Hard Heart

Praying til Pentecost Day 19

"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 16:14 (Luke 24:38)

During his earthly ministry prior to His resurrection, Jesus shared his strongest words of rebuke for the religious elite. He did not suffer their foolishness gladly. He called them "whited sepulchres" and cleared the Temple of all their self-promotion and commercialism. He reminded them His house was to be a house of prayer.

After His resurrection, The Risen Christ presented a sterner voice to those who had been His followers. Whenever their belief in His Presence of His word did not match His expectation, Jesus would reproach them for it. He would not tolerate unbelief in Kingdom. This was cardinal sin.

  • The couple on the road to Emmaus heard Him say, "O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe!"
  • The eleven disciples heard, "He reproached them for their unbelief..."
  • The Church of Ephesus heard,"I have this against you!"

I remember well a conversation with a church lady in Georgia that still chills my heart. She was upset that I didn't present a more politically correct image of Jesus. She wanted to hear about the "meek and mild Shepherd Jesus" of her childhood. She thought that I was sharing too much about the demands of discipleship and His call to reach out aggressively to a lost world around us. I listened as politely as I could, trying to remember Scriptural warnings about treating my elders with respect. I thought I had a piece of insight that might clear this up for her. I should have known better. I reminded her that the Jesus we worship was not comfortable with compromise of His Father's message, and even took out His rebuke out on people who had turned The Temple into a den of thieves. When I explained the shepherds of Jesus' day would commonly use their staff to discipline a wandering or head strong sheep by whacking it on the back or even breaking its leg, I thought she was going to get the vapors. She gasped out, "Well even Jesus sinned!" That is when I got faint. I told her that was not an option for the Son of God. Her response was a change of subject. She said, "You know there are people here who would not vote for you to be their pastor if the vote was taken today!" I responded by saying, "That's why you only get to vote once!" We were so done.

The Christ of the 40 Days was The Risen Lord. He was not an illegitimate carpenter's son living with a cloud of scandal over His head. He was the Son of God and a recent victor over death, hell and the grave. Satan knew He was alive, and Jesus was getting weary of the hesitancy of "The Eleven" to grasp the truth of the victory that He was trying to get into their hands.

The original group of twelve disciples had been cut down to eleven by the suicide of Judas Iscariot. They had hidden themselves away from the religious authorities and the street mobs. They had heard from the women about the Risen Lord and called their story nonsense and unbelievable. Peter had tried to confirm it with his own visit to the empty tomb, but had not seen Jesus. Now the couple from Emmaus had returned with their report of the Risen Lord and the eleven did not believe them either. When Jesus entered the room while the second message was being delivered, the disciples were startled and frightened. They must have looked like they had seen a ghost. It was not their finest hour.

The Risen Lord "reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen." Anyway this passage is translated, it does not produce an image of a sweet Shepherd gently humming a lullaby to the faint-hearted. Jesus immediately delivers a wake up call to the hard-hearted, by dealing with the cancer that will destroy the Body of Christ...UNBELIEF.

This Greek word translated "unbelief" is the source for the word "apostasy." Jesus was not giving the disciples a title they wanted to keep, but they had earned it nonetheless. His words were strong, and deliberate. This was not a hot headed anger as much as a cold slap in the face to an insult given to a superior. If a kinder word would have been appropriate, The Holy Spirit would have called for its use. This was a glass of ice water in the faces of the eleven, and it was meant to be a wake up call for them.

When someone was reproached or upbraided it was meant to defame their behavior as being unwarranted and unacceptable. It paints a picture of the Risen Lord taking their words of unbelief and throwing them back in their teeth. The word describes an action that included taunting, chiding and railing against the disgraceful behavior of a person until they were publicly humiliated. In the military, the upbraiding of a disgraced officer meant that his decorations and medals of past victories were removed from his chest and his shoulders as he was degraded and demoted in the eyes of his men. What Jesus was doing with the eleven was not pretty, and gratefully we are left with little detail of what He said. We only know that He does not coddle unbelief in His citizens, and He purges it from His Kingdom.

They should have known not to take the word of the Son of God lightly. They had been raised on the Scriptures of the Law and the Prophets. In the Old Testament, the concept of "hear" and "obey" are virtually synonymous. The Hebrew word for "hear" is "shema." No less than 40 times from Genesis to Zecharia this same word is translated "obey." When the call to "hear" went out it carried the implication of obedience. To hear was to obey especially then the word came from God.

Life Action Summits have a phrase about obedience that has stuck with me since March of 1995. "Obedience is responding to God the first time He speaks with the right heart attitude." Delayed obedience may ultimately be obedience, but there is the consequence of great liability from even the slightest delay to obey.

The Risen Lord had much to share with His followers. He was not holding out on them, but they were backing up from Him. Unbelief is a thief that robs the Christ follower from a life of hope and confidence in the word of God. It leads to a hard heart and an empty life.

The solution is found in cultivating a responsiveness to the voice of God. To hear is to obey. His wish is our command. The more readily we obey, the better we hear. Obedience is the world's greatest hearing aid. Hearing from God leads to an obedience to God. This cultivates a confidence, a trust or a faith in God's capacity to surprise us with more than we had hoped, and dreamed.

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)

Quote of the Day: "Our problem is not so much that God doesn't give us what we hope for as it is that we don't know the right thing for which to hope...Hope is not what you expected; it is what you would never dream...it is the zany, unpredictable dependence on a God who loves to surprise us out of our socks, and be there in the flesh to see our reaction." Max Lucado