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Hebrews

Looking Forward

Hebrews  3

Our author continues his warnings. In this section, he compares the past – in the example of the people of Israel in the time of Moses – with our future. The first word tells you that this is an example of the last argument: the more you know, the higher the standard to which God will hold you.

The subject is hope

1Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. 2He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. 6But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.

Perhaps we might begin by noting to whom this passage is addressed:

  • Holy brothers. This is written to those who are holy – set apart for God. So this is not an exhortation to salvation; rather, it presumes that you are already set apart for God.
  • Who share in the heavenly calling. Not only are you set apart, but God has called you to some specific task. You are “under orders” from heaven itself, and heaven’s monarch, God the Father.
  • “Whom we confess”. This is no secret calling. Rather, you are the ones who confess the name of Jesus, stating publicly that you believe.

This, then, defines the minimum qualification for what now is said.

Having made it clear that he is talking to Christians, he introduces Christ as High Priest – a thought on which he will elaborate in future lessons. But he sets before us two characteristics of Christ. Note these two:

  • He is faithful – and as such, is example to us.
  • He is worthy of honor. Not only should we honor him in our speech and in our conduct, we should know that God rewards those who are faithful with honor. The objective of this lesson is to make sure that you are included among those so honored.

Son versus servant

Perhaps this idea would be made clear by an example. In my daydreams I have often wanted to be the owner (and patriarch) of a grand hacienda. It would be a place of hospitality and good times. Such a place needs many workers – household servants, if you will. But when I die, no servant will be promoted to the head of the house; rather, my son will inherit it.

Now, the house of God referred to in this passage is the church. It is no secret that some will fall away from the church – abandoning the hope of the Resurrection. It is said that we are saved by hope[1]. But so often we find that our hopes are rather disappointed; we see the wicked prosper and despair – or begin to chase the same things they long after. So it is that our author sticks in an “if.” We shall be saved IF:

  • We hold on to our hope – always looking forward to the coming of our Lord and the resurrection of the dead.
  • We also hold on to our courage – for courage is the foundation on which all virtues rest.
Example of Israel

Hebrews 3:7-11 NASB 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 IN 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.'"

Of faith and evidence

One of the common mistakes of new Christians is that they feel weak in the faith – and long for a miracle or two to strengthen that faith. But consider ancient Israel – miracles enough to overwhelm anyone. But what was their reaction?

No faith. Faith looks forward – but it should also look backwards and see what God has done. It’s easy to say we would have believed had we seen all that they had seen. So why didn’t they believe?

The answer, simply, is hardness of heart. Faith is a relationship of trust between two persons, one of whom is God. To have faith is to risk being hurt – to be tender hearted, in other words. It is only the tender heart that can have faith.

Symptoms

So how, then, can one detect the signs of a heart that is hardened? If this is so serious a problem (and it is), we need to know the early warning signs. We are given them here:

  • Testing God. The Christian who is constantly demanding that God perform to his own timetable; the Christian who is constantly putting his relationship with God to a test of his own making – these are the ones who suffer hardness.
  • The heart astray. Here we see a clear indication: it is when God is no longer first in your heart. That which takes his place is often a good thing; it is never the best thing.
  • “Not known my ways.” Perhaps the simplest of the warning signs: you no longer take the time to discover what God desires. Prayer is short and formal; Scripture reading is done only in Bible class; warnings of your brothers and sisters ignored. (I told you this passage is addressed to real Christians).

God’s Reaction

The “happy old grandfather” view of God is not espoused here (or anywhere else in the Bible). Rather, see God’s reaction to what amounts to betrayal by those who call him Lord:

  • Anger. This seems rather a petty thing at first – but shouldn’t God have a problem with those who claim his name but do not follow his teaching? The strongest wrath of God is reserved for those who do this. There is such a thing as righteous anger.
  • “On oath.” So that you might know that he means it, that it certainly will come to pass, God takes a solemn oath. He who cannot lie wants you to see with certainty the danger of sliding away from him.
  • Never enter his rest. Are you always busy, always worried? Do you live your life from crisis to crisis? Is there no peace in your heart? The Israelites had the same problem, arising from the same sins. He will not give peace to those who claim his name unworthily.
What should we do?

OK, that’s what happens to those who get it wrong. But what should we do to prevent this from happening to us?

Hebrews 3:12-17 NASB 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." (16) For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? (17) And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?

“See to it…”

Kindly note the phrase. Our writer is talking to us as brothers, giving us stern advice in a gentle manner.

  • Do not have a sinful heart. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of desiring that which you should not have. Whether it is coveting, lusting or pride, keep your heart from it.
  • Do not have an unbelieving heart. Make the leap of faith wholeheartedly.
  • Beware of the effect sin has on the heart: it produces unbelief. (I recall Granoff’s Law: “I want to sleep with my girlfriend, therefore there is no God.”)

Rather

When teaching, it’s usually wise to follow “thou shalt not” with “thou shalt.”

  • Encourage one another. Do it on a daily basis. Christianity is not a solo flight, but a team effort. Each of us has the ability to encourage another – so none of us is without excuse.
  • Stay in right relationship with the authority God has set up in the church – do not rebel. In our time, rebelliousness is colored as a virtue, but it is not so.
  • Hold on firmly to the end. Marathon runners will often tell you they have only one goal in running: to finish the race, to make it all the way to the finish line. So it is with us – we must hold on to the end.

Success – sharing in Christ.

The reward glitters at the end of the race. We shall become joint heirs of the kingdom with Jesus. It is beyond imagination what God will do at the return of Christ. But again, there is the “if”:

  • If we hold on firmly. This is no half-hearted effort. It will require all that you have and all that you are.
  • If we hold on to the end. If you make it half way through life, and then quit – you didn’t finish the race. The trophy will not be yours.
  • If we hold on with the same confidence. This is not to be done with timidity. It is to be done boldly. Having trouble with boldness? Remember that you are a child of the King of Kings – and this is how you stay that way.

[1] Romans 8:24

[2] Psalm 95:7-11

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