We’re continuing our sub-series in the Gospel of Mark which I’m simply calling “God Still Speaks”. Last week we talked about seeing the condition of our hearts, and how we have a responsibility to make sure we are not crowding out God’s voice with unrepentant sin or other things we are giving higher priority.
But there’s a problem, isn’t there? We look inside ourselves, and we see dry ground, or stony ground, or thorns taking up places where God’s Word should be – and we don’t know what to do about it! Half the time we don’t know what’s going on in our hearts, so we can’t make a decent diagnoses of what’s wrong, and certainly don’t know what to do to make changes.
Perhaps you felt that this week. You went home last week convicted, but looked inward and didn’t know where to start. Or you did try to do something different, but failed after a couple of days. It just didn’t work. Why?
The Problem: We Don’t Know Our Own Hearts
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Whenever you hear the word “heart” in a context like this, you need to read it as an all-encompassing phrase talking about our thought life, reasoning, wills, and emotions. It’s describing who we are on the insides, why we do what we do, how we make decisions, and how we set our priorities. The core of our being.
And our “hearts”, without the presence, power and guidance of God are messed up. They are “deceitful”, lying to us, tricking us like trying to drive on a crooked, bumpy, twisting, dark road. We don’t know what’s going on and never know when the next curve or crash is coming from.
And they are “desperately sick”, incurable by any human method. They are easily addicted, easily broken, and extremely weak. So, that being the case – that our hearts are twisted and dark, and are sick beyond help – how can we possibly understand what is going on in there.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this. You sin and you wonder why you just did that! You knew better, you knew the consequences, and you did it anyway. And you think, “What’s wrong with me?” We are attracted to things that are harmful to us, and which hurt us – and we don’t even know why. We like things, but we’re not sure why we like them. We fall in love with someone, and have no real idea why that person attracted us. Or, we are attracted to people we don’t want to be attracted to, because they are harmful or because we are already committed elsewhere.
For no reason you can understand you find yourself crying, or angry, or lusting or afraid. You try to talk yourself out of it, but it doesn’t work. Depression sets in and no matter how hard you try, you can’t break free. You’ve tried to tell your heart to get with the program, cheer up, and get over it – but it won’t. And you feel trapped within yourself – hating your heart, fearing your heart, crushing your heart, and trying to turn it off so that it doesn’t cause any more problems.
And we look at our hearts and we think – “What is wrong with me? I don’t understand why I do what I’m doing. It’s like I don’t even have control of my own decisions. I feel like a ship tossed about on a stormy sea of my whims, emotions, desires, and fears.”
Then a counsellor sits across from you and asks, “Why did you do that?” And you think, “I have no idea! I just wanted to. It felt good for some reason. My brain said no, my spirit said no, but my feet and hands kept going. I don’t know what happened.”
God Knows Our Hearts
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” That’s the question. Jeremiah 17:10 gives us the answer, “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” We may not know what’s going on in there, but God does.
God is the perfect judge, and in order to be that, He is able to know what is happening inside the heart and the mind of every individual on earth. And He offers to us – who are struggling with understanding what is going on inside of us, our thought-life, motives, temptations, and all the rest – two important things: a new heart and a map of our heart.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 gives us a picture of what being saved by Jesus is like:
“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.”
When David comes to God to ask forgiveness of his sins he knows that the changing of a person’s heart can only happen by God’s power so he says,
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)
In the New Testament, there were people wondering if Gentiles could be saved. Did Jesus really die for everyone in the world? The Apostle Peter said,
“And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8-9)
God knows our hearts and cleanses our hearts when we put our faith in Him.
Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
“ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
That new creation includes a heart.
This isn’t something we do ourselves! The world teaches that we can “self-help”… but we can’t. The heart is still a mystery to us. In fact, most things are still a mystery to us. We like to think we’re so smart, scientific, enlightened and educated – but we’re still incredibly in the dark about most things in this world, under the earth, and the universe which surrounds us – and we are perhaps most ignorant of the inner workings of ourselves and our own hearts. The presence of evil still mystifies us. Why people would do anything good or self-sacrificing is still a wonder to us. And when we look inward at our own condition – we are even more confused about what’s going on in there.
God’s Word is a Map to the Human Heart
This is where the great gift of the Word of God comes in. When believers read the Bible, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their life, it shows them the condition of their hearts. God’s Word is like a map that explains what’s going on inside us.
Like a good doctor, it analyzes what’s going on in there and then explains it in language they can understand. And then, like a good doctor, it and then gives us access to what we need in order to make changes. Sometimes it means doing something simple like changing our habits or learning something about ourselves, and sometimes it means allowing God to do a complete overhaul of something that is completely broken in our life.
What I want to do today is build a case for why it is so critical for us to be in God’s Word every day – because it is the way by which we can know our own hearts, and the means by which God changes us. Now, please don’t tune out just yet.
I have no doubt that every person here would agree that they should be reading their bibles more, and probably every day. I’m not looking for intellectual assent to the idea of reading our bibles – I want to talk about the need for cultivating a desperation to experience the presence and the power of God by reading the scriptures. I’m talking about seeing our time in the Bible as more than an option – something to do when I feel like it – but more the way we see eating or breathing – absolutely necessary for life, and without which we starve and die. This is part of what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
This is what the Psalmist meant when he said,“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2). In Psalm 63:1 we read about how David felt when he was on the run, deep in the wilderness, far from God’s people and the reading of the Word of God. He said, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
How can we become desperate like that for presence of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the reading of God’s Word? I believe that it has to do with how we see the Bible.
More than a “Good Book”
Some Christians read the Bible – though not as many as used to, considering the articles I’ve been reading about how biblically illiterate most people are. A few Christians study their Bibles – which is good, because I’m a big believer in Bible Study. But I believe there are only a slim few Christians today who prayerfully read the Bible as God’s message to them every day. As I said last week, there are a lot of people who study God through His book, but there are precious few who listen to God as He speaks to them from His book.
Reading, studying and meditating on the scriptures has to be so much more than simply the reading of a good book – even “The Good Book”, or the pondering of great, godly thoughts. When we pick up our Bibles, we aren’t meant to be simply learning about God and storing up wise thoughts that will help us live out our life. What we are reading is more than just wonderful stories of good and bad, moral and immoral, faithful and unfaithful people that lived long ago, from whose lives we are meant to learn lessons. If those are the reasons you read your Bible – to ponder big ideas and learn morality– then you are missing the most important part of reading the Bible! You’re missing the fact that the scriptures are your connection to Jesus.
The prayerful reading and studying of scriptures is perhaps the most important way for us to connect to Jesus. We know Him, experience Him, understand Him, and hear his voice, when we read the Bible.
The Living and Active Word of God is the Living and Active Jesus
Let’s look at Hebrews 4:9-16. I want to study this passage in depth next week, but I want to read it for you today so you can, perhaps, hear it in a new way. Maybe you’ve read it before thinking that it’s talking about the importance of regular reading your bible every day, or going to a weekly bible study, but I want you to hear it again in a different way. I want you to hear it as a plea from a pastor to his people to be desperate for the word of God. He wants the church to experience the presence of Jesus by experiencing the power of the Word of God, the Bible. He wants them to see the words of scripture as their life line – their umbilical cord – connecting them to Jesus. Listen to how he builds his case…
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (v 9-11)
Do you see that? In God there is rest. And the writer of Hebrews wants Christians to strive to enter that rest. He wants them not to make the mistakes of the people of Israel under Moses who refused to enter into the Promised Land because of fear, but to do everything they can to take hold of the promises of all the promises of scripture – peace, joy, love, purpose, heaven, eternity with Jesus. All of those things can be summarized in that one phrase: “Sabbath Rest for the people of God.” And that rest is available to everyone who believes in Him. But how do we “strive” to get that? How do we enter into that kind of rest? How do we avoid missing it by our disobedience?
“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. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”(v 12-13)
We enter that rest, and connect to Jesus, through the Word of God. Not just reading it, not just studying it, but by allowing the Spirit of God, who is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, to change us through us experiencing, interacting with, submitting ourselves to the text. By submitting ourselves to the word and listening to what it says, we are submitting ourselves to Jesus and listening to what He says. And Jesus is always seeking to lead us closer to Him, closer to God, and into that Sabbath Rest.
The writer of Hebrews makes the connection obvious in the next verses as he shows that the “Sabbath Rest for the people of God” is connected to the “Word of God”, which is connected to the person of Jesus.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (v 14-16)
Do you see how our connection to scripture is our connection to Jesus – and He is our connection to reconciliation and peace with God? It’s all about connecting to Jesus and listening to Him through His word.
Jesus is the Answer
To you who are hungry for something greater than what this world offers, Jesus says,
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
To those who have tasted what this world is giving, who have been drinking from the temporal well and are always thirsty, Jesus says to you what Jesus said to the woman at the well,
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
To those who have felt the dryness of their hearts, who desperately need the healing rains to come down to their parched and gasping souls, Jesus stands up and cries out,
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)
To you who are weary of chasing the fleeting and useless things of this world. Who have amassed piles of garbage that you carry with you everywhere you go. Who have a weighed down soul full of burdens and cares, anxieties and fears, Jesus says,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)”
To you who are in the dark. Who live in the shadows of sin, who only crawl out to go to work or be somewhere you must be. Who live in the dark land of secret sin, always battling your private demons, never winning, and who have resigned themselves to living forever in the dark — Jesus says,
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
To you who have been desperately looking for the answer to salvation and eternity. To you who seeks the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Who have tried the world’s faiths, human wisdom, atheism, deism, and can find no rest for your soul. Jesus says,
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)
To you who have looked at all the religions this world has to offer and see nothing but thieves and wolves. To you who have been let down by the leaders in this world. Who gave your life to politics, but found the politicians corrupt. Who gave your heart to a human, and had it stepped on. Who found a leader you thought you could follow, but who it turned out was only in it for themselves. You who is so tired of giving your life to people, systems, governments, ideas, programs and religions, only to be let down again and again, Jesus says,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)
To you who have lost a loved one in Christ, or who is looking in to the face of eternity. You are facing death and wonder at its mystery. You who see the end as nothing but an abyss of darkness, uncertainty and dread. Who live everyday feeling the grip of time and the uncertainty of tomorrow. Jesus says,
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
To you who have been lied to and believe that there are many ways to see God. Who has been told that there are many truths, and that all religions are basically the same. To you who think that salvation is of their own doing, that it is found in your good works, or that God saves everyone, or that salvation is found in any other name (Acts 4:12), Jesus says, “Jesus said to him,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
And finally, to you who desire to know why they are here, who wants to know their purpose – their reason for being. To you who feels like they have no worth because they have no direction in their life. To you who lack wisdom and needs instruction, who sees but does not understand, who is surrounded by options and doesn’t know what to choose, who cannot figure out what is right or just or fair, who is up to their ears because of their foolish decisions and wants a better way, who feels simple and stupid, who fears their inexperience will cause harm to themselves and others, who wakes up in the morning and has no idea what to do with themselves, or who has so many different thoughts that they don’t know where to start, Jesus says,
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Seek, Seek, Seek, Jesus!
It’s not about reading your Bible — it’s all about seeking and wanting Jesus. We show our love for Him by seeking Him in his Word. We show our desperation for Him when we are desperate for His Word. We show our dependence on Him by having a dependence on His Word. Over and over in scripture we are told to seek God.
Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
In Deuteronomy 4:29, “…you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
And Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near…”
In Amos 5:4 he says to His people, “Seek me and live…”
In Lamentations 3:25 he says, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”
In 1 Chronicles 16:11 we are told to “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”
In Hebrews 11:6 it says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
And Jesus Himself says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
It is though our love and desperation for, and dependence on, Jesus that we are able to draw near to the presence of God with confidence. And it is there that we find the mercy and grace that our spirits so desperately need.