An Evil Heart of Unbelief
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 26 February 2005
"Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.' For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Heb.3:12-19, NKJV).
About 25 years ago I sat my final examinations at Oxford University. For four long years we had all worked hard and now, over a few days, what we wrote on a few sheets of paper would determine whether we would make it or not. If the truth be known, I did not have very much confidence that it would go well for me. I admit it, I was worried. Moreover, I had spent so much time searching for spiritual truth that I had completed only about 60% of the course material required. I was taking a huge gamble and I knew it. By contrast, a very good friend of mine, with whom I shared my school years and who I always regarded as being academically superior to me, and who had followed me into Oxford University, had worked himself to the bone preparing for his examinations. I shuddered with fear as he showed me how he had managed to thoroughly prepare for 100% of the material in his degree course. Everything looked good for him and dismal for myself. Our spiritual paths had even converged and we were a part of a cult that he had introduced me to, only I saw through it's illusion and left after three years, but he remained with it. What happened was that I got a very respectable final grade and he, a poor one. Not that I had anything to boast about, for I didn't - I knew he was the better scholar, far more scientifically-minded and methodical than myself - and yet things went very differently for us. Over the years I have prayed for him and tried to make contact with him, but he has never replied. I have often wondered about our parallel destinies and why Yahweh threw us together to then set us off on very different courses indeed.
I have many thoughts I want to share with you today and it has been difficult to present them without risking being misunderstood. As I look back on the Old Testament prophets who passionately sought to do the will of Yahweh, and who spoke the plain, unadulterated truth, I see also how they were misunderstood and maltreated. Some were murdered. I can't imagine how they retained their sanity. Certainly some of them, like Jeremiah, nearly went mad with grief over the hard-heartedness of those to whom He was commanded to bring a message of judgment. Yet contrary to what his flesh would have had him do, he carried through with his commission and for his trouble was hated and persecuted. I know for sure that in his heart of hearts that he wished to proclaim a message of hope, to see relief and joy in the faces of his listeners. Don't we all wish that? Do any of us want to be the bearers of ill tidings? Would any right-minded man actually want to provoke people to anger and hatred? We all deep down want to accept and be accepted, to love and be loved, to share and not be rejected. However, the truth does not always permit this luxury. We must say things as they are.
In my ministry I am counseling many people all the time. They come to me having tried other religions and even different Christian ministries. Few of them want to hear the truth and move on after having taken a few swipes at me. My fellow brethren in the ministry know exactly what I mean. Most despise and hate what we say because the truth never rests easily with the carnal man.
It is worse for those with the prophetic gift who can see into the future. It has been both my blessing and cursing to occasionally have this gift, to know the choices people are going to make and to see vividly displayed in visions the suffering they will go through because they will not trust and obey. I sorrow for these people daily for the last thing I want is that they should suffer. Many have suffered dreadfully already and many of these will suffer much more. Worse, they come to me, half crying, half begging, asking: "When will this all end? How much longer must I endure?" And usually they don't want the answer that I give them. Usually they question the source of my revelation or challenge my motives. How I long to bring them good news! How I long to tell them that their woes will end tomorrow! Yes, there is consolation in knowing the final outcome sometimes, but many of the interim details are often lacking in the prophetic vision. Yahweh hides what He wills, for His own purposes, and reveals what He wills for the same reasons.
The passage that I begin this sermon with today contains some astounding words. When you think of evil, you usually conjure up in your mind rape, murder, adultery, and other tangible things that shatter and destroy lives. But what you don't expect is to have unbelief put into the same category. Yet there it is:
"Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."
All unbelief causes us to move away from Yahweh and is evil. It is evil because you can't move away from Yahweh without moving towards Satan - there's no neutral ground in which to hide while you try to 'make up your mind what to do'. Paul, in this passage from Hebrews, also admonishes us to fix this evil "today ... lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." In my last sermon series you will remember Yahweh's admonition to deal with anger before sunset because when anger is allowed to linger, it works a terrible corruption on the soul. But anger is not the only negative principle that must be dealt with within a specific 24 hour time-frame - for here the apostle warns us that anything that leads us to unbelief must be dealt with quickly before Satan moves in with his forces and establishes himself in his new position. The result of delaying is, we are warned, a hardening of the heart. The heart, once warm and tender, grows cold and calloused. And when that happens, you know that the enemy has moved in. Within a very short time, satanic symptoms soon manifest.
The lives of Christian disciples are covered with important landmarks - times when Yahweh approached us in a special way, and especially that first time when we entered into the salvation moment and really knew Him. My own spiritual rebirth is undoubtedly the major landmark in my life, so much so that I remember the precise day and hour is happened. But it is important for more than just sentimental reasons. Paul says that we must "hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end". When you meet Yah'shua (Jesus) for the first time you are filled with love, confidence and hope. Indeed, it is not uncommon to think that you have 'made it' and that there's not much more to do. Of course, we know there is much more to know, but such moments are so real and alive that they serve as a beacon for us in times of darkness when we wander away from the truth, as we all do from time to time, and for differing lengths of time. We are commanded in this scripture to tightly hold on to that moment and remain steadfast in that original confidence, returning to it as fast as we possibly can should we ever find ourselves detached from it. And the longer we delay, the more hardened we become, making the struggle to attain spiritual restoration all the more difficult.
I like to picture this as a road. Scripture tells us that the Way of true discipleship is strait and narrow (Mt.7:13-14). We are to have our eyes fixed on the Salvation of Yahweh constantly, which salvation is Yah'shua (Jesus). But if we go off the Way, He is soon lost sight of. Only as we retrace our steps in search of recognisable landmarks, can we be sure we are on that road which is as straight as a ruler. If we look behind we can see the landmark which was our original salvation, and perhaps some important meetings with Him since - and if we look forwards we can again see the goal. When we are off the Way we can neither see the original landmarks nor the point to which we are supposed to be heading, because both are concealed. When that happens, the Christian should set off every alarm in his system, and head rapidly back to the place on the Way that he wandered from. It means making up for lost time and retracing our steps.
When you are on the Way and can see your original salvation as you turn your head back, and can see clearly forwards too, you are at once filled with confidence. That is what Paul means in this passage. Both landmarks are important - what we have come from ... the starting point in our deliverance ... and the place to which we have been called to go to complete it. This does not mean we can see right to the very end of the Way but it does mean that there will always be a landmark - a goal - which we must actively seek to reach. Yahweh always provides these goals or markers along the Way if we are walking in Him. If we cannot see it, it is because we have departed from Him and become hardened in our hearts, for it is with the open heart attuned to His Ruach (Spirit) by which we see, not by our minds. The mind can make calculations, but without these two coordinates - the place where we began in Yah'shua (Jesus) and the next goal along the way - we cannot join the line between them and compute the way. Until those two points are aligned, our minds will simply lead us around in circles.
To emphasise his point, Paul quotes from the Old Testament, calling to our mind an historical event of such great importance that it is annually commemorated at Passover (Pesach), and for this reason: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion". He then explains that the rebels here were Israel, Yahweh's own allegorical Bride, who were constantly attacking Moses - grumbling and inciting each other to rebellion, longing back for the flesh pots of Egypt and their former slavery. Indeed rebellion broke out, and Yahweh crushed it by making the ground swallow up Korah and his supporters. Why so drastic a punishment? Because rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (1 Sam.15:23), it destroys the soul and causes others to do the same. Rebellion must be crushed to save the weak and gullible, not for punishment's own sake. Rebellion against Yahweh is a curse because rebellion against Him is of the spirit of Satan, who led the first rebellion in heaven and who continues to incite mankind to do the same today.
We have had our fair share of these since this work was begun and we have learned the hard way. We have learned, as Paul testifies, that the cause of rebellion is always unbelief. Little wonder, then, that he equates unbelief with evil, for it always leads to evil. Yahweh has sworn, moreover, that those who rebel will wander and find no rest for their souls, as Israel did not for 40 harsh years. Only two men did not rebel - incredible, isn't it? You would have thought there would have been more. It is a brutal statistic but a true one - there are few who do not rebel, there are few who stay consistently on the Way, there are few who are not consumed by unbelief, there are few who are not evil at some time or another. Am I speaking of non-Christians here? Not one bit! We are talking about the People of the Covenant! We are talking about those whom Yahweh has called to salvation, those who followed Moses then and those who follow Christ today. So really we cannot condemn the Calvinists when they describe the natural state of man as being basically depraved. It took me a long time to come to that realisation for I had always believed that men were basically good. That illusion was, however, crushed by a heavy dose of reality in the experiences of life. We are all basically evil, and once that is grasped, there becomes a real possibility for repentance and change. But it does first mean swallowing a hefty dose of pride.
I know this is not a popular message but better to hear it now and do something about it than to learn it through a life of never ending hard knocks. People ask me why life can be so tough and this is the reason: they are too thickskulled, hardhearted and stubborn to do it Yahweh's way, so in His loving kindness He allows Satan to buffet us as a wake-up call. Most believers never enter into full rest in this life because of this lack of faith. That is why, speaking of the narrow way, Yah'shua (Jesus) said that few there are who find it and even less who enter in. Those who will not obey will not enter His rest, one of the reasons, in fact, we are given the seventh-day Sabbath, to remind us of what needs to be found. You'd be surprised who these people are - people you might imagine had already made it long ago. And their excuse, you might also be surprised to learn, is pretty much the same too: they claim to walk with, and hear God, but yet consistently reject His messengers and servants sent to help them on the next stage of their journey ... those who have been where they are and overcome.
We have, most of us, had a belly-full of false messengers - false teachers, false prophets, false messiahs - and this has created a spiritual immunity to all teachers and prophets in most if not all who claim to come in the Name of Yahweh. I understand that. I have experienced it myself. Indeed there was a time I wouldn't have anything to do with angels because of all the false ones who crossed my path, a choice I was to bitterly regret for many years. Yet today I wouldn't be without them, and constantly bless and ask for them. Similarly, there have been those who have tutored me in the ways of Yahweh whom I today bless, men whom Yahweh sent to guide me along the way and without whom I had never made it. They had been where I was going and their experience was an invaluable, if not indispensable, help and comfort. Which brings me to another vital truth, and it's this: we can't make it alone; and when we try to, we always get lost. Moreover, there are critical moments in our lives where complete obedience to a messenger of Yahweh - human or angelic - can be a matter of life and death.
I often dream about those whom Yahweh has given me prophetic messages for, but who did not respond. I look at their lives, often far off the Way, and grieve. And it's worse when it's in your own family. If only they had listened. Things seemed to have been going OK for them, an illusion which cost them dearly when their own artificially-constructed worlds started falling apart. Moreover, Yahweh's messengers - the true ones - do not choose the job for themselves. Indeed, if the truth be known, they would rather not have the job at all, because they know all the abuse they will receive from those who will reject it. Most of Yahweh's prophets were simple men - farmers, for instance - who would much rather have been tilling their fields and tending to their flocks than preaching to a murderous and spiritually adulterous audience. They obey because they know Yahweh knows what He is doing, but are quite willing to return to their obscurity once the job has been done. They are not in it for glory, fame, or personal accolades. None of Yahweh's true messengers want to be in the limelight - it is the Most High who thrusts them into it because no-one else will go.
There are many who do not enter into eternal life and living because of unbelief. Though part of them believes in God, the other - the essential part - remains disconnected and spiritually dead. And more often than not this is the heart, deceived, rebellious and wallowing in sin. Satan is in the business of disconnecting the heart. He uses various means, trauma being one, fear another. He wants the seat of consciousness to reside in the brain. All occultism and Satanism is essentially brain-based, or knowledge-based. It relies first and foremost on one's thinking capacity to analyse and understand the world around it.
Brethren and sisters, I do most solemnly testify that this intellectual way does not work. This knowledge-based approach to life is Satan's way. We have Christian counterfeits called Gnostics who employ this method. It may pose as a spiritual path but it is not. That path is to partake of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the very opposite of the fruit of the Tree of Life, and as such may therefore rightly be called the Tree of Death. Knowledge-based salvation makes the brain the primary mover in the spiritual life, and the heart its subordinate. That is the way of death. But genuine salvation is heart-based, for it is into, and through, and out of the heart that the living waters of Yah'shua Jesus flow.
Which brings us to our dilemma, for we are also told in scripture that the unredeemed heart is deceptive and wicked (Jer.17:9). What then must be done? Most turn to the brain and fall into the devil's trap that way. Others trust their feelings and fall into yet another snare. So what is the solution? The answer is that we must have guides whose hearts are pure whom we can safely follow, whom Paul calls spiritual fathers or patriarchs (1 Cor.4:15). These are they who are called to form us until we too can safely guide others. Once that heart is pure, and once Torah is written completely on it, then - and only then - are we truly safe. Another reason we have been commanded to gather together as assemblies and into communities, is that there is always safety in numbers, and that the immature need to be led, guided and formed by the wise. This is why Yahweh has organised His Kingdom as a Theocracy, so that we may partake of the wisdom of the Elders who have passed through life's vicissitudes, learned the dangers and overcome them. Thus there is always a need for spiritual fathers who are to both teach and discipline us. We reject them at our peril.
The way of safety becomes narrower and harder as the world descends deeper into sin. A time is coming and is fast upon us when there won't be the luxury of rebelling and returning home repentant like the prodigal son. Those who run off, defying their guides, may find the way back cut off from them. In fact I can prophesy that this is exactly what will happen. You all remember Lot's wife. We cannot look back to the old ways of sin, even for a moment, and survive in the world that is coming. Nothing short of total obedience will mark the end-time firstborn, those who are called into the places of refuge. The rest will perish. I urge you, therefore, to do what is right, stop making the life of your guides a constant sorrow, and save your souls for service. We have lots to do. May Yahweh lead you into all truth. Amen.
This page was created on 5 June 2005
Last updated on 5 June 2005
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