Thursday, May 17, 2007

Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart

MP3 - Dave Bish - Hebrews 3:7-4:13

This is a talk you probably don't want to hear. It doesn't appear to speak to the daily concerns of exams etc and yet it is the one thing you need to hear. If you'll listen. It concerns being prepared to die. That might not seem like the most pressing concern in the middle of exams, and it's hardly the kind of topic that dominates polite conversation in the 21st Century. Nonetheless it is vitally important. Birthdays strike me as a good opportunity to reflect on our mortality. Another year away from birth, and closer to death.

During a mission week in the 19th Century Cambridge CU challenged everyone who became a Christian to sign up to take the gospel to Africa. They didn't tell the Mission Agency who were soon overwhelmed with 200 candidates... They contacted the CU to advise them that they should tell these young missionaries that people they sent to Africa didn't return, and would usually die within 8 years.

On average these young graduates would be dead by the age of 29. The next year, 400 signed up. A year short of that life-expectancy I have to ask myself if I'm ready to die. Am I prepared for that? One day, by martyrdom, disease or some other cause it will happen. I need to be prepared for that.

Which brings us to Hebrews 3:7-4:13. Two things on being prepared:

  • Firstly, hear God's word with your heart.

  • Secondly, hold to the hope of God's rest.

  1. Hear God's word with your heart

(3v7-19)

What does God tell them to do?

v7, a word from The Holy Spirit. It's David's Psalm 95. Scripture. Which is Spirit-exhaled. And so is the Spirit's Psalm. What the Bible says, God says by the Holy Spirit. Then and now.

v7. What the Spirit says is 'listen'. Listen now. Not tomorrow. But Today. Prick up your ears. Pay attention. We're on holy ground. We can't take this lightly.

  • What does God want us to hear?

  • Why is this so urgent?

  • What is so important that it can't wait until tomorrow?

V8. 'do not harden your hearts'.
The state of your heart.
We're used to what's important being set by The Media – headlines driving our priorities. But why should they set the agenda? History says humanity has rarely been good at setting priorities. God says our hearts matter. Urgently. That needs to be enough.

What do we mean by 'the heart'?

Emotions? God thinks – 4v12'thoughts and intentions', motives, attitude. The very core of your being. The litmus test of my heart is it's attitude to God's word. Hard hearts hear God's word, and don't listen. It's the human story. Adam & Eve heard what God said and they presumed to know better. The expression was eating fruit, the cause was unbelief. We've never gotten over that.

How are we to understand this?

God draws our attention to a specific and heart-breaking case of heart-hardening: v8, 'as in the rebellion' – that should mean everything to us but we might miss it. The Spirit is speaking Psalm 95. A song about, v8, a 'day of testing' where Israel were shut out of the promised land.

That happened at the rebellion at Kadesh in Numbers 13-14. God rescued his people from the slavery of Egypt, in The Book of Exodus. Rescued into the wilderness they immediately wanted to be back in slavery.

God persevered with these rebels and now in Numbers 13 it's 1400BC and they're about to enter the land. Spies are sent in to get a foretaste. They report a land flowing with milk and honey.

They also report that it's populated by great enemies – the cursed Canaanites, descended from Noah's son Ham, and the Amalekites who are God's sworn enemies since they opposed God's people at Rephidim – in Exodus 16.

But, God has promised them the land. So even though the present occupants make the Israelites feel like grasshoppers among giants, there should be no problem. The problem was that they hardened their hearts. They didn't think he'd give them the land.

Hebrews 3v9: They 'test' God. V10, they 'provoke' him. And consequently he shuts them out of the land. V11, in his wrath he says, 'they shall not enter my rest'. There is no rest under God's wrath. Apart from two believers - Joshua & Caleb - it was game over for that generation.

What are Christians to do with this?

V12, 'take care' – too easy to drift through life without even thinking, to live on autopilot. The Holy Spirit spoke to them and said wake up – don't follow their footsteps... An echo of 2v1. Don't drift:

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts. Take Care!

V12, specifically take care because a hard heart is an 'unbelieving heart' and an 'evil heart'.

How would we watch for such unbelief?

It's difficult because unbelief is a master of disguise. The heart's thoughts and intentions produce our actions... and unbelief, v12, causes us to 'fall away' or to 'turn away' from the living God. Which is the opposite of what God requires: 3v6: Hold fast to your original confidence.

How would that look in your life?

We have to get beneath the surface. The rebels at Kadesh did some obviously wrong things, but much of what they did looked caring, pious, wise and even godly. All of it masking deep unbelief.

Common sense said that The Wilderness Generation couldn't triumph over such great enemies. They followed the pundits instead of God's word. Unbelief.

They presumed to say in Numbers 14v2-4 that it would have been better to die in Egypt. They presumed to doubt God's provision, and to find someone to take them back to slavery. They deluded themselves. Too easily pleased with the prospect of slavery, because they couldn't believe God would give a good gift.

The same can happen to us. We can prefer the 'common sense' priorities of those around us. To do that is to harden our hearts to God's word. We might want to plead that our hearts aren't so fickle, but they are deceitful above all things. Easily dancing to the rhythm of the world.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts. Take Care!

Moreover, 14v3, they masked unbelief with false piety... 'our wives and little ones will become prey' Genuine concern, but totally unnecessary because God had promised the land to them. We might have similar concerns but within the promises of God everything is secure.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.
Don't make pious excuses.

Having been shut out of the land, 14v39, they mourned. They mourned their folly. What have we done! They see what they've lost. But it's only selfish sorrow. Mourning lost reward rather than the way they've made fools of God. Real repentance weeps over the defaming of God and his word.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.
Watch for selfish sorrow.

How do we know it was false repentance?

God offered the land and they refused.
God refused them the land,
and they went to take it for themselves.

Forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter! And so they went to fight in their own strength and against God's word. The Canaanites & Amalekites cut them down. This is a true story. People died that day. This is serious.
There was no confession of rebellion. Just self-destroying delusion.

Sin has to be treated at the source. Cosmetic solutions only paint over the cracks. Our hearts remain full of deceit and rebellion. We can't shift the blame, we can only listen more carefully and deeply:

Today if YOU hear his voice,
do not harden YOUR heart.

The second way to watch your heart in relation to God's word is with God's people. The Christian life is lived in community with God's people. We need one another's help. We could record the Bible teaching from this meeting an pipe it to your room, but we need to be together. V13, exhort one another. When? Sundays? Yes. Thursdays? Yes. But also, every day. Every today. When should you exhort another Christian to believe God's word? Check: 'is this today?'

We must a Bible Generation. Whenever and where-ever we are.

They say True Cockney's are those born in earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-bow in the City of London. As the city noise increases the possible area gets smaller.

True Christians are those who live in earshot of God's word. In a noisy world we must do everything we can to get close to the sound of God speaking. Keeping God's word open. Keeping God's word taught.

Today if yous hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.

If we're to be a Mission Team this is vital. A team of hard-hearted evangelists will only lead people to God's wrath, not his rest.

If we harden our hearts to God's word it's game over for this generation, just as it was in the rebellion. Our hearts can't thwart God's plan, but the advance of the gospel could pass us by if we wont treasure his word.

Together, we can share in Christ – 3v14 – if we'll hold to our original confidence in Jesus. Turned to Christ. Once more, v15:

'today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.'

And don't presume that can't include you! Just look at v16-18. Those who died in the wilderness were the same rescued from Egypt. They saw the plagues. They walked through the red sea. They were supplied with water from rocks and breach from heaven. None of those priviledges spared them because of their rebellious hard hearts.

3v19. Here's the conclusion of the matter: Unbelief kept The Exodus Generation out of God's rest. It could happen to us. We live in a generation like every other where God's word is held lightly, but:

Today, as WE hear God's voice
by the Spirit, in the scriptures...
what's the state of OUR hearts?

  1. Hold to the hope of God's rest

(4v1-13)

My Heart. God's Word. And 'rest'. But what is this 'rest'? We're warned in 4v1, that while the promise of rest still stands we should 'fear' lest we fail to reach it. Notice:

  • 4v2 – they heard the gospel.

  • 4v2 – we've heard the gospel.

  • 4v2 – the gospel didn't benefit them, because they didn't believe it.

  • The question is: will it benefit us?

So, 4v11strive to enter God's rest.

Strive. Fight. Take urgent action to avoid falling by disobedience. We've heard warning from God's story, now we see an encouragement about the availability of rest: v3-10. This is a story we need to discover and pay closer attention to:

  • V3-4. Rest. Genesis 2. The 'foundation of the world' – the Seventh day of creation that never ended. God entered it. Simply, rest is where God is.

  • V5-6. Israel in the wilderness failing to enter the promised land.

  • V8. Joshua did take the next generation into the land, but the land wasn't actually 'rest'. Real rest was still to come (8b).

  • V7. In David's day as he wrote Psalm 95 was another 'Today'.

In the land. With the Tabernacle.
But still not in 'rest'.

  • V9. Today. In these last days in which God has spoken through his Son.
    Rest remains.

  • Not a weekly sabbath, that was only ever a shadow of the real seventh day.

  • Not a patch of land in the middle east that the spies saw.

  • Not angels and clouds an airy-fairy happy place where we'll be fine.

  • Not some dull retirement with Jesus. I spoke to someone in a mission week last term and that was his view of eternity. I nearly wept at his hardness of heart – thinking that to be with Jesus forever would be dull. Joyfully three days later he became a Christian and would testify differently today!

Rest begins now, and is forever. And rest is about being with Jesus. Unmatched glory. A genuine rest in peace with God and his people, centred upon Jesus. Now and forever, entered and to be.

The promise of rest stands, how do you enter it? How do you strive?

Not by force. Israel disregarded God's word and went up to take the land by force. They couldn't escape God's word. God said 'No Entry' and the swords of the Canaanites & Amalekites enacted that with bloody reality.

And, Hebrews 4v12-13, tell us that the word that comes to us in the gospel is an even sharper sword. I've seen a student try to demonstrate that by swinging a double-edged sword around in a meeting. Very scary, but actually nothing compared to how lethal and piercing God's word is. A sword can kill you. God's word is sharper.

How seriously are you taking God's word?

God's word takes you very seriously. Like a mirror, exposing us as we look into it. The Bible is not a book to be taken lightly. It's to be heard – read – and believed. It exposes us in the presence of the one to whom we will all give account. (13) Exposed in the presence of the one who judges.

And yet the promises of God in the gospel of Jesus are more glorious than anything else. As we open God's word we see the Lord. We savour his promises. Promises that present the only way to enter God's rest – Jesus blood. The only way to 'rest' for rebels.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.

How? Not by becoming a Bible expert, but by being examined by God. 'Rest' is for the weary and burdened who come to Jesus.

'Rest' is for rebels who confess. Who hear the gospel word and put all confidence in Jesus. If we trust ourselves, God's wrath awaits us. If we trust Jesus' blood, God's rest is ours. The rebels road to rest is soaked in the blood of Jesus, just as the path to God's presence has always run deep with blood, as at the Tabernacle and Temple. Jesus blood is poured out and he goes ahead of us into 'rest'. Already there!

His death, enough for any past or present hardness. You can't fix your own heart – you can't fix the mess however sorrowful. That's just more rebellion, like Israel.

Instead we
strive for rest by
hearing the gospel word and believing it. Bringing God's word to bear on our rebellious hearts again and again and again. Confident that because of His death, Jesus has and will bring us into 'rest'. If we catch this we'll not only be prepared to die, but also prepared to live.

Today if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.

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