A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
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Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 08/18/1996
We have seen in these last weeks a clinical study of spiritual arteriosclerosis: the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. We have seen how it comes from a failure to respond properly to the removal of pressure (8:15); how it comes from self deception (8:29); how it comes from the tendency to minimize our guilt (9:27) and the attempt to retain control (9:28). We have seen that if you harden your own heart too long, God will judge you for this by helping you, by hardening it himself. Today in one sense there is nothing new--just a picture of all these tendencies now in total control and progressing to their logical conclusion: destruction. There is in this a powerful warning to us: Do not harden your heart!I. THE NECESSITY OF THE WARNING
This warning against hardening our hearts is a theme throughout Scripture because it is always needful. Did Israel learn anything from Pharaoh's example? Sadly, we would have to say, "No." Very quickly they will be whining at the Red Sea, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?" (14:11). It would have been better to die in Egypt! Then in the wilderness they complain about their diet: would we had died in Egypt when we sat by the pots of meat, but you have brought us out here to starve us to death (16:2-3). And the very first Sabbath after the Manna began to fall, many of them disobeyed the Lord's instructions and failed to gather twice as much on the day before (16:27-28). Time would fail us to rehearse their constant grumblings about water, lack of meat, and their failure at Kadesh Barnea. After watching what happened to Pharaoh when he failed to believe God and disobeyed him, how is this possible? Yet five hundred years later when the Psalms were written the Lord thought it necessary to say, "Today, if you would hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me. They tried me though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, 'They are a people who err in their heart, and do not know my ways.' Therefore I swore in my anger that they would never enter my rest" (Ps. 95:7-11). But surely after the Resurrection, in the New Testament Church, this will no longer be a problem? Why then does the author of Hebrews quote this very passage and then add, "Take care, brethren, lest there be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Do not harden your hearts! Apparently this is a warning that we too should take to heart.II. THE PROCESS OF HARDENING
How then do we harden our hearts? None of us sets out to do so, but our spiritual arteries seem to get clogged anyway. One reason this happens is that we do it in steps so small that we do not even recognize what is happening.
Do not say, for example, "It is just a small sin after all; it doesn't really matter." But the smallest and most venial sin is the transgression of the will of your Creator, your King, and your Redeemer; it is a violation of his holiness; it displeases the One whom we should love and want to please above all. This is a serious matter. And in addition, "small" sins deprive us of the great blessing that comes to those who are faithful in small things (Mt. 25:21). To say such things is to deceive ourselves, attempt to deceive God, fail to respond to his mercy and patience, minimize our guilt, and try to retain control. They are all ways in which we harden our hearts!
Do not say, "I'm not going to do it; I'm just going to think about it." But "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." And Jesus himself taught us that hate is in his mind--the only one that matters--the moral equivalent of murder, lust the moral equivalent of adultery. To say such things is to deceive ourselves, attempt to deceive God, fail to respond to his mercy and patience, minimize our guilt, and try to retain control. They are all ways in which we harden our hearts!
Do not say, "But nobody will know; and besides, who is it going to hurt?" Nobody will know? Is it nothing to you to grieve the Holy Spirit? And no one will be hurt? Is it nothing to you that all the effects we have seen from Pharaoh's playing of the same game will accrue in your own life? To say such things is to deceive ourselves, attempt to deceive God, fail to respond to his mercy and patience, minimize our guilt, and try to retain control. They are all ways in which we harden our hearts!
And do not say, "I will repent--tomorrow." To say that one will repent tomorrow is to say that one will not repent today. Now is the day of repentance, today is the day of salvation; tomorrow is promised to no one. To say such things is to deceive ourselves, attempt to deceive God, fail to respond to his mercy and patience, minimize our guilt, and try to retain control. They are all ways in which we harden our hearts!
None of these gambits seems terribly and overtly rebellious. But they are all ways in which we deceive ourselves, attempt to deceive God, fail to respond to his mercy and patience, minimize our guilt, and try to retain control. They are all ways in which we harden our hearts! They may be tiny steps, but they are steps on that road that leads to the place where Pharaoh found himself. And that place is destruction.III. THE FUTILITY OF HARDENING
We harden our hearts because we want to continue in sin, and because, deceiving ourselves, we hope to get away with it. So I want to point out the obvious: that this effort is doomed to failure. It is doomed to failure because of the very nature of God, the essence of who he is.
In the first place, God is omniscient. He sees and knows everything. You can't shut him out of your heart or of your life. (The essence of hardness is to try.) You can only choose whether to know him in blessing or in judgment. In addition, he is omnipresent. You can't get away from him. (The essence of hardness is to try.) But if you take the wings of the morning and flee into the depths of the sea--yea, if you make your bed in Hades--he is there. Not only that, but he is omnipotent. He is all powerful. He cannot be resisted. You will not shut him out; you will be made to know him as Lord and as God. This doom cannot be avoided. (The essence of hardness is to try.)
You can know God as your Judge or as your Savior; you can know him as your Enemy or as your Friend; you can know him as the Angel of Death or as the Giver of Life; you can know him as an intolerable Fire or as a sweet Light; you can know him as the eternal "No!" to your wickedness, or as your heavenly Father. Your heart can be soft and pliable in his hands, and the Potter will make of you a vessel of beauty and service; or you can be hardened and thus shattered irreparably by the hammer of his judgment. And which of these fates is yours depends not only on the "altar-call" decisions but also on the little ones you make day by day.CONCLUSION
God loves you; he sent his Son to die for you. Therefore, if you have never given your life to Christ, do it now. Do not harden your heart! And if you are already a believer, do not play games with God. Do not resist him if he is dealing with you about some sin that remains in your life, but give up, repent, and return to him that we may receive times of refreshing from the hand of the Lord. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams