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Apr 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 19, 2020


Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness . . . . Hebrews 3:7-8

Intro: Since our text begins with a quote from Psalm 95, let’s go there first

The psalm begins with a call to worship
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
(Ps. 95:1-2)
Next, the psalm tells us why we worship
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land
(Ps. 95:3-5)
Now the psalm repeats with another call to worship
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
(Ps. 95:6)
And, again keeping with the pattern, we are told why we worship
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand
(Ps 95:7a)

So, first we worship the LORD, because he is a great God
– then, second, we worship him
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture
• and worship is what his people do

With the last line in verse 7, the poet makes a turn
– and it seems like he is saying,
“Well? What are you waiting for?
Don’t drag your feet, and don’t do
what our ancestors did!”
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have now known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest”
(Ps. 95:7b-11)
– the wilderness generation paid a terrible price for their rebellion
• so now the writer of Hebrews is telling his readers,
◦ if they follow the example of that earlier generation,
◦ they will forfeit something wonderful

Now back to Hebrews chapter 3, verse 7

The writer began by telling us to consider Jesus (v. 1)
– we benefit from what he does for us as our apostle and high priest
• and we benefit from his faithfulness to God
◦ he calls us to a transcendent partnership
◦ and we become members of his household, under his care
• but this meditation on Jesus ended with an “if” (v. 14)
– to illustrate why there’s an “if,” the writer turns to the psalm
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
• this intro to the psalm deserves attention
1. it shows us his profound respect for inspiration of scripture
◦ it is no less than God who speaks by his Spirit
2. note how he uses “says” instead of “said”
◦ the Bible isn’t just a book of messages for long ago,
◦ in Jesus, scripture speaks through time in the present tense
and in Jesus, the old Scriptures become fresh and are filled with new meanings

I have been reading in the Book of Acts this week, and it seems remarkable to me how quickly the apostles found references to Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, in Peter’s first sermon after Jesus’ death he quoted two passages at length and referenced other sayings. Not long after, the Christian community was quoting Psalm 2 in their prayer (Acts 4:25-26). This is a psalm that our writer of Hebrews has also mentioned (only he emphasized a different verse from the ones they quoted). So almost immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples were going over their Scriptures and finding many references to him.
In Luke’s gospel, one of the last things Jesus did for his apostles–and it was a wonderful gift that he gave them–he told them,
“. . . everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures . . . . (Lk. 24:44-45)
Our Wednesday night Lectio Divina is rooted in this practice. We listen (lectio) for the Spirit to speak to us today through the sacred (divina) Scriptures.

Notice that the writer chose a psalm that also has an “if”

In fact, that is where he begins his quotation
Today, if you hear his voice
– he is going to stay with this psalm for awhile; almost to the end of chapter 4
• he will quote different lines from it and emphasize specific words
◦ he is using it as a warning
• there were others who had journeyed with God in the past,
◦ yet failed to attain their destiny
– where did they go wrong?
• the simple diagnosis is, they had “heart problems”
. . . do not harden your hearts (v. 8)
They always go astray in their heart (v. 10)
• they did wrong, because their hearts were wrong

When I read the psalm, two place names were mentioned
– the original readers would have recognized Meribah and Massah
• and they would have known what happened there (Ex. 17)
• but those who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek
◦ did not use the Hebrew names, but translated their meaning
rebellion and testing
– that particular event was not the last straw for Israel
• but it is and example that represents forty years of bad behavior
• what does it mean to “test” God?
◦ it is like children when they test their parents
◦ they explore their boundaries to see how far they can go before there are real consequences for their actions

Therefore I was provoked with that generation – they finally crossed the line
– they reached border of promised land and rebelled
• this was indicative of a set pattern, They always go astray
– I want to point something interesting, threaded through the Old Testament
• God said of Israel, that they
saw my works and yet they have not known my ways
ways refers to what is internalized in God’s heart
◦ how he operates (so to speak), what he wants in our lives
◦ for example, God said that if someone is going to boast, let him
boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD (Jer. 9:23-24)
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts; . . .
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD
(Isa. 55:6-9)
• God’s “works” refers to his “ways” when acting on them
◦ so,
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel
(Ps. 103:7)
◦ think of how those differ
God revealed to Moses the intent and motive behind his actions
The people only witnessed his actions

As I swore in my wrath
– the writer of Hebrews has a keen interest in all that God says
• so he pays close attention to the times when God swore an oath
◦ he will cite three instances of God swearing an oath
◦ regarding Israel, regarding Abraham, and regarding his Son
• the point: with the oath, God shut the door on Israel
◦ there would be no opening it,
◦ to allow that generation to enter the promised land

What does this psalm have to do with readers?

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion Hebrews 3:12-15

Take care translates one Greek word, “to see” – “Look out”
– Paul in 2 Corinthians wrote,
examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5)
• the writer of Hebrews is saying something similar
“watch out, because there may be in you an evil heart of unbelief”
◦ “evil” is not always moral, but can mean bad, like an over-ripe fruit
“Don’t drink the milk, it’s gone bad”
◦ e.g., our hearts go bad when our love for God goes cold
or when we settle into a fixed, negative attitude
unbelieving – can mean that our faith gives out
◦ or it can also mean that we become unfaithful to God
◦ when Israel went astray, it was usually to pursue other gods
leading you to fall away from the living God
– it is the heart that leads a person
• what matters is not only what we know,
◦ but how we feel about what we know
living God occurs four times in Hebrews
◦ the Old Testament prophets pointed out that idols did not have breath (or sight, or speech, nor could they do anything)
◦ they said idols were “vanity”–i.e., emptiness, nothingness

I am not a fan of the word “exhort”
– too many Christians assume that it gives them license to rip on others
• to fix others, straighten them out, give them a good dressing down
◦ what they call exhortation is, in fact, condemnation
◦ but exhortation and condemnation have two different goals
– a better translation here would be “encourage”
• it is related to word Jesus used for the Spirit – the Comforter
◦ person you call when you need support, comfort, affirmation
as long as it is called today
◦ the writer will emphasize that there’s no expiration date for “today”

How can we provide this encouragement and support for each other during a time of quarantine?
– e-communication, of course, offers several ways: text, e-mail, social media
• a friend who participated in lectio divina by way of Zoom afterward said,
“I wouldn’t have believed it was possible, but I really got something out of this”
• keep warming up faith – in your heart and in the hearts of others
For we have come to share in Christ
– to share gives us a sense of belonging
• Jesus belongs to us–though we don’t “own” him
(no one corners the market on God)
• we belong to Jesus
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Song 6:3)

A quiz–and there are three questions

The answers to the quiz are in the quotation from Psalm 95
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who ere disobedient? Sow we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief Hebrews 3:16-18

Luke Johnson, “. . . each question has in effect, the same answer from a slightly different perspective.”
– the conclusion drawn by our writer is that Israel came all that way, for all those years, but stopped short of their goal
So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief Hebrews 3:19
– it was a failure of faith, and a failure of faithfulness

Conclusion: Does God punish us for our attitude and behavior
when we’re having a bad day?

No, I don’t believe we’re punished for how we feel on our bad days
– but there’s always a danger that a bad attitude can harden a heart
• and then become a permanent disposition
• more importantly, every day we are given the chance to choose better
Today, if you will hear his voice
– we can listen, we can respond, we can choose:
• to come and sing to the LORD, to make a joyful noise
• to come and worship and bow down, and kneel before God
• to go on regardless of how we feel
◦ we can still do good things on our bad days
◦ we can still follow God on this journey of faith
• to not allow our hearts to be led astray
◦ and when we find we have gone astray, to return–quickly!
• to learn God’s ways
make me to know your ways, O LORD (Ps. 25:4)
• to stay in “today” – with focused attention on God NOW
• to hold fast and hold firm our confidence in God

Jesus has faithfully brought us this far,
we can trust him for the rest of the way

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