David Jeremiah - Do You Have a Hard Heart?
I'm David Jeremiah, here to remind you of a truth you may have heard before. The same hot summer sun that will turn the ground into concrete will also melt a stick of butter. One becomes hard, the other becomes soft, and there's a spiritual lesson in that simple illustration that we'll talk about in today's message from our current series "Jesus Is Enough" on the New Testament book of Hebrews. The title of today's message asks a question. "Do You Have a Hard Heart"? If we're not careful, our heart can become as hard as the ground on a July afternoon. The writer of the book of Hebrews explains where a hard heart begins and how to keep it from happening. I'll explain both if you'll join me for today's edition of "Turning Point".
If you're like me and you watch television not very much but sometimes, you're quite amazed when commercials come on television for a medical product. And while they're telling you what this product is going to do to heal your various diseases, they give you all the warnings of the things that can happen to you if you take this product, and after you listen to all those warnings you decide to keep the disease you have. Sometimes, it actually seems like the warnings that come with health products are scarier than the disease you're trying to cure.
As crazy as some warnings may sound, we all need warning signs in our lives, don't we? In the last part of Hebrews chapter 3 we have two warning signs. These two warning signs are wrapped around the heart, warning signs about your heart. He begins in verses 7 through 11 with the discussion of the disobedience of a hard heart and his discussion begins with an exhortation to the Hebrews in verse 7 and 8a. He says, "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts'".
Now, three times in Hebrews chapter 3, once in Hebrews 4 we are warned against a hard heart, the disobedience of a hard heart. Notice in verse 8, "Do not harden your hearts". Hebrews 3:13, "Exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin". Hebrews 3:15, "While it is said: 'Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your heart'". And Hebrews 4:7, "Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your heart".
Now, if you see something like that four times in the context of a few verses, guess what? This is about hard hearts. This is about people who have hearts that get calloused to the things of God. Notice that the word in the text is the word "today". Say that word with me, "Today". You know, we need to get that word back in our vocabulary. The word "today" is a God Word. I think the word "tomorrow" is a Satan word. The word that you find in the Scripture from God is always the word "today". There's never a tomorrow. The enemy is the one who comes and tells us tomorrow.
In the history of Israel, the Holy Spirit is telling the Hebrews that the road of tomorrow leads to the town of nowhere and never. Every time the Spirit of God speaks to us and we refuse to respond, our hearts get a little harder, and, ultimately, if we continue this pattern of unbelief we are unable to respond because our hearts are so hard that they cannot respond to the outward stimulus of the Word of God. 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, "For he says: 'In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation".
The space between God's command and our response does not belong to God. It belongs to the enemy, because God is the God of obedience, and Satan is the emissary of disobedience, and when God speaks, if we allow time to elapse before we respond, we give over that time to the enemy because that's what he does. He talks us into not doing what God tells us to do. In giving the exhortation, the writer of Hebrews is gonna give us a little illustration or an example, and he goes back to the Old Testament history of Israel and tells us about what is called in the Scripture "as in the rebellion".
Notice verses 8b and 9 the rebellion. "As in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested me and tried me, and saw my works for forty years". The word for rebellion is "meribah". The word for trial is "massah". Now, those words don't mean anything to you unless you read what happened.
Now let me read from Exodus chapter 17. "And all the congregation of the children of Israel set on their journey from the wilderness of sin, according to the commandment of the Lord, and they camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people contended with Moses, and they said, 'Give us water, that we may drink.' And Moses said to them, 'Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?' And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, 'Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?'"
Now, remember what God has just done for them. If God can part the Red Sea, do you think he can't provide a little water? But they had lost their faith. They no longer believed and at the commandment of God Moses was told to relieve their stress. Exodus 17:4-7 we read, "So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, 'What shall I do with these people?'" Every pastor has said that on a Monday morning at one time or another. "O Lord, what shall I do with these people"?
"'They are almost ready to stone me!' And the Lord said to Moses, 'Go before the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel. Take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.' And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah", rebellion and testing, "because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying", listen, "'Is the Lord among us or not?'"
After all he had done for them, they're asking that question. "Is the Lord in my life or not? Is God with me or not"? Now, before you get too critical of the Israelites have we not done that? After all that God has done for us, after everything he's provided for us, are there not occasions in the wilderness when we say, "Is God with us or not"? Only two men stood up for God: Joshua and Caleb. By the way, they were the only two men who got to go into the land of Canaan after that whole generation of unbelief became dead corpses in the wilderness.
Now, the problem was that when the spies came back Israel turned negative. Have you ever been around a group that turns negative? Some of you have been in churches that have turned negative. For hour after hour, they sat around with all this negativity about what was gonna happen to them, how they were better off in Egypt. At least they had a square meal every day, even though they had to work hard. Now they had to go through the wilderness. Now God is gonna send 'em into the Promised Land. They're gonna get massacred by all these giants and cry and grumble and complain, negativity hour after hour.
"And the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel. And the Lord said to Moses: 'How long will these people reject me? And how long will they not believe me, with all the signs which I have performed among them"? And Moses begged God to forgive the Israelites for their unbelief, and God responded with these words, "And the Lord said: 'I have pardoned, according to your word; but truly, as I live, before all these men have seen my glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded my voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected me", except for Joshua and Caleb.
No one over 20 years of age was allowed to enter the Promised Land, including Moses, and during the next 38 years Joshua and Caleb got up every morning and went to a funeral from somebody of their generation who was left to die in the wilderness. God had so many wonderful things for these people just waiting across the border, and the only thing that kept them from getting them was their unwillingness to believe God. Their hearts had been hardened, and they would not believe.
Now, the rest of this passage is, sort of, like the application of all of this to us. We need to remember what happened in Israel, but let's go to the second point in this lesson, which is the deceitfulness of an evil heart, and we begin in verse 12 with the peril we need to look out for. It says in verse 12, "Beware, brethren". That's us. That's them. That's the Hebrews. That's us. That's why it's in the Bible. "Beware, brethren", and sistren, beware, watch, "lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin".
The author here is concerned that the believers to whom he is writing, any of you, any of us, might do what they did. The call to believers then and now is to beware, to watch out for, and not get caught up in unbelief, because unbelief will keep us from what God wants in our lives. It will keep us from his promises. It will keep us from his rest, according to the Scripture. It won't take away our salvation if we have trusted Christ, but our unwillingness to trust Christ will keep us from what God wants in our life.
And sometimes we have to ask this question: if I can trust God with eternity, why can I not trust him with next week then? If I can trust God to get me from Earth to heaven and keep me there forever and ever, why is it that I cannot trust Jesus Christ to help me work through that problem I've got in my life, in my marriage, in my family, in the place where I work? I cannot trust him, and in our unbelief we pull back, and then we keep pulling back until our hearts are hardened and we miss everything God wants us to have. The peril we need to look out for is that we allow our hearts to be hardened so that we don't hear the truth and we won't respond to it.
Now, notice this is, kind of, out of context in some ways, but it's so precious in the sense that the second point is there is a peril we need to look out for, and there are people we need to look after. Notice what it says in verse 13, "But exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin". The word "exhort" is the same word for encourage, so let's read it again. "But encourage one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin".
These are the people we need to look after and notice how different things might have been at Kadesh Barnea if the people who had come back even with some discouraging information had, instead of trying to discourage everybody, decided, "This is what God has called us to do. Let's encourage one another, and we can do it". So, looking back over this section, here is the downward spiral we need to avoid, and I'm gonna put these up on the screen. Here's the downward spiral: from unbelief to departure, to sin, to being deceived, and being hardened. That's what happens.
In spite of all that God has done for us, if we're not careful, we forget the heritage we have in Christ. And, like I said before, we're okay to trust him for eternity. It's tomorrow that I can't believe him for, so there is a past we need to look back to. Notice in verse 14 and 15, "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence to the end, while it is said: 'Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion'".
I know this is a hard saying, but listen carefully. In the Bible it says that we are to make sure of our faith. We're to examine ourselves to see whether or not we're in the faith. Now, here is what I want you to understand from this. If you're a Christian and you've accepted Christ, you will have detours in your life. All of us have had those, including your speaker, but your detours never take you clear away from God, with no desire in your heart to return. If you can be a Christian and walk away from God for years and years and never have any desire in your heart to return, then you never have known Jesus in the first place, because the Bible says that God puts his seed within us when we become Christians, and we are born again.
How many of you know you cannot be unborn? And you become God's person, God's family. There's a verse in 1 John chapter 2 that maybe summarizes this thought better than anything I could say. Let me read it to you. It's in 2:19. It says here, "They went out from us, but they were never of us; if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us". Did you get that? It says in this group there were some who came and hung out with everybody, but then one day they left, and they went out, and they went out from us because they never really were of us. And they went out from us in order that they might be manifested and that they were never of us in the first place.
And that's really a lot of what Hebrews is talking about, these threshold Christians, if you will, who would come close to the gospel, but then had pulled back and gone back into Judaism. What the writer of Hebrews is saying is this: your inability to understand your initial confidence in Christ and to persevere as a saint. And there's a part of that that maybe we'll never understand, but our confidence in Christ and our staying with Christ is what demonstrates that Christ is really in our lives. You may have been on some journeys away from him, but the very fact you're in church today tells me something is going on in your heart that's bringing you back to where you once were. You haven't lost your salvation. The Bible says you don't lose your salvation, but you can lose the joy of your salvation. Anybody know about that?
So, the author ends this chapter now. We've looked at the peril we need to look out for, the people we need to look after, the past we need to look back to. Here is the last point, and we're finished: the process we need to look into. Notice what it says, and this is an interesting passage. Verse 16 through 19, "For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose 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? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief".
Now, I don't know if you've looked at your Bible, but there is a lotta question marks in that passage. There are six questions, five, perhaps six, if you read it in the original language. Now, what are these questions? It's interesting. There's three sets of two questions, and in the three sets of two questions one question asks the question, and the next question answers the question. You know who are good at asking questions to answer questions? Women. Mothers. They're tremendous at it. It's, sort of, a indoor sport with them, and so don't be so hard on the writer of Hebrews.
He's gonna ask three questions, and he's gonna answer them with three questions. First of all, he says in the first set of questions that in situations like we've described today, we often move from information to insubordination.
Question number one: Who, having heard, rebelled. They heard, and they rebelled.
Answer to question number one: Was it not all who Moses led out of Egypt? Of course. Second set of questions, from insubordination to iniquity.
Question number two: With whom was God angry for 40 years?
Answer: Was it not those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? Of course.
Question number three: We've gone from information to insubordination, from insubordination to iniquity, and the third set of questions takes us from iniquity to immovability. Question number three, to whom did he swear that they should not enter his rest?
Answer: To those who did not obey.
And the word "obey" here is an incredible word. It is a word which means obstinance. It means they did not just not obey. Their hearts had been so hard, and they didn't even hear. They had no desire to obey. Now, watch again the progression from information to insubordination. "I won't do what you tell me". From insubordination to iniquity it becomes more hardened in our hearts, and from iniquity to immovability, when you get to the third set of questions, you can no longer respond, because your heart has been so hardened that the information of the Word of God no longer penetrates your heart. And apart from an intervention by the Spirit of God to break that heart open, you've passed your today, and you're in that awful place called tomorrow.
And so, the passage ends with this Word, "So we see they could not enter in because of unbelief", the evil heart of unbelief. Hebrews chapter 3, verses 7 through 19 is about this. In the Christian life it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish, and I wanna tell you people, I wanna finish strong. I wanna come across the finish line with my hands up high, screaming at the top of my lungs, "Hallelujah. Praise God. I'm home".
I don't wanna be a casualty in the last years of my life. I don't want to let anything that God has done in my life keep me from believing that he has still much more to give. The land of Canaan is filled with promise, and if that's true for me it ought to be true for all of us. Some of us here today, we started out great. We were on fire for the Lord, and then sometimes your career can get in your way, and it takes you on a detour, and it takes a long time for you to get back.
Today, if you do not harden your heart, receive the message of Christ. For those of you who are not Christians, today is the day you should receive Christ. And for those of you who are Christians, who have allowed the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and all those other thorns that grow up along the way to squelch God's work in your life, the very fact that you're hearing this message and you're open to do something about it is a testimony to the fact that God is still at work in your life. And today is the day for you to say, "Okay, Lord God, I will do it. I will respond".