Do Not Harden Your Hearts
Key Verse 3:7-8a
“So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
Today’s passage is very interesting! It begins with the word “So” or as in the original: “Therefore” which in this letter, is a very meaningful word. It’s like a window that opens into the past and at the same time into the future— as we shall see— because the author shows us an example from the people of God in the past and warns us not to do what they did. Notice the remaining words of verse 7, and that verses 8-11 are in quotation from the Old Testament, whereas verse 12 is the author’s conclusive exhortation to all of us where he says: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” He says this because of all he had been saying about the glory of our Lord Jesus. For if they belonged to him they should be very careful not to have a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from Him. It is this that we will be discussing here at length.
Read verses 7-11. The author quotes from Psalm 95:7-11, where the Psalmist admonishes those he addresses in his own day to listen to the voice of the Lord not to harden their hearts against God, as their own ancestors had done before them. But why does the Hebrew’s author quote from this particular Psalm? Because of what he had been saying to them all along. And if we look at the last thing he had said, we’d get the idea? In verse 6, he had encouraged them to hold on to their courage and the hope of which they boasted. In other words, he had encouraged them to hold on to their faith in Christ Jesus. So, in quoting this passage from the psalm, what the author is saying is this: unless we hold firmly to faith in Christ, no course of life is left for us to take except the course these people took, and it wasn’t very promising at all. God helped them escape their slavery in Egypt, but many of them didn’t escape God’s anger. Many of them never received what God had originally promised them. Now how could that have ever happened to them? They didn’t hold firmly to their faith in Christ Jesus. Remarkably then, this quotation from the Psalm shows us what it is to hold firmly to faith in Christ Jesus. It shows us what faith is!
First, Faith is today not tomorrow. I’ll explain this to you. Listen to what he says in verse 7. “As the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice’”. The Psalmist said these words centuries ago when the Holy Spirit spoke to the people of his own time. Then the author of Hebrews repeats these same words in turn to the people of his own time. As you and I read them together this very day, they are also being spoken to us as well. Whatever the word of God says to us, it says to us today, and it demands a response, and our faith must respond today— not tomorrow but today. This is how faith works, otherwise it is not faith at all. Faith compels us to respond today to the word of God.
Usually, if our hearts are not moved when we hear the word if God, something is terribly wrong. If you read or hear the word of God spoken and you aren’t convicted or encouraged; if you don’t see your sins, or if you don’t see the beauty of the Lord who took them upon himself; if you are not the least touched by the glory of the heavenly things, and ashamed by your slavery to the earthly things; then something is terribly wrong! If you are not moved or touched by the word of God, you need the Lord’s mercy to quicken your heart and soul. You need God’s intervention. I would ask for God’s grace and mercy. But if the word of God moves your heart; if it convicts or encourages or refreshes you; it’s because the word of God always demands a response especially from God’s children. That’s good. But for the response to be effective and to bear fruit, it has to be today, and to be today it has to be a response of faith. Let me explain.
“Today, if you hear his voice”, the Holy spirit says to us— today. This is the urgency of the response the Lord demands of his people. This too is the urgency of faith whenever the word of God touches our hearts. When we are convicted or encouraged, we must respond now— today— and by faith! Any other response is useless. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector for the Roman overlords collecting taxes from his oppressed people in order to fatten his own pocket. He loved money more than anything else. One day, Jesus happened to be passing through his hometown Jericho and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home. Zacchaeus, who never heard the word of God spoken, heard it for the first time. And he was so deeply moved, that the word of God demanded a response from him. Do you know what were the first words out of his mouth? “Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19.8) “Here and now” was his response of faith. It was his today-faith. It wasn’t “I’ll do it tomorrow”— kind of faith, nor “wow, that was a beautiful message Lord”— kind of faith. It was a sincere repentance of “Here and now”— a change in attitude— of a life style— a giving up of a pleasure he cherished— a turning around in something in his life that was offensive to God and to neighbor! Faith is today for those who hear the word of God. The response of faith from person to person is different since some in faith may rejoice while some in faith may mourn, some may repent of pride and others might promise servantship. But our lives are a journey from faith to faith as we hear the voice of the Lord and ever respond to it by faith. Yet faith remains always today. When faith is postponed, it is no longer faith. It becomes disobedience!
Second, Faith is not hardening our hearts when we hear God’s voice. Look at verses 7-8. What happens when clay or bread become hard and useless? They are thrown out. How tragic it is when the human heart is hardened that it can no longer be shaped by the word of God to serve his will! God speaks to our hearts at different times in our lives and in many ways for a good many reasons. He speaks to some to give new life to their dead spirits. He speaks to others to awaken their spirits from lazy slumber. To his dear children, he speaks to call, to challenge, to rebuke, to encourage, to ignite love and all kinds of godly virtues. But he always speaks so that his word might fulfill and serve his will in our lives, and shape us more and more into the image of his Son. But it required that our hearts be humble and pliable! Unless our hearts are humble, ready to accept his word, nothing happens. More than that, if nothing happens at the word of God spoken to our hearts, there is always the danger that our hearts slowly harden bit by bit until the hardening becomes irreversible!
You ask when does God speak to us? When do we hear his voice? Always, specially today! God speaks to us through his words, through the presence of the Holy Spirit within the church brooding over his children, using them to love, to encourage, to serve and to keep each other accountable before God and one another. You just need to have a humble heart and sensitive ears that are fine tuned in order for you to hear God’s voice speaking! And you need faith to accept the Lord’s word into your heart which has the power to shape you and mold you according to God’s will into the image of his Son. Sometimes even our hardship and difficulties are God’s voice teaching us something crucial to our spiritual maturity. We can listen with a humble heart, submitting to his will (even in hardship) and grow in his image, or we can resist (our hardship) and (complain) rebel and become disobedient like those people who started out with faith but then lost their faith on account of the hardness of their hearts! The author warns us not to let that happen to you.
The one voice of God that every man should hear with the utmost humility of heart has been the voice of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The author of Hebrews admonishes his readers not to make the mistake of hardening their hearts to the voice of the Lord as their ancestors did. The Good Shepherd Jesus came to call us out of the desert wasteland of our lives and into his heavenly green pasture. And he used his voice to do so. He said: “I am the Shepherd of the sheep”. “The sheep listen to ‘the shepherd’s voice’…. and “[my] sheep follow [my] because they know [my] voice…..” (John 10:3-16) Those who belong to Jesus always listen to his voice and follow him, even when the road is dark and dangerous and rough. So, let faith and his voice which speaks to us even now in the gospels always be our guide. This was the author’s admonition to all of us who know Jesus and have confessed him as our Savior. The desert wilderness was very difficult for those whom Moses had brought out of slavery in Egypt by the hand of God. They had all come out together by faith. They had heard the voice of the shepherd and had followed. But when many life difficulties came up, and the road became rough and troublesome, some of them yearned to go back to the ease and comfort of slave life in Egypt. Others doubted that God loved them still. Still, others doubted that it was God who had rescued them in the first place. So, God spoke to them again. He counseled them to trust him, to have faith, to look to him in hope as they had done before. He spoke once, twice, three times. But they didn’t listen. They hardened their hearts rather than listen to God’s word, and obey by faith. Finally their hearts were so hardened that they became the example of what we shouldn’t let ourselves become. Faith means to humbly listen when the shepherd speaks with hearts ready to obey.
Third, Faith learns from past mistakes so as not to repeat them. Look at verses 8-9. We can go through the history of Israel during their forty years of wilderness travels and list all the times where they tested and tried God as he says here they had done to him, but it’s not necessary. What’s necessary is to recognize is the fact that all during those many years, they didn’t learn anything from their mistakes and sins against God. That’s what hardening of the heart does to God’s people. It dulls their senses such that they can no longer recognize spiritual truth and reality. And they learn nothing from their own sins and shortcomings.
Saul, the first king of Israel made a huge mistake. He panicked when he should have trusted God’s word by faith. God had tested him to see if he was fit to lead God’s people, because any leader of God’s people must trust God and live and act by faith! God’s word to him was very simple— wait for Samuel for 7 days till he comes to you. (1 Samuel 10:8) So when 7 days were almost over and Samuel hadn’t shown up, Saul began to panic. You and I know how difficult it is not to panic when time’s running out. But Saul had seen the hand of God at work. He’s seen what God can do. He should have faith in God and obey his word. But when he let panic consume him, he made the mistake of his life. He offered a sacrifice that only priests were allowed to offer. So this is what Samuel told him when he arrived: “You acted foolishly…. Now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command” (1 Samuel 13:13-14). You’d think Saul would have learned a lesson from these harsh words! But Saul didn’t. Why? Because when you don’t use faith to learn from your own mistakes and sins to correct them and to do instead what honors and glorifies God, then faith degenerates into callousness and hardness of heart and into outright stubborn rebellion against him. A short time afterwards God in his great mercy tested and tried Saul once more. He gave him another word to fulfill— another chance. Once again panic and fear gripped him and he couldn’t fully obey God. Here’s what Samuel finally said to him this time: “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23) Some people never learn from their mistakes or their past sins. Faith on the other hand learns from its mistakes and failures. How? Those who learn, bring their sins and failures and mistakes and shortcomings to God in repentance. They place them at the foot of the cross for cleansing. So that what lessons they learn from them can honor and glorify God.
Fourth, Faith is certainly not going astray from God’s way, but always closely follows God’s way. Faith never goes its own way, nor does its own thing. The Holy Spirit accused these people of always going astray, for not knowing God’s way. What is God’s way? If we define this, we can get an understanding of what grieved God the most about them. We can also get an understanding of faith. We don’t have time to explore the full meaning of God’s way here. But let me tell you how the evangelist Luke defined it briefly and beautifully. Luke was describing two kinds of people’s response to Jesus’ teaching when he wrote these words. He said: “All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.” (Luke 7:29-30) Luke says that one group of people had repented at John’s preaching, and in doing so had opened their hearts to Jesus and his words, while the other group of people had not repented and so their hearts were closed to Jesus and his teaching. The group that opened their hearts to Jesus and his teaching were greatly blessed because they accepted God’s purpose for themselves. In other words they acknowledged that God’s way was right. The other group was too proud and held on to their own way, and so they rejected Jesus, and consequently they also rejected God’s way and his purpose for their own lives as well. People have no idea how tragic it is to reject God’s way and to hold to their own way. They have no idea how in this they also lose the purpose of their own lives.
There is something divine about the humility of repentance that prepares the heart to understand God’s way and his special purpose in our lives. And that’s what John the Baptist was doing when he prepared people in repentance. He was preparing them to receive Jesus and his words. He was preparing them in God’s way for a new life. In studying the Bible, we can say that God’s way is always the way of humility and repentance. It is the way of submission and obedience to the Lord. Why? Because these are the very things of faith in which God works his word and purpose in our lives as individuals and as a church. We can say that God’s way is the way of faith then, because it is faith which compels us to give up our own way and to acknowledge that God’s way is right rather than our own way. We can also say that God’s way thereafter is to remain in Christ Jesus and to walk in his grace in faith because only then can we be sheltered from the dangers of going astray.
Fifth, Faith is finding rest in Christ Jesus. Read verse 11. Even reading this verse makes us shudder because God had pronounced this on his rebellious and unbelieving people after his long suffering patience with them for many years. He had rescued them from slavery in Egypt by his mighty hand and no other people on earth had crossed the red sea as these people did as on dry land. What more could God do? He had wanted to give them rest. But now he swore they wouldn’t enter his rest. You and I can only praise and thank God that his invitation to enter his rest still stands. It is this faith that the author implies here.
When God promised his people rest, he certainly meant the rest of the promised land of Canaan after their long desert journey. But he mostly meant the true rest for their souls which only the Savior Christ could give to our souls. And that rest is also on two levels as well. For we can find rest in this world in and through Christ; But God had also prepared for us a permanent rest in him in the world to come as well. When the Messiah Jesus came preaching and teaching, one of his most beautiful invitations to all of us had been this: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Every soul born in this world is weary and burdened. Our burdens of guilt and shame are endless and our weariness from anxious thoughts and insecurities of life and from struggling with our sin know no bounds. But Jesus graciously invites our burdened soul to come to him, and He promises us rest. Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. He takes upon himself our burden of sin and cradles our weary soul, and gives us rest. He gives us a restful new life free in God full of hope and promise in this world. He does this through faith in him. We can find this rest only through faith in Christ Jesus.
Jesus also gives us another kind of rest as well. This rest also requires faith, perhaps even greater faith still. Matthew 11:29 says: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Many Christians want to find rest for their soul from the heavy burden of their sin, and then walk away to enjoy their Christian life quoting many verses of freedom and joy of life and such, and abusing God’s grace and mercy. But no one can truly enjoy the fullness of the Christian life and taste the fullness of its joy unless they accept Jesus’ full invitation into his rest. Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon ourselves and to learn from him. What was Jesus’ yoke? His yoke was one of servantship and sacrifice, a yoke of obedience to God and of humility and submission to the Father’s will. And Jesus said: “Learn from me”. We have a yoke of learning from our Lord and a yoke of imitating his gentleness and humility, his servantship and sacrifice, his obedience and devotion to the Father. Christians who have not yet engaged in Jesus’ yoke with their whole hearts, cannot find the fullness of Jesus’ rest until they have. Sometimes we do not know why we are still troubled at heart, when we know have Christ as our Lord and Savior. Perhaps we are troubled because we have not taken his yoke upon ourselves and have not found his rest. Those who are engaged in serving God’s call in their lives and are devoted to his work often testify that their lives are full and restful, even though outwardly they may be persecuted and homeless. Jesus does not lie. He gives rest to those who take his yoke. We ought to do that. We ought to repent of our laziness, and procrastination and of our despair, and whatever else excuse we are making, and fully accept his invitation to take his yoke together with him to serve this dying world— the dying youth of our generation!
His invitation to rest is glorious. Like I said, this yoke rest is not like the rest of being reborn again. It is a deep sense of spiritual fulfillment that a soul can never find either in degrees or diplomas, nor in human achievements but only when a soul has found a common purpose in Christ and for Christ. As Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This is the faith that finds true rest in the savior and the Savior alone.
We have been looking at these Hebrew Christians whom he has been writing to. He is teaching them all over again the glory of the Savior Christ Jesus, the high priest in whom they have put their faith. He is warning them not to make the same mistake their ancestors made by hardening their hearts, but to stand firm in their faith. We have seen what faith looks like. Now he gives them his own conclusion regarding this example from the past. Read verse 12. “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” What he is saying is that we ought to examine our hearts and see that the faith we have in Christ remains firmly rooted in Christ. I pray that God help us to grow in faith, that our hearts may always remain humble and repentant so that God’s word that speaks to us may find its way to our hearts and grow our faith and mature us into servants who share in Jesus’ yoke for this world. Amen.