Teaching series from Hebrews

The Hardened Heart

Hebrews 3:7-4:2

Teaching t04996


We all understand the importance of regular physical check-ups. We can contract certain physical conditions which, if left untreated, can result in serious problems.

This passage is a spiritual check-up.  It warns us of a spiritual condition which, if we leave it unattended, will result in serious spiritual damage to our lives.  Read vs7-11.  The condition is called (vs8) a "hardened heart."

The author quotes extensively from Ps.95.  The author of that psalm warns his audience against contracting this condition by referring to an incident in Israel's history which occurred 450 years earlier.  Let's go back and examine this incident which so clearly illustrates what it means to have a hardened heart...

THE INCIDENT: Kadesh-barnea (Numbers13,14)

>> SETTING: After God delivered Israel from Egypt, he led them across the northern Sinai Peninsula to the border of the promised land - Canaan.  Here, at a place called Kadesh-barnea, an incident occurred which decisively altered the history of these people's lives.  Notice four elements in this ANATOMY OF A HARDENED HEART...

Read Num.13:1,2.  The first thing to notice is that they heard God's voice.  God told them to send out 12 leaders to spy out the land.  But they were not to go on this reconnaissance mission to determine the feasibility of conquest because God had promised "I am going to give it to you."  In other words, God has made a promise to them ("I am giving you this land"), and he issued a command on that basis ("Go into this land").  Before we go on, there are two important things to note.

It wasn't like suddenly, out of the blue, Moses said "God wants us to take this populated territory for ourselves."  God had already confirmed Moses as his spokesmen to these people through a variety of ways (PLAGUES; RED SEA; SOJOURN).  They had more-than-adequate evidence to trust the authenticity of this message.

God was not playing favorites and unjustly kicking out the natives of this land (PARALLEL TO INDIANS' DISPOSSESSION BY EUROPEAN-AMERICANS).  God had long ago warned the people of this land that they were becoming so depraved (CHILD-SACRIFICE - Lev.20:2-5) that unless they turned around he would judge them.  He had also told Abraham that his people would not inherit this land until the day came when these people forfeited it through their depravity (Gen.15:16).  That day had come, and God was doing two things at once: judging Canaanites through the agency of Israelites, and fulfilling his promise to Israelites concerning this land.

So the spies are sent out (read Num.13:21-24), and they return with their report (read Num.13:25-27).

They chose to disbelieve God's Word.  Read Num.13:28,29.  What's going on here?  From a solely human perspective, this information is very relevant: the land is occupied by many people who have fortified cities and strong armies.  But that isn't the point!  The same God who fulfilled his promise to deliver them from powerful Egypt has promised to give them this land.  They weren't sent out to determine the feasibility of this project; they were sent out to examine the land God was going to give them - and he expects them to trust him.  This is Caleb's point (read vs30).  But the ten reject his perspective and reiterate their objections (read vs31,32).  And the rest of the people choose to follow their counsel and reject God's Word (read 14:1).

Because they chose to disbelieve God's Word, they became self-deceived.  Read Num.14:2-4.  An amazing thing happens to their thinking once they choose to disbelieve God's promise.  Notice how irrational they become. 

They wax nostalgic about life in Egypt (vs2-4).  Aren't these the same people who hated life in Egypt and cried out to be delivered from Egypt?  How could their memory have deserted them so quickly?

They turn against God's spokesmen.  They accuse Moses of being a bad leader (vs2,4).  What had he done to deserve this?  Where had he made even one error up to now?  Rather than just admit "We reject God's Word," they blame God's spokesman.  When Joshua and Caleb weigh in again with God's perspective at this point (read vs5-9 >> "God + one = a majority"), they respond by voting to stone them (vs10).

As a result of their unbelief, they forfeited God's rest - entry into the land.  God speaks up at this point and he is not sympathetic with their response (read vs11).  He considers their decision a personal rejection of trust in him which is completely unwarranted (NOTE: MIRACLES DO NOT CREATE FAITH).  And so God renders his verdict (read vs28-35).  He gave them "40 laps around the wilderness."  They succeeded in squeezing a one year trek into 40 years.  God's purpose for their nation was held up for that long, and they never experienced the benefits they could have experienced.

>> Notice how the author of Hebrews sums up the reason for this misfortune (read Heb.3:16-19).  But this is simply an Old Testament history lesson; it has personal, practical application for us.  Read Heb.4:1,2.  THE LESSON is crystal clear: God has a rest (spiritual blessings) he wants to give to us, but we cannot receive spiritual blessing from God except by choosing to actively trust in his Word.  This incident at Kadesh-barnea is a picture of cross-roads which we have with God in our dealings with him.  He brings us to one "Kadesh-barnea" after another - and how we respond at these points is as crucial for us as it was for them.  This is why he says 4:11 & 3:12,13.  Now let's APPLY this lesson in 2 COMMON "KADESH-BARNEAS"...

The Decision to Receive Christ

We hear God's voice through the message of the gospel.   This message consists of  a diagnosis (our biggest problem is separation from God because of sin), a promise (we can be reconciled to God through Jesus' death), and a command (humble yourself before God and actively receive his gift).  If you are at all open, God will provide sufficient evidence of the truthfulness of this message for you (APOLOGETICS; CHANGED LIVES), and his Spirit will personally convict you of your need to receive Christ (ME AT 15).

Our response to this message is our response to God.  There is no middle ground when we come to this place (Mt.12:30).  I know I tried to say that I was open to God, but that I couldn't receive Christ because there wasn't enough evidence.  But the real issue was that I wanted to do some things that I knew God would disapprove of.  In doing so, I hardened my heart against God.

Our rejection of this message will lead to distorted thinking about God.  Sometimes people receive distorted information about God which leads them to reject him (e.g., SALVATION BY WORKS).  But sometimes the opposite is true.  Most of us are psychologically unable to walk around knowing that we have volitionally rejected God's will (COGNITIVE DISSONANCE).  So we must either change our response to God's will or find a way to rationalize our rejection of it.  I readily seized on distortions of Christianity (SUPPOSED CONTRADICTIONS IN THE BIBLE) and supposed scientific evidence against it (USSHER: 6006 B.C.).  And in rejecting Christianity as "irrational," I ironically adopted a position of blind faith and ultimate despair (ATHEISM).  This is the kind of thinking hardness of heart produces (Rom.1:28).

We forfeit God's acceptance until we choose to receive Christ.  God never gave up on me.  He continued to send his people to remind me of his offer, and he continued to convict me that I needed it.  But I remained separate from God until I humbled myself to receive Christ.

>> CHALLENGE SEEKER HERE: The choice you make about Jesus Christ is the most important decision you will ever make.  If you need more understanding or evidence, by all means take the time to get it.  Don't let anyone push you into a premature decision.  But realize that you will reach a point when God says "Now it's time for you to receive Christ."  When you reach that point, you are at Kadesh-barnea, and if you refuse to receive Christ you will begin to harden your heart - which is a very dangerous thing to do because it can lead to eternal alienation from God.

The Decision to Follow Christ

>> Once we have received Christ, God wants us to follow his loving leadership of our lives.  As we begin to do this as Christians, we find ourselves at "Kadesh-barnea" over and over again.

We hear God's voice through his Word on many issues and in a many ways.  Caution against excessive subjectivity - God will never lead you contrary to his written Word.  But the Holy Spirit will personally apply God's Word to your life.  His voice may come to you through PERSONAL READING, DIRECT CONVICTION, THROUGH TEACHING OR EXHORTATION.  Usually it will be about a central biblical issue and usually there will be a practical step to take (MORAL CORRECTION: FORGIVE OFFENDER; BREAK OFF IMMORAL RELATIONSHIP; CHANGE ATTITUDE TOWARD SPOUSE [initiate love; take a stand on truth];  SPIRITUAL SERVICE: GET INVOLVED IN FELLOWSHIP/MINISTRY; SHARE CHRIST W/ SOMEONE).

Our trust in God is revealed by our response to God's Word in this area.  When God speaks to us about an issue in our lives, it is this issue that matters.  In a sense, what we have trusted him for in the past about and what we trust him in now don't matter.  We should never use these as an excuse to blow God off now.  What matters is: will we actively trust him in this issue???

Our refusal to actively trust God's voice will lead to spiritual self-deception.  There are remarkable parallels to Israel in this area (SOUR GRAPES ABOUT THE BENEFIT; NOSTALIC FOR EGYPT; FAULT-FINDING WITH HUMAN SPOKESMAN).

We forfeit spiritual vitality & growth as long as we remain in unbelief on this issue.  God's acceptance is not in jeopardy for the Christian - but vitality and growth are important issues.  The longer you stay here, the worse it gets - SYMPTOMS of a hardened heart in advanced stages include: VICTIM MENTALITY; AVERSION TO M.O.G.; SPIRITUAL CONFUSION & LACK OF ASSURANCE; INCREASED VULNERABILITY TO TEMPTATION.  Some think, "I'll eventually get so miserable I'll have to turn around."  This is another deception!  You can get used to being in the wilderness (SPIRITUAL CALLOUS) and waste your Christian life there!

>> If you've contracted a hardened heart, you can change it!!  In this respect, we are not like the nation of Israel.  They had to spend 40 years in the wilderness for this decision, but you don't have to spend even 40 seconds in this place!!  Simply acknowledge to God that you have called him a liar, thank him for forgiving you, and agree to actively cooperate with him - and even though you may have to live with the consequences of your decision, you can have a restored relationship with God.

>> PRACTICE PREVENTION!!  Cultivate a soft heart before God by regularly asking yourself these questions: What is God calling on you to do?  What has God promised you in reference to what he is calling you to do?  Have you ever regretted following God's voice before?  How are you going to respond?