Sunday, May 05, 2013

DON'T FALL AWAY - HEBREWS 3:7-19


This passage is a little sermon about not falling away. The writer took another Old Testament passage and explained it in terms of their current situation. It is expository preaching.

This passage is also interesting because it has three layers. The first layer is the passage in Hebrews which was a sermon to the writer’s original audience, but is applicable to us today.

The second layer is Psalm 95. The writer quoted Psalm 95:7b-11. Then he preached a sermon on it, applying it to his audience at the time of writing.

The third layer is Numbers 14. Psalm 95:7-11 refers to the incident that happened in Numbers 14 and warns the readers at the time the Psalm was written not to repeat the mistake of the Israelites recorded in Numbers 14. 

So you have a historical account, a Psalm applying the situation to the time of the Psalms, and the Hebrews passage applying the lesson of the Psalm to the readers in the New Testament days. And, of course, we are applying that lesson to ourselves today.

So, let’s look at Numbers 13-14. That passage records the impending end of the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites have crossed the wilderness and camped. Moses sent spies into Canaan to check it out. Unfortunately, 10 of the 12 spies came back with a bad report. They said the Israelites could not conquer it because the people of the land were stronger than the Israelites. (13:31). Remember that God has delivered them from Egypt, the powerful country that dominated the region. He provided food and water for them all through the desert journey. He promised to drive out the Canaanites and give Israel the land. But when the people heard the report, they despaired and refused to go in. The Lord would have destroyed them except that Moses interceded.

But God still imposed punishment. He said the Israelites did not believe in him despite all that he had done among them. (14:11). He would not let any of the adults go into the promised land except Joshua and Caleb. The rest fell dead in the desert over the years. Only when that generation was gone did he let Israel go into Canaan.

Now look at Psalm 95. This Psalm was used in worship as liturgy. But beginning in verse 7, the Psalmist cautions the Israelites not to harden their hearts against God as that earlier generation had done. The Psalmist used the word “rest” instead of Canaan, though. In Canaan they would rest from their wandering in the wilderness.

Canaan, the promised land, was used as a type of heaven from the beginning of the church. The wilderness represented the struggles of this age. Crossing the Jordan represented death and the resurrection of the spirit to heaven. For example, look at the hymn “Jordan’s Stormy Banks”. 

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.

O the transporting, rapturous scene,
That rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
And rivers of delight!

There generous fruits that never fail,
On trees immortal grow;
There rocks and hills, and brooks and vales,
With milk and honey flow.

O’er all those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away.

No chilling winds or poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore;
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
Are felt and feared no more.

When I shall reach that happy place,
I’ll be forever blest,
For I shall see my Father’s face,
And in His bosom rest.

Filled with delight my raptured soul
Would here no longer stay;
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
Fearless I’d launch away.

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land;
Oh who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the promised land.

The hymn shows the writer standing in the wilderness, looking across the Jordan river into Canaan. But all of this is a type of standing on earth in this age looking into eternity with the Lord Jesus.

Now, Hebrews 3:7 starts with the word “therefore”. It refers to the fact that Jesus is worthy of more honor than Moses. The argument is: because Jesus is worthy of more honor than Moses, do not leave Jesus the way the Israelites left Moses and God in the wilderness and came under God’s wrath.

Notice that the writer, in quoting the Psalm, attributes it to the Holy Spirit. It is a simple statement of the inspiration of Scripture. It comes from God. 2 Peter 1:21 says “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is breathed out by God...”

Then, in verse 8, the write tells them, of you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts like those Old Testament Israelites did. They turned away in unbelief. (Numbers 14:11; Hebrews 3:19). Verse 9 says they went astray and did not know God’s ways.

Now, these Israelites that rebelled were not atheists. They believed God existed. They had seen him in action. They knew God could do great things, because they had seen them. They just did not believe God could or would give them victory over these Canaanites. They were not willing to put their lives on the line in faith that God would give victory.

These Israelites, to whom Hebrews was written, believed in God. They believed Jesus lived, died and was resurrected as the Son of God. But they were unsure that they wanted to put their lives on the line in faith that Jesus would give them eternal life. They were tempted to go back to their old, comfortable ways. So, their situation was similar to that of the Israelites in Numbers and in Psalms.

So, in verse 12, the writer warns them not to have an evil, unbelieving heart that leads them to fall away from the living God. If they fall away from Jesus, they fall away from God the Father. Jesus himself said that. In John 5:23, Jesus said “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him”.

You can believe the facts about Jesus. Most historians believed Jesus lived.James 2:19 says “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder!” They believe who Jesus is, but they refuse to follow him and put their faith in him.

So the writer urges these Jews not to abandon Jesus. He does not want them to fall away because of their unbelief. Verse 14 shows again that the proof of genuine faith is perseverance to the end. If they fall way, it shows they were not converted, they had an unbelieving heart. 

The alternative is stated in verse 13. Instead of falling away in unbelief, we should exhort eat other every day to live for Christ and not for sin. We should meet together, talk together, study together, pray together and encourage each other so that we stay firm in our faith. Notice that he says “every day”. Does he mean the church should meet every day? It is hard to say, but he clearly tells us to be involved with each other constantly to encourage one another.

If you have doubts or weaknesses, you should join with a brother or sister in Christ and seek support. If you see a brother or sister struggling, you should come along side them, praying for them, encouraging them and walking with them.

But most of all, commit yourself to Christ. Don’t just believe facts and think that is enough. You have to enter into a relationship with him where you believe who he is, commit to follow him and live for him even to death. Practice the qualities that Christ commands and himself modeled. 2 Peter 1:10 tells us to make our calling and election sure, in other worlds our salvation. But he also says if we practice the qualities of Jesus we will never fall and we will be provided entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Savior, Jesus. That is, we will enter into his rest. 

Rest for us means we rest from trying to earn salvation by our works. Instead we receive his grace and live to please him. Jesus said, you who are weary and heavy laden, or burdened with guilt and obligation, come to Jesus and he will give you rest. He will give you rest from your unprofitable labor and give you salvation. 

Do it today. 


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