Final Sermon Outline: Hebrews 3:7-14
Recently, I spent a week studying Psalm 149. Every day I would read and meditate upon it. But then one morning I read these words as if for the very first time, “Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly!” In that moment it occurred to me that I had never obeyed Psalm 149.
My initial reaction was to excuse myself by saying that this Psalm was a call to worship God as we gather as a congregation. This eased my conscience a bit but I continued to read and came to verse 5 which says, “Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.” Again I was confronted by these words that called me to worship at church and in my bed at home and everywhere in between; yet I had not done it.
Psalm 149 describes what should be happening among God’s people. We are to praise the LORD as we gather together to hear the Word. We are then sent out with obedient and faithful hearts to apply the Word of God in our lives. And at the end of the day we continue to honor God as we lie down in our beds and sing high praises to God.
According to Psalm 149 this is how people ought to honor the LORD; but we don’t always do it. In fact, we need continual encouragement to do this with any consistency. Last week Ray Haas pointed out that there is a rest for our souls that is far better than even the physical sleep that the psalmist hoped to enjoy as he laid his head down on the pillow at night (5). To enter this ‘greater rest’ we need daily encouragement from the scriptures and from each other.
In our text the author of Hebrews reminds believers that their forefathers had neglected to do these very things. Therefore, he warns these believers not to be like them. Their forefathers never entered into the rest that God intended because of their disobedience and unbelief.
The mouths of their forefathers were not full of worship and the high praises of God (149:6); instead their mouths were full of grumbling and complaining. Their forefathers did not respond to the Word of God with obedient faith; instead they hardened their hearts and provoked the LORD to anger for over forty years (95:10). Their hearts were not full of rejoicing and gladness; instead they rebelled against the LORD (Hebrews 3:8).
I read Psalm 149 for a week before I heeded the call to worship the LORD; but for forty years, despite having seen God’s power and having heard the Good News that generation never obeyed the call to worship and they did not enter into God’s rest.
That generation grumbled and complained for forty years in the wilderness. Thomas Watson once said, “Every murmurer is his own martyr; he is a murderer: he kills many at once, his joy, his comfort, his peace, his rest, his soul.”
Our hearts also are prone to be like the Israelite's and Hebrews 3:7-12 are given to warn us about continuing in these things. In this text the author of Hebrews encourages believers to not harden their hearts in foolish unbelief. We read,
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, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
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.”
Notice that our text begins with the word ‘Therefore’. This reminds us to consider the context. We have seen in the larger context that the author has argued successfully that Jesus is greater than the prophets (1:1), than the angels (1:5-2:18), and He is greater than Moses (3:1-6).
In the Old Testament God had spoken through prophets who spoke faithfully about the Prophet who was to come into the world (3:5). As we began this book the author wasted no time in letting us know that God has sent His Son into the world and we’re now supposed to listen to Him. [Hebrews 1:2 said, “God has now spoken to us by His Son”.]
Consider the next five words of our text which says, “as the Holy Spirit says”. Here we discover that the author of Hebrews had a very high view of the Word of God. He believed that every text from the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, was divinely inspired and given by the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps this is important to consider at this point in this letter. The author of Hebrews has made the point that God had spoken through the prophets but now He speaks through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2). Some might wrongly conclude that the Old Testament should be ignored now that Jesus has come.
The author of Hebrews and all the other authors of scripture would disagree. For example, In Acts 1:15-16 Luke quotes Peter who says, “Brothers the scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David...”. (CF - Acts 4:25)
Notice the tense of the verb in our text. It says, “...as the Holy Spirit says” (Present Tense). The Holy Spirit speaks to every generation through the scriptures. We also see this when the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
The word lays bare our hearts before God. The Word does not simply expose our actions but it discerns the heart of a person. Consider the last words of that text again, “And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
This past weekend when my mom was here Emily and I took her to Madison to see the capital. As we walked around the outside of the building there was a protester there and she was holding up a sign in favor of abortion. What shocked me was that this lady did not have a shirt on. She was not ashamed to stand before men, women, and children while exposed in that way.
Yet, even though she was not ashamed to do this before that large crowd I would guess that she would not want to have her heart exposed by the Word of God and laid bare before the eyes of the LORD to whom she will give an account one day.
The word ‘heart’ is mentioned four times in our text (8,10,12,15).
we can harden our hearts (8)
our hearts can habitually go astray and not know God’s ways (10)
we are to take care that we don’t have an evil unbelieving heart that leads us away from the living God (12)
a hard heart rebels against the Lord and many hardened hearts join together in a rebellion against Him (15)
Even though the Word exposes our hearts it can also provide the ‘Good News’ that we so desperately need. Consider what Paul says to Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
The London Baptist Confession and the Westminster Confession encourages us with one voice to have a high view of Scripture when they both say, “The Authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the Author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”1
Martin Luther revealed his high view of the Scriptures when he said that ‘he would not live in Paradise, if he might, without the Word; but with the Word he could live in hell itself.’”2
These believers felt as though they lost their paradise as soon as they heard and believed the gospel. Since that time they were beginning to experience trials and persecution. As a result, they were beginning to drift away from Christ and the hope that they once had. Last week, Ray Haas mentioned that we often respond to hardship, persecution and trials by drifting away from the Word of God and the people of God. He encouraged us not to let our hearts do this. When we do we forsake God’s means of grace to help at such times.
The author of Hebrews uses Psalm 95 to warn his readers. Psalm 95 is a call to worship the LORD even when life is difficult. It begins by saying, “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.” (95:1-2)
Psalm 95calls believers to Worship God because He is their rock of salvation, He is a great God, He is the maker of everything and He is their faithful Shepherd. Then the psalmist admonishes them to remember His Word and respond in faith and to not be like their forefathers who had hardened their hearts and put God to the test.
This particular occasion that the Psalmist is remembering is recorded in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:2-13. The people of Israel were moving through the wilderness in stages according to the command of the LORD. At every stage the LORD had provided for His people and cared for them. But at one point the people were camped in Rephidim and their was no water for the people to drink. Instead of trusting God the people began to grumble and complain against Moses. They asked, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
Moses went before the LORD and said, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The LORD told Moses to go to the rock of Horeb and strike it once with his staff and water would come out for the people to drink. Moses, however, was angry with the people and he struck the rock twice. Because of this the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12)
The name of that place was to be called Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling) because of the sins that the people had committed. Repeatedly the people of God tested the LORD throughout the forty years that they spent in the wilderness. They tested God by trying to see how long His patience would hold out in the face of their stubbornness of heart.
After having reminded these believers of the sin of their forefathers he says to them in Hebrews 3:12-13, “Take care (be careful, beware and watch out), 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.”
The author warns these believers about having a sinful and unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Are you grateful for a minster, a friend, or a family member who will use the Scriptures to warn, encourage and exhort you to persevere in the LORD?
This authors exhortation reminds me of the boldness of a minister who realized that some in his congregation had forgotten that God is a ‘living God’ who is to be considered Holy. One day he was among a large gathering of people and someone said to him casually, “Pastor, get things started for us with a little prayer.”
Most pastors would have simply said a small prayer but this pastor said, “I will not, there are not little prayers! Prayer enters the lions den, brings us before the holy God, where it is uncertain whether we will come back alive or sane. For it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.”3
Let me give you a couple of examples of pastors who have given similar exhortations to their congregations. Thomas Brooks was a bold pastor who feared that he was ministering to people who were beginning to neglect the Word and may have been slowly falling away from the living God. He says to them, “Remember this: if your knowledge does not now affect your heart, it will at last, with a witness, afflict they heart; if your knowledge does not now endear Christ to you, it will at last provoke Christ the more against you; if it does not make all the things of Christ to be very precious in your eyes, it will at last make you the more vile in Christ’s eyes.”4
John Owen was another pastor who preached a sermon that sounded a lot like the author of Hebrews. He confessed that he had made some observations over the last forty years of his life in ministry. He then addressed the sins that he saw in the world and in the church. When addressing the sins that he saw in the church he said,
There seems to me, I must confess, to be a great decay in all the churches of Christ in the nation, especially among those of us who have had the most peace and prosperity. That which we call zeal for God is almost completely lost among us...Our first love? How decayed it is!...The value of the ordinances of Christ and the fellowship of His people for our edification? How cold have we become to these things! How little is the church society upon our hearts, which some of us remember as being the very joy of our souls!”5
Thomas Brooks and John Owen have encouraged us not to harden our hearts against Christ and His Word. For example,
Thomas Watson said that our knowledge of the Word of God should affect our heart, it should endear us to Christ, and it should make Christ very precious in our eyes.
John Owen encourages us to return to our first love Jesus Christ. He encourages us to partake in the graces that God has given to us to restore that which has decayed, to recover the zeal that has been lost, and to restore the warmth of a heart that has turned cold.
Have these ministers encouraged you to draw near to Christ? Do you need still more encouragement?
Let me offer one more bold witness who urges us to draw near to the LORD. This witness is none other than the Holy Spirit in Psalm 95: 1-7. Yet, before I read it let me remind you of what Richard Sibbs once said, “The words coming from a man may seem at first to be the same with others, yet notwithstanding, the words of God coming from the Spirit of God carry more wonderful excellency in them even to the hearts of kings. They bind kings, though they labor to shake them off. They are arrows to pierce their hearts; if not to save them, yet to damn them.”6
With this in mind let us consider what Holy Spirit says through the psalmist. These words have the power to bind themselves to a believers heart and they cannot be shaken off. These words are like arrows that can pierce the heart and will either save a man who has a tender heart or damn the man because of his hardness of heart.
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts...
1Westminster Confession, Chapter One Article Four. The London Baptist Confession, Chapter One Article 4
2Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks, Charles Spurgeon, p. 54.
3White Horse Inn Podcast, Pitfalls on our Path to Prayer, July 24th, 2022
4Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks, Thomas Brooks, p. 95
5Searching Our Hearts In Difficult Times, John Owen, p. 12-15
6Richard Sibbs, The Tender Heart, p.3+