"Innocent until proven guilty" - that phrase is a simplified expression of how the legal system in this country is supposed to work. Most of us have heard this phrase from time-to-time for most of our lives. This phrase is based on a system of law that does not hold a person guilty of a crime until after someone offers proof that that person actually committed the crime. That is the way the justice system in this country is supposed to work.
We don't often think about it, but our justice system is the way it is because of a handicap that all human beings have. This handicap prevents us from instantly knowing someone's guilt or innocence the moment we meet them. This handicap prevents us from getting to know someone until after we spend a significant amount of time with that person and even then our knowledge is imperfect.
The handicap that I am talking about is our inability to directly evaluate the motives and thoughts of the heart. Yes, I know there are some people that are very good at reading body language and be pretty accurate at knowing someone's emotional state. Sometimes these people are so good that they can almost make you think that they can read your mind, but the fact is no mere human being can directly read the thoughts or emotions of another.
God does not have this handicap. God knows your mental and emotional processes better than you know them yourself. God knows every person inside and out. He knows our thoughts, emotions, motivations, everything. God even knows when you are fooling yourself.
In today's Gospel, Jesus tells us that God sees sin when it is still in the heart. Jesus said, "From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." God sees our sin even while it is in forming in the heart.
God does not have to wait for DNA analysis. He does not have to wait for fingerprint comparisons. He does not have to interview witnesses and evaluate their credibility. God already knows our hearts. The verdict is already clear to Him. Consider Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount.
[Matthew 5:22] I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. The Holy Spirit inspired John to write: [1 John 3:15] "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." These verses teach us that God already judges us by our hearts. If we hate someone or call them names, we have the heart of a murderer and are already guilty of murder in God's eyes.
What about the next commandment? Jesus said, [Matthew 5:28] I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. The instant you fantasize about having an intimate relationship with someone who is not your spouse, you have the heart of an adulterer and are already guilty of adultery in God's eyes.
If we examine any one of the Ten Commandments and then imagine what God sees in our hearts, we can only imagine that our hearts look like a toxic waste dump of sin. Is it any wonder that the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write: [Genesis 6:5] "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually?" The Holy Spirit also inspired Isaiah to write: [Isaiah 64:6] "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment."
When I hear this passage, I am reminded of my children's diapers. About the time that Lynn and I were starting our family, there was a feeling that cloth diapers were somehow superior to disposable diapers. For a while, Lynn and I subscribed to a diaper service. They gave us a stack of clean diapers and a diaper pail in which to place the used diapers. Every so often, they would drop by and clean out that diaper pail and give us another stack of clean diapers. Whenever I read this passage in Isaiah, I think of the inside of that diaper pail just before the service came to clean it out. There were definitely some polluted garments in that pail. This passage from Isaiah teaches us that our RIGHTEOUS DEEDS - our BEST BEHAVIORS are like the inside of that diaper pail. What must the SIN in our hearts look like to Holy God?
That is why I am always so puzzled when people say that they want to give their hearts to God. Really!? You want to gift wrap something worse than the inside of a ripe diaper pail and give it to God? That is what we would be doing if we offered our hearts to God as a gift. God has a much different plan for our hearts.
God is not interested in receiving our hearts as a gift. Instead, He is interested in taking our hearts and putting them to death. As the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to say, [Romans 6:3] "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" and: [Romans 6:6] "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." and: [Galatians 5:24] "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." When Jesus went to the cross, He took our filthy, toxic, sinful hearts with Him. With His death, He put those hearts to death.
What about the big empty space left behind? We can't live without hearts. How does God address this problem?
You may not know it, but you sing the answer to that question almost every Sunday: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free spirit." This is a prayer that asks God to create a clean heart to replace that old, sinful heart that Jesus took to the cross.
This also happens in Holy Baptism. Even as the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write about the removal of the old heart, He also inspired Paul to tell of the new. Paul said, [2 Corinthians 5:17] "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." And, [Romans 6:5] "If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." And, [Romans 6:8] "If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. When the Holy Spirit plants faith in us, He does a heart transplant. He removes our filthy hearts of sin and replaces them with new, clean hearts.
Now, although we have new, clean hearts, we still live in a sinful world. Temptations still attack us from all directions, and we often suffer defeat. That is when our new hearts convict us of sin and drive us back to the cross. There we once again confess our sins and receive forgiveness for all our sins. In this way, God keeps our new heart clean until He takes us away from this world of sin to live with Him in heaven where our hearts will never be sinful again.
Each and every one of us was born with a toxic heart. It was a heart that loved sin and hated God. Over time our continuous sinning only made our hearts blacker and more toxic. There was no way that we could give our hearts as a gift to God. Instead, God took our filthy, sinful hearts and destroyed them at the cross. Now through Holy Baptism, He gives us newly created hearts - hearts that fear, love and trust in Him above all things - hearts that turn to Him in time of trouble - and when temptations overwhelm us, hearts that confess our sin in the sure and certain knowledge that God loves us for Christ's sake and will forgive us. These are new hearts that will live with Him in heaven and rejoice before His throne forever. These are the new hearts that God has created in us. Amen
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