Religion of the Heart
November 18th, 1979 @ 7:30 PM
RELIGION OF THE HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-18-79 7:30 p.m.
We welcome you who share this hour on the great radio station of the Southwest, KRLD, and on the radio station of our Bible Institute, KCBI. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled – and whichever way you would like to say it – negatively, religion of ceremonial water, sprinkling, washing pots and pans, observing litanies and genuflections, religion of the meticulous and the ceremonial detail. Or you could call it, as I have, Religion of the Heart, which is the other side of it.
And if you will turn in your Bibles to the Book of Mark chapter 7, Mark chapter 7, we are going to read the first sixteen verses. Mark chapter 7, and the message, as I said, is an exposition of this passage in the life of our Lord. Mark chapter 7, Matthew, Mark, the Second Gospel, chapter 7, the first sixteen verses. On the radio and here in this great auditorium, reading it out loud together, Mark 7:1-16, now together:
Then came together unto Him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.
And when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.
For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables.
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why walk not Thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?
He answered and said unto them, Well hath Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:
But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever you mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
And ye suffer him no more to do aught for his father or his mother;
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
And when He had called all the people unto Him, He said unto them, Hearken unto Me every one of you, and understand:
There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile the man.
If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
The Lord was an interesting somebody to watch and to listen to as He taught in the days of His flesh. And this is one of the finest illustrations of the superlative teaching of the Son of God that you could find in the story of His life, and it is that we shall expound these few moments.
These Pharisees and scribes came into being after the Babylonian captivity. When the temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem lay in ruins, and the people were carried away into slavery, all they had was the Word of God. In reaction against the immorality and idolatry of Babylonian culture and civilization, the Jewish people separated themselves and began to study the Holy Scriptures. Now there arose a group among them called "scribes." At first they copied the Word of God. Remember, this is hundreds and centuries and years before there was a printing press. They copied the Word of God. And copying the Word of the Lord, they became acquainted with the text. So these scribes, they began to interpret for the people what God said.
Now this interpreter gave his understanding of a passage that originally was in the Holy Scriptures. Then there arose a rabbi who interpreted what that rabbi had interpreted. Then another rabbi would interpret what that rabbi had interpreted, that was an interpretation of what that rabbi had said. And it continued on and on and on through the generations and through the centuries until what the Bible here refers to as the "tradition of the elders" became a vast and illimitable mass of oral tradition. You call that tradition today the Talmud. The Talmud is the Mishnah with the Babylonian Gemara – that’s the Babylonian Talmud – or it can be a Mishnah with a Palestinian Gemara – that’s the Palestinian Talmud. It is pages and volumes, thousands of them, filled with interpretations of interpretations of interpretations.
So these people, the Pharisees and the scribes, were those who were custodians of what they called the tradition of the elders, this oral teaching that had supplanted the Word of God, been so far removed from it until you wouldn’t recognize from whence it came. Now, one of the things that they found in these interpretations was, according to the tradition of the elders, that you had ceremonially to do certain things before you ate, before you cooked, before you washed, before you did anything.
And by the way, I point out to people who ask me about baptism, baptism is just a common, ordinary Greek word meaning "to dip." And you have it used twice in verse 4 and once in one other of these verses, in verse 8 – just a common, ordinary word of baptism. They’re dipping pots, and pans, and cups, and vessels, and saucers, and all kinds of things. So these scribes and Pharisees come to the Lord, and looking at His disciples, they say they are not ceremonially clean. They defile themselves because they haven’t gone through these certain rituals of the tradition of the elders in the washing of their hands.
Well, observing that in the disciples of Jesus, they come to the Lord Himself, and they ask Him, "Why is it, why is it that Your disciples do not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with ceremonially defiled hands?" Well, I would have thought that, the Son of God being in their midst, they would have come up to Him and had asked Him some great, tremendous, earth-shaking question. Instead, it is nothing but an outburst of feebleness: "What about these disciples who are defiled because they do not ceremonially wash their hands?" [Mark 7:5].
Now, our Lord – nobody like Him – in one of these instances when they’re confronting Him with questions, the story ends, and from that day on, nobody durst ask Him a question. The finest defense is an offense. And so the Lord, when they asked Him a question, many times will say, "What about you, and what do you think about this?" For example, they asked Him when He cleansed the temple and did these other things, they asked Him, "By what authority do You do these things?" And the Lord said, "I will ask you a question, and if you will answer it, I will answer your question, tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven or from men? Did he get it from God or did he invent it himself?" [Mark 11:27-30].
They went off and discussed the question, and they said, "If we say it is from heaven, He will say, ‘Then why did you not listen to his testimony and believe in Me?’ But if we say it is from men, that he invented it himself, we will be stoned because everybody believes John the Baptist is a prophet." So they came back to the Lord and said, "We do not know. We do not know where John got his authority." And the Lord Jesus said, "Then I am not going to tell you where I got My authority" [Mark 11:28-33].
That’s the Lord. And here He does it again. He says, "Isaiah the prophet spoke about you, that the people in this generation worship Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, the tradition of the elders" [ Mark 7:6-9; Matthew 15:7-9]. Then He gives them a poignant illustration. "In one of the Ten Commandments, Moses wrote, ‘Honor thy father and thy mother’ [Exodus 20:12]. And then it is discussed in the Holy Word of God. But you say, if I have something in my hand whereby I might help my father and mother, food that they might eat or care that they so desperately need – you say, that if your father or mother has need, you say, what I have is Corban, dedicated to God, and, therefore, I cannot use it for the support and the alleviation of the tragedies of sorrow and need and want found in many of our aged fathers and mothers’"; and the Lord said, "Thus do you subvert and interdict the commandment of God by your ritualistic traditions, making the Word of God of none effect" [Mark 7:10-13].
Well, that’s strangely pertinent and modern, defining religion in terms of ceremonial worship, things, t’s to cross and i’s to dot, and litanies to say, and genuflections to go through, and all of the outward trappings and paraphernalia of the religion, but the heart isn’t right! It’s an outward ceremonial showing, but it’s not a true worship of God. I say, that’s about as modern a characterization as you could find.
You’ve heard me say this. There were two men who robbed a bank., and in robbing the bank, they killed the president and left him in cold blood. And fleeing away with their robbery, they stopped at a joint, a hamburger joint, to get a bite to eat. And while they were there in the joint eating a hamburger that has supposedly meat in the bun, while they were there eating a hamburger, one of those men who had shot the president in cold blood and left him dead, he suddenly stopped and said, "Wait! This is Friday! And we dare not eat meat on Friday." So they pushed the meat away. Careful and meticulous about the ceremonies of the faith, all of those washings, and sprinkles, and litanies, and genuflections, all of those mouthed words – but the heart far away from God.
In this city there’s a well-known, very well-known business executive, very well-known, most successful and very wealthy, and a great exponent of a certain religion in the city of Dallas. I happened to be seated by him from a distant city, returning to Dallas. And knowing him well, and he knowing me, we began to talk and to visit as you would know two men would who knew each other for years and years and lived in the city of Dallas. So he was telling me about a pastor in that distant city. I knew him. He said to me, "That’s my kind of a preacher. Man, do I like him! He drinks with me, and I like to drink with him, and he gambles with me, and I like that gambling, and many times he beats me at it. I could also say he swapped wives with one of his deacons. That’s my kind of a preacher," he said. "I like him. He drinks with me and he gambles with me. I like that."
Well, I said to him – this is a man, remember, who is very religious; he goes to that house of worship, and he bows down, and he genuflects, and he recites the litany, and he does a thousand things. He’s meticulous. So he gambles. Fine. He’s wealthy, and he can lose millions of dollars and not miss it. So he drinks, and to him it is perfectly acceptable; he drinks.
So I talk to him, and this is what I say. Call him by name, and I say, "There are literally thousands and thousands of young men in this city who know you. They watch you, and you are to them a great successful idol. Man, they look at you and say, ‘That’s the way. That’s the way. Look at him.’" I said to him, "There’s not a young man in the city of Dallas that looks at a drunk in the gutter in his own vomit who says, ‘I’d like to be like that.’ There’s not one. But there are thousands of young men in the city of Dallas who watch you and who know you and who say, ‘I’d like to be like that.’ So the young fellow sees you gamble, and he gambles. And the young fellow sees you drink, and he drinks." And then I called him by name, and I said, "The tragedy of that is this: one boy out of every eleven who begins to drink falls into awesome and terrible problems, drinking problems, liquor problems. And one out of every nine, when he gets grown, becomes an alcoholic and a drunkard." I said to him, "It’s not worth what little joy you get out of it because of the tragedy of the influence of your life on that youth who sees you gamble and watches you drink."
There is a great law in the Bible, a tremendous one: if eating meat causes my brother to offend, I will eat no meat so long as the world shall last [1 Corinthians 8:13]. If what I do causes him to stumble and to fail, I will not do it for his sake. That’s the highest Christian law by which we could love and serve and worship our Lord God. If drinking causes a young man to stumble, I won’t drink. And if gambling causes a poor man to lose the wages that he ought to spend on his children and on his house and wife and home, I won’t gamble. It’s a great Christian commitment.
Sum it up, the text I’m expounding – the Christian faith is not that genuflection. It is not that sprinkling of holy water. It is not that repetition of a litany, and it is not the keeping of all the formalities of a ceremonial faith. The Christian religion is of the heart. It’s of the soul. It’s of the life. It’s of the example. It’s living unto God in such a way that people, seeing us, glorify our Father which is in heaven [Matthew 5:16].
In a little moment that I could take here, could I turn aside from a little thing that I run into with my fellow ministers all the time? I will get a blistering letter, I mean a blistering letter, from my fellow ministers, and they will say to me, "We listen to you on the radio," or, "We read this in one of your sermons, and you say when Jesus turned the water into wine [John 2:1-11], that it was a special kind of wine, and the kind we’re going to drink at the marriage supper of the Lamb. That," they say to me, "is a downright misrepresentation of the Holy Scriptures." That’s what they write me. "When Jesus turned the water into wine, it was like the rest of the wine, and they could get drunk on it. And for you to say anything else is not to be true to the Word of God." They will use the word eisegesis. "That’s not exegesis; that is eisegesis, reading into it some perverted persuasion that you have."
Now, these are ministers who love to drink. Not long ago I sat down with some of them, all of them drinking liquor, all of them. What about that?
What I say and what I preach, which is the Word of God, namely, that when they ran out of wine at this marriage feast in Cana of Galilee, where Mary, the mother of Jesus, said, "You do what my Son says" [John 2:5], and He asked them to fill up all of those ceremonial waterpots and then draw out and bear it to the governor, and the governor said, "I never tasted wine like that"; it was different. It was different from any he ever tasted. He said, "This is different!" [John 2:9-10].
I don’t believe, nor could I be convinced in a hundred thousand lifetimes, that Jesus ever made anything to damn a man’s life or to ruin a man’s soul. You could drink that wine that Jesus made forever and ever! It’s the wine we’re all going to drink at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:6-9]. It’s different. It’s a joyous, beautiful, precious cup of the love and gracious goodness of the blessing of the Lord.
And our lives – returning to my exposition – are never, ever to be defined in terms of certain ritualistic bowings and risings through which we go, mouthing certain pious phrases and responses. But our faith is one of a commitment of heart and life to the Lord, walking in the glory of the light that shined in the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6]. And now to conclude, because our moment is gone; and the Lord taught them it’s not the ceremonial things that defile the man. It’s the things of the heart that defile us [Mark 7:15,18-19].
Now let me turn it around in my words. If all of us sinned just skin-deep, then a skin-deep ceremony could wash our sins away. If all that we did was to err and mistake lightly, smally, infinitesimally, then maybe some kind of a little ceremonial procedure or a little sprinkling of water could wash and make us clean. My brother, we don’t sin skin-deep. We sin all-deep. Our whole lives are filled with lack and want and mistake. We’re just born under the condemnation of that first parent who fell in the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:1-6]. And I inherit that nature. I am a lost sinner. And it isn’t skin-deep. It’s soul-deep. It’s heart-deep. It’s life-deep. And because of the depth of the depravity and the lostness of my soul, it takes an infinite, heavenly, God-given redemption and intervention to lift me out of the miry clay and to set my feet on the Rock, to present me faultless and without blemish in the day of His appearing [Ephesians 5:27; Jude 1:24]. And there’s only one infinite sacrifice that can bring me to that holy and heavenly holiness, and that is the blood and the sacrifice of Jesus our Lord.
Wouldn’t it be easy if just a genuflection would wash our sins away, the response of a litany would make us clean and white? I would to God it did. Our sin is deeper than that. It’s in our soul. It’s in the depths of our lives. And for our cleansing, God sent His Son that in His blood we might find our sins all washed away [1 John 1:7].
It’s a spiritual thing. It’s something a man does when he opens his heart God-ward and heavenward, and Jesus comes into his life, recreates him. He’s a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17]. He has a new love, and a new hope, and a new prayer, and a new vision, and a new commitment. He’s a Christian now – not by some genuflection and not by some ceremony, but he’s become a child of God by receiving the grace and sacrifice and atonement of Jesus in his heart and in his soul.
May we stand together? Our dear Lord in heaven, bless Thou the expounding of the truth we have sought to present tonight. How tragic is the man’s life who is very meticulous about little ceremonial things and then leads a life that ruins and condemns and damns those that are around him. Help us, Master, not to find in these rituals the atoning grace that washes our sins away, but help us, Lord, to look to Jesus, looking unto Him, "the author and the finisher of our faith" [Hebrews 12:2]. He alone can forgive us, remake us, born us anew, save us, write our names in the Book of Life. Keep us in His able and mighty hand forever and ever. And our Lord, tonight we commit our souls unto Thee.
And while our people pray and while we wait before the Lord, in a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, a family you to come, a couple you to respond with your life, or just one somebody you: "Tonight I take Jesus as my Savior," or "Tonight we’re putting our lives in the circle and the circumference of this dear church," or "Tonight I’m answering a call of the Spirit of God"; as the Lord shall speak, answer with your life. Down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the press of people on this lower floor, make the decision now in your heart, and when we sing, let that first step of commitment and decision be the greatest you ever made in your life. Do it now, make it now, while we pray and wait and while we sing.