What is Harder than a Rock? The Human Heart

As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you! But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster.” Jeremiah 44:16–17 (ESV)

“As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.””
Hebrews 3:15 (ESV)

It is amazing how hard the heart of man can become. The Bible likens it to a stone because it can become unfeeling and unbending like rock. But the metaphor of a rock falls short when it comes to the depths of that unbending attitude.

In Jeremiah 44, the prophet once again declared the coming judgment of God as well as the mercy of God if they would only repent. But instead of repentance, the people doubled-down in their sin. They not only wouldn’t turn from their sin, they would instead make sure that they kept their vows to their false gods and continue to make offerings, just as their wicked forefathers and leaders had done before them.

This people who would not keep their covenant promises to the LORD, were so ingrained in their sin that their hard hearts led them to lock on to their promises to worship false gods like a pit bull onto a piece of raw meat! In this way, they were not like rocks. Rocks don’t get harder, but people’s hearts sometimes do. They don’t just reject God, they go even further and show their open disdain and hatred of God.

But what is even more amazing than the hardness of man’s heart is the grace and mercy of God. In Hebrews 3, the writer of this letter uses the rebellion of Israel in the Old Testament as an example. The failures of Israel become a tool for teaching, showing that God will keep his word and punish those who insist on rebelling. But along with that, even hundreds of years after these events in the wilderness, God is still offering mercy and forgiveness to all who will listen and come to him. What overflowing grace!

The offer of the free grace of God is still offered today. Men and women can dive deeper into their sin so that their hearts become completely unfeeling and their hatred against God and everything else is seething. Or they can listen to the Spirit as he speaks through the Word of God and offers to them salvation and cleansing from all their sins.

Some offers are too good to be true, but not this one. This one is genuine. If you don’t have forgiveness from God, then this offer is for you. Don’t pass it by. Don’t grow colder and harder. There is only pain, misery, and death on that path. Go to Jesus. He receives sinners and turns them into saints.

Preach a Simple Gospel

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

(Galatians 3:1, ESV)

When Paul had originally proclaimed the gospel in Galatia, the people received it with great joy. But Paul soon learned that their acceptance of the gospel of Christ was overthrown by their warm embrace of a false gospel brought in by those who sought to pervert its purity. The conversion from truth to error and from a saving gospel to a damning gospel was so quick that the Apostle likens it to an act of sorcery that had “bewitched” those who had rejected the truth in favor of a lie.

Paul had preached to them a simple gospel–as he said, “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” By this, Paul means that he painted a picture of the gospel with clarity and plainness. Like a billboard that sits alongside a main thoroughfare must be clear and to the point, so too Paul’s gospel was portrayed to them. How could they mess it up so badly?

This reminds me of the need to preach a simple gospel to the lost. As we grow in the faith we will learn more doctrine and deeper theological truths. These are good and necessary in our Christian walk. But these things can also become a hinderance to sharing the simplicity of the gospel. The Galatians couldn’t claim that the message was muddy, nor could they say they didn’t understand it. They had, and this was what bothered Paul so much. He strove to make the gospel as clear as possible, and yet they rejected it and replaced it with a false and damning message of works-based salvation.

The great Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon saw this danger of overcomplicating our message as well. He wrote:

A good many years ago, when I was about fifteen or sixteen years of age, I wanted a Savior, and I heard the gospel preached by a poor man who said in the name of Jesus, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isa 45:22). It was very plain English, and I understood it and obeyed it and found rest. I owe all my happiness since then to the same plain doctrine. Now suppose that I were to say, “I have read a great many books, and there are a great many people willing to hear me. I really could not preach such a commonplace gospel as I did at the first. I must put it in a sophisticated way, so that none but the élite can understand me.” I would be—what would I be? I would be a fool, writ large. I would be worse than that: I would be a traitor to my God. For if I was saved by a simple gospel, then I am bound to preach that same simple gospel till I die, so that others too may be saved by it. When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus, put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone.

 Charles Spurgeon, Galatians, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

I pray that we never go beyond proclaiming a simple gospel. Not simplistic, but simple. There will be time and occasion to bring a babe in Christ to understand the deeper things of the faith, but as we point the unbeliever to the cross, may we do so with gospel simplicity and clarity.

Keeping the Mission in the Front of our Minds

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, ESV)

… but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 9:12b, ESV)

In chapter 7 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addressed the issues related to having a divided heart and divided interests when one is married and called to care for a family. In Chapter 8, Paul addressed the issue of Christian liberty and how that liberty can not only be a blessing, but can also harm the weak faith of another Christian. Paul is stating the marital responsibilities and emphasis on our rights in Christian liberties can get in the way of our greater mission.

And in chapter 9, Paul continued in this same vein of thought. While Paul had personally chosen to work to support his own needs, he did not think that it was wrong for the local church to support the work of the minister of the gospel in order for him to focus his time and energy in laboring for Christ. But Paul wanted to be able to continue “tent-making” in order to be free from the accusation that he was using the church to make a living, much like the false teachers around him. He valued this above the right he had to be supported by the work of the ministry. To Paul, the mission was far more important than his own comfort or ability to rest.

As Paul continued developing this idea throughout the chapter, he builds upon the idea found in verse 12–it is better to “endure anything than to put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” It would be better to stay single, better to abstain from meat, better to labor in the day and minister at night for the sake of the gospel.

Paul’s focus was laser-like. He was constantly looking for opportunities, strategies, places of commonality for any way to proclaim the gospel to the lost. It didn’t matter if they were Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male of female–he wanted to preach Christ crucified to everyone everywhere at any time.

I think that at times what I see in our world, the focus is on comfort and a better life. This is clearly an issue in the US, but it also is true of human existence. We seek for better. We work for more ease and comfort. That isn’t always bad. But when this idea becomes centralized in our heart and it begins to become the force that drives our lives, it shows that we have begun to move ever so slowly away from the mission we so passionately embraced at our conversion.

By way of reminder, Paul told the church in Corinth that this tent of a body not only will break down, but it will be glorified one day: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–9, ESV)

We might willingly live hard lives for Christ. We might suffer greatly, and endure much–sometimes by choice in our commitment to Christ–but one day we will find our Sabbath rest in Christ. May we not seek to enjoy a cheap substitute rest now, but instead walk with Christ and his Apostles, willing to endure suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Our mission has not ended.

Lord, help us endure to the end!