BOOK OF HEBREWS: HEBREWS 4:1-16
HOLDING FAST TO OUR CONFESSION
If I have never told you before, I hope you know what a privilege I count it to stand before you as your pastor. It is such an immense weight of responsibility to stand before you and explain the word of God, but I hope you know I wouldn’t change it for the world. I praise God every day that He has placed me right here behind this pulpit. I love this church, and I love all of you that are a part of this church.
I also love the book of Hebrews. Last week, the author of Hebrews showed us the scary possibility of leaving the faith, but he mixed in several words of comfort to us. We saw how it is possible to leave the faith, but we also saw how Christ has made us into the house of God, and how He has no intentions of letting us go. We also saw how He has given us each other to help us stay strong in the faith. In this morning’s chapter, the writer of Hebrews gives us three great reasons why we should always stay strong in the faith. But before we look at Hebrews chapter four, let’s quickly think about why not to stay strong in the faith.
In the year 2011, being a Christian is not a very popular stance to take. And when I say being a Christian, I am not talking about the broad umbrella of beliefs that many people call “Christendom.” No, I am talking about people that believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, and all other roads lead to an eternity in hell. In a society where the catchphrase is “tolerance,” holding fast to the claims of the Bible is considered extremely “intolerant.” Following Christ can lead your friends and family to avoid hanging around you, because they know that you are going to take a stand against the sins that they so enjoy. Most employers aren’t interested in hiring someone who isn’t willing to sacrifice every Sunday morning for the greater corporate good. From a strictly worldly point of view, becoming a Christian may be one of the worst social, fiscal, and political decisions a person can make. And yet, I firmly believe that the vast majority of you in this room have decided to follow Christ. You knew that not everybody was going to be happy with your decision. You knew that there is a devil that would do everything in his power to destroy you, and yet you still chose Christ. The question is, “Why did you choose Christ?” Well, while I hope you can think of many answers to that question, the writer of Hebrews gives us three great reasons in Hebrews chapter four, which is where I ask you to now turn in your Bibles. Again, Hebrews chapter four, and I’ll be reading all sixteen verses.
“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as He said, ‘As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest:’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, ‘And God did rest the seventh day from all His works.’ And in this place again, ‘If they shall enter into my rest.’ Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: again, He limiteth a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today’, after so long a time; as it is said, ‘Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.’ For if Jesus had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
Let’s pray together.
The title of this morning’s sermon is “Holding Fast to Our Confession.” As we look through Hebrews chapter four, we are going to see three distinct reasons why it is always worth it to follow Christ, even in the hard times. First, we are going to see that it is worth it to follow Christ because He has promised us a future rest. Second, it is worth it to follow Christ because God knows our hearts and everything that is in them. And third, it is worth it to follow Christ because He is acting as our High Priest in Heaven. Sound good? Let’s begin.
Reason #1: Jesus has promised us a future rest
Out of this chapter of sixteen verses, this first point actually covers all of verses one through eleven. Because I just got done reading these verses, I’m not going to read them again in their entirety, but I trust that you have your Bibles open so that you can see what I’m talking about. While we’re not going to read each individual verse again, I do want to read verse one again. “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” Remember, the theme of Hebrews chapter three was the theme of leaving the faith through unbelief. And also remember, that chapter headings were added in by men more than 1,000 years after the Bible was finished being written. So while we have a nice big number “four” right next to verse one, the original audience of Hebrews needed some written cues to see that the writer was switching topics. That’s what we have here in verse one. In chapter three, the writer was talking about what happens to people who leave the faith. But in verse one of chapter four, he transitions into talking about the rewards of the people who do stay true to the faith. In verse one, he says that the reward for us is the promise of entering into His rest.
The writer continues this great theme of rest by talking about how God rested. The writer reminds us that even God rested after He created the universe. And after he talks about how God rested, he talks about how we have a promised rest that will one day come. One thing we have to remember about this book of Hebrews is that it was written originally to the Jewish people. There were many Jewish people in the first century that were hyper-rationalistic. In other words, if they couldn’t see something with their own eyes, or smell it with their own noses, they tended to not believe in it. For this group of people, called the Sadducees, eternity was a pretty controversial subject. For many of these Sadducees, life was all about the here and the now, because they didn’t really think that there was anything after this life. So for people that believed like this, whenever the Bible promises the people of God rest, they most likely would have interpreted this to mean that God has already given them rest by putting them in the Promised Land. They could see the Promised Land with their own eyes, and they could smell the Promised Land with their own noses. Heaven, on the other hand, isn’t so easy to detect with the five senses.
This is the kind of notion that the writer of Hebrews addresses in verses seven and eight. Look at what these two verses say. “Again, He limiteth a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today’, after so long a time; as it is said, ‘Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.’ For if Jesus had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day.” I realize that sometimes the writer of Hebrews says some hard-to-understand things, but in these two verses I believe he is speaking out against the kinds of people who think that there is no sort of afterlife. Here is the basic argument he was making: the writer is quoting from the same psalm that he was quoting from last week, which is Psalm 95. In this psalm, David is reminding the children of Israel to stay true to God, so that they could enter into God’s eternal rest. David reminds the children of Israel what happened to their ancestors when they rebelled against God in the wilderness. That entire generation died because of their unbelief. The writer of Hebrews is saying that there must be more to life than just arriving in the Promised Land. Because if there wasn’t, then David never would have written Psalm 95, because the people were already enjoying all of the spiritual benefits they were ever going to. In other words, there is the promise of a future rest for you and me. Isn’t that nice to know? Look at what the text says in verse nine. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” In the Greek language, there is more than one word that we translate “rest.” Most of the time, the word for “rest” is similar to us taking a nap on Sunday afternoon. I mean, it’s nice and all, but pretty soon that alarm clock is going to start buzzing. But in verse nine, it is a very different word for “rest.” This word is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Sabbath.” Another way to say this verse then is that there remains a Sabbath for the people of God. And you know as well as I do that the Sabbath was one day a week when the Jewish people relaxed all day and thought about God. They did zero work. The wives didn’t do laundry or cook supper, and the men didn’t do their farm labor or anything like that. The whole land took the day off. But is that what the writer means for our future? So then, is the writer saying, “Buck up, guys, because one day, in a couple of years, God is going to give you a whole day off!” Not at all! The writer is saying that one day, we are going to enjoy an eternal Sabbath. A Sabbath where our souls will rest for an eternity with God Himself.
Look at how the writer concludes this talk about our rest in verse eleven. “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” Knowing that the promise of Heaven is ours, the writer tells us to keep on going! The writer is not telling us that we need to work hard so that we can get into Heaven. You’ve heard me say many times that our salvation has nothing to do with our works, and everything to do with Jesus’ work on the cross. The writer is saying that because we have the promise of rest, we need to continue to strive to serve God.
So this morning, we are trying to answer the question of why we should hold fast to our faith in Christ. Reason number one is one that you know like the back of your hand, but I wanted you to see it right here in the book of Hebrews. Reason number one is that one day; we are going to enjoy an eternal rest from all of our struggles, all of our pain, all of our grief. Why should you patiently endure when you are ostracized because of your faith in Christ? We do it because we know that not everything is about today. We serve Christ because of what will happen one day. Let’s look at the second reason the writer gives us.
Reason #2: God knows our hearts
The second reason for why we should hold fast to our faith is seen in verses twelve and thirteen. Let’s look at those two verses again together. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
Verse twelve is a verse that many of you have heard since childhood. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of you even had this verse committed to memory. It would be hard to find two verses that said so many important things about the Bible’s role in our lives. In fact, these verses tell us five distinct things about God’s word. The first thing it tells us is that God’s word is “quick.” In this usage, the word “quick” isn’t talking about how fast you can run a race. The word here means “living.” “Quick” is an old way of saying that something is alive. So what does it mean that the Bible is alive today? It means that the Bible matters just as much today as it did in the day it was written. Whenever we are studying through the book of Judges on Sunday nights, or studying through Revelation on Wednesday nights, do you realize that we are studying words that are just as powerful today as they were 2,000 years ago? The word of God is living.
The second thing it says about the word of God is that it’s powerful. The idea of this word “powerful” is that it is full of energy, it is full of activity. So not only is the word of God alive and well in the year 2011, but it’s also active in our lives! In other words, when we read the Bible, which I hope is a part of all of your daily routines; the Bible does something within our lives. Now, it has different effects on different people, depending on where they are in life. But one thing is sure, it always has an effect.
Verse twelve also says that the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, and it pierces to the very souls of our being. You know, I’ve read a lot of things in my lifetime. I’ve read instructions on how to put together a piece of furniture. I’ve read mystery novels and yes, I once had a large collection of Stars Wars novels. I’ve read some of the classics, and I’ve read some of the new stuff. And I know that I’m not the only reader in the building. And I think you can testify with me that nothing cuts to the core of our beings like the Bible. And while it sounds excruciating to have my soul pierced, the Bible is the only sword in the world that makes the wounded whole. When the Bible convicts me of my innermost sin, it does not pierce me to slay me. No, it pierces me to heal me. No other book can make me weep like the Bible can. No other book can make me shout for joy like the Bible can, either. That is simply something that an unbelieving world cannot understand.
The fourth thing about the word of God is seen at the end of verse twelve. The end of the verse says that the Bible is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. One fact that I love about the Bible is that is speaks to people where they are. Take Romans 6:23, for instance. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” If a lost person reads this verse, the Holy Spirit will use God’s word to terrify them of the consequences of their sin. However, if a new believer reads this verse, their heart will leap for joy that they have been saved by the power of Jesus Christ. But let’s say that God is working in a person’s heart about sharing their faith more often. If someone like this reads Romans 6:23, their heart will be broken for the throngs of people around the world who are dying to hear the gospel. So right there, from one verse, you can see how the Bible speaks right to us in whatever situation we find ourselves. Praise God!
The fifth and final thing about the word of God is seen in verse thirteen. Verse thirteen reminds us that God can see everything, and all things are naked and opened in front of Him. What does this mean? This means that we can hide nothing from God. You can hide some pretty bad stuff from your friends, your church family, and even your spouse. But church, we can hide nothing from God! When we open up God’s word, we will begin to feel the Holy Spirit convict us of things that no one else knows about. God’s word will deal with even our deepest, darkest secrets.
So, you may be wondering, what does all of this have to do with this morning’s message? What do these five facts have to do with holding fast to our faith? Well, these five facts serve to remind us of the kind of God we serve. God knows whenever you feel beat down by an unforgiving world. God knows when you feel oppressed with an urge to sin that seems simply unbeatable. God also knows when you are having the best day of your life, when it seems like everything is going your way. God knows your heart, and God knows the heart of every human being on the face of the planet. I can’t speak for everyone, but it really helps me stay true to God when I am reminded of how much interest He has taken in me, and when I think about how powerful and true His word really is. I hope that fact helps you, as well. Let’s finish up with reason number three.
Reason #3: Jesus is a faithful High Priest
Let’s read verses fourteen through sixteen again. “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Do these verses sound familiar to anyone? These verses are very similar to the final verses of Hebrews chapter two. As a matter of fact, those two chapters are very similar. In Hebrews chapter two, we saw how Jesus is a Savior who understands our struggles, because He went through our struggles. We have a similar message right here. Jesus is a faithful High Priest for us because He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” I know that it isn’t that easy being a Christian in twenty-first century America. But try being Christ in first-century Israel! Because of Jesus’ victory over sin and the grave, verse sixteen says that we can boldly approach the throne of grace, and we can there find mercy.
Church, as we are thinking about reasons why we should hold on tight to our faith in Christ, there is one reason that rises to the top in my book. We talked about how we have an eternal rest in Heaven. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to be in Heaven! It is going to be absolutely spectacular! And yet, Heaven is not the number one reason why I love being a Christian. We talked about how perfect and useful the Bible is in our lives. I love the Bible! I think that the Bible is absolutely perfect, and is 100% true in everything it says. The Bible is God’s revelation to man, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without it. But as much as I love the Bible, it is not my number one reason for being a Christian. As absolutely amazing as the promise of Heaven and the perfection of the Bible are, church; my number one favorite part about being a Christian is the unsurpassed greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
Because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross, I can boldly approach the throne of grace, and I can find mercy. I have obtained mercy for all of the wicked and cruel things that have characterized my life. I have obtained mercy because Jesus Christ died for me, and because He rose from the grave victorious.
And as the pianist and song leader come forward, I want to encourage all of you here today. I know that it is not easy being a Christian. While we aren’t thrown to the lions like our forefathers were, we do sometimes suffer. While we never undergo the physical and psychological abuse Christians undergo in countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea; there is a price to pay for following Jesus Christ. But what I hope you’ve seen this morning is that even though there is a price, that price pales in comparison to the prize of having a home in Heaven. That price pales in comparison to knowing the truth about the greatest book ever written. And that price absolutely pales in comparison to knowing the God of the universe that gave up everything so that He could take our place on the cross. If you are here this morning, and you feel beaten down by the world, I want you to know that the altars are open for you. Feel free to come down and give it all to God. He’s listening, and He cares.
And if you’re here this morning, and you have never accepted Jesus Christ, then you can simply not understand the sheer joy I’ve been talking about. To someone who has never tasted complete forgiveness of sin, the cross of Christ seems foolish. It seems crazy to align yourself with a man who was tried and convicted as a common criminal in His day. And yet, I pray that the word of God from Hebrews chapter four will speak to you like a sharp, two-edged sword. A sword that cuts right to the soul of your being, showing you the truth of the gospel. The truth that we all deserve death and hell because of our sin, but the truth that we can be saved from our sin because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Will you have a home in Heaven? Absolutely! Will you be benefited by the best book ever written? Yes, you will. But the greatest joy of all is knowing personally the One that died for your sins.
If you would like to bring your burdens before the Lord, or if you would like to trust in Him for the first time, the altars are open for you this morning. But before we open the altars, let’s pray.
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