Christ is Superior to Moses Part 2 “The Warning against Doubting God’s Word” – Hebrews 3:7-19
Pastor Mark Hardy May 3, 2015
Dwight L. Moody said that his “greatest mistake” occurred October 8, 1871. On that night in Chicago, he preached to the largest audience of his career. His message was based on Pilate’s question to the Jews in Matthew 27:22, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” As Moody concluded and presented the gospel he said, “I want to give you a week to think about what I have said. Next Sunday I will ask you “What will YOU do with Jesus.”
Then Ira Sankey, Moody’s song leader, came up and sang the closing song that included the words, “Today the Savior calls; for refuge fly. The storm of justice falls, and death is nigh.” But even before he finished the song you could hear the blare of sirens and the roar of fire engines on the street outside. That very night about 9:00 pm the famous Great Chicago Fire began and almost destroyed the entire city before it ended early Tuesday morning. The fire had reduced the city of Chicago to ashes, killed 300 people, left more than 100,000 residents homeless and caused an estimated $200 million in damages.
A few months later Moody made this comment about his message on that fateful night, “I would give my right arm before I would ever again give an audience a week to think over the message of the gospel. Some who heard that night died in the fire.”
This same sense of urgency to immediately give heed to the voice of God is the theme of the passage we will be looking at this morning. Turn to Hebrews 3. Having just shown that Christ is superior to Moses in 3:1-6, the author of Hebrews again pauses in his proclamation about Christ’s superiority to make application and give the second of his five warnings in the book. In essence he is calling for a decision, “What will YOU do with Jesus.”
In Hebrews 3:7-19 we see four aspects of the warning against doubting God’s Word, so that believers will not repeat the same mistake the Israelites made during their wanderings in the wilderness.
The first aspect is this:
I. The Example of Israel’s wilderness Experience
A. In Hebrews 3:7-11 the author begins this section with a quotation Psalm 95:7-11 from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Look at the first part of Hebrews 3:7: Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says… (Stop there)
1. Although Hebrews 4:7 says the human author of this psalm is David, who was speaking about the time of Moses, here the author of Hebrews ascribes this directly to the Holy Spirit, who is the ultimate Author of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
2. It was originally the Holy Spirit who spoke through the psalmist to warn the people of his day. And using this same warning the Holy Spirit spoke through the author of Hebrews to warn the people of his day 1,000 years later and again to us 2,000 years after that.
B. Look at vv. 7-8: Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS.”
1. The basic warning “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts,” is used 3 times in chapter 3 (vv. 7-8, 13, 15) and once in chapter 4 (v. 7). The word “Today” here indicates urgency.
2. Since the voice of God is sounding, immediate action is imperative. Respond now while the words of God are fresh in your mind, don’t wait!
3. And what is to be responded to? The author says, “…do not harden your hearts.”
4. To “harden your heart” is to become spiritually calloused and insensitive by stubbornly disobeying God’s voice. And this is exactly what the people of Israel did as God says about them through the psalmist “…they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness.”
5. The word “provoked” means “to make angry and embittered.” We can understand how God was provoked when we remember all He had done for them.
6. After 430 years of bondage in Egypt, God miraculously delivered them by afflicting ten plagues upon all of Egypt. He then guided them out of Egypt toward the Promised Land of Canaan by an immense pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night (Ex. 13:20-22).
7. When Pharaoh changed his mind and led his army after Israel, God miraculously parted the Red Sea so the people of Israel could pass through on dry ground. And when the entire Egyptian army had entered the sea bed, God then returned the water and drown all of them (Ex. 14: 13-31).
8. In addition to all of that, God continued to bless them and miraculously provided them manna to eat and water to drink. But in light of all that, the first occasion the psalmist has in mind where Israel provoked God “as in the day of trial in the wilderness” is at the beginning of their journey in Exodus 17:1-7.
9. This is where the people quarreled with Moses at Reph-i-dim because of a shortage of water. Listen to how Moses replied to them in v. 2, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”
10. Moses then followed God’s direction and stuck the rock, out of which water flowed for Israel to drink. But in v. 7 we see that God “…called the name of the place Mass-ah and Mer-i-bah (the names given in Psalm 95:8 in our English Bibles) because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the LORD among us, or not?’”
11. In essence they were saying, “Where are you God? Use Your power to make our lives better!”
12. “Mass-ah” means “testing” and “Mer-i-bah” means “rebellion.” Their complaint about lack of water demonstrated their rebellious lack of faith in the Lord.
13. Now since the word “Mer-i-bah” is also used at the end of their forty year wilderness wanderings in Numbers 20:1-13 where Israel was again out of water at Kadesh, Israel’s “day of trial in the wilderness” should not be restricted to one 24-hour day. Instead, it refers to their rebellious lack of faith and testing God that lasted the entire 40-year period.
C. Israel consistently provoked God and their testing of God continues in v. 9: “WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS.”
1. The word “Where,” not “When” as in the KJV, refers to Israel’s wilderness experience. It was there that Israel continually tried and tested God for “forty years.”
2. Although they “saw” the miraculous “works” God had repeatedly done on their behalf and they should have gone to Him and trusted Him to provide when they were in need, instead they constantly tested Him when things didn’t go their way. How often do we do the same thing?
3. No matter what God did for them, they constantly doubted Him, were ungrateful and acted as if He had abandoned them. They always demanded more and more proof of His reality and care for them.
4. Unbelief never has enough proof because it doesn’t want to believe. Jesus said in Luke 16:31, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”
5. Notice God’s anger towards Israel’s unbelief in v. 10, “THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS.”
6. Since God is perfectly holy and just He is not indifferent to sin. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
7. And God’s anger was towards Israel’s constant sin of “go(ing) astray in their heart.” The “heart” is the mission-control center of our being that includes our mind, will and emotions.
8. Man’s core problem is a “heart” problem (Jer. 17:9; Matt. 7:21-23). Instead of knowing God’s “ways” and trusting Him to accomplish His will in His time, their hearts always rebelliously went astray from God and they wanted to do their own thing.
9. They didn’t know God’s ways because they didn’t want to know. They were culpably ignorant!
10. Therefore, the hardness of Israel’s heart was rooted in their unbelief of God. And the apex of this hard-heartedness was seen two years after leaving Egypt in their unbelief shown at Kadesh in Numbers 13-14.
11. The twelve spies who had been sent into Canaan to spy out the land had just returned from their forty-day mission. As they do, ten out of twelve men give a bad report to the people.
12. Because of their unbelief in God and the promises of His Word, they are controlled by fear and negativity as they tell the people that the enemy are giants and they are but “grasshoppers” (Num. 13:32-33). This only terrifies the people and inflamed their own unbelief, which leads to grumbling, quarreling and disobedience.
13. They want to appoint another leader instead of Moses and return to Egypt (Num. 14:1-4). And they even wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb, the only two men who gave them a good report and tried to get them t believe that God was more powerful than their enemies and would give them the land (Num. 14:10).
14. God took them out of Egypt to take them into the Promised Land. But they would not trust Him to do what He said!
15. As judgment for their hard-heart unbelief, God gave Israel His solemn oath in v. 11, “AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, ‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.’”
16. Because of His “wrath,” the strong, passionate and settled opposition of His holy nature to all that is evil, God did not allow these sinning Israelites to enter His rest.
17. The word “rest” has various meanings, as we will see next time. But here it refers to the earthly rest God promised to give Israel in the Promised Land of Canaan (Deut. 12:9-10; Josh. 21:44; 22:4; 23:1; 1 Kgs. 8:56).
18. Because of their rebellious unbelief every Israelite 20-years-old and upward was denied entrance into the Promised Land, except Caleb and Joshua and the next generation (Num. 14:11, 20-24). They all died in the wilderness (vv. 28-30, 35).
19. John MacArthur states, “The application of this picture is an individual’s spiritual rest in the Lord, which has precedent in the OT (Ps. 116:7; Isa. 28:12). At salvation, every believer enters the true rest, the realm of spiritual promise, never again laboring to achieve through personal effort a righteousness that pleases God. The Lord wanted both kinds of rest for that generation who was delivered from Egypt.” (Mac Study Bible p. 1870)
20. The second aspect of the warning against doubting God’s Word is this:
II. The Warning to Believers against Unbelief
A. Having a tender concern for all of his readers, the author of Hebrews says in v. 12: Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
1. Based on the tragic example of Israel’s unbelief in the wilderness, the author pleads that his “brethren” not follow Israel’s example and repeat the same mistake they made.
2. He gives them the command to continually “Take care.” This means to “take heed, beware of or earnestly examine their true spiritual condition before the Lord.
3. And the danger to watch out for is “an evil, unbelieving heart.” All men are born with such a heart, and it was this heart that characterized Israel in the wilderness.
4. The heinousness of this unbelieving heart is that it “…falls away from the living God.” The Greek word for “falls away” gives us our English word apostasy, which refers to disbelief and rebellion against “the living God.”
B. Now remember that the Holy Spirit knows that all those who claim to be Christians can be a “mixed group” of true believers and “false” believers—those who have intellectually accepted the gospel but have never personally committed themselves to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
1. Therefore, the Spirit applies these warnings like the blast of a sawed-off shotgun intending hit everyone as He knows exactly where we all are in our heart relationship with Jesus Christ. For true believers, these warnings do at least three things:
• First, they cause us to examine our motives and behaviors as to how they match with what God’s Word requires of us (1 Jn. 2:3-6).
• Second, they convict us and cause us to strive for holiness of life.
• Third, they drive us to dependence on God and His grace, which alone enables us continually live as He wills.
2. Although we can and do sin, God will not allow His children to do so completely and indefinitely, for He disciplines those who are His (Heb. 12:5-11).
3. But the Holy Spirit also uses these warnings to reveal to “professing” believers who “fall away” or apostatize from Christ that they were never genuine believers in the first place (Mk. 4:5-6, 16-17; Jn. 8:31; 1 Jn. 2:18-19). It is impossible for anyone to reject Jesus Christ, the highest revelation of God (1:2), and possess a true saving faith.
4. The third aspect of the warning against doubting God’s Word is this:
III. The Command to Encourage each Other
A. Look at 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.
1. The word “encourage” is a command that means “to exhort, to come alongside to give help.” It is in the present tense in the Greek, indicating that this is to be done continually.
2. As believers we are responsible to constantly “encourage one another” by doing such things as “speaking the truth in love” and helping each other be strengthened in our faith and obedience to Christ. This is because God has made us interdependent upon one another for our spiritual growth and health (Eph. 4:11-16).
3. We are all finite, weak, sinful and surrounded by trouble. And since we don’t always respond to situations the way we should, we need people in our lives that will love us enough to confront us when we are not right.
4. Why is this so important? The author says, “…so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
5. Sin lies and deceives and seldom appears as it really is. It tries to convince us that we can make life work apart from Christ. It wants us to use our pain to justify our unloving and sinful attitudes and actions.
6. Therefore, to help keep our hearts from becoming hardened by sin’s deceitfulness we daily need each other’s help in our lives. Notice again the author says, “…encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today.’”
7. Since sin in our lives is a daily battle, the word “Today” again shows the urgency that we are to encourage one another daily. And a way to faithfully do this as a church family is to be in one of our small groups we are starting.
8. Since this is how we can most effectively shepherd people, our desire is that everyone in the church will be in a small group. This is where we go beyond merely discussing the meaning of God’s Word to practically applying its truths to where we are really at in our Christian lives.
9. This is a safe place where love and acceptance is shown to each other. A place where we can be real, transparent and vulnerable about our hurts and struggles, so that we can “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
B. And by encouraging one another we help each other stay faithful to Christ in the midst of our trials. Look at v. 14: For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.
1. And as we saw last time in v. 6, this statement is not speaking about how to be saved or remain saved. The fact that all true believers are “partakers of Christ” is both a present and future reality.
2. We have already “become partakers of Christ” at regeneration—“the beginning of our assurance” but our salvation is not yet consummated “until the end” when we see Him face to face. Remember that God’s warnings against apostasy function as a means to encourage believers to persevere in order to secure their future salvation.
3. Thomas Schreiner accurately states that “all the warning passages in Hebrews carry a singular message: Promised salvation is the inheritance that comes only to those who, after entering into salvation, persevere in faithfulness to the end, for God reserves His promise until the second advent of Christ (Heb. 9:28).” (The Race Set Before Us p. 202)
4. Therefore, the greatest proof of our salvation is our perseverance in the Christian life.
5. The fourth aspect of the warning against doubting God’s Word is this:
IV. The Descent of Hardness of Heart
A. The author of Hebrews concludes this soul-searching section by repeating the basic warning of Psalm 95:7-8, in order to make personal application to his readers and show who these people are. Look at v. 15: While it is said, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.”
1. Those who provoked God are those who harden their hearts against Him in unbelief. The author then presents six questions in three pairs; while the first question of each pair asks the question, the second question answers it.
2. Look at the first pair in v. 16: (Question) For who provoked Him when they had heard? (Answer) Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?
3. The point is this: Although the Israelites began their glorious exodus with great hope and expectation and experienced firsthand all the miracles God did on their behalf, this privileged people was characterized by rebellious unbelief that provoked God.
4. The second pair is in v. 17: (Question) And with whom was He angry for forty years? (Answer) Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
5. The point is this: For forty years the Israelites provoked God to anger as they “sinned” against Him by refusing to trust Him. And as a result, they all died in the wilderness.
6. The third pair is in v. 18: (Question) And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest… (Answer) …but to those who were disobedient?
7. The point is this: Unbelief always leads to disobedience. Although God did so much for Israel, they disobeyed Him. And as a result, they missed the blessing of God’s rest in Canaan.
8. Here we see the descent of their hardness of heart as they left Egypt with hope but it soon turned to rebellious unbelief which led to disobedience and resulted in judgment. They were entirely to blame for their sin.
B. The author then concludes by putting his finger on the core problem in sinful man’s heart in v. 19: So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
1. It was unbelief—not God or their circumstances—that hindered the Israelites from entering the rest God had planned for them and that had every reason to expect when they came out of Egypt. How sad!
2. Sin is always self-defeating! It promises life but always delivers death in the end.
3. And the same is true for us today. Doubting God and the promises of His Word will always prevent us from receiving His best.
May we all learn from the example of Israel’s wilderness experience and not repeat the same mistake they made! Just because we begin well and have great hopes and expectations for the future, doesn’t mean that we will necessarily end well.
Our lifelong Christian journey requires remaining faith in Christ. As believers we are repeatedly told “the just shall live by faith,” that we are to “walk by faith not by sight,” and “without faith it is impossible to please God.” May Israel’s refusal to trust God not happen to us!
Let me ask you: “Have you put your trust in Jesus Christ alone as your personal Savior and Lord?” If you are already a Christian, “Are we truly trusting the Lord in the midst of the circumstances He is allowing you to experience right now?”
Don’t leave here this morning without making a decision to trust Jesus Christ for what His Spirit is speaking to you about! Respond now while His words are fresh in your mind. Please don’t wait!