Hearing God Speak
Hearing God Speak
Hebrews 3 & Psalm 9
The ultimate Australian?
Last week a new TV channel called “Aussie News Today” was launched. It’s the centrepiece of a new promotional campaign aimed at attracting young European tourists to Australia.
Despite the hype, Aussie News Today is not really a TV channel, as much as a series of advertisements, capturing what are described as typically Australian scenes;, a koala that goes shopping,
A crocodile eating a hat,
And kangaroos fighting in a suburban street.
Those are apparently typical Australian experiences, which European 20- and 30-somethings will come to have for themselves!
And who has Tourism Australia chosen to front their new TV channel? Well, none other than Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins, former Rugby player, the man described as the most Australian man in the world!
Who better to represent us to the sophisticated masses of Europe, than the ultimate Australian?!
You might dispute that characterisation!
I don’t know who else might be in the running for the ultimate Australian, maybe Shane Warne,
I’m sorry, ladies, that I couldn’t think of a single woman to put in that category! Though maybe that’s not much of a disappointment!
Jesus is greater than Moses
But whoever it is you think is the ultimate, the arch-typical Australian, for an Israelite in the first century AD, when this letter to the Hebrews was written, any list of the ultimate Israelite, would have to include Moses somewhere near the top.
Moses was a prophet;,
God had spoken through him,
God raised him up to lead the people,
Moses was obedient when pretty much no one else was,
God used Moses to save the people.
And the author showed in chapter 2 that you wanted to pay attention to everything that Moses said.
But Moses was never going to be the last word, the last revelation from God, and so the author urges his readers to fix your thoughts on Jesus, verse 1, because even if Moses is lots of people’s candidate for the ultimate Israelite, he wants to show us that Jesus is greater.
Now, not many of us, probably, are Jewish,
As we’ve said before in Hebrews, the particular temptation for us, when we feel the most pressure to, not cling so tightly to Jesus,
When we think we’d be better off blending into the background, it’s probably not the Old Testament religious ritual that we think about stepping back into.
That was the danger for the original recipients of this letter.
I think the danger for us is to slip into the religious plurality of our day;
“Jesus is fine, but not ultimate.
Sure, listen to what Jesus says, but don’t take any of it too seriously,
Don’t imagine that other people need to hear or respond to Jesus,
Don’t think that what Jesus has to say about any issue has any place in the public debate.”
Did you see the research this week? 68% of Australians think religion does more harm than good?
It’s almost enough to make you not quite to fanatical about Jesus, and just blend into the background, isn’t it?
Well, if that’s us, this comparison between Jesus and Moses is of great importance and value to us.
Fix your thoughts on Jesus, God’s representative and ours (v 1)
Friends, fix your thoughts on Jesus, who is both God’s representative to us, and our representative with God.
There’s some religiousy sounding words there;,
But an apostle is just someone who is sent to tell a message. So the Apostle Paul, for example, he’s called that, because the risen Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and sent him to the Roman world, with the message of the good news of Jesus.
Or when Sue Watts goes upstairs to tell the Kids’ Church leaders that we’re about to sing the last song and it’s time to bring the kids down, she’s an apostle.
The high priest, as we saw last week, provided atonement for people’s sin.
People have rebelled against God, rejected God, lived as if God doesn’t exist or matter, and so we face the penalty for that;, We’re separated from God and his blessings.
The high priest, most especially on the Day of Atonement, which, remember that was just a fortnight ago, he would provide atonement, by the means that God provided, so that sin could be taken away,
The penalty paid,
And the separation that sin brought could be undone.
And we discover in Hebrews that the atonement, the payment for sin, and turning away of God’s anger at evil, that removal of sin which the high priest achieved, it was only ever a taste, was only ever temporary,
All those provisions God made in the Old Testament for priests and sacrifices, its primary goal, was to point forward to the high priest who would one send, to deal with sin completely,
Pay the penalty for sin in full,
Endure God’s just anger at sin and evil,
And restore the relationship with God that sin had broken.
Jesus is an apostle;, he is sent by God with a message of good news! He brings God to us,
And he’s our high priest, representing us to God, interceding for us, as the one who can completely accomplish what the Old Testament looked forward to.
You could argue that this little phrase our apostle and high priest, sums up the whole of Hebrews;
Jesus is God’s final and complete revelation of himself, and simultaneously, the one through whom God acts to make an end of sin, brining us back to relationship with him.
If you’re not really sure why Jesus should be considered unique among, religious figures,
Or maybe your friends and family ask you about Jesus, “why do you think Jesus matters? What’s he ever done for you?”
Well, maybe thinking in terms of these 2 titles will be helpful;, apostle and high priest.
The God who speaks finally and completely,
And the human through whom we can come to God.
And so it’s good for us also, centuries after the original recipients, to fix our thoughts on Jesus.
If we think of Jesus as just one option of getting to God,
Just one of the many ways God has made himself known,
Then it will seem to make more sense to us, to let go of Jesus, when being identified with Jesus starts to cause opposition and suffering.
But if our thoughts are fixed on him, if this is how we see him, as God’s representative to us, and our representative before God, the temptation to drift, well it won’t disappear! It would be naïve to think that wouldn’t it?
But I think it will be tempered, somewhat.
Here’s a remedy for drifters, a helpful reminder for people who live in a time when Christianity is unpopular, fix your thoughts on Jesus.
Take our eyes off our difficulties and temptations,
And onto Jesus.
Jesus is greater than Moses as a son is great than a servant (v 2 – 6).
And so the argument is that Jesus is greater than Moses, as a son is greater than a servant.
There’s a risk sometimes I think for Christians, that we grasp how great Jesus is, and we understand the point of Hebrews that the way God acts and speaks in Jesus, is better than any other way that God has acted or spoken.
But there’s a danger that because we understand, we can denigrate how God acted in the past,
We think little of the promise because we see the fulfilment.
We think what’s the point of the Old Testament, when we’ve got the New Testament.
But we mustn’t despise what God’s done in the past, simply because it hadn’t yet reached its fulfilment.
Notice how the author here wants to show that Jesus is everything, and yet is careful not to give the impression that he thinks Moses was nothing.
2 He Jesus, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house
God had said of Moses in Numbers 12, he is faithful in all my house. That’s where the author gets this language form.
But, verse 5, Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,”, while, verse 6, Christ is faithful as the Son
Not too many of us have servants, do we?, but we know that a son and a servant have different roles in a house,
And different positions,
Different amounts of glory attached to them!
So in the white house, who does Donald Trump fire? His servants! His staff, the people he pays!
The people who are still around are, his family! His daughter, son-in-law.
The position and relationship are entirely different.
And this comparison is split down the middle by verses 3 and 4, that make the same kind of point, but about a building and its architect.
Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself
Moses wasn’t the source of the Old Testament law, he didn’t stand behind it, he was the messenger, the mediator.
God himself is the source and origin of the law.
Just as a building has less honour than the one who stands behind it, so Moses has less honour than the Son who brought all things into existence.
Some of you will know that the Parish Hall at Trinity City Church, is a very old building, dating from 1886.
There is nothing particularly to commend it as a building,
It has no foundations,
Its stability is threatened by nearby trees, and by any construction work that happens in the neighbourhood.
It costs a fortune to maintain, and the I think the people at Trinity City would quite like to knock it down, and replace with something much more conducive to ministry, and cheaper to keep standing!
The difficult though, is that this fragile building, appears to have been one of the last buildings designed by Edmund Wright, famous architect, and mayor of Adelaide, before he died in 1888.
The building has no honour of its own, but it can’t be knocked down, because of the honour of its builder.
And so if Moses is rightly honoured by the people of Israel, how much more should Jesus be honoured?
And, think even today of people who honour Moses, not just Jewish people in our day, but of course, this includes them.
People give honour to the servant, but fail to give honour to the son.
I meet people who tell me they try and live by the 10 Commandments, that those commands that came through Moses form the basis of their approach to life. Now, I think they misunderstand a few of the commandments, but even so, Moses’ ministry was about preparing people for and pointing people to Jesus.
If you were to ask, “What kind of servant was Moses? He was the kind of servant who got people ready for what was coming next! That was the point of his ministry.
See there in verse 5, Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future
You’re not doing Moses justice, if you’re not looking to the one he bore witness to.
So my friends who are Muslims, they revere Moses as a prophet. They believe that Moses spoke the word of God. But I need to say to them, you’re dishonouring Moses, you’re dishonouring the prophet of God, if you don’t look where Moses points you, to the one who is greater than Moses as a son is greater than a servant.
If you don’t look where Moses points, you’re not letting him do what God wanted him to do.
You may have seen in the news this week that Aldi supermarkets in the UK have released a wine advent calendar. 24 200ml bottle of wine, to count down the days until Christmas.
There was some controversy at this announcement in the Australian media, mostly it seems to be me, because it’s going to be available in the UK but not here!
But we have an advent calendar for our kids, not the Aldi wine one, I assure you! But we use it to help our kids prepare for Christmas, to count down, until Christmas.
So from December 1 to 24, we open the little door, take out part of the nativity scene, and do the activity, or read a part of the Bible.
It’s all about getting ready for Christmas.
But imagine Christmas Eve, after the last door is opened, and the baby Jesus goes into the manger in the nativity set, and we’ve read the last of the Bible readings that get us ready for Christmas, imagine we just put the advent calendar back in the box,
Put the kids to bed,
And then the next morning, just go about our normal day,
Go to work, without any acknowledgment that it’s Christmas!
We’ve had the build-up, the preparation, but not what it’s all been in aid of.
We wouldn’t do it with Advent, we mustn’t do it with Moses!
Don’t reject Jesus like OT Israel rejected Moses (v 7 – 11)
And so the author takes us to an episode from the life of Moses, one example, of how he bore witness to what would be spoken by God in the future, as a way of saying to us, don’t reject Jesus in the same kind of way that the people of Israel rejected Moses.
And we’ve in the last few weeks how much he loves quoting the Old Testament, of course, that makes sense, he’s writing to Jewish people who knew valued their Scriptures, but he can also show how Jesus is the fulfilment of what God had spoken previously.
Her loves quoting from the Old Testament so much, that here he quotes from a part of the Old Testament, which is itself a quote from another part of the Old Testament!
We read the original episode in Exodus 17, with some extra detail in Numbers 14.
But in Exodus 14, we read of the miraculous delivery of the people of Israel through the Red Sea. The angel of the Lord which had been leading the people went behind them, separating them from the pursuing armies of Egypt, who are then destroyed as they tried and destroy Israel,
Chapter 15 is the song of Moses and Miram, celebrating God’s power and goodness, then with a little postscript of a story about God providing water for the people.
Next chapter, 16, is all about the manna and quail, God’s wonderful provision of food, exactly as much as everyone needed,
And then chapter 17 which is the bit we read, is all about the people of Israel complaining, that they’d be better off if they’d stayed as slaves in Egypt!
It’s probably not much more than a month since they left Egypt in the Passover, and the intervening chapters have been filled with God’s gracious deliverance and miraculous provision, and already what’s happened?
They’re fed up with God,
They’re ignoring everything Gods’ done for them,
They’ve forgotten God’s promises,
They’re doubting God’s Word.
And the psalmist is writing a few hundred years after those events, and he says, because the people hardened their hearts to God, that is, they didn’t believe, they didn’t trust, they thought they knew better than God. Because of that, they missed out on the rest that God had in store for them. They didn’t make it into the Promised Land.
The lesson of that generation, is that it’s possible to hear God speak,
You can see God act,
You be among the people of God, and yet miss out on what God offers you.
Not because what God offers us somehow fails,
But they didn’t trust,
They forgot what God had done, and they thought they knew better.
What do they say? The only thing better than learning from your mistakes is learning from someone else’s mistakes. Well, here we can learn from the mistake of the wilderness generation.
They heard God speak,
But they rejected the one through whom God spoke, and who he had raised up to lead them.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
Don’t think of God’s anger like so much of the human anger we see around us, or even in ourselves;,
Fly off the handle,
Mixed in with self-interest,
No, God’s anger is his settled, personal, deliberate opposition to sin and evil.
And if we look at verse 10, we might think, “yes, it makes sense, that if, the Israelites they have not known my ways, then it naturally flows that their hearts are always going astray.
If you don’t know what God wants, then you will go astray, that makes sense to us. But I think it’s significant that the 2 phrases are round the other way in Psalm 95 and so round the other way here.
That is, if you keep going astray, it becomes harder and harder to know God’s way.
If you harden your heart against God,
If you continue to refuse to hear him speak,
If you insist that you know better than God, then you’ll become more and more resistant to hearing God’s voice.
God still speaks, But the person who continually hardens their heart against God and goes their own way, will find it harder and harder to hear.
To reject Moses was bad. But Jesus has greater honor than Moses, and so to reject him is going to have worse consequences.
Those Israelites our in the wilderness, they missed out on the rest of the Promised Land. To reject Jesus, is to miss out on the blessings of eternity.
Check your heart (v 12 – 14)
And so we’re urged, check your heart.
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
I remember sometime having my heart checked. The doctors and nurses stuck things on my body to monitor my heart, but that’s not exactly that the author has in mind here, is it?
He means look at your heart, to see if you’re at risk of hardening your heart in unbelief.
Are you at risk of keeping God at arms length?,
Telling him you’ll get to him later?,
Or that know better than he does?,
Or that he’s going to have to get in line if he wants any of your time, or priorities, or money.
Unbelief for Old Testament Israel showed itself in grumbling and disobedience.
In the people thinking that they knew better than the one God had raised up for them.
Are you at risk of a sinful, unbelieving heart, that has convinced you that you know better than Jesus, the final authoritative Word from God?
Did you see in verse 13, how our hearts get like that? Through sin’s deceitfulness.
Sin is deceitful.
Sin allows us to make all kind of justifications for our behaviour,
All kinds of rationalisations about why we don’t need to listen to Jesus, or obey him,
Sin allows us to convince ourselves of all manner of things that will lead us to turn away from the living God.
Check your heart!
Do you have the warning signs of this particular heart disease?
Are you tempted to doubt?
To imagine that Jesus doesn’t what’s best for you, that he doesn’t really have your best interests at heart when he calls you to live as his disciple?
Are you in a situation where it’s hard for you to hear God’s voice?
Where you struggle to discern the seriousness of sin?
Where, the original conviction that we need to hold firmly to the very end verse 14, you’re actually not really clear on?
Have you isolated yourself from the people of God, such that you’re at greater risk of this heart disease?
And I don’t mean, that you never see another Christian, obviously you’re here, there are Christians all around you, but are you allowing them to check your heart?
See, I’m sure you noticed the community language. See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart
And the you is plural. The Australian Bible version would say See to it that none of, youse, has a sinful unbelieving heart. I’m sure that’s what Honey Badger will say in the Aussie News Today ads!
Right here, God is charging you with the responsibility of guarding the hearts of other people in our church.
And he’s commanding you to let your heart be guarded by other people in our church.
Not that you’re responsible for someone else’s decisions, or they for yours,
But each of us is called to encourage one another daily,
A Christian on their own, who doesn’t open their life to anyone else among God’s people,
Who doesn’t allow their brothers and sisters to speak into their life, is at much greater risk of turning away from the living God, than one who allows their fellow Christian to warn them about sin,
To challenge their unbelief,
To enquire and warn about disobedience.
It’s not very “Australian”, to get that involved in someone’s life, like that is it? And yet it’s part of the remedy against turning away that the author prescribes us.
A Christian in community is going to be much more alert to the temptation to sin,
Much more discerning of sin’s deceitfulness,
Much more able to resist temptation, than one who is interested only in hearing their own voice.
And of course the encouragement to one another, changes the bad news of They shall never enter my rest, into the good news that there is still rest available, and some will enter!
The warning against missing out, becomes a promise of salvation, that we can help each other reach.
Hear God speak today (v15 – 19)
And so we see, that it’s not too late for anybody, because we can still hear God speak today, and today make a decision, to respond to what we hear with obedience and belief.
The example of the Israelites in the wilderness teaches us that simply hearing is not enough;, hearing needs to be coupled with belief, but as long as there’s an opportunity to hear, there’s an opportunity to believe.
I’m sure you noticed that the author twice quotes the part of Psalm 95 about rebellion and unbelief, the bit that begins today if you hear his voice. Verse 7, and then again in verse 15.
And then in the middle, verse 13, But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,”, that is, any day, is a day to hear God’s voice.
Any day, is a good time to tune our ears to God’s word.
It doesn’t matter what yesterday looked like in your life, or the day before that, or the day before that.
Those days might have been terrible!
They might have been characterised by absolute rebellion and unbelief, the very things being warned about here!
And I reckon in a group this size there probably are some, who recognise that that’s what yesterday was like.
But this is today, the author says, and so today it’s an opportunity to hear God’s Word.
Today is an opportunity to break out, from sin’s deceitfulness.
Not all of us are going to look back at yesterday, or some other recent time, and see it as characterised by unbelief, and refusing to hear God’s Word.
Maybe, in God’s kindness, yesterday was a good day of hearing God speak.
The same thing applies though. Today is the day to hear his voice. What we did yesterday doesn’t guarantee us the rest that God offers us.
Remember verse 14, We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
We don’t inherit the eternal blessings of eternal life in Christ, simply because we can point to a day, when we responded to God’s Word.
“Oh yeah that day back in 1985, I heard God’s Word.”
No, learn the lesson from Old Testament Israel,
There were days when they had heard and obeyed,
They’d followed God’s leader, Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? Verse 16, yesterday was a good day for them! But their bodies perished in the wilderness, because they didn’t continue firmly to the end,
Because they didn’t hear today,
Because of their unbelief.
See, Today is today, but Today is not going to last forever. The opportunity to hear and respond isn’t open forever.
We need to hear God’s voice today.
God speaks today in the Scriptures.
But again, the warning becomes an invitation, because we’re told exactly how we can hear God’s voice today.
God speaks today in the Scriptures.
You may have noticed how the author, up in verse 7, introduced the quotation from Psalm 95? So, as the Holy Spirit says: Today if you hear his voice, and so on
That is, first of all, the Holy Spirit speaks in the Scripture. The Holy Spirit speaks in this particular Psalm. We don’t even know who wrote Psalm 95, maybe David, maybe someone else, and yet we’re told, it’s God speaking.
It was written down by a human author, but it’s God’s Word.
It’s how God spoke to the people in that original context.
And centuries after God said they shall never enter my rest, the author of Psalm 95 says to the people of his day, “you can still hear God’s voice, in what he said back then.”
He was convinced, that God was speaking in his day, through the Scriptures that had already been written down.
But the writer to the Hebrews takes it one step further, doesn’t he?
It’s not just the Holy Spirit has spoken, that God did speak in, however many thousand BC when Moses wrote,
Or in 700 or so BC when the Psalm was written,
Hebrews says God speaks today, through what was written back then. as the Holy Spirit says, it’s all present tense.
the Holy Spirit, says
The Holy Spirit speaks to us today, through what has already been written.
Do you see the distinction?
We don’t read Psalm 95, or any other part of the Bible for that matter, simply to hear what God has said, or what God said in the past?
No, we read Psalm 95, or whichever part, to hear God speak today.
The author makes the same point later on in Hebrews when he’s talking about Leviticus, and about the prophet Jeremiah, and I take it, he thinks it’s true of the whole of the Bible.
God spoke to the original audience when the Scripture was first spoken,
There’s a later audience, when the Psalmist says, “pay attention to that and hear God’s voice today”,
Hebrews 3 says that God speaks in 60AD or something, through the words he spoke back then.
But we’re another step on, aren’t we?
And I think it’s right to ask the question, “Does it apply to the New Testament too? Does God still speak today, through the New Testament?”
The author’s made a solid case for that being true of the Old Testament, is it just an assumption that it’s true of the New also.
Well, I’m quite sure it is true. It’s not just an assumption. Let me quickly touch on a few reasons.
Remember that the author wasn’t one of the original recipients of the good news of Jesus.
Chapter 2 verse 3, God’s message of salvation was confirmed to us, by those who heard Jesus.
Already by the time he’s written his letter, God’s Word is already at least second-hand.
He wants his readers to hear God’s Word, that somebody had told him some years prior.
This guy’s own experience is that Holy Spirit inspired message of the gospel is just as powerful in subsequent generations as in the first generation.
The second thing is, remember the opening argument of this letter; The revelation of God in Jesus, is far superior to any way that God has spoken in the past. And so if the Old Testament is powerful and living, and speaks to us today, then the New Testament, the message of fulfilment in Christ, isn’t going to be any less powerful, is it?
And one reason from outside Hebrews, at the end of his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells that church, to pass the letter on to the church in Laodicea, so they can read it also.
God speaks, today, through the New Testament and the Old Testament.
You can be assured, that if you pick up your Bible and read it, you’ll hear God speak.
Maybe you came here today hoping that God would speak to you,
Maybe you’ve never thought that you could hear God’s voice.
It is through the Scripture that God promise to speak, today.
Just look at how confident the author is!
There’s no “read the Bible, and summon up the right frame of mind,
Get into the correct emotional state,
And if you really tune into God you might be lucky enough to pick up the general vibe of what he wants to say,
Like trying to tune an old radio, and you’re lucky if you can get it clear.”
No! God, speaks, today. In the Scriptures.
Do you wish that you could have that kind of confidence that you could hear God speak?, today?
Well the author gives us every reason to have it, doesn’t he?
And every reason to do it.
Let’s hear his voice.