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Finishing Well

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
September 3, 2023 7:00 pm

Finishing Well

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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September 3, 2023 7:00 pm

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Living in the Light
Anne Graham Lotz
More Than Ink
Pastor Jim Catlin & Dorothy Catlin
Living in the Light
Anne Graham Lotz

If you have your Bibles with you, turn with me if you would to Hebrews chapter three, and we're going to be looking at verses seven through 11. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion on the day of testing in the wilderness, who your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for 40 years. Therefore, I was provoked with that generation and said, they always go astray in their heart.

They have not known my ways. I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest. Bow with me as we go to our Lord in prayer. Heavenly Father, I want to lift up our sick to you today. I pray for Jeremy Carriker, for Jim Belt, for Brenda Torrance, for Nicole Lowes. I pray for Lisa Menzel. I pray for Roland and Dale Valen and Kim Oudy. Lord, I pray for Esther and Gwen Carroll and Audrey and Sarah Alligood to provide peace and comfort for them.

I pray for Wanda Abercrombie and Buff Anderson, who's an elder in Chris Gregory's church who is in great pain with cancer. Heavenly Father, today's message is on the subject of finishing well. The writer of Hebrews goes back to the time of Moses and tells us about the generation of Israelites who started off gloriously and ended up ungloriously. A whole generation who headed to the promised land with hopes and dreams, but only two men made it. Why? Unbelief and hardness of heart.

The writer of Hebrews used this group as a warning to the persecuted Hebrew Christians in Israel. And he said to them, don't harden your heart. Don't give up. Don't quit. Everything is at stake. So persevere and endure. It will be worth it all when we're with Jesus. Lord, we love you.

Help us to love you more. And it's in the precious Holy Name of Jesus that we pray. Amen.

You may be seated. My sermon title today is Finishing Well. I think that's a good title for this particular passage that we're looking at today.

It's also a good title for the whole book of Hebrews. What we're talking about is endurance. Folks, endurance separates the men from the boys. Endurance is the fruit of godly character. The Christian life is not a hundred-yard dash. The Christian life is like a marathon. It's a long, long race, and long, long races are not won by speed.

They are won by determination and grit and endurance. Hebrews chapter 12, verses one and two says, Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside the weight that is set before us, and let us lay aside that weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us. And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for joy over it endured the cross, despised the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Now I shared with you when we first started this passage, or this book of Hebrews, that we don't know who the writer of Hebrews is, but we know this about him. He believed that the Bible was the inerrant, infallible, plenary-verbal, inspired Word of God.

He knew and understood the Jewish people, and he knew Jewish history. So he gets to this point in his letter, and he goes back in the book of Exodus, and he remembers back to the time of that first Passover, where the children of Israel, each family would kill a Passover lamb, and then they would take that lamb's blood, and they applied it to the doorpost and the lentils of each home. And then that night when the death angel came through, the death angel passed over every single home where the blood of the lamb had been applied.

But then the homes where there was no blood, the death angel took the firstborn in each one of those families. After that, the Pharaoh of Egypt just relented. I think he was absolutely scared to death, and he told Moses and the people of Israel to go, to get out of Egypt and to leave. The children of Israel gave to Egypt gold and silver and jewelry and clothing, and then they got ready to leave. They took the bones of Joseph and the tribe of Ephraim, put it up on their shoulders and carried the bones of Joseph, headed to the promised land so they could bury those bones in the promised land. How would they get direction?

How would they know which way to go? Well, the Lord appeared to them in the form of a cloud called the Shekinah Glory, and told them that he would guide them by cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And the Lord guided them right out of Egypt.

They went right to the Red Sea. When they got to the Red Sea, they turned around, and they saw the entire Egyptian army coming after them to destroy them. And then God sent the pillar of fire to come between them and be a blockade so that the Egyptian army could not come to them. And then God sent a strong wind, and the wind separated the waters, and the waters became two walls of waters.

Very interesting. You read that in the Hebrew, and the word that's used to describe the waters is the word jail that we get jello from. And that's what it was like. It was like two walls of jello, and they went through on dry land. They got over to the other side, and when they got over to the other side, the Lord lifted up the pillar of fire. The Egyptian army came down. And as they were trying to get through to the other side, God let loose his power. The water came crushing down, destroying the entire Egyptian army.

In Exodus chapter 15 verse 1, Miriam, who was the sister of Moses, led Israel in song and dance. And this is what she said. Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.

The horse and the rider is thrown into the sea. What a fabulous beginning. What hopes.

What dreams. They were headed to the promised land. They were going to take the bones of Joseph and bury them there in the promised land finally.

They were in their place of rest. I wanted to read you very quickly what Kent Hughes said about this. What happened afterwards.

And I think this is very important, so listen, listen very carefully. It all began so well, but it ended so poorly. Of the million plus Israelites who began so well, only two over the age of 20 ever got to the promised land.

And that was 40 years later. The rest fail, disappointed corpses in the desert. The grand and terrible lesson of Israel's history is that it is impossible that it is possible to begin well and to end poorly. In fact, this tragic human tendency dominates much human spiritual experience. It is this concern that halts the writer of the book of Hebrews as we have repeatedly seen. His fear is that the doleful fate of the generation of the exodus will be repeated in the experience of the Jewish Christians in their storm tossed little church. He undoubtedly personally knew this little flock. Many of their spiritual exoduses had been beautiful, even dramatic, but now that they were undergoing hardship, would they finish well?

What if they made the same errors Israelites did when troubles came? Got four points that I want to share with you this morning as we look at the subject of finishing well. Number one, the hardened heart. Look at verses seven through eight. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart as in the rebellion on the day of testing in the wilderness. And the last part of verse six is a warning against drifting. It is a warning against getting lazy and getting spiritually lethargic. And so in verse seven, he is saying, in the light of the possibility that you might drift, then he quotes from Psalm 95, and he says this, the Holy Spirit says today, if you will, hear his voice and harden not your hearts. The people that the writer of Hebrews is speaking to are people who profess to be Christians. They have said the right words.

They have claimed to be people who belong to Jesus. Back at the end of the Revolutionary War, one of the last battles that took place was the Battle of Yorktown, and George Washington, the general of the patriots, had led them to a great, great win, a great victory over the British Army. After that victory was taking place, the general, the British general, came and he stood before both armies, and he began to wax eloquent about George Washington.

He just boasted on him. He said, Washington is so smart. He is so, so much, such a great general. He has such great military strategy.

And he was going on and on. And George Washington walked up to him, stopped him right in mid-sentence, looked him right in the eye, and said, your sword, sir. In other words, he was saying, quit talking and surrender. Brothers and sisters, that's a great lesson for Christians. We need to remember that the call of God in our life is the call of surrender.

It's pretty easy sometimes to talk the talk, but walking the walk is a different thing. What we need to ask ourself is this, have we genuinely surrendered as Christ's servants to him? These professing Jewish believers are now being criticized, ostracized, and persecuted. Some of them have been thrown in prison.

Some of them have had their property plundered. Some of them have Jewish relatives that were Christians that had been put to death for their faith. And so the writer of Hebrews is saying to them, what are you going to do now? Are you going to persevere? Are you going to persevere when you know that that means suffering and that it could mean death?

Have you just been offering lip service or are you truly going to surrender? The writer of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 95, where the Psalmist David shared a story from way back, 500 years before this, shared a story about the children in the Exodus and what they would do. And he says, you saw God's work, you saw Israel and Israel saw God's works for 40 years. Now what had they seen?

It's in the 10 plagues that God sent on Egypt. They had sent the will of the Pharaoh. They watched him as his will broke and he let the people go. They watched as the Egyptian people gave their gold and their silver and their jewelry and their clothing to the people of Israel. They watched as the Red Sea opened up and they went through on dry land.

They watched as the enemy Egyptian army was totally destroyed in that land. They watched as the Lord fed them from manna from heaven and watched them as he gave them water from the rock. What had they seen? In other words, they had seen the evidence of God. They have seen signs, miracles, they have seen wonders, and they have seen God's provision.

What more could they need? In verse 8, the writer of Hebrews calls this time the rebellion. Then he begins to make the comparisons and the contrast. It was a warning to Israel in David's time, and that was 500 years after what happened at the Exodus took place. Five hundred years later, David's saying the same thing's going on now. And now the writer of Hebrews is writing a thousand years after David wrote Psalm 95, and he's saying, what went on in David's time, what went on in the time of the Exodus, the same thing you need to learn now. And folks, we live 3,000 years after the time when David wrote Psalm 95.

We need to be asking ourselves the same question, and that is this, is your heart hardened or have you truly surrendered? Now look how he starts off. He starts off with this word, the word today, and that indicates urgency. In other words, don't put this off.

Don't put this off. Don't wait till tomorrow because you don't know if you'll have a tomorrow. Proverbs 27 verse 1 says, boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day shall bring forth. And not only that, they may have gone out till tomorrow, and although they are in tomorrow, their hearts might have become so hardened that they are calloused and they don't even care anymore.

Folks, this is an urgent plea, and the plea is do something now. All right, point two is the danger of apostasy. Verse eight again, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion on the day of testing in the wilderness. Apostasy is the abandonment and renunciation of the faith. Folks, there's a big difference between backsliding and apostasy.

Let me share with you what those are. Backsliding can happen in the life of a true believer. A true believer, it starts drifting a little bit. He starts getting spiritually lethargic and lazy. And then a temptation comes into his life, something that he was tempted with way before he came to know Christ, but it's tempting him again, and so he starts giving into it.

And what happens? As soon as he starts giving into it, the Lord begins to convict him. He brings a great conviction into his heart, and there's a chastening that takes place there. And the child of God says, oh no, I don't want this.

And so what does he do? He repents, and he turns back to the Lord very humbly and cries out to the Lord for restoration, and the Lord restores him. That can happen in backsliding to a true believer. But then what is apostasy? The apostasy has had knowledge. He has acted with some of the right actions for a Christian.

He has said a lot of the right words for a Christian. But then something happens. Temptation begins to hit, and he starts giving into that temptation. It stings a little bit, but he enjoys the sin, and so he continues to give into that sin until it doesn't hurt so bad anymore.

And finally, he just gets to the point where he says, I like this life better, and he walks away from Christ, never to return again. We read about this last week in 1 John chapter 1 and verse, in chapter 2 verse 19, when John described these people, and he said, they went out from us, for they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out that it might be made manifest that they were not of us. What was it that proved their apostasy? It was the no perseverance. It was the fact that they did not continue. And what did that prove? That they were counterfeits, that they were hypocrites, that they were apostates. In the light of the possibility of apostasy, verse 8 says, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.

So let's ask a question. How does a heart become hard? It doesn't happen instantaneously. It happens gradually.

Lethargy and apathy and drifting come in. God speaks to your heart, and you turn your ear from him. And there's conviction, and it stings. But you continue on, and you give in to that temptation again. And this time the conviction comes, but the stinging's not quite so hard. And so you give in to the temptation again.

And this time it's not near as bad as it was before. And so what happens? The process continues until you no longer feel the sting, until you no longer hear God's word. Now I'm not talking about hearing an audible word from God.

I'm talking about you don't hear the word from the word of God as God speaks to his word to your conscience. When I played baseball, I was a catcher. And the first few weeks of the baseball season, I would notice that my left hand where I wore the catcher's mitt would be just red and puffy. After about two or three weeks, all that stopped because my hand got calloused.

And once my hand got calloused, it got tough, and I could catch all the fastballs with no problem whatsoever. Folks, the same thing happens with the heart. The children of Israel begin to take God for granted. They didn't view the gushing water from the rocks as a miracle. They didn't view the manna from heaven as a miracle. And so little by little, they just pushed God out of their minds, and in the process, the heart hardened.

Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a big question concerning evangelism. How forceful should we be in evangelism? Should we push people for results in evangelism? I think the answer to that is no. Are wrong evangelistic practices a cause of apostasy?

I think sometimes yes. We should tell people what the Bible says about sin and the law of God in judgment. We should tell people what the Bible says about grace and about mercy. We should tell people that Jesus died on the cross for a purpose, and that purpose was that he might shed his blood to wash away our sin, that he died a substitutionary death, that he died to take our sin and give us his righteousness, to take our hell and give us his heaven.

And then he rose from the dead. For what purpose? To break the power of death over us, that we might have eternal life. And then we should say to them, now, you don't need to wait around on this. Today is the day of salvation.

Now is the time of decision. If those people have questions, we need to answer those questions, and we need to answer them with Scripture. But do not push an unrepentant sinner into saying a sinner's prayer, where that unrepentant sinner says that little prayer, and then he thinks, okay, I'm fine.

I have assurance of salvation when he's never truly been saved at all. Charles Spurgeon said that a man came into his service one night, sat down about the third row from the pulpit, and he said he sat down, he listened diligently that first Sunday night, said he had his hands up on the pew in front of him, and he was white knuckling the pew. And yet Spurgeon said he could tell that he was in distress. So he came the second Sunday night, then the third Sunday night, and then the fourth Sunday night he came. And then Spurgeon finished preaching that fourth Sunday night, but Spurgeon didn't give an altar call, he never did.

The man walked out. Thursday of that week, the man saw him uptown, and he walked up to Spurgeon, and he said, I was in your church Sunday night, and I heard you preaching the gospel. And he said, I got very convicted and said, if you had given an altar call, I would have come and I would have prayed the sinner's prayer. And Spurgeon looked at him and said, what's keeping you from praying the sinner's prayer right now? And he said, well, I felt conviction Sunday night. He said, I don't feel that conviction now. And Spurgeon said, well, I'm glad I didn't give an altar call because you would have been my convert and not God's. And folks, that's true.

If God had regenerated his heart, then the conviction would still be there. The Holy Spirit puts the pressure on not us. We should warn. We should sound the trumpet. We should do that. We should exhort with diligence, but we should never manipulate, lest what we have is our converts and not God's converts.

Folks, always remember this. We are the witnesses for Christ, but we are not the Savior. The writer of Hebrews is putting on tremendous gospel pressure here, but he is not manipulating.

He shares the truth and God does the convicting. In major evangelistic crusades in America over the last hundred years, some of these evangelistic teams and some of these crusades would tell their counselors, give them instructions that as soon as the invitation takes place, they are to jump out in the aisle, they are to walk down. And why are they to walk down? They are to walk down so that will make the unsaved in the pews feel much more comfortable to walk down to.

What is that? That's manipulation. And folks, it's as wrong as it can be. And did you realize in those major crusades for some of those evangelistic teams, they're over a hundred year period of time, only seven percent of the people who walk the aisle made a profession of faith ten years later were active, active in a local church.

Folks, that's horribly sad. We need to evangelize. We need to put gospel pressure on people but we do not need to manipulate.

Point three, an illustration of testing. Look at verse eight and nine. Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion on the day of testing in the wilderness where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years.

Well, his illustration comes from Exodus chapter seventeen, verses one through two says this, all the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of sin by stages according to the commandment of the Lord. And they camped at Rephidim but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, give us water to drink. Moses said to them, why do you quarrel with me?

Why do you test the Lord? They weren't trusting God for water. They were demanding that God give water.

That's what they were doing, demanding it. You go down to verse seven and verse seven says this, is God with us or not? God had been gloriously providing for them all along. They had seen abundant evidence of his power and of his care for them but they would not put their full trust in him so they just kept saying, Lord, just do this one more thing for us. You do this one more thing for us, they will know that your God then will believe. God would do the one more thing and they would not believe.

John MacArthur said it this way. God had released the Israelites from Egypt by awesome, miraculous plagues. Just as miraculously he brought them through the Red Sea and destroyed their pursuers.

Without fail he had provided manna to feed them and the pillars of cloud and fire to guide them. But they still ask, is God among us? Nothing is more illogical or unreasonable than unbelief. It refuses to accept the most overwhelming evidence simply because unbelief does not want to believe. As Jesus made clear in the parable of the rich man in Lazarus, no evidence is sufficient for the person who does not want to believe. If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead. The person on the other hand who wants to believe trusts God despite any evidence that may seem to be lacking. He says, I do believe, help my unbelief.

Most people do not need more proof that God is real or that Jesus is his son and the Savior. They need to hate and repent of their sin and commit themselves to him. A God who is continually tested will never be accepted. The one who tests God today does so for the same reason as did the Israelites in Moses' day, to put him off, because they love their sin, their own way, and their own plans too much to give them up for God's. Point four is provoking God. Look at verse 10 through 12. Therefore I was provoked with that generation and said, they always go astray in their heart. And listen, they have not known my ways. As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest.

Take care brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart leading you to fall away from the living God. The word provoked here does not mean unhappy or disappointed. The word provoked here means incensed or wrought up. God was extremely angry with the Israelite children. Extremely angry with them.

If you read this in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, it says it this way. God loathed them. He rejected and repudiated them.

Why? Because they went astray in their heart and they did not know God's ways. Let me ask you something. What does it mean to know God's ways? What's the difference between knowing God's acts and knowing God's ways? Let me give you a few verses. Exodus 33 verses 13 through 14. Listen to Moses' prayer. Now this is a prayer of a heart of a man who knows God. Now therefore if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your way that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.

Consider too that this nation is your people. And he said, my presence will go with you and I will give you rest. Psalm 103 verse 7. The scripture says that God made his ways into Moses but only his acts into the children of Israel. Moses saw God's heart.

Israel only saw what God was doing. In Isaiah chapter 55 verse 8 and 9, the scripture says, for my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways, saith the Lord. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

What in the world is all that about? The ways of God are the outworkings of God's heart. Now why are man's ways different than God's ways?

Because man's thinking is tainted with sin. God's thinking is perfectly righteous, perfectly holy, perfectly good. God is totally omniscient. So when God brings something to pass, every possible variable has been thought out. God's thought about anything that even could happen when he allows something to take place.

His decisions are perfect and all decisions that he makes for us, for our good and for his glory. So what it all boiled down to is this, Moses believed, Israel didn't. Moses trusted God, Israel didn't. Moses had faith, Israel did not. So Israel's faith was what?

It was just up and down, up and down, up and down. If God did a miracle, they rejoiced and then quickly forgot the miracle. Moses' faith was so great as if it was as if he could see the invisible God.

So great that it was like he could see the invisible God. Moses didn't need God to do miracles. Moses could just see God's heart. Jeremiah 29 verses 11 through 13 says this, for I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will hear you.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. God's thoughts of us are thoughts of peace, not evil. His purpose for us is to give us a future and a hope. You get that in your heart. You truly believe that, children of God here at Grace Church.

You truly believe that and when calamities come, you will not get shaken. I may not be able to figure it out but I know I don't have to because God, what he does, he does for my good and not for evil. He does because he loves me. He does because I belong to him.

Whatever he brings into my life, it will ultimately be for my good and for his glory. So if I find out from the doctor that I've got cancer, I can still trust him because I know that I'm in his hand and his way is perfect. If I lose my job, I can still trust him because I know that I'm in his hand and his way is perfect. If I lose a loved one to death, then I can still trust him because I know I'm in his hand, his way is perfect.

If I've got a child that's rebelling, I can still trust him because I know I'm in his hand and his way is perfect. Verse 10 and 11 says, they have not known my ways so I swore in my wrath they shall not enter my rest. I've heard people say, well, that just means you're going to miss God's blessings. No, that means you're going to miss God.

That's serious. Those who truly know God are those who hunger to know his way. They trust him. They don't trust their circumstances.

They trust him. They continue. They persevere. And if they don't persevere, that doesn't mean they lost their salvation.

It means they never had it to begin with. What's he have to say to us here at Grace Church in 2023? Says the same thing that he said way back in that first century, said today if you will, hear his voice and do not harden your heart. Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we are living in a day where the need for salvation is either mocked or ignored. We as a culture have denigrated the saving work of Jesus on the cross. Father, help us to realize that nothing in this life is more important than knowing and loving Jesus. It is in the holy and precious name of Jesus that I pray, amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-03 14:14:09 / 2023-09-03 14:26:22 / 12

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