LESSON 4 - Heb. 3:7-15 - THE PERIL OF AN UNBLIEVING HEART (2nd WARNING)
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in Heb. 2:14-18, on the continuing truth of His superiority to angels, we heard the writer of Hebrews explain why Jesus Christ, as the Messiah, came to us on the form of a man, rather than an angel. We learned that it was essential for Jesus to take on human form in order to become a valid example of our humanity before God. There were four major points of application we should remember: (1) By His death on the cross, Jesus has released all who believe in Him from the fear of death. Because of our salvation, we share in Jesus' victory over death. (2) Jesus came down from heaven to help humans, not angels. He effectively rescued humans who needed the kind of help that only He could give-eternal salvation. (3) Jesus sacrifice and mediation as our High Priest satisfied God perfect standard of justice, which makes possible for us to now be in fellowship with God, both in the present and in the future (eternity). (4) Finally, Jesus' victory over sin the past allows us to resist temptation in the present. When we are faced with the temptation to sin, Jesus is ready and faithful to provide us with the way of escape.
This week, in Heb. 3:7-15, we'll hear the writer of Hebrews issue his second warning to his Jewish audience. You'll recall that his first warning to Jewish believers (see, Heb. 2:1-4) pertained to "drifting away" from the apostle's teachings (i.e., "sound doctrine") and falling into apostasy. The second warning is about the dangers of disobedience, specifically "hardened hearts" that, in the face of intense persecution and pressure (e.g., do you remember the Jews who stoned Paul at Lystra and left him for dead [Acts 14:19]) would cause them to turn away from their belief in Jesus Christ. This warning was directed at Hebrew Christians who were on the verge on rejecting Christ and completely turning back to Jewish religious practices. As a parallel, the writer uses quotations from Psalm 95 to illustrate that Christian Jews were in danger of heading down the same road as their Israelite ancestors whose 'hard-hearted' disobedience toward God during the Exodus caused them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years instead of entering the Promised Land.
NOTE: In Heb. 3:1-6 (skipped), the writer of Hebrews conclusively established that Jesus Christ is superior to Moses: (1) that Moses was a servant of God, whereas Jesus is the Son of God; and (2) Moses was a servant of God's house, whereas Jesus is the builder of God's house.
Read Heb. 3:7-9 - HEAR THE HOLY SPIRIT'S VOICE TODAY
7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, 8 DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS ON THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, 9 WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED ME BY TESTING ME, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. 10 "THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, 'THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS'; 11 AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, 'THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.'"
v. 7a: "Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says" - Here, the writer announces that the Holy Spirit, the author of all Scripture, is now speaking to them through Ps. 95, penned by David 1000+ years before.
v. 7b: "TODAY IF YOU HERA HIS VOICE," - The key word is "TODAY," meaning that the Holy Spirit through the writer of Hebrews is giving them a warning of imminent danger RIGHT NOW-calling them to take immediate action, to reverse the path these Christian Jews were taking. They needed to STOP and PAY CLOSE ATTENTION in order to see exactly what God is warning them of in this Psalm.
v. 8a1: "DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS - It's certainly possible for a Christian believer to completely "harden" his or her heart against God, that is, cutting oneself off from God to the extent of completely disregarding God and the application of His Word in our lives. It's what happens when we "neglect out salvation" and allow ourselves to "drift away" from God's truth (Heb. 2:1-3).
v. 8a2: "AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME" - When any Christian-whether ancient or modern-develops this kind of attitude, he or she is basically (1) calling God a liar and (2) inviting Him to bring down His wrath on them. A very bad place to be.
v. 8b: "AS ON THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS," - I imagine all of us can recall this story: In Num. 13 and 14, after being miraculously rescued by God from slavery in Egypt and cared for by Him in their trek through the Sinai desert, the Israelites sent 12 spies into the promised Land to investigate. Of the 12 spies, all but two (Joshua and Caleb), advised against any attempt to go in and fight the so-called "giants" who inhabited Canaan, so that the nation, as a whole, balked, refused take the land. The parallel to this Psalm for the Jewish Christians was that Christ-Who is superior to Moses-was now leading them in a new exodus, to a new land of promise. The writer is exhorting these Christian Jews not to balk, not to lose faith in the promises of Jesus Christ, as their Savior and their Lord.
v. 9a: "WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me," - The writer is pointing out the danger these Christian Jews faced if, like their "FATHERS," if they failed maintain faith in God in the midst of adversity and persecution.
v. 9b: "AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS." - Their "FATHERS," because of their disobedience and lack of faith in God, underwent discipline and testing, and with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, none of that generation lived to enter the Promised Land. So God forced them to wander aimlessly for 40 years in the wilderness. The main point here is that Christians who abandon their faith in the face of persecution can expect to lose their fellowship and rewards. They don't lose their salvation just as Israel was not sent back to Egypt, but they will suffer a loss of their spiritual inheritance. One commentator said that the terrible lesson of Israel's history is that it is possible to begin well and end poorly. This should also remind us that in 70 A.D., approximately 40 years after the Jewish religious leaders hardened their hearts against the message of Jesus and crucified Him, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by Rome-everything in the city-and the people were scattered all over the known world.
APPLICATION 1: Christians who willfully abandon their faith in Christ in the face of persecution can expect to loss fellowship with God and a loss of spiritual rewards in his eternal kingdom. They won't lose their salvation, just as the Israelites weren't sent back Egypt, but they are sure to lose spiritual rewards both in this life and the life to come.
v. 10a: "THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION," - When God is "ANGRY," it isn't emotional rage but His objective judgment upon the children of Israel.
v. 10b1: "AND SAID, THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART,"- The expression "THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY" tells us that the disobedience of the Israelites wasn't a one-time event, as when they refused to take the promised land, but a continuous pattern of sinful behavior-ongoing rebellion.
v. 10b2: "AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS;" Since the original generation of Israelites were generally unbelieving and distrustful toward God, they didn't understand God or know how to apply His Word to their hearts. By association, the writer is warning Christians Jews on the verge of renouncing their Christian faith and reverting to Judaism that they were going down the same road to rebellion, and the same thing may be said of Christians today who have allowed themselves to "neglect their salvation" and "drift away" into apostasy (Chapter 2). They no longer know God's "WAYS."
v. 11a: "AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH," - This indicates that God made an oath (a promise) that the original generation would all die (except Joshua and Caleb) before Israel entered the Promised land.
v. 11b: "THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST." - The term "REST" in this context points to a place where there is no more striving (e.g., the military conquest of Canaan) but a normal life without fear in the presence of God. The next generation did enter the Promised Land and went on to experience "rest" there because they chose to obey God. For Christians, "rest" is the enjoyment of all God has promised us, not just going to heaven. It includes the full enjoyment of spiritual rewards that can be ours if we are faithful to God. All Christians will go to heaven and receive many blessings, yet some blessings are reserved for believers who continued to steadfastly trust God, to keep the faith, even when they are tempted to backslide (neglect their faith) or renounce their faith (apostasy), and this is the express message the writer here is sending to these wavering Christian Jews.
APPLICATION 2: For a Christian, "rest" can be defined as the enjoyment of all that God has promise us, not just going to heaven. All Christians will go to heaven, yet some will receive special blessings reserved for believers who steadfastly continued to trust God and keep the faith even when even when they are tempted backslide or even drift doing into things that would amount to apostasy.
Read Heb. 3:12-15 - WE HAVE BECOME PARTAKERS OF CHRIST
12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, 15 while it is said, "Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me."
v. 12a: "Take care, brethren," - The term "brethren" confirms that the writer was directing this warning to saved Christians, not unbelievers. Their danger was not losing their salvation but apostasy-departing from God's truth as revealed to them by the apostles.
v. 12b: that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God." - The rebellion (i.e., reverting back to Judaism) the writer warns against consisted of departing from a dynamic, living person-the "living God"-as opposed to some obsolete doctrine-Torah Law. The Jew might argue that they were still serving the same God as the Christians if they reverted back to Judaism. But this won't wash: To reject God's highest revelation-the gospel of Jesus Christ-is to depart from God, period. Following and keeping Torah Law is simply no longer relevant, period. This was especially serious because these Jews are recognized as saved Christians. Abandoning their faith and reverting to Judaism would constitute extremely serious apostasy and a consequent loss of spiritual rewards. This can also happen to non-Jews: Saved Christians who are tempted to give up their confession of faith and go completely back to the world system of living in bondage to sin. This is apostasy, too, and can happen to entire churches that allow themselves to cave-in to contemporary humanistic social standards.
v. 13: "But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. - Here, the writer is challenging Jewish Christians to support and encourage each other to remain strong in their original faith in Jesus Christ, and this is really applicable to any church anywhere-to constantly encourage one another. And notice the warning "Today" expressed again, which means DO IT RIGHT NOW-DON'T WAIT! One of the great benefits of healthy church relationships is loving correction. Having a meaningful personal relationships with other Christians means we're 'watching each other's backs.' This means coming alongside and "encouraging our brothers and sisters when we see them drifting into sin and temptation. The "hardened" attitude referred to here, isn't a an abrupt change of mind, but a measured process of a person falling away, who, if allowed to fall far enough, will end-up departing from the faith. When we see this happening, we need to "encourage" them TODAY.
APPLICATION 3: One of the great benefits of belonging to a healthy church is loving correction. Having meaningful relationship with other Christians means we're 'watching each other's backs, and are prepared to step-in and offer encouragement-positive damage-control-when we see our brothers and sisters drifting away into sin and temptation.
v. 14a: "For we have become partakers of Christ," the word for "partaker" (Gk. metochos (met'-okh-os) means to align yourself beside someone as a partner. In the context of Christianity, it means we've gained a new status that makes us partners who are part of a new community-the church. And the perfect tense of the verb "have become," means we share the status of the partner who formed us, Jesus Christ, i.e., who makes us a forever (eternal fellowship) partner with Him.
v. 14b: "if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, - The idea here is exercising the faith to "hold fast" to our eternal partnership with Christ. As long as we hold fast to it, it is a never-ending relationship which will see us all the way into eternity; however, as the writer makes it clear, we can lose our great privilege of partaking with Christ in the present-TODAY-if we stop trusting in Him and allow ourselves to drift away from the faith. One commentator likened this to a rebellious son who leaves home and ceases to be an active partner but doesn't cease to be a member of the family. That rebellious son, becomes like one of the wandering Israelites described in Psalm 95.
v. 15: while it is said, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME." - Here, we see the writer conclude by reiterating a third time the urgency of what God's "voice" is telling these Christian Jews what they needed to do "Today"-to take action immediately! Much misunderstanding of the writer's warnings in Hebrews arose over the failure of the Christian Jews of that time to fully appreciate the parallels between the behavior of God's people in the past-the ancient Israelites-and the behavior of God's people in the present-the church. Modern Christian's today-that's us-face similar challenges that tempt us to "neglect our salvation" and "drift away" from the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, according to recent election statistics in this nation, a majority of American voters claim that they aren't affiliated with any type of 'religion.' This tells us that our nation, as a whole, has hardened its heart against God and no longer listen to His voice. As the modern people of God-the church-this chapter is telling that we must take listen to God's voice (His Word) and mobilize ourselves to take action TODAY.
APPLICATION 4-Taking action on HIS VOICE TODAY means:
(1) We must constantly encourage one another to keep the faith-to stay strong;
(2) We must reach out to those who have given-in to temptation and fallen away from the church and the truth of God's word, and;
(3) We must share the gospel of Jesus Christ with a fallen world.
(4) In doing all these things, we can't allow ourselves to be discouraged when we face opposition. The reality is that we live in a world that's largely opposed to God; therefore, we should expect opposition and be ready for it. When the early Christians, Jews and Gentiles, were facing widespread opposition within the Roman Empire, the apostle Peter challenged them to always be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Pet. 3:15). Are you ready-TODAY-to do all four of these things?