Overcoming hardness of heart.
Probably not many of you know, but my business is blood – I work in a lab in the hospital analysing blood. It is called a Haematology laboratory – that means we study blood. A fairly gruesome business, but it comes in nice plastic tubes and these days we usually don’t even take the top of the tube. It is all nice and clinical. You all know that the heart is the great organ that pumps our blood around the body through a vast network of pipes called arteries and veins. If that blood is not pumping around those veins and arteries, you are dead! If there is something wrong with the heart or the arteries – you can be seriously sick. One of those diseases is called arterio-sclerosis – have you heard of it? Do you know what it is? It is hardening of the arteries. I looked up Wikipedia it said: “Arteriosclerosis is the thickening, hardening [P] and loss of elasticity of the walls of arteries, from the Greek αρτηρία, meaning artery, and σκληρωτικός, meaning hardened. Instead of being nice and flexible the arteries get coated with fat and cholesterol. And people with heart problems are often encouraged to cut down on fat in their diet, they are given statins, expensive drugs which Pharmac creates a fuss about funding. It is serious business when your arteries get hardened – arteriosclerosis. But I don’t want to talk about arteriosclerosis, I have been told to speak about sklayrokardia or kardioslerosis [P] – not hardening of the arteries but hardening of the heart! Kardia is Greek for heart and sklayrotikos is hardening. Greek is the same language that the New Testament of the Bible was written in and the word “sklayrokardia” (hardening of the heart) occurs in the N.T. only three times – once in Matthew 19:8 and twice in Mark. And the passage in Matthew is the same incident as in Mark 10. Lets read the passage in: [P] [Mark 10:2-12 Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”] Jesus made it quite clear marriage is one man and one woman for life. That is what God intended from the beginning, that is what the Bible says. But that is not what we see – there is divorce and broken marriage. Again, Jesus is quite clear – that remarriage is adultery, a breaking of God’s Law. Yet the man to whom that law was given, Moses, allowed divorce. But Jesus said that this wasn’t God’s intention or will. He only allowed it as a concession because of their “hardness of heart”. So what is this “hardness of heart”? It is resisting God’s will. Stubbornly insisting on your own way rather than submitting to God’s. [P] It is stubbornly refusing to obey God. And it is a fatal disease! The third time the word sklayrokardia is used is in Mark 16. [P] [Mark 16:9-14 Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. (she saw Jesus alive, clung to Him, she was an eyewitness to the truth that Jesus was actually alive after she had seen Him crucified, speared through, and buried in a tomb) She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping (she witnessed, testified to what she had seen). When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it. (an eyewitness report, and they refused to believe). After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country (two more independent witnesses of the fact that Jesus was alive). They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either. (Here were disciples, followers of Jesus, those who believed; yet they refused to believe the corroborating eyewitness accounts! So then Jesus appeared to them Himself). 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.] What was their “hardness of heart”? It was their refusal to believe [P] those who had encountered Jesus for themselves. We get more detail of what took place when Jesus appeared to the disciples, in John’s Gospel: [John 20:24-29 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (he adamantly refused to believe – he was stubborn, he wasn’t going to be moved) After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”] So we see that “hardness of heart” is stubbornness, digging your heels in – an adamant refusal. And this is what the Bible says is the consequence of a stubborn heart: [Romans 2:5 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.] In one case a refusal to comply with God’s will regarding marriage; in the other case a refusal to believe that Jesus was alive. And it was not just refusal to believe in the resurrection, but a refusal to believe those who had encountered the living Jesus themselves, refusing to accept the witness of others. Now we have been coming out to this wing for years now – are you refusing to believe the testimony that you have heard?! I testify before you tonight that I have had an encounter with the living Lord Jesus! I was an introverted basket case, totally taken up with myself and living solely for myself. Then one day Jesus spoke to me, not audibly, but even more real. He said: “Paul, do you love Me?” I replied with absolute sincerity (because you can’t lie when He speaks to you) that I did. He said, “Enough to be baptized?” This was something that for years I had been resisting to do – I had a stubborn hard heart that refused to do what God wanted me to do. So I obeyed, was baptized and although I had been a Christian since childhood, I had a powerful encounter with Jesus! It was miraculous, I was filled with the Holy Spirit and my life was turned around. There was an instantaneous and miraculous transformation. Jesus is alive – He changed me when I was absolutely impotent to change myself. I knew my life was a mess but I couldn’t do anything about it. But Jesus did! Praise His Name! So, tonight, I am testifying to you about an encounter with the Living LORD Jesus – the reality and truth that He is alive today! Now you can either believe that testimony or you can harden your heart and resist the truth that Jesus is alive. Yes, He died. He is the Living One that was dead but now is alive forevermore! Look I grew up in the 70’s – after the hope of the sixties failed to realise there came the most cynical and sceptical generation. We question everything, we don’t take anybody at his word. It used to be you would shake your hand on a business deal, now you have a document drawn up by lawyers and signed. We don’t trust anybody or anything. We used to say “seeing is believing” but now with “Photoshop” – we don’t even trust photographic evidence. We have hard hearts – sceptical, cynical, we refuse to believe. That is our defence – we don’t want to be taken in. We don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable – so we harden our heart. But there never was a relationship made without making yourself vulnerable – they are built on trust! But my brief is not to speak on “hardness of heart” but “overcoming hardness of heart” [P]. How do you overcome harness of heart? First you need to acknowledge that you have heart disease – serious heart disease: – the heart is desperately wicked, is what the Bible tells us. Furthermore there is nothing that you can do about it. It is as futile as me trying to perform cardiac surgery on myself. Yet people do – they try to reform, try to change their own heart. It cannot be done – for all your efforts your heart is still the same – it is a serious case, we need cardiac surgery. A desperate case, only a heart transplant will do it. [P] Our hard heart cannot be rectified. Imagine there you are facing death, the only thing that will save you is a heart transplant – you are waiting for a donor, someone has to give you their heart. That is what God does! Hallelujah! [Ezekiel 36:25-27 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone (and stone is pretty hard!) from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (a soft heart, a living heart, a heart that responds) “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.] There are 5 “I wills” – it is God at work! He does it, does what we cannot do ourselves. This passage is prophesying the new covenant, also prophesied in [Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant …. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; (no longer trying to keep rules, but having the desire to do so in your heart) and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbour and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” ] Now every covenant had to be sealed with blood, with a death. This covenant was put into effect by the death of Jesus. Just before He died, Jesus said: [ Matthew 26:28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.] Sins forgiven, a new responsive heart is there in the new covenant [Hebrews 10:16-17 “This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”] I appeal to you to turn from stubbornness and submit to God for some vital heart surgery.