A Defiled Heart (Matthew 15:10-20)
Have you ever been shocked to find out that someone you had once held in such high esteem had sinned in a big and public way? It’s very possible that you know people who were once faithful to Christ, and, for whatever reason, succumbed to the tempter. Maybe you’ve known someone who stole some stuff. Maybe you’ve had a brother or sister whom you greatly respected lie to your face. Maybe you’ve seen a brother lose his cool in public and even heard him take the Lord’s name in vain.
Have you ever wondered how sincere followers of Jesus can get caught up in this world and fall in such a spectacular fashion? Jesus answers that question in this morning’s text. The Lord is asked why His disciples do not wash their hands before they eat (Matt 15:2). The washing of hands before eating was one of the most important traditions the Pharisees followed. This tradition really had no basis in Scripture: You know God had instructed Moses about clean and unclean food, and you also know God had instructed Moses about ritual washing under different circumstances. The Pharisees connected dots that God Himself had not connected and required hand washing.
Jesus says that what we put in our mouths has nothing to do with being clean or unclean people. Instead, it’s the heart that really matters. Why do some seemingly devout people become trapped in sin? It’s because the heart is not right before God. That’s what Jesus says in this text. Jesus teaches us: “Your behavior mirrors your heart.”
Text (Matthew 15:10-20)
Jesus calls the multitude to Himself. That’s a cool “nugget,” and I think it tells us a fair amount about the Lord. Apparently, the multitude has heard his discussion with the Pharisees about tradition. Jesus is concerned that the multitude learns the truth. Therefore, He calls them to Himself that He might tell them what the truth really is.
Jesus says it’s not what goes in the mouth that defiles someone; it’s what comes out of the mouth that defiles someone. This statement demonstrates Jesus’ deity. Jesus sets aside the Law of Moses when it comes to clean and unclean foods; only God could have done that. Mark’s account leaves absolutely no doubt that Jesus is setting aside the Law of Moses regarding food. “He declared all foods clean” (Mk 7:19, ESV).This statement also offended the Pharisees. The disciples seem very anxious because Jesus has offended the Pharisees. The Pharisees were not people you really wanted to cross. They didn’t have any political power in the days of Jesus, but because they were so respected by the people offending the Pharisees could make life very difficult. Jesus, however, is far more concerned with truth than keeping everyone happy.
Every plant the Father has not planted will be uprooted. That statement, of course, is very reminiscent of what the Lord said about the wheat and the tares. The point is that God will mete out punishment on the last day.
The Pharisees are blind leaders of the blind, and both will fall into the ditch. The Pharisees were blind–they did not know the truth, and they were leading others into error. Notice that Jesus says both fall into the ditch. Both the one who teaches error and the one following him fall into the ditch. Just because someone is beguiled by a smooth-talking false teacher does not excuse him or her of the responsibility of knowing the truth. Therefore, we must seek out truth for ourselves.
Peter asked the Lord to explain the parable.
What one puts in his mouth goes through the stomach and is eliminated. Because of the natural process with food, food has nothing to do with defiling the heart.
What comes out of the mouth defiles a man because what comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart. Neat little factoid: Matthew’s order of sins that proceed from the heart is fairly much the order of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Real defilement has to do with defilement of the heart, not defilement of the body.
“Your behavior mirrors your heart.” That principle runs throughout Scripture. “As he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov 23:7). Matthew 23:25-28.
How should we then live? It would seem that the first priority must be to clean our hearts. I say that because a clean heart is so very important. “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully” (Ps 24:3-4). “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps 51:10). “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). If you really want to see God, you’d better have a pure heart. There is no other way.
Jesus’ words notwithstanding, I believe you’ll see God regardless of what shape your heart is in. But, you won’t be able to gaze upon His face for all eternity. I really think that’s what Jesus means in the Beatitudes. You won’t want to see God if your heart is not pure; it will not in any way be a pleasant experience.
How can you have a pure heart? What if we could look at someone who was committing the sins Jesus mentions at verse 19 and then purified his heart? Wouldn’t that be a powerful way to learn how to purify our hearts? We have such an example in Saul of Tarsus. Saul was full of many of the sins Jesus mentions at verse 19.
- Jesus: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
- “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest” (Acts 9:1).
- “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (1 Tim 1:13).
Yet, Saul became a pillar of all that is pure and holy. What led to Saul’s purification of his soul?
You recognize your sin.
As Saul went to Damascus to persecute Christians, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light. Jesus says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul had no idea that he was sinning in persecuting the church. In fact, he thought he was doing the Lord a favor.
If we are going to be able to purify our hearts, we absolutely must understand what is wrong. A physician cannot treat us unless he knows what is wrong with us. We cannot take corrective action in our lives until we know what is wrong.
Scripture gives us some very specific lists of sins.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
- Galatians 5:19-21.
- Revelation 21:8.
Go through those lists and think long and hard about your life. What sins on those lists do you see in your own life? Be honest with yourself–God already knows and you cannot improve without seeing where you are.
You make cleansing your life a priority.
God intends for us to have cleansing our lives a priority. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33); righteousness consistent with the kingdom of God is to be a priority in our lives. What else can be more important that making sure our hearts are pure that we might see God?
Saul made cleansing his life a priority. “He was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). Food and drink no longer really mattered to Saul. This soon-to-be Apostle had other things on his heart. Fasting was often done in order that one might pray. That is likely the case here; however, we’re not told explicitly that was so.
In Acts, you find that people obeyed the Lord immediately. When Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch were riding in the chariot, they came to water, and the eunuch wanted to be baptized right then and there (Acts 8:36-38). “Immediately [the Philippian jailer] and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:33). These folks did not mess around. They weren’t going to wait around and get their hearts right with God–there was an urgent need to do so.
I understand that the examples in Acts are of baptism and that most of you have obeyed the Lord in baptism. But, notice the urgency that those folks felt. What could possibly be more important than getting your heart right with God?
You bear fruit worthy of repentance.
Saul certainly brought forth fruit with his repentance. “Immediately [Saul] preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). The rest of his life was dedicated to preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
You find the same thing with other folks in Acts. “[The Philippian jailer] took [Paul and Silas] the same hour of the night and washed their stripes” (Acts 16:33). After Sceva’s seven sons tried to cast out a demon, notice what happened in Ephesus: Acts 19:17-20. There’s (1) Confession of sin and (2) Fruit of repentance in burning the books.
What fruit of repentance do you need to bring forth in your life?
Throughout this sermon, we’ve thought of ways to cleanse our own hearts. It is certainly our responsibility to bring forth “fruit worthy of repentance.” However, no amount of repentance can make our hearts sparkling clean; we need God through the blood of Jesus to do that. After David’s sin with Bathsheba, he cries out to God, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps 51:7). “You have purified your souls in obeying the truth” (1 Pet 1:22). If we’re in Christ and walking in Christ, His blood continually cleanses our hearts: “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).
Do you need to come and be cleansed of sin?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.