The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, 10 October 2021
A Sermon on Hebrews 3:12-19 by Samuel Zumwalt
Hebrews 3:12-19 © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. The word of the Lord.
THE WORD OF GOD: SHARES
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Seduced by the Lie
Just as our first parents listened to the lie in the Garden and lost total intimacy with God and with each other, so Israel listened to the lie in the wilderness and lost God’s promised rest in the Land to which they were heading. Now, if that happened to Adam and Eve and to God’s people of old, it can happen to all the baptized children of God. For we Christians are on a treacherous journey through this broken world. Who we are and how we live today and every day matters eternally.
So, think how the lie seduces God’s people and all people. Think how sin works on us and on everyone. The father of lies, the devil, does not make us sin. He does not have that power. Rather he seduces us by the lie. All he has to do is plant a seed of doubt with his empty promises and soon we have acted on the basis of the lie. First, the lie germinates and, then, bears poison fruit.
Our first parents had everything as God’s beloved humans, but the tempter seduced them with the lie that they could be even more and have more than Paradise. Israel in the wilderness had everything as God’s beloved children and marvelous promises, but the tempter seduced them with the lie that God and his servant Moses had abandoned them to die in the wilderness.
Because God did not make us to be puppets dangling on strings or to be an empty cloth character waiting to be controlled, we have the ability to say “no” to God. And that is precisely what sin is. Sin is rebellion against the One who has made us, who has given us all that we are and have, and, who came, while we were yet sinners, to rescue us from sin, death, and the old evil liar.
The preacher of this sermon called Hebrews is speaking to Christians, then and now, warning us that having an evil, unbelieving heart will lead to eternal death apart from the living God. Just as a favorite sin can seduce anyone by the lie that the payoff for giving in to that seduction is too sweet, too powerful, or too necessary to resist, so it is possible day by day to choose damnation. If we will learn from our failures, pain can teach us to despair of anyone or anything but God.
Saved by the Blood
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God, who was in the beginning with God and was God, created us and all things. While we were yet sinners, He came down to earth to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Why? So that He might reclaim all that He had made by living the life of total obedience to His Father that no one else can live and by dying the innocent death no one else can die. He became the blood sacrifice for our sins and those of the whole world. So, then, how can we, who were born dead in our trespasses, get in on the Good News of the only One who can save us by His Blood? How can those dead in our sins, who can do nothing, be saved?
If you were baptized as an infant, you were no less united to the saving death and glorious resurrection of God’s Beloved Son Jesus than someone who was baptized as a pubescent youth or as an adult who heard the Holy Spirit’s call through the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners. Unlike John the Baptist’s ritual bath for those Jews who had made themselves unclean, Christian Baptism is God’s work, whereby He joins us to the saving death and glorious resurrection of His Beloved Son Jesus. In Holy Baptism, we are washed in the Blood of Jesus, the Passover Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world. As when the angel of death passed over the homes of Israel in Egypt that had been marked with the blood of a spotless lamb, so now God’s Beloved Son Jesus is both the necessary, innocent blood sacrifice for our sins and the Promisor of eternal life and love with the one God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Whether you were brought as an infant by parents obeying our Lord’s command to make disciples of all people by baptizing, or you were drawn to the services of God’s house by the Holy Spirit and asked to be baptized, Holy Baptism is God’s work and not that of those born dead in our sins. Now, that may be hard to believe, because we live in a do-it-yourself culture, where anyone can go to the big box or the little box store and buy everything he or she needs to repair or build his or her own self-improvement project. If we can acquire the right amount of knowledge and the right materials to do-it-ourselves, why can’t the Christian faith work that way, too. Why does anyone need the help of a preacher, or a church, or, for that matter, God?
God’s gift of our biological life has a unique beginning at conception and a unique ending when we take our last breath. None of us asked to be born. None of us knows for certain when we will die, for even a suicidal person in the throes of depression may well fail and, sadly, live on in a vegetative state for years. Because God’s Word says the wages of sin is death, we are all born under a death verdict and cannot free ourselves. Those dead in sin cannot cooperate with God. If we are to be saved, God must do all the work including giving us the gift of faith, which is trust in God’s promises in Jesus Christ. God’s Word has the power to raise the dead to a living faith!
As long as we remain in this sinful flesh of ours, we remain subject to seduction by the lie. A person trying to be tough and alone through the wilderness of this world is in terrible danger throughout her or his life. This is why the pain that comes from our failures can be such a great teacher. When we fail, we are humbled. When we fail, our foolish pride is exposed. When we fail, we can voice the heart’s cry: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Encouraging with the Promise
Many years ago, I was facing the greatest failure of my life. I had been certain that by my strong will I could fix someone else. Facing the truth that I had arrogantly spent years playing God by trying to change another sinner like myself, I was broken. The problem was not out there. The problem was in here: in my heart and in my mind. I couldn’t be God for myself or anyone else. Neither can you. If you are still laboring under such a dreadful illusion, I pray you admit it soon.
I went to the local heart hospital to visit a man, who was recovering from heart surgery. After I had prayed for his recovery, he looked at me and asked how I was doing. I began to tear up. It was no secret that I had failed in my first marriage and was a single dad to a teenaged boy. This man said he had been in recovery for thirty years and, then, he said: “Yesterday is a canceled check. Tomorrow is a promissory note. All we have is today. We only live one day at a time.”
That’s the message of our preaching text from Hebrews. Today is the day to hold fast to God’s promises in Jesus Christ, who has died, who is risen, who ascended, and who will come again to judge the living and the dead. This is most certainly true. And so, how will we live today? Our first parents failed in the Garden. Israel failed in the wilderness. You and I have failed at being God and at do-it-yourself salvation. We need Jesus. Everyone needs Jesus. Only He can save us!
If you have never been baptized into the Lord Jesus’ saving death and glorious resurrection, you only need to ask. Please schedule a conversation with me. My email address is on the bulletin, on the church website, or if you read this online, just click: firstname.lastname@example.org. God wants none to be lost and all to be saved by the Blood of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is calling you today!
The church is not a building. The church is not one denomination over another. The church is not simply any group that claims to be a church. As we heard last week, the church in Greek is “ekklesia,” literally those who have been called out of the world of unbelief and hostility to God to assemble with the Lord Jesus around His Word written, heard, and preached and made visible in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. How do we know that? On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Simon Peter told his hearers, who had been cut to the heart by the news that they had crucified God’s Son Jesus: “Repent and be baptized” (2:38). Repent means to turn around. Repent means to have a change of heart and mind. Repentance is a lifelong calling. Luke then writes: “They continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread (which is, the Lord’s Supper), and the prayers (which is, the ordered worship of God’s people)” (Acts 2:42).
When you are baptized, you aren’t a free agent, doing your own thing out there apart from the Body of Christ. We Christians assemble faithfully and regularly together with the Lord Jesus around his Word and Sacraments. Week after week, He calls us to repentance and gives us Himself for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The Living Word of God shares Himself with us. We are partakers in the eternal life and love that He has with His Father and the Holy Spirit. The one God is a community, who wants everyone to share in His life and love forever.
So, we live encouraging one another with God’s promise in Jesus Christ. When we fail, we encourage each other. When we are weary and weak, we encourage each other. When we are not sure what tomorrow will bring, we encourage each other today that God will keep His promise forever. God always keeps His promises, because Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again to take us home to His eternal rest where there is perfect peace, and love, and joy!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
The Word of God: Shares
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may be continually given to good works; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 622).
Hebrews 3:12 “…an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “Because the argument from the future is not so persuasive as from the past, he reminds them of the history in which they had lacked faith. For if your fathers, he says, because they did not hope as they ought to have hoped, suffered these things, much more will you” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews, 55).
Hebrews 3:13 “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today…’”
St. John Chrysostom: “He said ‘today,’ that they might never be without hope… let no one despair, but let that one recover; for as long as we are in this world, the ‘today’ is in season.” (56).
Hebrews 3:14 “…we have come to share in Christ, if… we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
Theodoret [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria]: “We shared with Christ the Lord through all-holy baptism, and after being buried with him we prefigured the resurrection, provided of course we kept faith firm. He referred to this by the phrase ‘first confidence.’ Through it we were renewed, we were joined to Christ the Lord, and we shared the grace of the all-holy Spirit” (57).
Hebrews 3:14 “…we have come to share in Christ, if… we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
St. John Chrysostom: “What is the beginning of confidence? It means faith, through which we subsisted and have come to be and have been made to share in being” (57).
Hebrews 3:18 “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest…”
Theodoret: “God urged them to leave for the promised land, but some spoke in opposition, citing fear and the multitude of the enemy. Hence God consumed them all individually in the desert and brought in their children in place of them” (57).
Hebrews 3:19 “So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”
St. Ephrem the Syrian [4th century deacon and hymn writer in Turkey]: “To those who did not want to obey Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb… ‘So we see that they were unable to enter’ the land promised to them, not because of their evil actions, even though they were wicked, but ‘because of unbelief’ in the Word of God” (57).
Does the spirit of rebellion have a toehold in my life so much that I have lost confidence in my Lord?
The Ten Commandments
AS THE HEAD OF THE HOUSEHOLD SHOLD TEACH THEM IN A SIMPLE WAY TO HIS HOUSEHOLD.
The Sixth Commandment
You shall not commit adultery.
What does this mean?
“We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other” (Luther’s Small Catechism).
- Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- Commit yourself to the study of God’s Word at St. Matthew’s whether in-person or online.
- Practice saying the sixth commandment and its explanation every day. Rehearse it with others in your household or with a Christian friend over the phone. Discuss the following question. In what ways does the sixth commandment offer hope and encouragement to families everywhere?
- Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. If you haven’t previously done so, please pick up a copy of the Portals of Prayer devotional booklet on the table in the narthex. Daily lectionary readings are on p.184 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year One, Week of 20 Pentecost).
- If you regularly look at pornographic images, stop. Get blocking software if you are tempted by availability on the internet. If you have a hidden stash, destroy it. If you need help, ask. Such an addiction can destroy a marriage from within or, for the unmarried, create problems in a marriage later. Pornography does not just lead to adultery. It is a type of adultery even before marriage.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”