As we move into the Christmas Season everyone is gearing up for a month of high commitment and low energy. The stores are announcing that there is less than a month for you and me to get our Christmas shopping done. The ads are announcing that pre-Christmas sales will be over soon so you better grab the bargains while you can. The calendar is so full of commitments and responsibility that it sags to the ground as it hangs on the wall. Along with all of activities of the Christmas season there are semester tests for those of you who are still in school. I’m sure that for many people Christmas will be another verse of Christmas’ past – once the packages are all unwrapped, the ornaments put away, the leftovers finally finished, and extended family loads up and follows the road back home — multiplied millions will raise their voices together like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and sing, “Now I can rest at last.”
It is not that Christmas is our problem. We feel the force of restlessness and anxiety in all kinds of situations and through all seasons of the year. We are worn out by relationships that are teetering on the brink of the abyss. We are worn out by walking with our loved ones as they grow older and nearer to death. We are worn out by problems at work that threaten our security. We are just simply worn out aren’t we?
Doesn’t it seem like life is one hurried activity, followed by another, followed by more activity, followed by another commitment, followed by fulfilling responsibilities, followed by falling into bed? Once this routine is played out, we get up the next morning to begin the rush all over again. When we finally get completely worn out we go to the doctor only to be told, “You need some rest.” Oh really, as if we didn’t know that already. The question is, “How can I experience rest when I have to go to meetings, pick up the kids to go to their activities, take care of sick loved ones, prepare supper, wash and fold the clothes, clean the house, go to court or counseling, get the kids lunch ready for school, go to work, and prepare to meet deadlines?
If there were someone who could come up with an answer to that question, if you could write a book to solve our dilemma, then you would be the busiest person of all. Everyone around the world would want you to come to their meetings and teach them how to limit the stress, duress, and anxiety and expand and enjoy the quiet rest of peace and tranquility.
In our study for today we are going to continue our look at the Book of Hebrews. Last week we talked about how the Hebrews, as they were being led through the wilderness, were offered the rest of God, but because of the their unbelief God closed the possibilities of their ever entering His rest. The writer pleaded with us last week, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” He pleaded with us not to repeat the unbelief of those who have gone before us. God is offering you and me the opportunity of entering into His rest today and this is an offer that is better than any “Pre Christmas Sale.” Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today.
1Therefore, 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. 2For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3Now 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 work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” 6It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. 7Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. 12For the word of God is living 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. 13Nothing 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. (Hebrews 4:1-13 NIV)
What a blessing it is when we come to realize, that in giving us His Word, God is urging us to trust in Him with absolute unwavering confidence. As God’s Word chronicles for us His relationship with those who have gone before us we can so clearly see that God is faithful to His promises, He is worthy of our complete trust and confidence because He is not like you or me. When God urges us to believe and enter in to His rest then we can have confidence that He will deliver on what He has promised. When we read that if we do not believe then we can have no hope of entering His rest, then we can believe what we read. Take a look at verses 1-2 with me as we continue our study.
1Therefore, 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. 2For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.
The Good News for you and me today is that can we learn from verse 1 that God’s offer of entering into His rest still stands for us today. Since the offer is still before us then we must be careful that none of us falls short of it. What does he mean by, “Falling short?” Does that mean that if I don’t live a good enough life that I will fall short? Does it mean that if I don’t go to church three Sundays out of four that I will fall short? What does he mean? I really want to know. Oh you ask such good questions! If you will keep reading you will find out what it means to fall short. In verse 2 we are told that we are no different than the Hebrews because the gospel has been preached to us as well. We’ve heard the Good News. We have been so blessed to have had the opportunity to hear about God’s promised rest, but now we must act in faith or we will fall short of entering into God’s sweet rest. Verse 2 tells us that when the Hebrews heard the offer of God’s promised rest it was of no value to them “because those who heard did not combine it with faith.”
It is of supreme importance that you and I, when we hear the Good News of God’s promise for us, that we believe God, that we take Him at His word and rest in His promise. In the years that I have been walking with the Lord and serving in His Church I have noticed that there is a common thread that links most of us together. The thread that I am speaking about is vacillation. We can sing the songs of faith on Sunday with our hearts fluttering and a tear in our eyes. We can say, “Amen” when the preacher reads from God’s Word. We say that we believe God, that we will take Him at His Word. Then we leave the church house and resume our normal, everyday lives. When we step out of the glow of the stained glass and into the streets littered with heartache and pain we forget, we wonder if it is all really true, and we doubt that God really has anything to do with the pain and heartache that we see each day. We ride the roller coaster of religion and refuse to rest in the arms of our faithful Father.
For those of us who can connect with what I’ve just said you need to know that we are not alone. This has been a plague that has perplexed the people of God since the Fall. This is exactly what the Hebrews experienced as they were being led through the wilderness. If this roller coaster ride describes your relationship with God then you can be thankful this morning that God has revealed this to you. Praise Him that He has shown you what is happening in your heart and how destructive it is to our lives, but don’t stop there my friend. We need to confess our sin to the Father and ask Him to forgive us and to give us an unwavering faith no matter what circumstances or situations arise in our lives.
God’s desire for your life and mine is that we will believe and enter into the rest that He has promised for those who will surrender their hearts to Jesus Christ. If we will enter into that rest and trust in Jesus for every aspect of our lives then we will experience His peace no matter what happens in our lives.
Pastor McAffee would attest to that if he were here this morning. Cleland McAffee was a very creative pastor who wrote and performed an original hymn once every quarter for his church. He would always have the choir sing his song during Communion. He usually wrote his stanzas on the theme he chose for his sermon and the people of the church looked forward to hearing what their pastor had written.
One day he was working on his song for the upcoming service when he heard that his two nieces, two little girls aged 6 and 3, had died from diphtheria in the span of two days. The brothers and sister, with their close-knit families, offered to the heartbroken parents all the love and understanding and sympathy their hearts could muster. The young pastor was called upon to preach the funeral and no words that he could come up with seemed adequate for the depth of loss his family had experienced. He was working on his sermon while he was also working on his Communion song, but he wasn’t having much success. At a loss for words, Cleland soon found himself talking to himself, “We can find peace and comfort if we stay near to the heart of God”. And soon the words were flowing from his pen, and he found himself writing, “There is a place of quiet rest, Near to the heart of God; A place where sin cannot molest, Near to the heart of God.” By the time he finished writing, Cleland McAffee had written one of the most comforting of all Christian hymns, “Near To The Heart Of God.” His choir first sang the song at the funeral of his two nieces before they sang it in church on the following Sunday. I’m sure many of you know the song, but for those who don’t let me read it to you.
Near To The Heart Of God
There is a place of quiet rest,
near to the heart of God;
a place where sin cannot molest,
near to the heart of God.
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
sent from the heart of God,
hold us who wait before thee
near to the heart of God.
There is a place of comfort sweet,
near to the heart of God;
a place where we our Savior meet,
near to the heart of God.
There is place a place of full release,
near to the heart of God;
a place where all is joy and peace,
near to the heart of God (Cleland McAfee, 1901)
Oh my friend, that is the rest of God promised to you and to me. For those who will trust in God’s promises, those who will trust in Jesus our Blessed Redeemer and Comforter, there is a place of quiet rest. It is the comfort that George MacDonald wrote about in one of his famous novels. In the story there is a young man–a strong young man in the Highlands of Scotland–who finds himself in a flood. There is a little girl who is also caught in the flood and needs to be rescued. The young man picks the girl up in his strong arms and he holds her as he stands there in the flood, holds her above the level of the water. The water continues to rise and the girl looks up into his face in terror and says, “Are you sure the flood will not drown us?” The young man says, “No. I am not sure that the flood will not drown us, but I am sure that no flood can ever sweep us out of the everlasting arms.” Don’t forget that. No flood, no matter how raging, can ever sweep you or me out of the everlasting arms. We will have a quiet heart if we trust God, if we trust in His sovereignty, and if we trust in His love. But we must trust Him and not mix our trust with unbelief in His promises to provide for us, watch over us, and keep us in His perfect peace. Isaiah wrote,
3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3-4 NIV)
The Apostle Paul echoed the same sentiments as he encouraged his readers to trust God for every aspect of their lives. In Philippians 4, Paul wrote,
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)
As Jesus was preparing to go to the cross and leave His disciples, He left them with these comforting words. Words that He offers to you and me today.
27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)
For all of you who are weary with this life and the troubles that seem to arise at every turn, allow Jesus to minister to you through this precious promise given to the weary of His day.
28″Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
There is no escape from the endless list of responsibilities for most of us. I don’t know many people who can escape to a deserted island to live out their days upon this earth, but at the same time, I would have a difficult time believing that this is God’s will for your life and mine. It is not the lack of activity that will bring about rest and peace in your life and mine. Jesus’ life was not a life of inactivity. Read the Gospels and you can see that He was a man whose days were filled with reaching out and touching the lives of those who were troubled and weary, but there was rest in the midst of activity and responsibility for Jesus.
That same rest and peace is available to you and me my friends. It is imperative that you and I give our all to remaining in the presence of Almighty God so that we might enjoy His rest even now. Hebrews 4:11 says, 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. We are to make every effort, to give constant effort to be attentive to the promise of God in every situation in life. So that we will not fall into the example set before us by those who refused to believe we are told to make every effort. We need to show that we are walking by faith and not merely
To keep it from happening — and to show that we are more than mere professing Christians — he says, “Be diligent to enter God’s rest” — God’s heaven. Be diligent! Pay close attention to what you’ve heard (2:1); don’t neglect your great salvation (2:3); consider Jesus (3:1); do not harden your hearts (3:8); take care against an unbelieving heart (3:12); exhort one another every day against the deceitfulness of sin (3:14); and FEAR the unbelief that will keep you from your promised rest (4:1).
Okay, that sounds great, but how do I do that? Great question! The writer of Hebrews gives us solid counsel when he writes in Hebrews 4:12,
12For the word of God is living 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. 13Nothing 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.
God has given us His Word to lead us, remind us, convict us, encourage us, and sustain us so that we can maintain our confidence in God’s precious promises. We can so easily lose our focus and begin to veer away from faith, but if we will remain in God’s Word then it will reveal to us our waywardness and lead us back to the Lord.
You see the problem today with the Body of Christ is that this counsel is not enough. We want a gimmick. We want something new. Something novel. Something that will entertain us, wow us, and peak our interest over and over again. Eugene Peterson has written in his book, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction,
It is not difficult in our world to get a person interested in the message of the Gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness. (Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience In the Same Direction)
There is nothing novel about God’s Word. There is no gimmick to giving your all to daily study and meditation on God’s Truths. There is nothing fancy or glitzy or glamorous about God’s Word. God has given us His Word to guide us not make us giddy. He has given us His Word to lead us not to amuse us. We will find rest for our weary souls when we rest in the promises given to us in God’s Word.
Almost 30 years ago there was a young man named Christopher Boyce who was raised in a prominent family. His father was an FBI agent and he helped to get his son a job with top security clearance. It seemed a good fit for a young man who was an altar boy growing up and had even spent some time in seminary, but what everyone didn’t know was that Christopher Boyce had a restless heart. He was lured by big money and excitement into selling top-secret satellite information to the Soviets. When they finally caught him he was sentenced to prison in 1977. While in prison Christopher was given the responsibility of setting up entertainment for the prisoners. At the same time he began planning his break. He started jogging each day until he was up to running 12 miles a day. Once he had gotten in good shape he planned a movie night for the prisoners. The prisoners all assembled to watch “Escape From Alcatraz” while Christopher placed a dummy in his bed and climbed over the prison wall.
Once outside the wall Christopher ran all night long. When the sun finally began to come up the next morning he sat down in a field to rest. After resting for a few minutes a bell rang loudly. Christopher noticed the sound, it was the morning work bell at the prison. He was only 1000 yards outside the prison wall. He had run in circles all night, but had gotten no where.
Christopher Boyce had run round and round in circles like the Hebrew slaves who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years but never arriving at their place of rest. There are so many of us today who are still running, but not getting anywhere. Today is the day that we are being invited to enter in to God’s precious, promised rest that has been made available to you and me through the cross of our Savior. Won’t you stop your running and rest in His secure arms this morning?