Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost October 9-10. 2021
“God’s Warning” Hebrews 3:12-19
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Every Wednesday I have the joy of teaching young students the ways of God. We call it Confirmation Class. When students get into the 7th and 8th grade they get me!! Look out.
This past week seemed to be an engaging class, it was on the 5th commandment – “You shall not murder.” None of those kids have murdered anyone. And I haven’t either. You can check my backyard. So I guess we can just move on to other things, right? Wrong. We spoke about how God treasures life, from the first moment of conception through natural death and into eternity. And we found out there are times when we don’t treasure life at all – our own life or the lives of others.
I warned the kids about falling into a life of hate – when words spoken to others can just rip others apart. I warned them that injuring another person with physical pain is also dangerous and destructive.
We spoke how this commandment speaks against hurting ourselves. Self-harm is not God’s will. Suicide is never the will of God for anyone and especially for them. Abusing their young bodies and minds by smoking, vaping, use of marijuana, or alcohol is not the path to take. With all those things we spoke about I bet my finger got overused that evening.
Everyone in that class knew of classmates who were drinking, vaping, smoking and who had been touched by suicide. 12 years old and this is part of their real life. I guess it would be wonderful if the greatest worry that we had about our teenagers would be about how much time they are spending playing video games.
I warned them. Why? Because I care about them. If you are a teacher, a parent, a friend you do the same. Warnings are spoken out of love.
Our reading from the letter to the Hebrews is God’s warning. “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (Hebrews 3:12-14)
Keeping faith, being full of faith – faithful – is not what all folks, who at one time believed in God and trusted in Jesus as their Savior, continue to have. You know that line from “Amazing Grace” – “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” But some people when unbelief rather than faith takes over, reverse those words, “I once was found but now I’m lost; had sight but now can’t see.”
Some may say, “I once believed that stuff, but not now.” “When I was young I believed what the preacher was saying, but those days are past.” Things like belief in creation, Jesus dying for the sins of the world, Jesus rising from death and becoming alive, God being able to listen to every prayer of every person in the world and acting in a good way, are just some of the things that are no longer believed. Just as people can come to faith they can also turn to unbelief. The author to the Hebrews gives a warning, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”
It is hard to see a person who once shared the hope that we have become one without that hope. For some it comes suddenly. But for most unbelief comes slowly, inch by inch. Hebrews 2 gives God’s warning about the slower steps to losing faith. “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3)
Believers in Jesus can drift away from the faith. It isn’t always a deliberate act of rebellion. They don’t wake up one day and say, “I’m not a believer anymore.” They just drift. They don’t have anything holding them anymore. The Greek phrase used for this is for a boat that was once held onto the pier by a rope, but it comes loose and drifts and soon it is floating out in the middle of the lake or ocean.
People drift. Lives drift. And we don’t know how it happened. There are times when people who got married and had a wonderful relationship find themselves years after the ceremony married to a person they no longer know. They got married and started having kids and spending lots of time and energy making sure the kids were happy and growing and succeeding. And they had jobs. And their jobs required a great deal of time and they wanted to make sure they did a good job at work. They even loved what they did and it gave them satisfaction. But then somewhere down the road, when the kids didn’t need so much time or attention, or their jobs were coming to a close, they looked at each other and wondered what their marriage had become. It wasn’t on purpose, but they drifted away from each other.
That happens in faith. Maybe it has happened in your faith. At one time faith in a living God was alive and joyful. Involvement in worship or Bible study or fellowship was frequent. But now it just isn’t that way. Once you had enthusiasm about what your church was doing, and where it was heading, and you wanted to be a part of it. But that isn’t your heart anymore. And to this, God gives a warning, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”
Why does God warn us? He warns us out of great love for us. He is concerned for our good. He has a burden for all the good that He wants to bring to our life. When I was warning those kids about the damage they can bring to other people or to themselves if they start messing with vaping, pot, cigarettes, or if in the hour of despair they attempt a suicide, I was trying to tell them how much God treasures life and how He treasures them. A warning comes from the compassion of the heart.
God’s warning about losing a living faith in God’s truth and salvation in Jesus comes from His compassion for us. God’s warning about drifting from the foundation of His hand in our life comes from His mercy for each of us. Hebrews was a book written to Jewish Christians, who knew very well the broken history of faith and unbelief of their Jewish ancestors in the Old Testament. When I think of God’s warning and His invitation to return to faith I think of the final sermon that Moses ever gave. Late in the book of Deuteronomy, shortly before his death, Moses said, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
The goal of faith doesn’t end today. It is to exist until the end of life. The goal is to trust in God and His saving work through the death and resurrection of Jesus now and until we die. Faith doesn’t reach its zenith today, or some time in our past, but it becomes bolder and stronger and of greater benefit to this world the more years we get to live. In the play Godspell, these well-known words are sung, “Day by day, three things I pray: To see Thee more clearly, Love Thee more dearly, Follow Thee more nearly.”
The Bible says that same thing in a different way. Listen to where faith in God goes and how it continues until we take our final breath. “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10) “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) Paul, when he speaks of his death says this, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (II Timothy 4:7)
Are you listening to God’s warning? God’s warning is spoken in love. Listen to it. Listen to Him. Trust Jesus. Love Him. Follow Him. Do this not just today but all of your days. Amen!!