I want to talk about this tendency, we sometimes have to think if we just explained it well enough, if we just gave enough evidence for Christianity and the Gospel and the resurrection, Well, someone would just have to believe, wouldn’t they? I have this struggle in my personal life as my wife can attest. I have this tendency to think, well, if I just explain it right, of course people will agree with me and so I can get stuck in this loop in conversations where I end up saying the same thing in different ways enough times and finally I have to realize that they just don’t agree. There’s no way I can explain this such that the person is actually going to come to my side. And yet I maybe naively or perhaps pridefully get stuck in this loop where I do think if I just used the right words, the right examples, the right evidence, of course someone will see the situation the same way as I do.
Now, I don’t necessarily respond to other people that way, but I fall into that trap for myself. And I think that is sometimes the tendency of the Christian community, especially a part of the Christian apologetics community, that we’re very concerned with giving an answer and giving evidence and we seem to think, well, people are neutral. They’re blank slates that if we just gave them the right evidence they would believe. But I want to read an example from the gospel of Luke today, the 24th chapter to show how this isn’t necessarily true. In fact, often I would say most of the time this is false.
I remember doing a video last year from my church, a small group ministry. I’ve often done the kind of instructional videos, the teaching time at the beginning that gets shown in the group, and then there’s discussion after that. And we were going through the gospel of Mark (it’s probably gonna take us about three years to get through the gospel of Mark. And as I’ve quipped, we’re going through the gospel of Mark in real time through Jesus’s three year ministry.)
But this video was about the doubt of the disciples and in fact the hardness of their heart that Mark continually illustrates. And I made the comment that, well, the disciples weren’t Christians. They didn’t have a saving faith at that point. They didn’t have regenerated hearts. And I got some text messages and feedback about that where people were like, “Really? They weren’t?” And yet what do we see when we read the Gospels? They are constantly doubting. They don’t even understand what Jesus says when he says he has to die and rise again. They think it’s foolishness. They believe he’s coming to free them from Rome, not free them from their slavery to their sin. So no, they continually don’t get it throughout the gospels.
And even here in Luke 24, this is such an interesting story. I’m going to read it, starting in verse six. The women come to the tomb and they’re told that Jesus isn’t there, but he’s been raised and the angel says,
Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered over into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. And then the women remembered his words and when they returned from the tomb, they told all of these things to the 11 disciples and to the rest of them. And that was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women with them who told these things to the apostles.
So they’re telling these things to the apostles, the disciples, the ones that Jesus had called out to follow him, that he had poured into, they had seen him do miracles time and time again.
They’re telling them what the angel has said, what they’ve experienced, and this is what Luke says next in verse 11,
but these words seemed like pure nonsense to the disciples. They did not believe them, but Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He bent down and saw only strips of linen cloth. Then he went home wondering what had happened.
Now on the face of it, this sounds kind of incredible, doesn’t it? These women go to the tomb, they’re told by the angel what’s happened. They go home and tell the disciples basically the same verbiage Jesus had been saying for years in his ministry that the son of man would be handed over, that he would be crucified and that three days later he would rise again. They repeat that this is what has happened, and the disciples are like, “what? That’s nonsense.”
The people who were in the best position to believe, who had been the closest to Jesus, think a report of the resurrection is nonsense. Have we ever stopped to consider that and think, well, if it was nonsense to them, the people in the best position to know at that point and believe it, do we really think people are blank slates? Do we really think people only need more evidence that the issue is just simply a lack of testimony and evidence or that they’re not close enough to the details? If the disciples thought it was nonsense, when they heard a report of the resurrection, why do we think our neighbor isn’t going to think it’s nonsense also if all people need is more evidence (and I keep pushing on that point and I’ll explain why in a minute.) And so the woman explained to the disciples in the same sort of verbiage exactly what Jesus had been saying for years and they don’t get it and Peter goes and he looks at the tomb and he comes home and he’s perplexed, “Huh, I wonder what happened?” Well, he’d been told what happened, but it still didn’t click. He still didn’t believe it.
And this chapter continues where Jesus meets with the disciples later on and explains to them from the scripture how everything written about him in the law and the prophets and the psalms needed to be fulfilled. And then in verse 44, he explains this again, and this is what he says,
These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.
And then Luke says in verse 45,
then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.
I would say “open their minds” / “opened their hearts.” These are parallel concepts here because the issue that the disciples had is not that they were stupid, they weren’t really ignorant, they didn’t have an intelligence problem.
It’s not that they couldn’t comprehend the propositional content of what had been conveyed to them for three years. Every previous time Jesus said, “Hey, I’ve got to go to Jerusalem. I’m gonna be handed over. I’m gonna die. I’m gonna rise again.” Those words conveyed content to the disciples. They just could not understand what that possibly meant. It sounded like gibberish to them. “Really the Messiah is going to die? Surely we didn’t understand what he meant” so they didn’t understand why. Because of their hearts, Mark continually points out they had hard hearts. Jesus here, and I think this is very telling, he explains it to them once more and _then he opens their minds so they can actually understand. _They understood the words, they understood the concepts that had been conveyed, but they had a moral hardness of heart to believing what was being said, to believing God, to believe in Christ and to trusting him.
What do we see with Peter? He denies Jesus three times after Jesus is captured and arrested; he didn’t trust what Jesus had said numerous times in the gospel ministry like I’ve pointed out, Mark points out and other Gospel writers point out their hardness of heart and their lack of belief, and it has to do with the fact that their heart had not been softened to the things of God.
God needed to do a work in their hearts so they could trust him. So he could overcome their sinfulness, their selfishness, their moral depravity in order to believe him in order to put their trust in him. Here’s my key point: no amount of informational content would have changed their hearts. No amount of the conveyance of information and evidence would have changed their minds apart from the work of the Spirit, because man is not neutral.
Man is a slave to sin. He has a heart that is “desperately sick” as Ezekiel says “who can understand it?” Well, God can understand it, and God can change it.
So what does this have to do with apologetics? Because it seems like on the face of it, maybe I’m saying, well, we shouldn’t provide evidence. We shouldn’t keep reasoning with people. No, far from it. We should, but there’s more to the story. We will encounter people who do not believe the gospel, who thinks Christianity is foolishness as as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 – that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It’s the power of God to those who are being saved – two groups of people; same message. There’s no middle group. People either think it’s foolishness because they’re dead in their sins or it’s the power of God for them because they’re being saved.
So what changes how someone views that message? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, God himself, changes how people hear and receive and think about and comprehend in their hearts the Gospel. God has ordained that the sharing of the Gospel, that the reasoning with people, that the provision of evidence all be means that he uses to bring people to himself. As Paul says in Romans 10, faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the word of God. But people must go. They must share that; the people must actually hear the message and the Spirit must then also work on their hearts so that they can actually want to believe the message. Because sinful man does not want to submit his life to God. He’s not neutral. He doesn’t just need more evidence. He doesn’t need more information like Islam might say, no, he actually needs a heart change.
So it’s a “both/and” sort of thing. And the main point in making this episode today is that we understand that yes, we must be equipped to give an answer for the hope we possess. We must be able to reason with people from the Scriptures and point them back to Christ and how Christianity is the best explanation for reality. It really makes sense of so much more about our experiences and our intuitions than any other system and religious idea out there, but we can’t think that we’re actually the ones carrying the ball across the finish line. It is the work of God that is necessary in order to change the soil so that the seed may actually take root and grow and flourish. And so that should lead us to dependence on the Lord in our evangelism, to dependence on Christ in our apologetics and how we share the gospel. We should realize that yes, we do all of this and if God doesn’t do his part, then the nothing amounts to anything, that God is 100% responsible for his part, but we’re also a 100% responsible for ours.
We have different roles in the process. If we don’t do our part – the means God has ordained for how the Gospel spreads – well the Gospel is not going to spread in that way because we won’t have done it, but God is also responsible to do his part, to change the hearts of sinners, to draw them to himself effectually, as John tells us in John chapter six. So there are multiple parts here.
I think often we get discouraged when we get confused about who is doing which part. So when we share the gospel with someone continually and they don’t come to Christ, often people think, “well, I did it wrong. I should have had a better answer. Or maybe I just needed to present it a different way” And they kind of behave like “if I just explained something better, someone will agree with me.”
No, we forget that God is responsible for changing someone’s heart and he doesn’t do that in the same way for every person. And so we rely on him, we pray, we trust that he is working for his good purposes and we don’t fall into the trap which leads to discouragement of thinking. Like it was our job to change their hearts. That if we had simply presented more evidence that the situation would have been different. No, the issue is the hardness of their hearts. Jesus said here “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures;” the disciples had hard hearts. The issue is not information, the issue was their hearts. We can’t change hearts, but God can. And so that should lead us to pray for those people with whom we speak. Yes, we contend for the truthfulness of the Gospel; we are a part of that means that God is using, but we must trust God to change someone’s heart.
And if we do that, we can sleep soundly at night. Yes we should care about people, but we can realize that when we have explained the Gospel, when we have presented evidence and arguments, we have done our part. It is up for God to change that soil in that heart. That’s not our job. We don’t carry that burden on our shoulders and is far too much for us to bear and it will crush us if we believe that the salvation of other people depends on us being compelling enough or on us saying just the right words or “if we just given this other argument.” No salvation is from the Lord. So should we still care? Yes. I feel like I’m flip flopping back and forth here, but I want to show that it’s a both/and sort of thing. We work, we do, and it is the Lord who brings the harvest.
We till the soil, we garden, we water, we do all of that, but it is God who brings the harvest. We are the workers that go out, but the Lord prepares the harvest. That weight is not on our shoulders and so that should give us comfort that we testify with what we have, where we are, whenever we are, and we trust God to do with that what he wishes as a part of his plan.
Now, that doesn’t mean we’re complacent. It does mean we’re making best use of who we are and what we have, wherever and whenever we are, but we should continually still try to improve and become more equipped to give a better answer, but still realizing that no matter how well equipped we are, it does not ultimately depend on us. We should care, we should go, we should send, but it’s the Lord who brings the harvest.
So I hope this has been helpful. This just kind of stuck out to me in a new way, reading through Luke as a part of my daily Bible reading. Where they just thought it was foolishness. They couldn’t even understand what the women told them, what they’d seen at the tomb, what they experienced, what the angel said, and even though it lined up perfectly with what Jesus had been saying. Their hearts were not ready to receive that message. And we must remember that because it can give us a sense of peace in our evangelism, but it also drives us more importantly to depend on the Lord in our evangelists efforts.
Well I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic, if this hurricane that’s heading to Florida leaves us here.