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Take Care, Brothers and Sisters

Hebrews  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  28:24
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The author of Hebrews uses the negative example of the Exodus generation to exhort us to take care of ourselves and others in order that we do not fall into the unbelief of apostasy.

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Once again, our Scripture lesson is taken from Hebrews 3:7-19.
Hebrews 3:7–19 ESV
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ ” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
Last Sunday, we focused on Heb 3:7, and learned that assurance of salvation is found in responding to Christ’s voice in faith each and every day. Assurance cannot be found in looking to the past or to the future. It is your present faith in Christ that silences the voices of presumption and despair.
This Sunday, our focus is on Heb 3:12-13:
Hebrews 3:12–13 ESV
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Verse 12 begins with the exhortation to “take care…lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart.” I like to call this verse the Barney Fife verse. Barney Fife was the Deputy Sheriff on the TV program The Andy Griffith Show. If you have watched that show you know that one of Barney’s favorite sayings was, “Nip it in the bud.” By this he meant that just as a gardener would nip off unwanted buds on a plant before they became a problem, so a person should nip off problem behavior in themselves and others before that behavior becomes a problem.
The problem the author of Hebrews is wanting us to nip in the bud is apostasy. Apostasy is a “falling away” or “rebellion” against God. In our text, the example of apostasy the author is using is that of the Exodus generation.
So the first point of this exhortation is...

Take Care You “Nip Apostasy in the Bud”

The reason it is so urgent that we nip apostasy in the bud is because there is a progressive nature about sin and unbelief that can soon spiral out of control.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Hundreds of years before there was Power Point, the Puritan pastor and theologian William Perkins created a graphical representation of “The Order & Causes of Salvation & Damnation.” Within this chart is a graphical representation of what happens in the heart of a person who does not have true saving faith.
Here is that section:
Notice that each of these stages are taken right from our text in Hebrews 3. You will also notice that Dr. Perkins chose to graphically represent the grace of God in the lives of these people in orange. As we will be learning in Hebrews 6, an unbeliever can experience a great deal of God’s grace. In the parable of the Sower and Soils, the grace of the gospel call is broadcast without distinction. Many who ultimately prove to be false believers can enjoy much of the grace of the gospel and appear to be true believers. God of course knows the truth, but from the human perspective they look like true believers.
This is why it is so urgent to nip sin and unbelief in the bud before it gets out of hand. We can’t presume upon our own election and use election as an excuse for unbelief and rebellion against God. In fact, if you are doing such a thing it is evidence that you have already fallen into the Deceit of Sin. The Deceit of Sin is the first step along the pathway to apostasy. This is found in Heb 3:13.
The author of Hebrews uses the Exodus generation as an example. Let me walk you down the path of apostasy as found in Hebrews 13 and Numbers 14.
In Num 14:1-4, we see the people falling into the Deceit of Sin. Their fear of the Nephilim (giants) and their unbelief in God, deceives them into thinking a life of slavery in Egypt is better than obeying God.
Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb try to persuade the people not to rebel against God in Num 14:5-9, but the people’s hearts are hardened. This is the second step, the Hardening of the Heart, which is found in Heb 3:8 and Heb 3:13.
The next step is An Evil Hearts, found in Heb 3:12. In Numbers 14:10, we find the Exodus generation about to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb. They would have done so if the Glory Cloud of God had not appeared. Moses had to intercede for the people or God would have destroyed them that very moment. God relents and does not destroy them that very moment, but He does swear that none of them will enter His rest and all will die in the desert! God commands the people to turn around and go back into the desert.
The final step to apostasy is An Unbelieving Heart (Heb 3:12). You would think that the people would have learned their lesson. On the surface it appears as though the people repented. In Numbers 14:39, we are told the people “mourned greatly.” But they were not sorry they had offend and rebelled against God, they were sorry they had forfeited their inheritance of the Promised Land. The next morning they rebelled against God and in defiance they marched out to invade the land without God’s presence and blessing. The results were predictable—they were soundly defeated!
The author of Hebrews is using the Exodus generation to show us how quickly unbelief and sin can spiral out of control. There is no time to waste, we must nip unbelief and sin in the bud!
There is something else in these two verses we need to “take care” that we do. We need to...

Take Care of Each Other

Let’s look at Hebrews 3:12-13 again.
Hebrews 3:12–13 ESV
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Notice that our fight against sin and unbelief take place in community. The importance of Christian fellowship is one of the main themes of the book of Hebrews. For example we read in Heb 10:24-25:
Hebrews 10:24–25 ESV
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
What the author of Hebrews is doing, using Scripture to encourage and exhort, is what we should all be doing for one another. I think of the example of Nathan confronting David with his sins of adultery and murder. What a great privilege to be used by God as the means of preserving a brother or sister in the faith.
Of course, in the case of false believers, such as the Exodus generation, our admonitions will not be successful in restoring them. But even in such cases do you see how God used the faithfulness of Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb to warn us even today? Let us remember that great promise that “in the Lord” our “labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:58) Our loving and faithful admonition of one who ultimately proves to be numbered among the reprobate might be the very thing that God uses to preserve His elect within our circle of influence.
All of this is a reminder that...

Admonitions & Warnings are a Means of Grace

The great Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck, in his Reformed Dogmatics writes:

All of the above-mentioned admonitions and threats that Scripture addresses to believers, therefore, do not prove a thing against the doctrine of perseverance. They are rather the way in which God himself confirms his promise and gift through believers. They are the means by which perseverance in life is realized. After all, perseverance is also not coercive but, as a gift of God, impacts humans in a spiritual manner. It is precisely God’s will, by admonition and warning, morally to lead believers to heavenly blessedness and by the grace of the Holy Spirit to prompt them willingly to persevere in faith and love.

Think of the admonitions & warnings against apostasy this way: In Acts 17 we have the story of the storm and shipwreck of the vessel Paul was aboard on his way to Rome. God had told him prophetically that no one would lose their life, yet when some of the sailors attempted to abandon ship Paul declares to them, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” The sailors remaining on the ship was the means by which God was accomplishing His decree to save everyone on that ship. In the same way, the admonitions and warnings of Scripture are the means by which God preserves His saints.

Conclusion: Take Care You Heed God’s Warnings

These warnings are God’s gift to you. With open hands and open hearts embrace the teaching of these passages—they well keep your hearts safe from the apostasy.
Let us pray.
We thank you for all of Scripture, but especially the difficult passages of Scripture such as Hebrews 3. In the same way that justification is a gift, so perseverance is a gift. Help us by the Holy Spirit to accept the hard teaching of this passage so that we might take care and “Nip Apostasy in the Bud.”
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