17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17–18, NKJV)
Jesus expected His apostles to understand His warning against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, but they were only thinking about physical bread (Mark 8:14-16). He said their hearts were “still hardened” because they could not perceive (understand) the meaning of His warning. They needed to comprehend the corrupting influence of their error, immorality, and hypocrisy (Matt. 16:11-12; Luke 12:1). Here is a lesson on being distinctive hearers. It matters how we hear Christ’s word. Jesus said, “Therefore take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18). The Pharisees disputed with Jesus and rejected His signs (Mark 8:11-12). Like their forefathers, they were “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51-52). We must have open hearts to receive the gospel of Christ, lest the leaven of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians corrupt us. (Demanding preaching that scratches itching ears still happens, 2 Tim. 4:3-4.) When we resist the word of Christ, we are disputing with and testing Jesus just like the unbelieving Pharisees (Mark 8:11). May we humbly, reverently, and obediently accept the word of Christ. We understand Christ’s teachings when our will is to do the will of God (John 7:16-17; Eph. 3:3-4; Heb. 5:12-14). Open your heart to the gospel of Christ, and you will be blessed (Acts 17:11-12).
9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” 10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (Luke 8:9–10, NKJV).
A parable is a similitude in which a spiritual lesson is thrown alongside a commonly known occurrence (hence, the word parallel). Parables illustrate a truth “using comparison, hyperbole, or simile” (The Lexham Bible Dictionary). Christ’s parables are understandable by those with open ears and hearts (“He who has ears to hears, let him hear!” Luke 8:8, 18). These are the ones to whom it is given “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (v. 10-11; Matt. 13:10-12, 16-18). Although the parables reveal God’s truth about the kingdom of God, they are not understood by those who close their hearts, shut their eyes, and stop their ears (v. 10; Matt. 13:13-15). The state of mind we have when hearing the word of God is crucial to understanding and following it. That is the essence of the parable of the Sower and Soils that prompted the exchange with Jesus in today’s text (see Mark 4:10-13). The types of soil represent the condition of hearts and whether they receive the word of God (Luke 8:4-8, 11-15). The “noble and good heart” hears and keeps God’s word, bearing fruit with patience (Luke 8:15). (The Bereans in Acts 17:11 will become examples of this good heart.) Parables are beautiful expressions of the gospel of Christ. Our heart condition determines whether we are blessed by them or stumble over them. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:29–30, NKJV).
Profanity is pervasive in our society. From public school classrooms to sports fields, the movies, television, music, the printed media, and the internet, vulgar language permeates the landscape. Offensive, suggestive words lure the innocent into dishonorable attitudes and actions. Today’s passage is a clear command not to use rotten, worthless words (v. 29). The Holy Spirit further elaborates with examples of corrupt speech in Ephesians 5:4: “neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting….” The remedy, of course, is a renewed heart. Profanity reveals a heart spoiled by evil (Matt. 12:34-37). The Holy Spirit has revealed a gospel that revives the heart that accepts God’s truth (Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:16). Beware, fellow Christians! The influence of the world’s profanity can corrupt good morals (1 Cor. 15:33). The Spirit of God, whose truth attests we are children of God, is grieved (distressed, saddened with heaviness) when Christians use corrupt, vile language (Eph. 4:30; 1:13-14; Rom. 8:16). Let us review and refocus our words to promote goodness and grace that strengthen those who hear us (Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6). The fruit of our lips should give praise and thanks to God instead of dishonoring God and ourselves with profanity (Eph. 5:4; Heb. 13:15). God assures the day of redemption to those who live in holiness instead of sin’s defilement (Eph. 4:30; 2 Pet. 1:5-11).
I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart (Psalm 119:32, NKJV).
An enlarged heart indicates one is not well. This condition is treatable but can be dangerous and life-threatening. The opposite is true of the heart most often discussed in the Bible (one’s mind or inner being, Acts 2:37; 1 Pet. 3:4). The psalmist was sure God would enlarge his heart because he “ran the course” of God’s commands. Perhaps Jesus best described this large heart, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). Here are ways our hearts grow larger by keeping God’s commands. (1) Wisdom and understanding are associated with an enlarged heart. God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29). Our knowledge and discernment increase as we abound in love and keep God’s commands (Phil. 1:9-11; Heb. 5:14). (2) Christians’ hearts are enlarged with joy. Isaiah prophesied Zion’s joy when he predicted the Lord’s glory in the church, “Then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy” (Isa. 60:5; Heb. 12:22-23). Our hearts are full of joy in Christ (Phil. 4:4)! (3) Christians open their hearts to God’s truth instead of closing their minds to its teaching and rebuke. Paul pleaded with the Corinthians to open their hearts to him and the truth he preached, even as he had opened his heart to them (2 Cor. 6:11, 13; 7:2). Accepting and obeying the truth is not always easy. An open heart receives the truth and runs the course of God’s commands (Luke 8:15). How large is your heart today? Hearts grow as God is obeyed.
32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him (Mark 12:32–34, NKJV).
The scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians continually tried to ensnare Jesus with His words (Luke 11:53-54). They utterly failed. After witnessing one such occasion, this scribe acknowledged the truth Jesus spoke and applied it to loving God and others. He was beginning to grasp the Savior’s teaching. Jesus said he was near the kingdom. Christians should guard against being like the scribes and others by seeking loopholes in Christ’s word. Our hearts should be noble and receptive toward God’s truth, not obstinate and combative (Luke 8:15). This text also teaches us we cannot excuse the ill-treatment of others with religious offerings and sacrifices. Deeds of spiritual piety do not conceal inward hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matt. 23:27-28). Jesus laid down His life because He loved the Father and every one of us. We are called to God and others as He has loved us (1 John 3:16; 4:10-11). Remember, “we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).
1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure. 2 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled. 3 My soul also is greatly troubled; But You, O Lord—how long (Psalm 6:1–3, NKJV)?
David’s soul experienced deep agony due to his sin that was always before him (Ps. 51:3). David’s sin greatly displeased the Lord, but David repented with a contrite heart, and the Lord was merciful to him (Ps. 51:1-2, 7-13, 17; 2 Sam. 12:13). Nevertheless, enemies and “workers of iniquity” would grieve and afflict David; Sin brings consequences (2 Sam. 12:10-11, 14; Ps. 6:6-7). Today’s psalm reflects David’s distress before his enemies who were sinning against the Lord. He prayed to the Lord for mercy to relieve his pain (Ps. 6:1-7). He also prayed to the Lord for justice against his enemies (Ps. 6:8-10). Like David, our sins and the sins of others bring hardships into our lives (Prov. 13:15; 2 Tim. 2:9; 3:12). If you are groaning and suffering because of your sin, turn to God for mercy. Do not remain silent before Him (Ps. 32:1-3). God will forgive you when you come to Him through His Son (John 6:44-45; Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Acts 18:8). Christian friend, do not become embittered if you are suffering because of someone else’s sin. In prayer, turn to God for strength to faithfully endure (Heb. 4:15-16; 10:35-39). Ultimately, He will right every wrong (2 Thess. 1:5-10). Praise God today for His mercy. Depend on Him today for the strength to remain faithful went confronted with evil.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21, NKJV).
Jesus makes a strong contrast being material and spiritual things. We do not achieve spiritual fulfillment by material means. For example, while important, caring for one’s body is not the same as caring for one’s soul; That requires exercising ourselves toward godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-8). The earth and its goods are transitory, temporary, and tenuous. To invest one’s heart and life in these things is to miss the greater treasure that is enduring and eternal. We will fix our hearts on one or the other. Christians focus their hearts on spiritual wealth. The previous teachings of Christ in this sermon illuminate heavenly treasures. In the Beatitudes, Jesus explains the spiritual fortune of kingdom citizens (Matt. 5:1-12). Choosing righteous conduct reflects a heart that values heaven more than earthly vindication and pleasure (Matt. 5:17-48). Seeking God’s favor in our service and prayers shows a heart dedicated to treasures men cannot spoil (Matt. 6:1-18). Money is not evil, but loving it is (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Loving heavenly things equips us to use material goods to serve others and honor God while laying hold of eternal life (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27–28, NKJV).”
Jesus challenges us to get to the heart of the matter when identifying and turning away from sin. Of course, adultery remains a sin as it was under the Law of Moses (Exod. 20:14; Rom. 13:9). Even the first covenant called on Israel to love the Lord God with all their heart (Deut. 6:5). Jesus drills down to the root of this (and every) sin; the heart’s desires and impulses (1 John 2:15-17). Lustful looks at a woman are adultery in the heart, and so is the act. The heart is the source of sin. Sin lurks in the recesses of the heart’s desires, emotions, and motives (Gen. 4:7; Matt. 15:19-20). God’s word has the power to pierce the heart and reach its thoughts and intents (Heb. 4:12). By doing so, it convicts us of our sins and calls us to repent (change our heart, Acts 2:37-38; 26:20). Jesus vividly described the severity of repentance: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell (Matt. 5:29–30).” Jesus will forgive our sins when we repent (Acts 17:30; Matt. 11:28-30). And drastic steps are necessary to repent to avoid sin’s eternal punishment.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:21–22, NKJV).”
Jesus challenges us to inspect our attitudes toward others and the words they prompt us to use (Matt. 12:33-37). Brotherly kindness and love (attributes Christians add to our faith, 2 Peter 1:5, 7) go far beyond not murdering a person. The apostle John assures us that “whosoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). Jesus expects citizens of the kingdom to follow a path that leads from hate to harmony. Unjustified anger, contemptuous words, and hateful conduct bring a judgment that endangers the soul. So, we must be careful how we speak to others and speak of them to others. We must remove animosity, contempt, bitterness, malicious speech from our hearts and mouths (Eph. 4:31). Kindness must prevail to be a faithful follower of Jesus (Eph. 4:32). Remember, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Prov. 15:4). Furthermore, the perverse tongue condemns the soul.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:17–19, NKJV).
The change of heart that led to merciful forgiveness in the parable of the wasteful son is well known. God is ready to receive back every sinner who comes to himself. God’s divine mercy impelled Solomon to pray about Israel coming to itself after sinning against the Lord. While dedicating the temple, Solomon petitioned God to hear the prayers of His people after their sins brought His anger and punishment upon them (1 Kings 8:46). He prayed, “Yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You…saying, ‘We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness’; and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul…grant them compassion…” (1 Kings 8:47-53). God is ready to forgive us and receive us with loving compassion when we decide to come to ourselves and repent. Coming to ourselves about our sins takes admitting them (to ourselves and God, Ps. 51:3-4). It takes turning our hearts and lives back to God. Repentance leading to salvation is more than being sorry for sin. It is a radical change of heart that leads us to obey God instead of sin (2 Cor. 7:9-10).