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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Christ Teaches Us to Have Our Heart in the Right Place
Text:LD 44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:10th Commandment (Jealousy)
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-03-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 91:1,5                                                                                

Ps 63:2,3  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Matthew 6:19-34; Matthew 7:13-14

Ps 37:1,2,15,16

Sermon – Lord’s Day 44

Hy 65:1,2,3,4

Hy 78:1,2,3,4,5

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


Brothers and sisters, if you’ve recently been through the aisles at the supermarket, you might’ve noticed products that claim to be ‘heart-friendly.’ Low in this, high in something else, you should eat this, because it’s good for your heart! And whenever the heart is involved, it’s a serious matter. The strength and health of your heart can be a matter of life or death.

The Bible too, often speaks about our heart, but in a different sense. This isn’t a heart you can watch on a monitor, transplant or medicate. Our heart (or spirit) is unique to being a human, created in God’s image. In Biblical terms, the heart is the spiritual core of our life, the command-centre of everything we do.

So the condition of this heart is absolutely vital. Recall the instruction Solomon gives in Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” That is to say, our heart is the source of everything we produce, whether good or evil.

And in a way, Proverbs 4:23 could be the text that Jesus is preaching on for his Sermon on the Mount. For here He says a lot about how we need to keep God’s commandments from the heart. More than just keeping God’s law outwardly, how do we do so inwardly? That’s where it all begins—that’s the well-spring.

This heart-focus becomes even sharper when we look at the tenth commandment. For what is this commandment about? It’s about all the thoughts and desires that circulate within us. As the Catechism summarizes, “Not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any of God’s commandments should ever arise in our heart” (Q&A 113). Instead, does our heart earnestly seek after the Kingdom of God? This is our theme, based on Lord’s Day 44, 

Christ teaches us to have our heart in the right place:

  1. not worrying about our life
  2. but trusting God our Father
  3. and seeking the Kingdom

 

1) not worrying about our life: The text we read from Matthew 6 is probably among the most well-known in all of Scripture. It’s one of the passages that we turn to often, because it addresses so directly the multitude of anxieties that afflict us. “Do not worry about your life,” our Saviour says (v 25). That’s even the heading that some Bible translations put overtop this passage: Do Not Worry—a message we can latch onto in an instant.

There is a comforting power to these words. Yet we should listen carefully to what He’s saying. His first concern is not to give us an anxiety-free life. His purpose is not simply to free us from worry, as if having a clear head and easy-going attitude is the most important thing.

No, Jesus is concerned with something else: He is interested in resetting the focus of our thoughts, giving a new aim. We know that, because of the Greek word He uses. It’s a word that many English translations render as “to worry, to be anxious.” Those are negative-sounding activities, things that we want to avoid! But Christ uses a verb that actually has a neutral flavour; it means something like “to be busy with something, to be concerned with something.”

So what are we busy with? What is the object of our daily attention and care? We’re all going to be concerned with one thing or another—but are we focused on the right thing? The tenth commandment is about how our eyes always drift in the wrong direction. We look to ourselves and what we can accomplish and accumulate and experience. We look to the people around us and how they can provide.

This is so often the nature of our worrying and coveting, that it has an earthly focus. Our minds are busy with this world. We trust in this world’s methods and listen to its claims. This is true heart disease! This is having our heart in the wrong place.

It is fitting then, that these words are placed where they are. For what has Jesus just finished talking about? We read it in verse 19: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” That is exactly our temptation: to build our own kingdom here on earth, to amass material things for ourselves, to find happiness or security in this life’s possessions and pleasures. Instead, Christ tells us to “lay up treasures in heaven” (v 20).

And this is what Jesus is going to keep explaining. Notice how He begins his words against worrying: “Therefore I say to you…” (v 25). After the warning against laying up treasures on earth, this is the next thing we need to hear. We need to stop focusing on the things that are unimportant: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (v 25). He exhorts us to be busy with the right things, not to waste our energies on worthless worry.

Why is it worthless? Think about it this way: God has given us life. Not just breath in the lungs and blood in the veins, but through Christ He has redeemed us from condemnation and by his Spirit has given us a holy purpose here on earth.

Now, if God would do all that, and give the greatest gift we could ever receive—life in abundance, life with Him and for Him—then He will also take care of all the lesser things. If He has been generous toward us from Day One, then certainly He’s not going to become tightfisted and start denying us what we need. No, He will surely give us all that is necessary, and He will direct us in the paths that are good.

That is so often the problem we have with submitting to God’s will. We think that our way is better. We think that if we use our own methods instead, and work it out ourselves, we’ll get where we want to be. But it’s not true. God knows what is best for us, 100% of the time. He meets our deepest needs, 100% of the time. As Psalm 84 says, “No good thing will the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly” (v 11). God will never keep from us those things that are truly important, truly needed. God will never leave us in the dark about what is truly good.

So trying to find our own security is a waste of time. Says Jesus: “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Matt 6:27). No one! You can worry and scheme and plan until you’re sick at heart, but you still won’t be able to add a millimeter to your height or lengthen your life by even an hour.

As David prays to God, “In your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Ps 139:16). Our life is firmly embedded in the care of God’s hands, from before its beginning, to long past its earthly end. Written in his book! So why do we imagine that we always have to sort things out for ourselves?

“Do not worry.” Christ is direct with his words, but He is also pastoral. For He is realistic about how it can go. He knows the struggles of his people, the cares that can accumulate, the burdens that can weigh us down. There’s so much that we can take upon ourselves, even a load that squeezes all the joy out of being a child of God.

How much better then, to simplify! To narrow your focus. To worry about today—to be concerned with today—and nothing more. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (v 34).

Christ is telling us to face the demands of each day—and only that day—without devoting our energies to the future. Don’t think about all the things which may or may not happen. For that scary and unknown place called the future is God’s territory, and it is God’s alone! We don’t have to visit there, because it’s not our concern.

Probably we’ve all gone through the stress of worrying. We’ve spent a night looking at a problem from every angle, considering every potential outcome. By meditating on it long and hard, we’ve planned our response, lined up all our options, tried to cover every outcome.

But it keeps breaking down. The connections keep failing. The ‘what ifs’ keep adding up. And maybe we finally reach the moment where we have to say that we just can’t figure it out. We can’t control what will happen, and we can’t be assured of success. There’s too many variables. There is too much beyond our control.

And then how different things can look, even a short while later! How different things can look, already tomorrow! With God’s help, we see how it can actually work out. With God’s help, we see how it can even be for our good. This happens because of our God, who is perfectly wise, who is unfailingly powerful. He has already seen tomorrow, and next week, and next year, and He’s got it all planned out.

If we know that, what should we do? Well, there’s no need to look with covetous eyes at what we don’t have, or grumble over where we wish we could be. We just need to focus on today: “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Just being alive today, we’ve got work to do! Each day there is a battle for holiness. Each day there is an opportunity to give our best for God. So each day, we must give up our self-reliance, and strive to put aside our worrying, and learn again to trust and obey God our Father.

 

2) but trusting God our Father: Maybe someone has quoted Matthew 6 at you before, and it left you feeling like a failure. “Do not worry”—but I do worry! Or maybe you’ve spent a sleepless night repeating this passage over and over: “Do not worry, Do not worry”—yet those worries kept worming their way back into your heart.

Let’s remember that God wants us to have a better focus. He says: “Don’t be so concerned with all the bits and pieces of your life. Don’t sin by trying to handle it all by yourself. But look to God. Fix the eyes of your heart upon the Lord!”  In the words of the Catechism, learn to “delight in all righteousness” (Q&A 113).

One of the biggest faults of worrying is that worrying is blind. It doesn’t see things as they are. It fails to perceive the lessons that God puts right in front of us, like the lessons of God’s care and provision. More than that, worrying is terribly forgetful—it’s like the worst case of spiritual dementia. It refuses to hold onto things that could be learned from the past, fails to remember the lessons of God’s faithfulness toward you, year after year.

So Christ takes us back to school. He says, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (v 26). It’s not that these birds don’t work—it’s been said that the average songbird works harder than any other creature. Always flying, grooming, tending to the young. Yet a bird does so without any anxiety. There is no attempt to stockpile food for an unforeseen future, there’s no desire to build a luxury nest with a home-theatre and a pool. Their lives go on, because God feeds them!

“That’s fine for the birds,” someone might say. “Sparrows don’t have home loans or arthritic knees or big pressures at work. But what about us?” Jesus is gentle in his reminder: “Are you not much more valuable than they?”

And then Jesus reminds us, “Your heavenly Father feeds them…” (v 26). He’s saying, “My little ones, remember that you have a Father. You have a Father who loves and who cares, a Father who is faithful and true. And remember what this Father can do! He’s a heavenly Father: He is the Creator and Upholder of the universe, and He sits enthroned above. That means there’s nothing He can’t handle. If you’re his child, you’ve got nothing at all to fear.”

And “consider the lilies of the field,” Jesus goes on (v 28). These were the flowers that bloomed for only one day on the hills of Palestine. Just one day, yet in their brief life they were clothed with a radiant beauty that surpassed the robes of kings. In the end, withered and dry, these flowers were used to light someone’s oven.

If God gives those insignificant flowers such beauty, even for a short time, won’t He bless us forever? After all, the LORD didn’t create us to die. He didn’t give us new hearts, only to watch us be condemned. He created us to be part of his family, to rejoice in communion with Him! So we can live the blessed life God wants for us: the life of trust and obedience.

Such a simple lesson, yet Jesus knows his audience well. For He admonishes them, “O you of little faith” (v 30). He says that because we should all understand what God can do. We have experienced his faithfulness to us, year after year—the simple fact that you’re sitting here today is testimony to God’s care! Or just walk outside after church, and listen to creation’s voice, declaring the glory of God! Yet all our knowledge doesn’t always lead us to a firm confidence.

So God’s promise is really quite simple. He says: “Trust me for what you need to eat, and what you need to drink, and what you need to wear. Trust me for your employment. Trust me for your health. Trust me for your family. Trust me to take care of the church, and to take care of this world. Trust me to lead your path. You can’t do any of this yourself—you can’t, but I can.”

And if God will take care of it, who needs to worry? Not us! “For after all these things the Gentiles seek” (v 32). Why does Jesus now mention the Gentiles? He does, because these are the heathen, these are the people who don’t know God. These are the unbelievers on our street, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the atheists and agnostics and everyone who doesn’t really know the true God. Point is, they don’t know what He can do. They haven’t read his Word and they haven’t met God’s Son.

All that the pagans know is their own gods, their own idols. And their gods are unpredictable or angry or unreasonable. No wonder the pagans worry so much—they’ve got nowhere firm to stand, nowhere to take refuge, no one they’re able to trust.

But it’s beyond understanding if we do the same. We have no reason to worry or to covet things we don’t have. Because we’re not Gentiles. We’re not unbelievers. We are children of the Father! We bear the Triune Name through baptism, and we know his Name, and in Christ we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. May God help us, more and more, to give up our worrying, and take up our striving!

 

3) and seeking the Kingdom: If our worries and anxieties can be like a heavy burden on our hearts, clogging the arteries of our spiritual life, then trusting in God can be like a blessed release. The assurance of God’s love and care suddenly frees us, and the blood starts flowing. You realize that you’ve got nothing to stress about. You realize that what you need to do at this moment is the will of the LORD, as far as He’s revealed it to you.

That’s what we should be busy with—that’s what we should be “worried about,” if you will: the purpose and calling God has set before us. This is the answer to all our questions of meaning and security. What do we need to do? Jesus says: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (v 33).

This is the one alternative to a life that is entirely self-made, self-directed, self-chosen. This is the only alternative to pursuing pleasure or earthly idols. Fill your life with a greater love, a higher object, a nobler cause! Give your heart a stronger beat and a steadier rhythm. Make it God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness. Like the Catechism puts it: “With all our heart we should always hate all sin and delight in all righteousness” (Q&A 114).

This is what Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is all about: focusing your heart, and so also your life, on the One who is eternal and true. For what god can ever compare with Him? What kingdom can ever overcome his Kingdom?

And what is a greater privilege than doing God’s will? What is a greater honour than to have fellowship with Him, to live with Him today and to live with Him forever? There is no comparison. There should be no question: this God, and his Kingdom, and his Word, can take priority over all our daily needs.

“Seek this,” Jesus says. For Jesus came to reveal God’s Kingdom. That’s why He spent three years teaching the crowds. That’s why He went to the cross, and that’s why He rose again the third day. He came to show the way back to the Father. He came to throw open wide the doors of God’s Kingdom. There’s no secret passageway. There is no complicated entrance exam. The Kingdom isn’t reserved for the holiest of the holy. It is for all—it is for all who seek!

But we must seek. A little later in his Sermon, Jesus exhorts us, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (7:13-14).

No, we shouldn’t have a false impression. Seeking the Lord won’t be easy. Putting aside our coveting will be a lifelong struggle. Being in God’s Kingdom is much more than playing on a golden harp in the fluffy white clouds. Our Kingdom labours begin today, in the blood and sweat and the tears of this life!

For each choice and every decision, for each hour of every day, with every thought and word and deed, we strive to please our God. It’s like walking a narrow road. It’s a demanding and difficult path. It’s a hard road, and it runs roughly parallel to a well-lit, four-lane highway, lined with fast-food restaurants—an alternate route that seems so easy and so attractive. But that one is a dead end. It only leads to destruction.

So we need to stick to the road Christ has put us on! As the Catechism says at the end of this section on the law, “With earnest purpose [let us] begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God” (Q&A 114). With earnest purpose! Whole-heartedly committed to his law and devoted to his gospel. This is the only way to live:

God comes first.

God’s will be done.

God gets the last word.

And God gets our hearts.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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