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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Check and guard your heart against evil desires
Text:LD 44 + Luke 12:13-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:10th Commandment (Jealousy)
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-07-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 108:1,2

Psalm 14:1,3

Psalm 73:8

Hymn 1

Hymn 85

Scripture readings:  Psalm 73, Luke 12:13-21

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 44

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

I wonder how many of us have ever had a heart check-up.  I’ve had one or two over the years.  It was always because I thought there might be something wrong.  Something was out of the ordinary and I ended up at the doctor and then tests were run.  If you’re having regular heart check-ups, that usually means you’ve got something wrong with your heart and it needs to be monitored carefully. 

Now this is true of the fist-sized lump of muscle in your chest.  But it’s also true of what the Bible calls your heart.  When the Bible speaks about our hearts, it’s not speaking about the pump that sends blood around your body.  It’s speaking about our desires and affections.  Our hearts are the part of us that love or hate, that rejoice or grieve, and so on.  Our hearts are an essential part of what makes us human. 

The Bible speaks at length about our hearts.  Humanity was created with a heart that was pure and right – Adam and Eve loved God and cherished his company.  But the fall into sin brought blackness into the human heart.  Where there was love, now there was suspicion, fear, and even hatred.  After the fall into sin, “the heart is deceitful above all things,” according to Jeremiah 17:9.  The sinful human heart is not to be trusted.  You know how sometimes people use that line, “Just trust your heart, just follow your heart.”  What does Scripture say about that?  Proverbs 28:26, “Whoever trusts in his own heart is a fool…”  This is because our hearts have an infection.  They are infected with sin and rebellion against God.  This is the natural state of our hearts.  Our hearts are dead, they are like cold, hard stone.  They are incapable of loving God and desiring what he wants. 

Regeneration changes this.  When the Holy Spirit causes someone to be born again, they can begin to love God and desire what he wants.  When the Holy Spirit takes a dead heart and miraculously makes it alive, that heart starts to seek after the things of God.  This is quite different to the unregenerated.  The unregenerated have no good spiritual desires.  The regenerated do have good spiritual desires.  The regenerated want to follow God and do his will. 

Yet even as regenerated Christians, our hearts are still not completely right.  We still have the remnants of sin in our hearts.  We can see it with the inconsistencies in our lives.  We say we love God and our neighbour, yet we fight with our spouses.  We say we love God, yet we disrespect our parents.  We say we’re Christians, yet we still have greed, lust, and other evil desires.  If you ask me, “Do you have a good heart?”  I would have to say, “No, not yet.”  Though the Spirit lives in me, yet I still find the presence of sinful desires that rebel against God.  Paul spoke about that in Galatians 5.  He says in verses 16 and 17 that in the Christian are both the sinful desires of the flesh and the godly desires of the Holy Spirit.  These are at war with each other in our hearts.

In other words, there’s still something wrong with our hearts.  Therefore, we still need regular heart check-ups.  We need to have our desires examined.  We need God to identify the sinful and wrong desires.  With the help with the Spirit, we need to put to death those evil desires.  Then we need the Holy Spirit to help us have the godly desires that please God. 

This is where we’re at in Lord’s Day 44 as we deal with the Tenth Commandment.  The Tenth Commandment deals with coveting.  Coveting is wanting stuff.  It could be wanting the house of your neighbour, or wanting the wife of your neighbour, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.  You see it, you don’t have it, and you want it.  Our Catechism boils this down to our desires, what goes on in our heart.  With the Tenth Commandment, God is telling Christians that we’re to put to death all evil desires contrary to his will, and instead foster those desires that are good and pleasing to God.  This is treated in the Catechism under the heading of our response to God’s grace in our salvation.  It has to be repeated again that none of this is about earning our salvation or place in God’s family.  It has to be repeated because we’re so prone to forget.  Listen and remember:  our salvation is rooted only in the life, death, and resurrection of our Saviour Jesus.  What you’re about to hear in this sermon is about how we respond in love and thankfulness. 

This afternoon, let’s learn about our response with the help of our Lord Jesus in this parable he tells in Luke 12.  This parable is about our desires -- it’s essentially about the Tenth Commandment.  Here the Lord alerts us to wrong desires, but also points us to good and holy desires.  He wants us to check and guard our hearts.  So let’s have our Bibles open and look at what God says in Luke 12:13-21. 

Christ was on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die on the cross.  Along the way, he stopped and taught huge crowds of people.  Right before this parable in Luke 12, he reminded people that if they would be his disciples, they would face hatred and persecution.  However, disciples of Jesus should not be afraid.  God is on their side.  God has numbered all the hairs of our head, and we are worth more to him than the many little sparrows that he has in his care.  So, when it comes to persecution and oppression, there’s no need for worry.

Then, out of nowhere, Jesus gets interrupted by someone in the crowd.  Jesus is a rabbi, an important Jewish teacher.  He’s got all these people following him, so obviously his word counts for something.  The interrupter has a big problem with his brother.  Their father died, and his brother is allegedly hogging the inheritance for himself and not sharing.  The man feels that he’s been treated badly, that his brother is unjust.  If he can enlist Jesus to his cause, then perhaps his brother will listen.  He wants to be able to go and say, “Listen, brother, I talked to that Rabbi Jesus, and he says you have to share.”

Now it’s important to realize that our Saviour could see through this.  He could see what was motivating this man.  It was sheer greed.  He was unhappy and discontented with the situation and he wanted what he regarded as his share.  He goes to Jesus to get what he wants in his sinful heart.  Listen carefully:  he doesn’t to go to Jesus for salvation, but for the satisfaction of his sinful desire.  Jesus could be very useful to him.  He doesn’t want a Saviour, he wants a problem-solver.  What he failed to see was the heart of the matter.  The heart of the matter was that his heart was the matter.

Knowing that is what makes Christ respond the way he does.  He says, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”  This answer is his way of saying, “I didn’t come for this.  I’m not here to fix the problems you have with your brother.  I’m here for the sake of your eternal life.  I’m here to address your biggest problem:  your sinful heart.”  You see, Christ was not appointed to come to earth the first time as a judge of civil matters, lawsuits and such things.  He was appointed to come as the Saviour of sinners.  As part of that calling, he then isolates the real problem in this man’s life. 

He turns to everyone gathered there and he says in verse 15, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness…”  This is a lesson for everybody, including us.  It’s a lesson based on the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet.”  Jesus warns us to watch carefully and guard against this sin of having evil desires.  He tells us to pay attention to our hearts and watch for the presence of sinful wants.  In that man’s case, the inheritance was everything to him.  He’s standing before the one who can save his life from eternal damnation, and instead he’s obsessed with money.  He loves that money his brother has and he wants it.  Jesus says, “Watch for that.  Guard against it.  It’s sinful and wrong.” 

It’s also incredibly foolish because, he adds, “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  Ultimately, life is not about how much you can accumulate for yourself.  The abundance of your possessions should not be the purpose or meaning of life.  If it is, then your life is really shallow.  God didn’t create us for this.  He created us for something far different and far more meaningful.

To drive the point home to his disciples, he told a parable.  Now before we look at this parable, we need to remember what a parable is and what purpose it serves.  Sometimes we think that the parables of Jesus are simply great illustrations of his teaching.  We just leave it at that.  They are great illustrations, no question about it.  But we should listen to what Jesus says about the purpose of parables in Luke 8.  In Luke 8, he says that parables are for the purpose of keeping the blind in the dark, and the deaf from hearing.  Parables are a form of judgment.  They’re a judgment on those who hear, but refuse to understand and believe.  Whenever a parable is told or retold, people are either going to hear, understand, and believe or not.  If they don’t, the simplicity of the parable testifies against them.  The parables of Christ are usually pretty simple and clear – if you don’t get them, if it doesn’t result in a change in your life, that’s chalked up against you.  He’s made it simple, you just refuse to follow him.  So keep that in mind as we go through this parable here in Luke 12. 

Jesus says that there was a rich man who owned a farm.  One year, that farm had an amazing season.  The fields were fruitful and the rich man was richer.  There’s no problem here.  There’s not a problem with being rich, and there’s not a problem when God blesses a farm and it produces an incredible crop.  These things in themselves are blessings.

The problems come up when the man begins talking to himself, speaking within his own heart.  He has all these crops and his existing barns aren’t big enough.  What to do?  So, he says, I’ll destroy the old barns, and build new ones that are bigger and there I’ll store up my grain and my possessions.  Here at this point too, there’s nothing wrong with having barns too small.  There’s nothing wrong as such with building bigger barns.

The real problem is what we hear the rich man saying in verse 19.  “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”  In his commentary on this passage, William Hendriksen rightly notes three issues with the rich man. 

First of all, the rich man speaks of going on to live for many years.  He assumes that he’s going to live a long life.  But no one should make that kind of assumption.  We are mortal human beings.  You could get sick and die suddenly next week.  You could have an accident and be gone just like that.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how young you are.  I’ve had it happen before where I preached a sermon to someone on a Sunday, and that was the last sermon they ever heard.  A couple of days later they were gone, just like that.  Our lives are frail.  It doesn’t take much for us to leave this life.  You can’t make any assumptions about how long you have.  You just don’t know.  That rich man didn’t take that into account.

Second, the rich man doesn’t think about others.  His desires are fixed on himself.  He’s selfish and narcissistic.  I think Jesus is even making fun of this when he has the rich man saying at the beginning of verse 19, “I will say to my soul, “Soul…”  The rich man sounds selfish and silly.  He has no attention for the needs of others.  He’s living on Planet Me.  He’s going to use all his wealth and possessions for his own enjoyment.  That’s what he wants them for.  He has no interest or desire to use his riches for the good of his neighbour. 

Third, and worst of all, the rich man doesn’t have God in the picture at all.  His life is purely on the horizontal.  There’s no vertical dimension at all in his life.  Proverbs says, “In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths,” but there’s no acknowledgement of God here at all.  Nothing about God.  This rich man is what we call a practical atheist.  If you were to ask him directly, he’d probably say that there is a God.  But as he lives out his life, that has no practical bearing at all.  He may as well have been an atheist.  He doesn’t give thanks to God for that incredible crop.  He doesn’t glorify God for the rain and the sunshine which helped to produce the crop.  He has no desire to see God exalted.  Instead, he ignores God completely. 

Loved ones, what about you?  Do you reckon with the frailty of your life?  Do you realize that you could be gone just like that and live in the light of that?  If you knew that this coming week was your last week on earth, would you live differently?  It might be your last week, you don’t know.  And what about others around you?  Are you like the narcissistic rich man, where the whole universe revolves around you?  Do have an interest and desire to use what God has given you for the good of others?  Or is it all “me, me, me,” all the time?  And what about practical atheism?  Are you a practical atheist?  Are you that person that says they believe in God, but practically speaking there’s no difference between you and the unbelievers around you?  Do you acknowledge God in all your ways?   

Look, what Jesus teaches here pricks all of us.  Speaking for myself, I know that on all three of those issues, I’m falling short regularly.  I sometimes presume that I’m going to live to be in my 80s.  After all, my Opa lived to be 88, so why not me?  And I’m selfish and my life doesn’t always take God into account.  My desires are not consistently pure.  My heart isn’t whole and my loves aren’t always lovely.  These are sinful things and when Jesus points them out to us as he does in this parable, we’re to see it freshly.  We’re to repent of these things.  We’re to say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Forgive me, Father, forgive me all of it only because of Jesus and what he’s done for me.”  We’re to plead with God and ask him to continue his work in our lives so that through the Holy Spirit we hate these wrong desires in our hearts and fight them.

As we get back to the parable, we see how God responds to the rich man in verse 20.  God calls him a fool.  And a fool is what he is.  You have to see that in the light of Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.”  Psalm 14 is about practical atheism.  That psalm isn’t speaking about atheists among the nations.  It’s speaking about God’s covenant people who don’t reckon with him.  Notice something else in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.”  He doesn’t say it out loud.  That wouldn’t be acceptable.  No Jewish person would come right out and say, “There is no God.”  He would be ostracized.  His family and friends would have nothing to do with him.  So he says it in his heart, but then it shows in his life.  Practical atheism.  And God says that this is a fool.  This is a person who has built his life on sand, rather than on rock.  He’s wasted his life chasing after things that don’t matter for anything for eternity.  His desires were spent on empty things.

The rich man thought that he would have many years.   He failed to realize that God is in control of when we’re conceived, when we’re born, and when we die.  He has all those moments ordained in his plan.  When your moment to die comes, there’s nothing you can control.  It’s out of your control.  You die when God says it’s your time to die.  And for that rich man, God said, “Now, this night, your soul is required to appear before me.  This is your time to die.  You thought you were in control, but you’re wrong.  And all that stuff you set your hopes on, who will own it now?”  That last question, “whose will they be?” – that question is just meant to point out that they won’t belong to the rich man.  That rich man won’t be a rich man anymore.  Death is the great equalizer.  Every soul leaves this world with just as much as every other soul.  They’re all the same.  You spend all your time obsessing and desiring over stuff, and then when you die, you lose it all.  In the end, it’s all worth nothing, and that’s also why this rich man was a fool.

Our Lord sums up the parable with verse 21, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  What he means is:  what do you desire?  What do you want?  Do you set your heart on earthly stuff?  Is the pursuit of money and possessions the focus of your life, your obsession?  Or it might be the pursuit and desire for all kinds of other things, for example, the pursuit of leisure time.  There are many people who live for the weekend.  That’s their treasure, their greatest desire is to get to the weekend and do that weekend stuff.  Our Jesus says that this is all foolishness, this is all vain and empty, and it’s sinful in the sight of God.  We were created for far better.

We were created to be what Jesus calls “rich toward God.”  What does it mean to be rich toward God?  Here we could think of Psalm 73.  The writer of that Psalm was a man named Asaph.  Asaph looked around him and he saw unbelievers doing well for themselves.  They live with no recognition of God and yet they have the money, they have the lifestyle, they have everything going for them.  It started him to questioning.  Is it worth it to follow God when he seems to bless unbelievers whereas believers suffer?  The question bothered him.  It was solved when he went to the temple.  He saw the blood and death of the sacrifices in the temple and it reminded him that there will be ultimate justice.  The wages of sin is death, as Paul would say later in Romans 6.  Sure in this life, unbelievers might be like the rich man in our parable, the practical atheist has it all.  But in the end, God says, “You fool!  I bring you into judgment for your false desires and your rebellious heart.”  In Psalm 73, Asaph saw it and he realized that God is better than all earthly wealth and possessions.  He realized that it was far better to desire God. So he says in Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  To be rich toward God is to desire God himself.  It’s to desire God as he has revealed himself in Jesus.  To be rich toward God is to put a relationship with him through Jesus Christ above absolutely everything else. It’s to desire God’s priorities in our hearts.  Those are priorities which put him first and others before ourselves.  To be rich toward God is to have our hearts set on him, so that in the words of the Catechism we would “always hate all sin and delight in all righteousness.” 

I have to ask you, brother.  I have to ask you, sister.  You, personally, for yourself:  are you rich toward God?  Check your heart.  Are you rich toward God?  If I answer that question honestly, I would say, “I have the beginnings, but I’m not where I want to be.”  But by the grace of God, I would also say, “I want to be rich toward God.”  It’s not because of me, but because of the Spirit who lives in me that I say, “I desire that my heart would be set on him.”  If you can say that too, be encouraged.  The Holy Spirit is the one who ignites that desire in all Christians.  If you’re saying, “I’ve had the heart check-up from this parable and I see that there’s sin in my heart and in my desires, but I want it to be different” – that means you have been regenerated, you are truly a Christian.  Then you pray for God to help you and give you the strength so that your desires are more and more for him and what pleases him.  When God hears you pray like that, it pleases him and he will answer.  He will help you to continue growing.  He will renew you more and more after his image, until after this life you reach the goal of perfection.  AMEN.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

We confess to you that our hearts are often lacking in the desire for you and for what pleases you.  So often we’re led astray by wrong and sinful desires.  We have covetous hearts, greedy hearts, lustful hearts.  We have hearts that often ignore you, sometimes we live like practical atheists.  Father, we are your children, but we are sinful.  Please forgive us our every wrong desire through Christ and what he did on the cross.  Our only hope is in Jesus.  Father, we also pray that you would not leave our hearts unchanged.  Please take our hearts and our desires and renew them.  With your Holy Spirit, please give us a greater hatred for all sin and a greater delight in all righteousness.   Help us to desire you and what you desire.  Help us to be rich toward you, putting you above all.  Father, please help us so that our lives increasingly don’t look like that of the rich man in the parable our Saviour told.

   




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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