Examples of people with hard hearts abound in Scripture. Pharaoh is the first one who is explicitly said to have a hard heart (Ex. 7:13ff). He was followed by Sihon (Dt. 2:30), Israel in the wilderness (Ps. 95:8), the inhabitants of the land of Canaan at the return from Egypt (Josh. 11:20), the Philistines when they had possession of the Ark of the Covenant for a brief period (1 Sam. 6:6), Zedekiah, the final king of Judah before the deportation to Babylon (2 Chron. 36:13), the Pharisees (Mk. 3:5; Mt. 19:8), unbelieving Gentiles (Eph. 4:18), and even the disciples (Mk. 6:52; 8:17).
Additionally, the Scriptures warn against becoming hard-hearted (Dt. 15:7; Prov. 28:14; Heb. 3:8, 15; 4:7).
And these are only the explicit examples of hard hearts. Others could be noted where the concept is implied or articulated with other synonyms of unbelief.
One question for today, however, is what produces a hard heart? How does a man become hard and rigid against the grace and work of God? From a divine perspective, it is because God is the one who hardens men (e.g., Pharaoh, Ex. 4:21; 7:3 and unbelieving Israel, Is. 6:10; Jn. 12:40).
But from the human side, there are other components of hard-heartedness. These are the characteristics that all people, even believers, must guard against (remember that the disciples also were characterized as being hard-hearted).
Mark 3 gives three suggestions about what turns men against God.
One contributing factor is pride (v. 2). The Pharisees were fastidious in the keeping of the Law and their interpretation of the Law. Their authority was well-established. And then Jesus appeared and He was in the process of over-throwing all their traditions and rules and in doing so, their prideful, authoritative positions were endangered. So they were intent on entrapping Jesus in some moral failure or religious faux pas. Their concern was not the upholding of the Law, but the keeping of their position, so the more Jesus revealed the fallacies of their man-made laws, the more embittered and hardened they were against Him.
Another factor of hardness is being uncompassionate to the needs of others (and not recognizing one’s own need), and not wanting others to experience grace (vv. 3-4). Here was this poor man with a paralyzed and useless hand. The man’s problem was not just social ostracism because of his physical weakness, but potential poverty because of his inability to work, making him dependent on family, friends, and even strangers (would he have had to beg?). When the Pharisees looked at this man, were they compassionate and tender towards him, seeking to help him and wanting provision and blessing for him? It seems not. In fact, it is possible that they even set him in the path of Christ, using him as a pawn for their evil and prideful desires, in a vain attempt to ensnare Christ in sin. They were not wanting grace for this man; they did not really want him healed. They only cared about his healing if that healing would result in Jesus’ condemnation. Their hardness of heart was the result of not seeing this man’s dependence on grace — or their own need for grace. “Who needs grace,” they seem to consistently reason in their hearts, “when one can fulfill all the requirements of the Law himself?”
A final factor in these hard hearts was bitterness and anger (v. 6). Like an infant who has had a favored toy taken away, when they failed to obtain their desires, they seethed with murderous rage. They hated Christ and wanted Him dead because they did not get their ungodly desires (cf. Js. 4:1ff). When someone cultivates and feeds anger, it can only result in hardness.
Now it’s easy to condemn the Pharisees, but that too can easily become a form of self-righteounsess (“I am more compassionate than them…I am never angry with God…I may be proud, but my pride is not that bad…“). But even these attitudes can lead to our own hardness when we don’t receive what we want.
If you and I live to please the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9), we will be vigilant against every sign of hard-heartedness. So here are three questions for all of us today:
- Am I giving any signs of pride and self-righteousness in my interactions with others?
- Do I see my own daily need for grace, and do I rejoice when others receive the grace and favor of God?
- Are there any evidences of anger in my life?