul, even as it uncovers sin and forbids it. For the law has no power to kill sin, only to expose it and stir it up. Just as you saw the young woman sprinkle the room with water after which it was cleaned with pleasure, this is to show you that when the gospel comes with its sweet and precious influences into the heart, then I say, even as you saw the young woman sweep up the dust by sprinkling the floor with water, so is sin conquered and subdued and the soul made clean through faith, and as a result, fit for the King of Glory to inhabit.
The law cannot clean up the heart, even God's holy law. There's nothing wrong with the law, but there's something wrong with the heart. All the law does is expose the wickedness. Only the grace of God in the gospel can clean up and purify the heart. So Jesus said, "Leave these blind guides." Look at verse 12-14. Don't you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this? He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them, they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." What glorious good news. Some day every plant that God has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. All false teachers, false apostles, cult leaders, false religious systems will someday be weeded out of this world, and in the new Heaven and new Earth, they will not be. They'll be gone forever.
So leave these blind guides. If a blind leads the blind, both will fall into a pit. I was reading about a huge pit in Maui in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Maui. It's a terrifying volcanic pit called The Devil's Throat. It's 165 feet deep and 150 feet across. What's interesting about it, though, is that there's no fence around it, and there's about a 50-foot path right to the edge. So, they advise that you don't go there at twilight or later, and that you don't let your kids run ahead of you on the path while you walk along slowly behind them. They say that right around the edge there's crumbly rock with fissures in it that you can easily trip on and all that. I'm thinking, I would put a fence up if I were the National Park Service, but there's no fence there. Imagine a blind guide of a school of the blind going to listen to the wind blow in The Devil's Throat. They'll fall into the pit.
But the danger of these Scribes and Pharisees is greater than that. The pit they fall in can take your physical life and nothing more. These folks can lead you to hell, they're blind guides. Traditionalism, legalism, hypocrisy. These kinds of things do not purify the heart, they are not the answer. The only answer then is the blood of Christ, the grace of God in Christ. Listen to Titus 3:3-7, "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasure.” That's an impure heart. "We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God, our Savior, appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done but because of His mercy….He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." That's how a defiled heart gets clean.
The pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the blood of Jesus applied, the righteousness of Christ given as a gift, imputed freely as a gift. That's how a defiled heart is made pure.
What application do we take from this? Do you care whether your worship is acceptable to God or not? Does it matter? Does it matter whether you will spend eternity in the presence of worshippers giving praise and glory and honor to the eternal and Almighty God? Does that matter to you? I don't know your heart condition, all of you. It may be that I'm speaking to some who have never been born again. You are not ready to face judgement, if that's the case, you're not ready. You must have the heart of stone removed and you must have a heart of flesh put in by God. You must have a defiled heart purified by the grace of God. But thanks be to God, it's available right now. Simply trust in Jesus, His blood shed on the cross is sufficient for you. Look to Him and trust in Him for the purification of your heart. The Scripture says, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God." Now to you who are saved, let me give you a word of assurance and comfort because I spoke a moment ago about our hearts being far from God, and we feel that. But let me say something to you, if you have been justified by faith, your heart is pure in God's sight. Isn't that wonderful?
After washing His disciples' feet, or while washing his feet, Peter said, "Lord what are you doing? Are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus said, "You don't understand now, later you'll understand." Jesus says, "Can I continue?" Peter said, "No Lord, You will never wash my feet into eternity." Jesus said, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me." Do you hear that? If He doesn't clean your heart, you will not spend eternity with Him. Well, Peter's not done yet. Peter's kind of an arguer, have you noticed, back and forth? He said, "Then Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well." The whole thing, right? But Jesus will not let Peter get the last word. He said, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet, his whole body is clean. And you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you." Oh, what an incredible word that is, that the Creator and Redeemer and Judge of all the Earth can look at you and call you clean.
For such is what you are, by hearing and believing the Word of God. Your heart is clean. It has been clean from the first moment you believed, and it will be clean on into eternity. But yet our hearts can still drift from God, can't they? We can get distracted by the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. We can get distracted by the pleasures of this world. We have more ways to distract our hearts than any generation that has ever lived. We are easily distracted from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. I would urge you to weed those distractions out of your life and get back to a pure devotion, so that you don't walk in here feeling like a hypocrite, like you have lived far from God all week long and now you're coming to worship Him with your lips while your heart is far from Him. Don't be like that. Repent from those things that are distracting you from a pure devotion to Christ and give yourself to Him fully. Let Him work in you that weeding process, that purifying process, and next week when you come here on Sunday morning, don't worship with your lips only, but worship with the heart that's been made clean by the grace of Christ.