March 28, 2018
Our time in the Word today will impact you differently, depending on what kind of person you are. I would suggest on a normal Sunday morning, especially this time of the year – Palm Sunday, Easter – when church attendance ticks up a bit – I would suggest we primarily have the following four classes of people:
- First, fully-devoted followers of Jesus. Not just in name, but truly fully-devoted followers. Christ is your treasure.
- Second, we have people who profess Christ, but don’t truly know Christ. At some point in your life, you prayed a prayer, made a profession of faith. And you occasionally or maybe even regularly show up at church. But in your heart of hearts, you seldom give Jesus a thought from Monday to Saturday. I would like to talk to you, today – but you think yourself already a Christian, and your self-deception may blind you. I pray not.
- Third, we have people who don’t know Christ, but are interested. I will be speaking to you today. My prayer has been that God will open your heart to respond to the message. Why not today? You’ve been contemplating Christianity – why not trust Christ today?
- Fourth, we have people who don’t know Christ, and are not interested. I would like to speak to you, too, but your disinterest may prevent you from hearing. I actually don’t know why you’re here other than the sovereign control of God – and so my prayer has been God will open your hardened heart to hear today. My prayer is that you will leave surprised. Different than you came – changed.
So who are you? Committed follower, self-deceived professing follower, interested non-follower, disinterested non-follower? Can I tell you for at least three of those classes of people, your eternity hangs in the balance. Oh, you may have an opportunity to get things right later, but you may not. My hope is that since we have no assurance of tomorrow – physically or spiritually – today, you will not harden your heart. And I will give you an opportunity at the end of our time together to respond – call it an invitation to believe. To trust Christ for your eternal salvation.
The text is Hebrews 4:1-7. Read it with me. Therefore, let us fear – now, you may have the NIV which inexplicably, frankly, irresponsibly softens that language – they have it, let us be careful – I don’t why, that is not what it says. The words are, let us fear…if…
Our outline will simply ask and answer the following questions – questions I want you to answer for yourself:
- What is this fear, and why do we fear?
- What is this rest, and how do we enter it? And how do we miss it?
- What is this good news, and how is it united by faith? And how is it not?
You will remember we are in the middle of a severe warning passage – the second of five such passages in Hebrews. The first was found in chapter 2, where the author said, don’t neglect this great salvation and thereby drift from it – pay close attention to it. It would be hard to imagine having something of inestimable importance – a priceless painting, a breathtaking sculpture, a treasure of irreplaceable value – and not valuing it, not appreciating it, not guarding it. We lock our houses, we lock our cars, we have safe deposit boxes, etc – we should also guard that which is of highest value. We don’t neglect it, else it be gone, is the idea.
Well then, in chapter 3, having demonstrated the superiority of Jesus to Moses, the author compares us to the OT people of God – specifically, the Israelites and their Exodus from Egypt and subsequent forty-year wilderness wanderings. Why did they wander? Why did they not enter the land? Why did their corpses fall in the wilderness? The last verse of chapter 3 says, “So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.” Remember, they had seen it all, they had heard it all, but they did not believe, and died – just as God swore in His wrath, they will never enter My rest.
The author uses the example of the unbelieving Israelites to warn us. Take care, brothers and sisters, that there not be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Chapter 4, Therefore, having been reminded of the failure of the Israelites to enter God’s rest, let us fear that we might come short of entering His rest as well. Now remember, the author is writing to professing Jewish believers – and to us – warning us to not commit apostasy – to depart from the Christian faith. To not treat it as a treasure of eternal, priceless value.
So now he says, let us fear – plural – every one of us – including himself. Let us fear that any one of you (singular) may seem to come short of rest. And immediately some of you say, now wait just a minute. Christians don’t have to live in fear of God’s judgment. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Don’t miss the qualifying phrase – no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But what if you are not? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, the author will later say.
But, you say, are you suggesting we live in constant fear of our salvation? I thought Paul told Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline. But in that context, fear of what? Fear of opposition of the gospel. The next verse says, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” – the power God has given you. So don’t fear suffering – God has given you power and love and discipline.
You say, I don’t think I like this warning to fear – I don’t think you should frighten us. Okay, I won’t – I’ll let Hebrews do it. You see, your argument is not with me. Your argument is with this author who suggests we fear. And there are other places in the NT which suggest the same thing:
Jesus said in Luke 12:5, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One [that’s God] who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” This is an interesting passage. How many times have you heard, God is a God of love – He doesn’t kill anybody. God doesn’t make anyone sick. Here’s my favorite – God doesn’t cast anyone into hell – our sin does. We try to sanitize God – make Him more humanly palatable by removing His holy anger and just retribution. We must not do that – fear God, the one who casts sinners into hell. Well, you say, is Jesus speaking to believers or unbelievers? That’s the whole point in Hebrews – fear that you are not a believer. Fear that you are an unbeliever – that you miss entering God’s rest because of unbelief.
Paul said in Philippians 2:12, “So then, my brethren, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” What does that mean? It is not that we work to provide salvation, but we work to prove salvation – work it out with fear and trembling, to prove that it’s real.
Further, in Romans 11:20, Paul writes, speaking of the Israelites who did not believe, and therefore, as part of an olive tree, unproductive branches were broken off, “Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.” Not if you fall into unbelief. You, too, will be broken off.
So this is troubling. Does this mean I go through my Christian life wondering, fearful, concerned that I’m not really saved, that I’ve lost my salvation? No – it’s not that kind of fear. It’s the kind of careful self-attention that verifies the truth of faith. It is found in uniting this good news with faith – and testing it, proving it, guarding it.
And so, one author suggested to think of it this way – it’s like the mountain climber who tests his equipment – regularly – his ropes, his carabineers, his gloves, his climbing shoes. He would be foolish to not regularly pay attention to those things. So also with us. Our salvation is secure – as we persevere in the faith. But we pay attention – just like he said in the first warning – don’t neglect your salvation. Just like he says in this warning – take care there not be in you an unbelieving heart. Encourage one another that no one be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. To not do so could result in a precipitous fall from the mountain – from the living God.
So who are you, today? Committed follower? Self-deceived professor? Interested non-follower? Disinterested non-follower – distracted by the stuff of this life, as if there is eternal value there?
The only thing we need fear is faithlessness – unbelief. Because, it is true He has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity in our witness – but of power, love and discipline. And, it is also true this same author writes that through His death, Jesus rendered powerless the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil, that He might free those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. So, we don’t fear death and an uncertain eternity. No – we fear unbelief – faithlessness – falling away. True, we can’t – if we have His Spirit by whom we persevere. We cannot if we have become partakers of Christ. So live in faithful self-attention to your salvation – and others-attention, encouraging each other along the way.
Which leads us to the next question – what is this rest he encourages us to enter? The author uses the word ten times in this warning – twice back in chapter 3, verse 11, “As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,” and verse 18, “And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?” And how were they disobedient? Verse 19, “So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.” They were disobedient because they did not believe. They did not combine what they heard with faith.
Therefore, chapter 4, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.” Again, what is this rest? He goes on to mention it seven more times in the chapter – it’s a key concept.
For the Israelites, it was entrance into the land of promise – the land of Canaan – the land God had given to them through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was theirs for the taking – but they did not enter because of unbelief. Now, in a couple of weeks, we’re going to find the next generation did enter – Joshua led them in. But, that’s not the ultimate rest we’re talking about here. No, even the land of promise was a picture – a type – pointing to something much greater – a greater rest – that still remains as a promise to those who believe. A rest offered by God to them, and to us – to us, through Jesus Christ.
Now, this offered rest is both relational and spatial – that is, like the Israelites’ land of promise, this rest has a place. Later, the author calls it a city with foundations, a country of our own, a homeland, a heavenly one, the city of the living God, a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a lasting city to come, the city whose architect and builder is God. Most agree this has reference to the new heaven and the new earth. Our ultimate place of rest in relationship with God is heaven. And the author is saying, don’t come short of it. We’re going to talk about that more in a couple weeks – there is a sense in which we enter His rest now – by faith – but not in its fullness.
But for now, please notice the promise of entering His rest still remains. It was offered to them, and it is now offered to us. For indeed, verse 2, we’ve had the good news preached to us, just as they also. The word for good news is the word gospel. They had received the good news of entrance into the land of promise where, as God’s chosen people, they would rest in His presence by having fellowship with Him.
We, too, have had the good news – the gospel – preached to us. What is the good news preached to us? That by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can enter into a right relationship and fellowship with God. We can rest in His sovereign goodness and grace and control in our lives. We can actually be in relationship with the God of the universe. The One against whom we have rebelled. But by the work of Christ, we can be forgiven and restored.
That’s the gospel. We’ve heard it – haven’t we? For some of us, over and over. Are your hearts hardened, contemptuous, by familiarity? Look at the rest of verse 2, “but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.” They had heard God’s good promises and seen God’s good provision. But all they did was grumble and complain. The one thing they did not do was believe, and so they did not enter His rest – rather, they died in the wilderness in unbelief. Verse 3, “For we who have believed enter that rest…” God’s rest is only for those who believe. We’ll come back to that.
Notice the rest of the verse, “For we who have believed enter that rest – then the author takes a bit of a right turn – just as He [that is, God] has said, “As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest.” Again, why did they not enter? Because of unbelief. This is the second of three times he quotes Psalm 95:11 – it’s important to the author and us. Knowing the truth and believing the truth – trusting the truth – are two different things.
Verses 3 and 4 continue – they shall not enter My rest – although His works were finished from the foundation of the world, for He said somewhere – in Genesis 2:2 – concerning the seventh day: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works.” What does that mean? Well first, it means when God finished His work, He rested. It’s interesting to note at the end of the first six days of creation, we read, and the evening and the morning were the first day, the second, etc. But on the seventh day, there is no mention of the evening and the morning – why? Because God’s work in creation was finished – and He rested from then on. That doesn’t mean He no longer works – Jesus said He does in John 5. The point is, He finished His creation – and the invitation to enter His rest with Him remains. That’s what Adam and Eve did. Oh, they worked – but they walked with Him in the cool of the day. And the invitation to be forgiven and restored – to walk with Him in fellowship with Him remains for those who believe.
Which begs an important question – what does it mean to believe? How do we combine what we hear with faith so that it is effective and brings salvation? This is incredibly important today for group number 2 – those of you who come occasionally or even regularly – maybe even made a profession of faith. But there is no real spiritual life. You know it in your heart of hearts. Let me explain three levels of faith – I’ve shared this with you before, but it bears repeating:
The first level of faith or belief is to have knowledge of the facts. The theologians call this notitia, which is Latin and means knowledge or content or information. To have notitia is to have knowledge of the facts about Jesus. Any world history class worth its tuition will teach about a man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived about 2000 years ago and changed the world. But, having knowledge about Jesus – that He was a man who was purported by His followers to be the Son of God, who did undeniable miracles, who was put to death by the Romans on a cross, and who was purported to have been raised from the dead, and was the founder of Christianity is not saving faith. Having knowledge of these facts does not save you.
The second level of faith, then, is titled by the Latin word assensus. And we could define that as belief. I would say this is where the wilderness Israelites were. Meaning, not only have you heard the facts about Jesus, but you believe the facts are true. You believe He was the Son of God, you believe He actually did miracles, died on a cross and was raised from the dead on the third day. But, that is not saving faith. And my concern is that churches across America are full of that kind of people. People who are okay with Jesus, who are okay with Christians, and even receive some temporal benefit from church. But having knowledge of the facts and even believing the facts are true is not saving faith.
No, we must arrive at the third level of faith, true, saving faith, which the theologians call fiducia, which is the Latin word for faith, and involves trust. Not only have you heard the facts, not only do you believe the facts, but you believe the facts are true for you. And the gospel has invaded your heart, consumed your life. You are trusting Jesus, and His finished work on the cross, for your salvation alone. In the words of the 19th Century Baptist pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “You fly to Christ and embrace Him.”
Now, I want to remind you that the power of faith is not in your trust, but in the object of your trust. Many struggle with whether or not they are saved based on whether they have believed rightly. Is my faith or trust strong enough? Do I believe the right things? Did I say the right words when I prayed the prayer? And just to be sure, you pray it over and over, to make sure you meant it enough or said it right. Can I tell you your salvation is not dependent on the strength of your faith, but in the strength of the One believed.
I don’t want to talk you into being saved, nor out of being saved. But I will say this – if you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins – not with perfect, unwavering, never-doubting faith – if you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins and was raised again the third day – and you are trusting Him and Him alone for you salvation, and have surrendered to Him as the Lord of your life, and you value Him as your greatest treasure, then you are saved. It’s those last ones that get us – making Him Lord of all and valuing Him over all. Oh, I want to use Jesus as a fire escape – but I want to live my own, self-focused life. Two familiar passages for you to remember:
Romans 10:9-11 – “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes [you see – that’s more than a knowledge of the facts – that’s a heart trust with all your being], resulting in righteousness [true faith changes you], and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. [we usually stop there, but the passage continues] For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’”
So, if you are doubting, wavering, struggling – listen. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And the power of salvation lies not in the power of your faith, but in the power of the One you trust. But it is found in trust.
Another verse – I John 5:13-14 – “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. [I’m not going to get deeply into “these things” which John had written – but suffice it to say he was referring to faith in Jesus as God in the flesh, which results in loving other Christians, and seeking to be obedient to Jesus as Lord – then next verse] This is the confidence we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” He hears, He saves.
I’m not trying to talk you out of being saved, or into being saved. But I don’t want you to be deceived. If you are trusting Jesus for your salvation, take confidence in the fact the powerful Savior has heard you, and saved you. Your salvation is not dependent on the purity or power of your faith – but in the power of His cross and resurrection. But, if you have “believed” – prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, signed a card – but the gospel has not changed your life – if you seldom give thought to Jesus as your greatest treasure – my concern – my fear is you will not enter His rest in heaven.
Which brings us to the last two verses of our text. And I need you to listen, you who profess faith, but don’t live faith. As well as those who are considering the claims of Christ. And those of you disinterested. I beg you to consider these words, “Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it [who? those who trust in Christ], and [since] those who formerly had good news preached to them [just like you’ve had today and many other days, but] failed to enter because of disobedience [defined as unbelief], He again fixes a certain day [which day?], “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, ‘Today if you hear His voice [the voice of the Holy Spirit calling you to believe the gospel – the good news], Do not harden your hearts.” Believe. I don’t want to enter His rest – heaven – and find you not there.
Jesus said in Matthew 11, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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.”