Notice:

PCA Disaster Relief Update for Harvey and Irma

The Danger of Unbelief

Series: Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 15, 1998

Hebrews 3:7-19

Download Audio

If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Hebrews 3.  Today we pick up at verse seven.

Let me just briefly review for you that last week as we looked at Hebrews 3, verses 1 through 6, we saw a contrast between Moses and Christ.  Just like we saw in chapters 1 and 2 where Christ is compared to the angels and shown to be superior to the angels, so also in Hebrews 3:1-6, Christ is shown to be superior even to Moses, the faithful servant.  The author highlights the fact that Moses was faithful as a servant in the Lord’s house, he was honored as a faithful servant in the Lord’s house; but that Jesus in verses 3 and 4 was deemed worthy of more honor. 

We pointed out that Moses was a faithful servant in the Lord’s house, whereas Jesus was a son in the Lord’s house.  He was, in fact, the architect, the builder of the house.  In view of the superiority of Jesus over Moses, the author tells us in Hebrews 1 that we ought to fix our thoughts on Jesus and there is a constant stress, even in those first six verses, that we are to live our lives in consistency with the profession of the faith that we make in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Now thinking about the Moses and Christ compare moves the author to ask some questions about the house of God under Moses and the house of God under Christ.  In fact, the author starts thinking about the hard heartedness of Israel in the wilderness under Moses.  And that’s why he gives us this section beginning in verse 7.  So let’s read God’s holy word: 

Hebrews 3:7-19 

Now, Father, we do acknowledge that this is Your word and we ask that by Your Spirit You would apply it to our own hearts.  Instruct us and encourage us in righteousness, we pray for Christ’s sake.  Amen.

This appeal to Psalm 95 and the passage in Psalm 95 that talks about Israel was disobedient in the wilderness at the waters of Meribah and at Massah.  This appeal is a lot like I Corinthians 10.  Can you remember that passage where Paul reminds the Corinthians how the children of Israel in the wilderness became idolatrous.  He warns the Corinthians against being idolaters because that’s exactly the sin of the children of Israel in the wilderness.  Well, the author of Hebrews is doing something similar.  He’s going back to Psalm 95 and he is reminding us of the spiritual importance of a principle we learned in the history which God records through the words of Moses of how the children of Israel behaved in the wilderness.  Among other things, that reminds us of the spiritual importance of the Old Testament for New Testament believers.  It’s not a dusty old book that’s really irrelevant to where we are today, living under the New Covenant.  No, it is directly relevant and both Paul and the author of Hebrews directly apply Old Testament historical passages to our spiritual situation as individual Christians and as a congregation. There are two things that I would like to point out tonight as we study this glorious passage from Hebrews 3:7-19. 

I. Christians must heed the OT in its spiritual warnings.

The first thing in verses 7-11 is that Christians must heed the Old Testament in its spiritual warnings.  Verses 7-11 give us an account of how the children of Israel failed to believe in the Lord in the time of Moses.  Now the author of Hebrews goes right to Psalm 95.  That’s a wonderful Psalm and it’s a Psalm that we often use to open up our praise and our worship.  It has those glorious words, “O, come and let us sing for joy to the Lord.  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.”  But the end of that Psalm has a very stiff warning beginning in the second half of verse 7.  You will see that warning from Psalm 95:7, the second half, all the way to the end of the Psalm in verse 11. 

That Psalm is quoted here in Hebrews 3:7 and following.  Isn’t it interesting that the author of Hebrews introduces that Psalm with these words: “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says....”  The author of Hebrews says that in the words of the Psalmist (we are not even told who is the author of this particular Psalm).  But as the author of Hebrews is concerned, the only thing we need to know is that the author of that Psalm is God the Holy Spirit.  God the Holy Spirit is  speaking in that Psalm.  He inspired those words and those words are for us.

There are two things, at least, that are important for us to remember.  When we think about the fact that the author of Hebrews says that that Psalm was written by the Holy Spirit.  The first thing is to remind us that the Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament.  A lot of times we think that the Holy Spirit wasn’t on the scene actively until Pentecost.  But the fact of the matter is it’s not only Hebrews, but Paul and Peter in the New Testament tell us that the Holy Spirit was active in the voice of the prophets and of the Scriptures of the Old Testament.  In other words, the same Holy Spirit who inspired the apostles in the New Testament was the one who inspired the prophets in the Old Testament.  And so the first thing we learn when he says, “The Holy Spirit says” is that the Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament, inspiring those words of Scripture. 

The second thing we learn with those words is that the Old Testament itself is relevant for believers today.  It is relevant for those who live in the time of the New Testament because the Old Testament is written for our instruction.  Let me point you to two passages where Paul stresses that point. Turn with me to I Corinthians 10:1 where the Apostle Paul says this: “I do want you to be unaware brethren that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea:  And all ate the same spiritual food;  And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, with most of them, God was not well pleased for they were laid low in the wilderness.”   Now I want you to zero in on verse 6 and on  verse 11:  “Now these things happened as examples for us that we should not crave evil things as they also craved.”   Then look at verse 11: “Now these things happened to them as an example and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.”

Do you hear what Paul is saying?  That even the historical things that occurred to Israel were for our spiritual benefit.  They are for our edification.  We are to learn from those things.  Even when we are reading historical accounts in the Old Testament, Paul is saying that those accounts are not there simply to inform us, to interest us, to tell us really amazing stories about what God did in times past.  Those accounts are there for our spiritual instruction.  Even historical passages.  Not even just those passages which give commands or which give guidance like in the book of Proverbs or which give instruction like in the wisdom literature, but passages which are historical are there for our edification.  It is Paul who says that.  It’s not somebody making that up.  That’s the Apostle Paul. 

One other passage I’d like to point you to.  Turn with me to II Timothy3:14, that famous passage we read all the time and it’s the very foundation of our evangelical view of Scripture.  “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them.  And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteous, That the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Normally when we preach or teach that here at First Presbyterian Church, we are stressing the fact that all the Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, is inspired by God and is profitable for our learning.  That’s true, but I want you to remember that in its original context, Paul was specifically saying to Timothy, “Timothy, you have known from the sacred writings from your childhood....”

What is he talking about?  The New Testament wasn’t even around when Timothy was a child.  He is talking about the Old Testament in the first instance.  What Paul says here is true about the New Testament, but when he says it, he has in mind especially the fact that Timothy is learning from the inspired writings of the Old Testament.  Now the writings of the New Testament are inspired as well.  They are equally inspired.  In fact, they are definitive for our understanding of the Scripture.  But Paul is stressing to Timothy that even the Old Testament is the inspired word, profitable to instruct him in righteousness.  And that’s so important for us to remember because a lot of Christians think the Old Testament is sort of a shadow pre-Christian, sub-Christian book that really isn’t directly relevant to us today.  But, in fact, the Old Testament has many principles which are important for our spiritual lives.

Having said what the author of Hebrews is doing by quoting from Psalm 95:7-11, let’s turn back to Hebrews 3 and look explicitly at what the author is pointing out to us in Psalm 95.  First in Hebrews 3:8, notice the phrase: “Do not harden your hearts.”  The author of Hebrews in quoting the Psalm is warning us as Christian against a hardened attitude of disobedience, a fixed attitude of disobedience.  Do you know that term, “hardening the heart?”  It was a term that was used of Pharaoh — Pharaoh hardened his heart against Moses, against the Lord.  That is the way the Old Testament describes someone who is in spiritual rebellion.  It’s a perfect metaphor to describe someone who is spiritually rebelling against the Lord.  And the author of Hebrews is warning us here that it is possible to be a part of a community that professes to believe in God and yet in your own heart to be in spiritual rebellion against the God of that community.  It happened in the Old Testament.  All of these people had left Egypt together.  At Mt. Sinai, all of these people said “All that the Lord has said we will do.”  What did they do in the wilderness?  They did not do what they said they would do and the author of Hebrews is bringing that out.  Why?  Because all along we have been saying what?  Many of the people in the congregation to which he was writing were considering going back, reneging on their confession of Christ.  Some of them were thinking of going back to Judaism, and the author of Hebrews is saying, “Don’t harden your heart that way.  Don’t turn your back on the profession of your faith in Christ that you have made.”

Look again in verse 8 and 9.  The  author in the quotation of Psalm 95 recounts what happened in the wilderness.  You remember that there were various times in the wilderness where Israel rebelled.  In Exodus 15, there was a rebellion.  In Exodus 17, there was a rebellion in the wilderness.  Of course, the great rebellion came in Exodus 32 in the event of the golden calf.  All of these were times in which Israel hardened her heart, did not believe in Him, did not obey Him.  This is in the mind of the author as he warns us against rebellion.

  In verse 10, he specifically reminds us of why the Lord was angry with Israel in those times.  The Lord tells us two things in verse 10.  First, they had wandering hearts.  Look at his phrase in Hebrews 3:10: “They always go astray in their hearts.”  In other words, they had strayed in their inmost being from truly trusting in God; and, therefore, it had a very disastrous impact on their actions.  From their very inmost heart they had stopped trusting in God.  Think about the scenario of the golden calf.  Moses was on the mountain a long time.  The people began to be impatient and said, “Well, this character, Moses who led us out here in the wilderness, maybe he is dead.  So we are going to have to look out for ourselves.  We’re going to not remember what the Lord said to us, to wait until Moses comes down again.”  So they instruct Aaron to “make us a god.”  And that’s exactly what the author of Hebrews is talking about here.  Sometimes we fail to trust in God, and as we fail to trust in God, we harden our hearts from the inside and it leads us into actions of rebellion. 

The second thing in verse 10 that the Lord says He is angry about is that “they did not know My ways.”  In other words, He is saying that they were spiritually ignorant.  They were unfamiliar with Him.  They did not know the Lord; they did not know His will; they did not know His ways.  The author is reminding us here that there were many people in the wilderness who did to know the Lord experientially, they did not know Him savingly.  They were part of the multitude that came out from Egypt.  They were part of the multitude who crossed the Red Sea, who saw all of God’s miracles; but they didn’t believe Him.  The author of Hebrews is telling us this because there are a lot of people who have seen blessings from the Lord poured out on them, whose heart is not yet responsive to the Lord.  And he is concerned that there are people in the congregation to whom he is speaking that are in precisely that case. 

In verse 11, he tells us what the result of that is going to be.  The results of the Lord’s anger against this hardening and spiritual ignorance — the people did not enter the rest.  Do you remember what happened in the wilderness?  The whole generation died.  Only Joshua and Caleb, not even Moses, from that generation entered into the land.  God said that because they did not believe in Him, they would not enter into rest. 

Those Old Testament passages are warnings to us to make sure that we reflect spiritually on our trust in the Lord.  It’s easy to fall out of trusting God and not even realize that we have done it.  We get into a routine, a motion; we sort of get into habits and we start trusting what we are doing and stop trusting in the Lord and the author of Hebrews is warning against that.

II. Christians must take heed and beware the dangers of unbelief.

Look at verses 12-19 for a second thing I want you to see.  Not only should we heed the Old Testament in its spiritual warnings, but we also need to beware of the spiritual danger of unbelief.  The author of Hebrews in verse 12 opens up with an exhortation: “Watch out for an unbelieving heart,” he says.  Why?  “Because unbelief, not trusting God, leads to evil consequences.”  Unbelief always leads away from God. 

Now look, that’s the way it is in normal human relations.  When you start to distrust someone, does it lead you into a deeper relationship with them?  No.  You have seen it in business dealings.  When one man begins to distrust the honesty of the man with whom he is dealing, does it lead to good business dealings?  No.  Does it lead to closer business relations?  No.  It leads to a fracturing of the relationship.  This happens in human relationships, marriage relationships, as well; but the difference here is God is not to blame.  Sometimes when distrust comes into a business relationship, it’s because there is a good reason.   But here, God has done nothing to deserve His people not trusting in Him.  Here the people of God have set their desires on something else and they have stopped trusting in Him and it’s leading away from their saving relationship with the Lord. 

Notice what the author of Hebrews says in verse 13, because that’s a danger.  He says you need to encourage one another lest you be hardened by sin.  The author is calling us to be vigilant against our hearts becoming callused towards the Lord. 

I can remember a time in college I felt a definite call to the ministry as a boy of 14.  We had a Mississippian who was a RTS student, John Hutchinson.  John was our Youth Director and John had a tremendous impact on me.  I had felt for a number of years that the Lord might be calling me into the ministry, but I was very young and I didn’t trust those inclinations.  I thought maybe I was thinking like a kid thinks about “I’m going to grow up to be a policeman or a fireman.”  But when John was in Greenville, ministering in our church, John had a great impact on me and we went to the Tampa Youth Bible  Conference at Seminole Presbyterian Church where Richard Watson was minister and a minister preached from the Book of Ephesians.  I really was confirmed in my sense of the call of the ministry.  Many years before I ever went into college, I had a strong sense that the Lord was leading me into the ministry. 

In my first year of college I drifted away from the Lord for a period of time.  I was still going to church, I was still going through the motions of being a Christian.  I wasn’t involved in gross and heinous public sin, but I was spiritually virtually dead in the water.  And my relationship with my parents began to suffer.  I had always been one of those kids that wasn’t smart enough that when I went out to do something bad, that I would go home and tell my parents about it.  I talked with my folks about everything and we had a good relationship there.  But my parents sensed in my first year in college that I had drawn apart from them and they were concerned.  My father called me one day and he said, “I’d like for you to come home from school tonight and I would like for you spend the night with us and have supper with us and talk.”  Well, I know what he wanted to talk about and I was mad.  I didn’t want to talk about that with Dad.  And, Dad in his inimitable way after supper just sat down and said, “Son, your mother and I are concerned about you.  Because we know that you know what the Lord has for you and we just don’t feel like you are pursuing that.  We don’t feel like you are walking in the way that Lord would have you.”  That’s all he said.  I was reduced to tears immediately, because the Lord used that exhortation from my father to pierce my heart. 

That’s exactly what the author of Hebrews is saying what we need to do for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  As the Lord gives you a relationship with another believer and you see that believer struggling — if you are a parent relating to a child, if you are a friend relating to a friend — the Lord has given you a divine opportunity in that relationship to be a spiritual encouragement to that believer and to call them back from the brink and that’s exactly what my dad to me.  I don’t where I would have been today if my dad hadn’t been faithful to call me back from a direction that was spiritually destructive.  And the author of Hebrews is saying “Christians, you need to call your brothers and sisters, especially those with whom you are close, to call them to accountability to walk in Christ.”  We’ll continue this as we gather again.  Let’s look together to the Lord in prayer.

Father, I thank you for the opportunity to study Your word with Your people.   Bless it to our spiritual nourishment and keep us in the faith.  We ask it in  Christ name.  Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.