Summary: Have you gotten used to saying "No" to God? It became a habit of the Children of Israel in the wilderness and ultimately resulted in an all-out rebellion against God that disqualified most of them from God's rest.
Author, theologian and Professor Craig Keener tells how his mother asked him if he believed in an after-life at the age of nine, and he replied no. She agreed with him and told him how most intellectuals did as well. So he felt affirmed in his atheism.
The problem was that such a worldview left him with no purpose or direction in life. But while reading Plato at the age of 13, he was spurred on to think more about immortality. And somewhere along the line he remembered praying, “If somebody is out there—a god or gods—then please show me.”
He was walking home from Latin class when he was 15 when he was cornered by a couple “Fundamentalists Baptists,” as he called them. “They asked me where I would go when I died, and they started telling me how I could be saved in light of the Bible. After going back and forth for a long time, I said, ‘Look, guys, I’ve been humoring you, but you’re telling me stuff from the Bible. I don’t believe the Bible. I’m an atheist. You’ve got to give me something other than the Bible.”
When it became clear they didn’t have anything to give them other than the Bible, then he pressed them with his big question. “If there’s a God, where did the dinosaur bones come from?”
He admits that he enjoyed making fun of Christians. And one of the evangelists gave him a great opportunity when he replied, “The devil put them there to deceive us. That’s when Keener said, “This is ridiculous. I’m leaving.” However, as he turned to walk off, one of them called out, “You’re hardening your heart against God, and every time you do that, it makes it harder for you to repent. Eventually, you’ll burn in hell forever.”
Though it was clear that these evangelists didn’t know about friendship evangelism, apologetics or paleontology, as Keener walked home he felt convicted by the Holy Spirit. As he walked by a Catholic Church with a cross on it on his way home, he wondered whether the Trinity was looking down on him. When he finally got to his bedroom, he began arguing back and forth with himself saying, This can’t be right, but what if it is? And then, he says, He sensed it. God’s very presence, right then, right there, in his room. So Keener said to God, “Those guys on the street corner said Jesus died for my sins and rose again, and that’s what saves me. If that’s what you’re saying, I’ll accept it. But I don’t understand how that works. So if you want to save me, you’re going to have to do it yourself.”
And all of a sudden, Keener felt something rushing through his body that he had never experienced before. He jumped up and said, what is that? But He knew what it was—it was God coming into His life. Two days later he went to church where a pastor led him in a prayer of repentance and faith. The same thing happened again, and the rest is history. He has written now 21 books, including what has been hailed as the greatest work on miracles ever written—a 1,272-page book that is so large it comes in two volumes.
Now I share that story for two reasons this morning because it talks about the work of the Holy Spirit and the great peril of hardening our hearts against his work in our lives. For that is the subject of the third chapter of Hebrews which we discuss this morning—the peril of hardening your heart at any state of your Christian life against the Holy Spirit.
The writer to the Hebrews warns believers that this can happen at any time in our Christian lives, not just when we initially hear the Gospel. And the ultimate potential is that we will fall away from Christ, proving that we were not saved in the first place—a proof that will result in eternal judgment.
Yes, it’s a sobering subject, but a sobering subject which can have a wonderful ending if we take the words of the Book of Hebrews seriously this morning.
Before we get into Hebrews 3, let me remind you that the letter to the Hebrews was written to first century Jewish/Hebrew Christians who were likely living in Judea, that is southern Israel, in the vicinity of Jerusalem, where a large scale persecution of Christians, the first persecution of Christians, had broken out with the martyrdom of Stephen in about 37 A.D. And the persecution had never let up. It’s now about 30 years later and the writer of the book has the concern that, and probably some evidence for, the prospect that some of these Jewish believers in Christ were falling away from Christ, or thinking about falling away from Christ because of the never-ending hardships they were enduring due to the long-term persecution they had experienced. They were very specifically thinking about returning to Judaism, merely observing the Old Testament Law and the Temple sacrifices and feasts as their persecutors, unsaved Jews were doing, hoping the that it wouldn’t ultimately make any difference with regard to their eternal destiny. And the writer to the Hebrews writes to them that it most assuredly would—it would make all the difference there is between heaven and hell.