10/3/21 – Pentecost 19 – “The Heart of the Matter” – Mark 10:2-12

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel Reading, Mark 10:2-12.

1. Let’s be honest, this is an extremely uncomfortable text for most people. I say this because in it Jesus specifically addresses the topic of marriage and divorce, and really he is addressing the sixth commandment in general. The reality is nearly every one of us knows all too well what it looks like and what it feels like to sin against the sixth commandment. Whether it’s thoughts in our minds, images found online, or physical acts with another person, we know all too well what it’s like to sin in this way. We know all too well the shame that follows and the isolation our shame drives us to. And we know God’s will too. We know that from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female” (Mark 10:6). We know that God designed marriage to be a life-long union between one man and one woman. We know that physical intimacy belongs in the context of marriage alone—not with a girlfriend or boyfriend, not with a stranger, and certainly not on a computer, tablet, or phone screen. We know that these things are contrary to God’s will. We know the damage that they do to us and to our relationship with others, and yet, we have done these things and maybe continue to do these things. We reject and ignore God’s will for our lives in the area of marriage and physical intimacy. We should know better, we do know better, and yet we still do these things. Why? Well, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter and tells us why in verse 5 of our text. It is because of your hardness of heart that you still do these things and thus reject God’s will for your life in the realm of the sixth commandment.

2. This imagery of a heart being hard is quite a vivid picture. It evokes, at least for me, the idea of working with Play Doh. If you’re not familiar with Play Doh, it essentially is reusable modeling clay for kids. It comes in all sorts of fun colors and is a great way for kids (or adults!) to use their hands and imaginations to create something. The trouble with Play Doh is, if you don’t treat it well according to the way it was designed to be used, it will start to dry out and become hard and useless. Now, when you get new Play Doh, you’re usually super careful with it at first. You keep the colors separated, you don’t let it sit out where it will dry out for too long, and you try to be diligent about caring for it. But over time you slip up here and there and the Play Doh dries out more and more. You don’t notice it too much at first, but as the slip ups compound and it gets dryer and dryer, the way back gets more difficult. Think of your heart a bit like Play Doh. When you slip up and sin, it causes your heart to harden just a little bit. The more you sin, the more sin compounds, and the harder and harder your heart becomes. You might not notice it at first, but with each successive sin, the way back gets more difficult, humanly speaking. This is certainly true of sin in general, but it’s especially true of sixth commandment sins. You take one look at that website, you have that one night with the person, and you don’t really notice the negative effects too much. But with each successive time, the effects are worse, the shame increases, and your heart becomes harder and harder. It’s a vicious trap and cycle. And as we live too long in a world where these things become normalized, as our hearts grow harder and harder, the things that we promised ourselves we would never participate in, things like marital unfaithfulness or divorce outside of the biblical exceptions become normalized too. Satan has us on the path that he wants us on—heading down the road of punishment that follows continued hardening of the heart. He has us heading down that road like Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, or even the Israelites after the Exodus. It’s a dangerous road that we’re on, one that’s increasingly difficult to free ourselves from.

3. But my friends, all hope is not lost. There is still hope of rescue because Jesus invites us into a better way of life. We’re invited into a life which is focused on Jesus and the new life that he gives to us rather than our own failures and sins. . . Did you know that Play Doh can be softened and restored to the way it’s supposed to be? You just need a little bit of time and attention to do it. You break up the hard Play Doh into little chunks, put it in a ziplock bag with a tiny bit of water, squeeze it together, and let it sit overnight. When you come back the next day, the Play Doh is as good as new. That’s not the way we think, though, as modern Americans. We don’t think about fixing things, we simply throw out what’s broken and replace it with something new. . . I wonder if this attitude has shaped how we think about the Lord. Why would he bother to fix my brokenness when he could discard me like an old, hard lump of Play Doh? Wouldn’t it be easier for him to just replace me with someone less broken and sinful? But that’s not how God thinks. He doesn’t care what’s easiest and most convenient. He cares about you. He loves you. And he is willing to do whatever it takes to soften your heart and to restore you to the way he has made you to be. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a quick, painless process. The Lord begins the process of softening your heart by breaking that hard heart of yours apart through the law. He needs to deconstruct the vicious trap and cycle that you’re caught in. And he needs to re-shape your heart and mind into his better way of living. Just like the hard Play Doh needs to sit in the water for some time to be transformed by it, so too does your hard heart need the Gospel to be added to it. Your heart needs to sit with the Gospel and to soak it in to be truly transformed into a soft heart once again. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve gone to that site or seen that person. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone—unfaithfulness, divorce, or anything else imaginable. Jesus loves you and he forgives you. Jesus gives you new life and softens your hard heart through the Gospel message that he died so that you might be forgiven and he rose to new life so that you might be given new life.

4. So, what now? Jesus invites us into a better way of life, but the question is, how do we live that life? How do we set ourselves up for success and faithfulness to God’s will for our lives in the realm of marriage and intimacy? The answer to that question to going to partially depend on your specific situation. I’ll say more on that in a moment. But first, no matter who you are or what your situation is, you are not alone in this. God’s Spirit will be with you to help you and to drive you back to the Gospel when you do sin. But you’re also not alone in that God has placed you into a community of believers. We are stronger when we are together. Satan thrives when you are in isolation. When you are alone, he drives you to shame, despair, and further sin. But when you’re with someone else, Satan’s power diminishes and God’s Spirit is at work. So, what should you do? If you’re currently struggling with a particular sin, the first thing to do is pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you strength to resist temptation and to be faithful to how the Lord has called you to live. Next, talk to someone about it. It could be a spouse if you have one, a family member, a friend, your deaconess, your pastor. Talk to someone who can give you good Christian counsel and support. And finally, setup some healthy boundaries. There are a number of technology solutions that can be helpful for a variety of situations. The bottom line is, be smart in how you pursue God’s will in the area of marriage and intimacy, surround yourself with Christian support, and pray continually for the Holy Spirit to be at work in your heart and life. May the Lord grant us grace to do just this.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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