A True Heart: Meditations on Hebrews 10:21-22

“Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” ~ Hebrews 10:21-22

According to the author of the letter to the Hebrews, this is how we must draw near to God: with a “true” heart. Thus translate both the King James Version and the English Standard Version. A “sincere” heart, the New International Version tells us. The Blue Letter Bible Dictionary offers more depth for this word translated “true” and “sincere,” the Greek alēthinos“that which is opposite to what is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated or pretended.”

As easy as it is to hear the accuser’s words in our ears as we read these challenging words—words that challenge us because we know our own hearts all too well to believe that they are constantly true in our pursuit of God—we must remember the context of the book of Hebrews. The author sets before his beleaguered audience (and us) a great High Priest who understands our hearts because He had to be made like His brothers in every respect (Hebrews 2:17). This Great High Priest, Christ Jesus, knows our hearts, yet He encourages us to come boldly to the throne of grace “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

So we come. We do come. However, we come confessing to God, and—if we’re honest enough—to one another, that our hearts are often untrue…that we are too often distracted…that we come with unhungry hearts that are saturated with the world…that we must, in fact, pray with David for God to give us an undivided heart so that we may fear His name (Psalm 86:11).

And God, in His great grace, answers our prayers for a true heart—because our drawing near to Him is His goal for us. Our Great High Priest, ever interceding for His Bride, has prayed for us, that we would know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent (John 17:3). This is how we know that God is pleased to continually fashion our hearts into the resemblance of His Son’s heart, the only heart that was and is undivided in its purpose: “Behold, I have come to do your will” (Hebrews 10:9).  And, as Kent Hughes so beautifully reminds us, “The life of Christ in us—the same life that said, ‘Behold I have come to do your will, O God’—animates us!”

What amazing grace.

So when we are tempted to despair of our hearts that seem so often to be the opposite of a true heart, we must preach the Gospel to ourselves—and to one another. We must remind ourselves and each other that it is “since we have a great priest over the house of God” that we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:21-22). Our faith, my friend, is not in our own hearts, but in our Great High Priest over the house of God.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident, wrote several poems from prison shortly before he was executed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945. One of those poems, “Who Am I?,” deals with this issue of a divided heart. As you read his poem, keep in mind the honest evaluation of his own heart that Mr. Bonhoeffer offers. And, more importantly, allow his last line to cause your own heart to sing to the God who beckons you to come.

Who Am I?BPK 10.016.073
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

“Jesus, the Nazarene”

“I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus,

the Nazarene.”

        How many times have we earnestly sung those lyrics? And how many times have we fully meant what we have sung about standing “amazed?” Yet, how many times have we fully failed to understand what we’re singing in identifying Jesus as “the Nazarene?”

Sadly, the demoniac in the synagogue in Capernaum may have known and recognized much more fully the truths that fail to register with us in our complacent familiarity with certain phrases and titles associated with Jesus.

       For example, as Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, Mark 1:24 records that the demoniac cries aloud, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

“Jesus of Nazareth.”

 Nazareth. Outside of the New Testament, this tiny city is never mentioned until the Byzantine period (4th c. AD). In the Bible, Nazareth is a relatively isolated village in the time of Jesus with a population less than two hundred.[1] Nathaniel underscores the contempt that people felt about Nazareth during the 1st century AD when he asks Philip, “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

       Hear what the 18th-century English Baptist commentator John Gill has to say about Nazareth:

The whole country of Galilee was had in contempt with the Jews; but Nazareth was so mean a place, that it seems it was even despised by its neighbours, by the Galileans themselves; for Nathanael was a Galilean, that said these words. It was so miserable a place that he could hardly think that any sort of good thing, even any worldly good thing, could come from thence; and it was so wicked, as appears from their murderous designs upon our Lord, that he thought no good man could arise from hence; and still less, any prophet, any person of great note; and still least of all, that that good thing, or person, the Messiah, should spring from it: so that his objection, and prejudice, proceeded not only upon the oracle in (Micah 5:2 ), which points out Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah; but upon the wickedness, and meanness, and obscurity of Nazareth.[2]

       To say, then, that Jesus is a Nazarene is anything but complimentary. Matthew Henry goes as far as to say that it appears the demon “was the first who called him so, and he did it with design to possess the minds of the people with low thoughts of him, because no good thing was expected out of Nazareth; and with prejudices against him as a deceiver, because everybody knew the Messiah must be of Bethlehem.”[3]

       So to identify Jesus as a Nazarene is always to emphasize his manhood…his humanness. Edmond Hiebert notes that, “In the New Testament, the designation of Jesus as Nazarene is never used apart from His human name”[4] (italics mine).

       However, the demon doesn’t stop with the identification of Jesus’ lowly humanity. After identifying Jesus as human, he finishes his outburst with the acknowledgment of Jesus’ divinity: “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

Fully human. Fully God. The breathtaking paradox of the dual nature of our Savior.

In his book The Pleasures of God, Dr. John Piper caused my heart to soar as he dealt with this concept of the paradox of Christ’s nature in a passage totally unrelated to this excerpt from Mark. Be blessed as you meditate on these paradoxical glories of Christ’s dual nature:

In Jesus Christ meet infinite highness and infinite condescension; infinite justice and infinite grace; infinite glory and lowest humility; infinite majesty and transcendent meekness; deepest reverence toward God and equality with God; worthiness of good and the greatest patience under the suffering of evil; a great spirit of obedience and supreme dominion over heaven and earth; absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation; self–sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God.[5]

Oh, the paradoxical glories of our Savior…Glories which allow Him to have one hand on the throne of God, one hand on the head of man as He stands to ever intercedes for us. His dual nature, accurately identified by the demon: “Jesus of Nazareth.” Fully man. “The Holy One of God.” Fully God.

I do, indeed, “stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, the Nazarene.” And I hope I never sing those words in the same way again.

[1] Bible Places. http://www.bibleplaces.com/nazareth.htm (3/23/13).

[2] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible. http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/john-1-46.html (3/23/13)/

[3] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible. http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/mark/1.html (3/23/13)

[4] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville: BJU Press,1994) 50.

[5] John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2012) 16.

April—National Poetry Month (Day 1)

“Sweet Are the Thoughts That Savour of Content”

by Robert Greene (1558-1592)

Sweet are the thoughts that savour of content;
The quiet mind is richer than a crown;
Sweet are the nights in careless slumber spent;
The poor estate scorns fortune’s angry frown:
Such sweet content, such minds, such sleep, such bliss,
Beggars enjoy, when princes oft do miss.

The homely house that harbours quiet rest;
The cottage that affords no pride nor care;
The mean that ‘grees with country music best;
The sweet consort of mirth and music’s fare;
Obscured life sets down a type of bliss:
A mind content both crown and kingdom is.

Keeping It Real: Mea Culpa

In his commentary on Exodus 20:4-6, John Mackay helps us place the responsibility for religious decline where it should be: ourselves.

How absolutely humbling.

Religious decline John Mackay

Exodus 20:4-6

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Keeping It Real: Biblical Meditation

I’m so thankful for biblical teachers like J.I Packer, a teacher who doesn’t encourage us to “move our attention inward…to rest in our true natures” (in the way of yoga’s self-realization) — but who, instead, helps us learn how to look away from ourselves, to speak to our flawed souls in honest, truth-filled ways. This truth does not lie in our hearts—because those hearts are “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jesus told us where to look for truth when he prayed his High Priestly Prayer in John 17:17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” May Christ’s prayer be answered as we open our Bibles and pray for the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom — and, as a result, may you and I “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

J.I. Packer knowing god.jpg