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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Don't Harden Your Heart!
Text:Hebrews 3:1-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Selections from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal 

95C – Now with Joyful Exultation            
265 – In Christ Alone 
139A:1-5 – O Lord, You See and Search my Life
459 – My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Don’t Harden Your Heart!”
Hebrews 3:1-19
The hymn we just sang, “O Lord, You See and Search My Life” echoes the request that David made back in Psalm 139:23-24. In that Psalm he wrote: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
Those are very challenging verses! They are challenging in the same way that our passage from Hebrews 3 is challenging. In both verse 8 and verse 15 we are told, “Do not harden your hearts.” And verse 12 tells us: “See to it that you do not have a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”
I don't know about you, but when I examine my heart in the light of God's Word, I find a cesspool of sin. I can relate to what another pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, wrote about himself. He was the nineteenth century Scottish Presbyterian minister who is well known for his system of reading through the Bible in one year. Yet he made this confession in his diary, which was found after his death. He had written: “I have begun to realize that the seeds of every known sin still linger in my heart.”
He was a well-known minister in his day. An extremely godly man in the view of everyone who knew him, yet he acknowledged, “I have begun to realize that the seeds of every known sin still linger in my heart.”
I'm sure that most of you can relate to that statement, just as I can. We can all relate to the assessment of the human heart given in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Consequently, as you examine your heart and as I examine my heart, you and I must be sure that we are also “fixing our thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”
The first verse of this chapter calls us to always focus on Jesus Christ. Examining our heart goes hand-in-hand with fixing our thoughts on Jesus. If you only look at your heart and see the sin that is so deeply embedded even in the heart of a regenerate Christian, you will become totally discouraged. If you only look at your heart without truly fixing your thoughts on Jesus you will echo the words of Peter recorded in Luke 5:8 where Peter says to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
Conversely, if you only look at Jesus without looking at your heart, you will only have a historical figure, a good man who set a great example. Those who are self-righteous, those who have not examined their heart in the light of Scripture with the conviction of the Holy Spirit serving as a spotlight on their sin, will never see Jesus Christ as more than a good example.
Or worse, and more often, they will see him as the ultimate enemy, for as Romans 8:7 teaches, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”  Unless someone sees their sin, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they will not see their need for the only Savior, Jesus Christ. It was Thomas Watson who pointed out, "Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet."                                
It is when we recognize our sin, confess it to the Lord and trust in Christ alone to save us, that we discover the greatness of God's grace. We must come to the point that David describes in Psalm 32: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (v. 5). 
But when you look at both together – your heart and your Savior – then you have great encouragement. Then you experience the relationship of the redeemed with the Redeemer. Then you can take great comfort in the words of Jesus, spoken in Luke 5:31-32, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Those words, I'm sure were music to Peter's ears, as they are to every sinner who comes in saving faith to Jesus Christ, the only Redeemer, the great Physician of our souls who raises us from spiritual death to eternal life.
Never underestimate the importance of examining your heart in the light of God's word with prayer for the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The example that the author of Hebrews uses in this chapter is the example of Old Testament Israel. He quotes from Psalm 95 and points out that they hardened their hearts during their rebellion. Because of the hardness of their heart verse 9 tells us that they both tested the Lord and tried the Lord.
If the Israelites could harden their heart against the Lord and turn from the living God, then you can be sure that you and I could do the same if it were not for God’s grace in our lives. After all, Israel witnessed the omnipotent power of the Lord already in Egypt. There they witnessed first-hand the mighty display of ten plagues, culminating in the deaths of the first born of the Egyptians. They saw the power of the blood of the Lamb clearly portrayed by the Passover, as every home that had the blood of the Passover lamb upon it was passed over for destruction. They came to the Red Sea and walked through on dry ground and witnessed the drowning of the whole Egyptian army as the Red Sea came crashing in upon their oppressors. In the desert they were fed with bread from heaven.  In the desert they were given clear, life-sustaining water from the Rock which accompanied them. And 1 Corinthians 10:3 assures us that Rock was Christ.
In other words, they saw the greatness of God displayed in innumerable ways, yet they hardened their heart against the living God. They honored golden calves and served a multitude of idols instead of serving the God who delivered them from bondage and provided so abundantly for them. They complained about God's provision of manna, they longed for the food of Egypt instead of the bread of heaven.
And because they hardened their hearts and tested and tried God in these and so many other ways, the Lord brought punishment on them. Hebrews 3:10-11 quotes these words of the Lord from Psalm 95, “That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
The Apostle Paul uses Israel as a negative example, just as the author of Hebrews does here. In 1 Corinthians 10, after describing how “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert” (v. 5), he goes on to write, in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “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, be careful that you don't fall!” In the words of Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
As we guard our heart, we are to also encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to guard their hearts. Verse 13: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.”
Discouragement is one of the devil's most effective tools against Christians. With discouragement the devil can cause someone as strong as Elijah to throw in the towel and call it quits. Discouragement and fear caused the disciples to flee when Jesus was arrested. And later, discouragement and fear caused the Apostle Paul to “despair of life itself.” (2 Cor. 1:8)
Every Christian faces spiritual discouragement. Perhaps you have made some progress in one area of your life, whether it's quelling anger or guarding your lips or controlling lustful thoughts. And then when you think that by God’s grace and indwelling Spirit you have made some progress in your sanctification, you stumble and fall. At that moment, discouragement can sink your heart like a lead sinker.
There is a great need in the church, within the family of God, for people like Joseph who was a Levite from Cyprus. You may not recognize him by that name because the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).
The reason why it is so important to be an encourager like Barnabas is in the last part of verse 13. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.” At the root of sin is deceit. How did the devil cause Adam and Eve to plunge all humanity into sin? It was by deceit.  Sin and deceit are linked together with an inseparable bond.
We see deceit in the attractive packaging that the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature put around sin. Sin is never put before us in its real form, which is death. Sin is never portrayed as a tombstone. Sin is never portrayed as a cold, lonely cemetery.  No, instead it is portrayed as the greatest pleasure, as a source of wisdom, as something that boosts your pride and makes you feel good because you are wiser than God and you are free from his commandments.
How did Satan phrase that?  When Eve explained to the devil that she and Adam could “eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but (that) God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  Then “the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3:2-5).
Sin is so incredibly deceitful. Jesus pointed out that the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44), and the devil continues to mislead with both subtle deceit and outright attacks. He is a master of discouragement and takes great joy in the temptation of Christians. And he has even greater joy when they fall.
Because of the power of sin’s deceitfulness to deceive us and our fellow Christians, it is crucial to put verse 13 into action and “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.”
The best way to encourage a brother or sister in Christ is to point them to Jesus because just as examining your heart goes hand-in-hand with fixing your thoughts on Jesus, so also encouragement comes as we focus on Christ. Later, in Hebrews 6:18-19 we are told to “take hold of the hope offered to us (so that we) may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters into the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered.”
In all the discouragements we face, looking to Jesus we find great encouragement; we find that he is indeed the anchor for our souls, firm and secure.
It is so important that we look to Jesus, fixing our thoughts on him as we examine our hearts and encourage each other! It is important because those are some of the means that God gives to us to enable us, by his grace, to persevere in our faith. And perseverance is a mark of true faith.
We see that in verse 14: We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first.” That verse hammers home the truth of verse 6 (which we looked at last Sunday): “And we are his house, if we hold onto our courage and the hope of which we boast.”
All of us who have been in the church for any amount of time have witnessed people who come to the church and seem to have such a fervent and vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It causes us to rejoice! And sometimes we wish that their fervency – especially those who are “new” Christians, who seem to have such vibrancy and enthusiasm – would be more evident in our own life.
But then so often we have seen those who seem to be the strongest in their faith fade away. They leave the church, they leave the faith which they professed, and most tragically they leave the Lord Jesus Christ to follow after the world. More recently we often hear about leaders in the church “deconstructing” their faith. They are like Demas, who deserted ministry with Paul for the pleasures of the world (2 Tim. 4:10); many fallen leaders today show by their actions that they never truly had saving faith in Christ.
Jesus told the well-known parable of the sower and the seed. He described how “The one who receives the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who receives the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:20-22)
Yet we seem so surprised when people leave. We are not like the Puritans who called such people “temporaries.”  They expected them to come in and out of the church. They realized that in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus described how only one of four who heard the gospel persevered in the faith.
The theme of Scripture, over and over, is that perseverance to the end is the mark of the true believer. It is not the fervency in the beginning. Even the Israelites were fervent in the beginning.  Exodus 15 records that joyous song of victory, the song of Moses and Miriam that the people confidently sang. They sang, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:1-2). But they did not persevere. Perseverance is crucial. Jesus himself said, “He who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt. 24:13)
It is God who perseveres us. We do not persevere in our faith because of our own power. But Philippians 1:6 assures us that we can be “confident in this, that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion even to the day of Christ Jesus.”
But as he does, he uses means to an end. And again, the most important means is to always fix your eyes on Jesus as he is revealed in pages of the Holy Bible, Old Testament and New. As the author of Hebrews will tell us in the opening verses of the 12th chapter:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Warnings Given to Encourage Us
By way of further application, we see that the warnings of the passage are not intended to discourage us, but to encourage us. The author of Hebrews addresses us as his brothers and sisters. He does so in the opening line and again in verse 12.
It is a letter of encouragement, but it is also a totally honest letter. The author, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, realizes how quickly, how easily, and how far brothers and sisters can fall if they do not guard their heart, seek encouragement, and persevere in their faith by fixing their thoughts on Jesus always.
In the closing verses he gives us a series questions concerning those who never reached the promised land.  Verse 16 to 18: “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?”
The reason he gives us those questions is to guard us from unbelief. The chapter ends with this concluding comment: So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”
Sometimes people talk about the unpardonable sin, and there is a sin against the Holy Spirit that can be referenced in that regard (Matt. 12:31, 32). But others have pointed out that in your life and my life the unpardonable sin is the sin of unbelief. Every other sin is forgivable.
Noah’s sin, caused by too much wine as he lay naked in his tent, was forgivable. Noah will be closer to the throne of God, than you or me, humanly speaking. The Samaritan woman at the well had four husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. Before coming face-to-face with Jesus, she had lived an incredibly immoral lifestyle. But through the forgiving grace and power of Jesus Christ, each and every one of those sins was forgiven. There is no doubt that she has a place in heaven.
David sinned in many ways, including having blood on his hands. He had blood on his hands not only from warfare, but from arranging the death of Uriah the Hittite, so that he could have Uriah's wife as his own. Yet David will be closer to the throne of God then you or me, humanly speaking, although we will all be in a state of perfection and closeness to the Lord in glory.
Likewise, Peter, after denying with curses ever knowing the Lord Jesus, was forgiven and restored, and has his eternal home in glory.
The point I'm trying to make is that whatever sins are in your heart and in your life, when you confess them to the Lord, fixing your thoughts with saving faith on Jesus Christ and his redeeming work on your behalf, then those sins are forgiven.
But on the other hand, if you have a heart of unbelief, you cannot be forgiven and will face the same judgment as all those who died in the desert so long. They never reached the promised land because they hardened their heart against the very God who delivered them out of their bondage and slavery in Egypt.
So Scripture would ask us, in the light of this passage: Do you have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ this morning? Do you trust in him and him alone for your salvation? As you examine your heart and your life do you fix your thoughts on Jesus as the apostle and high priest whom we confess?
If so, you can have great assurance that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, despite your doubts. Despite at times a lack of assurance. Despite temptations that seem so strong. Despite the many times when you stumble and fall into sin.
When you look to Jesus with saving faith, confessing your sin, you will find – as did Noah, David, Peter, the woman at the well, and every other believer – that there is forgiveness, full and free, for everyone turns to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.
May that be – by God’s grace and indwelling Spirit – the description of you and of me, now and always! Amen.
sermon outline:
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not
harden your hearts…” …See to it, brothers and sisters, that none
of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living
God. - Hebrews 3:7, 12
                            “Don’t Harden Your Heart!”
                                        Hebrews 3:1-19
I. This passage uses Old Testament Israel as a negative example for us
    so that we:
    1) Examine our heart (8, 12, 15), fixing our thoughts on Jesus (1)
    2) Encourage one another (13), focusing on Jesus as an anchor for our
         soul (Hebrews 6:18-19)
    3) Persevere in our faith (14), looking to Jesus (1,2; Hebrews 12:1-3)
II. The warnings of the passage are not intended to discourage us, but to
     encourage us and to guard us from the greatest sin: the sin of unbelief




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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