If there were a title for this, one title would be “Too Late,” and another title might be “You’ll Never Get Another ‘Today.’”
So we’re going to read Hebrews 3:7–15. And it’s remarkable that Psalm 95 is quoted three times and alluded to more often in this. So clearly, it carried weight with this writer at this juncture. “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,” this is Hebrews 3:7, “Today,” and this is the quote from Psalm 95, “Today,” that’s the keyword,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
’They shall not enter my rest.’”
So that’s the consequence of a hard heart today, instead of a soft heart towards God.
Hebrews 3:12–13: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today.’” That’s a remarkable way of talking, picked up from Psalm 95, as long as it is called today. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.”
That was the quote and now he’s picking it up and saying, “As long as it is called today,” and today is today. As long as there’s an openness, as long as there’s a window, as long as there’s a moment of breath left in you, it’s today. “That none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,” and here it is again,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:13–15)
So I’m going to draw several inferences from this.
A Final ‘Too Late’ at the End of the Age
Here’s one. There is a final too late in the end of the age. First Thessalonians 5:3, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” So it’ll be too late.
Or Luke 21:34, “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” So, to keep on neglecting and neglecting and neglecting, suddenly, it’ll be too late.
Revelation 18:7–8 — a picture of Babylon in her arrogance — “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,” and it will be too late.
Or Matthew 7:22–23, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? ‘ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,’” and it will be too late.
So that’s the first point. There is a too late at the end of the age. We will come to a judgment and at that judgment there’ll be no other opportunity. Your today will be over. So don’t harden yourself today because you don’t know whether you’ll live through the rest of this meeting and, therefore, you’ll face it and it’s over. No redo at all. No push a button, reset, nothing. It’s just over.
A Final ‘Too Late’ in This Life
Now here’s a second one. There is a final too late that can arrive in this life. Hebrews 12:15–17:
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that yafterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
It was too late already for Esau. God was done with Esau. He could not repent, though he sought it with tears.
I can remember one of the most memorable things my dad, in his evangelistic ministry and as a young impressionable boy, certain things he said and did and looks on his face I could just see blazing today. And he would often have a youth night in his crusades. So he’d have a week-long meeting or a two-week-long meeting and one of them would be a youth night. “Bring all your young friends to hear the evangelist.”
And he would tell stories and he would plead with the young people, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, lest the days come when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’ You have a today and you won’t always have a today, not even in this life. You can cross a line and be an Esau and God is simply done from you and God will strive with you no more.” And I can remember him just painting that picture with these young people. Pretty sobering.
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life — to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:16–17)
Today, don’t harden your heart because this day’s hardening might be the sin after which no one should pray for you. That’s pretty sobering.
There is sin and I think this is a good translation. I used to read this, “There is a sin that is unto death.” Like which one? Like the unforgivable sin. I don’t think that’s the way John thought or Jesus thought. Like, “There is one sin. That’s the one. You do that one.”
I’ve had so many young people come to me and say, “I’m scared to death because when I was thirteen, I cursed God. I was so mad at my mama, I went my room, I cursed God with all the stuff I could say and I was terrified that that was the unforgivable sin.” And I just always say to them, “I don’t think it’s a sin or a curse. Right now, today, today is the day of salvation. Will you, can you repent of that? It sounds to me like you’re really sad about that.” “But there is a sin that is unto death and I do not say that we should pray for that,” which means there is a too late in this life, not just at the end.
Ecclesiastes 9:12: “Like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.” That’s the second implication.
Embracing Today’s Mercies
Third, there is a too early for every trouble and a too late for every mercy. See if I can make sense out of that. You can miss the mercy that God has for you today, miss the enjoyment of it, fail to see it, fail to receive it, fail to be soft toward it, be hard toward it and it just goes right by and you don’t taste it, embrace it, eat it, enjoy it at all.
It just goes right by. It might be the rising of the sun, but you don’t give a hoot about the rising of the sun. You don’t give thanks for it, you don’t notice it, you’re not amazed by it. It just goes right by and a thousand others that come to you every day so you can miss a mercy and you can lengthen a trouble that has no business being lengthened.
So I’ll give you the texts. Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” So every day, today, has today’s trouble. Don’t lengthen today’s trouble into the day before or the day after. Today’s trouble is for today.
And then the other text is Lamentations 3:22: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” So, you can miss those new mercies appointed for those troubles and you can lengthen those troubles into either direction. I can take tomorrow’s troubles and bring them into today, or I can take tomorrow’s troubles and lengthen them out longer than they need to be lengthened out.
So today, this whole issue of today, has gripped me as I was reading these texts, is that this moment has mercies in it and this moment has troubles in it and they’re matched and suited for each other. And the reason we would miss the mercies and lengthen the troubles is that we’re hard. We’re hard. Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. As long as it is called today, exhort one another, lest there be in any of you hardened and deceitful sin. Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.
So what’s the opposite of hardness towards today’s mercies? What’s the opposite of hardness? The answer is softness. What would that mean? It would mean tenderness toward alive, toward awake, toward you can be pricked, you can be touched. The mercies are sensible. You treat me nice, I feel treated nice and I’m thankful, instead of you don’t even notice it. You’re just so wrapped up in your hard self that you don’t see any of the mercies that are coming. And hardness, I think probably intensifies the troubles and stretches them out and doesn’t avail the mercies toward them.
Unrepeatable Gift of Today
So here are my concluding thoughts. Today is an unrepeatable gift and I mean today kind of metaphorically. Like this meeting will never happen again, ever. A meeting will happen, but not this one with this group of people on this theme followed by this afternoon’s experiences and preceded by yesterday’s experiences in your life that brought you to the mental framework that you have right now, this will never happen again.
This is a today. And you can either be hard in this moment and miss a lot of mercies or you can be soft in this moment and look around and see the amazing friends we have here and we have heat in this room and there’s measure of health in our bodies and there’s truth before us on the table and there’s hope in our hearts and you can just start feeling soft towards the mercies of this today.
Today is an unrepeatable gift. There will never be another today. Today if you hear his voice, don’t harden your heart. Exhort one another every day as long as it is called today that none of you may be hardened. The aim of Hebrews is that we would come to the end of every day and hear the words, “The day is yours.” You were not hard toward God today. You saw him, you heard him, you responded to him. You were alive to God.
So I’m going to read you a poem I wrote. I haven’t sent it to Jonathan for publication yet. I’m going to work on it a little bit more, but I’m going to read it because it’s just written out of this. It’s called “Too Late,” and it’s what I do when I’m moved.
At Concourse G Gate 17, my sweat and panting pleased that obstacles were unforeseen, may have been fantasies for all they cared of where I’d been. The door was locked within. I waited at another gate, I pled. They said, “Too late.”
I wait and weary fall, hurled back through sluggish centuries asleep. The roof of my poor shack unrhythmically taps. These drops of rain suddenly unite in weeks of raging night. I linger, doubting, then flail straight to Noah’s ark. Too late.
Again I dream Esau. I scratch my hairy arms and smell the wildness in my clothes and snatch at every hollow shell of happiness in vain and grope for birthright, blessing, hope, and strain with tears to shed the weight of bitterness. Too late.
Now in my dream I waited and I slept. And suddenly, a shout at midnight wakened all and swept us. A shout at midnight wakened all and swept us from our slumbers out to meet the groom with lanterns bright, but mine would not ignite. I flew in back, a bolted gate, a burning lamp. Too late.
“Excuse me, sir. I think your flight is boarding now.”
“Yes.” My tongue was thick with sleep. “All right, I’m coming.”
“Good, unless you plan to spend the night in dreams.”
“No, I’ll be there.”
It seems I stand before an open gate and it is not too late.
Which is where we all stand right now, which is a wonderful thing. Wonderful thing.