Signs of a Hardened Heart

Posted: May 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

Matthew 12:33-42, “Signs of a Hardened Heart”

Everyone wants forgiveness.  That’s only natural…after all, who doesn’t want to know that they will go to heaven when they die?  Of course, not everyone wants to receive forgiveness in the only way that God offers it: by placing their faith & trust in Jesus as the Son of God.  Some people reject Christ outright, and still demand God’s forgiveness for themselves – the only problem is that it doesn’t work that way.  That seemed to be the problem with the Pharisees.  Not only did they reject Jesus as their Messiah, but they openly proclaimed Jesus to be empowered by Satan, thereby blaspheming the Holy Spirit & engaging in the one sin that will never be forgiven.

What can Jesus say to a group of people who committed the unpardonable sin?  What can be said to those who have stubbornly rejected the witness of God the Spirit concerning God the Son?  Jesus gives them a message confirming their judgment, showing their hardness of heart.

People don’t often think of Jesus as Someone who would judge or condemn people.  After all, Jesus told Nicodemus that the Son did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved. (Jn 3:17)  Yet we cannot quote Jesus at that and leave it there.  He goes on to say something surprising: John 3:18–19, "(18) “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (19) And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." []  There IS a condemnation, and that condemnation is tied (1) to a lack of faith regarding Jesus, and (2) sinful works of rebellion against God.  The Pharisees had openly engaged in both, and thus Jesus confirms the fact that they would be condemned.

The reality is that all of humanity starts off in virtually the same position as the Pharisees.  We may not have openly and knowingly rejected the Spirit & slandered Him as being the devil, but we certainly refused to believe upon Christ, and have openly sinned against God.  The ALL of us were left condemned, just like the Pharisees.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that we don’t have to remain in that place of condemnation.  And although at first glance, it may be tough to see, that’s exactly the point Jesus was making to those listening to Him that day.  They were already condemned – but for some, there was still time for repentance.  Don’t wait until it’s too late to do so!

Matthew 12:33–50 (NKJV)
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.

  1. Right off the bat, there might be a single question rising up in people’s minds: how exactly can a tree be MADE good?  After all, a tree is either good or bad from the start – it can’t remake itself into another kind of tree. It’s not like a pine tree can be remade into an apple tree.  It simply starts off that way from the seed.  It must be “born” as a good tree, or nothing is going to be able to be done about it.
    1. Similarly with us.  We start off one way (sinful), but if we’re going to be able to produce something good, we need to be remade/reborn!  This is what Jesus said to the Pharisee Nicodemus who came to Him by night with a burgeoning grain of faith.  “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3)  We cannot enter into the kingdom of God being the sinners that we are.  We’ve been irreparably stained by our rebellion against God – actually working against Him as His enemies.  We’ve told our Creator that He has no rightful place in our lives, and we’ve lived apart from His standards.  Instead of serving the Holy Almighty King, we’ve served the master of Sin, and we’ve given ourselves over to its lusts.  What can be done?  We’ve already shown ourselves to be “bad” though our lives & nothing truly good can be produced.  The only answer is that we need to start over…we need to be made good. We need to be born a 2nd time (this time with a clean heart), and start over – this time as a servant of God.  That’s what happens when we repent & place our faith in Christ as our King.  The Holy Spirit gives us a new birth (a spiritual birth), and because we are born again NOW we have been made into a “good tree” that can bear good fruit.
  2. Jesus used a similar teaching illustration during the Sermon on the Mount.  At that time, it was directly related against false prophets, showing that they could easily be identified by the things they did. (Matt 7:15-20)  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was teaching how people could identify those around them (especially people in position of religious authority, such as the Pharisees); here, Jesus is teaching personal introspection.  We cannot make someone else a good tree or a bad tree (no one can force someone else to have faith in Christ), but we can affect ourselves.
  3. Either way, how is the tree identified?  By what it produces: its fruit.  Keep in mind this is a teaching illustration from Jesus; not a scientific pronouncement.  To be sure, some people are skilled enough to tell the differences between trees by their leaves or their bark, etc., Jesus simply chooses the analogy of “fruit” to demonstrate something which a tree produces.  An apple tree cannot be mistaken for a blueberry bush.  Even if you had no idea what plants you were looking at, you’d only need a single glance at the fruit to be able to identify the plant.  This is simple…not even biology 101; this is elementary stuff.  That’s Jesus’ point.  Everyone can tell a tree by its fruit – it’s obvious.  Just like it was obvious what the Pharisees were made out of.  Their fruit identified them without question.  See vs. 34…

34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.

  1. Question: did Jesus really just call them a bad name?  Yes.  Bet you didn’t know Jesus had it in Him. J  Of course, Jesus wasn’t being profane, nor was He being rude, nor immaturely calling attention to Himself.  (IOW, He wasn’t doing any of the things we normally do when we engage in name-calling.)  Jesus was purposefully using harsh language to call things what they were.  Sometimes it’s good to be subtle; other times bluntness is necessary…this was one of those times.  The Pharisees weren’t shepherds of the people; they were snakes.  They had accused the Spirit of God as being the ultimate serpent, the Devil, and they had been long leading the people of God away from the true law of God and the Messiah of God.
  2. How would it even be possible for people like this to speak good things?  It’s not!  Evil snakes speak differently than servants of God.  Evil hearts cannot speak good things…the good things aren’t there to begin with.  People cannot pull good things out of an evil storehouse like a magician pulls a rabbit out of his hat – what’s not already there cannot be produced.
  3. Does this mean that no one who rejects God can ever speak any good things?  Obviously not.  There are pagans and atheists and false Christians who give money to the poor, and help people out of charity and sympathy.  There are all sorts of people in different religions who speak encouraging things to their families, etc.  The problem is that none of the good things that they speak or do makes the individuals themselves truly “good.”  They might do something good for a while, and then they go right back to rebellion against God.  And before too many fingers get pointed, the same thing happens in the church.  Even born-again Christians do & say some good things for a while, and then slip back into old habits & evil speech.  But our actions & speech are not the things that make us “good.”  Those things are just the fruit of what’s already there.  If our fruit is going to be consistently good, then we have to be made good, just like the tree needs to be made good.  We need to have our heart remade in order that it would hold “good treasure.
  4. So what’s in your heart?  A good indication is what comes out of your lips. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Do you have good treasure in your heart or evil treasure?  What are the things you find yourself saying to your kids – your co-workers – your parents – even yourself?  This goes deeper than your actual speech, and straight to our thought life.  There are things we think about & dwell upon that we would not dare speak in the open.  Yet those thoughts originated where?  Our hearts.  Some of our hearts desperately need to be remade!
    1. Obviously Christians still struggle with these things, too.  The older Paul got, the more & more he realized his own sinfulness before God.  He (like all of us) had struggles against sins & temptations.  We struggle against our evil thoughts and fleshly hearts.  There’s two things we need to remember as believers:
      1. There is forgiveness in Christ!
      2. The knowledge that we will struggle is not an excuse to engage in wanton sinfulness.  If your thoughts are more evil than not – if your speech is more often apologized for than received – then perhaps you need to seek the Lord to cleanse your heart & put good treasure there.

36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

  1. Idle words are judged.  The Pharisees were guilty of many idle words – speaking much, and accomplishing nothing.  They misled the people away from their Messiah, they laid up burdens upon others that were difficult to bear, they taught the legalism of men rather than the true worship of God, and much more.  They thought they were accomplishing righteousness, but their words just left people in their own sin – just as they began.  Especially in their condemnation of Jesus, their words were idle & dangerous, and God the Father would hold them accountable for what they said.
    1. Many times we’ll use the excuse of “it’s just words!” in an attempt to minimize what we’ve done.  Jesus demonstrates that this excuse does not exist.  Words can indeed hurt people, and the things we have said will be judged when we see Jesus face-to-face.  How important it is to think before we speak & choose our words carefully!
    2. (Spurgeon) “Dear Master, help me to bridle my tongue, that I be not found guilty of idle words; and teach me when to speak, that I may keep equally clear of idle silence”
  2. How will our words justify us?  Our words demonstrate the work of God within our hearts.  This is the heart of what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees.  It’s not that mere words can justify a person in the sight of God (as if faith in the cross and resurrection aren’t necessary – we can just work our way to heaven through saying enough prayers, blessings, etc.); the idea is that someone’s words will demonstrate the evidence of the work of God in their heart to where they can be declared already justified.  If someone’s heart has been “made” good (they’ve been reborn), then their words will show that the work of justification has been done – all of which would be clear on the day of judgment.
  3. The problem for the Pharisees?  Their words already showed them to be condemned!  There would be no excuse of “It was just a bunch of scholarly debate!  It was no big deal!  Sure we said that Jesus was empowered by Satan, and blasphemed the Holy Spirit, but it was just a bunch of words – it’s not like we killed anybody.”  Their words showed whom it was they served…and it wasn’t God the Father.  Their words demonstrated the fact that their hearts were still in sinful rebellion against the Lord, and they would be left condemned (among other things) by the things they said.

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”

  1. Although it may seem like a change of subject here, note the word “answered.”  What the Pharisees challenge Jesus with is in direct response to what Jesus just said to them.  The Pharisees understand exactly what Jesus is saying, and in their contempt they continue to rebel against the One they just slandered as being Satanic.  Luke has this in a slightly different order in his account, but even so, it’s all compiled together.  The request for a sign is directly tied in with the accusation that Jesus was of the devil.
  2. What’s the big deal about asking for a sign?  Basically the Pharisees were asking for a miracle from Jesus to prove that He has the authority to teach the things He had been teaching.  Talk about hubris/chutzpah!  Jesus had done multitudes of miracles!  In fact, it was the miracle of healing a blind, mute, and demon-possessed man that started all of the Pharisee’s latest nonsense.  Jesus had healed paralytics, people with chronic diseases, cleansed lepers, and raised the dead.  And yet somehow this wasn’t enough for the Pharisees?!  The Pharisees didn’t have a lack of proof regarding Jesus; they had a lack of obedience unto God.  They were still rebelling against Him.

39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

  1. Why evil & adulterous?  Because this was all rebellion.  They sought answers from everyone except God, who was standing right before them in the flesh!  Jesus saw right through their rebellion & demands.  It’s not as if Jesus said, “Well, I guess they just haven’t seen enough miracles yet – let’s give them one more!”  He answered with disapproval because what the Pharisees were asking for wasn’t confirmation; it was submission.  They wanted this Man who claimed to be the Messiah to bow to their whims, when it was really them who owed their allegiance and faith to Christ the King.
  2. Keep in mind that it’s not wrong to have questions about Jesus.  Even John the Baptist had questions – and Jesus answered them.  Earlier at Jesus’ baptism, John had no doubts about Jesus’ identity, yet later after sitting for some time in prison, John had a very human moment – his faith wavered & he sent some messengers to Jesus asking if He was truly the Messiah, of if there was another one to come. (Matt 11:2-3)  Jesus answered John with compassion, yet Jesus answered the Pharisees in anger.  What’s the difference?  John was asking from a position of humility & brokenness; the Pharisees had asked from a position of prideful sin.  Questions aren’t wrong.  What IS wrong is continued rebellion against God.  Just as when children are being stubbornly willful against their parents, so were the Pharisees against Jesus.
    1. People do exactly the same thing every day.  They’ve seen the proof – they’ve heard the gospel – they know the truth about Jesus.  They just don’t want to surrender themselves to Him as Lord.  At the end of the day, it’s not about having too little evidence about the existence of God (or whatever), it’s about not wanting to give up their own place in their life.  They want to be their own God & King, and it doesn’t matter what the actual truth is regarding Jesus.
    2. Those words might describe someone exactly today.  You’ve known the truth about Jesus, but you don’t want Him because you’re “evil and adulterous.”  Let me plead with you to stop for a moment and think about eternity.  We’re not talking so much about the next 40 years of your life, but the next 40,000.  Do you really want to go into an eternity of Hell knowing that you knew the truth about Jesus, and that you simply didn’t want to receive His love and grace?  For you, you can’t claim ignorance.  Not that ignorance is ever an excuse, but you can’t claim ignorance even if it was.  You know the truth that Jesus is God, that He died for your sins, that He rose from the dead, and that you need to surrender your life to Him as Lord & King.  More proof isn’t going to change your mind, and you don’t really want it anyway because it’s just an excuse.  I can guarantee you that in 1000 years (even 100 years) that you are going to see that excuse for what it is, and yet it will be too late to do anything about it.  Stop pursuing your rebellion!  Stop maintaining your evil stance against the Lord.  He loves you so dearly & His desire for you is that you would be saved.  Stop looking for more proof, and simply surrender yourself to the Savior – knowing that He’s already given all the evidence required.
  3. Nevertheless, Jesus says that there will be no sign but one: Jonah.  Jesus had already done many miracles (and would do many more), but Jesus was not going to perform like a pet monkey for the Pharisees in yet another miraculous sign-on-demand.  The one sign He did give them was one that had already been demonstrated in the Scriptures: the sign of the prophet of Jonah.
    1. Jonah is an interesting choice in that this was a prophet that was also in rebellion against God.  No lost irony here! …
    2. What was the sign?  See vs. 40.

40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

  1. Many of us are so familiar with the story of Jonah from Sunday School & children’s books that we actually miss out on what happens.  Suffice to say, it’s not merely a story about a whale – not to be confused with Pinnochio. J  Jonah was a prophet of God, but he is unique in that he wasn’t sent to the people of God, but rather to a totally pagan people.  More than that, the people of Nineveh were direct enemies of his own nation of Israel.  The Ninevites were in the heart of the Syrian empire (the people who would later conquer & breed out the nation of Israel).  They were a cruel people who would carry away slaves in fish hooks, and they were feared all over the Mideast.  And yet, these were the people that God told Jonah to go preach the message of judgment.  Jonah knew that God’s heart was merciful & would respond to repentance, so he ran literally in the opposite direction, boarding a ship going (to what he believed was) the end of the earth away from Nineveh.  God stopped the ship with a storm, gave Jonah the first submarine ride in history, the entire ship of sailor converted, Nineveh repented of their sin, and Jonah was still unhappy about the mercy & grace of God.  And yet this is the prophet that Jesus chooses to use as a sign unto the Pharisees (and ultimately to all Judea).  Why?
  2. Simple: the resurrection.  Jonah was in the belly of the great fish (we’re never actually specified as to whether or not it was a whale – the term was somewhat generic) for the period of “three days and three nights.”  More than that, Jonah was tossed off a ship in the midst of a raging storm, and he was swallowed whole by a wild sea creature & stayed in the creatures’ gullet for three days.  If there was ever a picture of death, this was it.  In fact, Jonah even said as much: Jonah 2:2–3, "(2) And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. (3) For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me." []  Jonah is basically saying that God overwhelmed him & left him as dead in the grave (Sheol).  Yet what happened after three days?  The fish vomited up Jonah & he experienced life and freedom again.  That is a direct OT picture of death & resurrection.  Jonah had been “dead,” and then “alive” – his very presence was a testimony about the judgment and power of God, even besides his very short message of repentance.  This is the sign that Jesus would give: death and resurrection.  Jesus obviously gave much more of a message than Jonah ever did, but likewise His very presence after the grave is THE sign that validates His ministry and identity.  Do you want to know for sure that Jesus really is the Christ?  Look to the resurrection.  Because Jesus rose from the grave, we can know that He is God.
  3. Question: What about “three days and three nights”?  If we calculate Jesus’ time in the grave according to most traditional countings, Jesus died upon the cross on Friday afternoon, and was raised sometime Sunday morning prior to sunrise.  To be sure, Jewish culture counted even the slightest part of a day as a “day,” so we can count Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as three days – but what about nights?  Even counting partial nights, there are only two.  Was Jesus mistaken?  Did Jesus really die on a Thursday – or even on a Wednesday?  All sorts of questions have been raised, and it seems that this has caused far more problems for people than necessary.  The phrase “three days and three nights” is not so much a concrete calculation of time as it was a cultural expression of someone being dead long enough to be truly accounted as dead.  I.e., they hadn’t fallen into a coma – they weren’t going to recover.  If they had been said to be dead for “three days and nights,” they were truly dead.  To use the phrase from Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride,” someone may otherwise be only “mostly dead,” but if they were dead for three days & three nights, they were “all dead.” J  The point?  Jonah didn’t actually die, but it was if he had been truly dead & raised to life.  So would it be with the Messiah.  The only (the ultimate) sign of His identity would be His true & full death, and actual resurrection from the dead.
  4. For those who doubt, there is no greater proof of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God other than the resurrection!  Romans 1:3–4, "(3) concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, (4) and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." []

41 The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.

  1. Two contrasts with the Pharisees in proof of their judgment.  Example #1: Ninevah.  The Ninevites repented with a far less worthy messenger.  Jonah was certainly not worthy, yet God used him to bring about one of the greatest revivals in all of the Bible – truly, in all of history!  For all of the great evangelistic crusades that have taken place all over the world & all of the history of the Great Awakenings when thousands across the USA came to Christ, Jonah simply preached a one-sentence message and the entire city (from king to servant) repented.  Imagine a revival in which 100% of the people come to Christ…that’s what happened in Nineveh.  Amazing!
  2. Yet the Pharisees had someone greater than Jonah standing among them, and yet they still persisted in their rebellion.  The Pharisees weren’t even the kind of pagan people that the Ninevites were, and yet they still rejected the Messiah (of whom they were supposed to have been expecting).  It’s no wonder that the city of Nineveh will rise up in condemnation of the Pharisees. 

42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

  1. Example #2: the Queen of the South.  This is a reference to the famous queen of Sheba who had heard the tales of Solomon & had come from far away to see him with her own eyes (1 Kings 10).  She was so amazed at the things she saw that she gave Solomon immense amounts of gifts (and Solomon gave her more in return).  The queen recognized the wisdom of God & the blessing of God through Solomon, and this recognition came with someone far less wise than Jesus.  Solomon was no doubt the wisest man alive – yet even his great wisdom pales in comparison with the Author of wisdom.  Solomon was the immediate fulfillment of God’s promise that David’s son would be called the Son of God (1 Chr 22:9-10); Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise.
  2. And again, the Pharisees rejected the testimony.  The queen of Sheba had no background to the prophecies of the Messiah – she was a gentile queen from a far-off land.  And yet even she could recognize the hand and wisdom of God whereas the supposed learned & religious Pharisees could not.  The queen had the imperfect in front of her; the Pharisees had the perfect – and they still rejected the Messiah.
  3. The point?  The Pharisees had no excuse for their lack of faith.  They had demanded much from Jesus, but Jesus saw right through their smoke-screen of excuses.  A refusal to believe is far different than simple curiosity.  Their hearts had been hardened to Jesus, and that was a dangerous place to be.

Has your heart been hardened to the person of Jesus Christ?  The Pharisees showed their hardened hearts by the evil words they spoke concerning Jesus, and their stubborn refusal to pay attention to the clear testimony of God right in front of their eyes.  Their condemnation and judgment were assured.  For all of their pretensions, in the end there was no excuse for their lack of faith because faith wasn’t the issue; the issue was pride.  They didn’t want Jesus.  They saw Him for who He was, and yet they still didn’t want Him – and their stubbornness took them down a road that few of them would ever turn back from as they would be left condemned.

That’s not a place any of us want to be!  That’s not the place that Jesus wants you to be!  Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.  Jesus invites those who are heavy laden with sin and burdens to come to Him to find rest for their souls.  Jesus came that those who believe in Him might be saved.  But this doesn’t happen with hardened hearts.  People with hardened hearts demonstrate their resistance against God by their words & thoughts as they pour out what is in the sinful treasure of their heart & mind.  People with hardened hearts ignore the clear sign that Jesus has provided through the resurrection (the sign of Jonah).  It doesn’t matter what Jesus does or say because they simply don’t want Jesus.

If that’s you, beware!  Whether you want to believe it or not, there is a day coming in which you WILL see God face-to-face, and on that day you will be held to judgment.  Today is the day in which you can know how you will face that judgment: either in your own sinfulness, or covered in the grace of Christ Jesus.  When Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees that day, it was a message of judgment to those who had already firmly rejected Him – but His words are also a message of warning to the rest of us who read.  Hear this clearly: it’s not too late for you to put your faith in Christ!  Today, you can be saved – you can be born again, if you humbly respond to the call of Jesus in repentance and faith.  What is evil in you can be remade into something good.  What has been in the past can be forgiven.  What has been rejection of God can be fellowship with Him (both now and in eternity).  Don’t let your heart be hardened.

For others, perhaps you have faith in Christ, but you’ve started to slip back into old habits.  Your speech and thought life has been reflecting far more evil treasure than good.  The reality of Jesus’ resurrection has become rather distant to you as your eyes have been taken off of Christ.  Let your heart be softened anew today & remember Who it is that you serve & to Whom you belong.  This is the greater-than Jonah – this is the greater-than-Solomon – this is the great I AM who gave His life for you that you would be saved!  Ask Him to search your heart, to reveal the wickedness in you & to continue to renew you by His Spirit. 

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