HYMN Alas! and did my Saviour bleed?
Alas! and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
At the cross, at the cross,
Where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away –
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.
Was it for crimes that I have done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut its glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man the creature’s sin.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away –
‘Tis all that I can do!
READING Hebrews 4:1 – 13
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
“So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”
6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
SERMON 4 Hearing, faith and God’s judgment
4:1-2 Hearing And Faith – The Marriage Made For Heaven!
We have been reading about entry to the ‘rest’, in the form of the earthly Canaan. Now we turn again to the spiritual counterpart of the earthly Canaan.
‘Therefore’, writes the author, persevere (keep going – don’t give up) and attain this goal of entering eternal rest in this new order! The followers of Jesus need to fear the possibility of missing this goal! The earlier Israelites got no value from hearing the good news because they failed to accept it by faith.
The demands on those people were to obey God’s voice and to keep God’s covenant but they chose instead to disobey His voice and to disregard His covenant. Hearing the gospel by itself does not bring final salvation; it requires to be accepted by faith – a genuine faith and a persistent faith.
4:3-11 Rest For The Faithful – The reference to ‘my rest’ (Ps 95:11; Gen 2:2) relates to a sharing in the rest that God Himself enjoys after His active work of creation. The ‘rest’ of God had been available ever since the end of creation (4:3) but can be forfeited by disobedience, as the writer repeatedly says by quoting Psalm 95.
That ‘rest’ is ongoing and may be shared by all who respond to the gospel with faith and obedience. The divine Sabbath thus started at the point of creation’s completion and continues even now (John 5:17).
This is the writer’s focus in 4:3-5. In the following two verses, he emphasises his belief, based on this Psalm 95, that entry into the ‘rest’ of God is still available ‘so long a time’ after the Exodus and wilderness wanderings era.
The voice of God in the Psalm and Letter is the most important factor of gracious promise, whether in the days of Moses, David, Christ or the 21st Century AD.
However, this ‘rest’ can also be forfeited by shallow response to grace, presuming on His patience, tempting the Lord or treating faith and obedience with lightness, hypocrisy or rejection.
Verse 8 summarises the argument and sets a context to it.
The ‘rest’ in Psalm 95:11 is not the earthly Canaan for that land of rest was lived in by the Israelites who entered it under Joshua’s lead. The people addressed in Ps 95 had already been living a long time in Canaan. The ‘rest’ was also different from the rest they had from all their enemies, given by God in Joshua’s day (Josh 23:1 cf 21:44).
To the Greek readers, the names ‘Joshua’ and ‘Jesus’ are not two names but one! The former led God’s people into the earthly Canaan, but the latter led His people as heirs of the new covenant into their heavenly inheritance. The former was a temporal ‘rest’; the latter was a true ‘rest’, still prepared and reserved for disciples of Christ in the new order, new creation and new eternal life with God.
According to 4:9-10, the ‘Sabbath rest’ involves our participation in God’s own rest. As God rested after His work of creation, so believers rest after their service on earth.
It speaks of the eternal homeland that is the heritage of believers – a better ‘home’ or ‘city’ (11:10,16). People of faith are already citizens of this city of God, though not yet experiencing their full privileges as citizens of it.
Just when we enter this city is not completely clear in the Hebrews letter – it may be that the writer to the Hebrews believes that OT believers entered the rest on completion of Christ’s saving work, whilst NT people of faith enter the rest on death. It is to this eternal fellowship with God that the readers of the letter are urged to persevere, regardless of the difficulties and pain of this present evil age.
Our writer reaches yet another climax to his arguments in verse 11 with another highly significant ‘therefore’. In view of the prospect of glory by persevering in their faith and in view of the catastrophic results of unbelief, the believers are urged to strive with every drop of energy and endurance in order to enter their promised ‘rest’ in their eternal home. The Word of God must be taken seriously, must be accepted in faith and must be put into daily practice.
4:12-13 Judgment By God And His Word – This focus on ‘warning’ in verse 11 is then continued and intensified through verses 12-13.
The warning about falling by disobedience is timely and there is a reason for it because, unlike human words, this Word of God is living, powerful and discerning of the true condition of the human heart.
The Word is ‘active’ in achieving that purpose for which the Word was given (1 Pet 1:23; Isa 55:11). It reaches all the recesses of our spiritual being and exposes our innermost motives, thoughts and driving forces (1 Cor 4:5).
The Spirit and Word work together to take a human being apart. The result will be that while we can deceive ourselves and certainly we can deceive others about our true nature, … nothing escapes God’s awareness and knowledge of us! (4:13).
We are exposed and stripped naked in the presence of the all-knowing God. We cannot conceal anything from Him. Ultimately, we don’t have to satisfy other people or our own conscience, but we will stand before God Himself and ‘we must give account’.
Hymn Guide me O Thou great Jehovah
- Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty,
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.
- Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliv’rer, strong Deliv’rer,
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield;
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.
- When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death and hell’s Destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.