September 28, 2014

Fix Your Thoughts

Sermon # in the series: | Speaker: Pastor Fred Provencher | Scripture: Hebrews 3
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Preaching Idea: Are you listening to the voice of God?

Sermon Flow

Introduction: Why is it important to fix our thoughts on Jesus?

In the introduction we jumped right into the topic. In this passage the writer of Hebrews tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus. This sounds like a very “religious” and “churchy” command, which is another way of saying it sounds irrelevant and impossible to apply. Why, in a world of so much noise, so many deadlines, so many chores and meetings and obligations would the writer of Hebrews tell us to fix our thoughts on Jesus. Its sounds both impossible and unnecessary, the words of someone who has nothing else to do but urge other to religious duties. What does the writer mean?

Fix your thoughts on Jesus because he is unlike anyone else speaking in your life.

Jesus was faithful to the one who appointed him and is worthy of even greater honor than Moses. This is an important point because the Jews of the first century venerated Moses. He was one who had spoken with God face to face and lived. This seemed to make him even greater than the angels who were servants of God. It is important to note that the writer does not elevate Jesus by criticizing Moses. He does not comment on Moses’ failures but acknowledges that he was faithful to God. But Jesus’ faithfulness was of a different type and this is what guided us to our first application.

Moses was faithful as a servant in God’s house, but Jesus was faithful as the Son over that house. Both Moses and Jesus were faithful. The writer does not elaborate on the specifics of the faithfulness but we assume he means that both followed the mission God gave them even in the midst of opposition. But while Moses is a part of the “house,” which here means the people of God, Jesus is “above” the house. He is the Son over the house which means he is the creator of the house. Moses was faithful as a servant. Numbers 12 says this. But Jesus’ responsibility is even greater and so he is worthy of even greater honor.

It is clear that the writer wanted his first century audience to give their ultimate allegiance to Jesus above and beyond everyone else. He wanted them to see that as the Son of God he is our primary source of hope and ultimate focus of devotion. But how do we apply that especially since we do not struggle with placing Moses over Jesus?

Who do you admire? Who do you listen to in this noisy culture? We do not venerate Moses as the first century Jews did but we all have people that we listen to, entertainers, journalists, bloggers, or athletes. Do you admire Derek Jeter or Taylor Swift? Do you listen to Warren Buffett or Oprah? Like the writer of Hebrews we do not need to see these voices as wrong to elevate Jesus. We just need to recognize that Jesus is the only voice in our lives that comes from outside the culture. These voices might know the way the world, the economy or the 3-4 defense works, but Jesus alone is eternal, ultimately-wise and not trapped inside the world system. We should listen to the voice of Jesus because he is outside the created world.

Transition – but this is a fairly obvious point. To say we should listen to Jesus because he alone is God in not saying anything new, even if it is a helpful reminder. But the writer says something much more ominous in the next section.

Be sure you do not harden your hearts when you hear the voice of God because that happens and it does not turn out well.

The writer ends the first section about the honor due to Jesus saying that “we are his house if indeed we hold firmly to the confidence and the hope in which we glory.” There is a real note of doubt here. The writer wants to challenge the readers that they cannot have assurance of their place in God’s family if they “let go” of their hope in Christ. This raises several theological issues, but it is important for the sermon that we not resolve all of them. We need to feel the threat because that is the intent of the writer. He does not want the first century Christians – or any of us who come after – to walk away from the faith. And he reminds us that it does happen. To prove his point he quotes part of Psalm 95 which was read often in the synagogues. It challenges the people to be attentive to the voice of God and not like those in Moses’ day who turned their backs on God and perished in the wilderness.

See Hebrews 3:7-11

The writer of Hebrews joins the Psalmist, who was writing hundreds of years earlier, in amazement that the Exodus generation hardened their hearts to the voice of God and refused to enter the Promised Land. After seeing the miraculous victory of God in Egypt they were scared of the people in Canaan and refused to go forward. In God’s words “they shall never enter my rest.”

The application for those in the first century and for us, the contemporary church, are similar: “See to it brothers that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (v.12). He also talks about being hardened by sins deceitfulness. So the progression seems to be this: we hear the voice of God, through the scriptures, or other believers, or the witness of the Holy Spirit to us. We hear the message but turn away. The more we turn away the harder our heart get until we cannot hear the voice of God anymore.

Its says that such a heart is “unbelieving.” This seems wrong to us because when we struggle with temptation we do not feel like unbelievers. We believe in God and would still confess that Jesus is Lord. But what makes us “unbelieving” is the that we do not believe God enough to obey him when the craving for life wells up inside of us. We do not believe that God can meet our need, only sin or substance or some other form of having our own way will meet our needs.  So we hoard our money, or our time, because we cannot believe God enough to be generous. We assume that if we give away what is ours we won’t be able to live well regardless of what God might say. That unbelief turns into disobedience. That disobedience quiets the voice of God in our lives and that hardens our hearts.

When our hearts get hard there are only a few things that can happen and none of them are good.  God may seek to get our attention through a disastrous situation or some other form of rebuke. He may even take a person’s life. Paul mentions this in his discussion of the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians 11. On the other hand, our ability to walk away from God might reveal that we never belonged to him. This is the mystery of the pastoral ministry.  Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” I believe that. I believe that when we belong to Jesus he won’t let us be snatched away. But the mystery of ministry is that people seem to be believers and then walk away. It is important that in this message we do not resolve that tension. The writer of Hebrews wants us to see the possibility of apostasy. I do not understand it but I have to receive it and share it.

Transition: So how do we guard against this hardness of heart?

We combat the possibility of a hard heart through community and contemplation.

The first answer is embedded in the text: “But encourage one another daily as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Generally our hearts are too confused, too noisy and self interested to hear God without the help of others. We need to take seriously the task of encouraging one another. We do that through intentional community like small groups. It is hard to confront or challenge someone unless you love them and you cannot love them if you don’t know them.  We also encourage each other when we show up for corporate worship. Our physical presence our participation in worship encourages others. We may rationalize that on any given Sunday we will be okay without corporate worship in our local body. But others need to see us because community worship help re-center people.

The second application leads us back to our opening question, why fix our eyes on Jesus? One of the reasons that we fix out eyes on Jesus is because it helps center our faith and softens our hard hearts. There is something about seeing Jesus in a fresh way that protects and re-ignites our love for God. Fix your thoughts on Jesus. This is a mature consideration of who he is and what his life means for your life. It is accepting him, yes.  But it is also remembering that if he died for my sins then sin must be awful and destructive and I have to trust him to turn away from it. I have to believe him.

How was he faithful? How did he respond to the pressures of the rich and powerful? What did he say about money, about marriage, about serving?  Why would he say that? This is what it means to fix our thoughts and this is why it is so important. To ignore Jesus and listen only to the noise of the culture is a step toward a hard heart.

Conclusion:  Can you hear God speaking?

How hard is your heart?

 

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