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Hebrews 12:25-29- Do Not Neglect Him Who Warns From Heaven

Recently I watched five ministers doing a question and answer session. At one point the topic of sin was being addressed and one of the panel speakers made the following remark, “As pastors we need to help create a culture of rebuke. The first time you rebuke somebody its probably not going to go over well. But if someone is used to their sin being called out by someone who loves them then that will be an open door for you to address significant sins that you may see more bluntly and they will be more prone to receive the words of rebuke.” (The underlying reality of the presence of the Word of God and work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary.)


When this minister said these words I immediately thought of the book of Hebrews. This author has created a ‘culture of rebuke’ as he has written this letter. He has done this by not shying away from addressing the sin and unbelief of these Christians as he warns them again and again about the dangers of continuing to walk in these things.


This morning we have come to Hebrews 12:25-29 which states, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”


This morning we have come to the fifth and final warning passage. This author has not made the assumption that his first warning back in Hebrews 2 was sufficient and that no other warnings needed to be given to these struggling Christians. No, the author of Hebrews gave a second warning in Hebrews 3-4. Even after that second warning he gives a third warning in Hebrews 5-6. He doesn’t stop there, the author did not assume that there was no longer a need to give another warning. So he warned them again in Hebrews 10. And now, after having taken the opportunity to give these readers four warnings he gives another warning near the end of this letter.


Because of this I think we can say that the author of Hebrews has created a ‘culture of rebuke’ for the spiritual benefit of those who will hear and respond well. Sometimes we tend to think that when a believer is struggling as these Christians are that you are not speak so strongly to them. But the author of Hebrews seems to know the seriousness of this situation and he speaks appropriately by creating a ‘culture of rebuke’. He even commends them at the very end of this letter by saying in 13:22, “I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.”


I wonder if there were some of the original readers of this letter who stopped engaging with this letter at some point because they did not feel like listening to these warnings any longer?


Perhaps there were some who did not want to be part of a Christian community who loved them enough to rebuke them and consistently warn them of the dangers associated with sin and unbelief. Perhaps there were some ‘religious’ people who ‘seemed to be Christians’ who needed to be confronted with these warnings so that they would respond with true saving faith. We ought to give credit to anyone who will read this letter and take serious all of these warnings. In doing so they have planted themselves right in the middle of a ‘means of grace’ which can bring great blessing.


By way of reminder, when we came to these warning passages I would often read to you what the London Baptist Confession says regarding saving faith. It says in 14.2, “By (saving) faith Christians believe to be true everything revealed in the Word, recognizing it as the authority of God Himself. They perceive that the Word is more excellent than every other writing and everything else in the world, because it displays the glory of God in His attributes, the excellence of Christ in His nature and offices, and the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in His activities and operations. So they are able to entrust their souls to the truth believed. They respond differently according to the content of each particular passage- obeying the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and the one to come. But the principle acts of saving faith focus directly on Christ- accepting, receiving and resting upon Him alone for justification, sanctification and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.


Community Church you are to be commended at this point as well. You have now spent the last year going through this book and you did not give up along the way. You are one of the few who have had ‘ears to hear’ and who have had hearts willing to ‘receive this message’. You have listened as the author of Hebrews gave you not one, not two, not three, not four, but now five strong warnings about the serious ramifications of turning away from Jesus and from the faith that we profess. Whether you realize it or not you have allowed yourself to sit within the context of a ‘culture of rebuke’ that will help you endure in this long race of faith (12:1-2).


When the LORD shakes everything around us for the ‘removal of things that are shaken’ our hearts tremble but saving faith endures and ‘the things that cannot be shaken may remain’. Therefore we are encouraged at the end of our text to be ‘grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.’


These warnings passages are a blessing to us because they reveal true saving faith or our need for it. It would be terrible if God did not warn us as if we headed into danger. It would be terrible if He left us to our own folly as we began to drift farther away from Him and His Word.


We are not coming to the end of this letter blindly, No, we can clearly see that we have now come to the last warning of this letter in Hebrews 12. This is the last opportunity that the author of Hebrews has to speak to us as a congregation and encourage us to not refuse to Him who has been speaking to us. This then a great opportunity to respond appropriately to these things. There are two appropriate responses from those who hear this message today. Some need to respond with ‘saving faith’ for the very first time as they ‘focus directly on Christ- accepting, receiving and resting upon Him alone for justification.’ There are others of us who need to allow this warning to again establish our hearts ‘directly on Christ- accepting, receiving and resting upon Him alone for justification, sanctification and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.’ Hebrews 12:28-13:19 will tell us how we are to respond with a life that reflects our gratefulness for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.


In our text we are told that we are not to ‘refuse’ Him who speaks (12:25- See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking). This word ‘refuse’ is translated in different ways in other places. For example, it is also translated as ‘to make an excuse, to avoid, and to reject’. In other words, there are many ways that a person can ‘refuse’ to hear and respond to the Word of God. Some ways are dramatic and others ways are subtle.


We may come to a passage of scripture such as these and reject them by finding some way to ‘excuse’ them away and make them irrelevant to us. There are many examples in the scriptures of how this is done.


For example, in John 8 Jesus warns the Jews that they are slaves to sin and they are not receiving His teaching. Jesus tells them that this is proof that they are listening to their father the devil (34-38). The Jews do not accept this warning from Jesus and they quickly excuse it away by saying, “Abraham is our Father.” (39) Jesus warns them again saying that they are not of God because if they were they would listen to Him as Abraham had (47). Again, the Jews excuse away this warning by saying, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” No matter what Jesus said they would not want to listen to Jesus and they kept coming up with excuses.


Application: When we listen to the Word of God we should be aware of the excuses that we are using to not apply the Word of God to our lives.


We are also told that we may refuse a scriptural warning by finding a way to avoid it, shun it, and to ignore it. In John 6 Jesus preaches a sermon that provoked many of His disciples to never follow Him again. In John 6:66 we read, “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” Their refusal to receive this sermon by faith caused them to avoid Jesus, to shun Him, and to ignore Him and His teaching from that moment on. However this is one of the high moments for Jesus’ twelve disciples when Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (68-69)


Application: The high moment of our discipleship is when we respond as Peter does here. As Jesus’ disciples do in this moment we also ought to be thoroughly convinced that Jesus is the Son of God and all that He says is true.


Finally, we are told that we may reject the Word of God by refusing to apply its truths to our lives. If we do this we are on the path of utter calamity. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 6:46-49 when He says to those who are claiming to be His disciples, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Then Jesus says to them, “Everyone so comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.” Then Jesus says, “But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”


Application: Each of the warning passages in Hebrews has warned against some calamity.

  • Hebrews 2:1-4 speak of drifting from what was heard and facing a just retribution.

  • Hebrews 3-4 warned against having a hard heart that will prevent someone from entering into the promised rest.

  • Hebrews 5-6 warns against becoming dull and lazy about listening to the Word of God. If we do we will not mature and be able to distinguish between good from evil.

  • Hebrews 10 warns against trampling upon the Son of God through continuing to sin through unbelief. We are not to profane His sacrifice or outrage the Spirit of grace.

  • Hebrews 12 warns us not to refuse the one who is speaking from heaven because those who heard him speak at Mt. Sinai did not escape if they refused His words.


We often present the Gospel as if it is only something that someone ought to consider. Perhaps we need to be reminded that when the gospel is preached and ignored, excused, or refused it is in reality a serious rejection of Him who warns from heaven. This rejection turns a person away from the answer to their problem concerning sin. They are choosing to ignore Jesus who is the only one who can save them from the wrath of God and give them reconciliation and peace with Him.


Our text says, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.” As we consider these words we need to ask ourselves, “Who is the one who is speaking?”


There are a couple things to consider as we answer this question. First, within the immediate context we see that we are not to reject the truth that we have just been told that Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant and His sprinkled blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (24) This warning passage is here to make sure that we respond well to what has just been said. Every Christian is running a long race in which we have to lay aside every weight and sin to run with endurance. The only way that we can lay aside all of these weights and sins is to look to Jesus and respond in faith to the gospel concerning what He has done, and is doing, for us. As we consider Jesus and receive His grace and we can strengthen our drooping arms and strengthen our weak knees and run this race to the very end. If, however, we forget what Christ has done for us and if we fail to apply the gospel to our lives we will quickly be weighed down by many and various weights and sins. We have been strongly exhorted in Hebrews 12 that a Christian has not begun this race at Mt. Sinai which has no way of removing these sins and weights from our lives.


The second thing that we need to consider is the larger context of the whole book of Hebrews. The one who is speaking that we should not refuse is not only Jesus in the immediate context but it is the Father Himself in the context of this whole book. Do you remember how the book of Hebrews began? It said in Hebrews 1:1-2, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things…”.


As we come to this last warning we are reminded that this whole letter needs to be received, believed and responded to in faithful obedience because it is God who has been speaking. It is not simply the author of Hebrews who has been giving us these warnings. No, it has been the LORD who is giving these warnings to us. We dare not reject these warnings! It would be utter folly to do such a thing. To turn away from these words is to sin against God. All of us have probably refused these warnings at some point but we can cry out with David, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Ps. 51:4) Therefore we cry out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”


Finally we read in our text, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.


To explore this text let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 10. 1 Corinthians 10:6 reminds us that the people in the Old Testament are examples for us to consider. Paul had been speaking about that generation that had been delivered from Egypt but God was not pleased with them. Because of this He overthrew them in the wilderness. He says, “Now these are examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” (6) This is the same generation of Israelite’s that the author of Hebrews is speaking about here.


Paul gives a brief summary of the unbelief of that generation and the judgment that came upon them in verses (7-10). He says, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were, as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.”


After saying these things Paul highlights the judgment that came upon them he again emphasizes that they are an example for us. He says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (11)


How are we to respond to these things? Paul answers, “Therefore let anyone who who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has come upon you that is not common to man.” (12-13a)


Our hearts must be tempted to faint as we consider these words. No one should be overly confident, arrogant, self-confident, or optimistic that left to ourselves we will not fall. No, let everyone who thinks that he is standing strong take heed lest they fall. You and I can look throughout so much of history and see that it is one example after another of people who had drifted, fallen away, shrunk back, become lazy, slipped into unbelief and whose hearts were hardened so that they did not mature as God had intended.


We must ask, “Why would we be any different? Why would we have any hope if we are subject to the same temptations that are common to all of mankind? Why do we think that we can stand strong and not fall when everything around us shakes?”


Paul encourages us with these words, “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”


What has the LORD provided to mankind when they are tempted with temptations that are common among men?


After saying these things Paul begins to speak of the very things that we are learning in the book of Hebrews. Jesus and His sacrifice is our way of escape. We experience temptations that are common to man, but now every believer is united to Christ and we can overcome all these things by being in Him. Apart from Him we will be shaken and we will fall. But united to Him we are able to do the good works that God had predestined us to walk in.


Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (14-17)


We must not refuse the voice of God who has put forward His Son as the Mediator of a New Covenant. We must not refuse the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. We must not refuse the voice that speaks from heaven and invites you and I to come to the Throne of Grace to find mercy and grace in our time of need.


Why has the Holy Spirit given us five of these warning passages in the book of Hebrews? This has happened because the Holy Spirit knows that all of us are tempted to be idolatrous, to be lazy, to be sluggish, to drift away. The Holy Spirit knows that we are often tempted to look away from Jesus and to be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. We are so prone to refuse to listen to the One who is speaking from heaven. We are tempted to excuse, avoid and to reject God’s voice.


When we stop paying attention (Hebrews 2), we become hardened (Hebrews 3-4), we become sluggish and lazy and we become slow to hear and obey (Hebrews 5). If we do not repent and respond in faith we cannot go on to maturity (Hebrews 6). We are to be a people who draws near to God with a true heart with full assurance of faith. Some have responded to God’s word by faith and their hearts have been sprinkled to cleanse them from an evil conscience. There are some, however, who go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of truth. For them, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but only a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume His adversaries (Hebrews 10). Yet, God continues to speak concerning His Son. We are not to refuse Him who speaks or the blood of Christ that speaks such a good word. (Hebrews 12).

  

There have been five warnings in this book because a person can find themselves at different levels of self-deception and hardness of heart. Some are just losing attention. Others are hardened against God and His word. Some are no longer maturing and are not able to know truth and discern good from evil. Others are not meeting together any longer and they are deliberately sinning more and more. And some have progressed to the point at which they will find any excuse to disbelieve, ignore, excuse and refuse Him who is speaking from heaven.


This morning God testifies from heaven saying, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” Therefore the author of Hebrews has said, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as they did in the rebellion.” (3:15)


The book of Hebrews has created a ‘culture of rebuke’ for our own good and for our progress in the faith. Every one of us knows all the temptations that we face. If you have ears to hear, let these words comfort you in light of all of these things. Paul says, “God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Therefore, look to Jesus. Let us be grateful that we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (12:28)

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