Jesus Can Soften Your Heart

Steve Viars January 24, 2009 Hebrews 3:1-19

- if you were going to list your all time favorite foods, what would be on the list?...

- [I realize that many are trying to diet right now so I thought I’d try to help us by having a discussion about food…]

- but what is your favorite food?...

- I am assuming that fairly high on the list would be the banana…am I right?...

- and one of the reasons you like bananas is that they’re so soft and pliable, you can do a lot of things with them…

- for example, you can slice them up and combine them with your other favorite food, peanut butter, and make a peanut butter and banana sandwich …that’s a sophisticated delicacy…

- or you can mix up a big vat of banana cream pudding which I’ve learned over the years goes well with any meal at any time of the day…

- or of course the perennial favorite banana cream pie…

- but surely you like bananas, and you like them because they’re soft and pliable and therefore useful for many things…

- now you may have caught this story on the news last week during the height of the cold weather…where someone left a banana outside, and then used it like a hammer, to pound down a nail

- imagine something that was designed to be soft and pliable being so hard that it could even pound down a nail…how would you like to try to sink your teeth into that?...

- now, let me ask you this…which image best describes your heart?...

- the Bible uses that word as the most comprehensive term to describe your inner person…

- it includes your mind, and your will, and your emotions…

- you think with your heart, you plan with your heart, you choose with your heart, you feel with your heart…

- everything about you that is not flesh and blood falls under the heading of this great word….

- Scripture goes on to say that you are in charge of cultivating your heart…[and please keep in mind, we’re not talking about your physical heart, your blood pumper---that has nothing to do with this discussion…]

- but God entrusted you with a heart, and you are responsible for what you do to it, and with it…

- that’s why we would read a seminal verse like Proverbs 4:23 - Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

- now, what does that have to do with bananas?...[that’s the question that got you out of bed and over to the church-house this morning…]

- here’s the answer – God’s Word also tells us that you can be developing a heart that is soft…or a heart that is hard…

- my question for you this morning is…which one is yours?...

- here’s some other ways to think about that…let’s try some self-analysis…

1. Regarding the nature of your relationship with God…on a scale of one to ten, if one is hard hearted, and 10 is soft hearted…how would you rate yourself this morning?...

2. Now please apply that same reasoning to the people in your family…regarding your spouse if you’re married, or your parents, or substitute your close friends if you need to…

- but what about the nature of your heart regarding the people who are supposed to be closest to you…are you a soft-hearted individual, or a hard hearted one…(and please don’t go down the trail of – well let me tell you how bad they are…you cannot blame the condition of your heart on anyone else…right now we’re talking about your heart…)

3. What about your heart and the people in your church?...are you a soft hearted person or a hard hearted one?...

4. Then think about people in our community and in our world who are hurting…on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being hard-hearted, 10 being soft hearted), how are you doing?...

5. Now, one more very important question…if we had offered the same survey a year ago, would the results today be better, or worse?...

- is your heart becoming softer to the things of God and the people around you over time…or, are you actually becoming more hard hearted as the days go by?...

- with that in mind, I’d like to ask you to open your Bible to Hebrews chapter 3…page 170 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you…)

- this winter we’re doing a verse by verse study of the book of Hebrews entitled Hope in Our Sufficient Savior

- this is part of our annual theme this year of Finding Hope

- this writer is addressing what would appear to be a small church of Jewish persons between 65-70- AD…

- the Jewish has not yet been destroyed but that event is very near…

- the persecution of the church has not reached its peak, but it certainly intensifying…

- and here’s this young church comprised of some men and women who had genuinely trusted Christ…but their faith was being put to the test…

- it would be a whole lot easier, and a whole lot more familiar, if they would just go back to the temple…and renew the OT sacrifices and rituals as a way of appeasing their families and protecting themselves from ridicule and harm…so for them, the question was whether they were going to persevere…

- then there were those who had an intellectual knowledge of the facts surrounding Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection---in some cases they had even been exposed to eyewitnesses…but they had never personally acknowledged their sin and trusted Christ as their Savior and Lord…the question for them was, were they going to believe, or were they going to (as we saw last week in chapter 2), just passively drift right on past the harbor?...

- a third group was comprised of people who were really just part of the group because of the ethnic connection, or for the social or economic benefits…but Jesus Christ was certainly not worthy of their belief, or their allegiance, or their trust…and the question for them was, were they going to continue to reject the essence of the message they had heard?....

- and for all three groups---a key aspect of whether they were going to go in the right direction or the wrong one…was the condition of the heart that God has entrusted to them…was it becoming softer, or was it becoming harder----and what was at stake as they considered their answer?...

- with that in mind, please follow along carefully as I read beginning at Hebrews chapter 3 verse 1…read Hebrews 3:1-19…we’re talking this morning about how Jesus Can Soften Your Heart…with the time we have remaining, let’s think about 3 steps to avoiding a heart that is hard.

I. Choose to Make Christ Your Focus – 3:1-6.

- the key phrase in these first 6 verses is the second half of Hebrews 3:1 - …consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;

- we’ll talk more about what that means, and what that looks like…but the overall point is, soft-hearted people spend a lot of time contemplating the beauty of Christ and hard hearted people don’t…it some ways, it’s that simple…

- now, in an attempt to explain why Jesus is worthy of that kind of focus, the writer makes an incredible claim in this chapter – at least one that would have been incredible to this audience of people who were very familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures…

- because he says that Jesus is even superior to Moses…

- now, I’m a realist…I understand that in this culture, men and women are not as familiar with, or devoted to the OT…so that point might land with a thud…so what that Jesus is superior to Moses…that’s a pretty big “so-what”, so let’s back up for a moment and think about…

A. The significance of Moses in OT history.

- you could summarize what the Bible says about Moses by viewing him as the great apostle and high priest of the Old Testament…

- and you might say – well, that’s a bit over the top…not really…what do we know about Moses?...

1. Moses was uniquely preserved at birth – Exodus 2:1-10

- time doesn’t allow us to go over all the details, but you remember the basic story, don’t you?...where the children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt but they were multiplying so rapidly that the king of Egypt was frightened because of their number…

- which was the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham when, even before he had his first child, at an advanced age, God said that he would make of him a great nation that would have so many people, they would be like the sand of the sea…

- and that’s what’s happening, so the king of Egypt tells the midwives who were serving the Hebrew women to take the lives of all the male children…

- but the midwives wouldn’t listen to the king…

- and one Jewish woman had a son and she tried to keep him quiet…[you can imagine that]…and finally, after three months, she knew she couldn’t hide him any longer so she made a little basket and sealed it with tar and left her son at the edge of the river…

- and one of Pharaoh’s own daughters found baby Moses…and Scripture says, “had compassion on him”…and decided to take him to the palace and raise him, and even hired Moses own mother to nurse him…that’s a whole lesson in itself on the powerful faith of Moses’ mother…

- but it also says something about the unique plan God had for this man…

2. Moses was miraculously called at the burning bush – Exodus 3:1-22

- this is the great passage where God reveals Himself as YaHWeH, Jehovah, I am who I am, the mighty, eternal, self-existent and self-sustaining God of the universe…

3. Moses was used by God to be the great deliverer – Exodus 4-15

- think about the 10 plagues, think about Moses staff and his interactions with the Pharaoh…then the night the King decided to let the Israelites go, and the crossing of the Red Sea…

4. Moses was the recipient of God’s law – Exodus 19-40

- the recipients of the book of Hebrews would have revered the law…and the person who had received it from God would have held a place of high honor…

- but even God Himself thought that way of Moses…which is why we would read a verse like Numbers 12:6-8 - And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house.With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord…

5. Moses was the nation’s great historian.

- humanly speaking, he was the author of the Pentateuch-the 1st5 books of the OT…much of what they knew about God was because of what the Holy Spirit directed Moses to write…

- and because he held such a revered position among the people, we read verses like… Exodus 33:8 - Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent.

6. Still, Moses was the meekest man on earth – Numbers 12:3

- That’s why God’s summary of this man and his ministry was…

- Deuteronomy 34:10-12 - And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land,and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

- now, even though all of that and more is true, this writer is saying – Jesus Christ is superior to that…

B. But, Jesus is the One you should be considering – v. 1

- v. 1 – “consider” – katavoew – “to think about carefully, envisage, notice”

- and he explains why Christ is worthy of this position…

C. Moses was the house, Jesus is the builder – vv. 2-5

- when you see a beautiful house, you don’t focus on the 2 x4‘s and the electrical wires…

- you want to know who designed and built it …

- Moses was important, but he was just the house…then verse 6 says…

D. Moses was the servant, Jesus was the Son.

- and that’s not to say that Jesus wasn’t a servant to---it’s simply pointing out that Christ had a position like no one else…He was the very Son of God…

- and the overall point is – choose to make Him your focus…he is the one you should be considering…

- Kent Hughes, in his commentary on Hebrews, explains what that looks like…
1. Desire

- Psalm 27:4 - One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lordall the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lordand to inquire in his temple.

- Philippians 3:10 - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

2. Concentration

Cf. Isaac Newton – the key to his understanding a subject – “I keep it before me.”

3. Discipline

- later in this book we’re going to be told to…Hebrews 12:2 - …fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…

4. Time

Colossians 3:1-2 - Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

- and see, that’s what was starting to fail in the lives of some of the men and women who are being addressed…

- their focus is on what the people around them think…or what they stand to lose if the persecution increases…or on what they’ve given up to follow Christ…that’s where verse 6 fits into this…

E. It is possible for us to be part of the house.

- do you see that phrase in verse 6 – whose house we are, if…

- if what?...Hebrews 3:6 - whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.

- now, what does that look like in real time?...

- Let’s take a person who has started dating someone…for a Christian, that can be good or bad, depending on whether Christ is still the One who receives chief consideration…

- so you still are amazed by His character, and you are thankful for the cross, and you rejoice in your redemption, and you have submitted yourself to His plan and purpose for your life…

- and your relationship with this new person is clearly 2ndplace…and you only want it to develop it to the degree to which it helps you grow in loving Christ…

- there’s no question about where your ultimate joy, and hope, and satisfaction is found…

- but that’s not the way it works for many who are dating, is it?...

- somehow Christ is pushed out of the equation…and that person’s mind is consumed by how attractive that other person is, and how good it feels to be in this relationship, and when he/she is going to send the next text message…and what your future will be like and on and on…

- here’s the key question --- what happens if the relationship doesn’t work out?...

- and if the answer is – you would be devastated…you’d be lost…that reveals you’re placing your hope in a very unreliable location…

- hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope (in Christ) firm until the end…

- and if the relationship works out, fine…but if it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world, because the One who is superior to Moses is still on His throne, and he never stopped being the chief object of your affection…

- this time of year we work with many people who are struggling with depression…and that is a complicated topic, but one of the commonalities with many people who are depressed is misplaced hope…their focus/concentration was on someone/something other than the Savior…

- I wanted a Currier and Ives Christmas but instead it was a disaster…

-  I thought all that spending would make me happy but the feeling didn’t last through the weekend…

- I focused so much on impressing my relatives and they just found something to criticize…

- I’ve been thinking all year about our trip to Florida but with the economy I’m stuck in Indiana…

- and all of that and more will lead to depression and simultaneously, a very hard heart…

- friend, how are you doing at cultivating the desire, and the discipline, and the concentration, and the time necessary to consider Christ as the chief object of your affection?

- now let’s bring verses 7-11 into this…the principle is…

II. Don’t Repeat the Mistakes of Israel in the Wilderness.

- these verses assume a working knowledge of 3 OT passages…

A. The Old Testament background.

- this is actually a quote of…

1. Psalm 95.

- the Hebrews would have been extremely familiar with this Psalm because it was used as they would be coming into the temple…

- and there are a couple of events that occurred during the wilderness wanderings that were especially in focus…

2. Exodus 17

-  this is right after the parting of the Red Sea…

- so the people had just experienced an incredible string of miracles from God…

- Exodus 17:1-3 - Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

- a few verses later we read…Exodus 17:7 - He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”

- now there’s a lot that could be said about that – but the point is the utter audacity of people who had received so many blessings from God and would turn right around and grumble, and complain, and even question whether God was among them after all He had done on their behalf…

- the other event that is in focus occurred when they were told to select 12 men to go spy out the promised land…

3. Numbers 13, 14

- and the amazing thing is, 10 of the 12 came back and recommended against doing what God told them to do because the task was too hard…

- Numbers 14:1-4 - Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night.All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!“Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”

- here’s how the Lord responded to that…

- Numbers 14:10-11 - …Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?

- now, here’s the point – the writer of Hebrews is looking right at some of his audience and saying…some of you are being just like that…you are hardening your heart to the message of Christ to which you’ve been exposed just like the children of Israel hardened their heart in the wilderness outside the Promised Land…

- now, what did that look like?...

B. Note the pathology of a hard heart.

1. Inability to recognize God’s blessings.

2. Unwillingness to cultivate thanksgiving.

3. Grumbling about present circumstances.

4. Quarreling with one another.

5. Refusal to trust God and obey His Word.

- please think back over what we’ve seen in this book…

- Christ is better than the prophets, and He’s better than the angels, and He’s better than the OT sacrificial system, and He’s better than Moses…

- and these men and women had received the message from Christ Himself…

- they had heard from eyewitnesses…

- this had all been confirmed by signs and wonders at the hand of an all-mighty God…

- and they would have the audacity to harden their heart and refuse to believe?...and he wanted them to…

C. Be sobered by God’s response.

- do you see it in verse 10?...

1. Angry.

- do you have a place in your theology for a God who will not stay His judgment forever?...

- Psalm 95 said it this way… Psalm 95:10 - For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

2. He swore that such persons would not enter His rest.

Hebrews 3:11 - As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’

D. Consider the take-aways.

1. If you are not sure you are a follower of Christ, hear and respond to Him today.

- we will undoubtedly have men and women with us today who have been attending this or another church for a period of time, but you have never trusted Christ…

- and what really concerns me would be those in that condition, and the fact is, you’re less likely to trust Him today than you would have been a month ago, or a year ago…

- do you know why?...because you’re allowing your heart to become hard…

- and you’ve probably found something to gripe about regarding another Christian, or about the Bible, about God Himself, or the church…

- and maybe you think your unbelief is justified…

- I would encourage you to meditate on this passage and think long and hard about God’s response to what you’ve done to your heart (and I would encourage you to repent – cf. v 7 – today)

- I’m also concerned about young people who will grow up in Christian homes, or around the church, or in some cases the Christian school…but the truth of the matter is…your heart --- it’s hard…

- and you might say – well, church is boring – maybe you’re boring…maybe it’s time for you to reevaluate the object of your affection, and what you’ve allowed to happen to the nature of your heart…

- remember, God doesn’t have grandchildren…

2. If you are a Christian, do everything you can to cultivate and model a soft heart.

- that’s the positive aspect of this message…

- Jesus can soften your heart…you don’t have to be stuck in Hebrews 3…

- in fact, that’s one of the reasons Jesus came…the prophet Ezekiel speaks of a time when God will…Ezekiel 36:26 - And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

- I wonder how many people who hear this message today might need to spend some time with the Lord today saying, Father, please forgive me for my griping, and my quarreling, and my failure to recognize and be thankful for the many blessings you’ve given me…please forgive me for cultivating such a heard heart…and with Your help, I’m going to do a much better job of considering Christ, and letting that process, and letting my Savior, soften my heart…

- some married persons may need to say that to their spouse…

- some young people may need to say that to their parents…

- some parents may need to say that to their kids, or their step-kids…

- you may need to have that conversation with a friend…

- you may need to come to that conclusion toward they way you’ve turned your back on people in need out of cynicism and pride…

III. Beware of the Sin of Unbelief – vv. 12-19.

A. Take care that there is not an unbelieving heart in any of you.

B. Encourage one another to avoid the hardness that comes from the deceitfulness of sin.

Romans 15:14 - And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.

C. Demonstrate the genuineness of your faith by holding fast.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video