I want to start by looking at this verse, because it is the point of the whole chapter. It is the point that the author is driving towards. And it may be one of the most interesting verses in the whole Bible, from the standpoint of applicability. First of all, it tells us that it is possible to harden your heart. And that hardening comes about because of sin, specifically the deceitful nature of sin. The examples we used in the skit tonight (alcoholism and obsession with self/body) are a couple of the most obvious types of sin that people are blind and self-deceived about. But the same is true about all kinds of issues. And third, it tells us that we can do something about it, encourage each other. I want to talk about all these things. But first I want to talk about the background of this comment. Because the author is referring to the hard-heartedness of the Jewish people, during a certain period in the OT.
Bring our Biblesÿ.ÿ.ÿ.(Put up joke overhead) Most of you wouldn't know if this was in the Bible or not because you don't have one hereÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Let's encourage each other to stop this trend of Bible-less Bible-studies.
The people didn't believe GodLet's go back in the text a little and get a context for the verse we want to talk about. We'll start in v.ÿ7 You can see he's talking about a period here where the nation of Israel put God to the test. I don't want to assume that you are all experts on Bible history, or even that you know anything about it at all. What the author is talking about is the time in history when God brought the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. (refer to movie on last sunday) And he's saying about these people, "The problem with them was that they constantly tested and tried me; they rebelled and they had hardened hearts." And God's very upset about these people. As he says here, "I swore they would never enter my rest!" His "rest" was the promised land. He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt so that they could go to a promised land, the land of Israel. And God said, "You guys are so bad, you're not going to enjoy that land." He caused them to wonder in the wilderness for 40 years, until an entire generation of people died, and their children were the ones who got to go into the promised land. It's really a pretty amazing story. But what we want to do is summarize. What was it about these people that the author wants to warn us about?
Examples of the problemIt might help us to look at a couple examples of what it was that God was angry about.
Exodus 17:1-7This is one of the first (read text) This story seems reasonable enough on the face of it. Some people are out in the desert, and they're thirst! So they whine about it a little. But in the context, it's a little more outrageous. These people had just been witness to the most amazing series of miracles the world had ever seen, and probably will ever see. It was the series of miraculous events that inspired the movie. God had sent plagues on Egypt. He had parted a sea and let the people walk through on dry land. God had brought these people out into this wilderness miraculously. And then they have the nerve to wonder, "Is the Lord among us? Is he going to take care of us?" And this was just the first of many incidents like this. It was constant. Example: You see Moses called this place "Meribah," which means a place of struggle or contention. And by the time it was all said and done, Moses named about a dozen places Meribah.
What was at the heart of it?But what was at the heart of their whining and ingratitude? What was at the heart of their accusation? It was unbelief. They didn't believe that God was going to take care of them. They started to accuse God and Moses because they didn't believe God would be faithful to them. This is what the author of Hebrews said too. He said they had a heart of unbelief towards God (read v.ÿ12 again). They grumbled. They were accusing. They were rebellious, as the author described it earliere. But at the heart of it all, they were unbelieving. They didn't believe God would take care of them. This is a really important insight about sin in general. We've talked about it in here before. Sin is when we don't believe God. You can take any sin you want, at the the bottom of it there's a heart of unbelief. Example: Let's take a very external, obvious sin like drug use. Why would someone use drugs and destroy their mind and body? Because they don't believe God's ways of making us happy will work. Like the drunk, why does he need the liquor? Because real life, the life God has for us, is not good enough. He needs something else. Example: Why do people abuse sex in a sinful way? Because they don't believe God's way, commited sex in a marriage relationship, will work or is fun enough, or whatever. Example: Why do we indulge the sins of laziness, insecurity, self-centeredness, or whatever? With any sin, there's something we're not believing with God. There's a great morsel for you to take home with you tonight. Think about the issues you struggle with and ask, "What is it that I'm not believing?"
Repeated sin hardens your heartBut now, here's the insight that we want to focus in on: repeated sin in an area (repeated unbelief), hardens your heart. Like I told you with these people, their whining at Meribah was just the first of countless grumblings. They could never get it through their heads that God was going to take care of them. And pretty soon, it just became their way of dealing with anything and everything. It didn't matter what it was?they could be out of water, food, in a difficult situation?their first reaction was to accuse Moses and God of letting them down. "Why have you brought us out here to the wilderness to die!?" It became a way of life for them. "What do you do when you're worried? Let's go accuse Moses! What do you do if you need something? Let's go grumble against God!" They did it about everything. And the author's point here is, their heart was hardened. By their repeated lifestyle of unbelief, they hardened their own hearts.
What is a hardened heart?Let's think about this hardened heart thing. What is a hardened heart? A hard heart has to do with your relationship with God. When you have a hard heart, it means that God can't get through to you anymore. It means that you're so effective at resisting God, that God can't get you to hear him anymore. These people just got it in their mind that God wasn't going to take care of them, and so they considered it their divine right to grumble and accuse. And God could never persuade them on that point. It didn't matter if he provided for them every day they were out there in the desert for 40 years. They still thought he would let them down.
Can happen in salvationThis can happen to non-Christians. The Bible tells us that God is knocking on the door of our hearts. God is seeking us out. (show Rev.ÿ3:20) God's posture towards us is aggressive. He wants a relationship with us. He wants to forgive us. But the problem is that we can say, "I don't believe I need that." Or, "If I turn to God, I'm afraid he'll let me down. It'll hurt me somehow." And we can harden our hearts towards God. We can say, 'I don't need God in my life," "I don't need his forgivenes," and so on until we really start to believe it. And then what? How is God going to break through that?
With sinsWe can do the same thing with other sins, even after we're Christians. We can harden our hearts about a sin like laziness. We can get the sense that God wants us to work on it. We can get the sense that something is wrong. But we don't believe God, that he can deliver us from that kind of sin. And we harden our hearts by saying things like, "That's just the way I am. I've always been that way. I can't change, I've tried." What's God supposed to do when we shut him out with those kinds of lies?
Sin is decietfulIf we look back at the passage we started with, we see something about sin. He says, "It's deceitful." Isn't that the truth! When I think back on my life, and the issues I've really gotten hung up on, it's been because sin is so deceitful. Example: I think about one period where I was alienating all kinds of people in my life because I was so mean. And what do you think I said to myself? "Yeah, that's right I'm mean! And I'm gonna stay that way till you weaklings get used to it!" Not at all. First I tried to say to myself that I'm not mean.. "The problem is the people I'm hanging around." But that didn't work for long. Then I tried to say, 'I can't help it! I'm tring and I just can't help it!" And that wasn't true at all. Just like all the lies we tell ourselves to keep from having to deal with things. Example: I think of the times in my life when I've had very using, very self-centered relationships with girls. Did I say to myself, "Allright, I'm going to go out and use some women hereÿ.ÿ.ÿ." Not at all! I said, "I need to feel good right now. She can help me." Or I said, "She wants me to do this." We have beautiful ways of disguising the truth. Haven't we all seen people who move from relationship to relationship, using the other person sexually and in every other way. And then they move on. And what do they say? "I'm just into love." Wrong! So sin is deceitful. And given enough time, it hardens your heart. God works on us and he tries to get our attention. But what can he do after a while?
Encourage one anotherWell, there was one more insight that we got from this text. And that is, there is something we can do about it. As it says, "Encourage each other daily." Peoplel wonder, "Why do I need to be involved in regular fellowship with other Christians?" Here's your answer. Because we need that regular input from others that the author calls "encouragement." Encouragement is when you notice something about someone. And you say something about it. You speak up. We talked about it with Barnabas a couple weeks ago. He was called the "Son of encouragement." You see in the context here what encouragement is all about? Helping people with their weaknesses, helping people with their sins. It's giving them a vision, "Hey, there is a way out. God can help you with that." Example: I remember getting caught up in the sin of self-pity, which is something I can really get into sometimes. I remember one of my friends seeing me nursing all my sorrows (It would have been easy to avoid it, to rebuke meÿ.ÿ.ÿ.). And it was true that I had beenin a lot of failure. He spoke up and said, "I think God has you here because you're ready for it. And he wants to teach you how to handle this situation." He gave me a vision of how God could help me change. And we need that. We deceive ourselves. And we get stuck in ruts. And we get habbits. And we can feel so helpless about things. We need others in our lives to show us how we can change. It's scary, because it means letting people see your weaknesses, or your discouragement, etc. That's why you can be involved in fellowship and not really be involved with people. You can hide yourself from people.
Todayÿ.ÿ.ÿ.Just one more thing I might add, the author keeps driving home the point of "todayÿ.ÿ.ÿ." That's becasue some o f these decisions really shouldn't be put off. That includes the decision to become a Christianÿ.ÿ.ÿ. The easiest thing to do with some tough decisions is to say, "I'll think about it." That's hardening your heart.
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