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Hardness of Heart in the Churches

A Sermon Delivered to
The Compassion Internet Church
 
26 Aug 2012
 
Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

Scripture References:

Isaiah 1:1-31
Matthew 21:13
22:18
Mark 9:42-43

Preparation Verse: (Matthew 21:13)

13. And He said unto them, it is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer: but you make it a den of robbers.

Our preparation verse for today is a remark that Jesus made to the people in the Temple, when He cleansed it of those who exchanged money and sold animals for sacrifice 2,000 years ago.
 
It was reduced to a business and not a house of worship.
 
Jesus was clearly telling them that what they were doing was against God’s will, for they had hardened their hearts against the desires of God, and focused only upon the business of earning money.
 
In addition they were robbing the people of their hard earned money with the false premise that God wanted them to buy animals for sacrifice, which He clearly didn’t want.
 
Many people in the world today, from all denominations, are upset with the amount of hardness of heart they have encountered in the churches, particularly when it comes to animals and the people who care about them.
 
Our discussion today deals with this and other related issues that stem from the churches’ disobedience to God and their refusal to allow the Lord to fully soften their hearts, just as went on in the Temple 2,000 years ago.
 
The problem hasn’t changed even to this very day, for haven’t we all seen advertisements outside of churches urging people to come to their fundraising suppers featuring the tortured remains of once living animals who have emotions and feel pain just as we do?
 
And they say prayers over the meals, just as they did in the Temple over the animals they killed as a sacrifice, even when there were no Jewish prayers for the actual flesh foods.
 
Where is their empathy?
 
Where is their love and compassion?
 
Where is their softness of heart?
 
Where is their obedience to God to protect the whole of His creation, and eat only plant foods?
 
These Godly qualities are all missing.
 
This is why millions of softhearted people have left the churches, and why we’ve been speaking out against this hardness for over 30 years, and encouraging people to return to God and live in His heavenly will.
 
I feel very much like Jesus did 2,000 years ago, and very much like Isaiah who spoke out 700 years earlier.
 
Let’s take a closer look at what Isaiah said for the Lord when he saw this same kind of ungodliness in his day. (Isaiah 1:1-31).

1.  The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
 
2. Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: "I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.

This is the same kind of rebellion that is going on in most of the churches today, and is the primary reason that we have so much violence and bloodshed in the world today.
 
For if the church leaders taught about living in our Father’s heavenly will, and being the peacemaking children of God that the Lord called us to be, we would see much less violence in the world.
 
Unfortunately, very few of the churches have adopted this stance.

3. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."

When it comes to these spiritual matters, even the animals had more sense than the people, and we believe that this holds true for most people today.

4. Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him.
 
5. Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted.
 
6. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness-- only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.

If we just look at the people’s physical health for a moment, almost every chronic disease, and many viral infections, come from the raising and eating of animals.
 
And still the people continue to support the evil ways of the world that bring them harm.
 
A lot of this harm is also coming from animal farming to our environment; for our water, soil, and air is being polluted.

7. Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.
 
8. The Daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a field of melons, like a city under siege.
 
9. Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.

This small remnant of believers are loving and compassionate children of God who are working to free creation from its present corruption and end the suffering and death that plagues billions of animals and millions of people every year.
 
Why do I feel confident in saying this?
 
Because the only one who wants people to turn away from God and kill and shed blood is the devil, so those who follow these practices are serving the devil and not God.
 
If it wasn’t for the children of God, we would have been wiped out as were Sodom and Gomorrah centuries before Isaiah spoke these words.
 
And because the vast majority of Israel’s leaders and our church leaders today are working against God’s heavenly will, the Lord refers to them as the rulers of Sodom, and the congregations as the people of Gomorrah.

10.  Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
 
11. "The multitude of your sacrifices-- what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

These are also some of the reasons why Jesus cleansed the Temple, as we saw in our preparation verse.
 
Even if we don’t sacrifice animals today in our churches, we are still supporting the raising and killing animals as if God were pleased; and nothing is further from the truth.

12. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
 
13. Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
 
14. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

People are led to believe that our religious holidays are very important to God, and here we clearly see that they are not.
 
Our obedience is what is important to God.
 
The holidays were just a reminder to us of who God is; they are not an end in themselves.
 
Saying prayers by rote without true meaning in our souls is the same thing.
 
Just think of how many people recite the Lord’s Prayer, and how few actually live it by bringing God’s heavenly will into their lives as it is in heaven, where there is neither suffering nor death.
 
Rightly so, God says…

15. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;

When people are hard of heart, they try to fool God with their evil ways; but God sees the intent of the heart, and thus rejects their religiosity.
 
This is also why Jesus called the religious leaders of His day “hypocrites.” (Matthew 22:18)

16. wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong,
 
17. learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
 
18. "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

God is always reaching out to sinners to call them to repentance and to return to living in His heavenly will.

19. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land;

Remember that animals don’t come from the land; they eat the plants that come from the land, as we should all be doing.

20. but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
 
21. See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her-- but now murderers!

God is calling those who slaughtered all the animals “murderers.”
 
And if we look at this from a legal standpoint, all who sell and eat these animals are co-conspirators with the murderers, and deserve the same punishment.
 
We are to be peacemaking children of God and not murderers!

22. Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water.
 
23. Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them.
 
24. Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: "Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies.
 
25. I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.

All of these problems come about because we are not obedient to the Lord our God and follow His heavenly will.
 
Even so, God continues to call us to repentance, to soften our hearts, and to once again become obedient to Him.

26.  I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City."
 
27. Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness.
 
28. But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the LORD will perish.
 
29. "You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen.
 
30. You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water.
 
31. The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire."

Isn’t this what Jesus tells us in Mark 9:42-43?

42. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
 
43. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

Who are these little ones?
 
I believe that they’re not only the innocent children and animals, but also the soft-hearted people who believe in God and knowingly bring no harm to any other living being.
 
We have conversed with so many people who have lost their faith because of the hardness of heart that they’ve encountered in the churches that we can no longer count them.
 
This is part of the sin that we believe these passages are addressing.
 
Hardness of heart has no place in a true church of God.
 
A true church should be filled with loving, compassionate, and peacemaking children of God who live daily in His heavenly will.
 
Amen.

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