How To Hold Fast

Bible Book: Hebrews  3 : 1-19
Subject: Dedication; Steadfastness; Commitment

Hebrews 3:1-19: “1 – Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, Whom we acknowledge as our Apostle and High Priest. 2 – He was faithful to the One Who appointed Him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 – Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 – For every house is built by someone, but God is the Builder of everything. 5 – “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 – But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. 7 – So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear His voice, 8 – do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, 9 – where your ancestors tested and tried Me, though for forty years they saw what I did. 10 – That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known My ways.’ 11 – So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter My rest.’” 12 – See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 – But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 – We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 – As has just been said: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” 16 – Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 – And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 – And to whom did God swear that they would never enter His rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 – So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

This week I felt led to do some research on ANCHORS and I discovered there are several different types. This one is called a DANFORTH anchor. It’s a type of anchor that is commonly used on small recreational boats because it doesn’t weigh much but it still has a lot of holding power. Danforth anchors work best in hard sand or mud because the pointed flukes can easily dig into the bottom. But they don’t work well on rocky bottoms because the flukes aren’t heavy enough to penetrate. They also don’t work on grassy bottoms because the flukes tend to slip off. With that in mind, some boats use the KEDGE or NAVY anchor. You should be familiar with these anchors because Popeye has them tattooed on his arms. This kind of anchor IS good in holding fast to grassy or even rocky bottoms because the weight allows it to penetrate and dig in. And then there are—Grapnel anchors—which tend to be used for lighter boats like canoes. They are too small to hold a heavy boat fast—but they do come in handy for retrieving things you accidentally drop overboard kind of like those arcade games. Mushroom anchors get their name from their shape—a shape that works best in soft bottoms where the shape can create a powerful suction. Well, I could go on and on because there are TONS of types of anchors—but the one I find most interesting is the SEA ANCHOR. It’s kind of a parachute. It’s made out of canvas and is used to stabilize a boat in heavy weather. Instead of tethering the boat to the seabed, the sea anchor floats in the water acting as a brake to reduce drift.

I bring all this up as a SEGUE from last week’s text where the author of Hebrews talked about the SPIRITUAL drift that was plaguing his first readers. Because of persecution under Claudius and Nero many of those believers were drifting from their faith in Jesus. They were losing their way. And let’s face it—we may not have to deal with emperors like Nero—but we all deal with the problem of spiritual drift. We all know what it’s like to feel ourselves being pulled toward conforming to this fallen world. I mean—like a strong ocean current pulling on a ship—we feel drawn all the time. And—when nothing is done to anchor such a person—well before you know it that person has drifted such that they no longer follow Jesus. The same thing can happen to a church. When a body of believers drifts from the faith, eventually it ceases to be a church.

I’m reminded of the parable of the life-saving station: As the parable says, on a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat—but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station—and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. With their help new boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew. Some of the new members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the flimsy emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. As a result, the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they redecorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club. Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do this work. The MISSION of lifesaving was still given lip-service but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the lifesaving activities personally. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, some had skin of a different color, some spoke a strange language—and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up with all these soggy people dripping water everywhere. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. Then, at the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities because they felt they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal pattern of the club. Some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the life of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters—they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast, which they did. As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It too evolved into a club and yet another lifesaving station was founded. Well, if you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people drown!

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that many churches that originally embraced their mission of saving souls—have drifted and no longer focus on the Great Commission. Some have become gathering places or social ministry organizations with no mention of Jesus. I’m saying spiritual drift is a danger that we all need to pay attention to—which makes today’s text important because in it the author of Hebrews cites three ways to stop it—three ways to hold fast.

I. Consider JESUS

First he says, consider JESUS. Look at verse 1. “Fix your thoughts on Jesus, Whom we acknowledge as our Apostle and High Priest.” In other words—the first thing you need to do to stop drift is make sure you have the right ANCHOR—and of course I’m not talking about Danforth anchors or Mushroom anchors. No—the only Anchor that will hold us firm amidst the currents of this fallen and falling world is Jesus. As it says a few chapters later, our faith in Jesus is “an ANCHOR for our souls— firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19)

To show how STRONG—how SECURE—how SUPERIOR an “anchor” Jesus is, the writer compares Him to perhaps the biggest “anchor” of the Jewish faith—Moses. And Moses was a big deal. He was esteemed by the Jews as a hero of the faith far above any other Jew who ever lived. Here’s a quick view of his resume to help us understand why.

* God had miraculously protected Moses as a baby and personally provided for his burial.

* Between these two points in his life are miracle after miracle after miracle.

* He confronted the Pharaoh and called down the plagues.

* He organized the Hebrew slaves and led them out from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised land.

* Moses was the man to whom God spoke face to face. Today we might say that Moses and God met for coffee frequently.

But however you put it, since he spent all this time alone with God, Moses was considered Israel’s greatest prophet.

* He had seen the glory of God firsthand and in fact even had this glory reflected in his own face such that he had to wear a veil so as not to blind the other Hebrews.

* God used Moses to give the Hebrews their beloved law. In fact, it is often referred to as “the law of Moses.”

* He was also their main historian—writing the Pentateuch and giving the people God’s plans for the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.

* Moses is mentioned over 700 times in the Bible.

But—in spite of all his achievements, Moses was humble. Numbers 12:3 says, “The man Moses was very humble, more than all the men who were on the face of the earth.”

I.M. Haldemann penned this beautiful description of Moses: “The life of Moses presents a series of striking antitheses.

* He was the child of a slave, and the son of a queen.

* He was born in a hut, and lived in a palace.

* He inherited poverty and enjoyed unlimited wealth.

* He was the leader of armies and the keeper of sheep.

* He was educated in the court and dwelt in the desert.

* He had the wisdom of Egypt and the faith of a child.

* He was fitted for the city and wandered in the wilderness.

* He was tempted with the pleasures of sin and endured the hardships of virtue.

* He was backward in speech and he talked with God.

* He had the rod of a shepherd and the power of the Infinite.

* He was a fugitive from Pharaoh but an ambassador from Heaven.

* He was the giver of the Law and the forerunner of grace.

* He died alone on Mount Nebo and appeared with Christ Jesus in Judea.

* No man assisted at his funeral yet God buried him.”

And then, Deuteronomy gives this epitaph of Moses: “Since then no prophet has risen in all Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face—who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” (34:10-12)

Well, for all these reasons many Jews believed Moses was way greater than angels. And to drive home the point that JESUS is the only valid Anchor in life—not prophets—not angels—not even Moses—the writer of Hebrews compares our Lord to old Moe.

* For example, he says Moses was faithful in the house—but Jesus BUILT the house. In fact, as God in the flesh—as Creator—Jesus built everything!

* Moses was a servant in God’s house. Jesus is God’s SON in the house.

* Moses was a priest. Jesus is the HIGH priest. On top of that Jesus is God’s APOSTLE.

By the way, Jesus Himself pointed to His superiority over Moses by telling the Jews, “If you believed in Moses you would believe in Me for he wrote about Me.” (John 5:46)

In any case, the author’s point is that to HANG FAST - to keep from drifting, we must consider Jesus. We must always remember Who He is - what He has done - what He promises to do. If we consider Jesus, if we keep our focus on Him, if anchor our souls to Jesus, we won’t drift. This is what Isaiah 26:3 is getting at when it says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” David referred to this when He wrote: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life—to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

Paul expressed the same desire in Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings—becoming like Him in His death.” (Philippians 3:10)

To negate the cultural currents that constantly pull us—we must consider Jesus. John Brown of Edinburgh wrote, “It is because we think so little about Jesus, that we love Him so little, trust Him so little, that we so often neglect our duty—are so much influenced by things seen and temporal and so little by things unseen and eternal.” He’s correct—we have to keep our focus on Jesus—we have to keep the SON in our eyes!

Let me put it this way. You can’t win a foot race by looking at your feet—no you have to keep your eyes on the goal. And, if we are going to finish the Christian race we need to keep our eyes on Jesus…the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2) I love how the old chorus puts it: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus—look full in His wonderful face—-and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

My first church was way out in the country of Northern Alabama. To put it another way it was “in the sticks.” One Sunday night after church I went to a church fellowship being held at the home of one of our members. When I left, I got lost on those “back-in-the-sticks roads.” To make things worse a horrible electrical storm came up. The wind was really blowing. I had my radio on and it said there was a tornado warning. Well as the rain pelted my windshield and the lightning flashed and the thunder roared, I began to worry because I just could not find my way. The more turns I made on those back roads the more unfamiliar they became. I was lost! Then I saw in the distance the lighted cross on the top of my church’s steeple. So I kept my eyes on the cross—always turning on roads that took me closer to it. In this way, eventually I got back to the church—and from there I could find my way home. Well, in the storms of life that pull us—-we must keep OUR eyes on the cross. That will help anchor us fast. As Paul says this “will keep us steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” (1st Corinthians 15:58)

II. Guard our HEARTS

The next thing the writers says we should do is guard our HEARTS. This is important because hearts that have become hard—hearts that are no longer responsive to Jesus—they are the MAIN CAUSE of spiritual drift. A hard heart is like a boat that has no anchor—and without that “pumper” working it has no engine either. I mean, it’s BOUND to drift. Look at verses 7 and following: “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion—during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried Me, though for forty years they saw what I did.’”

Please notice the urgency of this warning. Verse 7 says “TODAY” —which means “NOW!” It’s like Paul worded it in 2nd Corinthians 6:2, “Behold NOW is the accepted time, behold NOW is the day of salvation.” Listen, the time to respond to God is always NOW—not only because God’s timing is always perfect—but because whenever we procrastinate in our obedience, our hearts begin to harden. We become less responsive to God.

It’s why Screwtape advised his demon nefew—to tempt his assignment not do disobey but just to WAIT—saying LATER would be better. Screwtape and all adversaries of God know that our hearts get harder every time we say “no” to Jesus or to any part of His truth. So there is indeed an URGENCY to this one.

D.L. Moody referred to something he did in October of 1871 as the greatest blunder of his life. He was preaching in Farwell Hall in Chicago. His text that night was Pilate’s question at Jesus’ trial. “What then shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22) At the end of his sermon Moody said he would give the people one week to make up their minds about Jesus. He then turned to his minister of music, Ira Sankey, asking him to sing. Ira sang a song entitled, “Today the Savior Calls” but by the third verse Sankey’s voice was drowned out by noise outside the hall. The great Chicago Fire had begun and the flames were even then sweeping through the city. The clanging of the fire bells and the noise of the engines made it impossible to continue the service as people ran for the exits. In the years that followed Moody thought of the death toll and said he wished that he had called for an immediate decision for Jesus. He wished he had not put it off for a minute.

The fact is, saying “YES” to God’s will is always an URGENT thing. We must NOT let our hearts harden. Well, the example of the gradual “hardening effects” of denial that the writer cites is the Hebrews whom Moses led to the borders of Promised Land. This is a great example because think of it. In the long history of this earth, no migration of any people started so well and with such great expectations—as Israel’s Exodus from Egypt.

Remember, after being in slavery for 430 years, God led them out with a mighty hand. Moses, God’s spokesman, delivered the ultimatum to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” (Exodus 5:1). After a series of deadly plagues, culminating in the death of every first-born child among the Egyptians, Pharaoh finally relented. Then as Israel stepped into the wilderness to begin their journey than God provided a pillar of cloud to lead the way by day and a pillar of fire by night. But as soon as the Israelites left, Pharaoh changed his mind and set out in pursuit with his army of chariots. Then Israel watched in amazement as God opened the Red Sea and allowed them to cross over on dry land. They saw God make Pharaoh’s chariots swerve out of control. The moment the last Hebrew set foot on the other side they turned and saw Egypt’s entire army drowned as God let the waters of the Red Sea come back together.

Well this Exodus did indeed BEGIN well—but it ended so poorly. I mean, no sooner had they celebrated God’s amazing deliverance than they began to grumble and complain. Rather than having a grateful heart for the astounding deliverance and limitless provisions of God—there was a settled attitude of complaint among the people because everything did not go exactly as they desired. And talk about complaining! They grumbled about the Manna so God gave them meat. They grumbled about their thirst so God gave them water. You can almost FEEL all those hearts hardening—which they did. And as that happened they became a throng of one and a half million people plagued with negativism and unbelief.

I’m reminded of the day Robert Fulton tested his steamboat. Historians tell us people actually stood on the shore and chanted, “It will never start, never start, never start.” Then, when it started and began to move, they changed the chant to, “It will never stop, never stop, never stop.”

Listen—negativism IS faithlessness and unbelief. It is one of the main symptoms of a hard heart—a heart that has become unreceptive to God’s will. And to show HOW hard their complaining and negativism had made the hearts of the Israelites—we need to look at the day when they finally arrived at the edge of the Promised Land. Remember, Moses sent twelve spies into the land to take a peek and see what they were up against. Well, ten hard-hearted men came back with a negative report saying they could not take the land. In spite of the fact that God had plagued Pharaoh into letting them go—in spite of the fact that God had parted the Red Sea—in spite of the fact that God had miraculously fed them with manna and quail—in spite of the fact that God had led them with a pillar of fire and a cloud—in spite of Joshua and Caleb’s faith-filled encouragement they didn’t believe God could enable them to conquer the land. Their negativism—hardened their hearts and blinded them to the limitless power of God—power they had witnessed firsthand day after day.

That night unbelief was rampant in the camp. One after another rose to demand new leadership who would lead them back to Egypt. I mean the Israelites got over their trust in God quicker than the Pharaoh got over his fear of God deciding to pursue them after setting them free. And the hard hearts of the Israelites cost them everything. I mean, that unbelieving generation never made it. Only two over the age of 20 arrived in promised land. Let me put it this way. What could have been an 11-day journey from Egypt to the Promised land became a 40-year funeral procession—with an average of 90 deaths each and every day.

As a side point I think we should be forewarned here that it is possible to begin well and end horribly—and it doesn’t matter how well we begin if we don’t finish. You can pass everyone during the race of life—but if you stumble at the finish line you lose. Those of us who are nearing the finish line of life must heed this warning! So—guard your hearts! Just as a diseased physical heart can end our lives and force us to miss out on the blessings of children and grand-children—the GOLDEN years—a hardened SPIRITUAL heart can ruin our walk.

It can make us miss out on the abundant joy of joining God in His work—making an eternal difference in this fallen world. It can make us miss our own “promised lands!” Warren Wiersbe warns, “The heart of every problem is the problem of the heart.” So—we must guard ours! And—remember, just like PHYSICAL heart disease, the spiritual version is a gradual thing. We can see that in the example of the Hebrews. They went from information to insubordination. They heard the spies’ report and rebelled. Then from insubordination they moved to iniquity. As verse 17 says God was angry at those “who SINNED.”  Then they went from iniquity to immovability. Their hard hearts got them stuck in the mud of disobedience. They refused to move on. A more contemporary example is Ebeneezer Scrooge. In the ghost-guided tour of his former life he could see how he gradually became greedy for the things of this world—he could see how his heart had become hard costing him so much. And I could cite tons of examples—from the Grinch to Darth Vader—but they all show the danger of gradually hardening hearts.

I’m reminded of a quote from Screwtape Letters: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” So—guard your heart. When God commands obey! Don’t put it off.  Listen: the more we obey God the more we see Him enable us to do so. And the more we do that—the more we see His power—and then the more receptive we are to His commands. To review: Consider Jesus—guard your heard—and then the third thing our text tells us about resisting drift is this:

III. ENCOURAGE one another

We must is ENCOURAGE one another. Look at verse 12 and 13, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Think of how much differently things might have been for the Hebrews as they got to the entrance of the Promised land if they had encouraged one another to trust God—instead of encouraging one another to return to Egypt. We need positive encouragement to hold fast.

This is one reason being involved in a church of Biblically-grounded believers is so important. I mean, isolation from the mutual encouragement of the body is a dangerous thing. When we are away from other ANCHORED Christians we more easily succumb to the will of the world. Without that fellowship we are less likely to be transformed into the image of Christ and MORE likely to be conformed to the culture around us. When we are alone and unaccountable it’s tempting to take the easy course instead of the right one. We need to encourage one another to hold fast—not just on Sunday but on every day.

So as Hebrew 10 says, “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as in the manner of some—but exhorting one another and so much more as you see the Day approaching.” We need the wise perspective of growing Christian brothers and sisters because sin is deceitful. It looks good and it promises much but it enslaves and leaves broken devastated families. It shatters lives and ruins our testimony. Not only that but it hardens a person. The more a person sins the easier it is for them to continue in sin.

Charles Swindoll warns, “Reaching out and touching someone is not just a nostalgic sentimental advertising slogan it is a Biblical mandate.” We need the encouragement of others to HOLD FAST to our faith in Jesus. More than anything encouragement helps us stay on course as we seek to grow in Christlikeness.

This week I read about a study done in 2009 by a German scientist named Jan Souman. Souman took a group of subjects out to empty parking lots and open fields, blindfolded them, and instructed them to walk in a straight line. Some of them managed to keep to a straight course for ten or twenty paces; a few lasted for 50 or a hundred. But in the end, all of them wound up circling back toward their points of origin. Not many of them. Not most of them. Every last one. Dr. Souman reported, “And they have no idea. They were thinking that they were walking in a straight line all the time.” Dr. Souman’s research team explored every imaginable explanation. Some people turned to the right while others turned to the left, but the researchers could find no discernable pattern. As a group, neither left-handed nor right-handed subjects demonstrated any predisposition for turning one way more than the other—nor did subjects tested for either right-or left-brain dominance. The team even tried gluing a rubber soul to the bottom of one shoe to make one leg longer than the other. “It didn’t make any difference at all,” explained Dr. Souman. “So again, that is pretty random what people do.”

In fact, it isn’t even limited to walking. Ask people to swim blindfolded or drive a car blindfolded and, no matter how determined they may be to go straight, they quickly begin to describe peculiar looping circles in one direction or the other. This study shows we are prone to stray—and not just physically. Without the perspective of others, we are prone to wander away from the things of God. We need the encouragement of others to stay true to God.