His Gospel Invitation Urges Us to Hear (v. 14)
Scripture and History Clear
Whether it is one deceptive voice in the Garden or the squawking billions in the world today, our choice is the same as it has ever been. Will we hear God’s voice or not? He brought us to life by speaking, and we live well, safely, and happily when we listen to him. This is the reason that Psalm 95:7 is repeated twice in this short span of verses. Nothing is more devastating than refusing to listen to God. Especially when God has drawn near to us but then we rebel against his word, ruin stalks our earthy lives and emptiness our souls. We see this in our own lives. When we have listened to God, all has been well. Circumstances were difficult, but there was peace simply in listening and trying to obey him. When we did not listen, we fell into temptation and sunk lower than we imagined possible. How were we recovered? By repenting of stubbornness and listening to God again. The devil and his dupes want to make life seem so complicated, which creates despair and makes men seek distraction so that they do not think as much of their problems and frustration but search for contentment in sports, nice things, or good food. But life is really not very complicated. Will we hear our Father’s voice and obey him?
Invitation Extended but Limited
“Today” means that we have a sincere invitation from the Lord to hear his voice, but the window of opportunity is opened for a limited time. The Jews in the wilderness had a few providential windows of testing, a brief season to show their commitment to live by God’s word, but they showed their true colors. Instead of turning to God to supply water in the wilderness, they did not believe his promise and complained so bitterly against him that he would have killed them had not Moses interceded. Again and again, they put the Lord to the test. Finally, at Kadesh Barnea, when with great longsuffering he brought them to the borders of Canaan, they steadfastly refused to rise up and fight for their inheritance but rebelled and complained. That was it. In the year or so from the time they left Egypt to their arrival at Kadesh, they showed that their hearts remained in Egypt and that they did not fear the Lord, except for a few that came out such as Joshua and Caleb. Then, the window of gospel opportunity snapped shut.
The point in emphasizing “Today” (Ps. 95:7) is that God’s invitation to us to repent, believe, and enjoy the blessings of life and salvation in our blessed Jesus is not open ended. It is certainly a precious opportunity. Why would the Lord of heaven and earth who must humble himself even to look at what happens on earth – like we would have to stoop to look at some ants in the dirt – draw near to us with such an offer? We have rebelled against him so dreadfully that like Israel in the wilderness, we deserve to be consumed by his wrath. This is true of us and all men, and no one is really ready to receive the gospel or to give his life in service to the Savior unless he feels this to be true of himself. We deserve nothing from God except the most terrible judgments and then everlasting hell. Instead, he crucified his beloved Son and crushed him so that he might redeem and make us his children. The preaching of this gospel of Jesus is so wonderful that the angels wonder at it (1 Pet. 1:12). But we are half-asleep when we hear the gospel and often miss “Today” because our hearts are unprepared to receive God’s word or because we are too loaded down with earthly cares that we cannot give our attention to God’s wonderful grace. Especially when God allows “Today” to extend to our entire lives so that we hear his gospel all the time, we can never be sufficiently awed by this goodness. It ought to make the hair on our necks stand on end, but even more, it ought to amaze our hearts that he would let us hear his word and discover more of the unsearchable riches of Christ. If we were more humbled by his goodness, we would devote ourselves more fully to him and ask him to keep our hearts tender and soft.
Remember that “Today” will not last forever. In our individual lives, collectively in churches and nations, “Today” comes to a close. Death comes to us all, and we shall soon stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Areas of the world, such as in Asia Minor, that once enjoyed open gospel preaching are largely closed to it now. The candlestick was removed. We come to places in our lives that we grow too old or sick to hear God’s word preached. “Today” must arouse us to take action. Yes, there are so many voices raised today, selling this and that, promising the world and happiness if you will only listen to them, but God offers you his word. He gives you the true Bread from heaven, his Son, who bore away our judgment on the cross. Will you hear him while it is still called “Today?” We live in his age of gospel power and the outpoured Spirit, so our privileges are greater than were the Jews’. We must therefore give the most earnest heed to these truths and allow no other voices to trivialize God’s word. Whatever in your life diminishes your love for God’s word, hinders your ability to hear it preached, lessens your appetite for it, get away from it now. Allow nothing to keep you from answering God’s gospel invitation. Do you have a favorite sin? Kill it. Are you carrying bitterness or indulging laziness? Bury them. Do you run to some other house of comfort rather than to God’s where you can hear his voice? Burn it down.
Our Hearts Hard
Above all, we are warned to fight against hard hearts that provoke God. A hard heart is what destroyed Israel in the wilderness. It was not the dust and thirst, serpents, armies, and earthquakes that destroyed them; it was unbelief. They would have triumphed over all the horrors of that wilderness had they but listened to God, but they refused. A hard heart may show itself in many ways, but it is mainly a refusal to listen to God’s word. A hard heart does not really hear God – although it may hear words from a preacher or see words on a page. A hard heart does not believe and obey God, and therefore despises and neglects his blessed word. This is because it does not receive his word with faith (Heb. 4:2) or persevere in that faith. Beyond all of this, a hard heart does not receive God’s word as his living voice. When the gospel is preached, a soft and believing heart does not judge the preacher to find fault but hears the word as the living voice of Christ speaking through weak dust to let down a ladder to us from heaven. It is telling that men will move heaven and earth to have enough for their retirement years, but they passive accept a deadly stubborn heart. They will manipulate circumstances and others to get something they want, but they will not lift a finger to go hear God’s word preached. A hard heart, dear believer, is not only found among the Jews in the desert. It is found in cities and villages and fields all around us. It is found when men will not listen to God’s voice but prefer their own, or to be left alone in their sins, or not to be confronted so that they might repent and believe and obtain everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ.
We must be deeply struck by the provocation of a hard heart. What provoked or stirred God’s wrath against his people? They complained against him. They did not believe that he would take care of them in the wilderness. They turned away from believing God. They thought that their circumstances were too difficult for God and that they did not deserve to be in such a state. There were many evils involved in Israel’s complaining at Massah and Meribah, but the net result was that they provoked God. This is most serious. He loves us, but he is also holy. When he draws near and gives us his word, it is a mercy beyond our comprehension. Think then that he left all other nations in abysmal darkness and depravity but delivered only little Israel – should not their hearts have adored and trusted him? Think of the masses that God justly leaves in their unbelief and rebellion while causing light to shine in his church. But then, if we like Israel begin complaining against God, denying his right to rule us as he knows best, or outright turning away from him and reject his word, we provoke him no less than did they. His grace in Jesus Christ does not make provocation impossible; it makes a hard heart and unbelief and stubbornness more evil, for God has drawn more closely to us in his Son. Thus, since God has loved us so much that he would not spare his beloved Son but crucified him, and since he has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell with us and make us his temple, we must be the more careful that we do not receive his grace in vain (2 Cor. 6:1) but his word with meekness and faith (James 1:21). Nothing provokes God more than turning from his word and despising his goodness.
Bad Examples Urge Us to Hear (vv. 15-18)
Israel was delivered from Egypt but refused to hear (v. 16).
We need every encouragement to listen to God and persevere in faith. The Holy Spirit brings forward Israel’s well-known rebellion. Why rehearse this miserable history except to say, “The spirit of rebellion is not dead, not even in the church of Jesus Christ.” In a series of three main questions, Israel’s bad example of unbelief is used to urge us to hear God’s word. Who rebelled and provoked God? It was those that came out of Egypt – not all, but most. Wait! Those who came out of Egypt did not believe God but provoked him to his face? Men and women who had seen God’s plagues bring a mighty empire to its knees – those men doubted that God could provide for them in the wilderness? After he had brought them out with a mighty hand? Parted the Red Sea for them and drowned Pharaoh and his hosts? They complained against God? Yes, it was those very men who refused to hear God’s voice and believe his promises. And the implication is that God has done greater things for us – although the deliverance from Egypt is just as much if not more in our history, for Abraham, Moses, and the prophets are the fathers not of unbelieving but of believing men (Gal. 3:26-29). He has crucified his Son, raised him from the dead, and set him on high as the King of all. He has preserved his persecuted church through every dark season and preserved his word against all the malice of Satan and conniving of men. That there is any church at all in the world in this year of our Lord is because God has done such mighty works for us. After all the attacks of unbelieving science, atheistic philosophy, and globalist statism, there are still men that believe God’s word and stand against this blitzkrieg of unbelief? What great works God is doing in the world! Do not fall in with the majority rebels but hold fast to what God has said. He will prevail.
Israel grieved God and fell in the wilderness because they refused to hear (v. 17).
When we as God’s people persist in rebellion against him, he is grieved. Applied to God’s attitude toward us, grieved is terrifying. It can mean displeasure, loathing, or even a spewing out in disgust. But I thought that the Lord loved his people? He does, but there are two dynamics at work here. First, “not all Israel are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Some professors of faith are not truly God’s children; their complaining and unbelief reveals their depraved, unregenerate state. Second, those who are truly God’s children will persist in faith – or hearing the complaining and seeing the unbelief of the false – will repent and remain steadfast with God. Or, if they for a time follow the unbelieving majority, God will humble them through chastening so that they learn to walk with him more closely in the future. So, when we read that those who did not hear God’s voice grieved him and were destroyed in the wilderness, their carcasses staining the sand red with the blood of God’s vengeance, we make one of two responses. We might go about our way and think, “Well, this is too much, and I do not like this warning. This will not happen to me, and I will continue as I am.” Or, we shall take warning and ask the Lord to soften our hearts. Then, whatever the unbelieving masses are doing and thinking, or despite the compromises of the broader church, we shall endeavor to hear God’s voice and plug our ears against all the lies and insinuations of the devil. Above all, he does not want us to hear God’s voice. He wants us to fall in the wilderness and die. He is a murderer. We live in the wilderness if we obey God’s voice (Deut. 8:1-3).
Israel had no rest because they refused to hear (v. 18)
With a final question, one of unbelief’s worst consequences urges us to hear God’s gospel invitation and to remain steadfast in good faith and hope. What did Israel lose by their unbelief? Rest. They were prohibited from entering the land of promise, which was a type of the rest God gives in his kingdom: the rest of sin forgiven and peace restored and fellowship with him enjoyed. Israel was cut off from this because of unbelief. He swore that they would never have rest, for there is no rest for the wicked (Isa. 48:22; 57:20). The next section will have a great deal to say about our rest in Christ and the Sabbath rest we enjoy through faith in him. The idea is introduced here to lay this foundation for rest. True peace with God, stability in life, communion with the Spirit, God’s benediction upon the life leading the way to his eternal kingdom – all of which are signified by this little word rest – are all to be enjoyed by faith in God’s word. We have rest only when we hear God’s truth and receive it with a meek, teachable heart.
Our present world is a great proof that there is no peace or rest for those who reject God’s word and follow the ways of unbelieving science, technology, and statism. Yet, our own lives give abundant testimony that rest is to be found in the way of hearing and obeying. When we yield ourselves to be governed by God, even if our circumstances are terrible, there is still great peace (Isa. 48:18). On the other hand, when we plug our ears against God’s word, neglect it, or do not receive it as his living voice, everything is turned topsy-turvy in our lives. We feel that life is upside down, and we find no peace or joy. This is because we live in God’s world. There is peace and rest when we listen and obey him.
The Promised Blessing Urges Us to Hear (v. 19)
This all seems so restrictive to modern ears – but this is exactly the crisis, is it not? We think we have matured as a species or other such nonsense so that listening to a God and restricting our desires by his will found in an old Bible is primitive and destructive to personal freedom. The pre-Flood world thought the same thing. So did pre-World War Europe – we will not have this man, Jesus Christ, to rule over us (Luke 19:14). How is the Enlightenment definition of freedom working for those who have embraced it – death on demand, science and technology without a conscience or moral standard to guide it, unjust wars destroying men, rampant statism, marital infidelity and divorce, epidemic drug use, the normalization of pornography, and the gnawing discontent that consumes our very life energy? These are not evidences of our race maturing but the consequences of closing our ears against our Maker’s word. All the issues and dangers over which men wring their hands are the fruit of our rejecting God’s word and refusing to hear his voice. We are like rebellious teenagers grown into adults with a moral hangover. The remedy is for us to repent of our stubbornness and listen to God’s voice (Ps. 30:8-9).
For the world is not what the secularists make of it. This is God’s world, and he has sent his Son into our filth and chaos in order to redeem us. In “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us,” we have God with us and an even greater incentive to hear him. Remember what he said at our Lord’s Baptism and again at his Transfiguration: “HEAR HIM.” This is very strange and anticlimactic unless the very cause of our contagion was an original refusal to listen to our Maker’s voice. It must be that our salvation lies in hearing his voice (John 5:25). We must hear the voice of the Son of God to live. He must bring us out of our tomb and give us his Spirit so that our ears are open and our hearts tender. This is the narrow door to rest – when we are made new by the power of the Holy Spirit and God himself in Christ dwells with us so that we have title deed to heaven, a cleansed conscience, and power to walk in newness of life. This is the true rest of which Canaan was a type. Heaven is opened to us. All our sins are forgiven, and we may go to God for help and grace. Jesus Christ anchors our soul within the veil and intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:2).
What! We have peace. We no longer need to look for meaning and purpose by doing our own thing? Our Father has restored us to sanity? Yes, this is the glorious invitation he makes to us this “Today,” this morning, right now. Will we listen to his voice and enjoy these blessings? Or will we close our ears against him and against our own happiness and peace? Remember that Israel was denied rest because of unbelief. The warning is much more pertinent for us, for the grace is much higher and clearer now that Jesus Christ our Peace has come. Let us take his yoke upon us. Let him, child of God, put down your idols and soften your heart. Ask him to do so now, while it is still Today. Sin hardens and deceives. Jesus Christ makes alive. He makes all things new. He has come to give us peace and abundant life. He says to us this morning, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden; and I will give you rest.”