Today If You Hear His Voice Harden Not Your Hearts

Most of us are so busy in our daily lives that we spend very little time thinking about our own mortality.

It is often only after a friend or family member dies that we take a moment and reflect on the fact that we will someday die ourselves.  I think it was Benjamin Franklin that said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  Though some have tried to evade it, death is something we can’t avoid.  And the truth of the matter is that life insurance statistics tell us that humans only live on this planet for an average of 70.8 years. Some get more years, others less.  Death is an appointment that each person must keep.

This is why King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes12:1, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them”.

We are born and someone pours into our life and we have the opportunity to pour into others lives before we die. Perhaps many who might read this blog are old enough to remember the spiritual legacy or heritage that was passed on through our forefathers and foremothers. The sad situation is, many have either forgotten their spiritual heritage, turned their backs on it altogether, or never received it from their parents and grandparents.

African Americans used to regularly sing in church the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and knew exactly what the song meant.

Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

Encyclopedias tell us that this song originated in early oral and musical African American traditions. 

In other words, it was composed and sung by slaves as they worked the fields for their masters…slaves who knew the Old Testament story about Elisha (E-lish-a), watching the prophet Elijah, who did not die but was carried off to heaven in “a chariot and horses of fire” (2 Kings 2:11).  

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see,

Coming for to carry me home.

A band of angels coming after me,

Coming for to carry me home.

If you get there before I do,

Coming for to carry me home.

Tell all my friends I’m coming too,

Coming for to carry me home.

These slaves knew the Jordan River was where the Israelites crossed into the promised land (Joshua 4:23) and where Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:16-17).

As followers of Jesus Christ, these slaves knew of Jesus’ promise “to prepare a place” for His own and come back to get them so that they would be with Him forever.  Their hope was based on the words of Jesus and what He said in John 14:1, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me”.

But as the last generation to pick cotton in the south, our ancestors knew that singing the song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” also brought with it sweet comfort as they labored under the backbreaking toil of working the cotton field. I can only imagine as they worked, they were thinking and praying, “Jesus, get me out of this hot and miserable field; get me off this plantation and home with You.”[1]

But as I said earlier, the sad situation in our day is that many (no matter what their skin color is) have either forgotten their spiritual heritage, turned their backs on it or never received it. Many of today’s generation have been robbed of a spiritual heritage because their grandparents and parents have not passed down to them the important truths of God’s Word captured in the pages of the Bible. Our ancestors used these encouraging Bible truths and promises, to get them through some of the most harsh and oppressive seasons of human history.

But for some of us, the only time we hear the precious promises of God are at funerals.  Promises like Psalm 23 that says:

Psa 23:1  The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 

Psa 23:2  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 

Psa 23:3  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 

Psa 23:4  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 

Psa 23:5  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 

Psa 23:6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. 

And Psalm 27:

Psa 27:1  The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 

And Psalm 121:

Psa 121:1  I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. 

Psa 121:2  My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. 

Another “negro spiritual” my ancestors sang had these words:

Steal away, steal away,
steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home;
I ain’t got long to stay here.

My Lord, he calls me;
he calls me by the thunder.
The trumpet sounds within my soul;
I ain’t got long to stay here. 

My ancestors knew that even though they were considered someone else’s property, there was nothing the “Massa” could do to take away the relationship the slave had with Jesus.  The slave had an absolute conviction that he or she could “steal away” to Jesus.

The slave had the “blessed hope” that “trouble wouldn’t last always” and that one day the trumpet would sound, and the Lord would descend from heaven and rapture or snatch His followers away from this place. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Today, true followers of Jesus still know that “they ain’t got long to stay here”. 

Followers of Jesus know that when in trouble they can reach for the Bible and be reminded of all the precious promises of Scripture.

What Do You Reach For?

When you are in trouble, what do you reach for?  Do you reach for a Bible and a hymnal?  Many today are no longer reaching for these things.

  • Many reach for their smartphone so they can meditate on the posts of Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, or Porn.
  • Some reach for a cigarette, some crack, a joint or a bottle.

Our ancestors, red, yellow, black and white, and as imperfect as they were, looked to the Bible. Our ancestors looked to the Bible and found hope.  In fact, many of our hymns and spirituals were based on how God kept His promises with His chosen people…the Jews.

In the New Testament, the Bible tells us that the Jews had a spiritual heritage passed on to them from their forefathers, and sadly, they had come to a point in their history where they had, as the Bible puts it, “neglected so great a salvation”. (Hebrews 2:1-4)

How did this happen? Let me give you a “bird’s eye” view of what the Bible says:

  • God created the heavens and the earth and then created mankind.
  • God put man in a beautiful garden and told him he could eat from any tree in the garden except for one.
  • The man sinned by eating from the forbidden tree and as a result, his offspring, the entire human race, became corrupt.  We sin because we have a nature to sin and because we want to.
  • The human race because increasingly sinful so much to the point where God had to destroy the earth with a flood.  There was only one man at that time who was faithful to God, so God saved Noah and his family and repopulated the earth.
  • Even after God judged wicked humanity with a flood, wicked mankind began to populate the earth again.  This time, rather than destroy the world God called a man, named Abraham, a righteous man, away from his family and chose to create a righteous nation from his seed.  It would be through Abraham’s seed that many upon the earth would be blessed.  These were the Children of Israel…the Jews.
  • God gave them some land and promised that through them, the Messiah, God’s own Son, would come and one day set up His kingdom, a kingdom where He would rule in righteousness as the Last Adam. 
  • The Messiah did come, but they rejected Him and crucified Jesus on a rugged Cross.  But this was God’s plan all along to offer His own Son as a substitute to pay for the sins of those who would believe in Him. 
  • But Jesus didn’t stay dead but rose from the dead (Easter) and ascended back into heaven after promising that He would come back, not as a sacrificial Lamb but as the LION of Judah, who would set up His eternal kingdom and judge the wicked.

In the first century after Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, there were some Jews who believed this GOOD NEWS and gave their lives to Messiah Jesus, but not too long after that began to drift back into their old Jewish religion, ceremony and traditions.

The book of Hebrews was written to those Jews as a warning and an encouragement to them not to drift back an inferior system of Law and not grace.

There might be some reading this article that heard the Gospel:

  • The good news of Jesus’ coming to earth as a baby, growing up as a man doing miraculous works. 
  • You may have heard the good news that God gave His only begotten Son to die on the Cross for your sins. 
  • You may even have heard the good news that Jesus arose from the grave on the third day.
  • One day you may have even said a prayer and asked Jesus to save you and promised Him that you would forsake sin and follow Him for the rest of your life.

But like the unbelieving Jew, it was just “lip service” and you have drifted away from Christ back to your old way of living for yourself and not in obedience to Christ.

Hebrews 4:1 says, “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.”

The writer of the Book of Hebrews says that if you have drifted away from Jesus Christ, you should be fearful.

  • You should be fearful because promises have been made about the certainty of Heaven for those who truly believe in Christ, but you seem to have come short of it.
  • You should be fearful because you are taking the risk of dying without Christ, who promised to save from sin all who truly believe.
  • You should be fearful because this life is like a vapor and if death catches you without Christ, you will be spending eternity in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.
  • You should be fearful because you will miss out on eternity with Jesus in heaven, where the Bible teaches that “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)
  • You should be fearful because when you drift and come up short from what the Bible teaches to be true about Jesus, you will miss eternity by a mile.

The Book of Hebrews continues…

Hebrews 4:2 – “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.”

Many have heard the Good News of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection to pay for sins, but it doesn’t profit them if it is not united by faith. In other words, there are many who did not believe it, because if they had believed it, they would have acted on it and it would have changed their life.

The Gospel changes lives.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the Bible says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

The Bible tells us that in the last days we would be living in perilous times.  I can remember as a boy (not even in my teens) walking through the neighborhoods of West Baltimore and it didn’t even cross my mind whether or not I would return home safe and sound.

My, what changes can occur in just over 50 years. And, according to the Bible, its going to get worse.

When my ancestors encountered difficult circumstances, they went to the Lord.  They didn’t take matters into their own hands.  They certainly didn’t do evil for evil.  They knew of Bible verses which said truths like: “Don’t pay people back with evil for the evil they do to you, or ridicule those who ridicule you. Instead, bless them, because you were called to inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)

This is why, rather than going out rioting and destroying property and attacking their oppressors, they wrote and sang songs that had lyrics like, “Soon a will be done-a with the troubles of the world….goin home to live with God.”

And…

I’m sometimes up, I’m sometimes down.

comin for to carry me home.

But still my soul feels heavenly-bound

comin for to carry me home.

The Gospel changes you.

Hebrew 4:6  continues: “Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience…”

The writer of Hebrews reminds his readers that there are only two groups of people.  Those who enter the promised land of Heaven and those, who because of disobedience, fail to enter it.

Jesus says it this way in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Let’s finish this message with Hebrews 4:7: “He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.”

Even when the Jewish people drifted from the promised of God, they were offered the opportunity to reconsider and repent.

Notice that the Bible doesn’t say:

“when you get around to it…” or
“tomorrow after you’ve had some time to think about it”.
“when you decide to stop sinning” or
“when you get yourself together”…

The Bible says, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” 

Conclusion

There is an old fable that tells of three apprentice devils who came to earth to finish their apprenticeship. They were talking to Satan, the chief of the devils, about their plans to tempt, ruin and destroy men and women.

The first said, “I will tell them there is no God.” Satan said, “That will not deceive many, for they know there is a God.”

The second said, “I will tell men there is no hell.” Satan answered, “You will mislead no one that way; men know even now that there is a hell for sin.”

The third said, “I will tell men there is no hurry.”

“Ahhh! You will ruin them by the thousands!” said Satan. The most dangerous of all delusions is that there is plenty of time.

Don’t let Satan delude you. If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, you don’t have plenty of time. In fact, the time is short and the Gospel is a command.

Turn from your sin and run to Jesus Christ before its eternally too late!

[1] https://thefederalist.com/2019/02/11/9-famous-spirituals-enlighten-understanding-black-american-history/

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