A Matter of the Heart
Do You have a hardened heart?
This morning I would like share a passage from my morning Quiet Time: it is found in Mark chapter 8 [P]. I am going to read a fairly lengthy passage so that we have the context of what took place. Jesus had a discussion with His disciples – and we are His disciples, aren’t we? – but it was related to some things that had gone on before: [Mark 8:1-21 In those days, when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples and said to them, “I feel compassion for the people because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. “If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance.” And His disciples answered Him, “Where will anyone be able to find enough bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” (thinking on the material the tangible level) And He was asking them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” And He directed the people to sit down on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve to them, and they served them to the people. They also had a few small fish; and after He had blessed them, He ordered these to be served as well. And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces. About four thousand were there; and He sent them away. ([P] so there is one part of the context: the feeding of the 4,000) And immediately He entered the boat with His disciples and came to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign?” (thinking on the material tangible level [P] there is another part of the context: the unbelief and cynicism of the Pharisees – they wanted proof, to see a sign – they walked by sight and not by faith) Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Leaving them, He again embarked and went away to the other side. And they had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them. (thinking on the material tangible level [P] And there is the third bit of context: they had forgotten to take bread. So, now we get to the passage.) And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread.(thinking on the material tangible level) And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? [P] “Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?”] Out of the blue, Jesus makes this rather enigmatic remark: "Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod" (v.15). Here are the disciples, they are followers of Jesus, He is their Rabbi, their Teacher and Master – they hang on His every word. What He says is important, has great significance. “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” – What on earth was He talking about? What did He mean? What was He referring to? They didn’t understand! And so they discussed with one another – it says they “dialogued” – the word means they reasoned or argued – they all put in their two-bob’s-worth; canvassed people’s opinions and ideas, brainstormed – they discussed the possibilities and came to the conclusion that Jesus was referring to the fact that they had no bread (v.16). They had forgotten to bring any bread and their supplies were very low (v.14); now Jesus was talking about leaven. They needed to make more bread and so would need yeast – when Jesus spoke about “yeast/leaven” that must be what He was referring to. Jesus had just had a run-in with the Pharisees – He was retaliating with an economic boycott: “Don’t get your yeast from them!” It says that they were discussing “among themselves” – “with one another” – Jesus was not included in their discussion and their thinking. How often we leave Jesus out of our thinking – we go on using our own reasoning and do not consult Him. If they had discussed with Jesus they would not have been so way off beam. Jesus was not included but He was aware of their discussion and what they were thinking – it says: "He knew". He knows! He knows what we are thinking. They had discussed among themselves, used their rational minds to analyze what Jesus said, fitted it with the situation and the context – AND COME UP WITH COMPLETELY THE WRONG IDEA! [P] Jesus rebukes them: “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart?” He was utterly astounded that they could have taken His words so literally. Yet isn’t this how we interpret Scripture?! Discuss rationally what it says, applying it to the context and background situation? We read the commentaries, find out what other people think about what it means. We are applying human reasoning to what is of essence spiritual! Why were they discussing that they had no bread? He wasn't talking about literal bread, how come they did not perceive that He was speaking about spiritual things? They did not see or understand! Yet these were His chosen ones, His followers, those closest to Him, who had heard all His teaching. It was to them that He had opened up the meaning behind the plain words that He was speaking. Earlier, Jesus had been speaking to the people in parables – the meaning was kept hidden from them, but not to His disciples: [cf. Mark 4:10-13 As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables?] They had been given insight into the mystery, yet they still didn’t understand – still they were not seeing and understanding ("οὔπω νοεῖτε – understand, perceive; οὐδὲ συνίετε" – bring together, comprehend) – both words have the concept of “mind” in them. They were no different from all the rest who did not perceive a parable and its meaning. He was talking about UNDERSTANDING – applying the mind, but not the fleshly mind but the mind renewed by the Holy Spirit [Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.] A mind renewed by the Spirit: [Ephesians 4:23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, Titus 3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,]. Our natural rational mind is not going to come up with the right answer, it cannot understand because it has no spiritual perception. But it was not just a mental, rational process – it was a perceiving with the heart, a comprehending with the heart. The problem was a heart problem! The reason that they did not perceive or comprehend was because of the state of their heart. Their heart was hardened ("πεπωρωμένην" – it is in the perfect tense, indicating the abiding state of hardness. Hardening flows on from the heart to the sight, the hearing and the mind). You need a soft heart in order to understand what the LORD is saying. Jesus softened His remarks by stating them as questions – He didn’t accuse them, it was not a condemnation but a challenge for them to examine the state of their heart. And it is salutatory for us to look at the state of our own heart. We understand with our heart, not with our intellect and our human reasoning. If we are not understanding what the LORD is saying, we need to look to the state of our hearts. Is my heart hardened or is it soft? A hard heart resists what God is saying, a soft heart is receptive. What is a "hardened heart"? [P] It is unwilling to learn and accept new information – it is fixed, dogmatic, prejudiced, it has already formed its opinion, thinks it knows and so is unreceptive to new information – it is a closed mind. I am going to look at quite a few Scriptures – to save you hunting around, I’ve looked them up for you. [P] A hardened heart is unwilling to listen [P] [Ezekiel 3:7 yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate.] [P] [Zechariah 7:12 “They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which יְהוָה of armies had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from יְהוָה of armies.] [P] It is a heart that is stubborn, [P] insistent on its own way [[P] Matthew 19:8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way]. God intended that one man be joined to one man for life – that is how it was at the beginning; but they wanted to go their own stubborn way, to break their covenant with their wife and have a different one. It was not God’s will but He allowed a system of divorce because of their hard stubborn hearts: [Mark 10:5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.] [P] A hard heart is one that is unrepentant [P] [Romans 2:5 [P] But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God]. [P] It is a heart that is resistant to God and His work [P] There was a man with a deformed hand, God’s will was to make him whole but, because it was the Sabbath, their rigid heart was not willing to bend to let this man be healed: [P] [Mark 3:5 After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.] Their hard heart resisted the work that God wanted to do. [P] A hard heart turns from Him to its own way – it is rebellious [P] [2 Chronicles 36:13 [P] (referring to king Zedekiah) He also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar who had made him swear allegiance by God. But he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to יְהוָהGod of Israel.] – he was determined, he was not going to turn to God. [P] A hard heart is one that does not believe [P] This is the disciples, those closest to Jesus, after He had risen from the dead: [Mark 16:14 [P] Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.] The nation of Israel sought to be saved by doing what the Law required, relied on deeds instead of by faith in Jesus [P] [Romans 11:7 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened Romans 11:20 They were broken off because of their unbelief.] – unbelief and hardness go together. An extended passage on the hardening of Israel's heart is in (Hebrews 3:7-4:13 ) [P] – It is talking about hearing God’s voice, listening [P] – it reveals that a hard heart is disobedient: [P] [Hebrews 3:7-8 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,] It again is a heart that refuses to believe: [P] [Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.] They failed to receive what God intended for them because of their unbelief: [P] [Hebrews 3:19 So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.) Rebellion, unbelief, evil, not hearing God’s voice are all here associated with a hard heart – and also disobedience: (Hebrews 3:18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?). Their unbelief was expressed in disobedience. Unbelief and disobedience go hand in hand. The classic case of harden his heart was Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. He refused to believe and obey יהוה's decree, he resisted doing what יְהוָה told him to do. [P] Hardening your heart is also stifling your compassion [P] [Deuteronomy 15:7 [P] “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which יְהוָה your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; And in the NT: [P] [1 John 3:17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?] [P] Having a heard heart has consequences for you: a hard heart results in ignorance [P] [Ephesians 4:18 [P] being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;). [P] In fact hardening your heart is a recipe for disaster! [P] [Proverbs 28:14 [P] How blessed is the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.] You also have there the corollary: blessing on the one who fears יְהוָה (and there is the heart of the matter) a hardened heart is one that does not fear יהוה [P] [cf. Isaiah 63:17 Why, O יְהוָה, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You?]. A hardened heart gains no insight from what יהוה is doing or saying [P] [Mark 6:52 for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.] It fails to understand His Word [ 2 Corinthians 3:14,15 But their minds were hardened (referring to Israel); for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, (the Scriptures) a veil lies over their heart] A hardened heart is incapable of perceiving [John 12:40 “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.”). Do I have a hardened heart? [P] It is a searching question! What is the opposite of a hardened heart? A soft heart, a responsive and receptive heart, one that believes, trust, simply relies on the LORD. The term "soft heart" does not occur in Scripture but a "willing heart" [P] does: when they were collecting material for making the tabernacle, it says: [Exodus 35:22 So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to יְהוָה.] David had a soft heart, after his sin with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, the penitent psalmist said: [Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.] In contrast to a hard, rebellious stony heart, the Bible talks of a "heart of flesh" [P] [Ezekiel 11:19 “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, Ezekiel 36:26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.] The good news is that if I have a hard heart God can give me a new one! The Bible also speaks of a "whole heart" [P] [1 Kings 8:61 “Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to יְהוָה our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as at this day.”] Remember Hezekiah when he became ill and prayed to God? [2 Kings 20:3 “Remember now, O יְהוָה, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.] David exhorted his son to have such a heart: wholly and completely sold out to יְהוָה, devoted to Him alone: [1 Chronicles 28:9 “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for יְהוָה searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever. 1 Chronicles 29:9 Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly. 2 Chronicles 15:15 All Judah rejoiced concerning the oath, for they had sworn with their whole heart and had sought Him earnestly, and He let them find Him.] It takes whole heartedness to find God – and this heart for God comes from יְהוָה Himself: [Jeremiah 24:7 ‘I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am יְהוָה; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.) The Bible also talks of a "perfect heart": [P] [1 Chronicles 29:19 and give to my son Solomon a perfect heart to keep Your commandments, Your testimonies and Your statutes, and to do them all, and to build the temple, for which I have made provision.”] It is a matter of the heart. We know God with our heart – not intellectual reasoning, human dialoguing but by spiritual revelation! It is knowledge that comes to our heart from God! [Deuteronomy 29:3-4 (Israel saw) the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders. “Yet to this day יְהוָה has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.] They didn’t know because יְהוָה hadn’t given them a heart to know – for them to respond God had to do a work in their heart: [Deuteronomy 30:6 “Moreover יְהוָה your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.] But there is a response that we must make – turning to Him with a receptive heart : [back in Deuteronomy 30:2 it says: return to יְהוָה your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according,] It is a response of faith. It says in [Deuteronomy 30:14 “But the word (that is the word of God, revelation from Him) is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart,] Paul quotes this passage, telling us that it refers to the righteousness which is based on faith: [Romans 10:5-13 For Moses writes that ….. the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”] It comes right down to the fundamental issues of righteousness and salvation – it is all of faith and we believe with our hearts, with a soft responsive heart. It is an issue of the heart! [P] We tend to think of a heart response as an emotional one, but the “heart” in the Bible is not emotion but rather our central core, our will, that which directs our lives. It includes emotion but also our mind. We have wandered quite a distance from the passage in Mark – there the disciples had a heart problem. They dialogued with each other but they had no spiritual understanding. Dialogue, human reason doesn’t understand – it has no spiritual perception – revelation is required! We need spiritual understanding – Paul prayed: [Colossians 1:9-10 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;] The disciples, those closest to Jesus, those who had wanted to follow Him, did not understand – so Jesus explained to them the spiritual meaning: [Mark 8:20-21 “When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?” ] Ahhh! Now, it’s obvious, isn’t it?! If it is, then evidently your heart is not as hard as mine! I mean I have a few ideas, I have my theory, I have looked up the commentaries, canvassed the opinions of the experts – DIALOGUED! Applied my human reasoning – Jesus evidently thought that the significance of the numbers, of the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000 revealed some obvious spiritual truth that related to what he said about leaven. But my spiritually dull mind doesn’t get it. I can’t work it out with my analysis and reasoning. Jesus continued to teach His disciples and down in verse 29 He asks a question [Mark 8:29 “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”]. A wonderful revelation! A great spiritual truth! Peter didn’t get that by his human reasoning – it says in [Matthew 16:17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.] But when Jesus gave further revelation down in verse 31 that He had to suffer and die and rise again; Peter actually reprimanded Jesus. Jesus said [Mark 8:33 “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”] As soon as Peter had his mind on the things of man, he was way off beam! Peter received revelation directly from God; but when he had his mind on the things of man, human ideas; it was satan that he heard not God! It is an issue of the heart! And now may I share with you my heart?: I have a real concern that maybe we have a heart problem! …… I am not pointing the finger, or if I am, it as much to myself. We can use our intellect, do our Bible study, our word studies, (I’ve just done one on “hard heart”!). We do our analysis and what we may be doing is applying human analysis to something that is of essence spiritual. And the flesh cannot comprehend that which is spiritual – we will come up with the wrong answer! [Galatians 5:17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 1 Corinthians 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.] [P] Many of you know that I was raised in a good Christian home, brought up with good orthodox evangelical doctrine. I read my Bible, I could give the right answers – but I was far from God, and deep down I knew it. Then God spoke to me by name, shortly afterwards I had a revelation (and I believe it takes revelation) that my mind cannot comprehend God. What kind of puny God is He if my little mind can understand Him?! You see? I had my doctrine tied down, I had it all sussed, could give the correct answer – I had the measure and understanding of God!! How deceived I was! You know I am most wary of people who have all the answers and have all their theology sorted. If I have all the answers, all the t’s dotted and I’s crossed – then I am no longer in a teachable position – my heart is no longer receptive to learn – my heart is hard! We can be so concerned with being correct, giving the correct answer. Correct, analytical – but dead! [P] Where is the life?! [John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.] Where is the spiritual revelation?! We need the Spirit of God to give understanding to our hearts. Hearts that are soft, responsive, receptive to what the Holy Spirit is saying. If I get up and minister information, analysis even if I manage to make it interesting and palatable – if it has no life it profits nothing! If we preach apart from the Spirit of God it has no life – it is utterly pointless and futile! Similarly, if I am hearing with my analytical mind and human reasoning, if I am not hearing with a soft and receptive heart – I am going to receive no insight from God – I will not have any understanding. I will, like the disciples, come up with an idea but it will be way off the mark. Only the Spirit of God can teach us, spiritual insight comes from God – but it must fall on soft soil in order to produce spiritual growth and fruit – we need to have a soft receptive heart! We need to hear from God! And here is the word of God: hear the word of יְהוָה from: [P] [Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.] Revive my heart Oh LORD!