“It’s the Heart that Matters.”
I would like to share a funny story. I heard about this elderly lady. When she went to the store, she accidentally locked her keys in her car. She used a coat hanger to try to get it open, but it didn’t work. She prayed asking God to help her. About this time, a real rough-looking guy drove up on a motorcycle, wearing leathers, had tattoos, and a skull cap. Within fifteen seconds, he had opened her car. She hugged him and said, “Lord, Thank you for sending me this nice man.” He said, “lady, I’m not a nice man. I just got out of the prison serving time for grand theft auto.” She gave him a bigger hug and said, “Lord, thank you. You even send me a professional.”
We often do focus on people’s outward looks and unconsciously judge them. According to their jobs, family members, educational experiences, and outward appearances, we have an assumption about them, or we have some bias towards them. Today, I want to talk about how “it’s the heart that matters.” First Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things man [a person] looks at. Man [a person] looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” We judge through what we see, but God judges through what we cannot see. Don’t judge anyone. That is God’s boundary. Everyone is under God’s grace. Everyone is our neighbor who we should love in Jesus Christ.’
The disciple Peter says, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts10:34-35). God accepts everyone who does what is right, regardless of background, appearance, social class, or nation. Our part is to do the right thing. Doing the right thing in God means that we have to do a good thing in God’s view, not in our own opinion. We perhaps, cannot see the hearts of others, but we may see our own hearts. We know what is right in God’s eye. Jesus taught us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). Also, Jesus said, the one who sees me saw God (John 14:9). If we follow what Jesus taught us, we will find the right way God leads us. We may look for God’s will through prayers, contemplation, or meditation in this Lenten season.
Today’s Scripture tells us “it was almost time for Jewish Passover.” Passover is a significant Jewish festival. Jews went to the Temple of Jerusalem to worship God. They had three rules for the festival. First, they had to go to Jerusalem’s Temple wherever they lived because they believed that God dwelled in Jerusalem’s Temple. Next, they prepared sacrifices for worship. The sacrifice must be a defect or blemish to be acceptable. They should not be injured, maimed, or blind (Leviticus 22:21). However, for people who come from a long distance, it was not possible. Even if they brought a healthy flock, they might become injured or sick during a long journey. Therefore, they used to buy cattle, sheep, or doves for their sacrificial offering at the Temple’s courtyard. Finally, they had to pay taxes for the Temple with Jewish coin. However, people used Jewish coins only at the Temple. They had to exchange their cash for Jewish coins at the courtyard of the Temple. I can imagine that all Jewish people came to the Temple at the same time to buy sheep, goats, cattle, or doves and to exchange coins. That might look like a huge market. Jesus also went up to Jerusalem. Jesus saw that kind of scene in the Temple.
Knowing the background of the story, pay attention to verses 14-16. “In the Temple, he [Jesus] found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-
changers and overturned their tables.” And he said, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” You may wonder what matters to Jesus. Jews also wondered about Jesus’ deed, asking, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” In other words, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in the three days, I will raise it up.” The Temple Jesus talked to them about was his body (John 2: 21). Jesus is the sign of authority himself. But they judged him as a poor carpenter. They couldn’t see who Jesus was but only saw his physical background, job, biological parents, and siblings.
However, Jesus didn’t see them with their physical backgrounds, such as religious leaders, teachers, and people of the higher class in the society, but saw their hearts and called them “hypocrites.” They put on a good performance for God before the people, but their hearts didn’t honor God. They cheated people, pretending they are perfect. They judged them as sinners if people couldn’t act in a perfect way for God. Jesus knew that religious leaders and political leaders exploited people’s money, using their pure hearts toward God. The worship with sacrificial offering was for the forgiveness of sins, but that caused more sin even in the Temple. Again, it’s the heart that matters. Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifices, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” It is precious that we worship God with all our hearts. Even though they couldn’t go to Jerusalem’s Temple, and even though we can’t have service in person, it might be acceptable to God if we worship God with all our hearts. Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him” (John 4:23). Even though we can’t gather in the church, we can worship with all our hearts at home via Zoom. Even if we can’t join the Zoom Live service, we can read the written sermon on Sunday morning, honoring God’s presence with us. As Jesus taught us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” we may experience God’s presence in our home service, Zoom service, service by phone, and viewing the recorded clip. It’s the heart that matters.
Jesus might want to stop sacrificial worship, which burdened people. Jesus knew, by his sacrifice, there was no need for sacrificial worship anymore. Hebrews 10:10 says, “He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The Gospel of John says, “It was just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus loved his disciples and his people, who still didn’t understand him, and forgave people who crucified him. Jesus prayed to God on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus’ love is forgiveness and a steadfast love. He didn’t judge them. Jesus died on the cross not only for the weak, the poor, the outcasts, but also for those who had the power of the world, and those who didn’t realize their sins yet. Romans 5:8 says, “We are yet sinners, he died for us.” Therefore, we couldn’t judge anyone, whether they were those who believe in Christ or those who don’t believe in him yet. Everyone is a brother or sister in Christ or potential brother or sister in the future. Jesus’ cleaning of the temple was a message to stop all pretentious performance and sacrificial offering. Instead, to focus on God with all our hearts.
In the Lenten season, I suggest you have a time of contemplation to determine if we live according to Jesus’ teachings; if we judge others consciously or unconsciously; if we place Jesus in our hearts, and at the center of our lives as our Lord. I hope that we may get to know about Jesus’ love more deeply in this Lenten season. It’s the heart that matters. Jesus taught us, “Love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul, and love your neighbors as you love yourself.”
Thanks to be God. Amen.