“I’m sorry honey, could you back up please? I was thinking about something else.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve had to ask this of my dear wife, but it’s more than I can count, and certainly more than it should be. She’s been pouring out her heart to me, and I’ve missed it as my mind was drifting elsewhere. Fortunately, she again extends her patience and recounts what I should have heard the first time. Perhaps by asking the question, she knows I value what she has to say. In any case, she accepts my apology as sincere, and we are again engaged in meaningful conversation.
Now, if I had truly lost interest, waiting for her mouth to stop moving so I could get back to my distractions, then we would be in an entirely different place! Without a meaningful change of heart and behavior, a regular pattern of such despondency would put our marriage on the road to ruin.
It is out of a similar concern that the author of Hebrews writes his letter to a church struggling with religious persecution. More than just preserving a marriage, however, his concern is for the salvation of their souls. The church to which he writes was made up of Jews who, upon hearing the gospel, professed Jesus to be the promised Messiah. As a result, they were under intense pressure by their Jewish brethren to renounce this confession. While some were holding faithful under the pressure, many were not, as they teetered on the edge of apostasy. It is to this latter group that the author levels several warnings, urging them to remember God’s faithful promises. As it was, their faith was on life support, and the most glaring indicator is that they had become dull of hearing (Hebrews 5:11).
You see, God too had been pouring out His heart to His people. In the opening sentences of the letter, the author writes:
"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…and He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature…" (Hebrews 1:1-3)
In presenting His Son, God spoke endless volumes to this church about His glory, power, and authority, and about His great faithfulness, love, and salvation towards them. Not only did they hear the good news through Jesus’ firsthand witnesses, God Himself confirmed their message through miraculous signs (Hebrews 2:3-4). He made it abundantly clear that acceptance by the Son of God was of greater value than acceptance in the synagogue. Upon hearing the gospel, this church was an eager audience, ready to hear all that God had to say. But as the pain of persecution arrived and hard choices had to be made, many in the church were closing their ears and their hearts, and like seed sown on rocky soil, were beginning to fall away. While at one time they had ears to hear, they were steadily losing their reception to God’s voice.
What’s important to note here is that those who had become dull of hearing were showing the signs of a spiritually terminal illness. These were not merely sluggish Christians, they were showing by their unbelief that they were likely not Christians at all, even though they gathered with the church and had at one time believed the gospel message. The author makes it clear that “if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end,” (Hebrews 3:6) this is a distinguishing mark of a true member of God’s household. Recognizing their dire circumstance, the author gives one of his many urgent warnings:
"For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation…receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned." (Hebrews 6:7-8)
Of course, this first century church is not the only audience for this warning. The apostle Paul reminds us all to “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5), and a telltale observation is our responsiveness God’s word. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). Do you hear Him? When God’s word tells you to go one way, and the world pressures you to go the other, whose voice do you listen to? If we tune God out today, His voice will become increasingly difficult to hear tomorrow, and there may come a day when we won’t hear Him at all. As the Hebrews author quotes the psalms: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8, Psalm 95:7-8).