Series on Hebrews, II Superior Prophet, B Superior by Preaching, Text: Hebrews 3:7-4: 2. Title: The Hardened Heart

Introduction:

Our text is a warning against unbelief based on a story from the Old Testament. We should understand that the larger context here is focused on the superiority of Christ as our prophet. The whole force of this warning rests upon our awareness that the issue at stake is greater now than it was then. God spoke to Israel in the wilderness and he has spoken to us in his Son Jesus Christ. But what he says in Christ has more than temporal repercussions because the consequences are eternal ones. A warning from Psalm 95 is issued twice in Chapter 3 and again in Chapter 4: “Today if you hear his voice harden not your hearts.” Israel under Moses turned back from the promised land and even went so far as to state that they would rather be back in Egypt in slavery. I’m afraid we’re likely to say, this can’t be talking to me. But it is, and repeatedly. It reminds me of the Broadway director who went to the specialist thinking he was losing his hearing. The Dr. took a watch and asked if he heard it ticking, He answered “yes.” He went to the door and asked if he still heard it, again “yes.” He went into another room and asked if he could still hear it, and again the man answered, “yes.” Well, said the Dr. “Your hearing is perfect, your problem is you just don’t listen.” This is the reason that we have a crisis. It is a crisis of corruption, a  crisis of confidence, and a crisis of commitment.

I  A Crisis of Corruption

The text begins with the quotation in verses 7-11 from Psalm 95, So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” This Psalm is somewhat strange. The whole first part is a pure exhortation to worship and praise God because of his greatness then suddenly we have this reminder of betrayal. Matthew Henry says this is an exhortation to those who sing gospel Psalms to live gospel lives. If they do not hear his voice, how can they expect him to hear their praises. This points up that you can have a lot of formal religion while your heart is far from God. God hates worship that is insincere. Jesus tells us not to worship God if we harbor hatred in our hearts for our brothers.  Its positively unthinkable that at our highest moment of devotion we should be denying the God who loves us and the savior who died for us. However this is the nature of the human heart. Jeremiah says it is “deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?” Surely we cannot. Only God can. In Matthew 15 Jesus says it is not the things which enter the mouth which defile a man but the things that come out of the mouth, for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander.  These are what make a man unclean. John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress wrote, “ sin and corruption would bubble up out of my heart as water bubbles out of a fountain…I would have changed hearts with anybody. I thought none but the devil himself could equal my inward wickedness and pollution.” The quote from Psalm 95 in verses 8 and 9 is followed by God’s assessment  in verses 10 and following and he says he was angry and he would not allow them to enter into their inheritance in Canaan. We need to take this series of warnings in verses 12-15 seriously. See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”


II A Crisis of Confidence.

Let us look more closely at the historical event to which the author of Psalm 95 and the author of Hebrews refer. The children of Israel were at the border of the land of promise. The grumbling and murmuring  had been occurring along the way. But at this critical moment the 12 spies, one from each tribe, went in. Ten returned with a frightening and discouraging report but not Joshua and Caleb. The people followed the majority report and refused to go in and take the land which God had promised to them. So grievous was this decision that God threatened to destroy the nation on the spot, but instead received Moses intercession on their behalf and condemned them to forty years of wandering in the wilderness until the whole generation would have died. Specifically, all those who saw God’s wonders in Egypt were forbidden to enter the promised land. In verses 16-19 we read, Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?  And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?  And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. The point is that all the discontent, murmuring, complaining, fretting, worrying, and discouragement comes from unbelief. Those who had seen the marvel of God’s powerful deliverance were unwilling to trust Him to bring them into the land. Notice in the opening verses of Chapter 4 we are told that they had the gospel preached unto them, Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Thus their experience and ours are drawn together. In fact Paul refers to this same incident in I Corinthians 10. There he says that they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them and that rock was Christ. This does not mean they understood the gospel as we do, but it means that they experienced God’s deliverance as we have. Paul says these things happened as examples for us so that if we think we are standing firm we would be careful not to fall away. And then he says I Cor. 10:13, No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. We are accustomed to quoting this as an encouraging promise of deliverance-but actually in the context it is a challenge. It says God will never give you more than you can handle so handle it!!! Our failure to do so is a crisis of confidence in God and unbelief. That’s why we need to listen to verses 12-14 of our text. See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first

III A Crisis of Commitment

These verses suggest a further crisis of commitment. They do not say see to it brother that you don’t fail. They say, see to it brothers, that no one fails. Encourage ONE ANOTHER daily as long as it is called today, which is until Christ returns. There is a vital mutual commitment to the body of Christ required here. The point is made in verse 14 that we share in Christ as we hold our confidence firmly to the end. We hold that confidence with the assistance of one another. Jesus Christ died to save a temple of living stones, a body with parts, a people who love one another, a city which is a community, a flock under one shepherd. If the Israelites had encouraged one another as Joshua and Caleb tried to do, they would not have spent 40 years in the wilderness.  But we have a lot more reason to encourage one another. Jesus purchased us with his won blood. Ephesians 2:14-18,  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,  by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Everyone who has confessed Christ no matter how tried and troubled, no matter how sinful and failing, no matter how weak or feeble or frail is entitled to this encouragement. Do you remember that quotation from John Bunyan about the evil of the human heart? I found that in Gordon Mac Donald’s book, “Rebuilding Your Broken World.” MacDonald was a minister who fell into grievous sin. He writes, “We are on safe ground when we listen carefully to these warnings and conclude that each of us is capable of the worst sort of behavior that will eventually break a personal world to pieces. No environment is more vicious, none more dangerous than the dark side of the human heart and its capacity to promote evil.” But with the encouragement of Brothers, and those who did not judge. but helped, MacDonald went on.

Conclusion:

The author of Hebrews has told us, 2:17,18 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Repentance is always possible. Rebuilding follows. All we need is to help one another to believe as it says in verses 3:12,13 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.