“The heart wants what the heart wants.”
In 1992 Woody Allen left Mia Farrow because he’d fallen in love with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. Allen was 57 and Soon-Yi, 20.
When he was asked later about the age difference, Woody Allen replied, “”There’s no logic to those things. You meet someone and you fall in love, and that’s that. THE HEART WANTS WHAT THE HEART WANTS. ”
In other words, “It might not make sense. It might be WRONG. But I’ve got a responsibility to myself to satisfy WHATEVER MY HEART DESIRES.”
It’s such a weak, wrong-headed excuse.
But Woody Allen’s right about ONE thing. The human heart is hungry and powerful, and often misguided and dangerous.
Down through history, right back to ISRAEL, the HUMAN HEART has been how we describe THE CENTRE OF OUR PERSONALITY. The heart is that part of us that drives our decisions and our desires. It’s the essence of who we are.
So when we want to GET TO THE HEART of the matter. That means we want to get TO THE VERY CENTRE. The core of what something involves.
When two people have a conversation that talks about deep and personal things, they have “a HEART TO HEART”. And when you miss out on something you really want, you say you’re HEART-BROKEN.
We speak of romance as being a MATTER OF THE HEART. And so there’s HUNDREDS OF SONGS that mention “the heart”. Nearly always to do with relationships and love. It’s not surprising since LOVE is one of the strongest emotions we have. We feel it in the CORE OF WHO WE ARE. It influences every part of our life.
Turned away hearts (29:18)
On the ONE hand, the heart can want GOOD things. But frequently the Bible speaks about the heart in A DIFFERENT WAY. In Gen 6:5, God looks at the world of Noah’s time, and he
saw how great man’s WICKEDNESS on the earth had become, and that EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART was ONLY evil ALL the time.
Jeremiah 17:9 says “the human heart is DECEITFUL above all things and BEYOND CURE. Who can understand it?”
Or here’s a cheery one. Eccl 9:3
The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live.
And in Mk 7:21, Jesus says the same thing, “For from within, OUT OF MEN’S HEARTS, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery (and so on).”
The Bible’s position is that OUR HEARTS ARE INCLINED TO EVIL. Our basic identity, our natural inclination, is to do what pleases OURSELVES.
And that puts a different spin on that quote from Woody Allen, doesn’t it? “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
If that’s the case – that the heart really IS deceitful and wicked – IS IT ANY SURPRISE he chose selfishness and satisfaction/ rather than loyalty and honour?
And it’s that same HEART PROBLEM that’s going to confront the nation of Israel.
Here they are on the door step to the promised land. Everything’s CHANGED. In the space of one generation, they’ve gone from slaves in Egypt, with no future. To being a powerful nation, conquering everything in its path.
They’ve gone from a disobedient, frightened rabble to a chastened, hopeful new generation, with forty long years of discipline in the desert behind them.
Everything’s CHANGED. But have THEY changed?
Right from the start of his sermon in Deuteronomy, Moses was concerned about THE STATE OF THEIR HEARTS. Because he knows what the human heart is LIKE. Deut 4:9, he commanded them,
“Only be careful, and WATCH YOURSELVES CLOSELY so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen OR LET THEM SLIP FROM YOUR HEART as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Or Deut 6:4-6
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God WITH ALL YOUR HEART and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today ARE TO BE UPON YOUR HEARTS.
He told them what God’s DESIRE was for their hearts. Deut 5:29. God said,
Oh, that their HEARTS would be INCLINED TO FEAR me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!
And all the way through the sermon, as Moses gave them COMMAND AFTER COMMAND. He hammered home the truth that it had to be MORE THAN JUST APPEARANCES – a mere keeping the LETTER of the law. There had to be a HEART DESIRE. A CORE MOTIVATION – A NATURAL ORIENTATION towards pleasing God.
Like Deut 10:12 – sums up his core message.
12 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL,
What’s going to REALLY make the commands stick/ is if Israel can, somehow, ALIGN THEIR BASIC ORIENTATION so it’s in the direction of obeying God. Serve him with their WHOLE HEART. In a way that LASTS.
Like a permanent magnet.
When you bring a magnet near a piece of iron, it will be attracted. Magnetic dipoles in the iron LINE UP in the same direction as the magnetic field.
But as soon as you take the magnet away, the dipoles go back to pointing in random directions. The alignment doesn’t LAST.
But if you STROKE the magnet along the piece of iron, the magnetic dipoles line up again. And this time, they STAY in that direction. And you’ve changed the ordinary piece of iron into a permanent magnet.
That’s what ISRAEL needs. A change of heart. To be STROKED by God so that their hearts will be PERMANENTLY aligned in the direction of God’s commands.
And as we come to Ch 29, we see Moses giving it ONE LAST EFFORT. Instruction time’s OVER. Now’s it’s DECISION time. It’s all about the COVENANT. The CONTRACT between God and his people. See it there in v1?
29:1 These are THE TERMS OF THE COVENANT the LORD commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab
And unlike SOME contracts, there’s no tricky language to trap you or make things difficult. God’s made it perfectly plain. Jump down to v29.
29 The SECRET things belong to the LORD our God,
SOME things God keeps to himself. But this covenant isn’t ONE of them.
but THE THINGS REVEALED belong to us and to our children forever, THAT WE MAY FOLLOW ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LAW.
Moses makes it even PLAINER down into Ch 30 v11.
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
It’s easily within reach. It’s understandable, and it’s simple. Why? SO YOU MAY OBEY IT.
And to give them the INCENTIVE to follow God with all their HEARTS, to keep THEIR side of the contract, Moses begins by describing ALL THAT GOD’S DONE. Back up in V2 of Ch 29
Your eyes have seen all that the LORD did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land.
MIRACULOUS signs and wonders. But also MORE NORMAL provision. V5
5 During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.
He didn’t miraculously produce NEW sandals. But he kept the old ones going. Perhaps you wouldn’t even NOTICE it, until you THOUGHT about it.
But it didn’t stop in the desert. V7-8 – He’s brought them victory against the nations standing between them and the promised land.
That’s what GOD’S done. V9 – now, here’s YOUR side of the contract.
9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do.
EVERY PERSON listening. V12.
12 You are standing here in order to ENTER INTO A COVENANT with the LORD your God, a covenant the LORD is making with you this day and SEALING with an oath, 13 to CONFIRM YOU THIS DAY AS HIS PEOPLE, THAT HE MAY BE YOUR GOD
Entered, sealed, confirmed.
Signed, sealed and delivered.
And if you jump down to v18, see what the terms of the covenant are. The NOT SO FINE print. And here’s where THE HEART comes in.
18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose HEART TURNS AWAY FROM THE LORD OUR GOD to go and worship the gods of those nations;.
It BEGINS with the HEART. The heart wants what the heart wants. And it chooses OTHER gods. A TURNED AWAY heart. Chooses disloyalty, stubbornness, ungratefulness, disobedience.
And notice what Moses says the heart is like.
make sure there is NO ROOT AMONG YOU THAT PRODUCES SUCH BITTER POISON
The heart is A ROOT that grows to produce bitter poison. The heart is never satisfied. It’s constantly hungry, always looking for the NEXT thing. Something bigger, something better, something more exciting or rewarding or satisfying.
And it’s a root that will grow to PRODUCE BITTER FRUIT. At the very least – PERSONALLY – the fruit of dissatisfaction and discontentment. Of grumbling and second-guessing and knowing better. And that shows itself in IDOLATRY. Serving OTHER gods.
But that’s not all. A heart that chases after idols produces the bitter fruit of DISASTER AND CURSES FROM GOD. V20
20 The LORD will never be willing to forgive him; his wrath and zeal will burn against that man. All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.
Famine, disaster, the whole land a burning waste of salt and sulphur. Curses that reach a pinnacle in REMOVAL from the land. V28, Moses predicts what will happen in the future.
28 In furious anger and in great wrath the LORD uprooted them from their land and THRUST THEM INTO ANOTHER LAND,
And it all grows from the ROOT of the HUMAN HEART. The heart that’s not wholly committed to following God.
Turned back hearts (30:1)
It’s a depressing prediction. And oh, so accurate. But even THEN, there’s good news. And it’s about THEIR HEARTS. And what God will DO. Into Ch 30.
30:1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and YOU TAKE THEM TO HEART wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and OBEY HIM WITH ALL YOUR HEART and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.
Verse 1 literally says when you TURN BACK THE HEART. When you change your orientation. When the curses finally do their work. When the discipline softens and breaks your hard hearts.
And then, following the change of HEART, there’s a change of ORIENTATION. “When you turn back to the Lord”. You look to HIS instruction and direction. And not only TURN to him, but OBEY him. Obey him with “all YOUR HEART and soul.”
When you do THAT, Moses promises, then God will FORGIVE you. And he’ll RESTORE you to the land. That word for RESTORE in v3 is the same one as TURN BACK in v1. If Israel turn back THEIR HEARTS, then GOD will turn THEM back from captivity.
And it won’t matter HOW far you’ve fallen. Or how far you’ve travelled. V4.
4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will GATHER you and BRING YOU BACK.
The human heart might be pretty good at SINNING. At running AWAY from God. But God’s even better at FORGIVING. At BRINGING BACK. Paul puts it like this in Romans 5:20 “Where sin abounded, grace increased all the more”. Or grace HYPER-ABOUNDED.
It’s great news for US. No heart is too depraved. No sinner is too far gone to be beyond forgiveness. If God was willing to gather ISRAEL no matter how far they’d wandered. HOW MUCH MORE confident can we be, THIS side of the cross, that he’ll forgive sinners.
And as we follow Israel’s story through history, we see how that restoration works out. They DO turn back to him in exile. And God DOES hear them. And he DOES bring them back to the land. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Circumcised hearts (30:6)
But that’s not all, there’s even something MORE special. God’s not just going to RESTORE them. He’s going to IMPROVE them. He’s going to do something about the ROOT of the problem. The HEART of the problem. He promises some HEART SURGERY. Look there in v6.
6 The LORD your God will CIRCUMCISE YOUR HEARTS and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may LOVE HIM WITH ALL YOUR HEART and with all your soul, and live.
God’s promising to do a supernatural work on their hearts. He’s going to CUT AWAY every psychological and moral and spiritual barrier that stops them being fully devoted to him.
Humans CAN’T love God on our own. Because the heart wants what the heart wants. It takes A WORK OF GOD to do it.
And when he DOES that, his goal for the law will be ACHIEVED. His people WILL love him with all their heart and soul. ALL of them. And they’ll REALLY LIVE. Live out the complete blessings God’s planned for his people.
What a promise!
New hearts (Ezek 36:24-27)
Hundreds of years later, with the people NOW LIVING in exile. Living out God’s curses on their hard hearts. God promises AGAIN. Through the prophet Ezekiel. And he looks forward to the same heart surgery he’d promised through Moses. Ezekiel 36 v24.
He begins by promising the same things Moses had promised. Return from exile, and forgiveness. V24
24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
God’s people, in God’s land, under God’s rule. And then he gets to the heart surgery. But it’s no longer just heart SURGERY – it’s a heart REPLACEMENT. V26.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
That’s the way God will CIRCUMCISE hearts. He’ll put his own Spirit in people. And not just in a select few – in priests and kings and prophets. But ALL his people.
God’s Spirit makes their hearts NEW. Makes them soft and fleshy and obedient, rather than hard and proud. And it will be his Spirit that MOVES people to follow his decrees. That MOTIVATES, and EMPOWERS them.
And that’s the TRUE identifying characteristic of God’s people. It’s not bloodlines, or what your passport says, or where you live.
And it’s not simply the sign of PHYSICAL circumcision. God’s TRUE people need heart circumcision by his Spirit. That’s what Romans 2:28-29 says. It’s written to Jews who thought the EXTERNAL signs were all that mattered. V28 of Rom 2.
28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART, by THE SPIRIT, not by the written code
But even though God PROMISED the spiritual heart surgery, promised a time when he’d pour out his Spirit into dirty, broken turned away hearts. It didn’t happen in Moses’ time. It didn’t happen in Ezekiel’s time. And it didn’t happen with THE RETURN FROM EXILE.
But it DID come with Jesus. When he turned up by the Jordan River to be baptised, John the Baptist said, “I baptise you with water, but HE will baptise you WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.” FILL you with the Spirit, wash YOUR HEART clean! (Mk 1:8)
And before Jesus left to return to his Father, he promised to send his disciples ANOTHER helper. His Holy Spirit. John 14.23
“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and WE WILL COME TO HIM AND MAKE OUR HOME WITH HIM.
And then he talks about what that will MEAN. V26.
26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will TEACH you all things and will REMIND you of everything I have said to you. 27 PEACE I leave with you; my peace I give you.
Guidance, truth, peace and strength. All from God’s Spirit when he gives us a new HEART. Just like Ezekiel prophesied.
And that’s an experience many of YOU have known. I’ve seen the huge GRINS as people here have told me about how they became Christians. How God poured his Spirit into their hearts. Washed away fear and guilt and doubt. And how he replaced turned away hearts with turned BACK hearts.
I’ve seen the peace and the assurance and the hope and the strength and the courage he’s given you.
That’s not YOU, though. That’s GOD’S work in you. And it’s WONDERFUL!
It was the sort of thing Paul loved to see in the Corinthian church. 2 Corinthians 3:3. Some people were questioning Paul’s authority to teach. He didn’t have the references some of the OTHER visiting teachers had. But Paul says he doesn’t need them, because his references are the CORINTHIANS THEMSELVES.
3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but WITH THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD, NOT ON TABLETS OF STONE BUT ON TABLETS OF HUMAN HEARTS.
God’s written the truth of the gospel. The truth of our forgiveness. The truth of his peace and power and love and guidance ON OUR HEARTS.
If you DON’T know that. Then turn BACK your heart to God. He promises to RESTORE you. And to give you a NEW heart. And to give you his Spirit. And MOVE you to obey him and live for him.
And then you’ll be able to love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and truly LIVE.
Let me finish with Moses final plea to the people. Choose LIFE! 30:19
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life