One of the things we marvel at in the ministry of Jesus Christ is his way of addressing the fears, longings, and desires that lay beneath the surface of those he met. We see this clearly in this week’s text in the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Never was Jesus deterred by pretense or fooled by externalism. His target was always the heart of those whom he met.
In Scripture, the heart refers to more than a mere organ or our emotions. It represents the seat of our motivations which produces our worship, the center of all parts of human existence. Solomon said, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).
So why exactly does Jesus always seem to address the “heart"?
Our Problem is A Worship Problem
The writer David Foster Wallace said that “in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
And when we worship something other than God—in other words, when our heart affections are not where they should be—we produce evil works:
When we steal, we reveal that we are looking for ultimate meaning in possessions. We deceive others because we want to justify ourselves and find meaning in our own reputation. Sexual immorality is a result of finding ultimate meaning relationships. All of these are worship problems, and they begin with the heart.
External sin wasn’t the root issue for Jesus. That’s why he spent time with people who didn’t look so good on the outside: tax collectors, the sinful woman washing his feet, a Samaritan woman known for her sexual exploits. He wanted to address the real problem—worship—by getting at the heart.
Our Worship is Wrong Because of Sin
Circumstances, stress, upbringing, culture, and our personal history all play a part in shaping our behavior, but the root problem is sin (Mark 7:21-23; Luke 6:43-45; James 4:1-2). Sin can be defined as “rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law” (New City Catechism #16).
When we sin, it’s because we worship something or someone other than God. We treasure, delight in, long for, fear, glorify or desire something more than we desire God.
And here's the thing: It may be a desire for a good thing, but if that good thing has come to matter more to us than God, it is idolatry. And because it matters more to us than God, we are prepared to displease God to pursue what we desire.
This is why idolatry is so fundamental to the Bible’s understanding of sin. Idolatry is turning the worship of the heart away from God to something else. Tim Keller says says “our idols are those things we count on to give our lives meaning. They are the things of which we say, I need this to make me happy, and if I don‘t have this my life is worthless and meaningless.”
In his comment on Acts 28:6, Calvin says, “Every one of us is, from his mother‘s womb, expert in inventing idols.” The bad news is the sinful heart will continue to make idols to the grave - but there is Good News...
Jesus Came to Redirect our Worship to God by Defeating Sin
Jesus came into the world to redirect our hearts to worship God. Being God, he knew that what we were created to worship is God. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” (Augustine)
How does Jesus do this? Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus knew no sin: he never failed to worship God perfectly from his heart and.
Jesus became sin: he offered himself as a sacrifice for those who failed to worship God in their hearts.
By putting our faith in Jesus, our hearts are set free from the power of sin, and we become worshipers of the one true and living God.
Whatever your external behavior is, don't let it distract you from the real issue: the heart. Because your heart—your worship—is what Jesus is after.