Sermon on Hebrews 4:9-16
Text: 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.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
A popular genre of television show is the reality show. People are placed in various situations and cameras are there to record everything that happens. Some of these shows that come to mind are “Survivor,” “The Bachelor/Bachelorette,” and “The Amazing Race.” Yet, as we watch these shows, I am minded to ask, “Is this really reality?”. How many of us have been put in a remote location and been forced to live with strangers, competing in games, to see if there is reward or will we be voted off the island? Is it reality when a number of young women go on exotic dates, hoping that the bachelor will choose them to be his bride? That’s not reality. This morning, as we study God’s Word, the writer to the Hebrews is going to help us RECOGNIZE THE GREAT REALITIES IN OUR LIFE. He wants us to see 1. The Perils. He, also, wants to show us 2. The Power.
In verse 9, it says, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” God gave the Sabbath Day to his Old Testament people as a day of rest. It was a day when they would take a break from their everyday activities, so that they could spend it in meditation and study of God’s Word. It pointed back to the seventh day of creation when God rested from his work of creating the world. As the people of Israel were going through the wilderness, they also looked forward to the land of rest, the Promised Land. There they would find rest from all of the years of wandering. God promised them that they would enjoy rest from their enemies.
We read the encouragement in verse 11, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” This might seem odd to the Hebrew readers, for they already had the Sabbath. The people of Israel were occupying the Promised Land, though under the hand of the Roman Empire. Why would he encourage them to “make every effort to enter that rest?” The reason is found in the second half of the verse, “so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” Even though they had enjoyed these things, they were in danger of losing that rest. By their disobedience, they would lose what God had given them. This warning was sounded by King David in Psalm 95. There we read, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (verses 8-11) David saw how easy it was for the people to abandon the worship of the true God and follow other pursuits. They would lose this land of rest.
The people to whom this letter was written were starting to fall into the same kind of thinking. Perhaps, they were not following false gods, per se, but they were following another path than what God wanted. Over the years, the people had added stipulations to the Sabbath Day as to what was considered work. They told the people how many steps they could take, before it was considered work. They took this beautiful day of the Lord and changed it into something that the people had to do to be saved. It was no longer God who saved them, but what they did. The Hebrews, to whom this book was written, were tempted to go back to the old ways and see in them their salvation. If they didn’t completely save themselves, they, at least, helped God out. This is why the warning is given, “so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” Though they had it all, they were in danger of losing everything.
These verses can also serve as a warning for us, as well. The work-righteous Jew was hard at work trying to do what God wanted, and added in some more things, just to be sure. Our sinful flesh is the exact opposite. It doesn’t want to do anything, at all. Instead, we put our efforts into other things, things that we want. In some instances, it can be sins that we do. We know that they are wrong, but we think that we get so much enjoyment from them, that we don’t want to stop doing them. It thinks that we can sin as much as we want, because God so loving and forgiving. Pursuit of these will damage our faith, if not out and out kill it. The people of Israel found that out, first hand, as they traveled through the wilderness. How many times don’t we read of the people sinning and God punished them? In speaking of this, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.”
It may, also, be that the things that we are pursuing, where we are making our efforts are not, in and of themselves, sinful. They may even be blessings that come from God. The problem is when we allow these things to take the place in our lives that rightfully belong to God. It is good for us to work to earn our living. However, when work comes first and earning our paycheck becomes so important, that time for God is put off to the side or ignored, that we become too busy for worship or Bible study, we are putting our efforts in the wrong place. We thank God for the families that he has given us, but do they ever take the place that God deserves? We want to make our homes a warm place for our families. We want everyone to feel loved and secure. However, when a member of our family is doing something wrong, what do we do? Do we confront them or do we keep quiet, because we want to keep the peace? We put our efforts into our family, but sometimes those efforts are wrong. We enjoy our hobbies and leisure time. They are a place where we can get away from the daily grind. However, do those hobbies, does our leisure time get in the way of our relationship with God. We can’t make it to church, because we have to go and do this or that. Even church activities can be pursuing the wrong thing. Why do we do things around the church? Do we do it so that someone will notice and tell us what a good job we are doing? Do we do it because no one else will, but I really want everyone to know just how put upon I am, showing everyone just what a martyr we are by having to do all of these things? If so, we are doing them for the wrong reasons. Our efforts are misguided.
It is good for us to hear this warning, “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. 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.” We may be able to fool other people with our actions, but we cannot fool God. He knows what we are doing and why we are doing it.
It is important for us to see the perils that we face in life. They may seem so innocent. They may even seem to be good. Yet, we know how often our efforts have been misguided. We know that, all too often, our ways have not been God’s ways. We know that we, too, deserve to join those who will “will perish by following their example of disobedience.” When we hear these things, we know that, all too often, we have followed wrong paths. What can we do, except cry out, “Oh, God, please help me!”
And help us, he does. The writer to the Hebrews gives us three sources of power to help us. The first is found in verse 14, “We have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God.” We are pointed to Jesus Christ. He is referred to as “a great high priest.” In the Old Testament, on one day a year, the high priest would enter into the most holy place of the temple. In his hands, he would be carrying the blood of an animal. He would take that blood and splash it against the ark of the covenant. That was a picture of what our Great High Priest, Jesus, would do. He entered into the most holy place with blood. It was not the blood of an animal, but his own blood. Jesus poured out his blood on the cross. Just as the blood of the animal covered the ark, the blood of Jesus covers our sins. Because he was perfect, he was the only one who could make this sacrifice. His blood would be the only thing that could pay for our sins, including our sins of misplaced efforts and priorities. Jesus completely paid for our sins. By his resurrection, we have been assured that everything necessary for our salvation was done. This is the reason that we can escape the death that we deserve. His sacrifice also gives us the power to follow him. We want to do things that are pleasing to him, because of all that he has done for us.
The second source of power is found in verse 15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.” This verse reminds us that Jesus is not only our Great High Priest; he is also our Brother. He knows what it is like to be tempted. There is no temptation that you and I face that Jesus didn’t face. Sometimes, you will have people who are having trouble with something say, “You wouldn’t understand. You don’t know what I have been through.” This is not the case with Jesus. Just as you and I are tempted to follow worldly wealth and power to the determent of our faith, so was Jesus. Remember the account on the top of the mountain, where Satan tempted Jesus by saying that he would give Jesus all the wealth and the power in the world, if only Jesus would bow down and worship him. The list goes on and on of how Jesus was tempted. He knows what you are going through. He is not some impersonal entity, who feels nothing toward us. He understands what it is like to be tempted. He also promises us that he will be there right beside us, strengthening and encouraging us when we are tempted.
The third source of power is spoken of in verse 16, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We have access to God through prayer. When we face those temptations to follow other ways than God’s ways, we don’t have to face them all alone. We can come to God in prayer and know that he will hear us and help us. It says that we will “receive mercy.” Our God is a loving God who wants to help us. He doesn’t say, ‘You made this mess for yourself. Now, you figure a way out of it.’ He is always ready to hear our prayers. It says that we will find “grace to help us in our time of need.” We will find grace, that is, a gift that comes from God. He is there to help us in our time of need. This is the same promise that God makes to us in Psalm 50:15, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” God promises to be right there with us and will give us the power to face the perils that threaten our faith everyday.
All of those reality television shows aren’t reality, at all. Reality is what you and I face every single day. Reality is knowing that the devil is going to do his level best to have us forsake our God. Reality is knowing that these attacks are going to come in many forms and fashions. Reality is knowing that, on our own, we are doomed. However, reality is also knowing that Jesus, our Great High Priest, has paid for all of our sins. Reality is knowing that Jesus understands what we are going through when we are tempted and empathizes with us. He feels our pain and our struggles, because he’s been through them himself. Reality is knowing that we have free and full access to God in prayer, our God who promises to help us and strengthen us, our God who promises to be with us all of our days, our God who will, at last take us home to himself in heaven. These are the great realities of our life. Amen.
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