Hebrews 4:1-2 “Therefore, 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. For we 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.”
If we want to enter the rest that God provides, the first thing we need is to hear the gospel. That gospel is an invitation describing God’s rest, just as any invitation makes some description of the event it advertises. An invitation describes the reason for the event, any cost, the time, the place, and what you can expect to enjoy at the event. So it is with the gospel. The reason for God’s rest is that the burden for our sins is too heavy for us to bear. We need relief. The cost: Jesus has paid our admission to this rest by giving his life for us and removing our sins. Time and place: God is offering us this rest from our guilt and sin right now and right here. What we enjoy: Peace with God and forgiveness of all our sins now and eternal life forever. The difference between this gospel invitation to enter God’s rest and any other is the miraculous power this invitation has to draw those who hear it to receive what is offered.
Because our Lord so wants us to enter his rest, he has made sure that we hear this gospel invitation to enter his rest often. You should hear it every Sunday from the pulpit in your church. But there is a feature of fallen human nature that gets in the way of God’s invitation to enter his rest. When I was in high school there were railroad tracks that ran past the dormitory where I lived. The first few weeks I was often awakened by passing trains. Eventually, however, I was able to tune the repeated noise of the trains out and sleep through the night. Their great noise and clatter didn’t affect me anymore.
Unfortunately, we become guilty of doing the same thing with God’s invitation to enter his rest. As we hear the gospel repeated, we tune it out. We let it become spiritual background noise, and we turn our attention to other things. So long as we tune the gospel out, its powerful message won’t affect us anymore.
That is why the holy writer also warns us not to neglect this second feature of the way to enter God’s rest: Combine it with faith. “For we have also 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.” Out of all the peoples of the world, God chose Israel to receive his special revelation. And yet so many of them would not believe what they heard. During their forty years in the wilderness many stopped believing that God was their loving deliverer. Some accused him of trying to ruin them instead. Instead of believing what he had to say about right and wrong, they either ignored his commandments or tried to redefine them to suit their own lusts.
Where faith in what God has to say about right and wrong falls, faith in God as Savior is right behind. God’s promise of rest from guilt and sin has little appeal or makes little sense to those who no longer believe they have any. When the gospel is not combined with faith, it has no value to those who hear it. So, much or most of Israel lost the heavenly rest that should have been theirs.
Most of you aren’t about to believe that the God of the Bible is evil, or that he is a fake, or that he is a namby-pamby God you can safely choose to ignore. No, for us the greater danger is that we take the gospel for granted, and tune it out. Then a sense of apathy begins to settle in. We won’t forget that Jesus died for us and forgives us. But our trust in him loosens and fades. God and Jesus and faith just don’t seem to be very important anymore. Finally, faith flickers and fails, and those who once found their way into God’s rest find their way back out again.
May God spare us and keep us on the way by which we first entered his rest: Hear his gospel and believe it.