The Danger of a Divided Heart - Matthew 12:38–50

Do you ever find yourself with so many things to do, that you don’t know where to start? Maybe you try to multitask – to work on more than one thing at a time. It sounds good, but it’s commonly believed now that multitasking is unproductive, or at the least, it’s not as productive as focusing on one thing at a time. Why is that? Because when you’re trying to focus on more than one thing, you can’t give your best to any of those things. What you end up doing is something called switch-tasking: going from one thing to another, and back again. But when you do that, it turns out that you aren’t doing any of those things wholeheartedly. Studies suggest that a better approach is to take one thing at a time and give it your undivided attention. How often to do find yourself approaching things halfheartedly? Torn between work and play, between dreams and reality, between family time and personal time? Between your spouse and your children?

The Danger of a Divided Heart - Matthew 12:38-50

All of us are prone to halfheartedness – to a divided heart – and nowhere is it more evident than in our response to God. This is why repeatedly in the Scriptures we hear the command to love God with all our heart, and the constant struggle for people throughout Scripture is to do just that. That’s our struggle as well – to give our whole hearts to God. Halfheartedness toward God is sin because we are putting other things on God’s level, thus making those things into little gods. But Jesus was not divided in his heart as we are. He lived his entire earthly life with wholehearted devotion to God and had an undivided heart as he fulfilled the mission of God for the salvation of his people. So, we should be undivided in our hearts toward Jesus. In fact, it is dangerous not to do so. How is it “dangerous?” What are the dangers of a halfhearted response to Jesus? Three things here at the end of Matthew 12. Halfheartedness – a divided heart – is indifferent to the truth, vulnerable to the enemy, and opposed to the Savior. In these first verses that we read here, the religious leaders are responding to what Jesus has just said to them.

Among other things, Jesus called them “evil” for accusing him to being from Satan, and regarding their words, he says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Jesus is exposing the sin in their hearts, and some respond by asking Jesus for a sign. After all they’d seen – after all Jesus had already done – “we wish to see a sign from you.” They seem to imply that they are on the fence about Jesus, not rejecting him but saying, “Show us a sign that you are from God, and then we will believe.” They sound divided between faith and unbelief. They could go either a way. “Show us a sign, and then we can make up our minds about you, Jesus.” Should Jesus meet the request, close the deal, and secure some more followers? They’re on the fence, should he perform a sign and win them over? He doesn’t. He says “an evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.”

Their hearts are filled with unfaithfulness to God, and Jesus discerns that. They have other gods whom they love and serve. They sound religious. They sound interested. But Jesus is clear that they’ve heard and seen enough. However, he says there will be a sign – the sign of Jonah. Jonah was an OT prophet called by God to go to the evil nation of Nineveh and preach to them that they should repent of their sin and turn to the one true God. Jonah did not want to go, and so he tried to run from God. He caught a ride on a ship, but while out on the sea, in the midst of a great storm brought on because of Jonah’s disobedience, he was thrust into the water and swallowed by a massive fish. Amazingly, Jonah survived the ordeal and went on to Nineveh, where he preached and those people turned from sin and to the God of Israel. What does this have to do with Jesus? Notice verse 40, Jesus says, [40] For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

“Three days and three nights” was a Jewish expression basically meaning “three days.” It was formulaic, but they got the picture. Jesus would soon experience something that would parallel the experience of Jonah. But instead of the belly of a fish, Jesus will go into the belly of the earth. He is talking about his death and resurrection. But unlike Jonah, who had a brush with death, Jesus would actually die and return from death.

These religious leaders knew about Jonah. They knew that after his survival and how the people of Nineveh responded to the truth of God’s Word with faith. But Nineveh had seen no sign. They simply responded to the truth. Jesus points out that the faith of Nineveh will, on the day of final judgment, shame the faithlessness of Israel. Nineveh heard truth from Jonah and repented. Israel heard truth from Jesus and saw miracles – but no repentance. How could this be? Their hearts were divided. A divided heart is indifferent - unresponsive - to the truth.

Do you ever feel cold in your faith and love toward God, so you read the Bible and pray, but still, you feel distant from God and apathetic toward him? You don’t feel anger or dislike toward God, but you don’t feel love either? Why is that? Well, you have a divided heart. You love something else with a love rivaling your love for God. So, when you hear the truth, you don’t hate it, but you don’t love it either. You’re indifferent. You might think that if you saw a miracle or a sign from God, that would jumpstart your faith in God and your love for him. But it wouldn’t help. No miracle or sign is going to change what you love. Jesus tells us that here.

Jesus then gives another example, verse 42 - the famous queen of Sheba, queen of the south. She was a queen from an area south of Israel, probably in the Arabian peninsula, and 1 Kings 10 in the OT says she came to pick the brain of the wise King Solomon. The Scripture says that his wisdom took her breath away, and she gave glory to Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel. For the queen of Sheba, hearing the truth was enough. These religious leaders facing Jesus behold something greater than the wisdom of Solomon, something greater than the preaching of Jonah. They behold the preaching and supernatural works of the eternal Son of God and they are unmoved by what they hear and observe because their hearts are not right.

How is your heart? Specifically, how is your heart toward the things you’ve heard this morning? In the songs, the prayers, the Scripture – do these things move the needle in your heart? If not, your heart is, at best, divided between love for God and love for something else. At worst, your heart loves only something other than God. My dear friend Kevin Smith, who operates our local Christian station Radio Free Florence, brought to my attention again this week a wonderful quote from Tim Keller’s book titled Preaching. Keller writes, “Whatever captures the heart’s trust and love also controls the feelings and behavior…What makes people into what they are is the order of their loves…Your loves show what you actually believe in, not what you say you do.” Where is your love directed? When it is directed at things other than God, when your heart is divided toward God, you will be inwardly indifferent to the truth.

Also, a divided heart will make you vulnerable to the schemes of the enemy, of Satan. Jesus offers a parable. He pictures an exorcism like the one he just performed, as verse 22 describes, where a demon leaves a person and goes wherever demons like to go. But in this case, the demon doesn’t find a new home, and so it returns to the person it left. And when the demon arrives, the house, i.e., the person, is empty, swept and put in order. But see, no one else inhabits the person. “Empty” equals “without Jesus.” God is not present. And so, verse 45, “Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

Without a heart fully devoted to God, things like self-denial and outwardly moral living lead only to self-righteousness and legalism. Cleaning up your act, so to speak, leads to pride if Jesus does not fill you – if your heart is not wholly set on the person and work of Jesus. What is self-righteousness at its core? Evil. From where does sinful pride come? The pit of hell. A divided heart is vulnerable to these things. The divided heart sets its love not only on God, but on other things – often things provided by God.

Do you see things in yourself that you know should not be there? Desire for obviously sinful things or an excessive hope in things that are otherwise good, things like your family or your possessions or your health or your reputation. Don’t you see – your love is divided. Your heart is divided. And so, idolatry creeps in and turns things into little gods to serve and love. Idolatry bubbles up because your love is not set on Jesus Christ alone, and you are vulnerable to the enemy.

But in addition, and worst of all, a divided heart is opposed to the Savior. Verse 46 says that as Jesus was speaking, his family came to see him. Now, Jesus is not anti-family. The implication is that at this point, his immediate family did not embrace him wholeheartedly. It’s not that Jesus is too busy for his mother and brothers or too important for them. It’s not that he doesn’t love them. His family was opposed to what Jesus was doing and so opposed to the will of the Father in heaven. Jesus stated something along these lines back in Matthew ch. 10. He said, [37] Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Are the blood bonds of kin the closest ties possible? Not in the kingdom of God. In the end, what unites a person to Jesus as family is not blood or name. It is obedience to God. It is wholehearted love, undivided affection for God. And halfheartedness isn’t one foot in with Jesus and one foot in the world. It’s two feet in opposition to him. He already stated this in verse [30], where he said, “Whoever is not with me is against me.”

Isn’t your halfheartedness toward Jesus rooted in fear and anxiousness? You’re afraid that if you give your whole heart to Jesus, you won’t be completely happy, you won’t be fully satisfied, you won’t have the life you so desperately desire. But be honest with yourself. Are you completely happy, fully satisfied, have the perfect life? In his great 4th century work, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, “Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised…You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

We worship Jesus because he saves us from the wrath of God against halfhearted love. He loved the Father with an undivided love, and he loved us with that same love, so much so that he lived a life in our place. He walked a path for us that we could not walk. And he died the death of a halfhearted sinner, so we could come to God like ones who never had any other gods before Him or ever loved him with anything less than our whole hearts. Have you trusted Jesus in this way? Have you turned from halfheartedness toward God, and trusted in Jesus to save you and make you righteous? If not, let today be the day! If so, turn to him again today. Utter words of confession and repentance, and rejoice in your wholehearted Savior.

Let’s pray together.