Authenticity that comes from the heart
by Jack Wald | April 9th, 2017

Matthew 23:1-12

I began the sermon last Sunday asking, “Did Jesus love his disciples?” The answer, of course, is, “Yes, Jesus loved his disciples.” Did Jesus love everyone he met? It is clear to me that the answer to that question is also, “Yes.” Jesus came to rescue all men and women, not just some men and women. Even the worst human being is a person Jesus loves and wants in his kingdom.

I read last Sunday the account of Nik Ripken who worked with the people of Somalia during the Somali Civil War from 1991-1997. During that time he shared the Lord’s Supper with four Somali followers of Jesus and two other foreign relief workers. He talks about that meal as the highlight of his spiritual life. They met secretly, but a few weeks later the four Somalis were assassinated in a coordinated attack; they died within minutes of each other in four separate incidents. Nik writes of his reaction the day after he received the news.

The day after the assassinations, I walked through the streets of our Mogadishu neighborhood with armed guards trailing along in my wake. Everywhere I looked, I saw destruction and suffering. As I thought about my murdered friends, I suddenly became so angry at the evil that I cried out to God like an Old Testament prophet wanting to call down destruction from on high.
    “Why don’t you just destroy these people, Lord?” I demanded to know. “They have already killed almost all of your children in this country. Not one of these people deserves your salvation or your grace!”
    The Spirit of God spoke to my heart in that instant: Neither do you, Nik! You were no less than they are – but, by my grace, you were born in an environment where you could hear, understand, and believe. These people have not had that opportunity.
    God reminded me of a truth from Scripture, “Even while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Then another thought came to mind: And Christ died not only for you, Nik, but for every Somali in the Horn of Africa.

Jesus loved every person he encountered during his time on earth, but that does not mean he was not angry at the behavior of some of the people he met.

In the text this morning Jesus calls out the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in a stinging rebuke. But don’t forget, as you read this and other passages in the gospels, that Jesus loved these teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Even though what they did angered him, he loved them and wanted them to repent and come into his kingdom.

The setting for this teaching is in the temple courtyard where the teachers of the law and the Pharisees would stand and read from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and then they would expound on what they read.

Jesus stood in the temple courtyard and confronted these Jewish leaders. For three years Jesus had avoided this kind of confrontation. In John 7:6–13 the brothers of Jesus taunted him, telling him if he really was so special, he should go to the festival in Jerusalem and show everyone the wonderful things he could do. But Jesus told them:
“My time is not yet here;
10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.

Jesus was not yet ready for his big confrontation with the ruling Jewish leaders. He went, but he went secretly. He healed people but then told them not to tell anyone about what had happened. (Although this was not a very helpful strategy. People who experience a dramatic healing or deliverance find it difficult not to talk about it.)

After three years of public ministry, Jesus met with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. It was after this he told his disciples that he would be killed and then we read in Luke 9:51
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Now as he entered into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, and receiving the praise of the people, it was time. He knew what was going to happen and did not hold himself back. We read in John 12:31–32
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

What was Jesus critical of in the behavior of the Pharisees and teachers of the law?

Jesus told the crowd and his disciples
2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you.

This may be irony, or it may be that since they read from the Torah what they said was truth people should listen to. And then Jesus continued
2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

Jesus attacked the teachers of the law and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They did not practice what they preached. In what way did they not practice what they preached?
4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Jews identify 613 laws in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Each of these laws had subsets so there were actually thousands of laws to be obeyed.

For example, the law not to work on the Sabbath has a subset that you should not start a fire on the Sabbath because that is considered work. Modern orthodox Jews interpret this to say you cannot turn a light on or off on the Sabbath. If you open the door of the refrigerator and the light in the refrigerator comes on, you have violated the command not to do work on the Sabbath. So, before the Sabbath begins, the lightbulb in the refrigerator is unscrewed so it will not come on when the door is opened.

It was not permitted to walk more than 2,000 cubits on the Sabbath, about half a mile or a kilometer, unless you went from house to house and then that distance could be extended. These laws covered every area of life and consumed the behavior of the Pharisees from the time they woke in the morning until the time they went to bed at night.

It takes a lot of energy and attention to follow so many laws and this gets at the central criticism of Jesus. These laws did not help people draw closer to God, they were a heavy, cumbersome load inflicted on the people of Israel that took their attention away from God and put it on external behavior. They spent so much time focusing on observing the law that they neglected the heart. They focused on outward obedience to the neglect of the inner work of the heart.

It is the neglected heart that upset Jesus and so he spoke prophetically to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.

Matthew 23:25–33
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

What good does it do to project a good image to the world when there is sewage in the heart?

When the heart is neglected, wickedness arises and this is what Jesus saw in the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The Pharisees were like someone who puts a band aid on a little cut on their finger while ignoring the open wound in their stomach.

The problem with us is not our behavior, it is our heart. In Proverbs 4:23 we read:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

People in the world do not need a change of behavior, they need a change of heart. When the heart changes, behavior follows.

When you read Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, the teaching is so radical it seems impossible to obey. And when we read the Sermon on the Mount and treat it as a set of behaviors we need to put into our lives, it is impossible to obey. The only way the Sermon on the Mount makes any sense is if we see it as teaching of Jesus that has to come from the heart. The Sermon on the Mount cries out for us to have a change of heart.

The Sermon on the Mount tells us: It has been said, do not murder; I tell you do not be angry. It has been said, do not commit adultery; I tell you do not lust. Do not judge, examine your own sin. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemy. Jesus looked past the behaviors to the heart from which behaviors come.

An outward focus on behavior is dangerous because it neglects the heart from which good and evil come.

Jesus attacked the Pharisees and teachers of the law not only for their obsession with behavior but also for their preoccupation with the approval of men and women.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries  wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

A phylactery is a small leather box that contains texts from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Deuteronomy 6:4–8 instructs Jews to write this scripture on parchment:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

This scripture is to be guarded and treasured. So Moses told Israel
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

Male Jews thirteen years and older were to wear phalacteries, one on the left arm facing the heart and the other on the forehead.

In Numbers 15:37–39,
The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. 39 You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.

Notice that both the phalacteries and tassels on garments were meant to remind Israel of the commandments of the Lord. They were meant to put these commandments on their hearts.

But the teachers of the law and the Pharisees made their phalacteries wider than necessary and they made their tassels longer than necessary. Why? Because they wanted them to be noticed. They wanted everyone to know who they were. They wanted the respect and approval of men and women.

The phalacteries and garments were meant to be used in the synagogue and for leading special services in the temple, but instead they wore them in the marketplace so everyone could see them and call out their title with respect. They wore their religious clothing to bring attention to themselves, not to God and his commandments.

This is why Jesus went on to say,
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

There are some Christians who read Matthew 23 and use it to show how wrong the Catholic church and Anglican church and Episcopal church are because the priest is called “Father” and they wear clerical collars in public. But this misses the point of Jesus’ teaching. It is not the title and it is not the clothing that matter. It is the heart that matters.

When I was a young pastor I wore a white robe when I preached and led worship. I bought a new one just before I came to Morocco in January 2000 because I thought I might use it as pastor of an international church with many different denominations represented. But I have never worn it – until today.

[put on robe and stole]

There are four colors of stoles that reflect the liturgical calendar. You may not have noticed this, but I use these liturgical colors as the background for the powerpoint slides each Sunday. Most of the year the color is green. During Advent, before Christmas, and Lent, before Easter, the color is purple. Palm Sunday is red as is Good Friday. Christmas and Easter are white/yellow.

Does my preaching change when I wear a robe? Am I a different person when I wear a robe? Some people call me Pastor Jack. If people called me Father Wald, would that make me a different person? My outward appearance changes, but not my heart. Who I am comes from my heart, not from what I wear and not from what people call me.

Think about this: there are leaders in the church, preachers, overseers, evangelists, faith healers who do not wear robes and stoles, who are not called Father, but who are not servant leaders. Like the Pharisees and teachers of the law Jesus criticized, they make sure people know who they are and draw attention to themselves. They take the praise and adulation and money people offer them to make their lives easier and more comfortable.

In Mark’s account of this teaching, Jesus said, (Mark 12:38–40)
“Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Those who draw attention to themselves and profit from widows and others who are manipulated into giving more and more are in great danger. “These men and women will be punished most severely.”

In the teaching of Matthew 23 Jesus calls us to focus on the heart and he calls us to servant leadership.
11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Who do we read about in the gospels who model for us servant leadership, who seek the approval of God and not of men?

One man is John the Baptist. (John 3:22–30)
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

John was a popular prophet. He had lots of disciples. In fact, it is speculated that Jesus, his cousin, was one of his disciples before beginning his own ministry. He had crowds coming down from Jerusalem to hear him teach and to be baptized in the Jordan River. He had a successful ministry.

And then his disciples began to notice there were less people coming. Attendance was dwindling because more people were going to Jesus. “Everyone is going to him,” they said.

How do people respond when their church, their ministry is losing members and supporters and another church or ministry is gaining supporters and members? Jealousy arises. The board gets together to talk about what they need to do to compete more effectively against the other church or ministry.

But John the Baptist is a remarkable man. I look forward to meeting him someday. He amazes me. He did not view his cousin Jesus as competition. When John saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove, he knew that his cousin Jesus was the Messiah, the Promised One. He did not fight it. He submitted. He told his disciples
27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

For John the Baptist, it was not about his ego. He let his ego fall because he served God and the Messiah who had come.

A second person who sought the approval of God and not of men was Paul.

In an amazing appearance of Jesus to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul received his call to take the gospel of Jesus to the Gentile world. He did this at great cost to himself. He was flogged, beaten with rods, stoned and left for dead. He experienced hardships of all kinds, including being rejected by churches he founded in favor of charismatic leaders who were pulling the members of the church away from the gospel of Jesus.

At the end of his life Paul was in prison in Rome and while there, he received word that there were those preaching Jesus who were taking advantage of Paul being in prison so they could build up their own ministry. (Philippians 1:15–18)
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

The great missionary Paul, Paul the legendary missionary to the Gentile world, was silenced in a Roman jail cell. This created an opportunity for others to make a name for themselves in the vacuum Paul left. They did not respect or support Paul. They preached Christ, but they did so with false motives.

How would you respond if you were in Paul’s situation? How did Paul respond? Paul’s response reveals what was in his heart. His response, like the response of John the Baptist, amazes me.
18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,

What mattered to Paul was not what people thought of him, not his reputation, but the work of Jesus to build his kingdom.

A third person who sought the approval of God and not of man is, not surprisingly, Jesus.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, crowds came to him. This is also not surprising. When people are healed, delivered from demons, and raised from the dead, it is difficult to keep the crowds away.

The crowds who saw Jesus perform great miracles and who were amazed at the authority with which he taught, saw him as the Messiah who would overthrown the Roman occupiers and restore Israel to the greatness it had known under King David. In John 6:14–15 we read:
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Jesus was not to be swayed by what people thought of him. Jesus sought the approval of his father in heaven and was led by the will of his heavenly father.

It was not until Jesus knew from the Father that it was his time that he turned toward Jerusalem and the confrontation that would result in his arrest and crucifixion.

Jesus resisted the temptation to become king and submitted to the Father. He died, was laid in the tomb, and then on the third day rose from the dead. He ascended to heaven where he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Before him every knee will bow. This is what we will celebrate this coming week.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted respect and honor but the way to receive respect and honor is to submit to God and lead as a servant.

John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus were men of integrity because who they were to the outside world was who they were in their heart. There was no hypocrisy.

If you want to be a woman of integrity, a man of integrity, it begins with your heart. This is why I am continually encouraging you to deepen your life with Jesus. This is why I continually encourage you to persevere in faith, clinging to Jesus. When we do that, the life of Christ changes us. The Holy Spirit works in us, transforming us from the heart.

We don’t read our Bible because that is what good Christians do; we read the Bible because that is how God works in our heart. Small groups, prayer, all the things Christians do can be misused to become a set of behaviors to which we have to conform – or they can be the means by which God works in us to transform us into his image. Our faith has to come from our heart if we are to live authentically as followers of Jesus.

Here are three quick lessons about authentic living at the end of this sermon.

1. Use your gifts and talents with humility. RIC has been blessed over the years with many very talented people. The world has many people with great talent. But what is far less common is to have someone with great talent who moves through life with humility and RIC has been blessed with these more rare people as well. These people know they are smart and talented, but they also know that they have been blessed with these gifts by God and are to use them in service to him. John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus are three examples of this. We need to use the gifts God has given us with humility.

2. Don’t pretend to be more than you are. Don’t inflate your resume, written or oral. As followers of Jesus we are all in process. Don’t be afraid of being yourself. We are all imperfect. There will always be people who know more than we do about something. We need to be secure enough not to have to know everything. Sociologists say that what we think of ourselves is based on what the most important person in our life thinks of us. If you seek the approval of men and women, your life is going to be an insecure one. But if you seek the approval of God, if God is the most important person in your life, you are fortunate because he thinks you are absolutely wonderful. When you know you are loved you don’t need to be perfect, you can be yourself because you are God’s beloved child.

3. Don’t be overawed by what people say; pay attention to what they do. The Christian world is full of people who seek the approval and money of people. Beware of Christian leaders who live lavish lifestyles on the backs of the people they exploit. They may preach Jesus, and God can use their words, but don’t follow women and men who use Jesus to build their own kingdom.

As we enter into Holy Week I pray that we will open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in us. I strongly encourage you to come to the Seder meal on Thursday, the Good Friday service, and then the Easter morning services. This is a week that restores and encourages faith. I pray we will be drawn closer to the heart of Jesus over these next seven days.