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October 22, 2023

Jesus Never Said, “Follow Your Heart.”

Passage: Jeremiah 17:5-10

This morning I would like for you all to try these “tokens of advice” on for size and see what you think, “Follow your heart! Be true to yourself. Believe in yourself. Live your truth. As long as you are happy, it’s okay.” Now, if I were to say Amen here, then perhaps you guys should send me back to Eau Claire Wisconsin to correct my faulty understanding of the naturally evil heart of man and to teach me more about what Jesus actually says in His word. For you see, those five nuggets of advice read to you were never said by our Savior Jesus.

Now perhaps you’re wondering where I found those five sayings of advice. I found them on a social media post…surprise, surprise. But before you roll your eyes, I found them in this context: they were made as a list of five things that Jesus did not say. Also, with this list came the truths that Jesus actually said. Jesus didn’t say, “follow your heart.” He said, “follow Me.” Jesus didn’t say, “be true to yourself.” He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Jesus didn’t say “believe in yourself.” On the contrary, He many times calls us and all people to believe in Him. Jesus didn’t say, “live your truth.” He said that He is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus didn’t say, “as long as you are happy, you can do whatever you want.” He said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”

And so, what is the common thread you see throughout the list of phrases that Jesus didn’t say and those that He did say? He didn’t say “trust in yourself.” He said, “trust in me.” Therefore, as we examine our theme, “Jesus didn’t say, ‘follow your heart,’” let us be always focused on Jesus alone as our trust, learning from His words of old spoken by Jeremiah the prophet: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, and Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD.

(We Pray…)

Jesus did not say, “follow your heart.” That may perhaps be a hard fact to accept at face value. Perhaps we may even struggle with such a fact. And so, to help us understand why we shouldn’t follow our hearts, Jesus speaks through His servant Jeremiah on the reason why one shouldn’t follow their heart. Verse nine of our text says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” This is why you shouldn’t follow your heart, for the heart--the Bible’s expression that is often used to denote the center of your ways of thinking, your conscience, and your emotions—is deceitful. It is sinful by nature. It always lays traps for you, trying to trip you up in your thinking. Your sinful heart, if not kept in check, will do this to you. And one devastating way in which your sinful heart will try to catch you is to make you think that man is naturally good, and that we ourselves can restore ourselves from evil and despair, being righteous in our own minds. Therefore, “Trust in man!” says your deceitful heart. “Trust in yourself…” The sinful heart, you see, is the greatest obstacle to get to God. It’s desperately corrupt, wanting you to trust yourself rather than God. And just when you think, “yeah, I know my heart is bad. Yeah, I know my neighbor’s heart is bad.” The Prophet Jeremiah says, “Who can know it?” This question is written to show us that if we think we know the extent of evil the heart can produce, think again. It is so deep and so sinister. We can often be awe struck by the evil and atrocity that can come from man’s hearts.We think we know people’s limits, playing armchair psychologist, but we don’t. In fact, whether it’s a serial killer on the news or simply our loved ones sinning in ways in which we didn’t think they were capable, many times we are surprised to see just how evil the heart can be.

Because of the naturally evil heart, Jesus never said, “follow your heart.” He never said, “be true to yourself, believe in yourself, live your truth, and do whatever you want as long as it makes you happy.” And Jesus never said these things for very good reason, but if the evil heart isn’t reason enough to show you why Jesus didn’t say these things, then let’s look at the results of trusting in one’s own heart. This is the fact of life: If man trusts in his own heart, that is sinful, lackluster flesh as his strength and confidence in life, then this man is cursed. He is in an unfavorable place. In fact, one who does this is completely doomed on earth and after death. Their trust should be in the covenant Lord. Their heart, the inner core of his being, should be investing in God as his strength and deliverance. Instead, their heart turns from the Lord. And to provide a vivid picture of the cursed state of those who put their heartfelt trust in their own hearts, the prophet compares such a one to a shrub in the desert where there is no water or nutrients. They won’t see good things when they come by, for there is no good news to shower on him when a man trusts in his sinful heart. He who does this is “inhabiting parched places” as the prophet puts it. He is not going to be nourished in such a place. He will not thrive, for he is in a salt land, a salty plain where life can’t grow! He is doomed if he trusts in his own heart, just like a plant is doomed if it is planted in a salt plain with no rain.

This is the ultimate fate of one who, “follows their heart.” This salt plain fate, the fate of one who puts their trust and confidence in their own heart, put into reality looks like this—God’s condemnation. For you see, God says, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to his fruits.” God knows all hearts. The Lord searches them all. He tests the heart and mind, the entire inner most being to the very soul itself. He assesses the quality of every heart and mind this way. He does this to reward man according to their ways and fruits. And so, when the day of reckoning comes, God will give His final judgment of each heart. And like the King spoken of in Christ’s parable—our Gospel reading—who immediately called out the invitee for wearing the wrong wedding garment, so God can see the heart of the unbeliever and call him out for trusting in his own heart rather than God. He can test this wicked heart and give its just desserts. God then demonstrates what happens to the cursed man who trusts himself and brings his own garments rather than the proper wedding garment of faith. God will out the prideful Heart-Truster, the salted desert shrub that he is, into weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is the fate of wicked people who do this, and if all hearts are naturally wicked—yours and mine included—then There must be some way in which this problem can be solved. Thank God that there is. For you see, God doesn’t just sit in the Almighty Psychologist’s office doling out the diagnosis of “damnable psychosis” without offering mercy, grace, and help. He rather offers a way to fix the problem of our hearts. What does He do? Well, first He came to earth to take on human flesh and keep a perfect heart in our place, and then He offered that perfect heart as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of your wicked heart. And with this sacrifice made available to you as your salvation, He then gives us the gift of a new heart called saving faith. This new heart of saving faith does not follow the wicked heart nor trust in it. It does not heed as truth the things that Jesus didn’t say. It rather clings to every word that Jesus did say and every act of holiness that Jesus performed on its behalf. It clings to Jesus’ very life, death, and resurrection as its trust. This new heart of faith drops the trust in oneself and rather trusts solely in Jesus to get it through life and into eternal glory. This faith clings to the only truth—Jesus our Savior—as the way to go about our lives. This new heart of faith shoots forth the confession, “I don’t follow my heart. I follow my Savior.”

And so, Jesus, God Himself, grants us this gift of faith, and He strengthens it through the means of grace. In this way, He beats back the heart constantly and brings forth the new man, and He does so through word and sacrament. He does so by providing for you the Word that He did say, rather than foolish notions that He didn’t say. He preaches to you every Sunday, through public teaching of the Word, and through private reading of the same the wonderful message that God has forgiven you of all the sins that you and your wicked heart have produced. He also then gave you this Word with water—Baptism--early on in your lives to daily drown out your wicked heart and its wicked notions, drowning it in the blood of Christ and bringing forth rather the new heart of faith in you which clings to Jesus. He also then give you this Word with bread and wine—the Lord’s Supper--Christ’s body and blood, to give you the forgiveness and healing from your heart’s nasty ways and strengthens your new heart of faith to trust in God alone. Jesus gives then not only gives us the new heart of faith in these means of grace, but he strengthens it as well.

What a blessing then this new heart of saving faith is! To demonstrate further the wonderful love Jesus has shown us in giving us this blessing, He speaks through His servant Jeremiah once again by describing the wonderful impact that Jesus’ Words, the things He did say, has on our lives, “7 Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. 8 For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.” This is the state of those who trust in Jesus and His Word. Those who trust in the Jesus and put their confidence in Him are blessed. They are imbued with success by the grace of God, the success of eternal life in Heaven—the gift given to those saved in Christ. The vivid picture then depicting those who trust in the Lord is that of a tree planted by waters. Not a shrub, but a tree! Much sturdier and with endless supply of life, and that is the Christian, you and I, for we trust in Christ and His Word. The Christian then, trusting in the Lord, can withstand the heat of life and the incredibly hard years of drought—the worst years in life. They can get through them with leaves and fruit still attached, for Jesus supplies him with water to strengthen faith and cause it to yield fruit—the works of love done to God and our fellow man. Jesus Christ and His Word are our ultimate confidence and trust. He is how we endure. He is how we become like mighty trees planted beside water, blooming with life, and stalwart against heat and drought.

And so, Follow your heart? Jesus didn’t say that! What did He say? “Follow Me.” He has called us by grace to believe in Him. His grace guides us to walk carefully in our lives to always listen to the His Word rather than the words of our heart. The Words of our Savior ever remain our trust to give us the wedding garment of His blood and righteousness. And let us pray then knowing that God will answer our prayers with the confident assurance that He will keep us in His Words, causing us no longer to be shrubs in salt fields, but mighty oaks beside the brook. And finally, let us conclude with the thoughts of our Epistle reading, that we may speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, the Word of our Savior rather than our heart, for we know that these Words, the Words that Jesus did say, will keep us grounded in salvation and maintain our new hearts of faith which trust Jesus for their final salvation. Amen.