The young man grew up in church. He was there with his mother every time the door opened and though sometimes she wondered if he was listening, he was there. He heard the stories of faith. He sang the songs of faith. He even embraced the faith at one point and was baptized as a sign of his commitment to Jesus Christ.
As the young man grew and matured he began to see other young men around him who didn’t desire any commitment to Christ. They were a rough crowd. A group of young men who loved to party and chase the girls. Some of the young men had already been in trouble with the police, but they didn’t count it as any big thing. As a matter of fact, they wore their record as a badge of pride in the neighborhood. Donnie saw the young men as confident, cool, and willing to challenge anybody who would try to stand in their way, regardless of who they were or how old they happened to be.
Donnie’s mother saw what was happening in her son’s life. He was breaking her heart, but she felt like her hands were tied as he was now a teenager. He was bigger and stronger than she was. Mom kept praying. She wore her knees out asking the Lord to turn her son’s heart back to what is right. The day came when Donnie’s mom went to get him up for church on Sunday morning and Donnie refused to go. He told her that church was a waste of his time and that he didn’t want to go anymore.
Donnie’s mother tried everything to get him to go with her to church that morning. She came on strong insisting that she was his mother and he needed to respect her authority. It didn’t work. She cried and pleaded with him to get right with the Lord and come with her to church. It didn’t work. She got angry and out of her frustration she said things that later she resented, but they were spoken out of a concerned heart. It didn’t work. Nothing worked.
About one year later Donnie was arrested and now he was truly one of the boys. At that point mom sat down with her son and told him that they were going to go and talk with the preacher. She said, “The Lord can help you get your life together before you make it worse.”
The day came when Donnie and his mother walked into my office. His demeanor was different that it had been in the past. He slouched in his chair, rolled his eyes at his mother as she cried, and never budged from his commitment to do what he wanted to do with his life. When Donnie’s mother saw that we weren’t getting anywhere she pleaded through tears with her son to turn back to the Lord before he really got into trouble. She said, “Those boys that you think are so cool won’t be there when you get into really bad trouble, but the Lord will be there, I will be there, and Pastor Mike will be there. Don’t wait until you get into really bad trouble or get killed. Donnie, you need to get right with the Lord today.”
I urged Donnie to listen to his mother. I shared Scripture with him. I shared stories of other young men that I have known that disregarded God’s Word and where it had gotten them. It didn’t work. Donnie and his mother left my office that day and the next time I heard from him Donnie was in solitary confinement in the county jail.
Donnie’s mother called me broken-hearted. I contacted the county jail and made arrangements to go see him. I took Ray Arechiga with me that day since Ray was familiar with what life apart from God will get you. When we got to solitary confinement it was a sad sight. The men in solitary are kept in seclusion like animals in an outdated zoo. Shackles held their feet and hands together. Everyone in solitary confinement wore orange jump suits like corporate executives dressed in navy blue power suits. The only difference was that there was no power possessed by those in orange that day.
When Donnie came out of his cell shame was written all over his face. When he sat down we made small talk and I told him how glad I was to see him. We talked about his offence, his trial date, and his possible punishment. Then, I looked at Donnie and said, “How many of your homeboys have been by to see you since you’ve been in here?” Donnie shook his head and said, “None.” I said, “Oh really. I thought these were your homeboys. The guys who loved you. The ones who would never turn their back on you. Where are they?” Donnie couldn’t even speak. I said, “Donnie, your mother loves you. There are a lot of people who love you, but they aren’t the ones who encouraged you to get into this mess. Your buddies won’t come to see you, but I want you to know that Jesus is in solitary confinement with you. He won’t ever leave you. He is waiting for you to cry out to Him so that He can lead you back home.”
Donnie never responded that day. Today, Donnie is still running from the Lord and the more he runs the faster his life falls apart.
Donnie’s story is the story of many of us today. Oh, we may have never spent time in jail or been in solitary confinement, but we have refused to believe God and totally surrender our lives to Him. As a result our lives are coming apart at the seams. We can’t find any lasting peace. We struggle with the sin that gnaws at us in the night. We suffer from the consequences of our poor choices that we made thinking they were what would truly make us happy. We suffer from apathy, anxiety, and we feel all alone in our struggles. Our marriages are struggling, our children are suffering, and our jobs are depressing. We think to ourselves, “There has got to be more to life than what I am experiencing?” And we are right – there is!
In our Scripture for today we are going back to Hebrews. We took a little break for Christmas, but I have to tell you that it is so exciting for me to be back studying this powerful letter written to folks like you and me who are so easily led astray by our hearts, our circumstances, and by what we see going on around us. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Hebrews 4:11-13.
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 4:11-13 NIV)
I want to encourage you to give the utmost attention to our study for today because this is absolutely one of the most crucial and critical opportunities to learn a life-changing lesson that we will be given this year. To understand the lesson the Lord has for us today we must go back and set the context for our study.
In Hebrews 3, an example of God’s dealing with His people the Hebrews is offered for us. God gave His promises to His people. He promised to provide for them. He promised to give them the victories. He promised to forgiven them. He promised to save them. He promised to deliver them from the hands of their enemies, but the Hebrews refused to take God at His Word. When times got tough, when the enemies loomed large, when the situation seemed uncertain – their trust in God faded and they wanted to go back to what they knew. As a result of their unbelief and trust in God we read in Hebrews 3:19, 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19 NIV)
Those who have gone before us serve as an example for those of us who are seeking to walk with God in obedience today. The Hebrews refusal to trust God and to believe what He has said is given to us as an example of what we are not to do. In Hebrews 4:1-2 we read how the baton has now been passed on to us. As the baton is passed we are urged to believe. Hebrews 4:1-2 says,
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. (Hebrews 4:1-2 NIV)
What the Hebrews failed to believe was the good news, the promises of God that were given to them in the wilderness. They looked at their circumstances. They looked at their time in Egypt with rose-colored glasses. They murmured when hard times came and they wanted to go back to Egypt rather than follow God in uncertain times, in an unfamiliar land.
I’m sure many of them had felt in their hearts that when they got out of Egypt that everything would be smooth sailing, there would be no problems, no hassles, and every day would be Christmas morning. When they got out into the wilderness and were called upon to trust God each day, one-day-at-a-time, then they were convinced that something was wrong. I can hear them now, “I just know in my heart that something is not right. Why would God bring us out here if we were just going to struggle every day? Something is not right – I just feel it in my heart.”
I can hear them speaking those words because those same words have come from my mouth time after time. “God, if You have called me to this church to serve You, then why doesn’t everybody like me? Why do we constantly have problems to deal with? Why are not more people excited to know You and study Your Word? Lord, if You have called us to this new ministry then why isn’t it busting at the seams? Why aren’t we growing like the church down the street?” Not only have I heard those words of unbelief coming from my mouth, but I’ve heard them coming from the mouths of my friends as well. “Lord, I believed that You gave me my husband, but if He is a gift from You then why do I feel like he is curse? Why can’t we get along? Why doesn’t he make me happy?” “Lord, I prayed for a girlfriend, but now the girlfriend I’ve got just keeps breaking my heart.” “Lord, I was so miserable in my job and You opened a door for me to come here…or so I thought. Why do I keep working so hard and keep getting looked over for a promotion? I’m beginning to wonder if it was You who gave me this job or if it is just another job?” “Lord, we always prayed for You to give us children who would love You. Why don’t our kids love You like I love You? Why do they seem so bored, so uninterested in You?”
Do you hear the unbelief? Do you see how we draw our conclusions from our circumstances? If times are good then God must be in it. If times are hard, relationships are frazzled, excitement if waning, and employment is draining then God must be absent. God says, “Trust Me! Believe Me! Cling to Me! Seek Me! Call on Me!”
We trust our hearts more than we trust God. If our heart, which is absolutely driven to the hilt by emotion, tells us that something is wrong, then we want to turn back to what “feels” right. We forget the counsel of God given to us from the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 17:9, we read,
9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10 “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” We need to commit this verse of Scripture to memory my friends. If we choose to trust our hearts then we can count on finding ourselves in left field, far away from God’s will for our lives. If we can’t trust our hearts to lead us in the right direction, to give us good counsel, and to help us discern what is best for us then where else can we turn? That is a great question my friend. The great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said,
I would recommend you either believe God up to the hilt, or else not to believe at all. Believe this book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing place between the two. Be satisfied with nothing less than a faith that swims in the deeps of divine revelation; a faith that paddles about the edge of the water is poor faith at best. It is little better than a dry-land faith, and is not good for much. (C. H. Spurgeon)
That is good advice from one of the greatest preachers who has ever lived. Great advice from a man who trusted in the faithfulness of God in the most desperate of times and found God always faithful and true to His promises. If Spurgeon were able to be with us this morning he would tell us to never waver in our trust of God, to give ourselves to the diligent study of God’s Word, and to apply what the Lord teaches us through our daily study of His Word.
What Spurgeon would tell us is really no different than what we hear everyday. What Spurgeon would tell us is certainly no different than what we hear right here at Britton Christian Church day-in and day-out 365 days a year. God has given us His Word to lead us into His rest, into His will, and into the fullness of life that Jesus promised while He was ministering with His disciples. Yet, I dare say that if we were to take a poll this morning we would find that more of us regularly read the daily newspaper, Sports Illustrated, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, or some novel than we do God’s life-giving Word.
There is no substitute for God’s Word in your life and mine my friends. One of the greatest missionaries who ever lived, Dr. David Livingstone, would bear witness that what I am saying is true this morning. The story is told that when Dr. Livingstone began his great missionary work in Africa that he was passionate about reading and his studies. Even though he knew the road would be rough and long he still committed to carrying his most prized books with him on his long journey. When Dr. Livingstone began to make his way deep into the heart of Africa he carried with him 73 of his most prized books in 3 packs. The weight of Dr. Livingstone’s book bags was 180 pounds, but he was determined to keep them all. After his missionary team had gone 300 miles through the jungle Dr. Livingstone knew that he was not going to be able to keep all of his books because of the fatigue they were creating for those who had to carry his baggage. As he continued on his journey his library grew less and less, until he had but one book left-his Bible. (Today in the Word, April, 1989, p. 28)
A great preacher once exhorted his congregation on the value of God’s Word and its power for every area of life by saying,
This Book is the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding; its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s character. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. Follow its precepts and it will lead you to Calvary, to the empty tomb, to a resurrected life in Christ; yes, to glory itself, for eternity.
God’s Word is indispensable for those who truly are seeking to walk with God, to follow in His steps, and to walk in His will. God has given us His Word to correct us when we stray, to comfort us when we suffer, and give us confidence that His promises are true. Let’s take a look at each of the three verses we are studying this morning.
In verse 11 we read, 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. We are told to make every effort. We are not being told that we earn our rest or our salvation, but we are told to be diligent in walking by faith, trusting in God regardless of our circumstances or situations.
Remember, the Hebrews failed to enter in to the rest of God because of their unbelief. They believed God when they left Egypt, but their faith in His promises faded when the desert heat beat down on their heads. The word that is translated, “disobedience” in verse 11, is the Greek word, “avpei,qeia” (apeitheia). The word means, “unwillingness or refusal to comply with the demands of some authority, to disobey, or disobedience.” The word is used in four other places in the New Testament. In Ephesians 2:2 the same word is used by Paul when he writes,
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV)
Paul tells the Ephesians that we were dead in our sins when we followed the ways of this world, when we allowed the spirit of the one who is behind this type of thinking to drive us day after day. Isn’t that interesting. When you look at the typical ways that people do things today, they don’t characterize them as bad or evil – that is just the way things are done. Young women, dressing like Brittany Spears or Christina Aguillera isn’t wrong is it? I mean they are highly respected in society today. People throw awards at their feet almost every week. Dressing provocatively isn’t wrong, that’s just the way it is done if you want to attract the right guys right? You couldn’t be more wrong!
Men, going to a “Gentlemen’s Club” and having a few drinks with the guys while you watch the girls dance half naked isn’t wrong is it? I mean it’s no big deal, after all they do call them “Gentlemen’s Clubs” don’t they? This is the way the world does it, but I will tell you that there are no gentlemen in those clubs.
Cheating on tests, cheating on taxes, cheating on our husband or wife, cheating our kids out of the time they need to develop and grow into the young men and women God desires them to be while we further our careers, cheating God out of the honor and worship that is due Him – all of these are no any big deal according to the standards of this world. Living according to the ways of the world will do you in and they won’t be there when your life unravels at the seams.
Paul also uses the same word later on in Ephesians when he says,
3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them. (Ephesians 5:3-7 NIV)
We can’t earn our salvation and we can’t create the rest and peace that we all long for in life, but we certainly can be diligent in clinging to the promises of God and abiding in His rest which He has already provided for our lives. Paul wrote to Timothy and he used the same word that is used in Hebrews 4:11, when we are told to “make every effort.” Paul says,
15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)
When we do our best, when we make every effort to plant our feet deep in God’s Word so that it may direct us, correct us, and weigh our thoughts and attitudes then God’s Word does an amazing work in our lives. In Hebrews 4:12, we read,
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. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)
God’s Word is living. It is an active agent ordained by God to work in your life and mine so that we might know God’s heart, walk in His will, and have the power to turn around when it shows us the error of our ways. You see it is not enough to look at our actions. Actions that are detrimental to our spiritual health are first conceived as thoughts before they are ever acted upon. I didn’t originate that idea, but I have certainly heeded its truth. James wrote,
13When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15 NIV)
God’s Word doesn’t simply gives us prescriptions for “good living,” but it also gives us a Counselor to weigh our thoughts and the attitudes of our hearts. Take a look at Psalm 119 and you can see the efficacious power of God’s Word for all of life. Let me give you just a sampling of the wide range of counsel and wisdom God’s Word gives us.
9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9 NIV)
11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11 NIV)
20 My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. (Psalm 119:20 NIV)
24 Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors. (Psalm 119:24 NIV)
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. (Psalm 119:37 NIV)
44 I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. 45 I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. (Psalm 119:44-45 NIV)
50 My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. 51 The arrogant mock me without restraint, but I do not turn from your law. 52 I remember your ancient laws, O LORD, and I find comfort in them. (Psalm 119:50-52 NIV)
58 I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise. 59 I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. (Psalm 119:58-59 NIV)
72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. (Psalm 119:72 NIV)
God’s Word is our source for wisdom as we pray seeking God’s discernment as we read and study. God’s Word is our source for counsel when we find ourselves standing at a fork in the road not knowing where to turn. God’s Word is our source of forgiveness when it appears that nobody around us will ever forget what we have done.
Last of all, let’s take a look at verse 13 and learn even more about God’s desire for us to come under the penetrating Word.
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 4:13 NIV)
There is not one of our lives that is not perfectly known by God. We can wear our facades in front of others and try with all of our hearts to convince them of something we want them to believe about us, but God is not buying it. He knows us through and through. The Scriptures say that our lives are “laid bare” before the eyes of God. That is an interesting word that is used here and only here in the Bible. The Greek word used for “laid bare” is “trachli,zw” (trachelizo). The word means, “to seize and twist the neck or throat, to bend back the neck of a victim to be slain, to lay bare or expose by bending back, to lay bare, uncover, expose, or laid bare, laid open, made manifest to one.”
John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Hebrews,
The word translated open had two distinct uses in ancient times. It was used of a wrestler taking his opponent by the throat. In this position the two men were unavoidably face to face. The other use was in regard to a criminal trial. A sharp dagger would be bound to the neck of the accused, with the point just below his chin, so that he could not bow his head, but had to face the court. Both uses had to do with grave face-to-face situations. When an unbeliever comes under the scrutiny of God’s Word, he will be unavoidably face-to-face with the perfect truth about God and about himself. (John MacArthur, Hebrews, pg. 105)
We need to come face-to-face with the truth of Almighty God for it only there that we can truly learn what is right, what is holy, and what is God’s will. It is only before God’s presence that we can learn of our unbelief so that we can repent and trust God at His Word. Won’t you heed the Word you have heard today and surrender your life to the Lord? Allow His Word to examine you, weigh your heart, and lead you into His perfect rest, His priceless salvation.