Here are my notes from yesterday.
In Hebrews the pastor has exhorted his readers to fix their thoughts on Jesus because he is the ultimate revelation of God and their faithful high priest who has made them God’s holy people and calls them heavenwards. Now he turns to what they should do in the light of that, he does so by giving them a negative example of how not to respond, before looking at the promise of rest in chapter 4.
1. God speaks to us
How does v7 begin? “So, as the Holy Spirit says...” What tense does he use? The present tense, God the Holy Spirit is speaking to the Hebrew believers. How? The pastor takes them through a worked example of how God speaks, as he quotes Psalm 95 then explains, interprets and applies it to his readers.
Psalm 95 may be over a thousand years old but God speaks to them through it just as he spoke to its original hearers. Psalm 95 is divided into two parts the first half calls Israel to worship God, the second warns them not to have hard hearts but to respond to God because that is true worship. It makes that call as it looks back to Israel in the wilderness.
In Hebrews the emphasis is on Numbers 13-14. Where after God has rescued Israel from Egypt, having eaten the Passover, experienced God’s protection, walked through the Red Sea and the desert to the edge of the Promised Land, Israel refuse to enter because the spies see big walls and strong men. Even when Caleb and Joshua encourage them “do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us.” They refuse to take the land, in fact they begin to pick up stones to stone them. And God says “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?”
God spoke to Israel on the verge of the Promised Land, God spoke through Psalm 95 and called them to learn and not repeat the unbelief of their ancestors. God speaks through the Psalm echoing that warning and applying it to the Hebrew believers, and today God by his Spirit speaks to us using those same words.
God speaks through his word, that’s in part what the Pastor wants to teach here. God the Holy Spirit speaks to his people ‘today’ as they read his word, as we read the Old Testament, and read about his ultimate revelation Jesus. As we read the Bible we hear God speaking.
As you came along this morning was that your expectation? That God would speak to you as his word was read and then we looked at it together? Is that what you were expectantly praying? Is that how we approach the bible during the week?
You may say but when I read it I don’t feel like I hear God speak. Can I lovingly say; what you feel is irrelevant, God is speaking the question is; are we listening? We’ve been conditioned to expect instant results, we’ve listened to the lie that good things are easy to discern and quick to understand. And we carry that into our listening to God – God gets 5 minutes squeezed in between the shower and breakfast.
But what does it to look like to really listen to someone? It involves putting aside distractions, concentrating on what they are saying, discerning what they mean and a right response to it.
God is our loving heavenly father and we are his children, made holy, given Jesus perfect record and he wants to speak to us. Don’t feel guilty about what you haven’t done but recognise the wonder that God speaks to us and listen to him.
The big question for the Hebrews and us is how will we respond to God’s word? There are two responses.
2. How are we responding?
There are two possible responses to God’s words: Unbelief, and Belief
Israel are a negative example, how not to respond. Look at (12)what is the warning? Make sure you don’t have a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from God.
Do you see the problem; unbelief, refusing to trust God’s word, and it comes from their hard hearts(8). It was Israel’s problem and it is a danger for the Hebrews and us.
As Israel stood on the verge of the Promised Land God said “Send some men to explore the land, Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.” But as the 10 spies reported back their conclusion is that God can’t do what he has said. The problem is unbelief, it’s not the fortified cities, the giants, or the strong people but that they do not believe God will give them what he has promised, and hard hearts lead them to turn away from God.
What are the consequences of their turning away? (17-18)God is angry and they are judged for 40years, only 2 of that generation experience God’s rest.
Don’t refuse God’s word. It’s tempting to think that isn’t a problem for us, but that would be the impossible application of this passage. It’s the conclusion that is impossible to draw from this passage – unbelief was a danger for Israel on the verge of the Promised Land, for Israel centuries later, for the Hebrew believers, it is a danger for us.
And actually we do respond to God with unbelief don’t we. Often it’s when we say or think the word ‘But’. We know we are forgiven for something in our past, yet find ourselves thinking ‘I know Jesus paid for all my sin but I just don’t feel forgiven.’ Do you see what we are doing – refusing to believe.
Or when we know it is important to build on the relationship with God he has given us and to listen to his word yet we find ourselves responding with a ‘But, I don’t feel God speaking to me’ or ‘But it’s OK for him or her they find it easy’ or ‘But I haven’t got time.’ Or when we read of God’s call to us not to worry because we are his children and he knows what we need and we think ‘Yeah but I really need a husband, or a child, or whatever it is that we long for...’ Do you see how every but is the stirring of unbelief.
Some illness come with warning symptoms, a sore throat means ... When we find ourselves responding to God’s word with a ‘But’ be alarmed, it is the first sign, a warning symptom of developing ‘Israelitus’ - a hardening heart, the beginnings of unbelief.
If Israel are what not to be like, so how should we respond? Specifically the pastor is making a particular link between the Israelites and the Hebrews in terms of when they live.
In Numbers 14 Israel are where? On the doorstep of the Promised Land, they have experienced God’s redemption, they are God’s people, now they are about to enter God’s promised rest.
In Psalm 95 where are Israel? They are established in the Promised Land, and yet the warning is that refusal to believe will forfeit experiencing God’s rest, so the rest it talks about must be something more than Canaan. Canaan was just a picture that looked back and echoed the garden of Eden but also looked forward to the future eternal rest God’s people would enjoy.
The Hebrew Christians and we along with them have experienced God’s redemption through Jesus, we are his people and are on a journey to his rest. We and they live in the time of tension we have been redeemed and made God’s children, called to heaven but living awaiting its coming with all the tension that brings.
The call to believe is specifically to remember our heavenly calling, to trust in God’s word of promise that (4:1)”Since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short.” Believe God’s promise in the pressure that comes as you wait for his rest, don’t doubt, believe, don’t respond with a ‘but’.
(14)You are God’s children made holy through Jesus atoning blood, called with Jesus to share in an unshakeable kingdom trust in God to get you there as you follow him, hold onto to your original conviction.
We have a temptation to be individualistic, it is our default setting, maybe you are thinking I must hold firmly, but that is not enough. Look at (13)the antidote to a sinful unbelieving heart is to “encourage one another daily”, because that stops us being hardened by sins deceitfulness.
What does encouraging one another look like? It’s what Joshua and Caleb do in Numbers 14, they call the people to trust in God’s word and his promise. It’s what the pastor is doing as he writes this letter applying the bible to his listener’s lives.
How committed are you to encouraging others? We come together on a Sunday and encourage one another as we listen to God’s word, we do it at LightHouse, in Home Groups, but we need to be doing this organically too.
At our day away we spoke about one of our values: Real relationships are encouraged and developed as we work the gospel into one another’s lives and the community. That has to be more than just a line on a piece of paper. It is about more than just the formal settings, but about encouraging each other at every opportunity.
If we don’t encourage each other we place one another in danger.
Perhaps this morning you are saying I don’t know how. Here’s some things you can do over coffee to encourage others:
1. Ask someone how their week has been
2. Ask ‘what can I pray for you this week?’ Then pray!
3. Pray with someone
4. Share an encouragement or something God has been teaching you?
5. Commit to being with people and getting to know them.
6. Be honest in your responses to people’s questions, and ask them to pray for you.
7. Follow up when you next see that person.
8. Ring someone who hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks to see if they are OK, pray for them, and encourage them.
9. Always be ready to respond with grace and forgiveness.
10. Swallow gossip and speak in love
Look at (19)it’s a tragic reminder of the consequences of unbelief, not all Israel entered God’s promised rest, in fact they rejected God and then tried to enter in their own strength and were unable to. They didn’t encourage one another and they rejected the encouragement of others.
Do you see the warning – don’t reject God’s word, don’t respond to it with a ‘But’ believe his promise, live now looking for his rest, entrusting yourself to him who is faithful. And be encouraging others, taking as many others with you as you go.