I often travel to the Far East to tell people about Jesus. I think it would be true to say I’ve seen sights there which have had a big impact on my life. But, right now, I want to show you two rather different sights. My prayer is that they’ll change your life.
By the way, talking of the Far East, there’s a story of a little boy in India who had lots of rather nice marbles. But he was jealous – of all things – of his sister’s bag of sweets. So he said to her, ‘Let’s do a deal, if you give me all your sweets, I’ll give you all my marbles.’ She thought about it and agreed to the swap. So he took her sweets, all of them of course, and went back to his room to fetch his marbles by way of exchange. But, you know, the more he looked at them, the more reluctant he was to give them all up. So he took the best ones and put them under his pillow, and only took the remainder to give to his sister. Well, that night she slept soundly while he tossed and turned restlessly, unable to sleep – all the while thinking, I wonder if she gave me all the sweets.
An important question
Let me ask you this: ‘Have you seen your own heart?’ When we doubt others – and maybe even God – think about it, could it be we’re really acknowledging our own deceitfulness? The boy wouldn’t have doubted his sister if he’d not been all too aware of his own deceit in the matter. And our suspicions are usually well-founded; because all hearts are like our own heart – which is basically deceitful. Is that a bit too harsh? Well, no, for Jeremiah, the Bible prophet says: ‘the heart is more deceitful than all else …’ (Jeremiah 17:9). And so I ask – I ask everyone reading this today: ‘Have you seen your own heart?’
There’s a strange story in the first part of the Bible. It’s about a man wrestling with God. And he says to God ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’. And God says to him ‘What’s your name?’ Seems like an unusual question at that precise moment – until I tell you this man had once tricked his own blind father – deceived him into giving him a blessing by using his brother’s name. You see, his father had asked his name, and that time he’d lied and said ‘Esau, my name’s Esau’. But now, later, and alone with God, when the all-seeing Father of eternity asks his name, he says: ‘Jacob – it’s Jacob’. I wonder, in that split second, did Jacob think to himself: ‘Ah, you’ve got me! – you’ve exposed my heart. It’s true, the last time I asked someone for a blessing, I deceived them by giving a false name.’ In that moment he saw the deceitfulness of his own heart. He admitted it, and his life was changed. That’s helpful information: before God can change anyone’s life, they’ve first to realize what the heart of their problem is – it’s the problem of their heart!
So, let me ask you again: ‘Have you seen your own heart?’ It’s one of those two sights we talked about that could really change your life. Not that you’re able to change it for yourself. I read once that the former world boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, on an airplane, during turbulence, refused to fasten his seat-belt. He said to the air stewardess – with the quick wit he was famous for, ‘Superman need no seat-belt.’ But the stewardess was equal for him that day, and back she came at once with: ‘Superman also need no airplane – so you will please fasten your belt’! We are no super men and women in God’s sight. Because he sees our heart. And what’s more, we can do nothing about the state of it. Maybe you’ve heard of someone who’s been styled as the world’s least successful kite-flyer?Apparently, he was a Californian whose kite hit a high voltage power cable. It caught fire and came crashing down to earth where it started a fire that damaged 385 homes, 740 acres of scrub-land, and caused 3,000 people to be evacuated. The bill? Twenty million dollars. Now what does your average guy do? Reach for his chequebook? No, I don’t think so; nor is it any more realistic to offer to come every weekend with your paintbrush and tools and try to make it right all by yourself. Meeting that kind of debt is overwhelmingly beyond us. Our indebtedness to God because of the deceitfulness of our heart is something we can do nothing about. ‘Our heart …,’ the Bible says, ‘… is desperately sick’, (Jeremiah 17:9). Its condition is way beyond critical, it’s desperate – and no religious therapy of any kind can cure it.
The story’s told of two brothers who were notorious gang members. When one died, the other went to a pastor and asked if he would take his brother’s funeral. He offered the pastor a great deal of money for doing so – upon one condition: that at some point in his sermon the pastor would speak of this rogue as a saint. The pastor said he felt he could just about manage that. When the day came: the pastor waxed eloquent about the vile character of the deceased. This man, he said, was a rotter to the core of his being, capable of – and indeed guilty of – the most horrific crimes – but compared to his brother – he was a saint!
So now it’s our choice. We can stay rebels against God and try to run our own lives in our own way without him. Sadly, this is the option that a lot of people persist in. The end result is that God gives us what we ask for, and indeed deserve – he condemns us for our rejection of his rightful rule over our lives. Not only do we have to put up with the messy consequences of rejecting God here and now, but we face the dreadful prospect of being separated from him for ever – without life or love or relationship. As the Bible says: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (The Gospel by John, chapter 3, verse 36).
Have you seen your own heart?
Have you seen your own heart? Who do you compare yourself with? Compared to whom are you a saint? When we compare ourselves with a Hitler or a Stalin, we feel pretty comfortable with the idea of ultimate justice, don’t we? But when we compare ourselves to the standards we glimpse in the Bible, we sense how much we stand in need of God’s mercy.
The 26th of April (2007) was the day the verdict was announced in the Lucie Blackman murder trial in Japan. On that same morning, in the BBC’s Today programme, on ‘Thought for the Day’, Anne Atkins spoke about a paradox. On the one hand, the accused had been found guilty and sentenced for life: on the other hand, the victim’s family was still devastated at the verdict. Why? Because he’d not been found guilty of crimes committed against her specifically.
But what’s the point of them demanding more? Joji Obara already has a life sentence. The point, we were reminded, was Lucie. She was beautiful, she was young, she was loved. A dreadful sin was committed against her. If that isn’t addressed, there’s a slur on her worth. I mention this because some say ‘why shouldn’t God simply forgive every one of us – of all our wrongs against each other?’ Well, if he did, he’d be suggesting that all the Lucies who have ever suffered injustice in the world don’t matter. But they do matter. Just ask Lucie’s father. Ask Lucie Blackman’s father if justice is important. Without justice for his daughter’s death, it seems like her life is just to be considered worthless; it seems like it’s belittled as of no value. Our sins – meaning all our wrongs, not just crimes – devalue others, as well as offending God. So many times our thoughts demean, our words belittle. That’s why on the appointed day to come, God will address everything that we’ve ever done wrong. Have you seen God’s heart? There’s no deceit there – only true justice – the justice which basic human dignity demands.
God brought loving mercy and justice together at the cross. It’s there we see his heart revealed. Have you seen God’s heart? How he served the fine – our fine – with one hand, and wrote the cheque (to pay our fine) himself with the other – because Jesus Christ, whose life as a man showed him to be actually more than a man, paid the debt for us. His words and the Bible’s claims clearly declare him to be God’s son, sharing our humanity for the deliberate purpose of dying sacrificially in order to satisfy God’s justice on account of our sins. For us to receive forgiveness on this basis – which is both loving and just – all God asks us to do is to turn from our self-centred, self-choosing, self-serving ways and trust fully in his son, Jesus Christ, who served our sentence in his death on the cross for our sins.
Have you seen God’s heart?
Have you seen God’s heart? How absolutely amazing that it’s full of such mercy as well as justice! But I need to say this – to be true to the Bible – if we don’t embrace God’s mercy at the cross, let there be no doubt in anyone’s mind – we’ll be left with God’s justice, and no defence. A sight of our heart; and a sight of God’s heart: these are the two sights we need for a life-changing experience: first a sight of our own heart; then, a sight of God’s. Seeing the desperate sickness of our own heart, and seeing the amazing generosity in the heart of God – giving his own son for our healing through the cross. I appeal to you to come to Christ, just as you are, because he’ll change you, but come believing that the only remedy to the problem of your heart lies in the provision of God’s own heart through the cross.