January 26, 1997
Do you know the warning signs of personal spiritual danger? The Israelites experienced a miraculous deliverance from slavery, but it didn’t take long for them to drift away from God. Their experience provides relevant warnings for potential drifters today. Teaching from Hebrews 3, Alistair Begg identifies the symptoms of a wandering heart and urges believers to encourage each other to persevere to the end.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Let’s turn to Hebrews chapter 3. For those of you who were present this morning, you know that we launched into this saying that there were three directives that are clearly here in the text, the first being in verse 1: “Fix your thoughts on Jesus.” And then we said that we would come to the next of these, which you will find in verse 12: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” I sought to summarize that with another three words: simply, “Guard your heart.” First of all, “Fix your thoughts,” and then secondly, “Guard your heart.”
When Solomon writes to his son in Proverbs, he says to him, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” And when we think of the way in which the Bible speaks about our hearts and the way in which God’s Word is addressed to our hearts, it speaks of them so as to confront us with the fact that the heart is representative of the moral center of our being, that our heart is the place at which the issues of life are addressed. And so this affair of the heart is of supreme importance if we’re going to be those who “hold firmly [to] the end.”
And we read from the Ninety-fifth Psalm this evening, because, as was stated, what we have here from verse 7 and following is a significant chunk of that psalm. And what the psalmist is referring to, and what the writer of the Hebrews is therefore applying, is this progressive hardening in the hearts of the people of God which took place during their pilgrimage in the wilderness. Incidentally, will you notice that verse 7 is in the present tense: “So, as the Holy Spirit says…” And again, people will say, “Well, is the Holy Spirit saying anything to the church in our day?” And the answer is, yes he is. “Well, what is he saying, and where is he saying it?” Well, he’s saying it right here in this book. And the word that he’s saying to us tonight is, “You better make sure that you hear his voice and you don’t harden your hearts.”
The story of the wilderness pilgrimage, for the people of God in the Old Testament, is framed both at its entry and at its conclusion with a sense of the deafening of their ears to the truth of God’s word. And why don’t we take just a moment to earth this in our minds by turning to the book of Exodus and noting, for example, in chapter 17, and in the opening verses of 17, we have the people of God camping at Rephidim, and in the absence of water, they begin to quarrel with the leader. And they begin in verse 3, we’re told, to grumble against Moses and to say, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and [our] livestock die of thirst?” And it is referred to there: “And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” And so their rebellious hearts revealed the hardening of their hearts.
If you turn to the book of Numbers and to chapter 20, then you’ll find the same emphasis there. This, within the very sight of the promised land, is recorded as taking place. And in verses 1–13, you have this reference all over again: “These were the waters of Meribah”—verse 13—“where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he showed himself holy among them.”
Now, it’s easy for us this evening to look at this and to say, “My, my, weren’t these people really dreadful? I’m sure if we’d been there, we would not have been like them.” We like to think that we would have been amongst the two, as opposed to the ten. That we would be like Joshua and Caleb, rather than that we would have been like those who said, “We really shouldn’t go in and take possession of the land.” But the fact of the matter is that when we view the Old Testament passages and when we think realistically about ourselves, we realize that when we view the pattern and the picture that is there for us in these wanderings, there is a fair chance that we would have been numbered with the crowd rather than being amongst the one or two that were on the narrow road.
Now, I want also to reinforce this evening what I said this morning concerning the fact that the Old Testament pilgrimage is a pattern and a picture of Christian living. And I want just to state these things quickly in going through them; you can always get the tape if they are of significance to you for your follow-up study.
Why would we say this? And I mentioned it just in passing this morning. Well, because the Bible makes it clear. For example, the death of Christ is referred to as an exodus, which ties it back to the exodus of the people from Egypt; that is Luke 9:31. Jesus is referred to as the Passover Lamb in 1 Peter 1:19, and a reference, of course, to the Passover lamb that was sacrificed as the people came out of Egypt. They, the followers of Christ, like Israel in the early days, are described as the “church in the wilderness,” and that is there in Acts chapter 7. Baptism is tied back, in the writings of 1 Corinthians 10, to the experience of the people of God in coming through the Red Sea; that is also true, incidentally, in 1 Peter. The manna and the water which the Old Testament saints enjoyed is a picture, says 1 Corinthians 10, of the experience of the people of God in the new covenant enjoying the Lord’s Supper. Christ is the living Rock, as was their guide through the wilderness; so, again, in 1 Corinthians 10, you have this emphasis. And of course, as we saw in Hebrews chapter 4, heaven is there as the fulfillment of the promises regarding Canaan.
Now, with that in mind, turn for a moment to 1 Corinthians 10 so that you can see how apropos this really is. In 1 Corinthians 10, we discover that Paul is referring to the Israelites’ rebellion. And what he tells us is that this rebellion has been recorded for our admonition, just in case we would be tempted to imitate their disobedience and then in turn face their same judgment.
Now, if you look—and I won’t read it all—1 Corinthians 10:1, he says, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.” Then he picks this baptism picture up; he says, “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” And then here you have these Old Testament pictures that find their fulfillment in this New Testament experience.
Then in verse 6 he says—having mentioned that “God was[n’t] pleased with … them” and “their bodies were scattered [in] the desert”—now he says, “These things occurred as examples,” to prevent us, or “to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do[n’t] be idolaters, as some of them were. … We should not”—verse 9—“test the Lord, as some of them did …. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.” Because, he says in 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.”
Now, it’s at this point that the twelfth verse, which has become a familiar verse to some of us, finds itself in the Scriptures. “So,” he says, “if you think you[’re] standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” In other words, the warnings that are there in the experience of the people of old, which the writer of the Hebrews is applying to the readers in his day and to us this evening, are realistic warnings. So when the people phone me up and say, “Oh, but you shouldn’t be making an emphasis like this, because after all, we’re once saved, we’re always saved,” what am I going to say? I’m going to say, “Did you read 1 Corinthians 10:12?” If you’re so sure that you’re standing, you better look out, in case you trip and fall on your face. And interestingly, it is right there in this record of what these people did in the Old Testament.
Now, the phrase here in verse 12—getting to where we should be—“See to it,” is a striking phrase. It is not an unfamiliar phrase. You find him using it again in chapter 12:25: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” And the striking nature of his statement marks the reality and the urgency of the danger. “See to it, brothers [and sisters], that none of you has a sinful [and an] unbelieving heart.” Why is it so important?
Well, what was it that prevented the generation in the wilderness from entering into the land of promise? The answer is, a heart of unbelief. Verse 19: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” Their hearts had been unbelieving, and they had grown increasingly hardened. And as they increasingly hardened, they were increasingly unbelieving. That’s verse 8, and it is also expounded later.
Their unbelief is an indication of their disobedience. And I don’t know if you’ve thought about this very much, but actually, unbelief in the gospel is the supreme act of disobedience. People will go to hell because they do not believe, because they refuse to believe. And if you doubt that, you can turn, for example, to the Gospel of John, and to chapter 16, and there in verse 9: “When he comes,” says Jesus of the Holy Spirit, “he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin”—why?—“because men do not believe in me.” It’s interesting! Of all the things that he might have said about the Holy Spirit convicting the world in relationship to sin, where would be the indication of sin? He says, “The indication of sin will be seen in the fact that men and women do not believe in me.” And why did these people not enter into the promised land? Because they didn’t believe in God. They were marching, they were proclaiming, they had a past upon which they could look back with courage and with conviction, and yet, ultimately, they were unbelievers.
Now, it’s not difficult for us then to note that there is a direct interface between the deaf ear, the hard heart, and the wandering life. The deaf ear, the hard heart, and the wandering life. You show me an individual who while professing faith in Jesus Christ is wandering from the track, is trying to mark time along the middle ridge, as it were, somewhere in between devotion and declension, and I can guarantee you that this individual has a hard heart and a deaf ear. That they may still be sitting out in the congregation while God’s Word is being spoken, but they do not listen. They certainly don’t listen with the ears of their hearts. And their heart has become increasingly hardened. And the harder it becomes, the more they begin to find grounds for unbelief: “Oh, well, look at him, and look at her, and I don’t like the way this is, and I don’t think that’s how that should have been done.” It’s a very precarious position in which to find ourselves. That’s why the directive: “See to it,” says the writer. Make sure. Pay careful attention. Jump on it. Get with it. Make sure that you’re listening; make sure you’re listening today, and that your heart is turning to the voice of God as a flower would turn to the sun. Are you listening to God today?
You see, this is a peculiar challenge to those of us who have listened for many days. Because the great danger is, we say, “Well, we’ve heard all of that stuff. After all, we’ve been around, you know. We’ve heard all the good sermons, we’ve heard all the radio teachers and preachers, and we’ve read all the books and the tapes. And we’ve got it all stored up in the past. We’ve done all our listening; now it’s time for us to do our talking. Now it’s time for us to do our complaining. Now it’s time for us to do our redirecting.” No, no. Have you listened today? As children in Sunday school in Scotland, we had to sing this little song, went,
Have you read your Bible today?
Have you heard what the Lord has to say?
Read each page and you’ll find
Faith and hope and peace of mind.
Have you read your Bible today?
“Today, if you hear his voice…”
You see, the devil’s favorite word is always tomorrow: “No, don’t start it tonight, don’t get devoted tonight. Get devoted tomorrow. Don’t be serious about these things tonight. Start tomorrow.” And tomorrow never comes. And you know the story of the man who when his life was through,
All that [was] left [him] when living was through
Was a mountain of things he intended to do
That’s why the Bible always says, “[Today] is the day of salvation.”
And so these people were justly excluded from the rest of God, and they were so on account of their unbelief. They had relinquished an interest in the inheritance that was promised to them, and their exclusion was not only an undeniable fact, it was a moral necessity. God could not and cannot remain just if sin is not punished.
Now, this is a matter of grave importance, as the issues become increasingly clouded in our day, as people are addressing questions: “Well, do you think that it’s going to be okay for me? You know, I don’t believe in your Jesus, but do you think it’ll be all right for me?” What is the answer to that question? The answer is, “It’s not so important, sir, what I think, but let me tell you what the Bible says. Let me tell you what Jesus said: ‘He who has the Son has life; [and] he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ Now, let me ask you a question: Do you have the Son of God?”
Answer: “No, I do not believe in the Son of God.”
“Then, sir, you do not have life.”
Now, that kind of categorical statement of truth is undeniable in the pages of Scripture and is a moral necessity. If we fudge on that issue, we are less than biblical and we deny the very character of God. John Owen, the great theologian, says of this, “Let not others entertain better hopes of their condition hereafter, whilst … they follow their example; for … no unbeliever shall ever enter into the rest of God.”
Now, as I said this morning, the description of those who are lost is not that of earnest believers, aware of their stumbling inconsistencies and buffeted by the experience of trials. The description of those who are lost is a description of those whose hearts over time have been hardened, and whose consciences have been seared as a result of their willful disobedience and unbelief, and who will tell you to your face that they do not believe that the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross means a rap! That they have no interest in it, no need for it, no desire to entertain it. Such individuals reveal themselves to be lost.
Now, it is for this reason that willful disobedience and Christian assurance never go hand in hand. Willful disobedience and Christian assurance don’t go hand in hand. When you and I are willfully disobedient and feel ourselves to be very assured of our position in Christ, we’re probably listening to voices in our heads rather than reading our Bibles. Because if we’re to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, the voice of the Holy Spirit says to us what? “Hey, you better not harden your heart. You better not be an unbeliever. You better not walk the wrong way and at the same time believe that you’re on the right way.” The whole of 1 John addresses this, and you can turn to it at your leisure.
Now, given that that is the case, the real fundamental question that came to my mind as I was going through this was, Is there then a way for me to be able to detect the early warning signs of my heart growing cold and my commitment beginning to wane? In other words, if this is a realistic danger, is there a kind of early warning system? Is there a way that we can detect wind shear, so that we don’t crash the plane of our lives? Is it possible for us to detect certain characteristics? And the answer is yes.
And again, I found recourse to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the most helpful answer of all. You can tell that my love affair with Pilgrim’s Progress is once again hot. And let me give to you not only the recommendation, as I did this morning, to get yourself a copy, but also let me tell you the way in which Bunyan identified a number of factors in relationship to the coldness of unbelief and the hardening of the heart of an individual.
This is what he said. Number one, he said, in a life that is beginning to wane in its commitment and grow cold in its interest, there will be a forgetfulness of God and a forgetfulness of the fact that one day we’re going to meet Him. A forgetfulness of God and the fact that we’re one day going to meet him. “It is a dreadful thing,” says the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 10:31—“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And when you or I are about to embark on a passage or a time of disobedience and declension, one of the things that we will find ourselves endeavoring to do is to close down any notion of the fact that we will one day have to deal with God in relationship to what we’re about to do.
Secondly, there will be a gradual loss of private holiness, private prayer, the curbing of our lusts, and sorrow for our sins. Private. A gradual loss of private holiness, private prayer, the curbing of lust, and genuine sorrow for our sins. Just a sort of onset of laziness.
Thirdly, we will find that we begin to avoid the company of “lively Christians.” That again is Bunyan’s adjective: “lively Christians.” We won’t be concerned about being around half-dead Christians. Because if we are concerned to be half-dead ourselves, then the company of the graveyard will be quite soothing to our expectations. But lively Christians we will avoid, because they will always appear to be fanatical. And in Christian terms, a fanatic is always someone who loves Jesus more than I love him. A fanatic’s a person who lifts up their hands when they sing if I don’t want to lift up my hands when I sing. A fanatic is someone who leaves a tract to the end of the meal if that’s an embarrassment to me. A fanatic is someone who is always zealous for these things and always wants to talk about Jesus.
Fourthly, there will be a disinterest in public worship. A disinterest in public worship. That doesn’t mean that we won’t attend public worship, just that there will be a disinterest in public worship—that we will become like those of whom Jesus spoke in Matthew 15, those who “drew near with their lips but their hearts were far from me.”
Fifthly, that there will a picking of faults in others. When you or I begin to manifest faultfinding, finding planks in everybody’s eye, it’s usually an indication that there’s something wrong at another level. Now, that’s not because there’s nothing in the lives of others with which we can find fault; goodness knows there’s plenty. But you see, when we’ve taken the first directive, which is to fix our thoughts on Jesus and to guard our own hearts, then we’re going to be taking care of the big two-by-fours that are sticking out of our eyes rather than ferreting around looking for toothpicks in other people’s experiences. But when the heart begins to harden and when unbelief begins to take hold, there will be the picking of faults in others.
Then there will be association with the godless—the staying away from lively Christians, and more and more associating with the godless. Now, this may not necessarily be in hanging out with them, in terms of immediate association in their presence; it may be simply taking their counsel, standing in their way, sitting in their seats. Psalm 1, right? “Blessed is the man who does[n’t] walk in the counsel of the [ungodly] or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of [the scoffers].” Suddenly our interest becomes far more in the reading of trashy magazines. We’ll be far more interested in watching lousy movies. We are far more interested in hearing what the godless have to say about certain things. And we certainly can’t stand it now when we’re around these lively Christians. And possibly and probably, there will be, actually, the seeking out of these old associations, and you’ll find yourself turning up at the doors of people whom you left behind when you set off for the heavenly city. When you find yourself going back there—and the deception of our own hearts is such that we may even convince our minds that the reason we’re going back is because we’re going to evangelize them; it’s usually a lie of the devil—when we find ourselves driving down those same streets, making those old journeys, we got a major problem.
Seventhly, we will be involved in fleshly lusts in secret. Secret sins will begin to hold us in their grip. Ephesians 5:12.
Eighthly, we will begin to play with sin openly. Suddenly, we become more and more brazen as our hearts become harder and harder. We become like those of whom Jeremiah speaks, in Jeremiah 8:12: “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.” They’ll drive up in their cars, and they’ll look you full in the face. They’ll introduce their adulterous relationships to you in the mall. What will happen to them? “They will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the Lord.”
And ninthly, being hardened, we will eventually reveal to all the sorry condition of our lives. First Timothy 4:2: “The Spirit clearly says that in [the] later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” He’s not talking about people in the realm of paganism. He is talking about people who were part of the professing faithful and who departed by degrees from the truth of God’s Word.
Now, I don’t know about you, loved ones, but if the rehearsing of that list doesn’t cause you to examine your own heart, then you’re probably in greater peril than you even realize. Murray M’Cheyne, the Presbyterian minister in St. Peter’s, Dundee, who died at the age of twenty-nine, says in his writings, “I have found the seeds of every sin dwelling in my heart.” And therefore, the warning of verse 12—the second directive, “Guard your heart”—is a necessary warning. “See to it,” he says, “brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”
“Lord, I don’t want to have one of those hearts!
Lord, I want to know You,
To live my life to show You
All the love I owe You.
I want to be a seeker of your heart.
Lord, I don’t want to ‘stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of [the scoffers].’ I want my ‘delight [to be] in the law of the Lord,’ and I want to learn to ‘meditate on your law, day and night.’ I want, today, to hear your voice.”
You see the great danger of presumption and complacency, and how such a notion is rattled, and helpfully so, by this second directive.
Well, let’s come to the third and final one, which is in verse 13. First of all, in verse 1, “Fix your thoughts”; then, in verse 12, “Guard your hearts”; and then in verse 13, “Encourage each other”: “But encourage one another daily, as long it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” You see this great emphasis again on today. What have we done today in this matter, to be of help and encouragement to one another? Listen to Phillips’s paraphrase: “Help each other to stand firm in the faith every day, while it is still called ‘today,’ and beware that none of you becomes deaf and blind to God through the delusive glamour of sin.” That puts it very clearly. Beware that you don’t become deaf or blind to God because sin seems so wonderfully attractive.
And notice the emphasis. The emphasis is on the responsibility that we have for one another. You see how this all ties together. We are his brothers and sisters. We have been made members of his family. We are the “holy brothers” and sisters. We have received a heavenly calling. This is what marks us out. Therefore, we should fix our thoughts on Jesus. Therefore, it is imperative that we guard our hearts, so that we don’t wander and fall from the way. And therefore, it is only sensible that we would watch out for one another and encourage one another.
Each of us has been in a situation where if it hadn’t been for somebody else watching out for us, we would have been in real difficulty. All kinds of things, you know. In a factory with a piece of machinery moving around, and if it hadn’t been for one of the guys on the shop floor that said, “Hey, George!” and we went like that, the thing would’ve taken our heads off. And we were thankful, and we said to him afterwards, “Hey, thanks for watching for me. I missed that completely.” That’s the principle here: watching for one another. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. Am I my sister’s watcher? Yes.
Does this mean nosiness and interference? No. What does it mean? It means consideration and care and recognizing that none of us lives to ourself or dies to ourselves. Our lives are like coals in a fireplace. Get the tongs, take one piece of coal, lay it on the hearth, and watch as it quickly begins to go out, as it loses all of its fire and all of its warmth and all of its flame, while the rest of the coals that are all snuggled up to one another burn brightly. Take a piece of coal that has been isolated from all the others, and it is dead and it is dark, and put it into the midst of that, and watch it catch the heat from the coals around it, and watch it begin to mingle with the flame. That’s why it’s so important that we’re doing what the Bible says in relationship to our care and our concern for one another. We’re avoiding the company of Christians when our hearts are becoming hardened, when unbelief is beginning to filter into our minds. But we’re gonna be seeking out lively Christians when we have a genuine hunger for God’s Word.
That’s why he’s made us all so different. That’s why he’s made the parts of the body and has used the body as a wonderful illustration of our relationships with each other:
The body[’s] not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I[’m] not a hand, I do[n’t] belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I[’m] not an eye, I do[n’t] belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of [a] body.
“If the whole body were an eye, how would it be able to hear. And if the whole body were an ear, how would it be able to smell if you burnt the dinner?”
But in fact God has [put] the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
“And the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you!’ And one part to the other, ‘I don’t need you!’” We all need each other.
That’s the whole deal about the 52 percent. I mean, this isn’t rocket science. We all need each other. And the encouragement that comes on the lateral level from one another is part of the provision of God to ensure that we do not become like those who died in the wilderness. That’s why it is important for us to seek out the company of one another. Why it is important for us to be involved in small groups with one another. Why it is important that, in the large worshiping experience of God’s people, we go beyond that and find for ourselves at some level of involvement at Parkside Church—in the realm of service, in the realm of fellowship, in the realm of worship and praise and singing and music, when parking, whatever it might be—that there is that dimension to our lives where we know that there are people who are watching out for us, so that they are genuinely encouraging each other. You see, because when it comes to the issue of sin’s deceitful approaches, all of us have blind spots. Therefore, it is important that there are those who are genuinely and consistently watching out for us.
Now, you’ll notice that the word is “encourage one another.” In other words, there should be that about our relationships with each other which is marked by care and by comfort, which strengthens, so that when a crisis emerges, we’re able to hold firmly to the end.
On the occasions when I go to the exercise club—when I can pluck up the courage to do so—there is one particular individual who’s been there now for some months. His name is Mark. He looks like he comes from a completely different species than anything I have ever known, do know, or will ever know. When he punches that bag on the wall, it just ricochets off his hands, and he can go for twenty-five minutes and never stops. But when he comes around to help the likes of me, he’s a wonderful chap. It’s embarrassing, actually, how encouraging he is.
You know, when you’re lifting these weights that are less than the average twelve-year-old in the room, and he is standing with you, and he is giving these words of encouragement, you’ve either gotta conclude that the guy is full of hot air or he’s a genuine encourager. That he’s always there to spot you, he’s always there to strengthen you, and he just comes up, as it were, from nowhere to give you a tip to prevent you from doing the exercise in the wrong way, because it would be of no benefit to you. He’s a wonderful fellow. He comes around not from the top down to shout and scream, but he just appears from nowhere, and always from alongside, to encourage and to help. I’d like to be like him. We need people like Mark in our lives. And those of us who think we don’t, need them more than we realize.
And there are people around us in every experience who, if we are to play the part that God has intended for us, will be in need of our word of encouragement, however menial it may appear, however inconsequential we might think it to be. You will never know how much a word of encouragement may mean. A scribble of a note. Yes, with your lousy handwriting. Yes, with the stationery that didn’t match the envelope. Yes, the coffee in the cup that did have a chip just by the handle. Did you ever, ever meet anybody who was in need of an encouragement who complained because the envelope didn’t match the paper? Never, never.
Says Calvin, “Unless our faith be now and then raised up, it will lie prostrate; unless it [is] warmed, it will be frozen; unless it [is] roused, it will grow torpid.” Sounds a little like Calvin, doesn’t it? In other words, let’s remember Philemon: “You, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” Solomon’s words: “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
Now, you don’t need to think very hard to realize that the implication and application of this is straightforward. As sin approaches us, exaggerating its appeal, exaggerating the satisfaction that it has to offer, we need to beware lest we are blinded by its attractive glow. We need to beware lest we close our minds to the reality of God’s retribution. And we need to be thankful that God has put others around us to say, “Hey, look out,” put others in our paths so that we might “consider,” in relationship to each other’s lives, “how we may spur one another on to love and [to] good deeds.” That’s Hebrews 10:24.
Now, dear ones, this isn’t a matter of marginal importance. Because by these very means, the writer says, many hearts will be prevented from hardening. Many will be encouraged to stay true to the end of the journey. And why is it important? Because it is only those who stay true to the end of the journey and only those who finish the course that will gain the prize.
When you travel in France, every so often you come on these grave sites that seem to stretch from the point of entry, way into the horizon—just rows and rows and rows and rows of tombstones. It’s virtually impossible to drive your car past. It’s so monolithic. You have to stop and sit and think.
Stop and sit and think about verse 17: “With whom was [God] angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?” Some six hundred thousand tombstones. Says Lenski, the Lutheran commentator, “What a long, long line of graves—the saddest in the world! They came out of the bondage of Egypt under faithful Moses … but they fell as corpses in the wilderness!” And “so, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’”
Let us pray:
O God our Father, we thank you for the clarity of your Word. We pray that anything in the voice of a man that diminishes the clarity and the piercing nature of it may be lost to our recollection, and only that which is clearly from yourself may be retained. We pray earnestly for some tonight whom we know once walked with us and whose hearts have become unbelieving, whose hearts are becoming hardened—the kind of hardening that can still sing the songs, play the tunes, and live in a flat-out denial of that which is true. We earnestly pray that like the prodigal of old, they may be brought to their senses, and that they will arise and head back to say, “I[’ve] sinned against heaven, and in [your] sight,” and that they might be gathered up in your embrace.
We pray that you will make us a congregation that is genuinely interested in winning back the wanderers—that you will make us sensitive to the allure of sin within our own lives, so that we may fix our thoughts on Jesus; that we may guard our hearts, so that they don’t become sinful and unbelieving; and that we will encourage each other, as long as it’s called today, so that others will come to believe, and to follow, and to journey on, and to stay the course, and to sing your song.
Hear the cries that come from our individual lives tonight, as some of us, as it were, erect an altar to mark this particular day as the day in which you, O God, in your mercy, arrested our drift, corrected our wanderings, broke our hearts, and restored our souls. And listen as some of us cry out to you with gratitude for the way that you have watched and preserved and protected and provided for us, down through so many days and through so many difficulties, and yet you’ve remained faithful.
We worship you, Almighty God. There is none like you. And we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 Proverbs 4:23 (NIV 1984).
 Hebrews 3:7–8 (paraphrased).
 Exodus 17:7 (NIV 1984).
 Acts 7:38 (KJV).
 John 16:8–9 (NIV 1984).
 Attributed to Edgar Guest.
 2 Corinthians 6:2 (NIV 1984).
 1 John 5:12 (NIV 1984).
 John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in The Works of John Owen, D. D., ed. William H. Goold (London and Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1854), 21:197.
 Matthew 15:8 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 7:3–5.
 Psalm 1:1 (NIV 1984).
 1 Timothy 4:1–2 (NIV 1984).
 Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, ed. Andrew Bonar (Dundee: William Middleton, 1848), 154. Paraphrased.
 Melodie Tunney, Dick Tunney, and Beverly Darnall, “Seekers of Your Heart” (1985). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Psalm 1:1–2 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 1:2 (paraphrased).
 See Romans 14:7.
 1 Corinthians 12:14–16 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 12:17 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 12:18–19 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 12:21 (paraphrased).
 John Calvin, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews, Hebrews 3:13.
 Philemon 1:7 (NIV 1984).
 Proverbs 11:25 (NIV 1984).
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James, Commentary on the New Testament (1938; repr., Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2008), 123.
 Luke 15:21 (KJV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.