The fundamental nature of the heart
I've been relatively healthy all my life yet recently I had a little scare. When walking only short distances my heart would start to pound. It rang in my ears in a similar way to the sound of one of my kids bouncing a basketball off the garage door, which of course results in my yelling "stop it right now"(not that any of you would say something like that).
This response of my heart to what in the past would have been such a small demand to function was a little disconcerting. There was even a couple of times where it seemed a rush surged to my head and I became dizzy.
You know the thoughts that might go through your mind at a time such as this, "I'm having a heart attack", or "Lord please don't take me before I have completed what I've been called to do", or simply "man, I gotta get my life straight".
Of course during such incidents we are struck with a glaring sense of our own fragility.
Life is fleeting and those of us who know Christ often have a true awareness of purpose. We may sometimes feel as if there is not enough time to finish what we've been called to do before the door closes on this life and the door of eternity opens.
Let's face it we're always in midst of a transition, some subtle and some not so. However, the final transition is something that one might dread, yet another long for with anticipation, depending on their particular situation.
Of course that begs a question that we might ask ourselves, "which one am I?”
It's not my aim in this particular writing to wax philosophical but I guess I have a tendency sometimes to over analyze, especially when it comes to matters of self. Therefore, the above also got me thinking about the heart in general.
Obviously if our heart quits, for all intents and purposes we do as well, baring mechanical continuation. That's why we have phrases in our culture like, "the heart of the matter", which seems to imply, the very central point or substance of a particular thing.
Our physical heart is seen as vital to our existence. Of course there's the brain as well and other vital organs, yet, it's not my purpose here to get into a physiological debate, let alone an anatomy lesson.
How the Hebrew people perceived Heart
Now I don't know about you but I have a penchant for linking chains of logic together.
I started then thinking about how the physical heart represented the foundation of life. To the ancient Hebrew people and in their covenant writings, God's revelation of Himself (the Old Testament to Christians), the heart is portrayed metaphorically in various ways. It can mean the intellect or the emotions. It can also mean the desire or the will. Moreover it can of course even mean courage. Additionally one of the ways that the heart is portrayed to those that God had called to be the bearers of His presence in the earth from ancient times was as the total of someone's personality, who they were in essence. This is metaphorical conception of the heart that I found myself thinking about.
As the physical heart in many ways represents to us the very center and foundation of life, so in a way does the spiritual heart represent the very essence of our spiritual existence. The condition of our heart is representative of the condition of our life before God.
Jesus spoke to that very point in Matthew 15:19-20
19 " For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 "These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."
At this particular occasion the Pharisees and Scribes were upset with the disciples of Jesus because they perceived that they had broken the "tradition of the elders" because they hadn't ceremonially washed their hands before eating. Jesus used this instance as an juncture for teaching in which he pointed out that they were violating the command of God for the sake of their traditions (15:3-6).
Ending with this poignant statement...
7 "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 8 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 9 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'"
NASU (c.f. Isa. 29:13)
The Lord went on to say that it's not what we eat the makes us unclean but that which we speak for our words reveal our hearts.
After these rather hardy exchanges of course the disciples came to their master, having been the focal point of the attack and as usual their depth perception was at the time less than skin deep.
They were even concerned that Jesus' words had offended the religious leaders. This might have been a valid concern in the culture in which they lived because those very religious leaders could cause a myriad of troubles. You can imagine from the earliest childhood they had been taught in their homes that they were to respect the leaders of Israel.
Jesus instructed His disciples saying,
14 "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit."
To this, Peter the disciples' point man, asked a further question. "Can you please explain the parable to us? We really don't understand (My paraphrase)".
To which Jesus replied...
"Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17 "Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18 "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 " For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 "These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."
Certainly the disciples had heard the Scriptures all their lives, they of course would have known by rote the various meanings of the phrase "heart" although they may not have been able to enumerate them at that particular time, as with all cultures it most likely was implicit in the context of the statement. Jesus was getting to the "heart" of the matter. It wasn't ceremonial defilement that was of utmost importance but the the sin that was at the very center of humanity. David, Scripture declares, was a man "after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14)". This was because David valued God's will above his own and was used in this particular passage to be a contrast to Saul, who had done his own thing because it was expedient at the given moment. It was of the lack of obedience that Saul was removed, and it was because of his obedient heart that David was appointed.
What's the point?
So what's all this about? It was the very heart of humankind that needed changed on an individual level.
The covenant God had spoken these words to the prophet Jeremiah...
9 "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?
Yet the living God would later promise the prophet Ezekiel that...
19 "...I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.
"They will be My people, and I shall be their God." Do you hear the covenant formula in this statement? This was the promise of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. The very essence (heart/soul) would change of those that God had called to Himself as they responded to the message of the Gospel.
The heart of the Gospel
What is the heart of the Gospel, the very center and essence of God's message?
That's simple, Jesus is that heart.
It is His blood that pumps through the spiritual arteries and veins of the body of Christ bringing life giving oxygen and taking away impurities.
We had mentioned above that when the natural heart stops the body that it beat within stops as well. Yet the heart of the Gospel, Jesus, will never stop cleansing and bringing life because He is eternal, He is God.
We can trust that even if our hearts fail us He never will. If my heart were to stop beating tomorrow I have the confidence that the new covenant life that beats within me would escort me into the presence of God because His life is eternal.