They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either. Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. Mark 16:13,14
Sometimes we don’t recognize things when we see them. I’ve run around looking for my glasses and there they were, right in my hands already! Or I’ve had my whole family looking for my keys only to find I already had them in my pocket. And other times I’ve been looking for an object and there I am staring right at it in front of me, with it so close that if it were alive it could jump out and bite me in the nose, and I still don’t see it. Well, it happens with spiritual sight also.
Here’s another day of looking at faith. But it’s also a day to look at lack of faith. And not only that, but to look at hard-heartedness. Because I think if it was important enough for You, Lord, to point out in Your disciples, that it’s important enough to examine our own hearts to see if we are guilty of unbelief and hard-heartedness also. I mean, I’m just as human as the next person so that means I am just as prone as they were.
Here’s a really interesting thing I found out today. The Greek word used in Mark for hardness of heart is sklerokardia. It’s Hebrew equivalent is chazaq. Strong’s concordance has two different definitions of that word. Entry 2388 is chazaq which is a wonderful word. It means to cleave, it means strength, it means courageous, and help, and all these powerful things. There’s a long list of strong, conquering words. But following that entry is chazaq #2389 which is defined as “strong (usually in a bad sense, hard, bold, violent),” which included impudent and hard-hearted. Short list and not good stuff. But think about that. On one hand we have tons of Scripture where the Lord uses this word to give us strength and encouragement and then we have Scripture where there is a lack of God’s strength and encouragement even though the same word is used. So what makes the difference?
See, it’s that whole idea of whether I believe God or I don’t believe God. It’s that whole idea of whether I am putting my trust in my ideas and my desires and my ways or in Yours, Lord. Why were You reprimanding the disciples? Just because they didn’t believe the word of their friends? I don’t think so. I think You were reprimanding them for not believing the testimony of their friends that corresponded with Your Word, with Your promise. They were still trying to see things their own way instead of Yours. Their kind of king died, Your kind of King had not yet risen in their hearts and minds because they weren’t looking at things Your way. Remember what John said, ” I remembered what Jesus had said. We remembered what it said in the Scripture.” And then the lightbulb went off. That’s a pliable heart. That’s discernment and sensitivity to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. That’s faith. And then we accept the Truth and go with it.
But hard-heartedness is “obstinacy towards God’s call and command.” Maybe we don’t want to see because it will change our world view. Maybe we don’t want to fully see because God might call us to change our behavior in a way that isn’t comfortable. I might have to forgive. I might have to let go of something. I might have to humble myself. I might have to let go of some of my dreams or my plans. I might have to go to a foreign land where I don’t know anyone. I might have to love people and be totally honest and open with them. Maybe I have something to hide. The list goes on. And what’s the command we are refusing to obey. Believe. Trust. Entrust. All of Me. Not just some. All.
And that’s the problem with unbelief and hard-heartedness. Ezekiel 3:7 tells us it’s refusing to listen to You. It’s not being willing to listen to You. And listening, to the Hebrew mind, was always connected to acting upon that listening. Words were not abstract and philosphical. They were concrete. You could experience them with your senses. If I jump to the New Testament, Paul warns of this same hardness that is accompanied with impenitance. Jumping back to the Old Testament, it is accompanied by people following their own counsel. It’s stubborness about listening and obeying the Lord. It’s accompanied by rebellion and not being steadfast and faithful to You. It’s being far from righteousness because it’s choosing to be far from You in our hearts. It’s turning aside and going away. Isaiah 48:4 puts it bluntly, “I know that you are stubborn. Like iron, you are hardheaded. Like bronze, nothing gets through your thick skull.” (GW) The Good News Bible uses these words in that verse: rigid and unyielding. In Acts 7:51 it’s accompanied by resisting the Holy Spirit. It leads to refusing to turn to You, Lord. We become obstinate and stubborn. Our opinion and purpose matter more than Yours. We become unyielding. We are not easily subdued. We are not humble.
Paul warns us of unbelief in Hebrews 3:12-14. Listen: “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,…” So we have this choice to believe or not to believe, to entrust or not to entrust, to obey or not to obey, to submit or not to submit, to yield or not to yield, to surrender or not to surrender. But You, Lord, won’t force us. Moses allowed divorce not because he wanted it, but because of the condition of the peoples’ hearts. And what do we force You to tolerate because of the condition of our hearts today?
Now we can have hardened hearts like the disciples’ that still have a chance of softening and molding themselves to You, or we can have hardened hearts like Pharaoh’s heart. If I keep hardening my heart enough and pushing You away long enough, You may harden my heart to the point of no return. But I suppose the danger is in thinking of a hardened heart as one that is out and out opposed to God, like we think of Pharoah. But go back to the disciples. Where they out and out against You, Jesus? On the contrary, they were for You. So you mean to say that someone who is for You can be guilty of unbelief and a hardended heart that doesn’t know You? Well, those aren’t my words. Those are Your very own words.
Go over that list I shared earlier of things that hard-heartedness led to or produced. Do any of those characterize your walk? Aren’t those the things that characterized the disciples’ walk? Let’s think about it. Those that saw Jesus came and told the others. Seeing Jesus raised agreed with prophecy in Scripture. But the others disbelieved. So were they just disbelieving their friends’ testimonies? Or does it stem back to disbelieving Your Word? Were they still hung up in their own way and in their own plans and in their own outcomes? Are we guilty of that? What if I am only surrendering to You my way and not Yours? Am I really surrendering? Does that make me accepted? What about Cain? Why wasn’t his sacrifice accepted? Was he hard-hearted?
So that’s the warning. But here is the good news! Let’s look at this account in 2 Chronicles 32:7, “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid or dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.” Here is Hezekiah and the kingdom of Israel surrounded and besieged by Senacharib from the Assyrian kingdom. And as far as the number of people went, Sennacherib outnumbered them. But Hezekiah says, “there are more with us than with him.” What are you talking about, Hezekiah? What he was saying was, “Someone greater is on our side.” He was looking at things God’s way. He wasn’t looking through his own eyes or understanding. Now this is faith.
O.K. I’m excited. I want to hear more of this faith. Well, this Sennacherib boasts about how no other god has been able to defeat them. He mocks Israel and the king and God. He proclaims his own fame over the nations. His people continued the railing and ridiculing. They even did it in Hebrew. They shouted things. They sent letters inside to discourage and encourage fear. So how did Israel respond? I know that at least King Hezekiah and Isaiah prayed and called on You, Lord. And the original verse says that the people rested, they “stood fast” on his words about You. (Hmm, that sounds like “steadfast”). And what did You do?
You sent an angel who exterminated the soldiers, officials, and commanders of the Assyrian army. You humiliated Senacherib and when he returned to his own country, in the temple of his own god, his own sons killed him. So, You, Lord, saved Hezekiah and Isaiah and all the people that were standing fast with him in You.
Paul reminds us again in Ephesians 6:10,”Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” And that’s the whole point here. Where is my strength? Is my strength truly in You, Lord? Or is my strength in what the world has taught me, in the traditions, in my job, in my dreams, in my hopes, in my family, in my church, in my ministry? If my strength is in anything else but You, then I am hard-hearted and stubborn and rebellious and my outcome is not going to look good until I change where my strength lies.
Lord, I don’t want to be guilty of unbelief and hardness of heart. And it’s funny, that here, a couple days have passed since I began this time with You and as I was just rereading, the Israelites response to Hezekiah jumped out at me. Why? Well, exactly what You were reprimanding the disciples about, is the opposite of the Israelites response to Hezekiah and Isaiah’s testimony here. The disciples didn’t believe the testimony of those who saw and Your Word. But the Israelites believed both Hezekiah’s and Isaiah’s testimony and trusted in Your Promise in the face of the “overwhelming” enemy and RESTED in it. And isn’t that where You want me, where You want each of us?
Lord, I want to rejoice in the testimony of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I want to know Your Word so well that I can see it coming to fruition in them and in me. Throw out in me any ideas, thoughts, hopes, dreams, plans, habits, ways, strongholds in my life that are not of You and are not lined up with You. Faith isn’t based on any wisdom I naturally have. It’s not based on my human wisdom or anyone else’s. It’s based on Your power, God. Always, not just sometimes. It’s a spiritual thing. I can’t figure it out and I can’t reason it. I accept it and surrender to it. It just doesn’t fit human understanding. It surpasses human understanding, because You surpass human understanding. To understand, I need Your Spirit. If I don’t understand, I need to seek Your Spirit desperately because my life here and in eternity depend upon it. Because You alone are my Success, my Victory, my Strength , and my Rest. But here’s the excellent news, if I do know You and am surrendered to You and Your Word, I have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16) I can have faith without limit in You. I can know Your thoughts and Your ways. Lord, You are my Faith and I will rest in You. And I will believe in the glorious testimony of the others who know You and rest in You. And I will share my testimony for others to believe and rest in You. May someone believe and rest in You today. Amen.