Sunday, April 16, 2023

Is your Heart Stubborn or Soft? How to Guard your Heart Diligently

I was over at cone zone ice cream on Saturday. And I was pulling through the drive through. On the front of my vehicle I have a license plate that says “Jesus Christ is the answer.” I saw a lady with her son look at the license plate and scowl and I could read her lips she said, “no it isn’t.”

And I thought to myself, you are wrong about that. But God gives us the right to be wrong. But we will also have to deal with the consequences of it. God bless this woman, I pray one day she knows Christ as her savior.

But we are stubborn aren’t we? I know I was so stubborn, for years, refusing to change my ways, refusing to listen to anyone. I had to hit a rock bottom before I finally turned to Jesus.

Today we dive into Mark chapter 3, at a moment in history when Jesus went to the local synagogue. 

We’re looking at the actions of Jesus a great deal in Mark’s gospel account. And again we’ll see that here. It says in Mark 3:1-3, “Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Jesus our Lord is being watched carefully by the religious leaders. They want a reason to shut him down. In your walk with Christ you will also face people who will try to stop you. You will face people who will look for any little thing they can point out in your character to say, ah, they aren’t a real Christian. To say hey, you’re a fake. I’m sure there are people in my hometown ten years later still waiting for me to trip back, but it’s never going to happen.

In those situations, we’re often quick to play defense. Here let me explain why I’m actually a good guy! Jesus doesn’t do that though. He goes on the offensive. He takes it up to a higher level. He gets to the core of the issue. He tells the man with the bad hand, stand up in front of everybody. It’s sabbath, he’s at church, and he’s disrupting the service, saying sir get up please. And the religious leaders are shocked.

This controversy seems to keep occurring with the Lord where he heals people on the day of rest. The day of rest, Saturdays for the Jews, was very important, that you did no work on the sabbath. But Jesus keeps healing people on the sabbath.

In verse 4, Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Jesus goes right to the core of the issue, he basically tells the religious leaders: You are wrong. Plain and simple. It’s right to heal people, even on the day of rest.

Jesus does this for me, and for you, all the time. He speaks to us within and says, “You’re wrong.”

The Holy Spirit speaks to us, and says, "That isn’t right what you’re doing." The conviction of the Spirit comes very quickly. It speaks right to our heart. And we know, this isn’t right. Hopefully then we don’t do it. Or if we already did it, then we repent quickly, seek His forgiveness, and keep going.

Your salvation is at stake when you sin. And the Spirit will whisper that to you. Or shout it to you at times. Then you’ll repent, if you’re wise. Or, if you’re not so wise, you will not repent.

It depends on your heart. The seat of who you are, and your decision making. The heart. It’s about what is in your heart. And what influences your heart has taken in, what is your desire, what is your life pointed at? Where have you taken your heart in your choices? That’s the question.

In verse 5 and 6, it says, “5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”

Jesus looks directly at their hearts. Standing that synagogue it was like time stood still for a moment and Jesus could see right into all their hearts. The bible says God looks at the heart. We tend to think we’re doing great. We’re rocking it. We’re pure as the driven snow. But the Bible says God looks at the heart.

Jesus is deeply distressed, shocked, disturbed by their stubborn hearts, their hard hearts. In fact it even says he looked at them in anger. He was angry about the condition of their hearts.

They were stubborn. And we as Americans are so very stubborn. We think we know everything. And we just want pleasure. Pleasure all the time. We want to feel good. We want the good life. And if someone tries to tell us something, well, we might listen, maybe, but we’re gonna make up our own mind, and if we don’t like it, we aren’t going to listen.

Similarly, the people in this synagogue, he can see how stubborn they are. They don’t want to believe. They don’t want Jesus. They aren’t listening. And it doesn’t even matter if Jesus heals someone right in front of them, they will still refuse to believe in Him.

Today the same is true. Some, even if Jesus appeared in front of them and told them to follow Him, they would still refuse. They would say whatever, it’s not true. I don’t believe that. That’s not my truth. And off they would go. It goes back to the heart. Their hearts refuse to listen. They refuse to accept it. They can’t stand it. The heart rejects the truth. Turns it away. Nope, I won’t listen.

I want to come back to this issue of the heart.

But right there, in front of everyone, Jesus healed the man’s shriveled hand. It was like new. Fully functional again. And if they would’ve turned to Him, everyone in that synagogue, Jesus would’ve healed their shriveled hearts too. He would’ve given them new hearts. But they didn’t.

What was their response? The Pharisees went and met with the Herodians to begin to plot to kill Jesus.

The irony here, is that the Pharisees despised the Herodians. The Herodians were a political party in Israel that supported one of the line of Herod to always be on the throne of the nation. And of course the Pharisees were deeply religious Jews who thought the opposite, that only one in the line of David should be the leader of Israel.

But here we find another spiritual principle, when we reject the truth we end up teaming up with evil in some way. It’s like in addiction, starting off you set some ground rules you say, I will never sell my body for drugs. I’ll never sell drugs. I’ll never drink and drive, and slowly but surely you find yourself making compromises, until you’ve become someone you don’t even recognize. It’s ugly.

Similarly in sin, like an addiction, we make compromises to support our sin, and pretty soon we’re teamed up with pure evil, and we’re doing things we said we’d never do. It’s bad.

The Pharisees in their hatred of Jesus are now teaming up with their political enemies to try to kill Jesus.

The Lord does this, he proves out who we really are. This goes back to the issue of the heart again. The heart of the Pharisees is revealed. They are proving they don’t really care about the line of David, they don’t really care about the coming messiah, what they want is power and control. And they’ll team up with pro-roman political groups to get what they want.

So this man is healed, Jesus' disciples I’m sure celebrate, the man and his family and friends I’m sure are celebrating as well, and we should celebrate too when God does great things in our church, in our personal lives. Celebrate! Get excited. Rejoice. We gotta do that more, celebrate what God is doing.

So what happens next? Jesus continues to follow this pattern, he moves in, creates a stir, heals people, gathers disciples, then he moves out again.

It says in verse 7-9: “Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. 8 When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. 9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him.”

Jesus is now teaching from this little boat, to crowds of hundreds and thousands. People are coming really from all over the region, even from the capital city of Jerusalem to hear Jesus teach and to receive healing. People are also coming to him to find deliverance from demons.

It says in verses 10-12: For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. 11 Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.”

Jesus is again healing people, casting our impure spirits, and these demons know he’s the Lord, they say, “you are the son of God.” But Jesus silences them. Jesus is carefully allowing his ministry to play out in the country of Israel. It’s all coming together. And it’s amazing.

Similarly in our own lives, God is playing things out at a particular pace. Everything doesn’t happen all at once. He guides you through seasons of trials, and seasons of encouragement. He guides you through repentance from sins. Then he’s working on humility in you, then patience. He has you ministering to one person. Then several people. He has you at group, then at another group, then meeting one on one with the pastor, he has you learning one book of the Bible, then another book, then he’s building your prayer time, then your devotional times. It’s all very intentional. And it’s all timed out for you to grow at a particular pace to do ministry successfully as a Christian. That’s the goal, successful, victorious ministry and personal growth.

And it all goes back to the heart. So what is in your heart?

Your heart is really you, your decisions. When you’re thinking about something, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and then making a particular decision, that’s your heart.

So much so that Proverb 23:7 says, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

When you react a certain way, to something someone says, whether positively or negatively, that’s your heart.

And sometimes we have to counter-step our heart. Sometimes someone says something rude to us. In our heart we get mad. But we recognize the anger, we step back and see it, and we stop and say no, I’m not going to get upset, I’m going to calm myself down. And that is a slight adjustment you just made in your heart.

Similarly, when someone corrects you, you might get a little proud, but instead of choosing that course in your heart, you stop and think no, I’m going to humble myself, and be teachable, you just made a decision in your heart. It's all adjusting the course of your heart.

And that is the practice of guarding your heart. Proverbs says guard your heart with all diligence. I really think it’s correcting bad thoughts with good thoughts, checking our thoughts against scripture, even checking our emotional reactions against scripture, and allowing God to mold our hearts in that way.

But ultimately our heart has to be made new by God. As it says it Psalm 51:10 ESV, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Pray that one, next time you feel a little off. "Renew in me Lord a right spirit, cleanse my heart."

When we first become a Christian, God gives us a new heart. Just like it says in Ezekiel 36:26 ESV "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

Then we’re to steward the new heart we’ve been given. Guard it. Don’t let it become hardened. If it does, ask God to soften it once again.

In guarding our heart, the word of God is powerful to deal with the heart, it says in Hebrews 4:12 ESV “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

We’re commanded as Christians then toward this equation of the heart: Matthew 22:37 ESV “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

It also says in Matthew 6:21 ESV "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

If your treasure is in heaven, your heart is going to be focused on God.

It says in the Psalms, Psalm 19:14 ESV "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."

God sees the meditation of our hearts, so we want them to be pleasing and acceptable, not stubborn or hard-hearted.

And again it says, “Psalm 119:11 ESV I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

If you want to avoid sin, memorize scripture, store God’s word in your heart, so that it comes to mind again and again.

The goal at last is, on the last day, our heart is pure in Christ. And then…

Matthew 5:8 ESV “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

And we will see God face to face. But it takes a pure heart. A gift from God through Jesus Christ, but ours to guard on our way to eternal life.