Teaching series from Hebrews

When You Hear God's Voice

Hebrews 3:1-19

Teaching t10574


Hebrews is a spiritually rich book—but it poses a challenge for us for two reasons.  First, it was written to an audience which was in a situation very unlike our own.  Second, the author keeps reminding them of lessons from the Old Testament which most of us don’t know.  So if we want to mine the riches of Hebrews, we have to understand their situation, and we have to learn about the Old Testament passages cited.  That’s where I come in...

The author is writing to 2nd-generation Jewish “Christians” who are now being persecuted for their faith in Jesus as Messiah (ROMAN LAW >> PROPERTY SEIZURE & PRISON).  Some have decided, “I’ll just go back to Old Testament Judaism—after all, it came from God—and I’ll drop my faith in Jesus as Messiah.  That way God will be happy because I’m worshipping him as he directed—and I can avoid persecution.”  And others are considering taking this same path.

The author is saying, “No, this is not a valid option!”  3:1-6 explains why (read NIV).  As great as Moses (God’s spokesperson) and his “house” (Old Testament ritual Judaism) was, he was only God’s servant and his “house” was only pictures of God’s coming Messiah.  But Jesus is God’s Son, God’s ultimate spokesperson (Apostle) and ultimate High Priest (offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins). So he both fulfills and replaces the Old Testament way to God.

The point of this chapter is that when God speaks, you need to listen to what he says.  When you hear God’s voice, it’s important to heed him because a lot is at stake!  He illustrates the importance of this principle from a decision Old Testament Israel made at a place called Kadesh.

Illustration: Israel’s decision at Kadesh

3:7-11 is a quotation from Ps. 95, which reflects on a sobering example of God’s people refusing to listen to his voice (read).  The Psalmist is reflecting on what happened shortly after the Exodus.  For many of us, the only thing we know about the Exodus is what we saw in “The Ten Commandments” or “The Prince of Egypt.”  So let me explain the elements of this event:

God told the Israelites to go down to Egypt around 1800 BC because he prepared that place for them to grow into a nation.

400 years later, Egypt’s ruler (Pharaoh) began to oppress them.  They cried out to God, who sent Moses to deliver them from Egypt and take them to the land he had promised them.  God miraculously delivered the Israelites through Moses (plagues; Red Sea), and supernaturally provided for and guided them across the Sinai desert. 

At a place called Kadesh, God spoke to Israel again (you can read this in Num.13,14).  He reminded them of his promise to give them their land.  He ordered them to send 12 spies into the land to verify how good the land was.  When the spies returned, 10 of them focused on how strong the occupants of the land were and how foolish it would be to go into the land.  2 of the spies (Joshua & Caleb) urged them to trust that the same God who delivered them from Pharaoh could also give them the land.  But the people chose to listen to the 10 unbelieving spies.  They said, “Let’s forget Moses and go back to Egypt, where God told us to go earlier.”  But God viewed their rejection of Moses’ direction as a rejection of him—since he was speaking through Moses.  And he said that Egypt was no longer a viable option for them.  They had to either trust what he was saying through Moses and experience the blessing of the promised land, or they were rejecting him and would forfeit this blessing.  When they persisted in wanting to go back to Egypt, God saw this as proof that they didn’t truly know him.  Consequently, God said that none of that generation (except Joshua and Caleb) would enter the Promised Land.  They wandered around in the desert for 40 years until that whole unbelieving generation had died.  Read the summary in 3:16-19.  Their disobedience to God’s direction through Moses revealed unbelief in God’s love/power/wisdom—and this unbelief caused them to miss out on the land God wanted to give them.

The author is saying that history is repeating itself—only the stakes are even greater.  God has spoken through someone greater than Moses—Jesus the Messiah.  God is calling them to follow him into a better “promised land”—salvation (forgiveness; empowering and impact; God’s ultimate security).  Returning to Old Testament Judaism is like returning to Egypt—it is really a rejection of God’s voice.  So they must choose—either be like Joshua and Caleb and heed God’s voice and enjoy his blessings, or to be like the rest of that generation and forfeit the opportunity to experience God’s blessings. 

How does this apply to us today?  We’re not being threatened with imprisonment or seizure of our homes because of our faith.  None of us is contemplating a return to Old Testament Judaism.  Nevertheless, I think there are two clear applications for us.

#1: Real faith in Jesus lasts

One application is that real faith in Jesus lasts.  The Israelites’ disobedience at Kadesh implied that they had never really known God (3:10).  Read 3:6,14—he makes the same point twice so we don’t miss it, and the Greek grammar is very clear: If you really belong to Jesus, you will continue to believe in him as your Messiah/Savior.  But if your faith in him fades away, you never really belonged to him.  It is possible to grow up in a Christian family, pray a prayer at confirmation, have an experience at a church camp, go forward at a service, get baptized and take communion, etc.—and still not truly have the real thing.  If you have really put your faith in Jesus, your faith in him won’t fade away.  You may wrestle with doubts, your faith will fluctuate—but you will continue to believe that Jesus is your Savior.  True, saving faith lasts.  If your faith doesn’t last, it wasn’t real to begin with.

Jesus spoke about this same danger in his parable of the sower and the four soils.  The sower represents Jesus and the seed represents the good news of salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross.  The soils represent people who respond differently to this message.  Read Mk.4:16,17.  Some people respond positively to this message, but Jesus says their response is only superficial—they don’t really believe in him.  They followed the crowd, or they wanted to be accepted by someone, or they had an emotional experience that stopped short of humbly receiving Jesus’ gift, etc.  That’s why, as soon as they get flak from family or friends or see that following Jesus involves suffering, they drop their allegiance to Jesus.

I have been through this myself.  When I was 15, I heard someone explain Jesus’ offer of complete forgiveness and eternal life, and I “prayed the prayer” at the end of the meeting.  My Christian friends (whose acceptance I valued) were elated.  I even experienced a kind of emotional high for a day or two.  But before long, my “faith” faded away.  I even became an atheist and argued against Christianity.  When Christians would say, “Just pray to receive Jesus, and he’ll show you he’s real,” I’d say “I already did that—and it didn’t work.”  Not until two years later did I humbly call out to Jesus and admit that I was lost and asked him to come into my heart and lead me.  In the moment that I said this to him, I knew that I had never truly entrusted myself to him two years earlier.  Since then, I have wrestled with doubts (especially during hard times) and I have disobeyed Jesus’ leadership in many ways—but I have never lost my faith that he is my Savior and the only way to God.  I don’t take credit for this—all I did was sincerely ask Jesus to come into my life, and he has enabled me to hold on to him since then.  My faith lasts because it is real; and its reality is demonstrated by the fact that it lasts.

What about you?  Can you relate to my story?  Was there a time earlier in your life when you believed in Jesus—but then you “lost” your faith (e.g., COLLEGE; DISAPPOINTMENT).  If so, it is possible/likely that you never really believed in Jesus in the biblical sense.  Maybe you trusted your parents’ faith in Jesus.  Maybe your faith was sociological—you just went along with what your friends and teachers said.  Maybe you had a spiritual experience that was emotional but without any content.  Maybe you let someone pressure you into praying a prayer to receive Jesus.  Maybe you recited a creed when you became a church member.  There are many ways to superficially believe in Jesus.  The point is that if your faith in Jesus faded away, you probably never truly believed in him.  True belief in him is a decision you make in your own heart, often with little or no emotion or experience.  It is the decision to humble yourself before God, and admit that you need his forgiveness and direction, and ask Jesus to forgive you and become the leader of your life.  When you entrust yourself to him in this way, he comes into your heart and he stays there and he enables you to keep believing in him.  If you’re not sure you have made this decision, God is speaking to you “today.”  Listen to his voice; don’t harden your heart; respond to him...

#2: Listen to God’s ongoing instruction!

There is another application of this passage that is for those of us who already truly believe in Jesus—listen to God’s ongoing instruction!  The “rest” that this passage speaks of involves more than Jesus’ forgiveness and eternal life.  As we will see next week, it also involves experiencing God’s ongoing transforming influence in your life.  Once you meet Christ, God will continue to speak to you.  What he says to you will always agree with his Word, the Bible.  Sometimes he will speak personally to you through a biblical passage.  At other times, he will speak personally to you and then later you will discover that his Word says the same thing.  Sometimes God’s voice is a loving correction—telling you to turn away from something that he says is wrong and harmful (EXAMPLE).  Sometimes God’s voice is a direction to receive his love in a specific way (EXAMPLE).  Sometimes God’s voice is a direction to give his love to specific people in specific ways (EXAMPLE).  The point is that when God speaks to you, you need to listen!  You need to trust that he is wise and loving, and the way that you trust his character is by obeying his Word.

What is at stake in your response to God’s voice?  Not your acceptance by God—that is eternally secure the moment you entrust yourself to Jesus as your Savior.  But disregarding God’s instruction is serious because it is unbelief (mistrusting his character)—and tolerating this attitude will harden your heart and short-circuit what God wants to give you.  Here are some symptoms of a hardened heart:

He wants to give you fresh revelation from his Word—but unbelief will make his Word boring and silent to you.

He wants to give you clarity on his will for your life (QUALIFY)—but unbelief will cause you to lose this clarity and “wander in the wilderness.”

He wants to give you excitement about praying and serving—but unbelief will take that excitement away.  You will actually find yourself cynical about this and bothered by excited Christians!

He wants to give you greater freedom from damaging sin-habits—but unbelief will result in increased vulnerability to temptation (STIMULATION VACUUM).

It is easy to think “I can disregard what God is saying to me in this one area, and it won’t adversely affect other areas of my spiritual life.”  But the truth is, disregarding God in any area will eventually affect every other area of your relationship with God.  Many of us have learned this the hard way!

What can we do to prevent hardening our hearts?  3:12,13 provide us with two crucial ways to do this:

Read 3:12.  Be careful!  Know your vulnerability to this, and ask God to sensitize you when you’re starting to disregard him—and when you realize you’re doing this, turn around!  Usually this means doing the thing God has been telling you to do (e.g., LAYING DOWN BITTERNESS; GET INVOLVED IN FELLOWSHIP).  Sometimes you’ve missed the opportunity to do it—but you can agree with him you were disobedient, and you can tell him you’re ready to do whatever he says from here on.

But this is not enough.  We are so depraved that, left by ourselves, we will wind up getting into unbelief and deceiving ourselves about it.  That’s why we need the protection of honest involvement with other Christians who are trying to listen to God’s voice (read 3:13).  We can share our struggles in this area, we can confess when we have gotten off-track before it goes on very long, we can probe and challenge each other about budding attitudes of unbelief.  I can’t count the number of times that this kind of interaction has saved my spiritual butt!  “Isolated Christians are defeated Christians.”  Are you isolated?  What are you going to do about it?  (NOT JUST GET IN A HOME GROUP, BUT ALSO OPEN UP LIKE THIS WITH A FEW PEOPLE)