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Hard Hearts

Mark 6:32 -- 56

For some reason these passages are often studied separately. This should not be, I think – because verse 52 clearly links the two events told here.

Mark 6:32-56 NASB They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. (33) The people saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. (34) When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. (35) When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and it is already quite late; (36) send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." (37) But He answered them, "You give them something to eat!" And they *said to Him, "Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?" (38) And He *said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go look!" And when they found out, they *said, "Five, and two fish." (39) And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. (40) They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. (41) And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. (42) They all ate and were satisfied, (43) and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. (44) There were five thousand men who ate the loaves. (45) Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. (46) After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. (47) When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. (48) Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He *came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. (49) But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; (50) for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and *said to them, "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid." (51) Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, (52) for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. (53) When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. (54) When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, (55) and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was. (56) Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.


Test: the school child’s least favorite word. Alas, it is a fact of life, the test is always with us.

Why does God allow us to be tested?

Consider the situation from our usual point of view. We don’t like to be tested. When God permits a testing in our lives, we are quick to complain. We ask to be delivered immediately. As I write this, I have recently received the news that my right eye will continue to be useless for another three months – and then we’ll see whether or not any sight can be restored to it. One might consider that God is testing me; my first question is, “Why?”

  • Consider it from the teacher’s point of view. The test is designed to tell the teacher how successful the teaching has been. This seems unlikely in God’s case; he ought to know. After all, he is omniscient. So it must be something else.
  • One possibility is this: motivation. Nothing motivates the student to study as much as the knowledge that there will be a test. It’s difficult for us to see that in life, but perhaps we should. Maybe we should prepare ourselves for life’s difficulties – since we know they will come. (Do you buy health insurance? Maybe you should invest in some patience, too).
  • Sometimes the small test is preparation for the big one. They give final exams, you know. Perhaps the trials you’re going through are only there to prepare you for a greater examination later – and a greater triumph. Is there any ecstasy like knowing you aced the test?
  • Perhaps the greatest reason of all is this: in testing, God introduces you to yourself. You get to know your limits, your failings and your strengths. Did you pass the beggar by? What does that say of your Christian charity?
Why we don’t like testing

Testing has a number of drawbacks – at least, from our point of view. But are they really so bad?

  • Testing implies suffering – and no one likes that. But consider it in a different light: your Lord suffered. The one you love, the lover of your soul, suffered for you. Are you so unwilling to suffer for Him?
  • Testing implies work. We’re lazy. But again – are we always that way? No, if we see a good result as the end, we’re willing to work. Perhaps the problem is not the work so much as our view of the objective of the work.
  • Testing implies fear – have you ever panicked on a test? We fear failure. But are we not in the hands of the one truly benevolent teacher, who has every desire for us to succeed? Surely testing at his hands is most likely to produce success – if we cooperate.
The gold mine

The core of the matter is this: we resent being tested because we have lost sight of the rewards of success. What are those rewards?

  • We are counted worthy to be a part of the kingdom of God.[1]
  • Such testing produces perseverance, which ultimately leads to maturity and completeness of the faith.[2]

We need to realize that God allows such testing, but he does not tempt us.[3] He does not want us to turn to evil, but wants us to pass the test and grow in the faith. So why then do we so stoutly resist this?

It is because of the hardness of our hearts – the point Jesus is making to the disciples here. We’re in need of an attitude adjustment.

Hardness of Heart

Ask most Christians if they are hard-hearted and they will deny it vigorously. It’s like disease: sometimes it’s pretty obvious (a broken arm), sometimes it’s not. We need to examine the symptoms to see if they fit. Let’s do so, from the obvious to the subtle:

The obvious – the fountain of evil

If you’re in this category, the checklist is pretty simple:

  • Are you living the sensual life? The life in which your bodily desires always come first? Sometimes it’s sex; sometimes (surprise!) it’s food. Gluttony is a sin, though not as common as our waistlines would pronounce.
  • Are you living the worldly life? This is pretty common too – the new car, the new boat, the new house; do these come first in your life? Check your check book; the truth is there.
  • Worst of all is pride. If you’re proud that you’re not hard-hearted, you have a serious problem

Most Christians know this; it’s pretty obvious. But I’d hate to skip it – it’s just possible you missed it.

The not-so-obvious - Blindness

I recently lost the sight of one eye, at least temporarily. I wander around with an eye patch. Occasionally, I embarrass myself by bumping into someone on my right side. So I understand about blindness, a little.

  • The first sign is the wayward wandering. It’s that lack of attention to your Christian life. It’s not so much on purpose as it is by accident – but accident that could have been prevented by prayer and study. Usually, it’s bumping into other people, offending them when you should have been pleasing them.
  • Another sign of blindness is in what you believe. Some of the blind will believe anything they are taught. I encourage my students to test my words in class (and they do). Why? So that they will not believe just anything they hear, but rather will seek out the truth.
  • One form of blindness is selective vision. We can see what we want to see, but other things are invisible. We often see the love of God, but miss his righteousness. Want a test? The beggar on the street corner often provides one.
The subtle – double vision

This is perhaps the worst form of blindness, for the Christian doesn’t recognize it as such. It often happens that people afflicted with this are quite capable of looking and sounding pious. But here are a couple of indicators:

  • Do you have a positive opinion of someone on Sunday and a negative one on Monday? Telling people what they want to hear? Just depends on who is listening?
  • Are you the kind of “friend” who always seems to stir up trouble? A word to this one, another to that one, and soon there’s a lovely fight going on. And, having started it, you cluck-cluck over the result.

Some of us are outraged on Sunday and complacent on Monday. We’re all in favor of marriage and family life today – but tomorrow we are reasonable people who can’t see any objection to homosexuality. The result is evil in your life. So what can you do about it?

Lessons for Us

May I offer you an analogy? This is somewhat like a form of cancer. It may be hard to diagnose, painful to treat – and after treatment, something to be watched. Let’s look at all three steps.


How do I know if I have this hardness of heart?

  • What’s your conscience saying? If the answer is that you haven’t heard from it in years, then you really have a problem. But if the answer is, “I don’t listen to it – on that subject”, then you know where the problem is.
  • How about prayer? Is there some area of your life that you will not take to God in prayer? This is one reason I write my prayers in a journal – it forces me to look at myself and admit just what it is that I don’t want to talk to God about.
  • If the internal evidence won’t work, God will provide external evidence. Others will speak to you about it (God created wives, you know). Maybe there’s a reason she repeats herself.

Now what? Suppose you decide that you have the problem; what do you do about it?

  • First, explicitly ask the Holy Spirit for help. Ask Him to come into your life in complete fullness. (In short, go to the Doctor).
  • Next, surrender. First you must surrender the difficulty to God, telling him that you know that only he can deal with it. Then you must surrender yourself to him, putting yourself completely in his hands. (Cooperate with the surgeon).
  • Finally, be prepared: there will be another test. You will face this again. Watch the results of that test; he wants you to be encouraged by it. (There will be more lab work).
Living the change

Many victims of cancer will tell you it is not cured, but survived. How do you survive, then?

  • Remember, God will provide another test. Do not be disappointed when it arrives, nor surprised.
  • Rather, you should prepare for it. You’ve identified the problem, taken it to him – have you rehearsed what you’re going to do the next time it pops up?
  • Finally, grow in that test. If you fail, resolve to try again. If you succeed, rejoice – and give God the glory.

[1] 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5

[2] James 1:2-8

[3] James 1:12-18

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