In my devotional reading tonight, I was directed to a couple of passages that deftly illustrate the truth that Christ is after the heart.
In John 2, Jesus angrily drives the merchants and money changers out of the temple at Jerusalem in a scene that, if reenacted today, would have many church-goers seething at the seemingly psychopathic “legalism” of the Lord. Two chapters later, we see the social-custom-discarding exchange between Jesus and the woman at the well of Samaria. Both reveal Christ’s perfect ability to perceive the heart, and act upon that knowledge with divine discernment and wisdom.
John 2:13-16 relates the scene in the temple:
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.”
A stunning event for all who observed it, what precipitated the Lord’s righteous indignation and authoritative dismantling of the religious establishment? Verse 17 explains: “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house will consume me,'” a quote from Psalm 69:9.
However, it wasn’t the protection of the proverbial “brick and mortar” of the temple complex that so aroused Christ’s zealous anger. It was deeper than that. The core issue was the galling irreverence displayed by the Jews toward the Father. The wickedness of their hearts resulted in sinful activities on temple grounds, but it was the core heart issue that Jesus was confronting. Matthew Henry puts it well in his Commentary on the Whole Bible: “This was, (a.) to alienate that which was dedicated to the honour of God; it was sacrilege; it was robbing God. (b.) It was to debase that which was solemn and awful, and to make it mean.”
In John 4, the temple comes up again, though this time for an entirely unrelated reason. Jesus has just met the Samaritan woman at the well. His disciples are off buying food, and He strikes up a conversation with this woman who a typical Jew would have shunned, for she was a hated half-breed.
She has come to the well to draw water, a demanding and dusty task, and Jesus takes the opportunity to introduce the concept of living water. He is aiming for her heart, not her waterpot. But she misunderstands Him. She takes His offer as one that will preclude her from having to continually come to this well to draw water. When she stumbles over His analogy, Jesus cuts even deeper to reveal her need for Him in verses 16-18:
He *said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus *said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”
At this point the woman begins to realize that Jesus has some spiritual giftedness. She calls Him a prophet. Rather than allowing the conversation to continue on down a very awkward road for her, she interjects a religious argument. We Samaritans, she says, worship at Mt. Gerizim. But you Jews worship in Jerusalem.
Jesus, with precision and skill, redirects her in verses 21-24, taking away her smokescreen and bringing the discussion back to her heart:
Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Now we could say that Jesus knew the coming events of A.D. 70, a mere 40 years away, when Rome would sack Jerusalem and destroy the Jewish temple. And that would be true. But it would not be sufficient to explain the meaning of Jesus’ words. Jesus knew a far more significant event, an event of the heart, would take place not three years after this discussion. For He would fulfill the purpose for which He was sent into the world, dying on a Roman cross at the hands of the same Jewish leaders who presided over the sacrilegious use of the temple. He would bring salvation, and spiritual life, and living water. He would render the coming destruction of the temple irrelevant, because His death and resurrection would initiate a worship of spirit and truth, an internal religion of the heart.
The applications from these texts could be multiplied, I will list only three.
1. Christ knows the heart of man, and is deeply concerned with it.
2. Zeal for God’s glory is a vital aspect of our Savior’s character that we ought to imitate, and it may just look a little bit crazy to the religious establishment.
3. In order for us to authoritatively apply the truth of Christ to the hearts of men, our evangelistic endeavors will need a great deal of the wisdom and discernment that can only come from being filled with the Spirit of God.
Please use the comments section below to add others or offer further insights.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB