Thursday, April 21, 2016

Week 22 - April 18-24, 2016 - Luke 8:4-25

How can we have a heart like Jesus?

Over the last few weeks, the passages from the Gospel of Luke have primarily focused on the teachings of Jesus concerning the condition of the human heart.  [For those of you who have been checking the blog weekly, I apologize for not updating it for a few weeks.]

Spiritually speaking, the heart is an important subject.  In Proverbs 17:3, we are told that the LORD tests the heart.  In Proverbs 21:2, we are told that the LORD weighs the heart.  In Jeremiah 17:9-10, God says, The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse - who can understand it?  I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

In our passage from Luke this week, Jesus goes into depth about the condition of the human heart as He teaches and then explains the Parable of the Sower/Soils.  It's important to note that Jesus is likely elaborating in this parable on Jeremiah 4:3-4: For thus says the LORD to the people of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the foreskin of your hearts, O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else my wrath will go forth like fire, and burn with no one to quench it, because of your evil doings.

In the parable and in His explanation of the parable, Jesus describes four types of hearts.

First, in verse 12, Jesus describes a heart that is like "the path."  Using an agricultural metaphor that would have been common in Jesus' time, Jesus describes a farmer sowing seed in a field.  In agricultural fields, the field itself was surrounded by a rock wall.  Inside the perimeter of the rock wall was a path (see picture below) on which the farmer and passers-by could walk without trampling the crop.  The path was worn and well-trampled.  Thus, the seed would have very little ability to get beneath the soil and begin production.  The issue with the human heart that is like "the path" is hardness of heart.  Although the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)...the seed of God's Word cannot deeply penetrate a heart that is hardened toward God.  Famously, the Pharaoh of the Exodus had a heart that was hardened toward God.  But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go.

                                    Image below: The path around a field in Israel.

Second, in verse 13, Jesus describes a heart that is like "the rock."  Agricultural fields in Israel (and elsewhere) are filled with rocks.  When the seed of God's Word is sown on a heart that is "rocky," the issue is that the Word is not able to lay down roots in the heart.  When a time of testing comes into life (as it does in every life eventually), the Word isn't rooted in the heart and the person turns away from God.  More specifically, the person with a rocky heart is trusting more in themselves than they are in Christ.  The prophet Jeremiah explains this well when he describes a life of blessing and a life of cursing in Jeremiah 17:5-8.  A life that is not blessed is one in which trust is placed in the self and the heart turns away from the Lord.  A life that is blessed is one like a tree planted by streams of water, sending out its roots by the stream.  Even when testing comes, one who trusts in Christ will not fear and will remain anchored in Christ through faith.

Third, in verse 14, Jesus describes a heart that is filled with "thorns."  Agricultural fields in Israel become overgrown with thorns when they are left unattended (see picture below).  I believe verse 14 and the metaphor of thorns describes the great danger that exists for the believer who is seeking to follow Jesus.  In Jesus' explanation of the parable, He says that a person whose heart has "thorns" receives the Word of God and begins to produce fruit in their lives.  However, the issue is that the fruit never matures or rots because it is choked by thorns.  What are those "thorns?"  Jesus very plainly says they are 1) cares (worries and anxieties - trust in self rather than trust in God) 2) riches (the pursuit of wealth over the pursuit of God) and 3) the pleasures of life.  Believers in Christ need to seek first the Kingdom of God and pursue faithfulness in relationship with Jesus above these other worldly pursuits.  Otherwise, their fruit will never mature into a bountiful harvest.

                                    Image below: Thorns covering a field in Israel.

Fourth, in verse 15, Jesus describes a heart that is "good soil." (see picture below)  When fields are well-tended, they have the potential to produce a great harvest.  In Jesus' explanation of the parable, He describes a heart that can produce a hundredfold.  The work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God in the human heart enables us to produce fruit both inwardly and outwardly.  Inwardly, we bear the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Outwardly, we bear the fruit of making disciples.  In other words, we multiply our faith, our witness, and our own walk with Christ by sowing into the hearts of others.

                                    Image below: Good soil in a field near Nazareth.

One final word on the Parable of the Soils.  Interestingly, the seed which goes into the soil of the heart and "the healing cure" for hearts that are hard, rocky, and thorny is one and the same = the Word of God.  Jeremiah 23:29 says, Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.  God's Word burns the thorns out of our hearts and smashes our rocks into pieces.  But one more thing is needed in order to have good soil.  We need accountability and relationship with Christian brothers and sisters who can help us see our rocks and thorns and help us rid our hearts of them.  John Wesley espoused the teaching of Jesus' brother, James, as the way to help each other find healing and remain faithful.  James 5:16 says, Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.  It may seem foreign for us to be transparent and confessional about our sins with other believers.  However, healing comes when we come out from our hiding and reveal our struggles with fellow believers who have wise hearts.  They can hold us accountable and heal us with acts of grace and support which encourage inward hope and greater faithfulness. Let us pray in our own walk with Christ for brothers and sisters who are wise and caring and will help hold us accountable.  #PrayForAHeartLikeJesus