McLaurin Memorial

Today is the Day

MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline

Hebrews 3:7 – 4:14; Reader: Olu Olabimtan

Oftentimes, when I come across a particular verse in the Bible, I wonder why it is located where it is. Why is it at that spot and not some other? For what reason did the author of the book or letter put that verse or thought where he did? There must be a reason for its’ placement. As an example of this, as I read Hebrews 4:12, I wonder why it is where it is? Such a well-known passage. Here it is:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

We will see why it was placed where it was placed later in the sermon but, obviously, this verse is an attempt to show that people should listen to scripture, pay heed to it, because it is “alive and active”, “sharper than any double-edged sword”, so sharp, in fact, that it penetrates to dividing “soul and spirit” (the spiritual part of us) as well as “joints and marrow” (the physical part of us). The word of God “judges or shows how right or wrong are the thoughts and attributes in one’s heart”. Hard-hitting and insightful! There are other verses in scripture that talk about scripture. We won’t talk about why they were placed where they were, but we will review some of them and hear that they sound very similar to Hebrews 4:12 in that they are praising the work of scripture, of God’s word.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Scripture changes things for the better, is from God, and it teaches, challenges, corrects, trains, and shines a light as to where to walk without stumbling. In the famous temptation scene of Jesus, just after his baptism and before he began his earthly ministry, Jesus was hungry, and he was tempted by the devil to simply speak to stones and turn them into bread because he/Jesus had the power to do so. Instead of responding positively, “yeah, I could do that” or, negatively, “not a chance”, Jesus simply quoted from Gods word to make his point:

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:4)

Billy Graham once said, “The Bible is not an option; it is a necessity. You cannot grow spiritually strong without it.” God agrees! In fact, He knows how powerful and effective His word is:

So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

So, why did the author of Hebrews place his statement where he did? In the past two weeks, as we read that Jesus is superior to angels and to Moses, far above anything and any human, we saw that the writer quotes continually from the Old Testament, God’s word to the early Christians. If those Jewish Christians/Hebrew believers (that he was writing to) needed convincing, the writer knew it would not be enough to say something. In the Jewish/Hebrew mindset, a mindset that treasured and revered God’s word, “if God said it, ah, then it might carry weight”, would’ve been the reasoning of the writer of this letter to Hebrews.

Now, as we have read, there was false teaching going on in the Jewish/Hebrew Christian community, and the writer of Hebrews not only quoted God’s word to make his point, but he was also very blunt. He wrote in 2:1, “Pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Then, in 3:6, “Hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” Plus, looking ahead to 13:9, we heard him say, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” Next week, we will hear even blunter statements than those, threatening those who have given in to false teaching that they will not be accepted back into the fold by God if they leave. Yikes!

The author of Hebrews was like a parent or grandparent or close friend or relative who is seeing a beloved one making a huge mistake and is desperately trying to get that person to reconsider and to turn back. In his famous Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus spoke of a father who loved his son so much. He gave him his half of the inheritance when his son demanded it and sadly watched him walk away from him, from the beliefs and values he had been taught as a boy. The young son went to a far-off land where he spent his inherited money on prostitutes and wild living and on doing things he should not be doing. It was only when he found himself slopping around in a pigpen wrestling with hogs for the food that had been thrown there that he, in the words of Jesus, “came to his senses”. Meanwhile back home, the father had been daily straining his eyes and stretching his neck to look down the road, hoping and longing for his son to turn around and come back home. The writer to the Hebrews was like that father, desperate for his children in the faith, that they would not squander what they had and thus possibly lose their inheritance. And, so, quoting strongly worded passages from God’s word, the Old Testament, he hoped to convince them to repent, to come to their senses, and to reembrace the Christian faith they had been taught. And, now, in chapters 3 and 4, he gets to the heart of the matter:

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did.” (Hebrews 3:7-9)

Today. Today. Today. No more messing around. If you want to procrastinate, do it tomorrow, but today decide to turn your life over to Christ and to commit yourself to him. The writer quotes God’s word from Psalm 95, in which God had warned the people of the time of the Temple in Jerusalem to not do as the Israelites had done hundreds of years earlier during the time of Moses, when they had deliberately turned away from trusting in God or His word. Even though for 40 years, God had provided daily sweet bread-like manna every morning; as well as low-flying quail for them to easily knock out of the air and kill and eat; in addition to providing water for them whenever or wherever they needed it, even causing water to spring from rocks. The people saw all of that and yet, when they later had their chance to enter the Promised Land, they lost their nerve and refused to trust Him to protect them if they went it. Why? Because they had lost their relationship with God, having gotten into the habit of criticizing God, even humorously stating that they preferred slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land because at least in Egypt they had gardens in which they could grow cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. That giving in to negativity and false thoughts ended up being a death knell for them, and none of that original generation who had been freed in the exodus, except for Joshua and Gideon, actually made it into the Promised Land. The children and grandchildren of that original exodus generation made it into the Promised Land but not those whiny, traitorous complainers, the ones who refused to trust God or worship Him or live for Him. Such a tragic story!

That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So, I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (Heb 3:10,11;Ps 95:7-11)

What was being said was, in effect, “If, on this very day, today, you hear God speaking to you, seize the moment, capture the day, so that you will not be led astray or find your heart hardened. Today is the day in which you can enter God’s rest, if only you would believe!”

See to it, brothers and sisters, 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 indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:12-15; Psalm 95:7,8)

The writer of Hebrews wanted his readers to understand that it was their Jewish/Hebrew ancestors that God’s word had been spoken to. And “if it applied to them, then certainly it applies to you, too”, was what he was warning them.

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So, we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. (Hebrews 3:16-4:2)

And, to prove his point, the writer then quotes three times from God’s word:

Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. (Hebrews 4:3; Psalm 95:11)

For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” (Hebrews 4:4; Genesis 2:2)

And again, in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” (Hebrews 4:5; Psalm 95:11)

Our generation needs to understand that the oft spoken-of “rest”, which is really about entering into where God wants you to be, into the Promised Land, into His presence, into the place He desires for you, is still available to all who would “Today” seize the day and enter in.

Therefore, since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience. God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:6,7; Psalm 95:7,8)

And then, here is his proof that what he was saying has validity:

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:8-11)

Do you believe it? All of the writer’s quoting from God’s word was meant to make them sit up and think. Why? Because it was God speaking. The Old Testament, the Hebrew scripture, thus had and has power behind it.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

“Listen, if you don’t believe me, at least believe God’s word”, is what the writer was thinking. That’s the point! “Besides which, we can’t fool God. Nor, would we want to. He understands us because Jesus was one of us in the incarnation.”

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. (Hebrews 4:13-14)

I went to a very liberal United Church of Canada seminary for the first two of my four years of formal theological training. There was lots of false teaching in that seminary. One of the false teachings they taught was that all Western missionaries to overseas lands are western imperialists, white supremacists, deranged, uncaring, selfish people who go into those countries to force Western, Christian thinking and, in doing so, change or destroy the fine cultures that are there. One of those missionaries was Dr. Helen Huston, a medical missionary to Nepal with the United Church of Canada. Dr. Huston was and is a good friend of the Cline family and whenever she would be in Canada doing deputation work, raising awareness of her medical mission work in Nepal, the Clines would either host her or make sure we saw her. She has spoken here at McLaurin in the past.

In 1982, while I was at that seminary, Dr. Huston was on a cross-Canada deputation tour and at the first stop on her tour she was asked about the United Church of Canada’s plan to ordain practicing homosexuals to pastoral ministry. She answered that she opposed that move on biblical grounds. The response of the United Church top brass was to officially silence her and forbid her from speaking on that topic during her cross-Canada tour. Remember, she hadn’t spoken on it, she had merely answered a question asked of her. But such was Helen Huston’s influence that the United Church powers at that time were terrified that she might sway public opinion back to the biblical one.

Now, silencing Dr. Huston was not like silencing a peon, a nobody, someone who wasn’t well-known. No, Dr. Huston was and is world-famous for her medical missionary work in Nepal. In 1980, Dr. Huston had been given an honorary life membership in the Nepal Medical Association at Kathmandu, never before granted to a doctor from a foreign country. In 1978, she awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award by the University of Alberta Medical Alumni Association in and inducted to their Alumni Wall of Recognition. The University of Alberta also honoured her with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Dr. Huston was the first recipient of Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation Award for Humanitarian Services, presented by Sir Edmund Hillary himself, Sir Edmund Hillary being the first man to climb Mount Everest, which is located in Nepal. And Dr. Huston was named to the Order of Canada. So, silencing this person was shocking and cowardly.

Well, she was on her deputation speaking tour across Canada in 1982 when she arrived at the seminary I was attending. The seminary didn’t want her there but because she had been invited by the seminary’s Women’s Auxiliary group who raised a lot of money for that seminary, and because the seminary was frankly keeping hidden from those financial supporters the false teachings they were advocating and filling their students’ heads with, they couldn’t think of any way to refuse the Women’s Auxiliary’s invitation to have Dr. Helen Huston speak there. But what they could do was attempt to dismiss or embarrass her. So, they allowed her to speak, but not in the beautiful chapel that all of their other guest speakers spoke in, but in a room in their basement, a musty, unhealthy, unsanitary, unsightly place. It was the only time in my two years there that the basement was used for anything. So, the basement room filled up with hostile professors and students as well as supportive Women’s Auxiliary members and me, the token conservative student there.

Dr. Huston’s speech was amazing as she spoke about how when she first went as a medical missionary to India, she wasn’t yet a Christian but that she realized in her time there and in speaking with other missionaries who knew Jesus that she had better meet Jesus herself, and so she turned to him and became a follower of Jesus. After five years in India, she went to Nepal and to the village of Amp Pipal where she started a hospital. In the middle of her talk, a student named Steve couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up and shouted at her, demanding to know how she could justify going into that beautiful country of Nepal and destroying that pristine, pure, and wonderful culture there. Dr. Huston answered, “Well, I will answer that this way. When I first went to Amp Pipal, one of my first patients was a lady who had been carried to the hospital by some other women. She was near death after having been beaten to a pulp by her husband. I nursed her and after a week she was strong enough to return home. A month later, her friends brought her back again, her drunken husband having beaten her even more severely. I nursed her back to health, once again. A third time, again a month later, she was back. After tending to her wounds and nursing her back to health once again, she spoke to me for the first time, asking me why I was doing this. I told her that I was a doctor and was helping her because I know a Great Physician who told me to do it. She asked if she could meet that Great Physician. I told her about Jesus, and she became a Christian that day, giving her life to Jesus. She went back to her husband and told him about Jesus. He responded by beating her up but that time, unlike all the times, she didn’t fight back or scream at him or allow her friends to take her out of the house. Each day, he would get drunk and beat her. After one month of doing so, he asked her why she wasn’t fighting back and why she was different. She told him about Jesus, and he broke down in tears, sobbing, and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. He went and repaired the fence he had knocked down between his property and his neighbours. He bought and gave back to his neighbours replacement chickens for the ones he had stolen from them over the years. He gave seed to those neighbours whose crops he had stolen. He gave money back to those people he had stolen from. You see, that was their culture, but it changed from that day on. The women had done all the work while the men got drunk and stole from one another. But it changed after that lady and her husband became Christians. So, if I am guilty of doing what you claim, changing their culture, I guess I did. That’s my answer.” Steve, the angry, accusatory student stormed out of the room, making a big scene as he left.

Ten years later, we were visiting friends in Tumbler Ridge, northern B.C., and they told us that their Anglican priest was a great guy, solid in the faith, and they told us his name. It was Steve. I was amazed to hear such reports about him, so I phoned him up. He said, “John, I have been wanting to tell you what happened to me after Helen Huston came to speak and I stormed out. I was in spiritual and emotional turmoil for two years until I realized that she was right and what I had been taught about missionaries and Jesus was wrong. I finally repented of my sins and turned my life over to Jesus. I gave my life to him back in 1984 and here I am, a conservative Christian priest joyfully serving Jesus in northern B.C.”

God’s rest came to my friend Steve. It will come to anyone who turns away from false teaching and turns to Jesus. “Today” was the day, whenever it was, for all who have committed their lives to him. But “Today” could so be this day for anyone here who needs to trust in the Lord and turn their life over to him. Let’s pray. Amen

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