SERMON: “How to Enter God’s Rest” 「どのように神の安息に入れるのか」
TEXT: Hebrews 3:7-19
Last week we read the first six verses of Hebrews 3 and considered the positive encouragement we are given to continue following the Lord Jesus Christ by faith all our lives. In that passage Jesus is compared to Moses, the great leader whom God sent to lead Israel out of bondage and into the freedom of the promised land. Moses was a faithful servant of the Lord who accomplished a great work in his day. But Jesus, Hebrews tells us, is far greater and worthy of far more honor than Moses (3:3). In today’s passage, verses 7-19, the writer of Hebrews uses Psalm 95 to explain why it is so dangerous to turn away from following God by faith. These verses warn us not to harden our hearts toward God.
Psalm 95 recalls how Israel followed Moses out of Egypt and began the journey to the new home God had promised to give Israel. But long before they reached that land, the people of Israel grew tired of the journey and the many hardships they encountered on the way. They began to complain against Moses and against the Lord God who guided them. They began to say, “Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:12). Because of their lack of faith in God and in Moses the servant of the Lord, Israel had to spend 40 years—one entire generation—wandering in the wilderness, until that generation had died. It is ironic that what they feared actually did happen: they died in the desert. That was not because God failed to protect them, but rather because they refused to believe God and trust Him. This is the historical and spiritual background of today’s passage.
Hebrews adopts Psalm 95 as a warning to all believers. “Do not harden your hearts” as the forefathers of Israel did long ago. Do not give up the wonderful hope—the promised “rest” —that God has given to you. Today I want to think about the lessons that Hebrews shows us from Psalm 95. First, let’s look at this Psalm so that we can fully understand the warning given there. Then, let’s consider how we can avoid following the bad example of Israel’s forefathers.
II. THE WARNING IN PSALM 95: Do Not Harden Your Hearts! (vv. 7-11)
The main lesson that Hebrews takes from Psalm 95 can be expressed positively this way: “If you have real faith, you will follow God without giving up.” But Psalm 95 says this as a negative warning: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (v.7-8). If we look at Psalm 95, we see that it does not begin with that warning against hardness of heart and unbelief. In fact, Psalm 95 begins with a very positive call to worship God. The opening verses are often read as a “call to worship” in Jewish, as well as Christian, worship services, as we did today. “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation!” Only in the second half of the Psalm do we see the warning against hardness of heart. Verses 7-11 consists of a warning to those who “worship” the Lord. Those who worship God must also listen to His voice and follow Him. There must be no separation between the religious faith we profess and the way we live. We might express this message to our congregation this way: If you worship God on Sunday, you must also glorify Him by your faithful obedience all through the week. It does not please God when we worship Him, if our hearts are not ready to obey Him. For Israel, the message meant that religious observances (such as Sabbath worship assemblies, offering sacrifices, keeping religious festivals, etc.) will not help them, unless they live each day in humble submission to God’s Word. Psalm 95:8 gives us a specific example of the sort of “heart hardness” or unbelief that Israel must avoid. “Do not harden your hearts,” it says, “as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness.” What did God ask Israel to do that they simply refused to do? Simply put, God asked Israel to trust Him. He would take care of Israel, providing everything that the people needed during their time in the wilderness—food, drink, clothing, health, and protection. But Israel must trust God and obey Him. Instead, the people of Israel hardened their hearts toward God and refused to do what God told them to do.
Why is it so hard to trust God? It is because we are sinners. All of us—whether Jews or any other race or nation—would rather put our trust in ourselves, rather than in God! We think that we are better judges of morality than God. I am afraid that even we who are Christians would rather trust our own understanding and our own consciences, than humbly receive instruction from God’s Word. It is foolish, arrogant, and futile to trust our own sinful hearts rather than listen to God. But people continue to do just that, in every age and every country in the world. In Psalm 14:2-3 David says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Rather than seek God and obey His voice, we prefer to put our confidence in ourselves. We trust our own judgment, just as Eve did in the garden of Eden, instead of listening to God’s simple instructions. That is what Psalm 95 means, when it says, “Do not harden your hearts.”
Psalm 95 mentions one specific incident that shows how the hearts of Israel’s people had become hardened toward God. In Psalm 95, it is mentioned in vv. 8-9 (and this is quoted in Hebrews 3: 8-9). Hebrews translates the names of two places: Meribah and Massah. These place names are based on the Hebrew verbs meaning “quarreling” and “testing.” Psalm 95:8 says, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness.” Meribah and Massah were names given to two places where the people of Israel lost confidence in God and argued with Moses (Exodus 17:7). At Rephidim Israel camped where God had led them, but they found no water there. Exodus 17:2 says, “So they quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink!’ Moses replied, ‘Why do you put the Lord to the test?’” “Then Moses cried out to the Lord. ‘What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.’” The Lord told Moses to go out in front of all the people and to strike a certain rock with his staff. When Moses did that, according to God’s specific instructions, water immediately flowed out of the rock! Even though the people did not trust God and argued with Moses, God gave them water to drink. But in Ex. 17:7 it says, “Moses called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us, or not?’”
Recalling that experience, the Holy Spirit says through this Psalm to a much later generation of Israelites, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah and at Massah.” “Then your ancestors tested Me; they tried Me, though they had seen what I did.” And the writer of Hebrews says the same thing to his own generation, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion”—that is, when you refused to trust God and argued with His prophet Moses. Hebrews says the words of Psalm 95 are words spoken by the Holy Spirit (v. 7) to the followers of Jesus. What he means is that we are all tempted, just as the people of Israel were tempted in the wilderness, to harden our hearts to God’s Word and trust our own wisdom and abilities, instead.
III. THREE HELPS TO SUSTAIN OUR FAITH
Hebrews does not only warn us that we must not harden our hearts toward God. The writer also offers us some help to sustain our faith in difficult times. First, he reminds us that it is sin that tempts us to turn away from God and trust in ourselves. Second, he says we must help each other to listen to God and follow Him faithfully. And third, he reminds us that it is not enough that we begin to trust God; we must continue to trust Him through all of life. Let’s think about each of these a bit more carefully.
First, Hebrews warns us that it is sin that undermines our faith and turns us away from following God. We must never underestimate the deceptive power of sin! V. 12 says, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (The Japanese translation implies that the Christian community must not permit any person with “a sinful, unbelieving heart” to remain in their fellowship. However, this translation is not correct. The Greek clearly says that each one must examine his own heart.) How can we know if we have such a heart or not? Whenever my heart resists the teaching of God’s Word, and turns away from God, then my heart has deceived me. Sin is not compatible with faith in Christ. Faith urges us to do God’s will; sin urges us to follow the way of the world. Faith urges us to press on toward the goal of Christ’s kingdom, to glorify God in all our thoughts, words, and deeds. But sin urges us to seek the passing carnal pleasures of this world. Faith urges us to take up our cross to follow Jesus; but sin urges us to win trophies and treasures for ourselves on earth. Which way will you go? Remember how the Lord Jesus answered the devil when He was tempted in the wilderness in Matt. 4:8-10. “Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give You,’ he said, ‘if You will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from Me, Satan! For it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”’ Then the devil left Him, and angels came and attended Him.” Jesus shows us how we must trust God’s Word, even when sin tempts us to harden our hearts. When we draw near to God in faith, trusting His Word, He will draw near to us (James 4:7-8). And if God is with you, the devil will flee! Do not be deceived.
Secondly, Hebrews repeatedly reminds us of our need of Christian fellowship. Every Christian needs to help and the encouragement of fellow believers in order to resist the attractiveness of sin. V. 13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Christians need one another. That is one reason why Christ has built His church in the world. We must encourage and be encouraged by other believers. We need this encouragement daily. One of the secrets of the early church’s amazing growth is explained in Acts 2:46-47. “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” When Christians meet together frequently (not just on Sundays), they encourage one another and sin seems less attractive. The power of sin is defeated, when our faith is encouraged by fellow Christians. Hebrews returns to this theme again in 10:23-25. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Third, Hebrews tells us that a good beginning as a Christian does not guarantee that you will not later fall away or harden your heart toward God. We must persevere to the end of the “race” God has set before each of us. Hebrews reminds us that the generation of Israelites who died in the wilderness started by following God. But somewhere along the journey, they gave up their life of faith. When their faith was “tested,” it failed, and they turned away from the Lord. V. 16 asks, “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was [God] angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter His rest if not to those who disobeyed?” All those who died in the wilderness were among the people who began the journey with “something” they thought was faith. But those who started out by obeying God’s call, did not continue to trust in God. That is why they perished in the desert. God will only bless those who have a true–that is, enduring–faith. Those who fell in the wilderness “were not able to enter” God’s rest “because of their unbelief” (v. 19). In order to enter God’s rest, you must hold firmly to Christ by faith. He said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt.11:28). You must nurture your relationship to Christ by daily reading and following His Word, and by prayer. Simply professing faith or receiving baptism cannot guarantee that you will persevere to the end of your race and enter into the perfect rest that God has promised. To enter His rest you must walk with Christ all the way.
Is there any possibility that we can be sure that we will continue in faith until the end of our journey? Remember the three things Hebrews tells us: 1.) Sin is deceptive, so do not trust its appearance. God cannot lie and His word is completely trustworthy; but sin is of the devil, the “father of lies.” 2.) Seek the fellowship of other believers and encourage one another daily. 3.) “Today, if you hear His voice,” come to Jesus. He will give you rest.