Bible readings - Psalm 95, Hebrews 3:1-8 and 4:6-13
Many times, in my life as a nurse and midwife, I would end up in an operating theatre… and while it was never something you wouldn’t wish on anyone it was the right place to be for that person at that moment in time…. Either an operation of healing or an operation to help birth a baby was needed… There will be many of you sitting here today who owe a debt of gratitude to the skills of a surgeon… I loved watching the skilled steady hands at work with a scalpel… no matter how much of an emergency was happening they had to skillfully work through the layers until they finally exposed the area they were needing to work with…
Today as we sit in this place our writer from Hebrews likens God’s word to a double-edged sword that can cut between soul and spirit… it brought to mind the surgeon and the scalpel that could separate the finest of membranes and vessels… The surgeon, like God’s word was living and active in the process… a dead surgeon would have been as much good to the healing process as a dead God would be… and this was part of the Hebrews struggle did Jesus’ humanness mean he was impotent as God?
For those of you who weren’t here last week, lent began on Wednesday and as we once again journey towards Easter we’re going to travel towards the cross and the empty tomb through the book of Hebrews in a series called “Jesus the More Exceptional Way.”
Last week we looked at Jesus – More exceptional than the angels,
This week we look at
Jesus – More exceptional than Moses,
Then we will look at
Jesus – The more exceptional priest,
Jesus – The more exceptional covenant,
Jesus – The more exceptional hope and
Jesus – The more exceptional blessing.
As a preacher Hebrews holds a fascination for me as it is thought to have been written as a sermon…. No one knows who wrote the book of Hebrews, there are lots of different theories but at the end of the day it is unknown as is the specific audience it was intended for.
So, what do we know? It appears to have been written for a church of Jewish Christians who started out great guns. They were a new church plant, but time had passed and we know from Hebrews 10 they’d gone through tough times including a time of persecution…. This group of believers had hit the wall. They’d grown weary and tired, stuck in a rut and no longer growing…. Worse than that they’d grown apathetic in their faith and were turning back to Judaism…
Last week we looked out how the writer had crafted his sermon arguing from the Old Testament that Jesus Christ is more exceptional than the angels…. presenting the superior beauty of Jesus, the greatness of his sacrifice on our behalf and the promise of the unshakeable kingdom he brings to encourage the believers to have faith and to stand firm through their present suffering. (D. T. Evans) Encouraging them not to turn away from Jesus because Jesus offers a far more exceptional way of life than the way of Judaism they have come from.
Today his sermon continues as he presents Jesus as more exceptional than Moses…
So why does the writer want to point out that Jesus is more exceptional than Moses?
In Judaism Moses and Elijah were the most revered of the prophets. Moses comes to the fore here, though, as the writer of Hebrews has two periods of history in sight.
The deliverance of God’s people, led by Moses, from the bondage of slavery and oppression under Egypt.
The deliverance of God’s people (anyone who calls on the name of Jesus) from the bondage evil and sin through Jesus Christ.
Moses in this setting represents the mediator of the Old covenant receiving God’s laws on mount Sinai and mediating through prayer for the people when they went astray from God… Moses certainly was unique and remarkable in God’s story as one commentator says “The OT accounts of Moses do stress his exceptional and moving role as mediator between God and Israel… The Greek word for mediator mesites means person in the middle. A person who identifies with both sides, in effect becoming a person who is torn in two… Moses often found himself knowing God’s heartbreak with His people and their hardened hearts was justified but found himself interceding passionately on behalf of the people if God threatened to abandon them to their own actions.
Exodus 32: 30-32 gives a poignant example after Moses had come down from being in the Presence of God having received God’s laws for His people only to find they had crafted a golden calf, an idol to worship in his absence….
“The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.”
31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves.32 But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!”
Moses was willing to put his life on the line to save God’s people… exceptional stuff. And the writer of Hebrews acknowledges the faithfulness of both Moses and Jesus, but points out that Jesus outshines even Moses…
Using the analogy of a builder who has built a house Jesus is more exceptional than Moses in three ways
Jesus is God’s Son, Moses is God’s servant.
Jesus is the builder of the house, Moses is part of the house.
Jesus is the fulfillment of OT revelation, Moses was witness of the revelation yet to come.
If we go back to last week, we remember that Hebrews 1:1-2a began with “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.” Moses was a prophet called by God, Jesus is God’s Son… you and I, like Moses are part of the house, part of God’s work in the world….BUT there’s an IF…
Read with me “Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.” (Heb 3:6)
What was the if? Being courageous and confidently holding on to our faith in Jesus…. Not Moses, not anything or anyone else, Jesus alone is our hope and salvation.
The writer then goes on to quote from the Psalms. Its fascinating he didn’t quote from the books of the law handed down from Moses, but from the Psalms… here is where the sword of the word becomes living and active, here is where he calls the people to let the work of the word, like the surgeon’s scalpel skillfully cut away the layers to reveal the part that needs healing… the place of our innermost thoughts and desires….
Quoting Ps 95 where King David is calling the people to hear God’s voice and to learn from the mistakes the people made under Moses…
But the writer of Hebrews doesn’t say “that is why King David says” … No, he says “That is why the Holy Spirit says!!” One commentator helps us understand “the word of God now confronts the Hebrews.” They are hearing God’s word today and it is directed to them not the ancient Israelites… the Holy Spirit is speaking.”
And what is it the Holy Spirit says?
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts” (Heb 3:7-8a)
He said this three times in a short space of time driving this word home… how would it have felt to have been in that audience? How does it feel for us to hear these words…? Today when you hear his voice don’t harden your hearts!! X3
Remember these are followers of Jesus who are falling away from their faith… and as they fall away they are in danger of a spiritual cancer taking root and spreading and if they fail to do anything about it they could find themselves in a place that is terminal to their Christian faith, a place far removed from God.
What is the main symptom that shows this disease is lurking? A Hardened heart. What does that look like? It begins by choosing not to listen to God’s voice. Gods word here isn’t just scripture, although it includes that, remember God’s word to us today is revealed through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. So, if we choose to reject God’s word, we are in grave danger of rejecting Jesus.
We can know the disease is progressing when we start to actively refuse to follow what God asks of us and we can know we’re in a place of poor prognosis when we find ourselves actively rebelling against what we know God has spoken… if you’re not sure what that looks like Jesus summed it up this way in Mt 22:37-39 “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” So, anything that is endangering our love for God and others, or anything that we are actively doing to hurt God or others are sure signs that this illness has a hold.
Remembering all the time that this word “today if you hear his voice don’t harden your heart” is being spoken to God’s people not those who know nothing of God…
The writer of Hebrews is warning the people from lessons of the past … remember Israel, remember that in spite of having the presence of Yahweh (God) in their midst, in spite of Yahweh’s mighty miracles they chose not to hear God’s voice, not to follow God’s ways. They chose to rebel, and their rebellion cost a whole generation, a whole generation never got to enter in to the land God promised, the land of rest…
The writer then brings that into today… today, he warns, you too are in danger of failing to enter into the promised rest, the promised peace that can only be found in Jesus, through God’s love and grace.
The incredible thing is in God’s spacious love this illness doesn’t have to be terminal, there is a cure and the cure can be found today in the alive and powerful word of God … today if you hear his voice do not harden your heart.
Today Jesus speaks offering himself as a healing scalpel in the hands of the master surgeon lancing and healing our deepest wounds...
Today Jesus speaks to things of our hearts that are insidiously causing hardness and leading us to a place of anger and rebellion against others and against God offering the healing balm his love and forgiveness as a cure.
Today Jesus offers himself as our mediator between the hurts and pains of this world and the healing love of God.
Today Jesus speaks the love and grace of God to us Jn 3:16 (TPT) “For this is how much God loved the world—he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life.
Today Jesus speaks calling us to hold fast to him through the trials and temptations of this life “I have told you all this [about the troubles to come] so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)
Today Jesus speaks, “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love.” (Jn 15:9-10 Msg)
Today Jesus speaks offering us an invitation to enter his rest (Matt 11:28-29) “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Today this is the right place for you to be in this moment and time regardless of your past, regardless of your future.
Today God our master surgeon skillfully cutting through our defensive layers offers healing through His powerful word.
“Today if you hear his voice don’t harden your heart.” Amen.