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."
Despite what some Christians believe, it is possible for Christians to fall away from the faith. This should come as no surprise. Jesus Himself warns us about this in the parable of the sower. Some faith will be choked out by the worries of the world. Some faith will be burned up by persecution. The Author of the letter to the Hebrews warns that some may fall because of evil, unbelieving heart.
This is a warning against complacency, against a flippant attitude toward sin and righteousness. We cannot save ourselves from the punishments our sin deserves any more than a dead man can bring Himself back to life. We need Jesus to forgive our sins and raise us to new life in Him. But we can throw away our faith just as surely as a living man can commit suicide.
And as the Author points out this has already happened to the people of Israel. For one, it obviously happened to Adam and Eve. Our first ancestors, our father and mother in the human race, were created in perfect harmony with God. They had a flawless faith in their Creator.
Yet they yielded to the serpent’s lies. Rather than exhorting one another to be faithful, they both ate the forbidden fruit, and they fell from grace. They fell into sin, into death, into punishment.
A similar thing happens when God rescues the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The Lord answers the cries of His people and with an almost unfathomable display of power and might He delivers them from the bonds of oppression. He parts the waters of the Red Sea to bring them safely to His holy mountain.
They even received a covenant promise from God, that He would be their God and they would be His people. He showed them how to live with the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.
And what did they do? They worshipped a golden calf, even as the Lord delivered the commandments to Moses. The people rose up, not to worship, not to praise, but to play, to waste the new freedom they had received in the pursuit of idle pleasure. They rebelled against their God, their Lord, their Deliverer and Savior.
And many—many—were punished. Those that rebelled did not enter into the Promised Land, but rather died in the desert. They fell in the wilderness.
This vicious cycle repeated itself many times in the history of God’s people. Nowhere was it more pronounced than in the lives of the Kings of Judah. These men were the descendants of King David, the man who was said to be fashioned after the heart of God. He was not perfect, not by a long shot, but he was repentant. His faith rested fully in the God who anointed him as king.
Yet his sons and grandsons did not hold fast to the God who established their dynasty. The kings of Judah worshipped idols, mistreated and over taxed the people, and refused to repent. One after another seemed determined to outdo the depravity of their fathers. They made a shipwreck of the kingdom, and so they fell.
The Lord sent Babylon, led by Nebuchadnezzar, to tear down Jerusalem’s walls, their temple, and to lead their best and brightest off into exile. They had fallen away from the living God.
Adam and Eve, Israel, and the kings of Judah, they had all heard the Word of God. They had received the favor of God, life and salvation. They had heard, but they did not obey. They had received, but then they rebelled.
There is only one, of course, who hears and obeys. Only one man receives from God and refuses to rebel. That is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Jesus hears the Word of God and conforms His life, His every thought and desire, to that Word. He refuses the temptations of the serpent. He worships only His Heavenly Father. He lives in perfect harmony with the heart of God, even more so than His ancestor David.
Yet what God gave to Jesus was not simply gracious promises, as He had given to His people of old. No, of Jesus God asked that He live without sin, yet suffer for all sin. He hears from God that He is to suffer and die on a cross, taking on the punishment that we all deserve. Jesus hears and He obeys. More than that, He obeyed joyfully.
Jesus heeds the Word of God and joyfully goes to the cross to accomplish the greatest act of salvation that the world will ever see. For we are not merely saved from slavery. We are saved from death. Because Jesus died, we shall be resurrected. We are forgiven to live forever and ever.
For we have come to share in Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit our hard pagan hearts have been softened through the Word of God. We have heard His voice loud and clear in the waters of Baptism: You are mine. We have heard His voice in the absolution: You are forgiven. We have heard His voice in the Supper: This body and blood is given for you. Today you have heard His voice.
Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. Rather, exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today”. We have heard His voice, and so we know the power of temptation. We know the pitfalls of sin, that it only leads to death. Therefore we rebel against the ways of the world and hold fast to our original confidence.
I mentioned this a few years ago during an Easter sermon, but Martin Luther compared the preaching of the Gospel to the coming of a rain shower in the desert. The rains pour out of the sky, we know not how long. It would be unwise to leave soaking up the rain for tomorrow. The clouds will soon move along the wind to the next dry place.
The shower of the Gospel is pouring down on us right now. God is raining down forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is granting faith, hope, and love. Do not think that this will last forever. The Gospel will soon move on; it has already begun. Already the Church grows in South America, Africa, and Asia. It wanes in Europe and North America.
But it has not left us yet. The Spirit still pours out the gifts of God. How then shall we live? We hold to our original confidence by the power of the Spirit. We hold it fast.
You see, confidence is not the problem. Confidence is not the enemy. Complacency is. Complacency happens when our confidence is misplaced, when we are confident in ourselves, our own works, our own self-worth.
But our original confidence is not in ourselves. It is in Jesus Christ. We are confident that Jesus Christ is sufficient. For if He is not, then no one ever will be.
Because we share in Christ, we can confidently repent of our sins. We do not need to be right all the time. We don’t have to hide our sin. We can admit it, confess it, and receive abundant forgiveness.
Because we share in Christ, we can confidently follow Jesus where He leads. Set free from sin we can do the works that God has prepared for us, loving our neighbor as ourselves, loving God above all.