Rest for Your Souls
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Rest for Your Souls

Hebrews 4:1–13  (ID: 1908)

There are seasons in life when daily demands leave our bodies and minds exhausted. What does Scripture have to say concerning rest for the weary? God exemplified the importance of physical rest in His own resting following creation. This ultimately points to the spiritual respite offered through Jesus Christ. Alistair Begg reminds us that Christ has completed the work required for our salvation so that we may have eternal peace and true rest.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Hebrews, Volume 1

The Supremacy of Jesus Christ Hebrews 1:1–6:20 Series ID: 15801

Sermon Transcript: Print

Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me Thyself within Thy Word,
Show me myself and show me my Saviour,
And make the Book live to me.[1]

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Can I encourage you to take your Bibles and turn once again to the portion of Scripture that was read for us some moments ago, from Hebrews chapter 4? Those of you who are visiting today should know that we are into the fourth chapter of a series in the book of Hebrews, through which we’re moving with a measure of pace, and purposefully so. We have said that we may come back and do it again at a slower pace, but for now we’re flying over, as it were, at some thirty thousand feet and picking out the highlights and the central truths that are uppermost on the text of the Scriptures.

In turning now to this fourth chapter, and particularly to these first thirteen verses, there is one question which ought to be immediately apparent to us, and one that any honest seeker will be caused to ask. In making inquiries of the text, which is how we learn from it, we will be forced to ask the question, To what does the writer refer when he mentions God’s “rest”? He has been quoting from the Old Testament in relationship to this, as you will see in 3:11; he has been making application of it in the remainder of what he’s had to say; and indeed, in the first thirteen verses of chapter 4, he addresses this issue of rest some thirteen times.

It is possible to approach our Bibles in the kind of fashion which simply sets aside, as it were, some of the difficulties and challenging portions and moves immediately to a form of devotional application. And that is not wrong—it’s certainly not always wrong—but it almost always breeds a group of people who begin to view their Bibles not so much as that which has been provided for our instruction and for the demanding use of our minds in its consideration, but instead breeds a group of people who tend to read their Bibles looking for little nuggets and “blessed thoughts.” And, of course, the Bible is full of many blessed thoughts, but it is possible for us to pick them out, as it were, totally without the context of what the Bible is saying, thereby building a compendium of devotional truth without ever understanding the framework in which these truths are set.

And it is for that reason that we try and labor, not only in what we do here from Sunday to Sunday in the morning and in the evening but also at every level of our church. If you’ve been in Sunday School already this morning, you will have been within a framework where, at some point in the context of what you have done, there will have been those who have opened the Scriptures to you and with you, and deliberately so, believing that our congregation will be built up and strengthened—equipped—as a result of this approach to the Bible.

And so this morning, before I get to the points of application, I need to address with you the very question that I’ve raised: What is, then, this issue of God’s rest? And if we were describing it in terms of a diagram or mathematically, we might put it up as a kind of Venn diagram—those interlocking circles, which, at the points of intersection where they all have an overlap, you come to the essential element of the truth that is being conveyed. And that is exactly what I want to try and show you. What then is this rest, or how does the writer refer to it for our help?

Well, first of all, clearly the rest to which he is referring at one level refers to the experience of a certain group of people many, many years before who, having made their journey through the wilderness, made it into the promised land, into the land of Canaan. There were many who did not, as we’ve seen in chapter 3, but there were some who accompanied Joshua and Caleb and finally made entry into the promised land. And as they were going through that period of their lives, one of the things that would be uppermost in their thinking and in their conversation would be the prospect of their entering into the rest—the promised rest which God had provided for them.

And when you read the opening chapters of the Bible—the first five books in particular—you find this emphasis a recurring theme. For example, in Deuteronomy 25: “When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess…” That’s Deuteronomy 25:19. And this notion would have been pervasive in that group. The context would be that they had known what it was for their forefathers to have been liberated from the bondage of Egypt; they had been told very clearly that they were heading towards the promised land, that they were looking forward to a day when all of the battles and the ravaging elements of the experience in the wilderness were behind them and they would enter into the rest that God had promised. And some of them entered into that rest.

But even in that rest, it was only a shadow of the rest to which the writer is referring here. Even those who experienced Canaan, experienced the promised land, did not experience the totality, the fulfillment, of that which was foreshadowed in their immediate historical context.

Now, we need be in no doubt about that, because in the eighth verse you have this stated clearly. Says the writer, “If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.” In other words, if that’s all there was, then there was no reason for God to speak through the psalmist in the Ninety-fifth Psalm, many years after the experience of settlement in the promised land, and for God continually to be speaking about a rest which still awaited the people of God. So the experience in Canaan was a shadow of that which was still coming. And that is part and parcel of the way he refers to it. That would be one of the circles, the first circle in the Venn diagram.

Secondly, we have to say that this notion of rest is directly related to the rest of God following his work of creation. Now, again, we can say that because the Bible says it. Verse 3: “Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,” and he quotes the Old Testament again. And then he says, “And yet [God’s] work has been finished since the creation of the world.” And then he quotes from the book of Genesis about resting from his work on the seventh day.

Now, there are a number of things which are important that the writer makes us aware of. First of all, that God’s rest has been available from the time that creation was completed. In other words, it even predated the exodus from Egypt. This rest of God—which is something far bigger than was experienced in Canaan—this rest was actually the rest which he himself enjoyed, having completed creation.

The rest at the end of creation was an expression of the fact that everything was absolutely taken care of.

Now, this is quite a thought to get our heads around. But it is helpful in seeking to understand the nature of the rest to which the writer refers. When God ceased from the work of creation, he could legitimately rest. Because there was nothing that needed to be added to what he had done. When he looked at the work of creation, he considered it, and he saw that everything was “very good.”[2] Everything was exactly in its place.

If you can imagine being given the responsibility of tidying your room, and your parents come down, or someone comes down, and says, “Well, it looks fairly tidy on the outside; now let me just begin to open one or two drawers,” or “let me open one or two closets,” this is a whole ’nother level of tidiness. And you have managed to jam stuff away from view, and you’ve got the remote control, and you’re now watching TV. You are resting, following the completion of your work. And somebody comes down, opens a few drawers, opens a couple of closets, and says, “Back on your feet! Your work is not yet completed. You’ve hardly begun. Now, when everything is absolutely in place, when they’re all hanging in the right way, when they’re all folded in the way that we prescribed, then you can legitimately sit. Until that time, your work is not done. There is no rest for the wicked. There is no rest for the untidy.”

But in God’s work of creation, he can legitimately take time to rest. It was the rest from the completion of a task. It was the rest from the accomplishment of a purpose. It was not a gateway to idleness. Indeed, those of you whose minds are thinking ahead may well be recalling the words of Jesus in John chapter 5, where in speaking to those around him he says, “My Father is always at … work [and] to this very day, and I, too, am working.”[3] Well, says somebody, how is God resting and working? Well, because the rest at the end of creation was an expression of the fact that everything was absolutely taken care of.

Now, the reason that this is important is because it gives us an insight into another dimension of what this rest really means. In commentating on this part of it, Geoffrey Wilson, an English commentator, says, “God established the pattern upon which man’s life was to be built by following the cycle of his creative activity with [his] day of rest.”[4] I want you to try and think this through with me, ’cause this is an alien thought in American Christianity. In “the rhythmical succession of six days of [work] and one ensuing day of rest in each week,” we see the principle on which the life of humanity has been constructed: in this way, “man is reminded … that life is not an aimless existence,” but “that a goal lies beyond.”[5] So God constructs the universe and makes it absolutely perfectly, and then rests—purposefully pauses. And in that—in that creative ordinance—is, says this commentator—and I believe him to be touching reality and helpfulness—in that, he says, is actually the framework, the rhythmic cycle, that is intended for all of humanity.

Therefore, when humanity denies the existence of a creator God and breaks the link between a personal God and his creation, then they will inevitably deny any significance to the days of creation, they will inevitably deny any rhythmic cycle that is part and parcel of the structure of humanity, and they will thereby find themselves in the seasickness of a world without purpose, where every day runs into every other day ad nauseum. They will find that Hamlet was right when he looks out on his world and he says, “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, seem to me all the uses of this [life].”[6] Because “it’s just another manic Monday.”[7] It’s just another lousy Wednesday. It’s just another boring Sunday.

And that’s where our friends and neighbors live their lives—and sadly, that’s where many Christians live their lives. They never have understood that God from the very origin of creation has established a principle and a pattern by which life works. All work and no rest doesn’t simply make Jack a dull boy but makes him a sad and futile creature. And so today our malls are open, our newspaper presses are flying, everything is going in the great rampant quest for material prosperity. And the notion that the loom would be silenced, or that the farmer would cease from his toil, or that the fishing boats would be gathered into the harbor, that’s an anachronism. That’s a silly old idea. No, no, says the writer, it’s the very rhythmic cycle upon which humanity has been ordered, and we have deviated from it to our great distress and discomfort.

Now, it’s not my purpose to unpack this, but I want to give you a little flavor for it. I want to give you one or two roads down which you may go and run for a while, by yourselves in your own study, and follow these things through. Does it matter the way in which I enter into God’s rest on the Lord’s Day? Does it matter that I am fastidious about these things? Has there been a time in the past in the United States of America where life was different in relationship to these things?

Absolutely. Why? Because of a view of the world. And where did the view of the world come from? It came from the Scriptures. That “[God is] in his heaven.”[8] But when there is no God in his heaven—when American capitalism has embraced Soviet totalitarianism and the empty philosophies of Dostoevsky, “When God is dead, all things are permissible,”[9] and since he is dead, it’s a matter of passing import whether we pay attention to his day, his Son, his Word, or his anything—then, you see, it becomes a consumer thing: “Well, I think I am interested in this, I’d like to try a little of this.” But there is no sense of “oughtness” under the God who had rested from his work of creation.

Now, advancing that, in verse 9 it is actually referred to as “a Sabbath-rest.” And again, this is not my purpose this morning to camp on this, but I found this very, very intriguing. Indeed, it has taken up most of my days, trying to understand this. And let me quote to you, because if I try and say this, it’ll take much longer and won’t be as good. Says this individual,

The Sabbath was a creation ordinance which placed the day of rest at the end of six days of [work], but when Adam sinned it became impossible for man to attain the rest of God by his own efforts. [Therefore,] this now required nothing less than a second creation, and by keeping the Sabbath on the first day of the week, [which is established in the dying and rising of the Lord Jesus Christ,] “the people of God” gladly acknowledge that their entrance into this rest depends entirely upon the redemptive achievement of [Jesus] Christ.[10]

Now, some of you are looking like… All right, I understand that.

So here it is: How did we get the rest of the Sabbath on the seventh day? Because God established it. In his work of creation, he made possible and established the pattern for man to rest. Sin enters into the world; man does not rest. Whatever you might say about humanity, it’s not tranquility that represents it. It’s not restfulness that represents it. So the dust of death is settled upon all of humanity, and man can now no longer enjoy this day of rest. So it demands a very new creation. “God, who let light shine out of darkness,” in the work of creation, says Paul to the Corinthians, “has made the light shine into your hearts in the knowledge of the Son of God, in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ.”[11] And so he makes possible for us, by his redemption, the rest for our souls. By creation he establishes the principle of physical rest, and by redemption he establishes the possibility of spiritual rest. As God ceases from his work, so in believing in the Lord Jesus—because that’s what it says in verse 3: “Now we who have believed enter that rest.”[12] In order to believe, what do we have to do? We have to cease from our own work. “I cannot work my soul to save.”

See, men and women are striving to find the answers to the questions that never cease in their lives. They’re even enlisting spirituality, not knowing whatever it might mean, as a means to that end. And, says the Bible, if we would enter into the rest which is possible for us by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, then we need to cease from our work, and we need to trust in Christ alone.

By creation God establishes the principle of physical rest, and by redemption he establishes the possibility of spiritual rest.

Now, all the way through my studies, I kept thinking of one particular statement regarding this, and your mind may already have gone to it. And I said to myself, “I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer to this rest question—you know, where you put all the Venn diagrams, where they come together, so that you’ve got, ‘Well, it had to do with Canaan, and it had to do with God’s rest from creation, and it has to do with a Sabbath rest for the people of God’—where does it all come together?” Well, where does the book of Hebrews come together? In the person of Jesus Christ and in his work. Therefore, it would be no surprise to us if we could go to the words of the Lord Jesus and find one encapsulating statement as to the essential nature of this rest. And I believe you can, and that’s Matthew 11:28, where Jesus looks out on the people, and he says to them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[13] What is this rest to which the writer speaks? Well, it is foreshadowed in Canaan, it is related to the rest of God in creation, it has something to do with this Sabbath principle for the people of God, but it ultimately finds its apex in the experience of the rest which comes for our souls.

You see, at this particular point in Cleveland, on a kind of midwinter’s day that’s neither freezing nor warm, it’s just kind of that brown way—that sort of, just, “yuck”—it’s possible just to turn on your radio or turn on your TV, at just about every point there’s somebody selling us the idea of getting out of here. You know, “Wouldn’t you like to go and have a little rest? Wouldn’t you like to have a rest from this, and a rest from the office, and a rest from the weather?” And the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! And people are off resting everywhere. And you see them at the airports, and you drive with them in your cars. And on the way home, do they look restful? No. Most of them look miserable. Because the rest, the momentary experience of rest—albeit freedom from the routine of life or from external factors which make up our days—creates a sense of vacuum when it’s over. Because now we just gotta go back to it again. And men and women this morning all across our city long for rest, long for peace, long for these things. And the writer says it is those of us who have believed, who have trusted in Christ, who enter into this rest.

Have you entered into this rest? Have you ever believed in the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you ever looked at his work upon the cross and said, “You know, I understand that when you died upon that cross, you bore my sin, Lord Jesus. And all of my struggling and all of my restlessness, like Augustine in the early centuries, is because I do not find my rest in you.[14] Sunday’s not restful to me. Everything’s a hassle. Oh, I long to have rest for my soul!”

There’s actually a final circle in the Venn diagram, which goes beyond the immediate experience of discovering that rest. And that is where John, in the book of Revelation, in chapter 14, describes the experience of those who have died in the Lord. And he says of them, “‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor[s], for their deeds will follow them.’”[15]

Isn’t it interesting how many people talk about folks going to their rest? You go to somewhere, and someone has recently passed away, and someone will say, “Well, they’re at rest now.” Now, I don’t usually get into a dialogue, theologically, at that point; I usually just nod my head or just go, “Mm.” Because in my heart I’m saying, “I sincerely hope so.”

See, men and women think that they can live all their lives with a disregard for God, spurn his invitation to discover rest for their souls, abuse his day, disclaim his Word, die—and enter into their rest. The Bible holds out no such hope. What it says is that unless we have discovered rest for our souls in our experience of genuine believing faith in a moment in time, then there is no prospect beyond the grave for anything other than the most horrendous of descriptions regarding eternity, lived at the apex of restlessness.

Is it not restlessness that makes people do this? They drum their fingers. Restlessness that makes these sorry creatures in restaurants do this with their legs. Don’t these people drive you nuts? I haven’t seen ladies doing it, but men do this all the time. Pathetic creatures. Stop that! Well, do you think gnashing of teeth might have something to do with restlessness? Do you think the tears that can never be stopped might have to do with the awareness of the fact that I have not found rest for my soul? You’ve got the picture.

That is the body of these verses. Now, what I want to do is give you the three phrases that stand out in relationship to that instruction regarding rest. This matter of rest is of great significance. The earthly fulfillment experienced by the people who followed Joshua was but a faint shadow of the rest into which God’s people are brought through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we do well to pay attention to the exhortations which surround the instruction. And let me just note them with you.

“Let Us Be Careful”

In verse 1, three little phrases. Verse 1: “Let us be careful.” “Let us be careful.” “Let us be careful that none of you be found to have been fallen short of it.” A more accurate translation may be, “Let us be fearful.” Kenneth Taylor paraphrases it, “We ought to tremble with fear because some of you may be on the verge of failing to get there after all.”[16] Phillips: “Let us be continually on our guard.” Now, why is this? Because the promise has been revoked? Because the opportunity of rest has now passed? No, look at the text: “The promise of entering his rest still stands”; like the wilderness wanderers, “we … have had the [message of the] gospel preached to us, just as they did.” But we need to be careful, says the writer of the Hebrews, so that we do not respond in the way in which the majority of them responded.

And what was their response? Well, they had the gospel preached to them, “but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard [it] did not combine it with faith.”[17] They just sat and listened to it. They knew it very well. But it made no difference in their lives. They were like people who had memorized menus in restaurants, but they were skinny souls, because they’d never eaten any of the food that was described on the menu. It’s like people who knew train timetables in Britain off by heart, but they never went anywhere. They could tell you when the train to Crewe was coming and when the one to Liverpool would be leaving, but you said, “You ever go?” they said, “Oh, no, I never go. I just memorize the timetable.” Say, “What a futile and strange thing to do! Do you ever eat?” “No, I just memorize the menu.” And that’s exactly what they were doing. They were listening to the Word as it was proclaimed to them, and they were learning it, and they were storing it up in their minds. But they never combined it with faith, and it was absolutely useless to them. What a sorry description of futility!

To listen to the gospel while remaining destitute of faith is to fall short of God’s promised rest.

Where did the problem lie? With the message? No. With the messenger? No. They had some of the best preachers of the day: straight from the lips of Moses, right from the heart of Joshua, right out of the cry of Caleb. Can you imagine listening to Caleb? “Hey, guys! We’re going up, we’re gonna get this mountain.” “Caleb, you’re an old man.” “I know I am. I’m eighty-five years old,” he said, “but I’m still as strong as I was at the first. Give me this mountain. Let’s go get it!”[18] People are saying, “Man, we’re with Caleb!” There’s a whole crowd saying, “Aw, forget Caleb. He’s been saying that for eighty-five years. We know that stuff.”

Careful! This is the precarious place. You folks have come to the precarious place. See, better to be a pagan, with no interest in the possibility of being reached, than to be a casual almost-believer, learning the menu and memorizing the timetable but never eating the food and never taking the journey. Be careful. Be careful. To listen to the gospel while remaining destitute of faith is to fall short of God’s promised rest.

The parable of the sower, we mentioned it last week. What was the issue? The issue was not a problem with the seed. The issue was a problem with the soil. All the people had the same seed sown. The issue was the soil. Hard hearts, acidity, alkalinity, anger, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, disappointment, self-pity—all of these things—fouling up the soil, so that when the seed of the Word is sown, it means nothing. That’s why you can’t listen to the Word of God preached with a bitter heart. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you say. And the reason I can say that with such confidence is because the Bible says it with clarity, and I know it ’cause I’ve lived it.

So until we come to the point where our hearts are broken and our knees are collapsed, and we are before God with a genuine desire to hear his voice, then you can sit for a month of Sundays, and it doesn’t mean a rap. And that’s why people can end services, and the service ends, and they go, “Hey, what are you doing next? What do you want to do now? Hey! Let’s go!” Will there ever be a time in your life where you want to crawl out on your hands and knees? There ever be a time when you want to say, “Hey, don’t speak to me. I’ve been listening to the Word of God with a hard heart for seven months, and God has broken my heart this morning. I’ve got to go walk up Pettibone Road and talk to God”? If you feel that, go do it! Lest your soil is like the soil where the birds came and ate it before it could even get down. “Let us be careful.” That’s what he’s saying. This is not something to be trivialized or fiddled with. Don’t do what they did—and that is a continuous rejection of God’s written and spoken Word of God.

Now, that’s verse 1. Combining it with faith. What does it mean to “combine it with faith”? It means to believe it. It means to trust it. I don’t know how to put it, except to tell you what I do. Like when someone else is praying and I’m listening, I try and listen in such a way that when the person says, “And this week, our tongues were sharp,” I say in my heart, say, “God, that is true. My tongue was sharp this week. Lord, what about…” and get underneath it. And when the Word is preached, say, “That’s for me. That’s mine!” Not so much write it in a sheet as, “God, write it in my heart. Because I may never pass this way again. I may never hear your voice again. I may never have this truth conveyed to me again. Therefore, today, Lord, don’t let me harden my heart. Make it mine today.”

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.[19]

“I want to see you as you are, because I know how weak and horrible my heart is.” That’s what you gotta do. That’s how it happens.

That’s something different from listening to sermons. That’s a different experience from, “Oh, very good this morning, pastor. Yes, liked that thing on the such and such.” I don’t give a flying rat’s tail whether you liked it or not. But I have a compassionate, burning longing to see these two cotton-pickin’ huge congregations get serious about a Bible and about Jesus. Serious, like our lives and heaven depended upon it. That serious! So serious that we would be so careful lest we’d had a number strapped to our front, lest we’d been marked in the book, lest we’d began the marathon, and within six and a half miles we were dropouts. That serious! That’s how serious he wants us to be. “Let us be careful that none of you … have fallen short,” that you started off, and you were going the whole marathon, and at six and a half miles, you threw it in. You took the tag off, and you chucked it. Let’s be careful!

“Make Every Effort”

Verse 11: “Let[’s] … make every effort.” It’s the corollary: “Make every effort.” “Oh,” says somebody, “isn’t it God’s grace alone that brings us into his rest?” Of course it is! But how does he do it? By means of his Word, which we hear and receive, and by means of the faith which we must constantly exercise. Making every effort means I don’t want to grow cold, I don’t want to grow slack, I don’t want to give way to doubt. It means not simply the hearing of the Bible, but it means the doing of what the Bible says. That’s what James says in 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

And what does he say to the preacher? He says, “Don’t simply preach the Bible. Do what it says.” Do you realize you can preach the Bible and deceive yourself? You can assume that because you studied it all week and preached it on Sunday, that you’re doing it—and you’re not doing it at all. This is not a message from me to you. This is a message from here to us. We’re all in this boat together, loved ones. “Hey, Al, you gonna get excited like that? You’d better be as excited about that when no one can see you as you’re excited about it when everybody can see you.”

You making every effort in your Christian life? You making every effort to get involved in this church? Are you making every effort to sign your name to that prayer card? Are you making every effort to share your faith? Are you making every effort to get beyond being a pew sitter that simply comes along and sits down, and say, “You know what? I’m committed to Jesus Christ, and I’m committed to his people. It’s not the best church I was ever in. It’s not got the best group of people I ever saw. It’s not the best preaching I ever heard. Don’t really like the music. But you know what? I’m committed to Jesus Christ, and I’m committed to that place. And frankly, if it was that good, I shouldn’t join it, because I’d screw the whole thing up just by my attendance myself.” You think you’re so smart? Just let us make every effort. Make every effort to be an encouragement to one another.

But do not do what they did. What did they do? They failed to enter because of their disobedience. They failed to enter because of their unbelief. That’s 4:[11], and it’s 3:19. Again I say to you, the warnings are not here to do anything other than warn us. Says one commentator, we should note that these warnings

are misunderstood when they are thought to teach that true believers may fall away and be lost. … Just as accidents are avoided by obeying the road signs which are put up for our safety, so we are preserved from the dangers of our pilgrimage by paying heed to those warnings which are annexed to the promise of salvation. … Therefore all who know the plague of their own hearts will never deem it safe to dispense with what God considers to be necessary for their spiritual safety.[20]

Do you know the plague of your own heart? Or are you a frequent flyer?

“We ask you to take a moment to consider the…”

Say, “What’s that guy saying?”

Well, she’s saying, “Read the safety card.”

“Oh, read the safety card? I don’t read the safety card. I’m on these things all the time.”

“We ask you to note that the exit row, the emergency exit, may be behind you.”

Do you see many people looking over their shoulders? Nah. Everybody’s too cool to look over their shoulder. But there’s always one or two—little lady from Memphis, and somebody else from somewhere—and they’re looking all everywhere: “Whatever she says, I’m doing.” She’s watching that lady with the thing, and blowing it up and taking it down. She’s like your grandmother watching TV. She’s taking it all in. She’s really being careful. She probably’ll be the only lady that’ll be any use if it ditches off the end of the runway when you land in Newark, ’cause she’s the only one that was careful, paid attention, and made the effort.

See, the greatest danger is the longer we go. ’Cause the longer we go, the more we think we know it, and then we think that because we know it, we’re doing it, and because we’re doing it, we don’t need the warnings. The warnings are for those of us who have been running the marathon for a while, and we are in grave danger of being like those who fell along the way.

“We Must Give Account”

Now, that brings us to the final phrase: “We must give account.” It’s the last phrase of verse 13: “We must give account.” In other words, the books of our lives are going to be audited. There’s absolutely nowhere to hide. Says Kenneth Taylor, “He knows about everyone, everywhere. Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God.”[21] Phillips: “No creature has any cover from the sight of God; everything lies naked and exposed before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Jeremiah 23:24: “‘Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord.” The answer is, absolutely not.

And what is the MRI that God uses in order to bring to light these things in our lives? The answer is, it is the Word of God itself. This Word, he says, is “living” and it is “active.” The Bible does things. Specifically, he says, it reaches the innermost recesses of our beings. It reveals and it judges my thoughts and my attitudes. It shows me up. It’s an uncomfortable thing, in many cases, to be exposed before the Bible—in the way in which the doctor comes, and he examines us with skill and with care, and he knows where to put his hand, and when he puts his hand there and he says, “Is that it?” and the tears running down our eyes answer the question without a word. He has touched the spot where the issue is to be found. And the Word of God, says the writer, does that very thing.

You see, the Bible does not ultimately have a scientific purpose. Science is a body of knowledge that is acquired by observation and by experiment and by induction. But the Bible is revelation; it is the statement of God concerning truths which can’t be discovered empirically.

The Bible does not have a literary purpose. The people say, “Well, I like to read the Bible, especially in the King James Version. It has such a lovely, lyrical twist to it.” You say, “Well, you know, that’s fine, but that’s not the issue.” The glory of the Bible is in its message, not in its style.

The Bible pierces to the very heart of the matter. Therefore, we dare not take it for granted when it’s written, when it’s spoken.

It doesn’t have a philosophical purpose. The Bible does not set out to categorically answer the big questions of life: Where did evil come from, and how do I deal with suffering and its origin? It tells us how to deal with it; it doesn’t answer the philosophical questions.

So what is the purpose of this book? Well, it’s a profoundly practical purpose. The purpose of the book is to introduce us to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we might see the fact of our need of him, and that we might trust him as our Lord and our Savior, and that we might enter into the rest that he has promised.

The sharpest instrument of the day was a double-edged short sword. Says the writer, “Think of the sharpest thing you might think of, and then multiply it, and that’s how sharp the Bible is,” he says. It pierces to the very heart of the matter. Therefore, we dare not take it for granted when it’s written, when it’s spoken. We’re going to give an account. We need to make the effort. We need to be careful.

For those of you, incidentally, who have regarded the Bible as just a collection of religious writings… and I meet with this all the time, people who say to me, “I don’t know why you would have such an emphasis on the Bible. After all, it is just a bunch of old stories, is it not, put together by men?” Well, I have a challenge for you. Why don’t you take a Bible and just begin to read it? And if you read it with a thoughtful and an open heart, God will respond to your intellectual integrity. He won’t cater to your intellectual arrogance. You cannot defy his existence and expect to have him make himself known. But if you’ll come and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, if you are real and if this book is living and is alive, I ask you to speak to me in it and through it. Show me myself. Show me my Savior. May this book be alive to me.” And I love the statement of the Chinese man who, on reading the Bible for the first time, said, “The man who made my heart wrote that book.”

Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” We must give account. Therefore, let us make every effort, and let us be careful.

Let us pray:

We do want to make ourselves available to any into whose lives God has spoken. Although you don’t need to talk to us, it’s important that you talk to God. But if we’d be helpful, at the end of our worship we’d gladly meet you, and pray with you, and give you literature in our prayer room, which is behind me here to my right. For some of us, we just need to walk out, and although we don’t want to be disrespectful to those around us, and we certainly don’t want to be false in our response, we do need to take time alone. Those of us who have the number on our jerseys, who have our names signed on the list, but we’re falling back, we’re drifting, our hunger for God’s Word is diminishing, our enjoyment in the presence of God’s people is not what it was. We need to take time to be careful, and we need to renew our efforts.

Father, thank you that when we cut to the very heart of it, it comes down to two very simple questions that you ask us: “Will you trust me? And will you obey me?” And we ask for grace today that we might do both, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943).

[2] Genesis 1:31 (NIV 1984).

[3] John 5:17 (NIV 1984).

[4] Geoffrey B. Wilson, Hebrews: A Digest of Reformed Comment (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979), 56.

[5] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (1948; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 156–57.

[6] William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, 1.2.

[7] Prince, “Manic Monday” (1984).

[8] Robert Browning, song from Pippa Passes, part 1.

[9] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, pt. 4, bk. 11, chap. 4. Paraphrased.

[10] Wilson, Hebrews, 58.

[11] 2 Corinthians 4:6 (paraphrased).

[12] Hebrews 4:3 (NIV 1984).

[13] Matthew 11:28–30 (NIV 1984).

[14] Augustine, The Confessions 1.1.1.

[15] Revelation 14:13 (NIV 1984).

[16] Hebrews 4:1 (TLB).

[17] Hebrews 4:2 (NIV 1984).

[18] Joshua 14:6–15 (paraphrased).

[19] John Newton, “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (1774).

[20] Wilson, Hebrews, 54.

[21] Hebrews 4:13 (TLB).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.