Everywhere I go, talk of the election and the church prevails. As the dust settles and the initial shock subsides, people are somber. Similar sentiments weigh heavy: heartbreak and mourning for America’s glory days and what appears to be the beginning of the end of the principles that made her great; anger and sadness for the millions of self-proclaimed evangelical Christians who simply chose not to make their voices heard November 6; and, a keen awareness that perhaps we got exactly what we’ve asked for in generations of compromising before a holy God.
My pastor happens to be teaching through Hebrews this semester, and Sunday’s passage was Hebrews 3:7-19. As the congregation stood while he read the passage in its entirety, its application for this exact time, not even a week after the election, could not have coincidental on God’s part. Its relevance for the church right now jumped from the pages of my Bible. Attempting to listen with one ear to what my pastor was teaching, I furiously scribbled what God was speaking directly to my heart.
Here’s what Hebrews 3:7-19 says:
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.' So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'”
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?
So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
Right now, in the aftermath of the election, will we hear God’s voice? This scripture is not talking about our ears actually detecting the audible voice of God. Most of us will never experience that. Hear in this instant refers to what we do with a message once it is received. It is the part of hearing that involves purposefully and eagerly seeking out knowledge and instruction from our Teacher, alertly paying attention with the intention of comprehending and heeding what is said. In the same way, voice is not referring to detectable words from God’s mouth, but instead implies God bringing something to light, making it evident. When His “voice” speaks, it is often through something striking us as true or evident or when He causes something to become clear in our minds.
The question or challenge, then, is this: As God sheds light on what He is doing through current political events and what He wants us to do now, as He causes things to appear to our minds and makes things clear to us, will we seek His “voice,” His teaching and instruction, with the intention of doing what He says?
The author of Hebrews then warns us: “Do not harden your hearts” (verse eight). Picture your child, or remember yourself as a kid. You’re being confronted for something you’ve done wrong, but you don’t want to hear it. You don’t want to admit it, and you don’t want to make it right. You are full of pride, and any attempts to draw you in are met with a stiff back. I know you can visualize the scene: the parent reaches out to hug their child and they might as well be hugging a two-by-four. Obstinate and stubborn, your will, thoughts, character, desires, and passions are for your self-interest alone. You have hardened your heart.
The question or challenge, then, is: What is the Lord revealing that you don’t want to change? Something you know needs to be addressed but you’re reasoning it away? Something you excuse every time the Holy Spirit tugs on your heart? I know exactly where my heart is hardened; the things I reason away so I don’t have to change. The ways I’m trading all God has for me for the temporary yet instant gratifications of this world. He is speaking. Will we hear?
Hardened hearts result from the “deceitfulness of sin” (verse thirteen), when inside or outside forces swindle and entice us to wander from God’s ways. We miss His target for us; our wrongs lead us away from righteousness, and we find ourselves withdrawn from God. Separated. Fellowship is destroyed, and as verse twelve cautions, we risk “an evil heart of unbelief.”
We have a weak faith or lack it altogether and fail to trust God. As in the rebellion, when the Israelites provoked and exasperated God, driving Him to a place of indignation, we risk grieving Him to the point of excluding ourselves from His rest.
Do you see it? His rest is available to us here on this earth as He leads us to a quiet place, causes us to cease from striving, and embraces us in His fellowship and peace. And it is also “the heavenly blessedness in which God dwells, and of which he has promised to make persevering believers in Christ partakers after the toils and trials of life on earth are ended” (Strong’s G2663, www.blueletterbible.org).
There is a snowball effect at work here. Deceitfulness of sin causes hardness of heart. We are drawn away from God and His fellowship because of an evil heart of unbelief. And because of our unbelief, we cannot enter God’s rest.
In God’s goodness and faithfulness, this same passage contains the solution for holding “the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (verse fourteen). I hope you will read part two next week.
In the meantime, I pray that the Lord will protect us from the deceitfulness of sin. If we are victims of deceit, by its nature, we won’t know it. As the Lord to expose the lies we believe, to forgive our unbelief, help us to overcome it, and keep us from hardening our hearts.
Lord, we are desperate for your rest as we become wholly Yours today.