It’s often been said that to succeed in this world, we need to have the heart of a child and the skin of a rhinoceros. In other words, we need to be tough and tender at the same time—tough enough on the outside to take the hits of this life when they come, and tender enough on the inside to be kind and compassionate toward other people who are likewise taking hits.
Unfortunately, in this broken world of ours, we sometimes get these two things backwards. We wind up developing the skin of a child and the heart of a rhinoceros. That is, we get touchy and sensitive on the outside, and we get jaded and cynical on the inside. But when our hearts grow cold, we block the work that God wants to do in our lives.
Jesus spoke on more than one occasion of a condition he called sclero cardia—“hardness of the heart”—a condition for which spiritual surgery is required. This passage is about that surgery. John the Baptist prepares the way for Messiah by getting people’s hearts ready to welcome and receive Jesus. His call is for believers to open their hearts, humble their hearts, and surrender their hearts to God. These heart movements involve the spiritual practices of confession and repentance, along with the humility that comes with public baptism.
While these disciplines can be challenging at times, they ultimately lead to liberation. Before we sin, Satan lies to us, trying to convince us that there will be no consequences if we give into the temptation. After we sin, Satan lies to us again, trying us to convince us that our sin is unforgiveable. The practice of confession and repentance enables us to neutralize his lies, for “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
In the end, God wants your heart to be like a hay-filled manger—soft and ready for Jesus. Otherwise, you will miss all that God wants to do in your life.
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