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September 16, 2018 Warnings!

 

Scripture reading: Hebrews 3:7-19.

 

[I. Introduction] Why are there so many warnings in the Bible for God’s own people? There are, of course, many warnings in the Bible to the unbeliever. They are ominous. They warn of the harsh reality of eternal separation from God that entails a great suffering that is also eternal. Frightening! But there are even more warnings in the Bible to God’s own people under both the old covenant and the new covenant. The answer is that the Lord cares about us and loves us. Therefore, he warns us. He desires our best and so warns us of what will happen when we go astray. Another reason is that he knows our condition is worse than we think. Therefore, he knows that we are prone to wander. As we sing in that great hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

 

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

 

Because we have wandering hearts he wisely inspires the prophets and the apostles to give us many warnings.

 

Warnings are for our benefit. When people ignore warnings they often get into a great deal of trouble and sometimes they die. Hurricane Florence has just hit North Carolina. It was a rare category 5 storm but, thankfully, it weakened just before hitting the coast, down to a category 2. Still, there have been several fatalities and the flooding is terrible.

 

In 1969, in a town named Pass Christian, Mississippi, a group of people were preparing to have a "hurricane party" in the face of a storm named Camille. Camille was the second-strongest hurricane to ever hit the U.S., but has the distinction of having the highest wind-speed ever recorded: 205 miles per hour. Were they ignorant of the dangers? Could they have been overconfident? Did they let their egos and pride influence their decision? We will never know.

What we do know is that the wind was howling outside the posh Richelieu Apartments when Police Chief Jerry Peralta pulled up sometime after dark. Facing the Beach less than 250 feet from the surf, the apartments were directly in the line of danger. A man with a drink in his hand came out to the second-floor balcony and waved. Peralta yelled up, "You all need to clear out of here as quickly as you can. The storm's getting worse." But as other joined the man on the balcony, they just laughed at Peralta's order to leave. "This is my land," one of them yelled back. "If you want me off, you'll have to arrest me."

Peralta didn't arrest anyone, but he wasn't able to persuade them to leave either. He wrote down the names of the next of kin of the twenty or so people who gathered there to party through the storm. They laughed as he took their names. They had been warned, but they had no intention of leaving.

It was 10:15 p.m. when the front wall of the storm came ashore. Raindrops hit with the force of bullets, and waves off the Gulf Coast crested between twenty-two and twenty-eight feet high.

News reports later showed that the worst damage came at the little settlement of motels, go-go bars, and gambling houses known as Pass Christian, Mississippi, where some twenty people were killed at a hurricane party in the Richelieu Apartments. Nothing was left of that three-story structure but the foundation; the only survivor was a five-year-old boy found clinging to a mattress the following day.

 

Warnings are for our benefit! Foolish people ignore warnings.

 

The prudent sees danger and hides himself,

but the simple go on and suffer for it. [1]

 

(See also Prov. 10:17 and 14:16)

 

The warning we will consider today is the warning in the book of Hebrews of not entering God’s rest. Before looking at the warning we ought to be clear to whom the warning is given.

 

The book of Hebrews is not written to unbelievers but to “holy brothers.” This is evident in the first three chapters of the book.

 

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession,[2]

 

The inspired author addresses brothers. Not just brothers, though, but “holy brothers!” To leave no doubt, he further identifies his readers as those “who share in a heavenly calling.” In verse 6 we read:

 

but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.[3]

 

Those to whom he writes are “God’s house!” It cannot be clearer. The only evidence that he proscribes is that those who are God’s house retain their confidence in the hope that Christ gives. They trust in Christ to the end. Indeed, this is the testimony of Scripture – that those who truly belong to him persevere by God’s power to the end.[4]

 

The book of Hebrews was written to brothers in Christ who were of Hebrew (Jewish) heritage. It’s application, though, is for all Christians.

 

[II.] We must heed the Lord’s warning because our waywardness provokes the Lord.

 

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

       “Today, if you hear his voice,

8    do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,

on the day of testing in the wilderness,

9    where your fathers put me to the test

and saw my works for forty years.

10    Therefore I was provoked with that generation,

       and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; [5]

 

This is a citation from Psalm 95 where David reminds the listeners of his day about the Exodus generation who, ALTHOUGH REDEEMED (Exodus 15:13), tested and provoked the Lord by going astray in their hearts. The author of Hebrews recites this passage because we too, although redeemed, may provoke the Lord.

 

Have you ever had this experience? Have you ever fallen and you knew that you had provoked the Lord by what you did? I think many have. When this happens we must confess our sin to the Lord, take hold of his promise of forgiveness (I John 1:9), and move forward in his mercy and grace. Do not remain in your discouragement but trust in the Lord’s kindness towards you. This warning is not for those who stumble now and then. It is for those who “always go astray.” There are some Christians like this. This warning is for them. If you are plagued by a particular sin then this warning is for you!

 

We must heed the Lord’s warning because our waywardness provokes the Lord.

 

[III.] We must heed the Lord’s warning because of the deceitfulness of sin.

 

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 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.[6]

 

Verse 12 begins, “Take care, brothers…” Here is another proof that this book is for brothers and sisters in Christ, not for false professors. This warning is somewhat disturbing because it asserts that we, the followers of the Lord Jesus, may obtain an evil heart. Are not our hearts regenerated, transformed, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit? Yes! They are! But we must know that we still possess a fallen nature. We have a sinful nature that can assert itself if we are not vigilant.

 

Here, the word “evil” is not meant to carry the notion of extreme wickedness. The author is communicating that if we have unbelief then that is evil. Unbelief is evil. It is contrary to God’s will. We must believe what God has revealed. Further, the unbelief here is not a complete rejection of God’s existence nor of his revelation (the Bible) in general. Remember, this is a book written to Jewish Christians who would not be in danger of rejecting God nor the Scriptures. The unbelief here is either an ignoring of God’s revelation or a lack of confidence in it.

 

Is this not a temptation to any believer? Yes, it is! When does this happen? When someone begins to be seduced by sin! When we allow sin to remain in our lives we ignore God’s word. We tend to stop studying it and reading it. If we continue on this path then we will eventually fall away from the living God. That is, we will cease meeting with the church and we will no longer commune with God in prayer.

 

This is, most often, a gradual process. This is because sin is so deceitful. It creeps up on you. It may even seem innocent. But it is deadly.

 

What is the remedy? How can we avoid the deceitfulness of sin? The answer is right there in verse 13. We exhort one another! To exhort means “to strongly urge,” usually by reason. We need the urging and the reasons to walk in the ways of the Lord by our fellow Christians. Not only do we need it, but we need it often! The writer says we need it “every day!” This is why we need to be in church every time the doors are open, not just once or twice per month! We need to be in the home meetings whenever they are available!

 

Don’t think that you cannot or won’t fall (I Cor 10:12)! Exhort one another and be exhorted! This is the remedy for a lagging faith!

 

[IV.] We must heed the Lord’s warning because we may miss the glorious and wonderful rest that awaits those who overcome.

 

What is the “rest” that the Holy Spirit speaks of in our passage? There are three possibilities.

 

[A.] Might the rest be heaven? All those who have eternal life will enter heaven upon death (2 Cor 5:6-8; Rev 5:13-14) as they await the resurrection of their bodies at the Lord’s return to the earth.  We should remember that heaven is only our temporary dwelling place until the Lord returns. It will not be our permanent place to live, as some have believed in times past. However, those who have eternal life and those who go to heaven are the same group of people. There is no one who has eternal life now who will not go to heaven when they die.

 

Further, how do we obtain eternal life? We do not receive it by laboring! We receive it by faith.

 

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.[7]

 

But what does the author of Hebrews say?

 

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.[8]

 

He says that we must strive to enter the rest. Entering or not entering is conditioned upon obedience and faithfulness and not through faith alone. Therefore, the rest cannot be heaven because heaven is not something that we work for but is received upon simple faith.

 

[B.] Might the rest be a condition we have in this life before we die? After all, there is a real sense in which the one who has faith in the promises of God experiences a restful state of mind. They are at peace. Even when trouble is going on around them, they know that all is well with them.

 

Yet, this cannot be what the author refers to here in this warning. Look at verses 8 through 10 of chapter 4.

 

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. [9]

 

First, see that the rest that the author speaks of is “of another day later on.” It is for the future, not for the present. It is for the future of both Joshua and the author when he wrote in the first century. “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” Verse 10 removes all doubt that the writer is not referring to a present rest. He says that whoever enters God’s rest will rest from his works as God did from his. But God rested from all his works on that first Sabbath (4:4). So, we too will rest from all our works!

 

 But, you must know that we are called to work and work diligently for God’s kingdom while in this life. This is one of the most frequent themes in the entire Bible.

 

The very next verse in our Ephesians 2 passage which asserts our salvation to be not of works goes on to say in verse 10:

 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [10]

 

We are called to fight the good fight, to destroy strongholds of the enemy, to be a laborer in the fields of the world, to carry out the Great Commission, and to help the less fortunate. All this requires work. Therefore, the rest cannot be in this life.

 

[C.] The third possibility is that the rest is the millennial kingdom that will be upon this earth in the coming age. Indeed, the age to come is the kingdom to come. This is the only rest that fits the context of Hebrews as well as of the entire New Testament.

 

The kingdom age is described as a place of rest elsewhere (Isaiah 11:10) and a time of great mirth and gladness (Zech 10:6-7).

 

We also learn that it is far more glorious than the present because Satan will be bound and will be unable to deceive us, neither will he nor his demons be agents of temptation.

 

It will be more wonderful than the present because Christ will be physically present and we will wonder at his beauty. The curse will be partially but substantially lifted so that animals will no longer eat one another nor harm people (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:19-25). There will no longer be deserts, but the land will be lush and well watered (Isaiah 43:19-21; Lev. 26:3-4; Deut. 11:13-14).

 

Therefore, we must heed the Lord’s warning because we may miss the glorious and wonderful rest that awaits those who overcome.

 

[V. Conclusion and Application] We have seen three reasons for giving earnest heed to the warnings of the Lord for us:

 

  • We must heed the Lord’s warning because our waywardness provokes the Lord.
  • We must heed the Lord’s warning because of the deceitfulness of sin.
  • We must heed the Lord’s warning because we may miss the kingdom to come.

 

How do we take this warning to heart? What must we do? We must strive to enter that rest! We live out our faith and never think of our walk with the Lord is merely a “ticket to heaven” and that we can do what we wish. That kind of thinking is deadly!

 

No, we strive to enter! We labor for the Lord, but this labor is not burdensome by any means! It is an enjoyable work! It is enjoyable now and even more gladness and mirth awaits those who enter the rest that is to come. Let us put aside all sin and all idleness and be about our Master’s calling.

 

The warning has come to you. The Police Chief has pulled up to your apartment and has bid you to stop partying and flee. What are you going to do? Will you continue in your current state or will you out away your frivolity and flee to Christ? Remember Bar Christian, Mississippi.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 22:3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 3:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 3:6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] This blessed truth is known as the perseverance of the saints. A message on this can be found here: http://nsbcwinfield.com/february_18_2018_perseverance_of_the_saints

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 3:7–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 3:12–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 2:4–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 4:11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 4:8–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 2:10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.