A Warning from Israel's History (Hebrews Sermon 13 of 74)
January 02, 2011 | Andy Davis
Faith, Walk by Faith, Warnings
Andy Davis preaches an expository sermon on Hebrews 3:15-19. The main subject of the sermon is God's use of Church history as a warning.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Perhaps right now, perhaps in the new year, right around this time, there may be somebody inquiring into Christianity. Having made a New Year's resolution to read through the Bible this year for the first time, cover-to-cover. Maybe they're not even close to the point of trusting Christ as their Lord and Savior, but they want to read the Bible. They've always been intrigued by it, and never really got down to reading it and so they're going to settle down, and they're going to read it. Perhaps they began yesterday on January 1st with, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." And they're going to read through and as they do the familiar accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, and 3, will fill into their minds and they'll feel comfortable with that. The creation, the story of the Garden of Eden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent. Maybe they'll learn some things they hadn't noticed before, but they're there and soon after that will come, Cain and Abel and after that things will get really interesting. They'll come to a genealogy. And then the story of Noah and the Ark that had more in it than they thought was there, and pretty soon they're in other genealogies and they're in the world of the Bible.
And it will seem a strange world to them. Of tent-dwelling nomads whose wealth was measured in sheep and goats. And some of those tent-dwelling nomads squabbling over the rights to drink from wells dug long before that. An account of one man dickering with the chieftain of a tribe over the right to buy a cave where he could bury his dead wife. Page after page of ancient history, and if he perseveres this sense will actually only get stronger, as he continues to read in the Old Testament. He'll read accounts of battles between nations that don't even exist anymore. Of minor kings whose names would have long since been forgotten, if they'd not been immortalized in the Bible. Prophets will rise up and proclaim the sins of the people, sins that he didn't even know were sins. They'll proclaim oracles against nations, as I said, that don't exist anymore, and it's all going to be very troubling.
And one question will just be screaming in his ear, "How in the world does this relate to my life?" He'll put the Bible down, he'll drink his coffee, get into his Acura and drive to an office where he's going to process someone's application for a mortgage, use the internet, he'll call the people on his Blackberry, he'll text while driving though he ought not to. Maybe set up a virtual meeting by Skype or some other software or technology, he's going to use all of that technology that we're very familiar with.
He's going to check CNN money and find out how his stocks are doing and what's going on with the markets. He's going to microwave his lunch, eat it quickly and get back to his work. When he gets home, he might pick up the Bible with a sigh, and try again and continue to read some more about people that lived two to four thousand years ago, whose lifestyle seems as relevant to his is that of the Aborigines in Australia in the Outback. And at some point, this question may cross his mind, "If the Bible really is God's word, why did he fill it was so much ancient history? That doesn't seem to connect to me at all." What does this have to do with me, a 21st-century person?
What is history? When we're standing right here at the beginning of a new year, we tend to get a bit sentimental about the year that's passed, look ahead to the year that's coming, and we're asking questions about the passage of time, what is history? Well, a simple definition is just a retelling of past events. Like that Dragnet guy Joe Webb said, "Just the facts, ma'am," something like that. And so we just want the facts. The problem is there are too many of them. So, all histories tend to be selective, a picking and choosing of the relevant facts. Any parent knows what I'm talking about is, alright, what happened? And there's a selective telling from various of the children, different accounts trying to harmonize the selectivity of history. So every history has a purpose, there's a reason why the retelling is going on. A search for significance and why it happened. And it doesn't take, as I've said, much reading the Bible to realize that it's overwhelmingly a book of history.
Even the poetry, the Psalms, like Psalm 95 that we read earlier, are celebrating the acts of God in history. Now for me, as a pastor, as a Bible reader, a Bible scholar, as I try to learn and study the Bible, I always bring two questions to every text. Or two convictions, I think is a better word, two convictions that I've gotten from the Scripture. The first conviction as I come to a passage of the Bible is the conviction that I know from Scripture, God never changes. Prophet Malachi, "The Lord said, 'I never change.'" So God is the same yesterday, and today and forever. So whatever I learn about how God dealt with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or someone else in history, God has not changed one bit. His character is the same.
The second basic fact I bring to the text is that human beings don't really change either. And the same things that those people struggled with in their day, we struggle with in ours as well. From generation to generation, we're dealing with the same basic problems, our pride, our lusts, our ambitions, our materialism our family squabbles, our health, our sickness, our birth, our death... We may be wearing different clothes, we may be listening to different music, we may have different patterns of entertainment, we may have different technology, we actually do, but inside we're no different men and women than they were.
We're dealing with the same issues they were. These are the two basic convictions. And so God has lavished on the human race an immense gift in the Biblical record, in the Bible history, a perfect history book selected by God, God selected out what to tell us. You know, at the end of John's gospel, He said, "You know, I haven't told you everything about Jesus. If I did the whole world couldn't contain the books that would be written." But I picked and I chose some things to give you my gospel. That's what John's saying, selective history. And the events of history written in the scriptures are written to help us today as we walk with God. Help us today as we live our lives. Their examples in the past break into two basic categories.
Category number one, positive examples in which the people did what they were supposed to do and received in some way the blessing of God. And then negative examples in which men and women do the wrong things. And they experience in some way, curses and judgments from God, and difficulties. Positive and negative examples. The positive examples are written for us to follow, so that we may be blessed. They are encouragements. The negative examples on the other hand, are written for things for us to avoid, that we too may not be cursed or judged as those people were. They are warnings for us. When we read of Cain's refusal to worship God in the prescribed way, his jealousy of his brother Abel, his warning by God about sin crouching at his door about to devour him. Cain's ignoring of that warning and his murder of Abel based on pride, and jealousy, and then a subsequent judgment by God, it is clear that God intends for us to take heed to the warning and beware. Learn the lessons of Cain. That's why John brings him back up in 1 John 4, "Why did Cain murder his brother?"
Learning the lessons. When we read on the other hand, of Noah's faithfulness and building the ark and how he did everything down to the letter, all of the instructions and in that way, by his faith-filled obedience to God's command saved himself and his family from the flood. We are encouraged to take warnings, take heed, obey God, and follow in that way, by faith. Now, in the passage today we're returning to Hebrews 3 to look again at this Chapter and we're right in the middle of an extended meditation on a psalm, Psalm 95. Eric read the first portion of it.
I. Warned by Repetition: Psalm 95 Again
And we have in Hebrews 3:7-11, the quotation of Psalm 95, "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, and for 40 years, saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation. And I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray and they have not known my ways,' so I declared an oath in my anger. 'They shall never enter my rest.'"
Now, as we've already seen, Psalm 95 and the retelling of it here in Hebrews 3, as we come to the text here, there are four different levels of context. Four different historical levels of context. First, there's us, 21st Century Americans, for the most part, coming to the Book of Hebrews, and reading it ourselves. So we're reading Psalm 95, as quoted in Hebrews 3, we with our own struggles, our own present context, that's context number one. Second context is the context of the readers of the book of Hebrews, the original audience, to which the author was writing. First century Jews who had made a profession of faith in Christ, and were struggling with temptation to turn away from that, that confession of Christ and go back to old covenant Judaism, that's their context.
Go back a thousand years before that to King David, who sat down as he was settled there in Jerusalem, I believe, and writing Psalm 95, warning people of his own generation, to learn the lessons of history, and follow God and be faithful. 1000 BC. And then another half millennia before that, around 1450 or so BC, the time of the exodus itself, when under Moses, the Jewish nation came out of Egypt, and then through unbelief refused to enter the promised land. That's the fourth level of context. All four of them are in front of us as we look at Hebrews 3:15-19.
And what lesson were the Jewish Christians to learn? What lesson are we to learn? Well, we've already seen in the Book of Hebrews, in Hebrews Chapter 1, the greatness of Jesus, the Son of God, radiance of God's glory, exact representation of His being, the greatness of Jesus. And how He's greater than angels. And how He is, in Hebrews 2, the captain of our salvation, leading us powerfully and strongly. And how, in Hebrews 3, He's greater than Moses. The greatness of Jesus. And in the midst of all this, the author to Hebrews turns to Psalm 95 to get a lesson from history. And what is that lesson? Dear friends is this, it's not enough, simply to start the journey to the promised land, you have to finish it.
Just being with God's people as they go on Exodus and beginning that journey to the promised land, is not enough, that generation didn't make it. The only way you can finish this journey is to keep believing in Jesus and keep obeying His commands, by faith. The Jews of the Exodus were cursed by God because of their unbelief leading to their disobedience. So also we are in danger, if we develop a sinful heart of unbelief, and refused to obey the Gospel, we also will not enter the ultimate, the final promised land, that's the warning we're dealing with here today. And we're looking at Hebrews 3, so have your scripture there, and I also want you to know I'm going to be going later in the message to 1 Corinthians, Chapter 10, right at the beginning, so you can work to get over there. It won't be for in a few minutes, but just have your finger in both places, we'll be looking in both. As we come to Hebrews 3:15, we're coming again a second time to Psalm 95. We are therefore warned by repetition, we're at Psalm 95 again, verse 15. As has just been said, "Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion."
Isn't it interesting to see the reading of the scripture up there, projected on the screens? And it starts with the words, "as has just been said." So we're kind of jumping right in, to this argument, In Hebrews, 3. Again, as we've mentioned, King David wrote Psalm 95 five centuries after the Exodus under Moses, a thousand years before that first generation of Christians. David was reflecting on Jewish history and he was giving the people of his own generation a timeless lesson in faith and obedience.
In the Old Testament, if you read it slightly different than it's quoted in Hebrews, I'll explain that in a minute, but therein in Psalm 95:7-11, it says, "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as you did it Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert where your fathers tested and tried me though they had seen what I did. For 40 years, I was angry with that generation. I said, 'They are a people whose hearts go astray and they have not known my ways.' So I declared on oath in my anger. 'They shall never enter my rest.'" So in order to understand this, you have to understand the history of the Jewish rebellion during the time of the Exodus. Without that history, this whole passage will mean nothing to you.
So what is that history? Well, God, of course, sent Moses to the Jews, to fulfill his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a promise he had made very plain to Abram in Genesis 15, that Abram's descendants would be strangers in a country not their own, where they'll be enslaved and mistreated for 400 years, but God would punish the nation they served as slaves and afterward, He would bring them out and they would worship Him in the Promised Land. It was a promise He made to Abram, repeated to Isaac and Jacob.
And so the Jews were there as slaves and God was concerned and He called Moses to go back and be His mighty instrument, to lead that nation, maybe as many as two million people out of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land. And so with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, God did precisely that. With 10 awesome plagues that displayed His power, culminating in the dreadful plague on the first born in which every first born son in Egypt, that wasn't under the blood of the sacrificial lamb was killed. And out they came. And then the incredible Red Sea crossing, when God showed His power and they crossed the Sea on dry land, but the Egyptians when they tried to do so were drowned, destroyed. An awesome display of power.
But the Jews were already consistently resisting Moses and rebelling against God, by that point. They tested God, at two places, a place called Massah and Meribah. Complaining against God and Moses. Testing God, saying, "Is the Lord among us?" They complained about having no water, they complained about having no bread, and they refused to believe in Him despite all of the display of power that I've already listed for you, they would not believe in God. And so the Hebrew word Massah means testing. So they named the place after testing where they tested God, saying, "is God really among us?" And then Meribah means quarreling or arguing, a different place with another bad name. And so here, the Jews tested God, and they quarreled against God. And then after that they received the 10 commandments from God, they heard it with their own ears the voice of God speaking the 10 Commandments. "I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, you shall have no other gods besides me. You shall not make for yourselves any idol."
They heard very plainly these things. Then when Moses went up on the mountain and was there for 40 days, they immediately violated the 10 Commandments and they made for themselves a golden calf and they had a dreadful orgy glutting on food and sexual immorality and singing and praising this golden calf. "Here are you Gods, O Israel, that led you out of Egypt." And they bowed down to the golden calf, but the worst rebellion of all occurred after that when the time came at last to consummate the Exodus by crossing the Jordan River and entering into the promised land.
And how Moses sent out 12 spies and they spied through the land, they went through, they saw that it was a good and rich land that drinks in the rain and the dew from heaven. It was a lush land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And they found a cluster of grapes so large they had to carry it on a pole between two men. Succulent grapes, the fruit of the land that they were going to. Spied out the land for 40 days, saw everything they needed to see but when they came back, 10 of the 12 spies spoke through unbelief and spoke words of rebellion against Almighty God. And Numbers 13:31-33, "The men who had gone up with him said, 'We can't attack those people. They're stronger than we are. And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored, they said the land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of a great size. We saw the Nephilim there. We seem like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we look the same to them."
And the people wept aloud, and they grumbled against Moses and they made wicked statements. In Numbers 14, "All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, 'If only we had died in Egypt, or in the desert.' Why is the Lord bringing us to this land, only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt. And they said to each other, 'We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.'"
Friends. That's the key issue here, that's why we're even studying this today. The turning in the heart away from the promised land back to the old way of life. That's why this is relevant to you and me, that's why it was relevant to the first century Jewish professors of faith in Christ, tempted to go back in their hearts, through unbelief to their old way of life.
Joshua, Caleb and Moses pleaded with the people, not to do this thing. Pleaded with them to trust in God reminded them of all the great works of God, of all that God had done. But that wicked nation that wicked generation refused to believe in God, or in his messengers and they talked openly of stoning Moses, Joshua and Caleb.
Then the Lord spoke. And I tell you, just for myself, just what I want out of this text today what I want for you is simply this, the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom. That's the goal of this sermon. That you would fear God appropriately as members of the New Covenant, we're not done with fear, we're not done with the fear of the Lord that's why Hebrews is here for us to give us an appropriate fear of the Lord, that we may stay the course and run with endurance, the race marked out in front of us. The Lord spoke, at first he threatened to wipe out the Jewish nation and make of Moses a great nation.
Moses interceded, and stopped that by pleading that God would lose his glory in the face of the Egyptians so God made this terrifying statement in Numbers 14, The Lord replied. "I have forgiven them as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert, but who disobeyed me, and tested me, 10 times. Not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, no one who has treated me with contempt, will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to and his descendants will inherit it."
So he singled out Caleb for his faith. Notice how God refers to the pattern of rebellion that they've seen up to that point 10 times they had tested God.
Can I just pause for a word of application for you? There are no sinless people in this room. There are no sinless Christians. But my question to you is, what is the pattern of your life? Is the pattern of your life obedience-based on faith in the word of God, His promises his commands, is that the pattern of your life? And a sin an aberration for what you immediately feel shame, and you confess your sin and are cleansed and restored to fellowship? Or is the pattern of your life and increasing hardening of your hearts? What is the pattern? 10 times they tested God, He said. Then he commanded the Jews to begin their death march through the desert, a 40-year trial in the desert until the next generation, the rising generation, would come and replace their sinful forefathers.
Numbers 14:28 and following, "So I told them as surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do the very thing I heard you say. I'm going to do for you what you said would happen in this desert your body's will fall. Every one of you 20 years old or more who was counted in the census, and who has grumbled against me, not one of you will enter the land, I swear with an uplifted hand, to make your home except Caleb, son of Jephunneh and Joshua, son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder. I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected, but you, your bodies will fall in the desert, your children will be shepherds here for 40 years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your body's lies in the desert, for 40 years, one year for each of the 40 days, you explored the land. You will suffer for your sins and you will know what it is like to have me against you."
Oh, tremble at those words. In Christ, if God is for us, who can be against us? But if God is against you, does it matter who's for you? You will know what it's like to have me against you. I, the Lord have spoken and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert here they will die.
Well this is a tragic history of the Jewish rebellion. They refused to trust God. They refused to enter the promised land, their bodies were scattered in the desert. They are a warning to me. And they should be a warning to you. And you would do well not to blow off this warning, but instead to take it to heart. Hebrews Three and four, then as an extended meditation. On the lessons of scripture and of history, the author to Hebrews is in effect saying, "If you turn your back on Jesus and seek to return to your old way of life, you are no better than that, generation." That wicked generation, you're no different. And he's using Psalm 95 to teach them the lessons of history.
Look what happened to that generation of rebels. Look what happened, look what their outcome was. This is the negative persuasion mode of scripture, this is the warning motive scripture, it's what it does a severe warning to attempted people not to cave in through unbelief to fear and he does it by repetition, as has just been said. Repetition's important. Sometimes we have to go back and say things again. Paul in Philippians 3:1 says, "Finally brothers, rejoice in the Lord. There's no trouble for me to write the same things to you again. And it's a safeguard for you." And so we have some repetition here, we're going back to Psalm 95, looking at it again.
Peter says the same thing in second Peter, he says, "So I'll always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you have. I think it's right to refresh your memory, as long as I live in the tent of this body." So a lot of pastoral ministry a lot of good teaching is just repetition, reminders. And so God is still speaking that's what's going on here. He's still speaking to you and you still have to listen. Today, if you hear his voice, don't harden your heart. He's still speaking so it literally says as has just been said today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Maybe a better translation might be something like this. This is a little more literalistic. While it is being said today if you hear his voice. That's, that's strong isn't it?
During the era that it's being said today, if you hear his voice, we're in that era now. God's still speaking to us. There'll come a time when he doesn't say anymore. It's not time anymore, it's time just for judgment. But now while if it's being said today, if you here his voice don't harden your... During that era, don't harden your heart.
And God is seeking to break this deadly chain that we see laid out for us in these verses. God speaks, sin deceives, sin hardens the heart. Sinners then disbelieve the promises of God. Disbelief results in disobedience, and disobedience results in the judgment of God. That's the chain that the authors seek to get in and break apart.
So scripture comes in and feeds our faith so that we're not unbelieving and therefore disobedient. But rather trusting God, it's scripture that's given to build our faith and scripture takes this dual approach. Goodness and severity the blessings of obedience, the rich blessings of following Jesus, and the severe curses that come on those who turn their backs. So simply put, every day God sets life and death in front of you. Blessings and curses. Puts you at the fork in the road, so what are you going to do? It's what happens. So this passage is a severe warning, based in Israel history. A parallel teaching is in 1 Corinthians 10. So keep your finger in Hebrew 3 and go over to 1 Corinthians 10.
Paul does the exact same thing. It's almost the exact same teaching, it's so similar. As a matter of fact, you think maybe this is Paul's message also in Hebrews 3. Doesn't have to be. Because the same Holy Spirit was motivating both the author to Hebrews and also Paul, as he wrote in 1 Corinthians 10.
In verses 1-12. "For I do not want you to be ignorant to the fact brothers that our forefathers were all under the cloud and they all passed through the sea. They're all baptized in the Moses in the cloud and the sea, they all ate the same spiritual food, drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them their bodies were scattered through the desert." Look at Verse 6. "Now these things occurred as examples" you see that? "These things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters. As some of them were as it is written, the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry. We should not commit sexual immorality as some of them did. And in one day, 23,000 of them died. We should not test the Lord as some of them did and were killed by snakes and do not grumble, as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel." Again, verse 11. "These things happened to them as examples, and were written down as warnings for us on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, take heed, lest you fall."
Do you not see the parallel here? Learn from what happened to the Jews. Paul, even just drenches the Jews exit as in Christian language, they were baptized in the sea, they ate like the Lord's Supper, they ate at the bread, and they drank from the rock and they were just its church language and look at them. It's not enough to just go to church, it's not enough to hang out with church people, it's not enough to just do church things that will not save you if that's all it is. That's the warning. So, we are warned.
II. Warned by History: God’s Severity to Israel
Go back to Hebrews 3 if you would. Look at God's severity to Israel, since rebellion is exceedingly provocative to God. In Verse 15, "While it is said today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked me." This word literally brought me to tears as I was doing the exegesis on this. The word literally means bitterness. Our unbelief is bitter to God, it's a bad taste in His mouth when we won't trust Him. It hurts Him. You think "How can Almighty God be hurt?" Well, He's hurt because He loves us. And He's linked Himself to us, and so it's a bad taste. I remember in 1986, I was going on a mission trip to Kenya, and they told me that I needed anti-malarial medicine, so I got two of them and one of them was chloroquine it's related to quinine. It was the most water soluble pill I've ever put my mouth, as soon as I put it on my tongue it immediately started to melt, it was also the bitterest thing I've ever had in my mouth.
I'll never forget one time while I was on the mission field, it got wedged between my molar and my cheek and melted entirely in my mouth. I got to have the full chloroquine experience in my mouth. I was tasting quinine the rest of the day. Bitter taste. That's what our sin is like in God's mouth it's bitter to Him, it provokes Him. Our unbelief is provocative to God. It's bitter to Him. God was then highly motivated to be severe to Israel. Look, God's response in Hebrews go back to Verse 10. I was angry with that generation. Verse 11, "I declared on oath and my anger 'They shall never enter my rest.'" Look at Verse 17. He was angry for 40 years, verse 18, "God swore that they would never enter His rest."
And that anger led to God's 40-year-judgment on the Jewish nation. Look at Verse 9, "Your father's tested and tried me and for 40 years, saw what I did.” What does that mean for 40 years? Saw what I... What did he do for 40 years? Well, it's not all negative. I mean, He did some positive things he provided for them, fed them with manna. He led them every step of the way by the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. He set up the tabernacle in their midst, and received offerings and sacrifices. He gave them the first five books of Moses, during that time, I believe. That's when the scripture came rolling in. He fed them, He made sure that their clothes didn't wear out, and their feet didn't swell and their shoes didn't wear out, He looked after them, that's what He did positively. What did he do negatively? Well, He killed them. For 40 years, He killed them. Every one of them. It's not an accident, it's like, "Oh you know?" They accidentally died, there were no accidental deaths. God was in the business of killing them over 40 years.
And it's very clear, if you look at like the KJV for example, in verse 17, it's very graphic actually. But with whom was He grieved for 40 years, was it not with them that sinned whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? When you think of a carcass it's like road kill. It's very graphic, graphic word here. Same thing in Numbers 14:29. Your corpses will fall in the wilderness. And if you calculate the death rate, this is something that if you're statistical, if you're not, you'll have to bear with me here. This is where my engineering side comes out. And if you're like into actuarial charts or insurance numbers you'll be interested, if not, just pause and we'll get back to artsy things maybe later, maybe another sermon, maybe another preacher, I don't know. But this is statistic, a statistical analysis, okay? At the time of the exodus. According to Numbers one. The senses of the Israelites that took place in the second year after they left Egypt, the number of men 20 years of age and older, was 603,550.
Now, if you double that number, assuming an equal number of women that age, and assuming the women of the generation were under the same judgment as the men. If you then divide that total by the number of days that the Jews wandered in the desert, during those years, you'll find that there were nearly 90 deaths per day. 90 deaths every day as a consequence of God's wrath and judgment on that nation. Now, I looked it up and there's something called the crude death rate. Total number of deaths per year per 1000 people as of July 2009, the crude death rate, for the whole world was about 8.37 per 1000 per year. If you do the math, it turns out that the death rate for Israel during those 40 years was 6.5 times higher than that. God was killing them off almost seven times faster than usual. And that was in an age when people lived longer. He was killing them, killing them, killing them, killing them, day after day killing them, killing them. One after the other. Thousands of them dying for 40 years, they saw what I did.
It was a 40-year lesson on fearing the Lord and believing in Him. And what caused this outbreak of God's wrath on the Jews? Well, the author to Hebrews makes it plain by a series of questions.
III. Warned Against Hearing, Disbelieving, and Rebelling
Warned against hearing disbelieving and rebelling. It's a chain. Series of rhetorical questions, question number one, Verse 16. “Who were they, who heard and rebelled?" Here's the question, answer, "were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?"
Question number two, verse 17. "And with whom was he angry for 40 years? Was it not with those who sinned whose bodies fell in the desert?"
Question number three, Verse 18 "and to whom to God, swear that they would never, enter his rest? Answer, if not to those who disobeyed?" What's the point? Don't be arrogant but believe.
That Generation of Jews heard the good news of the promised land, they saw the miracles of God, under Moses. They were brought through the Red Sea, by a mighty hand and a out stretched arm. They experienced those things. Those Jews were real live people who experienced the grace of God as he was giving it in their generation. But they refused to believe His promises and their hearts turned back to Egypt. So also those first century Jewish Christians, they heard the gospel of Jesus Christ how God had sent His son and Jesus died on the cross and He shed His blood and on the third day God raised Him up from the dead, and they saw the miracles done by the apostles. Apostolic miracles, they saw these signs and wonders, they heard the Gospel preached by those who actually had known Jesus.
And now because of the same fear that led their ancestor, to turn away from the Promise Land, fear of death of difficulty, of trouble. They were tempted to turn away from Jesus and go back to their old way of life because it was hard to be a Christian. "So I declared on oath of my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'"
And what is the root cause of all of this? It's unbelief. God lamented their failure to believe in him. Numbers 14:11. "How long will these people treat me with contempt, how long will they refuse to believe in me? In spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?" God was lamenting their unbelief, they should have believed by now.
Again, Deuteronomy 1:31-33, "you saw how the Lord your God carried you. As a father carries his son all the way you went until you reached this place. And in spite of all this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, who went ahead of you on your journey and fire by night, and in a cloud by day to search out places for you to camp and show you the way you should go" "I would have gone ahead of you across the Jordan. I would have gone to Jericho, I would have fought that battle for you. And I would have conquered the land. I went ahead of you. I've already been there in my mind. We would have won. But you didn't trust me. Instead you turned away."
IV. Warned Against Failing to Enter God’s Rest
So therefore, the final lesson we are warned against failing to enter God's rest, verse 19. So we see, what's the lesson? "They were not able to enter because of their unbelief." That's the lesson. What about us? Are you going to heaven when you die? Are you going to enter God's promised rest? Will you be there at the wedding banquet of the Lamb? Will you be there? Friends, this is a greater exodus. We have a greater leader than Moses. This is a bigger deal than all of that. That's a dress rehearsal, that's like a little diorama. This is the real life action. Jesus is leading his people out of bondage in sin. Out of serving Satan to go to heaven and live with Him forever. That's the promise land. Will you enter or will at some point along the way, you turn away through unbelief and sin and stop following Jesus. Will you turn away despite what you have seen by faith, God has done. Jesus death, shedding his blood for you, His mighty resurrection, He didn't just defeat pharaoh and his army. He defeated sin and death and Satan for you, He defeated all of your enemies. He took the sting out of death by his resurrection, from the dead.
Will you keep trusting in Him? Will you keep believing in the one who Has gone ahead of us, to prepare a place for us and who will come back and take us to be with Him, so that we can live with him forever? Will you keep trusting in Jesus? Who has gone ahead of us, to the promised land, and made it ready for us.
We have better promises than those Jews had. They had the promises of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we have this, "I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes me, will never die." That's a better promise, Amen. Will you keep trusting in that promise till the day you're laying on your death bed? In the ICU or wherever it is, you're going to be. Will you keep trusting in Jesus? And will you be warned against sin's deceitfulness. Resulting in hardness of heart resulting and turning away from the living God. It's a warning to nominal Christians, it's a warning to church goers, who were baptized in water, who regularly attend worship services but who in their hearts have no true living faith in Jesus.
It's a warning to you. It's not enough merely to begin the Christian race. It's not enough to merely outwardly run the Christian race, to be along for the ride. You can deceive your pastor. It's not hard to do. It won't get you anything on judgment day. People who deceive their neighbors, deceive even family members, even deceiving themselves. But I tell you the true faith results in obedient lifestyle. Faith results in obedience, unbelief, results from our text and disobedience. Are you living a life of obedience to the commands of God by the power of the Spirit? True faith results in a growth of love for God and love for your neighbor as yourself. It results an ever expanding horizon of sanctification, your financial life, what you do with your time. Your quiet time, your devotional life. How you're dealing with your marriage, how you're dealing with your children, what's going on at work. Ever growing holiness in order around the commands of God, that's the Christian life. So rest then by faith in Christ finished work.
Please don't come up to me afterwards and say, "So you're teaching that you can lose your salvation." Okay, I'm going to say it all to you right now. Of course, you can't lose your salvation. You know who's going to take and heed these warnings, the elect, the truly faith-filled same people are going to take this to heart and keep walking with Jesus, and the others are going to disregard it. So no, you can't lose what God gave you. When God declares you not guilty of all your sins, you are not guilty. Keep running that race with endurance, that's marked out in front of you. Keep running that race until at last, you cross the spiritual Jordan and enter the Promised Land that Jesus has won for you. Close with me in prayer.
Father, we thank you for this warning. It's a scary passage, it's a scary warning. I don't want to fall away Lord, I don't want to turn away drift away, I don't want to be away. I want to be close to you, Lord Jesus. I want my brothers and sisters, every single one of them that are here today, I want them to keep running the race with endurance. Marked out before them. I want them to keep trusting in Jesus, I want them in 2011, more than ever before to feed their souls on the Word of God. It's warnings its promises it's counsel, it's commands, it's lessons that they would feed, feed, feed on the Word of God. And I pray that strengthened in that strengthened in faith, they would obey your commands by the power of the Spirit. In Jesus name. Amen.