Gleaning #4: Be Not Hard of Heart!

When it comes to the hard of heart, my previous Bible study had left me with the impression that this was relegated to the example of Pharaoh’s heart, and the Lord’s sovereign dealing within it (roughly throughout Exodus 4-14).  It was this example that Paul plucked from Exodus to make his point concerning the effectiveness, sovereignty, justice and mercy of God in salvation (Romans 9).  But as when one walks through a vineyard and finds that the farther he goes the more he is privileged to pick, eat and be satisfied, so it is with one’s walk and gleanings through the Bible.  And thus,

the last gleaning dealt with the hardness of Israel’s heart – that which the Lord required, and that which only the Lord can give, Israel did not have but was no less called to have it (see Deuteronomy 10, 29).

In the book of Joshua, the Lord hardens the hearts of the enemies of Israel so that they will come into battle against the Lord and be completely cut off from the earth, disinherited that God’s people might rest in the new Eden (which never materialized and thus purposed to look forward to something greater, namely, Christ, and through Him, the hope of an eternal and new heaven and earth), see Joshua 11:20.  Here also the hardening of their hearts is equated to receiving no mercy from God or the people of Israel in battle.  The hard of heart receive justice only.

We see this previously in Deuteronomy 2:30 with Sihon the King of Heshbon.  The Lord made his spirit hard and his heart obstinate in order that he might fight with Israel and be destroyed.

We see this prior to this in Exodus 14:17 when the Lord hardens the hearts of not one person, but thousands of Egyptians which leads to their destruction in the Sea.

Here is the point: Be not hard of heart!  And do not say to yourselves, “Well who can resist his will,” as they did to Paul in Romans 9, for Paul has already provided any adequate answer.  Suffice it to say that Pharaoh, the enemies of Israel, Sihon, the company of Egyptians, and apparently the majority of ancient Israel, were not doing anything that they did not previously desire to do or would have done, and thus they are responsible.  And yet there is a time in which the Lord also makes the heart obstinate.  This is balanced by the following: that while the Lord hardens hearts, and is just in doing so, you are no less responsible to respond in saving faith to His overtures which require new hearts.  The fact that you live this day should cause you to cast yourself wholeheartedly upon his mercy, and the grace revealed to us in Jesus Christ, in whom a new heart for sinners is promised!  If you do not, the destruction is yours to own, and be do not be fooled, the hard of heart are hardened unto destruction.  Therefore, be not hard of heart!  God has promised in the New Covenant that He will give a new heart, and that Covenant has been ratified by the blood of Christ – it is offered to you today in Christ!  Repent and believe upon Jesus, and God will save you, and be for you!

Gleaning #3: The Bible’s Theology of the Heart

While American marketing and the larger pop culture advertises the human heart as the seat of foolish, comedic and temporary lust (culturally synonymous with love), the Bible reveals a more comprehensive understanding.  The heart, while remaining tied to the affections, is the seat of the person’s thought life, his or her inner life, the character, the personal self.

And it is depraved!  That is, it is dead and dying, so to speak.  Thus, the biblical heart, being depraved, implies the rottenness of the person themselves.  The thoughts of the inner man are only in rebellion against God – but God gave what the Bible calls the heart for this express purpose: out of original life and communion with God, the heart of man would at all times assent to God, adoring Him and thus with love and joy obey and praise Him forever.  This we lost in the Fall.

Recently I was reading the book of Deuteronomy which some regard as the “heart of the Old Testament.”  It is a marvelous book!  And it has an explicit theology of the heart – particularly concerning the biblical paradox of the heart.  In several places, the people of Israel are commanded to search for the Lord with all their heart.  In other places, they are incited to put their hearts to His Word.  Elsewhere, they are to love the Lord God will all of their hearts.  Moreover, Moses mentions that the Lord tested them at points to know what was in their hearts (or rather, that it might be made plain to them that their hearts were indeed insufficiently wired for the task).

But in Deuteronomy 10:16, an interesting twist is introduced to the biblical plot.  The people of Israel are told “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”  The point, keeping in mind that they understand physical circumcision quite well, is that their inner selves had to be circumcised or made clean in order for them to do all that the Lord had commanded them to do, and if the heart was not circumcised, then they would not be able to do these things.  Their hearts had to be supernaturally enacted upon by God.  But, in fact, from the history of Israel, and surmising even from what Moses says in 10:16, the people of Israel were a stubborn people, that is, their hearts were hard – no different than Pharaoh’s perhaps?  And thus, as is well documented, they were consistently in rebellion against the God who had redeemed them as a nation.  They had not obeyed His commandments, because they did not have the hearts to do so.  This may sound like a quandry, and perhaps it must get a bit foggier before it decides to become clear.

In Deuteronomy 29:4, Moses tells the people, “But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.”  Thus the people must do all of God’s law.  In order to do so they must have what they do not have – a circumcised heart.  These are God’s words.  But then, through Moses, it is communicated that they very thing the people need, the very thing that the people do not have, the very thing needed to do all of God’s law, is a thing that God gives – which in His sovereignty, He has not given.  Points to be taken?  God has not given them a hard heart.  The people, from Adam, all nations included, are born with hearts of stone, stubborn to the truth and way of God.  And, God has the ability and freedom to give them new hearts, or circumcised hearts.  But, to this point, by and large, He has not given what they need to obey, and yet, still further, they are still accountable to God for the fact that they have not obeyed.

More clearly: The people of Israel needed, as anyone does today, a new heart which they themselves could not affect, but which God freely gives to whomever he wills.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel pick up on this in their prophecies concerning the New Covenant promises: Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”  Ezekiel 36:25-27, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  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. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

God gives new hearts.  This is a promise of the New Covenant.  How then may anyone receive such promises?  Matthew 26:27-28, “And (Jesus) took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  As blood ratified ancient covenants, so the life and death of Christ purchased the New Covenant and its promises for all those who enter into fellowship with Him through repentance and faith in Him.  Christ, who had nothing but the new heart died, that what He always had might be given to us.  In Christ, we have received from God the new heart, the heart of flesh that is sensitive to Him, that with joy and love obeys Him.

So be not discouraged nor perplexed at the apparent paradox between God’s divine sovereignty and our very real human responsibility, such that you miss the fact that God graciously gives what He requires of us – a new heart, to the new man, through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Coming up: Gleaning #4 – Be Not Hard of Heart!

Gleaning #2: A Sermon of Power and Passion by Matt Click

The sermon provided here is one that both believer and unbeliever would do well to give 50 minutes to.  The believer will find himself encouraged, while the unbeliever, who, perhaps, has many curiosities about Christianity, will find himself amidst the wonder of God’s grace to His children, and the hope that we as Christians have and hold.  It certainly blessed my soul and caused me at many points to laugh, cry and praise my God.  If you knew the man preaching it, you would be all the more humbled, blessed, and moved to adoration of God’s great mercies.

P.S. You could not spend your time more wisely today than to pray to God thanking him for gifting the church with a man (saved by grace) like Matt, and then to proceed by praying for him and his wife, Jamey and their quickly approaching ministry.

A Series of Gleanings

You must pardon me for my absence, but in God’s providence, life has gently swallowed me up – but not without many wonderful wanderings through the land of the Bible, and in that pilgrimage, a great many gleanings from its eternal richness.  I don’t know particularly how many gleanings there will be jotted upon this page, but the past few weeks have brought many helpful and blessed thoughts about the things pertaining to my Lord Jesus Christ.  So, a series of gleanings will follow – they may be thoughts, sermon links, etc., but are sure to be random at the human level (though the Lord certainly knows them).  I hope that they will be helpful to you as you continue to sojourn this land in Christ in light of the guaranteed inheritance of glory divine.

Gleaning #1: A Synopsis of Luke 9:57-62

Thought: The text presents a question and an answer they may be gleaned from the three explanatory statements of Jesus.  The question: What does it mean to follow Christ (or what does the Christian life look like or – more personally – what does the Christian person prioritize and how)?  The answer: The Christian life is the life of humility amongst hostility (v. 58 cf. 10:3) that prioritizes Christ (v. 59) by proclaiming the Gospel (the kingdom of God in Christ) (v. 60) and relentlessly pursuing its advancement (v. 62).  This obviously could go much deeper at every level, and I would be appreciative of comment and discussion of these points.  I praise my God by His grace He has made Christ the epicenter of my life and its pursuit – I am racing for the only true, right and worthy goal!  Praise God!

Give Thanks In All Circumstances

Really?  This is what Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica in his first letter (5:18).  It is part of a rather incredible triad of amazing “really?” verses.  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  So, yes, really!

This morning as Jenny and I were praying, I was inclined to ask the Lord for help with this very thing – to give thanks in all circumstances.  And then it hit me how absolutely radical that truth is.  It is God’s will for me in Christ that I should always be thankful – always!  And then I was further inclined to consider the greatness of such a Gospel, such a truth, such a reality and beckoning that would merit just such a life.  The greatness of the reality that God has accomplished for His children in Jesus Christ, that is, salvation, and the hope of eternal glory is of such a nature that He can without exception call us to thanksgiving in all circumstances!

You and I both have experienced and can imagine some bleak circumstances – I will not number them here, but only mention such to emphasize the overwhelming nature of the Christian reality.  Conversely, we have experienced and can imagine some blissful circumstances – should we be thankful to God any more or less?  I don’t think so.  For no matter the direction of life’s windy circumstances, our God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and what He has accomplished and is applying by the Holy Spirit, and the hope of victory now, holiness now, and of life eternal are unchanging, immovable, and thus, the Christian reality is not only the true reality, but by virtue of its truthfulness, the only and greatest one.  And it is so great, our God and His purpose so great, that we can with all sincerity “give thanks in all circumstances.”

Consider it brothers and sisters, and glory in its application.  Consider it friends yet unbelieving, for it is the hope of glory, streaming down from God in Jesus Christ – the hope you do not know, the anchor that you do not have.  But I pray even now that God will grant it to you in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Paul and the Grace of Christ

I was reading in Numbers 35 this morning and fell upon an interesting passage.  In the middle of this text describing the cities of refuge and the different rules for dealing with intentional and unintentional murderers, Moses writes, “Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death” (35:31).

Thus justice is required in God’s law.  The murderer could not be ransomed.  It was fitting for the one who took life to have his life taken from him.  At this point, I was reminded of the apostle Paul.  Paul “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13).  Paul approved of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1).  This Paul, “breath(ed) threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).  And the risen Christ encompassed him on his way to carry out such murderous threats saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? . . . I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5).

Now Paul was no slouch in the law of God (cf. Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:5-6)!  There is no doubt in my mind that he considered himself innocent in what he was doing – that is, until he finally understood the law with converted eyes and ears, heart and mind.  Then, it seems, the law that he made use of to condemn others, condemned him instead.  He was a murderer, indeed, a murderer of those who were truly Israel – that is, those who had by faith embraced Jesus Christ.  And again, the law now stood firmly against him, “”Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death” (35:31).

But he is not put to death!  Rather, the Lord blinds him for a moment, sends him to the house of a disciple to be strengthened, and having converted him, makes use of him for the advancement of the kingdom of God and its expansion into the Gentile world.  How can this be?  How could this be right by God’s law?  Paul, himself, gives the answer in several places.  I offer three of them:

1 Timothy 1:15-17: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.  To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:13-15: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.  But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me . . .”

Deuteronomy 23:22-23 cf. Galatians 3:13-14: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God” and (Galatians) “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

What thus seemed hopeless for Paul became hopeful as he looked upon Jesus Christ!  A sinner, a murderer at that, Paul was deserving of no ransom but a similar fate as that which he so proudly bestowed upon others unjustly.  The curse of Numbers 35:31 hung over him like a weight to hell – but God sent His Son, born under the law to fulfill it, deserving no curse prescribed in it, yet became a curse for Paul when He died in Paul’s place on the tree.  While no man could ransom another man, the God-man Jesus Christ could, and did – for Paul and all who call upon His name.  This Christ, it pleased the Father, to reveal to Paul, the free offer of which came and comes with such irresistible splendor that it had to be wildly embraced by faith.  So Paul did, and so Paul was ransomed unto life eternal by the removal of his sin (in the cross of Christ) and the gift of Christ’s perfect life.  And so Paul pleads with you, brother, sister, be mindful of God’s mercy and, thus, be merciful in extending the Gospel of Christ.  And to you, friend: perhaps you think that there is no ransom available for you, that you have gone to far in your sin, that God will not save you – Paul has good news for you: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  God is merciful, and Christ has perfect patience – but I say to you: do not wait, do not delay but fly to Christ, fly to Him for He is the embodiment of the city of refuge!  In Him you will find salvation from God’s justice.  In Him you will find God also merciful.  In Him you will find the curse cast upon you – as you continue to seek your salvation by “good deeds” – has been taken by Christ insofar as you repent of your sin and, like Paul, believe in Him.  And to that end, I ask my Father in heaven to grant to you that saving light – “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our (believers) hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (where?) in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  This is Paul’s testimony.  I pray it will be yours, as it has become mine by God’s grace.