Captured And Captivated By Christ – Hebrews 3:7-19 – Unbelieving Hearts Among God’s People

Grace For The Journey

Because of persecution and difficulties they were facing as new Christians, they were tempted to turn their backs upon Christ and go back to the old ways of the Old Covenant – essentially leaving Christianity and going back to Judaism.  The writer of Hebrews is warning them not to do this, not to neglect their great salvation.  What the writer does is to . . .

Demonstrate the superiority of Jesus Christ

Over the old system of the Old Covenant.

Jesus is better than anyone or anything –

Chapters 1 and 2: Jesus is better than the prophets

. . . Better than the angels . . . Better than the Law.

Yesterday we looked at the first six verses in chapter 3, and saw that we are to “consider Jesus” who is better than Moses, “the man” of Judaism.  We saw in that passage that Jesus is worthy of more glory because the Messiah is better than Moses as the Builder is better than the Building, and as the Son is better than the Servant. Moses was a faithful servant in the house of God’s people, but Jesus is the faithful Son over the house of God’s people.

This reflection upon Moses and God’s people in the Old Testament leads the writer to write about the unfaithfulness of God’s people who came out of the wilderness, Moses having led them out of Egyptian bondage.  God’s people in slavery for 400 years and finally Moses leads God’s people out of Egypt to take them into the Promised Land of Canaan, but the people lacked faith to enter the land and rebelled against Moses and murmured about Moses and so God punished them by causing them to wander 40 years in the wilderness until the unfaithful generation died out.  The writer reflects upon this tragedy and, quoting from Psalm 95, applies the Exodus narrative to the Hebrew people to whom he is writing.

Look for this as we go through verses 7 through 11.  The teaching about the unfaithfulness of God’s people is a direct quote of Psalm 95:7-11!  Chapter 3:7-11 is from Psalm 95:7-11.  The writer uses the teaching of the unfaithful, unbelieving, and hard-heartedness of God’s people in the Old Testament Exodus story and then applies that wandering in the wilderness event to the Hebrews – lest what happened to those who died in the physical wilderness be true of the Hebrews and they die in the spiritual wilderness of unbelief.  That is verses 12 and following.  You will note that in verse 12, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you and evil heart of unbelief,” and what he teaches after this statement.

Our study is entitled, “Unbelieving Hearts Among God’s People.”  The title suggests that while there is a group of people known as Christ-followers, the church, there may be many among the congregation, many among God’s people, who are not believers, who are actually unbelievers – just as there were many among God’s people in the Old Testament who failed to believe God, failed to remain faithful to God, who consequently died in the wilderness, failing to enter the Promised Land.  What happened to those who died in the physical wilderness is a picture of what happens to those who die in the spiritual wilderness.

If Hebrews teaches us anything it teaches us that only those who remain faithful to God, who go on believing in God, will be those who enter into the Eternal Land of Promise, the Kingdom of God, and the heavenly rest of Jesus Christ.  Only those who are faithful followers of Christ – those who are faithful to the end.  We see that there in verse 14, “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”  This is a similar statement to that which the writer made back up in verse 6 where the writer says that Jesus is the Son over His own house – the people of God – “Whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope,” our hope in Christ firm to the end.”  There is this theme of going on to continue to demonstrate that we are “partakers of the heavenly calling” (verse 1) and “partakers of Christ” (verse 14), because “we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”  Christianity is being captured by Christ . . . Christianity is continuing to be captivated by Christ . . . Christianity is about one surrendering to the Savior; beginning as a true believer, and continuing on as a true believers.

This now the second warning in Hebrews.  In issuing these warnings, the writer does not mean to unsettle true Christians.  He is not attempting to discourage those who have surrendered and are seeking to live in the power of the Holy Spirit as true sons of God.  He is not seeking to rattle true Christians, true believers, who are following Christ day by day.  On the contrary, he is encouraging them to keep their eyes on Jesus.  It is like he’s saying, “Don’t stop!  You can do this!  Keep moving on and growing in your faith!”  That is the way true Christians should read and hear these warnings.

Having said that, the warnings here about continuing after Christ, to not stop believing, to not harden our hearts, do grab our attention, don’t they?  We know all too well how easy it is to fall into sin.  For those are believers . . .

The writer writes these warnings

As the means by which Christians get

Back up and get back into the Christian race.

For those who are not believers . . .

These warning passages serve to illustrate

That no unbelievers will inherit the Promised Land

Of eternal rest apart from turning to

Jesus and following Him day by day.

Before we go any further, note something really cool here.  The writer says in verse 7, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says” and then he quotes from Psalm 95.  What may we learn here?  We learn that the Holy Spirit speaks today!  The phrase, “as the Holy Spirit says,” is present tense.   The Holy Spirit speaks in ways consistent with His Word. The writer teaches the divine authorship of the Old Testament.  He states, “Therefore as the Holy Spirit says,” and then quotes from Psalm 95, “Today if you will hear His voice.” This is an illustration of the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and comes from God.  All of it – the Old Testament, the direct teaching of 2 Timothy, and the New Testament, as well.  The entire Bible is God’s Word.

That is the teaching of verses 7-11, quoting from the Old Testament, Psalm 95.  The application is in verses 12 and following, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”  See the application?  Do not be like the unbelieving, hard-hearted people of the Old Testament who wandered in the wilderness.  See to it that you not have “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God!”  Do not depart!  Do not drift away!  Do not neglect your great salvation in Christ!

It is a straightforward, “in your face” kind of warning.  I find the bluntness refreshing Dr. Chuck Lawless, is dean and one of the vice presidents of Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  Dr. Lawless once told about how a young Christian classmate in elementary school witnessed to him every morning.  Dr. Lawless said when he arrived at the school in the morning, this young classmate would be there at the front door and would greet him every single morning by saying, “Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t die last night or you would have gone to hell.”  He did that every school day for the entire school year.  Dr. Chuck shared that the young man’s approach may not have been the most winsome evangelistic strategy, but he said it definitely got him to thinking and was one of those things that led to his internalizing the Gospel message, “It’s a good thing you didn’t die last night or you would have gone to hell.” 

The writer of Hebrews wants us to do some hard thinking, too.  He wants us to examine ourselves and check out our hearts, “lest there be in any of us and evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”

Verse 13 says, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”  Exhort one another! Encourage one another daily!  Daily, “while it is called ‘Today.’” When is today?  Today!  Several times in this passage the writer of Hebrews uses this word “today.”  You see it twice here in verse 13; it is also in verse 7, verse 15, and in chapter 4 and verse 7.  Following Christ is about following Him today.  We continue to follow as long as it is called today.  Every day we live, that day is called today.  

The word of Christian living is “today.”

The word of the world is “tomorrow.”

Satan tempts you to put off Christ till tomorrow.  To not think of Jesus until tomorrow. We know the danger of putting off for tomorrow things we should do today, don’t we? Even in the general sense of procrastination.  I think of this poem about tomorrow written by Edgar Albert Guest.  It is about the danger of allowing the opportunities of today to slip away by putting them off till tomorrow . . .

He was going to be all that a mortal should be Tomorrow.
  No one should be kinder or braver than he Tomorrow.
A friend who was troubled and weary he knew,
  Who’d be glad of a lift and who needed it, too;
On him he would call and see what he could do Tomorrow.

Each morning he stacked up the letters he’d write Tomorrow.
  And thought of the folks he would fill with delight Tomorrow.
It was too bad, indeed, he was busy today,
  And hadn’t a minute to stop on his way;
More time he would have to give others, he’d say Tomorrow.

The greatest of workers this man would have been Tomorrow.
  The world would have known him, had he ever seen Tomorrow.
But the fact is he died and he faded from view,
  And all that he left here when living was through
Was a mountain of things he intended to do Tomorrow.

The writer says here in verse 13: “Exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”  Verses 14 and 15 declare, “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said (and again here a quote from Psalm 95): “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

Then the application again of Psalm 95 upon the Hebrews in verses 16 to the end of the chapter, by use of rhetorical questions, “For who, having heard, rebelled?  Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? (and the answer is yes) Now with whom was He angry forty years?  Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? (yes, that’s right; several hundred thousand corpses fell in the wilderness)
And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? (No one else, just those who did not obey, who did not believe) So (or therefore) we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”  The warning is: “Do not be like them!”  Do not harden your heart.  Do not fail to believe God.  Do not turn your back on God by turning your back on Christ.  Stay faithful, faithful to the end.  Keep running for Christ!

Let me give you two main actions and then a number of warnings about hardening our hearts.

First the two main actions to take that come right out of verses 12 and 13 . . .

1) Personal Responsibility—Take Care of Your Own Heart – Verse 12.

Verse 12 states, “Beware (see to it; be careful), brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”  More in a moment about how to guard our hearts from becoming “evil hearts of unbelief.”  For now, note that this is a matter of personal responsibility.  Each Christian must take care of his own heart and see that he “not depart from the living God.”  Remember, Christianity is about continuing, keeping on, and moving forward in our walk with Christ.

A story came out recently about Scott Hamilton, the TV voice of figure skating for  decades.  He won the gold medal in 1984 in a memorable performance in Sarajevo. Since then, he has fought off cancer and a number of brain tumors, but he was always the guy in the Broadcast Booth providing commentary on the Olympic skaters.

At the last Olympics for the first time Hamilton was put in a “back seat” sort of role, no longer the main voice, demoted to an entirely different role, and no longer in the Broadcast Booth providing commentary.  The producers thanked him for his years of service and said it was time for a change.  The article was about Hamilton’s response, highlighting his ability to persevere and “bounce back” from challenges over the years and overcoming the odds.  I was particularly struck by his statement, “I calculated once how many times I fell during my skating career – 41,600 times.  But here’s the funny thing, I got up 41,600 times.  That’s the muscle you have to build in your psyche—the one that reminds you to just get up.”  Interestingly, the article’s headline read: “Fall Down. Get Back Up. Repeat.”

In many ways that describes the Christian life of perseverance.  There are those times we fall down.  What will we do?  We will get back up.  When we fall down again, what will we do again?  Get back up.  Fall Down.  Get Back Up.  Repeat.  Personal responsibility.

But there is also . . .

2) Corporate Accountability – Take Care of the Hearts of Others – Verse 13.

The Christian faith is a “one-another” faith.  We are disciples who make disciples of others.  That is inherent in mission – We are disciples who make disciples.  That means we care about the hearts of our brothers and sisters.  That means we love each other and encourage one another.  Recall verse 13, “but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”  Encourage one another.  Live for one another in the body of Christ such that you say, “Hey, keep moving!  Keep going!  Do not stop!”  Like a support crew encourages a runner to keep running, making sure the runner is hydrated and stays physically and mentally strong.

There was a really neat documentary on Youtube about the Badwater 135 ultra marathon.  A marathon is 26 miles. This ultra-marathon is 135 miles.  Can you believe it?!  The Badwater 135 ultra-marathon is a journey through the Badwater Basin in California’s Death Valley.  The race is held in mid-July with temperatures reaching upwards of 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the movie, there is one runner, Gabriel Flores, whose support crew consists of his two brothers.  It is neat to watch his brothers encourage Gabriel to keep running.  One of them comes up alongside him from time to time and says, “Gabriel, you are my hero!”  And I kept thinking of that as I read this portion of the passage.  I could picture Christians coming alongside one another and saying, “Don’t stop, keep moving, you are my hero!”  That is the idea here.

I want to conclude with an application of the last part of verse 13, “lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” I was listening to a sermon by Alistair Begg where he applied to this passage the classic book on the Christian life by John Bunyan, the book Pilgrim’s Progress.  John Bunyan in the 17th Century, wrote the entire book, an allegory, during his 12-year imprisonment in England, put in prison for preaching the gospel without a license – hard to even imagine.  Bunyan was a master storyteller who conveyed numerous Christian truths through conversations between characters in the story, characters who are persevering, moving forward in the Christian faith, enduring to the end.  There is a section where the main character, Christian, is having a conversation with Hopeful and they are talking about a fella named Temporary.  As his name suggests, Temporary, was a man who followed Christ – temporarily – and fell back to old ways and sin.  From their reflections on backsliding, Christian offers nine reasons professing Christians fall into sin.  Of course, Bunyan, is behind the writing and – applied to our passage here in Hebrews – you could call these “Nine Warning Signs We May Be Hardening our Hearts.”  Note the progression here . . .

1.   They turn their thoughts away from any reminder of God, death, and judgment to come.

2.   Then they gradually cease their private duties, such as devotional prayer, curbing their lusts, being vigilant, being repentant for sin, and the like.

3.   Then they shun the company of lively and sincere Christians.

4.   After that they grow indifferent to public duties such as hearing and reading the Word, gathering together for worship, and the like.

5.   Then they begin to find fault with some of the godly, and the devilish purpose behind this is to find some alleged reason for turning away from religion.

6.   Then they begin to associate with worldly, immoral, and sensual men.

7.   Then they secretly indulge in worldly and lewd conversations; and they are happy if they can find any who are considered honest doing the same, so they may use their example as an excuse to indulge more boldly.

8.   After this they begin to play with little sins openly.

9.   And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they really are. Launched again into the gulf of misery, they are lost forever in their own deception, unless a miracle of grace prevents it. —Bunyan, John. The New Pilgrim’s Progress (1989, Discovery House Publishers)

I share the list with you as a warning to each and every one of us – including myself.  I do this in keeping with verses 12 and 13, that we “exhort one another – lest any of us be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

Has sin got a hold of you?  Do not be deceived by it.  Do not allow a flirtation with sin de-sensitize your heart.  Do not harden your heart.  As we respond to this teaching, we respond as either believers or unbelievers.  But the application is the same to both: “Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart.”

Some of us need to repent this morning.  If you are not a Christian, if you are not following Jesus, not following after Christ, today – let go of your sin and embrace Christ. I encourage you to repent from your sin, turn to Christ, and ask Him to be your Savior and Lord.  

Those of us who are Christians, are you guilty of allowing your heart to be captured or captivated by something other than Jesus?  Let go of those sins you have been playing with.  Confess to Christ and receive the pardon that is yours through the grace of Christ.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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