Yes I know the title of an incredibly popular TV show, but really, Jesus should have the credit for this title. Because as far as I know he is the first person to actually talk about people being literally places of walking death.
Jesus actually goes to the Pharisees and calls them whitewashed tombs. Quite literally calling them places of walking death, disease, and decay. And that is quite similar to the AMC show, implying that they are spreading their contamination around. And while there are lots of contextual things that Jesus is saying, here is the point we are going to unpack on Sunday.
You can be good, you can be moral, you can even be religious and still miss the point.
Because the Pharisees are good, moral, and super religious and Jesus says that they still miss the point. That while their actions look good, inwardly their hearts are full of death, disease, and decay.
So we are going to unpack all that on Sunday but here is why this matters for you if you are a follower of Jesus – we can be just like the Pharisees. We can be moral, good, and religious and we can still miss the point. We can still end opposed to God and his kingdom. And if we are Christians that’s the exact opposite of what we want. So on Sunday we’ll look at how to ensure our hearts and our actions are pointed in the right way.
So on Sunday we continued our series of Lent looking at the seven woes. And the “woe” we unpacked was this one from Jesus:
What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish and then the outside will become clean too.
And here Jesus enters into a debate on the cleaning of cups. And there are lots of cultural things going on here that we unpacked on Sunday but the main point of Jesus really is this: having stuff clean on the outside (our actions, our religious rituals, our following the rules) doesn’t matter if inside we aren’t clean (our hearts, desires, and wants).
Jesus is trying to point out something that is obvious to anyone – you can do the right thing with the wrong motives and it misses the point. That your kids can clean their room not because you want them to, but because they want to to go to a party. Your employee can go above and beyond, not because they care, but because they want the weekend off. Your spouse can be all thoughtful and caring, for you to only realize they got in a fender bender. The point is that the right actions without the right heart is deadly. That what good is it if you do the right thing – but your heart and motives are off? What good is it if you follow all the rules of the Bible – but inside you are seething with greed, excess, and sinful desires? What good is the outside of a cup looking clean, if the inside is full of junk?
Jesus’ desire to move our focus from the outward to the inward and where the work needs to be done. Because here is the truth: all of our hearts are dirty and filled with junk. Everyone has some brokenness, some greed, some hurt, some pride, some agenda, some mixed motives and desires that need to be changed.
And the truth though is that following the rules doesn’t change our hearts. I know this because my kids sometimes follow the rules, but they aren’t doing them happily and their hearts remain unchanged. For our hearts to be changed we need an encounter, and an experiences specifically with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
So on Sunday we unpacked this main idea: that we all need a heart change, a heart transformation, and a heart cleansing.
And so to do this we took communion and took time to connect with Jesus. We took time and created space to ask for a heart cleansing, because that is what we all need. We all need some transformation from hurt to healing, from grime to grace, from hate to hope. And the way this happens isn’t by doubling down on following the rules, but doubling down on an encounter with Jesus. And that’s our challenge for the week: to have an encounter with Jesus that changes us. Because that’s where the magic is of following Jesus, not out of duty and legalism, but out of freedom with a new and changed heart.
Big Idea: We all need a heart change, a heart transformation, and a heart cleansing
“I think what Jesus is warning us about is that it’s entirely possible to be a religious, dedicated Christian, and yet totally miss the life-giving nature of a life centered squarely on his teachings. Some of us have exchanged Jesus for a Christian religion.” Benjamin Corey
The inner life is what matters.
Following the rules and the law doesn’t matter unless your heart is changed.
A heart change matters more than following the rules.
What God wants aren’t people who just follow the rules, God wants people who have hearts like his.
Following the rules doesn’t change your heart.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you ever had an experience of someone “following the rules” for the wrong motives? How did it make you feel? Why don’t you think following the rules changes our hearts? How can Jesus change our hearts? How can we ensure that they stay changed?
Discussion Questions for Families:
Use the example I gave from Hudson, or maybe one from your own life to talk about motives. Talk about how we as parents love when our kids do the right thing, but more than that want to see the right heart. Ask them what the difference might be in simple and easy thing like dishes, like cleaning up toys, etc.