Sermon on Hebrews 4:1-11
Text: 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.
There are few things that feel better than crawling into bed after a long day. You may have been doing physical hard work throughout the day, leaving your body tired. You may have been juggling many different things, trying to make everything fit. You may have been studying hard for a test that was coming up. Whatever the case, it feels good to get to the end of the day and go to bed. When we get tired, our bodies crave rest. However, it is not just our bodies that crave rest. Our souls also crave rest. Our text speaks to us about rest and tells us, THERE REMAINS A SABBATH REST FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD. 1. God’s Promise Of Rest Is Sure. With that in mind, 2. Let Us Make Every Effort To Enter That Rest.
A few moments ago, we noted that the body needs its rest due to various factors. In what ways do our souls need rest? In a word, the answer is “sin.” First of all, there is the load of sin that is carried around. We know that, when we study the law of our God, he has an exacting standard of what he demands of us. They are summarized in the Ten Commandments and are quite easy to understand. However, while they are easy to understand, they are impossible for us to do. For example, we read in the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder.” We think to ourselves that we have kept that one. Yet, when you do a deeper study, you see that we are also forbidden to hate anyone. We are forbidden to do or say anything that hurts someone else. Then, we try to sweep it under the rug or tell ourselves that what we did wasn’t really all that bad. However, our consciences aren’t fooled. They gnaw and they tug at us. Eventually, the sheer weight of them is more than we can bear. We know that we have sinned and deserve the punishment that God threatens, namely, an eternity of separation from him in hell.
In addition to that, we live in a world that has been ruined by sin. God created it perfectly, but the effects of sin make our lives burdensome. There are the aches and pains of daily living. There may be stress in the family. There may be money issues. There are the storms and droughts that ruin crops. Often it seems that we go from one hardship to another. They may even be piling up on you all at once. These things drag us down and make us weary. With all of these things going on in our lives, it is easy to see why our souls grow weary.
How welcome to ours ears comes the voice of our God, giving us rest. First of all, we have the rest that Jesus spoke about in his invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:228&29) Jesus offers rest for our souls because he took away the sins that burden them. This was the sole purpose of his time here on this earth. He came to bring rest for our souls. Jesus did so by living the life that we can never live. Earlier, as we spoke about the Fifth Commandment, we spoke of the fact that we are never to be hurtful to anyone or to hate them. Jesus didn’t. In spite of the fact that there were many who were unloving to him, he did not retaliate. He even prayed for the forgiveness of those who were nailing him to a cross. It was on that cross that Jesus paid for every one of those sins that weigh us down. His blood has washed us clean from them. Because of this, when God looks at us, he does not see the sins that we have committed. Rather, he sees us as perfect. Our sins are gone. In Jesus’ glorious resurrection, we have the assurance that we are forgiven. Those sins that weigh us down have bene taken away. We find rest for our souls in Jesus.
Because of this, we have an eternal rest to look forward to. We read in verse 9, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” The word “Sabbath” means rest. For the Old Testament Jew, the seventh day was to be a Sabbath, a day of rest. This hearkens back to the first seventh day. The writer to the Hebrews highlights that day in verses 3&4, “(God’s) works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all his works.’” When it says that God rested on the seventh day, it doesn’t mean that God was so tired from the work of creation, that he needed a day off. Rather, it signaled an end, a completion of the work of creation. It is a rest characterized by perfect contentment and infinite satisfaction. It is this rest, this eternal blessedness and complete fulfilment that he wants to share with us, his children. We will be free from all those things in life that make us weary. We read in Revelation 14:13, “I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’”
How can we be sure that this is waiting for us? We can be sure because God has told us so. First of all, we read in verse 1, “The promise of entering his rest still stands.” Later, we read, “Now we who have believed enter that rest.” (Verse 5) Take note of the fact that this verse doesn’t talk about entering God’s rest in the future. We are presently enjoying the rest that comes from God. Finally, we read, “Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” (Verse 10) This verse points to the fact that, when we reach the glories of heaven, we will be completely at rest, just as God was when he completed his work of creation. You can be sure of this Sabbath-rest, because God has said so.
Since that is the case, why did the writer to the Hebrew Christians add, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience?” (Verse 11) The clue to this verse is to understand whom he is speaking about when he wrote, “Their example of disobedience.” The writer is referencing the people of Israel as they traveled from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. The nation had been promised that God would lead them to a land of milk and honey. They were looking forward to entering this land of promise. However, as you read through the books of Exodus and Numbers, you see many of the people being put to death. Why was that? They disobeyed God. As you read those accounts, you read of idolatry, complaining against God, wild living, and disrespect for God’s representatives. Some of them were merely going through the motions of being a faithful follower of God. They offered all of the right sacrifices at the right times. They fasted and observed all of the holy days. Yet, in describing them, we read, “The message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.” (Verse 2) They did not enter the promised land of rest, because in their lack of faith, they disobeyed God. They chose to listen to the temptations that came from the world around them and the sinful nature inside of them and, as a result did not receive the land of rest that God had offered them.
This serves as a good warning for us. It wasn’t that the people of Israel didn’t know any better. They knew the law of God. They had heard about the promise of a Savior to come. Yet, they chose to disregard what God said and follow their own ways. Listen to verses 1&2, “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. 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.” By God’s grace, we also have heard the Word of God. We have heard the law, which condemns, and the gospel, which tells us of a Savior from sin. We have been brought to faith. However, the devil is not going to leave us alone. He doesn’t want us to enter the land of eternal rest. So, he will do everything in his power to have us fall away. He will tell us that, as long as we look good on the outside and belong to the right church, you can go ahead and do whatever you want. We need this warning because more is needed than a good beginning, more than just a nominal allegiance to the Christian flag, more than mere occasional lip-service to his word. Every effort must be expended if we want to reach this rest. Constant diligence must be given so that we do not end up like disobeying and disbelieving Israel. However, that effort must be in the right direction, always closer to God’s gospel through which his powerful grace shores up and strengthens weak faith. As we go through life, our prayer, as Christians, is, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
We also hear God’s words of invitation in verse 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.’” God continues to reach out to us. He wants us to believe in him. He wants to give us the heaven that Jesus won for us. So he daily calls out to us with the gospel message, forgiving us for those times when we fell into sin. Through the gospel message, he strengthens us to make every effort to avoid sin and to live in thanksgiving to him. May God help us to make every effort to enter into his rest.
As we began the sermon, we talked about how good it feels to get into bed at night and rest. However, we also know that when we go to bed, we will have to get up in the morning. It’s very possible that the new day that we are waking up to make be even harder than the last. That’s the problem with this rest. It’s only a temporary rest. As Christians, we know of a rest that far outweighs any other. It is the rest that comes from God. It is the surety of knowing that, in Jesus Christ, all of our sins are forgiven. We are at peace with God now. We also look forward to the eternal rest of heaven. It will never be interrupted. That rest will never end. How we long for that rest. We pray that God would continue to walk beside us and strengthen our faith so that, when our journey through the wilderness of this life comes to its end, we will be in that Promised Land of eternal rest, the Sabbath-rest that remains forever for the people of God. Amen.
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