March 1: The Second Sunday in Lent

February 22, 2015

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, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”–Hebrews 3:7-11

This is Psalm 95:7-11 and the writer uses it as his preaching text from here through the middle of chapter 4. This Psalm is a call to worship. It opens with the well-known invitation to sing and make a joyful noise to the Lord. It celebrates that Yahweh is a great God, the king of all other gods. He is the rock of our salvation, the creator of heaven and earth; he is the shepherd and we are the sheep of his pasture. Obviously the appropriate response is to fall down and worship Him.

But with verse 7, the mood changes drastically. The Psalm begins to recall the days after the Exodus. The Psalmist writes this Psalm many centuries after the Exodus, and the writer to the Hebrews employs it centuries after the Psalmist does. Surely it applies to us as well.

God had warned the people in the wilderness not to grumble and rebel and put him to the test. If they did this, they wouldn’t be allowed to enter his “rest”. At that point in Redemptive History, “rest” would be a settled home in the Promised Land. It’s the same thing for us with the Promised Land being the New Heavens and New Earth. Just like them, we face a choice: either worship and serve this same God, or miss out on the prize.

One particular word in the passage lends a sense of acute urgency: “Today”. It keeps coming up in the book of Hebrews. Because God had acted once for all in Jesus the Messiah, rather living in “Tomorrowland,” it was time to pay attention to “Todayland”.

You may feel the stern warning here. That’s good. It is supposed to urge you immediately not to harden your heart. Note that “the Holy Spirit says” this to you. Let us be encouraged that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ never once hardened his heart at the voice of the Father. He had not one whit of rebellion; He passed his test in the wilderness, and never put his Father to the test. He never went astray and always knew God’s ways. He did this as our brother before us, so we are righteous in him, and we can by his power enter the promised rest. And that’s the gospel!

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