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Hebrews - Part 3 - Warning Against Unbelief

Study of Hebrews  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  24:43
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As we continue through the book of Hebrews, we will study the author’s message in chapter 3 where he continues to emphasize the superiority of Jesus over any outstanding Israelite leader, in this case, Moses. Also, we will see his second of five warnings focusing on unbelief.

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Good morning, everyone! Introduction Today we will continue our series of messages on the book of Hebrews with chapter 3. Several weeks ago, we launched our study of the book. In the first message I covered some basics about the book which I will briefly review. Author: not known for sure but Apollos is a good candidate Date: before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. Considering the persecution of both Jews and Christians in Rome the letter was probably written in the mid 50s or 60s AD Style: called a letter or book but content points to an early sermon Theme: the overarching superiority and sufficiency of Jesus Recipients: clearly Jewish Christians given the many references to Old Testament scriptures and Jewish practices that would mean little to Gentiles Destination: not certain but there are clues indicating it could have been written to a small group of Jewish Christians, possibly a house church in Rome In the first chapter the author gives several reasons why Jesus is superior to the prophets that figured so prominently in the history of the Hebrew people. Not only is Jesus superior to the prophets but as the Son of God he is also superior to the angels. In the second chapter which Debbie covered we reviewed the author’s first of five warnings in the book about drifting or falling away from the faith. In the third chapter of Hebrews we will see the author’s continued emphasis on the superiority of Jesus to any outstanding Israelite leader, in this case, Moses. Also, we will see the author give the second of the five warnings in this book. One greater than Moses Hebrews 3:1-6 English Standard Version (ESV) 3 Therefore, holy brothers,[a] you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's[b] house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.[c] We have seen in the last two weeks that the author is writing to a Christian audience who have come out of Judaism. Because of their background they have been raised in Jewish customs and beliefs. They are very familiar with the heroes of the Old Testament like Abraham and King David but one of the most revered heroes is Moses. Moses is the faithful man of God who gave up being a prince of Egypt, met God in the burning bush, stood up to Pharaoh, led the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea and to the Promised Land. And he wrote the first five books of the bible. Moses was indeed a faithful servant of God, but these early Christians needed to recognize that Jesus was and is faithful as the Son of God over God’s house. HOW DOES MOSES COMPARE TO JESUS? Moses Jesus Loved the Israelites Loved even his enemies Freed his people from slavery Freed us from sin & death Gave up princely perks Gave up heavenly glory Defeated Pharaoh Defeated Satan Administered the law Fulfilled the law Set up the tabernacle Is the temple of God Gave the law Gave the world grace & truth Wrote the law on tablets of stone Wrote the law in our hearts Defined sin Forgave us of our sins At this point you may be sitting there thinking to yourself—okay I can see that Jesus was far superior to Moses, but so what? The answer to that question is one word: legalism. A simple definition of legalism is obeying the law to earn God’s favor. The recipients of this letter had come out of Judaism with a very strong legalistic orientation. Because of peer pressure, persecutions they were tempted to return to Judaism with its 600+ rules and regulations. The Law was not bad, but it could not save them—only Jesus could. Suppose you went for a checkup and the oncologist orders an MRI test. The test comes back positive and reveals a tumour in your abdomen. Would you embrace the MRI machine and say to it, “Help!”. Of course not. The machine can diagnose your problem, but you would consult with oncologist on the appropriate medical intervention. Similar to the MRI machine in diagnosing a disease, the Law was invaluable in defining sin, but it could not save. Only Jesus can save us from our sins. In verse 6 the author transitions from comparing Moses to Jesus. He states that Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house and that we are his house, IF we hold on to our confidence and the hope of which we boast. This statement is immediately followed by the second warning in letter—a clear warning against hardened hearts. 1. The Example of Hardened Hearts Hebrews 3:7-11 New International Version (NIV) 7 So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8     do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion,     during the time of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your ancestors tested and tried me,     though for forty years they saw what I did. 10 That is why I was angry with that generation;     I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,     and they have not known my ways.’ 11 So I declared on oath in my anger,     ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ “ In the remaining verses of this chapter we see a three-fold development of the problem of hardened hearts: • The Example of Hardened Hearts • The Explanation of Hardened Hearts • The Exhortation against Hardened Hearts Who in the bible is the example of hardened hearts? The author quotes Psalm 95:7-11 to zero on the tragic example of ancient Israel in the wilderness after God had delivered them from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Their rebellion against God included making an idol, a golden calf (Ex. 32:1-6), out of the gold that they had been given by the Egyptians (Ex. 12:35-36). Of all people these were the ones who should not have developed hardened hearts. These people had personally witnessed the devastation God had wreaked on the Egyptians through the 10 plagues culminating in the death of the firstborn sons and all the firstborn of the cattle. These plagues were a supernatural demonstration of God’s power. Just when it seemed that they were trapped between the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s armies on the other side, God parted the Red Sea so they could supernaturally walk across the riverbed on dry ground to the other side. Then the Egyptians pursued the Israelites, but their fate was sealed. The Red Sea swallowed up the Egyptians, their chariots, horsemen. Not one of them survived (Ex. 14:28). Hebrews 3:17-18 New International Version (NIV) 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? The escape from Pharaoh’s armies was only the beginning of God’s miracle-working power in the wilderness. He turned bitter water into sweet water, he brought water out of solid rock. He gave them manna and quail to eat. Their clothes and sandals did not wear out during the 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 29:5). They had a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. The Israelites grumbled and complained continually. Numbers 14:22-23 New International Version (NIV) 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. What should have been a victory march to the promised land became a funeral procession. We are told that there were 600,000 men plus women and children who left Egypt. Just counting the men alone means that during the 40 years in the wilderness, they would see over 40 burials every day! <repeat slide for Heb. 3:7-11> Why did they not remember the miracles that God had performed for them? What went wrong? There was more than enough evidence of God’s love and provision for them. The author tells us that the Holy Spirit has given an answer. Their hearts were hardened. They became rebellious and came under a curse. Anyone 20 years old and over would die in the wilderness with the exception of Caleb and Joshua. Could we fall into the same trap? The ancient Israelites had seen God’s hand mightily at work and yet their hearts were hardened. It is difficult to fathom how they could fashion a golden calf and give it credit for delivering them from the Egyptians. Today we continue to see God’s miracles. We see answered prayer. We see lives changed. We may witness or personally experience divine healing. In our fellowship we have seen our immigrant families settle into houses or an apartment when they arrived in Canada. In one case we only had a few days notice but were blessed with an apartment, furniture and clothing. You can’t tell me that God’s hand wasn’t in the process! So, the author points to the tragic example of the ancient Israelites who angered God to the point that he declared that they would never enter his rest. We as followers of Jesus would do well to learn from this negative example and never have a sinful, unbelieving heart. 2. The Explanation for a Hardened Heart Hebrews 3:12 English Standard Version (ESV) 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. In one short verse the author tells us the source of a hardened heart—it is an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Unbelief is not the inability to understand but the unwillingness to trust. We may play games before God, but He is never fooled. He sees our heart. Ancient Israel had everything to believe in God. Consider part of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus Luke 16:27-31 New International Version (NIV) 27 “He <the rich man> answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ The story may suggest that Lazarus was the “someone who rises from the dead” but Luke’s account of this parable seems to imply that Jesus was speaking also of his own resurrection. If people’s minds are closed and scripture is rejected, no evidence—not even a resurrection—will change them. People don’t need more signs or information but a trusting heart. Matthew 28:16-17 New International Version (NIV) 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. The context for this verse is Jesus giving his disciples what we call the great commission. What I find absolutely stunning about this verse is Matthew’s short phrase “but some doubted”. That means that some of the 11 remaining disciples doubted Jesus. They knew that he has been crucified. They had seen and interacted with the resurrected Jesus. What more could one ask for? Here was their teacher, their Lord and Saviour in the flesh after dying on the Roman cross resurrected from the dead! Perhaps this quote from C H Spurgeon captures the issue of unbelief very well: Harken, O unbeliever, you have said, ‘I cannot believe’, but it would be more honest if you had said, ‘I will not believe’. Your unbelief is your fault, not your misfortune. What do we point to as our foundation for our Christian calling? I grew up in the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. I once asked my mother why she sent us to the United Church of Canada. She told me that it was the closest church to our home. I guess I should be grateful that it wasn’t a Buddhist temple that was near our home! But again, what is our foundation for our Christian walk? Is it attendance in a Christian church, being baptised, membership in a LifeGroup, supporting an outreach care group? These are good things but what is in our heart? We cannot rely on externals but have a pure heart that believes and worships Jesus as our saviour and Lord of our life. 3. The Exhortation against Hardened Hearts Hebrews 3:12-15 English Standard Version (ESV) 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 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. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” In these verses the author exhorts his readers against a hardened heart. He emphasizes three key points. First, he says, “Take care”, i.e., be very careful. Take heed. Don’t presume. Don’t be nonchalant. There is always the deceitfulness of sin that can harden our heart. It is so easy to slip into a state of mind of just coasting. As someone once said, “There is no attitude more dangerous for the church than that of unconcern and complacency.” We say “saved, always saved” but a true Christian does not take his salvation for granted. The apostle Paul in his epistle to the Philippians tells us work our salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil. 2:13) There is no place for complacency and unconcern. Second, he says that we must exhort or encourage one another every day. (3:13) In this marathon of faith, we need one another to fight the tendency to slip. The implications of this statement are profound. I did a quick check in the NIV translation of New Testament. I found 65 occurrences of the phrase, “one another”. As you can imagine this list includes several commands to “love one another” but the second most common admonition in the “one another” category is to “encourage one another”. John Piper captures the importance of encouraging one another is his sermon entitled Eternal security is a Community Project. He says, “Unbelief means failing to rest in Jesus as your greatest treasure. So helping each other believe means showing people reasons why Jesus is more to be desired and trusted and loved than anything else.” We need each other and we need to interact with each other on a regular basis. You have probably heard that there should not be any “Lone Ranger” Christians. But even the Lone Ranger was not alone but had Tonto to back him up! As we meet, share, and encourage one another we can help our fellow Christians with tangible reasons why Jesus is more to be desired, trusted than anything else. Again, to quote Piper, We speak to each other in ways that cause us to have hearts of faith in the superior value of Christ over all things. We fight to maintain each other’s faith, by speaking words that point people to the truth and value of Jesus. That’s how you guard against an evil heart of unbelief. Sin is an extremely dangerous power confronting every believer. It always attacks the individual, much like wolves stalking a single sheep. Chuck Swindoll puts it this way. Reaching out and touching someone is not just a nostalgic, sentimental advertising slogan—it is a biblical mandate. Community is not an option in the bible. Without a part in community we are walking on thin ice. We have an enemy who will use his cunning to try to deceive us into falling into sin. Third, the author tells us to Hold on to our confidence in Jesus. Hebrews 3:14 English Standard Version (ESV) 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Holding on is a consistent them in Hebrews. (See Heb. 2:1; Heb. 3:6; Heb. 10:38-39.) Jonathan Edwards put it, “The sure proof of election is that one perseveres to the end”. Jack Graham’s alliterative statement: “The faith that fizzles at the finish was faulty at the first.” Spurgeon tells the story of a man who fell overboard. A rope was thrown to him and he was pulled back into the ship. However, he could not loosen his grip on the rope for several hours. He had such a death grip on the rope that the fibres were embedded in the palms of his hands. That is what we need. We need to hang on to our faith for dear life. We need to be in community. We may encourage someone one week and next week we may be the one who is receiving encouragement from a fellow believer. Hebrews 3:7-8 English Standard Version (ESV) 7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, And when do we believe? TODAY. That does not mean just March 14. Our belief is a daily commitment. It is our way of living each and every day. If we think about it, we realize that we may not have a tomorrow. We could have a brain hemorrhage, or a heart attack, or a fatal car accident and our time on this earth is ended. TODAY we must hear Jesus and live as he wants in a spirt of belief. Illustration: (from George Sweeting, former president and chancellor of the Moody Bible Institute) Mr. Sweeting observed how birds behave in the spring when ice accumulates above Niagara Falls. Some birds will land on the ice floes as they drift toward the falls. They perch on the ice and chip away with their beaks to get at fish trapped beneath the surface of the ice. If successful, they capture a fish, enjoy their sushi and fly away to another ice floe further upstream. But in drifting toward the falls some birds are unconsciously setting themselves for disaster. You see, if they stand their too long their little claws will freeze into position and they cannot flap away. They see the edge that signals the beginning of the falls and they frantically beat their wings. They may even lift the floe temporarily into the air only to see it and them fall back into the river. Finally, their drifting is terminal as their ice floe is swept over the falls and into a sure death. Could we be like that bird that is chipping away and content at our position in the faith, but we have allowed the deceitfulness of sin to harden our heart until it is too late. We need to examine ourselves and ensure that we are in the faith—that we are not on a collision course. We can’t say, “Tomorrow, I will change.” Carpe diem. Seize the day. This little poem1 captures the warning in Hebrews well: They came to gates of Canaan, But they never entered in! They came to the very threshold, But they perished in their sin. On the morrow they would have entered, But God had shut the gate. They wept, they rashly ventured, But alas, it was too late. And so we are ever coming To the place where two ways part. One lead to the Land of Promise, And one to a hardened heart. The sweetest words we can ever hear are, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. But on the other hand, the most tragic words could come from the same lips, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” The choice is ours. Will we believe or will we have a hardened heart? Finish in prayer Word count: 3530 Source credit:
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