Fear Lest We Come Short

July 20, 2008 / No. 3420

Dear radio friends,

I have seen it myself. It has happened repeatedly in the church. It is not something any of us likes. But it happens. It is a reality.

There are those who hear the word preached. They sit under that word for years, but they turn their backs on it. They drift along in the church for a time, sometimes a long time, but then they suddenly forsake the word preached and leave.

It happens in the lives of young men and women of the church who sat under the preaching from childhood. It happens in the lives of adults who simply, it seems, grow weary of the word and leave for something more exciting. It happens all the time.

Yet we maintain that the Word of God is quick and powerful. It is the very power of God unto salvation. The gospel preached is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of a man’s heart. It strengthens, encourages, admonishes, and comforts.

Why then, if this Word is so powerful, are there those who simply turn away from that Word and forsake it?

The writer to the Hebrews addresses that question in Hebrews 4:1, 2: “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.”

The writer to the Hebrews gives a very simple answer. The Word is not mixed with faith in some who hear it. This was the case with the nation of Israel in her wanderings in the wilderness. You find in chapter 3 as well as in chapter 4 that the apostle is using that nation of Israel, the Old Testament church, as an example in order to make his point to us today. There were many who heard the word of the gospel in the church of the old dispensation in the wilderness. And yet, the writer to the Hebrews tells us, their carcasses fell by the wayside in the desert.

So we have an admonition of the Word of God before us today: “Harden not your hearts as in the provocation in the wilderness. Let us fear, lest we come short of the promise of entering into the land of rest.

The author of Hebrews makes a striking statement in verse 2 of the chapter we are considering. “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them.” We sit in church, so we can well understand how the gospel is preached to us. We hear it every Sunday. But what is striking here in this passage is that this gospel was also preached to the children of Israel in the wilderness. They heard the preaching of the gospel.

We know that the children of Israel later heard the preaching through the mouths of the prophets. But we are told in the passage that we are considering here that this took place already before they settled into the promised land. The question is: Who preached the gospel to the children of Israel in the wilderness? They had received the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law in the wilderness and the gospel was revealed in these. But who preached the gospel?

The answer to that question must be: Moses. And neither ought we to find it strange that Moses preached. He was a prophet. He was a great prophet. And that gospel was preached to the children of Israel in the wilderness by the mouth of Moses and, perhaps, even by the mouths of others in the nation. Whatever the case, the church of all ages has always heard the gospel.

We hear that term “gospel” used often enough. But we ought not to take for granted what it refers to. The gospel speaks directly of Jesus Christ. It does so because it speaks of deliverance from sin. You see, sin is a harsh taskmaster that has taken over our lives. When man fell into sin, then sin enslaved him. It took control over man—total control. He was given over to the dominion of sin in heart and soul. The result of such sin is unbelief and misery. Sin causes so much misery in this life.

Besides this, sin has made us liable to eternal punishment. Sin has killed us. It has made us worthy of eternal death and hell. That sentence of hell hangs over our heads our whole life long. And all of that is bad news.

But the gospel is good news. It is so because it speaks to you and to me of deliverance from sin and its punishment. It tells us that the power and dominion of sin is overcome. And it tells us that the price of sin has been paid.

All of this is true, not because we have somehow merited it, somehow made ourselves worthy of it. All of this is true because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Deliverance from sin can be found no other place than in that cross. No one else can deliver us from sin.

So the gospel is this: Jesus Christ is come to seek and to save that which is lost. He has come to deliver His people from the bondage of sin and death. And He has come to reconcile us to God in order that we might share in God’s love and fellowship.

Good news, right? It is to those who crave to hear it. It is not such good news to those who do not care about their sin. To them it is no big deal. But to those who know their sin and misery, Jesus Christ is definitely good news.

Now included in this gospel is a promise that is given. That promise is referred to in verse 1 of this passage. We have a promise left us of entering into God’s rest. God promises to all those who are delivered from sin in the blood of Christ, that these will also enter into His rest. And from several different passages of Scripture it is evident that the rest mentioned here in this verse is heaven. Heaven is the place of rest. The idea of heaven as a place of rest fits in well with what we have been considering about sin. As long as we are present in this world of sin and misery, we labor against sin. We grow weary and burdened with sin. It is hard work battling it day in and day out. And we look forward to that time when we will not have to labor against sin any more. That will happen when we reach heaven. There sin will have been fully overcome. There sin will not hound us anymore. And the result is: rest. Ah, much needed rest.

That is a beautiful idea that the Bible speaks to you and me of. Heaven is a place of rest. Sin itself and the effects of sin will be no more when we reach heaven.

We receive this promise from God together with our salvation from sin: Someday, when all the weary night is past, we will awake with God. Then there will be no more sin, no more wearisome struggle, but we will be given the joy of our rest to eternity, for the sake of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. All our labors will be over. That land of rest will be the final deliverance from sin that we will receive. God promises that to His people.

That promise is preached in the church. It was preached in the Old Testament church, even in the wilderness. It is preached in the church today.

That gospel has always been published. By means of the preaching, that promise of the gospel has always been given to God’s people. It has always been proclaimed in the midst of the church. In the world, too. The church is called to do that today. But the emphasis of this passage is that it was proclaimed in the church in the Old Testament. And it is proclaimed in the church today, too. This was the gospel, we are told, that Moses proclaimed to the people of Israel while they wandered in the wilderness.

Oh? The good news of salvation in the blood of Christ was preached to them, then? Yes. But, they did not know Christ. Christ had not yet come. Ah, maybe they did not yet know Christ by name, but surely they knew of their Messiah that was going to come. The Messiah had been promised them. And all the ceremonies of the tabernacle and all the laws that Moses established pointed God’s people to the coming Messiah. All of these pointed, then, to the need for blood to be shed in order that they might be delivered from sin. And in all of these sacrifices and ceremonies they were made to see that when their promised Messiah came, He would, in fact, deliver them from sin and would give them rest.

The rest of heaven was typified in the land of Canaan. Yet the children of Israel looked beyond Canaan. And you can be sure that Moses, in his preaching, directed their attention beyond Canaan, too. That land of rest from all their wilderness journeys was only a picture of the land of rest that awaited them in heaven. God’s people knew that already then. They were not without the gospel or the preaching of the gospel.

It is that same gospel that is preached today. God sends forth His ambassadors into all of the world. But those ambassadors, for the most part, labor within the realm of the church of Jesus Christ so that men, preachers, stand before the congregation of God’s people and they proclaim salvation in Christ alone. We declare: sin, repentance, salvation in Christ, and the promise of eternal rest. The preacher instructs, admonishes, and sharply rebukes. But then he also encourages and comforts God’s people.

The preacher of the gospel does all of this by directing the church of Jesus Christ to the cross of Christ. Here is the call of the gospel that is proclaimed in all of the world, but proclaimed in the church too: “Come unto Christ, all who are weary of sin. Come to Him and He will in no wise cast you out. He will give you that rest. That is a promise.” And all those who are weary and heavy-laden will enter into the rest that God promises to those who believe.

That word is powerful. Very powerful. It is powerful because when the Word of God is proclaimed, it is exactly what the Spirit is speaking to the churches. The Word of God is powerful because it is accompanied by the Spirit. And this is why Paul can say of his preaching in I Corinthians 1:18 that it is the power of God unto salvation in those who believe. The same thing is true in verse 12 here of Hebrews 4: “The word of God,” it says, “is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged 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.” The Word of God is powerful. It produces the desired effect in those who hear it. It accomplishes exactly what God intends it to do.

But you realize the implication of that. If it were God’s desire to save everyone who heard that preaching, if God intended the promise of eternal life to everyone who heard that promise preached, then the Spirit would indeed work that in everyone who heard the preaching. If God’s promise was to everyone who heard the preaching of the gospel, then God would powerfully fulfill that promise in everyone who heard it. No one can resist the power of God in the preaching of the gospel!

But the preaching is meant to fulfill a twofold purpose of God. Paul speaks of that in II Corinthians 2:15, 16. On the one hand, it is meant to harden some; it is a savor of death unto death. They hear the gospel but the gospel provokes them to rebel against God. It hardens their hearts. With many in the nation of Israel, as they wandered through the wilderness, the gospel left them cold and unaffected. They simply drifted along with the rest of the church. They were lukewarm. They were neither hot about the gospel nor cold. They just did not care. The good news did not prompt them to thankfulness and joy. And their carcasses, we are told, fell by the wayside in the wilderness. They all perished. And the reason for this is that God did not desire their salvation. And the Spirit, when the Word was preached, did not work in their hearts faith. Read the last part of Hebrews 4:2, “But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”

The preaching of the word is powerful to save. But it is so only in the hearts of those whom God has chosen to save. It produces salvation only in those in whom the Spirit works the gift of faith. If there is no faith, if there is unbelief, the person is not saved and cannot enter into the rest. And he will not because the promise is not to him. He is not one of God’s own and God does not desire his salvation. He is left, therefore, in his unbelief and in his sin.

The preaching of the gospel must be mixed with faith. Faith is the key element here. But let us not forget, faith is not a work of man. Oh, there is no doubt about it that faith is an activity that takes place in the heart and the life of a person. When we believe, we know Christ and we cling to Christ and we flee to Christ and we trust in Christ. We embrace Him. And this faith also produces the fruit of good works in us.

But for this to be true, that faith must, first of all, be worked in that man. It must be worked in the inner recesses of a person’s heart. Faith, therefore, is a gift of God, a work of God’s grace by which God, first of all, binds a person to Christ, grafts him into Christ, so that the life of Christ becomes his. Otherwise there can be no activity of faith. That power of faith must be worked first of all.

This faith God oftentimes works in us by means of the very preaching of the Word itself. That Word goes forth and the Spirit applies it directly to the heart of those whom God has chosen from eternity. That Word, then, powerfully draws a person to Jesus Christ. The Spirit grafts that person into Christ.

But if this work of the Spirit in the heart is not present, then the preaching of the Word will only leave the person unaffected and even hardened in his sin.

The promise of the gospel is heard by all to whom it is preached. No doubt about it. It is preached throughout all of the world without prejudice, without distinction. But the gospel touches the hearts only of those in whom the Spirit works. He works faith in the hearts only of God’s elect.

It is exactly on that basis that we have the warning of this Word of God, a warning that everyone needs to hear, believers as well as unbelievers: “Let us fear, lest any of us seem to come short of entering into heaven.” That is the sound admonition that everyone needs to hear. That is the warning that every person must heed. It comes to the believer. There are times when we, as believers, can be pretty complacent about salvation and the promise given to us. There are times when we can become lax with regard to things spiritual. We can so often be found neglecting the salvation and the promise of entering in. At times that can even effect attendance in church and the spiritual duties in the home and in our own personal lives. And then the call goes out to believers: “Fear, lest you seem to come short of entering into the kingdom of heaven.”

But this warning goes out to unbelievers, too—in the world in general, but even those who sit in church: “Fear. You, too, will stand before God someday and be judged. And you will not enter in.” God swears in His wrath, we read in Hebrews 3, that the unbeliever will not enter in. Harden not your hearts, as they did in the wilderness. They did not enter in. Take heed to the warning of God’s Word to you. Repent. Believe. That is the call of the gospel. Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Fear. Bow before the God of heaven and earth with reverence and with deep respect. God is not mocked. All the earth must fear Jehovah. Bow before this God and worship Him.

Believers? They hear this call and they do bow. They do worship this God with fear and reverence. For them the joy and comfort of the good news is applied and their sins are forgiven them. Do not worry any longer. Do not doubt. Do not be afraid. You are wholly covered in the blood of Jesus Christ. You hear Him say, “Enter into the joy of your rest.” May that joy be yours and mine today.

Let us pray.

Father in heaven, the great and the glorious God who holds life and death in His hand, eternal life and death, we come before Thee with fear and trembling in this day and we confess Thy name. We ask, Father, that Thou wilt give unto us Thy Spirit, that when we hear the Word, we might indeed repent and believe. And may that be true not only of us as believers who must, every day, repent of sin, and who must, every day, put on that new man in Christ. But we pray, Father, too, that when that gospel goes forth into this world it might be all-powerful to bring to faith and repentance those who yet walk in unbelief. How great Thou art. We see Thy work and Thy power even through the preaching of the gospel. May the preaching go forth unto the ends of the earth and to all nations. We pray this for Jesus’ sake, Amen.