We've Got Heart Problems
My husband is a firefighter and EMT. Over the years, he has responded to many cardiac crises. In one case, he and fellow firefighters arrived to find a woman experiencing pain and some difficulty breathing. She was talking to them one minute, and the next she was on the floor—no breath, no pulse. They started CPR right away, and by the time the paramedics were taking her to the hospital, she was talking to them again.
This doesn’t happen often, and it’s what first-responders call a “conversion.” That day my husband and his coworkers converted this woman from death to life, and my husband said it was an incredible experience. The heart is a pretty critical organ—possibly the most critical. And when it is sick, we cannot fix it ourselves, so where does that leave us? How can the condition of a sick heart be changed?
The Problem of Our Hearts
The Bible refers to the heart as the center of a person’s being. It is critically important. It’s the core of who you are—your personality, feelings, hopes, dreams, and motivations. When you have an emotionally painful experience, isn’t it your heart that aches? When you see that person you love, isn’t it your heart that flutters?
As humans, we’ve had heart problems from the very beginning. Within just a few generations of Adam and Eve, God saw “that every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). In turn, this “grieved God to his heart” (Gen. 6:6). The heart—it is the wellspring of life (Prov. 4:23), and it is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9). It is no wonder Jesus addresses the heart so often and in so many ways.
In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus is part-way through what’s known as his “Sermon on the Plain,” which he delivered to a large crowd that included his disciples and likely included the Jewish religious leaders who he’d already had some words with. In these verses, Jesus addresses the fruit of our hearts:
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk. 6:43-45)
Trees Bear Fruit
In verse 43, Jesus presents us with a simple fact: Trees bear fruit. Whether it’s peaches or pinecones, that’s what they do. Just like trees can’t help bearing fruit, our hearts can’t help but bear fruit. Trees bear fruit to procreate, to put themselves out into the world and, in a sense, to leave a legacy. What Jesus also points out here is that fruit can be “good” or “bad,” based on whether it comes from a good tree or a bad tree.
Trees Are Known by Their Fruit
In verse 44, Jesus establishes another simple fact: “each tree is known by its own fruit.” The fruit is how we recognize the tree; it’s how we name the tree. It’s like the tree’s signature.
Apple trees are named for the apples they produce. The state I live in produces a large share of the world’s apples. Sometimes we drive to the apple-growing side of the state to get apples directly from the farms. I’m pretty sure they’re the most delicious apples in the world.
On the other hand, there’s a tree that grows in southern Florida and the Caribbean called the manchineel tree. The name comes from a Spanish word that means “little apple” because the fruit it produces looks like little greenish apples. But the modern Spanish name for it is manzanilla de la muerte, which means “little apple of death.” Not only is the fruit poisonous, but if you stand under one of these trees when it rains, the rain mixed with the tree’s sap will blister your skin. The tree derives its name from its fruit—it’s a sobering thought. I wonder what kind of name I would have if my name were based on the kind of fruit I produce.
The Treasure of the Heart Affects the Fruit
After Jesus gives the crowd this tree and fruit illustration, he makes his point: what you treasure in your heart is what comes out of your mouth. In other words, your heart affects your fruit. This can be for good or for bad, but the fruit of your life cannot help but be affected by what’s in your heart.
These words come at an interesting point in Jesus’s sermon. Jesus started the sermon with a list of beatitudes—a list of things that bring God’s favor and blessing. He also gives a list of woes—things that lead to destruction. He then instructs the crowd to “love those who hate you,” and he exhorts them against hypocrisy saying, “Take the plank out of your own eye before removing the speck from your brother’s.” Jesus has essentially defined “good fruit” and “bad fruit,” and it sounds different than the petty rule-following that was propagated by the scribes and teachers of the law. It’s also, in many ways, a lot harder.
Good fruit is caring more about the Kingdom of God than the riches of earth. It’s about hungering now for things that can be satisfied only by God later. It’s weeping over the brokenness here knowing that one day God will turn sorrow to laughter. Good fruit involves suffering “on account of the Son of Man” (Lk. 6:22), loving your enemies, and taking sober account of your own sin before pointing out another’s. And here’s the problem: none of us are capable of it on our own.
We know from the Bible there’s been a mess in our hearts for a long time. Our hearts, left to their own devices, produce bad fruit;, revealing us to be bad trees.
But the truth is, God had a long-standing plan of heart surgery for his people. In Ezekiel 36:26, God says through Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” We all need conversion from death to life. But Jesus didn’t come simply to restart our hearts like my husband did with the woman whose heart stopped right there in front of him. He came to give us new hearts. Only then can we hope to produce good fruit. Jesus said in verse 45, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good…” Jesus gives us new hearts that treasure him above all else. He changes the condition of our hearts, and this changes the condition of our fruit.
As people who believe in Jesus, we can be confident that he has given us new hearts and put his Spirit within us. But our experience shows us that we don’t treasure Jesus in our hearts all the time. What things keep you from treasuring Jesus with your whole heart? In what areas of your life have you been trying to produce good fruit on your own, without letting Jesus work on your heart? How has Jesus been producing good fruit in your life?
When Jesus gives us new hearts, we are no longer known by the fruit of brokenness, sin, and death. We become known by the Savior who we treasure in our hearts. Let’s monitor our hearts and what they treasure because Jesus tells us that’s where the fruit of our lives comes from.