March 11, 2018
We’ve all heard, seeing is believing. Or, I’ll believe it when I see it. Can you imagine what it would have been like to live in the past – when physical miracles were seemingly more apparent. Of course, Hebrews tells us faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. So faith is being convinced of something not yet seen. I get that – believing but not yet seeing is the definition of faith. But if I were honest, I’d say I sometimes struggle in my faith – it seems like it could be stronger if I could see a little. If only I could see some miracles, then my faith would grow, my doubts would settle, right? But then, I remind myself, faith is not seeing. And conversely, seeing is not faith. In fact, seeing does necessarily produce faith. So is seeing believing, or not?
Any biblical scholar or rabbi will tell you the highpoint of the OT is the Passover and the Exodus. You remember the story. The children of Israel had been in Egypt for 400 years – much of it in cruel bondage – slavery to the Egyptian Pharaoh and his taskmasters. They cried out to God, and He heard them. He sent a deliverer – Moses. Moses – say his name with reverence. There was no greater hero in the OT than Moses. He showed up, wearing a red cape and blue tights – big read M on his chest. Moses, Moses, he’s our man – if he can’t do it, no one can. I can see it now – women began to whisper his name – wives began to say their husbands, why can’t you be more like Moses?
The first thing he did was let loose some minor miracles with the Israelite leaders – to help them believe, you see. These were no David Copperfield slight-of-hand tricks – these were the real deal. He put his hand behind his cape, pulled it out, and it was leprous, white as snow. But no problem, he did it again, and it was restored. He threw down his staff – think Thor’s hammer – on the ground, and it turned into a snake. The leaders cowered in fear, but Moses bent over and picked it up like it was nothing. Ah, say his name with reverence, Moses.
But those were just the pre-show. The main event began in his battle with Pharaoh. He let loose ten plagues in succession over the next few weeks. These were incredible, unbelievable – if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes – nationwide, instantaneous events. He turned the Nile to blood, then made frogs appear to cover the land. In the summer in the evening, our sidewalk will attract a toad or two – my girls will walk out and scream – you know, like girls. Imagine the land covered with them.
Oh, he was just beginning – he stretched forth his mighty hand, muscles rippling, and the land was covered with gnats. Next came pestilence on the cattle, then boils on the people. But amazingly, not on the Israelites. Then came the hail, followed by the locusts, then the incredible darkness throughout the land – except in Goshen where the Israelites lived. Can you imagine what it would have been like to see that? Seeing sure would have been believing, right?
Then came the Passover and the death of the firstborn. The highpoint in Israelite history. Moses gave clear instructions – select a lamb – a spotless lamb, slaughter it at twilight. Put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and the header board. The death angel will come through the land and take the firstborn of every house – even Pharaoh’s house. But, when he sees the blood on your house, he will pass over.
It happened – death in every house, from the greatest to the least – except where there was blood. Moses then led them out – all two million of them – in great victory. They even plundered the Egyptians when they left. Then God Himself appeared in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to lead them. They came to the shores of the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army nipping at their heels. No problem, the pillar of cloud moved behind them to keep the Egyptians away while Moses stretched forth His staff and the Red Sea parted. Unbelievable – except they saw it with their own eyes. They walked right through all night. Then, those crazy Egyptians followed, and Moses, ah Moses, stretched forth his hand again, and the sea drowned Pharaoh and his army. The women went out with timbrels and with dancing, “Sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted; the horse and the rider He has hurled into the sea.” They believed, you see, because they had seen. They even liked God for a bit, because of His benefits.
Surely, seeing such miracles, the Israelites would faithfully believe and follow, right? Seeing is believing. But, the next verses after the one I just read, say this (Exodus 15:22-24):
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.
23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah.
24 So the people grumbled at Moses [say it with a little less reverence], saying, “What shall we drink?”
That happened quickly. Whatever happened to, ah, Moses? Whatever happened to seeing is believing? You know this story – Moses threw a tree into the water, and it was made drinkable. So now we’re good, right? Not exactly, it gets worse. The very next chapter says (Exodus 16):
1 Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. [it’s been less than two months]
2 The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. [I need you to think about that – when they were grumbling against Moses, who were they actually grumbling against?]
3 The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” You’re going to starve us to death.
Are you kidding? After all God had done for them in delivering them from bondage – slavery – now they want to go back to their old way of life? Well, you know the rest of this story – this is when God provided manna from heaven – for forty years – and meat to eat in the form of quail. Not only that, remember their clothes and shoes did not wear out. This must be it, right? Next chapter:
1 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. [you know, like a few days ago – no problem, right?]
2 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?”
3 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?” [first we’re going to die of hunger, now we’re going to die of thirst]
You know the rest of the story – this is where God told Moses to strike the rock with his staff – the one Moses had used to perform so many miracles. And water gushed forth. Water from the rock – remember that. The text goes on:
7 He named the place Massah [test] and Meribah [quarrel] because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?”
Is He among us? What? Hadn’t He proven that over and over with physical, amazing miracles? How could they not believe? Let’s roll the clock forward a few more months. We’re past Mt. Sinai now, when God gave them the Law from a smoking, thundering, quaking mountain. We’re past when they built a golden calf – behold, the god who delivered you from Egypt.
Now we’re at the edge of the promised land. Hallelujah. It’s been a rough journey – but what’s a little grumbling and idolatry among friends. But they are on the precipice of entering the land God had promised over 400 years ago – in fact – 700 years ago to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This was it, right? Home. Glory. Rest. Numbers 13 and 14. Moses sent 12 spies into the land on a reconnaissance mission. They came back with a mixed report. Oh yes, the land is flowing with milk and honey. Check out this one cluster of grapes – it took two guys to carry it back. Caleb said, let’s go take the land – it’s ours – God will give it to us. But:
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” [did you guys forget about Egypt?]
32 So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.
33 “There also we saw the Nephilim …and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” [they’ll squash us like bugs]
14:1 Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night.
2 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!
3 “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? [from hunger to thirst to sword] Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”
4 So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” [let’s quit and go back.]
Whatever happened to entering the rest God had promised in the land of Canaan? Whatever happened to seeing is believing? Whatever happened to believing, trust? Please notice what’s going on here. Moses, their great leader, the OT leader, had led them well, right to the border of promised rest. God had done the miraculous – this was the highpoint of the OT – the Passover and the Exodus. The land was theirs for the taking. It simply required faith in God. And they had seen enough to believe, right? And they said, no. Let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt – to our old way of life.
So, at this point, God is about to wipe them out for their sin, their unbelief, and rejection of Him. Start over with Moses and his descendents – forget Abraham. But Moses intercedes for them – what about Your promise, Lord? And we read these words in Numbers 14:
20 So the LORD said, “I have pardoned them according to your word;
21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. [Don’t miss that their lack of obedience and faith did not put God’s glory on display.]
22 “Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs [the miracles] which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice,
23 shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those [not just men, but women too] who spurned Me see it.
27 “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. [don’t miss that grumbling and complaining about your circumstances is ultimately directed to God. It is a lack of faith and trust. It is why the NT says over and over, believers are thankful people.]
28 “Say to them, “As I live,” says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you;
29 your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me.
30 ‘Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.
31 ‘Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey– I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected.
32 ‘But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness.
33 ‘Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness…
34 ‘According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition.
35 ‘I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.’”
And die, they did. Someone did the math – if the men over 20 numbered 600,000 – and we know they did – and if the women over 20 were about that number – then every day for the next forty years, the children of Israel averaged almost 90 funerals, every day. Their corpses dropped like flies in the wilderness. They had seen it all, they had heard it all, and died in unbelief.
I want you to think about that. When things were good – when they had seen the ten plagues, crossed the Red Sea, when there was water to drink and food to eat, they were good. But, their faith was weak. Actually, less, nonexistent. Their eyes were on their circumstances, not on God, and when things were good, they said, yay. When things got tough, they wanted to quit and go back to Egypt. You see they had their eyes on their circumstances – on what God could do for them – not on God. As a result, God said, you will never enter My rest.
Psalm 95 references this period of time in the life of Israel. It’s a call to remember, and not follow their ways. Listen to it:
6 Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice,
8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness,
9 “When your fathers tested Me, They tried Me, though they had seen My work.
10 “For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways.
11 “Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.”
It was a warning to the people of Israel at that time, four or five hundred years after they wandered in the wilderness. Don’t provoke God. You’ve seen His work – don’t be like your forefathers – don’t turn back.
Well, now let’s roll the clock forward another thousand years. When Jesus came, He too came with great miracles. They were undeniable. He healed the sick, calmed storms, raised the dead – fed people in the wilderness outside of town – 5000 with a little boy’s lunch. Not only that, He too came to deliver His people from bondage – their bondage to sin – and lead them to a land of promise – to heaven itself. And His people are to follow in faith and thanksgiving without grumbling.
You see, the NT clearly makes this connection, comparing the NT people of God, the church, to the OT people – to the Passover and the Exodus. You see, Jesus came to lead a new exodus. Consider these verses:
Luke 9:30-31 – [Mount of Transfiguration] “And behold, two men were talking with Him [Jesus]; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Very interesting, the Greek word for departure is exodus.
I Corinthians 5:7 – Writing to a church, a NT people of God, Paul says, “For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.” We know Jesus is called the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But, here, clearly, Paul says He is the Passover Lamb – sacrificed so that when the blood is applied, His judgment of sin, if you will, passes over us. Further, I Peter 1:19 speaks of Jesus as a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ cleansing His people. That clearly has Passover Lamb allusions. Look also at I Corinthians 10:1-6:
1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; [at the Exodus]
2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
3 and all ate the same spiritual food;
4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.
5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
As examples to us. In fact, we’ve seen, all the OT was written for us – and Hebrews reminds us all the OT was pointing to Christ. As such, all the OT is a picture of our Great High Priest to come. And since the OT was a shadow of things to come, a type pointing to ultimate fulfillment in Christ, the author proves Jesus was superior to everything the OT had to offer. We’ve already seen Jesus was superior to angels, who were thought to have mediated the Old Covenant. Last week, we saw Jesus was even superior to Moses – the great OT hero. He’s greater, remember, because while Moses was in the house – that is, the OT people of God, but Jesus was the builder of the house. And while Moses was servant in the house – the greatest servant in the house – Jesus is the Son over the house. Jesus is infinitely greater than Moses.
And we also remember the readers of the letter we considering quitting and returning to Egypt – their old way of life. Oh, the gospel sounded wonderful and glorious, and they accepted Jesus was the Messiah – the promised Christ to come. He would deliver them from their bondage to sin. He would lead them to the land of promise – to the joys of heaven itself, in the presence of God. And they gladly received the message. Isn’t it wonderful. But then, the going got tough. There are challenges in the Christian life. Dare I say we are in the wilderness, and there are tough times. We don’t always get everything we want. We are even opposed for our faith. Do you see, we’re on our exodus, on our way out, following our Christ. So, should we go back to what we had, if following gets tough, as if that was better?
So the author says, why would you go back? Jesus and the New Covenant He brought is infinitely greater than the angels and the Old Covenant they mediated. Why would you go back? If Jesus is greater than Moses – and He is – and the house He is building, of which we are a part – is greater – why would you go back? Because the going has gotten tough? There have been some trials and testings, to mature us, and prove the reality of our faith. And you’ll allow those trials and testings to cause you to desert? To leave?
Oh no, brothers and sisters. We can’t do that. Now listen, if God was provoked when the children of Israel wanted to quit and go back to Egypt, even though led by Moses – how much more do you think He will be provoked if you desert His Son? Oh, don’t quit. We must persevere. We must not allow our hearts to be hardened. We must not fall back into sin. We must hold fast our confession of faith. And by the way, we need each other to do that.
Yes, I’ve largely preached my sermon – but let’s read the text – Hebrews 3:7-19. With all that introduction, see if this now makes sense. Last week, we saw Jesus is infinitely greater than even Moses – red cape, big M. And we are His house – living stones Jesus is building – if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm to the end. Hebrews 3:7, read. Just as the Holy Spirit says. Stop right there a moment.
He’s going to quote an OT passage. But notice how the author says, “Just as the Holy Spirit says.” Two critically important things to note. First, he is suggesting here the OT, indeed, the entire Scripture is the Word of God, inspired by God – indeed, through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit says. And we remember II Peter 1:20-21, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Do you see – the Scripture was written by men inspired by, moved by the Holy Spirit.
So, the author says, quoting an OT passage, the Holy Spirit – yes, I know a man wrote it, but the Holy Spirit says. Oh, that’s the second thing. Notice the present tense, says. The text he quotes was written a thousand years before, but he writes, the Holy Spirit says – right now. Because God’s Word, we’ll find in the next chapter, is living and active – and is as relevant to his readers then as the readers a thousand years before. Oh, and as relevant to us today, as it was two thousand years ago. So what does the Spirit say to us? Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, (continue in Hebrews 3:7) Read through verse 11.
Stop there (verse 11). That should sound familiar – that’s Psalm 95 – written as an encouragement and a warning to the readers of Psalms, 1000 years before, and then to the readers of Hebrews, and now to us. Hebrews readers – I know the going has gotten tough. I know some have quit and returned to Egypt. But don’t do it. Don’t harden your hearts, and thereby provoke God. He was angry with that generation, and their corpses fell in the wilderness. So don’t do it. If He was angry when they rejected the servant in the house, what do you think He’ll do if you reject the Son over the house? Don’t do it. He swore to them, and He swears to us, to do so, if you quit, you will not enter His heavenly rest. Let’s continue reading – verse 12 to the end.
They had seen it all, they had heard it all. And they did not enter His rest because of unbelief. The warning? Don’t do the same. There is a lot more truth here we will cover…next week. I told Daniel I would cover verses 7-19 today – I did. But there’s too much good stuff here to hurry through – especially when we are talking about not falling short of the prize of our heavenly calling. My brothers and sisters, persevere. Don’t quit. Christ is greater than Moses. He will lead us all the way to the heavenly promised land, if we remain in faithful belief.