We greet everyone in the very, very precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I really mean what I say when I say it is very, very precious. Just consider what that name is and what is contained in it. What faithfulness, what love, what forgiveness, what mercy, what almighty power is contained in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can gather in that name – the name of Jesus Christ.
I wonder whether there are any people here whose hearts were troubled this morning. There are many reasons a heart could be troubled because we live in dark times. But the Lord Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ He said to His disciples when they had all the reason to be troubled. ‘Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God and trust also in Me.’
I was reminded of the words spoken just under a year ago by our dear father and friend, the honourable Prince Buthelezi who recently passed away. He gave us an instruction and hope. He said, ‘The light of truth will overcome the darkness.’ What is the darkness that is causing your heart to be troubled this morning? The light of truth, who is the Lord Jesus Christ, will overcome the darkness. And then he went on to say, ‘So, let us take heart.’ Have you taken heart? If not, do not hurt your Lord and Saviour, but take heart now. Praise and thank Him that His light and truth will overcome the darkness. For that we thank the Lord and bless His Name.
Regarding the passing of honourable Prince Buthelezi or Shenge, as we know him, who will ever fill shoes like that? We recall everything he did for God’s work and our country. He was a friend to Rev Stegen - both warriors of the faith. It is a great loss. If you hear or read anything else regarding Shenge, do not believe it. We pray that the Lord will help those who follow him to continue in the work he has started.
It is my prayer that God would speak to you through His word and that He would reveal it to you.
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:1 – 13
God promises us that His place of rest still stands. He starts this chapter by reminding us of His rest prepared for those who serve Him and believe in Him. This book was written to second generation Christians whose parents had found the Gospel and they followed it. However, because of the challenges of the time, some were on the verge of turning back. Because of the abuse they experienced, socially and physically, some of them wanted to turn away from Christianity. Firstly, they are encouraged to remember God’s promise. Secondly, they are warned of dangers that could ensnare them. Thirdly, God’s teaching is explained to them and what is necessary for God to work.
Dear Christians, remember God’s promise to His people. Don’t forget it. In times of trouble and difficulties, remember God’s promise. There are over 8 000 promises in the Bible. I asked Rev Stegen one day why are some days are difficult? Days are not the same. His reply was, ‘On those days, put your emotions aside and hold on to God’s promises.’ There are times in a Christian’s life where one must hold onto God’s promises, especially if one knows that there is nothing between one and God, but emotionally one may not feel up to it. God says that His promise of His rest still stands.
A very well-respected man once said, ‘We are resting now. One day in heaven we will really work.’ That is true because the Bible says we will serve Him day and night. But there will be rest from our human labour, the temptations of sin, sickness, sorrow and all that which on earth is sometimes so difficult. When we get there, we will rest from that. We will be relieved from tiredness. When you ask some Christians how things are going, they reply that they are so tired. There you will be relieved from your tiredness. God promised us His rest. If someone passes away in Christ, he gains although we may mourn the loss.
13 years ago, we buried our four-year-old son. We were convinced until he went into the grave that God could still raise him from death. We believed that if God wanted to do it, He could. We did not want to oppose God – we accepted what He did. Sometimes there is a little glimmer of hope that if God would do it, we would be ready. We carried him out of the car to the grave and the coffin was put on the straps to lower it and I thought, ‘If God wants to raise him, I wonder how He will do it? How will we see it?’ As I stood there, something came to my heart which was almost audible. It was as clear as if someone spoke to me. I’ll never forget it. ‘Do you really want him to come back to this earth with all its difficulties and troubles? He must still go through life and experience everything. He must still find salvation and hopefully one day serve the Lord. It was as if the Lord said, ‘I can raise him with one word, but do you want it?’ I thought for a moment and then responded, ‘No Lord, he is better where he is now.’ We want to reach heaven. We teach our children that we want to reach heaven and then when God takes them to heaven, we do not want it. It helped me because I said, No, God, keep him in heaven. He is safe in your promised rest.’
God’s promise still stands but at the same time we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it… It is a warning to Christians, not heathens, not people who do not know Christ. This is a warning to people who know Christ. Some Christians will fail to experience God’s rest. This should make every Christian think soberly. It is not enough to say, ‘I am a Christian.’ There is more to the Christian life than just saying you are a Christian.
Listen to this devotion: A great many professing Christian have no other idea of religion than that it is a means of getting to heaven when they die. As to doing anything for God while they live, it does not enter into their plans. I tell you, brethren, I do not believe there is 1 in 500 of such people who will reach heaven.
There is more to a Christian than doing what you are told so that you can get to heaven. There is much more – living with Him, doing His will daily, serving Him day by day. It is a living relationship. Why will some fail to experience it?
I will read the same verses from the Amplified version.
2 For indeed we have had the good news [of salvation] preached to us, just as the Israelites also [when the good news of the promised land came to them]; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because it was not united with faith [in God] by those who heard.
This refers to the rest now and the rest later. Being in God’s will, we should experience something of the rest now already i.e. the peace that He promises us. The Israelites of Moses’ day illustrate that they knew a great deal about Christ, but they did not know Him personally. They did not combine the promise with faith. What is your faith like? What do you really believe in? If the person who brought you to Christ would tell you today that he/she made a mistake and he/she is going another way, what would you do? Would you follow the person or would you continue on God’s way because your faith is strong? Faith is something we do not see, but experience. It is something real. It is something we know is there and that is why we believe in it. Another aspect of faith is to trust in God even if it does not make sense.
I read a story of a missionary driving a pickup along the road. The front was full and there were people with him. He came across a man carrying a heavy bag. He stopped and asked him whether he could give the man a lift. ‘I only have space at the back, but you are carrying a heavy load and I can take you where you need to go.’ The man thanked the driver and climbed into the back. They drove off. After some time, looking in his rearview mirror, he saw the man standing at the back with the heavy bag still on his shoulder.
That is what many Christians are like. We get onto God’s way but we do not give him everything. We do not think He can carry everything so we continue carrying it. It could be our work, our finances, our marriage but there is a problem somewhere. We think we must resolve it ourselves but that means we do not put our trust in God. The more we try and do it in human effort, the more we fail.
Unbelief was one of their problems. Disobedience was another one. Read it in verse 6. Rev Stegen said that the cost of disobedience is far greater than the cost of obedience. How often have you felt that you must do something and then you waver, ‘Is it worth it? Is it really the right thing? Should I do it? What will people think of me?’ Later you realise that you should have done it and the regret is far worse than if you had just done it in the first place.
12 For the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as the division of the soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And not a creature exists that is concealed from His sight, but all things are open and exposed, and revealed to the eyes of Him with whom we have to give account. Hebrews 4:12, 13
God’s word, the words of God. This can refer to God’s inspired word, the Bible or God’s word, as in Him speaking through the Holy Spirit. Whatever God or the Holy Spirit or the Scriptures say, they should be in unity. I believe God and the Holy Spirit speak to us and that could be applied to these words as well.
The word of God, as it comes to us, is living and active. It should do something to us. When we read God’s word, it should do something to us. When we pray and God speaks to us, it should do something to us. This text it is operative, energising, and effective - which means that it does something. Do I read the Bible and nothing happens? Reading the Bible does something to us. It is sharper than any two-edged sword. A two-edged sword is one that is sharpened on both sides. There are two edges, and it has no blunt side. Whatever it touches, it cuts, whether on the front or the back. In the front it makes a sharp point so in warfare it can cut to one side and the other side, as well as stab. The only way to reach a person’s heart is to stab with a sword. Now is it clear that God’s word is like a weapon that cuts us? It is necessary for God’s word to cut away that which should not be in our lives. It is necessary for God to cut, that it hurts. To divide what is evil from what is good.
The word of God is not simply a collection of words from God. It is living, life-changing, dynamic and it works in us. Like a surgeon’s knife, God’s words reveal who we are and who we are not. It penetrates the core of our moral and spiritual lives. It discerns what is in us, both good and evil. The demands of God’s word require decisions. We must not only listen to the word, but we must also allow it to shape our lives. What is your reaction when God divides between evil and good? What is your reaction when God cuts away that which should not be in your life?
It says in the text that it divides between soul and spirit. Our soul is our human nature – our mind, our emotions, our will. The spirit is the spiritual connection with God. The spirit is the only way to connect with God. When we have the Spirit of God, we are complete.
Sometimes God’s word cuts between the soul and spirit to remind us that we are sinners. Sometimes it cuts between our human will and God’s Spirit to remind us that without the Spirit we are nothing and we are headed for damnation. Sometimes it is necessary for God to separate and say, ‘Remember who you are. Remember what you are like. It is My grace and Spirit that brings you salvation.’
The word separates between joint and marrow which work together and are one thing. The one cannot exist without the other. But God comes and separates. He judges the very thoughts and intents of the heart. Sometimes it is necessary that God cuts with a double-edged sword to show us what we are like. What do you do when God’s sword cuts like that? What is your reaction when God puts his finger on something in your life and says that it should not be there? It can happen when you read His word, when He speaks to you or when another person tells you what is wrong in your life.
Have you ever done something that you thought was the right thing? You did it with good intentions. You believed you were doing the right thing but someone says to you, ‘My brother, but there is a problem.’ You may read God’s word and then realise that there is a problem in your deepest thoughts and intentions, and someone puts their finger on it. What is your reaction? Can you accept it? Can you accept God’s sword purifying you or are you likely to say, ‘I meant well. I desired good, now look what you are saying to me.’ Sometimes when God puts His finger on something, it hurts. Are we prepared to accept it? Are we prepared to thank God that He is still teaching us or are we down in the dumps and say that we meant it so well.
God’s sword is painful, it separates, but it is for our own good. He knows the result that He wants to achieve. Are you prepared to let God cut away that which is not in His will and that which He does not want for you - through His word, through His servants and through the Holy Spirit? Is your mindset such that when that happens you thank God that He can still teach you.
If every Christian in the world took the Word, the world would be a different place. If every Christian would be prepared to go where God opens the doors, the world would be a different place. Why do you want to go in the direction where God closes the doors? God knows everything, our intentions, our deepest minds. One commentator speaks about every little corner of the mind that is revealed before God. Everything lies open before God. Will you let God teach you that which He wants to, no matter the pain?
I will conclude with a story. “Are surgeons good or bad for you? I have awakened from four different surgeries in my life feeling truly awful. In one case my knee hurt, in another my abdomen hurt, in two others my shoulder hurt. Mentally I was in a fog, unable to think straight. I was hungry because I had not been able to eat since the night before at the surgeon’s instruction. I could not leave my bed and do what I wanted to do, all because of what those dreadful doctors did to me.”
(Do you see the Christian? Why are things like this, why like that? Must it be like that? Who gave you the right to say that to me?)
“If my immediate happiness had been my top priority, I would have concluded that the surgeon had failed me or that they were not good people or that surgeries were bad things. I mean what gives when you go to someone for help and you end up feeling worse. If I only consider how I felt immediately after my surgeries, I would not have a positive view of surgeons and I would not have any good to say of them to others. On the other hand, if I take a longer, broader, more comprehensive view, I realise that I am now able to walk, to use my shoulder, in fact I am now alive because the surgeon had a higher purpose and good for me than my immediate pleasure and happiness. One surgeon repaired my knee after a sport injury and I could now walk. If he had not performed the surgery, I would not be able to walk. And finally, when a surgeon removed my appendix he saved my life. The infection was so severe that without its removal the infection would eventually have killed me. You start to see the picture? So, when I looked beyond my immediate pleasure and happiness, to my ultimate welfare, I readily admit that while the surgeries were unpleasant from beginning to end, I am glad I had them. If I had to do it all over again, I would have every one of them again knowing full well the price I would be paying. And I am grateful for well-trained doctors whose knowledge and skill restored people’s health to them. In the end I conclude my surgeries were good things.”
The heading for this text is God’s Surgery. Christian, sometimes it is necessary that God cuts with His sword. Sometimes it is necessary that He reveals our deepest thoughts. Are you prepared to accept it - knowing that God is preparing you for what you need. So next time when you are in a situation that you do not like or think is unfair or think it should not be as it is, remember God is preparing you. Those who put their trust in Him, will be prepared by Him. Those who trust in Him say, ‘We will serve you. We will give you everything. He will do what is necessary.’ May we not complain when God does His work and ask questions because we said ‘God, do whatever is necessary, because I want to enter your rest where I can serve you day and night.’ Are you prepared, Christian?
Conclusion Dietmar Joosten
We thank God for His word. God means the best for us, even when we think it hurts and even when we think it is the worst thing that could happen to us.
When I was a child, I felt a calling to the Lord’s work. I doubted. While I was working one day with a chain saw, I cut my leg in a split second. I knew that God was talking. I combined His words with faith which brings obedience, and it changed my life.
God wants to separate us from the world and sin. We cannot live with sin and in it. God wants us to separate from it. It is painful but allow it, because it will bring life. It may not make sense in your mind but obey God. If you do you will experience peace.
Christ reached a point in His life where He pleaded with His Father and said, ‘My Father, this is too difficult for me.’ Do you see the sword that had penetrated Him? Have you ever considered what it cost Him and what it cost His Father to see His Son suffer? But Christ understood and said, ‘My Father, not My will but if you want it, I trust you, it will be the best for the whole world and creation.’ Christ bowed. He could still ask His Father, but His Father did not budge.
Just confess your sin. Confess that which you do not want to part from and you will experience God’s peace, a lifting of burden. Confess your envy. Confess that you are envious of someone who is being used of God. Come out of that. That could be the reason why God does not use you.
God speaks through circumstances. If things happen, stop and pray. Lift your eyes to heaven and ask the Lord what He is saying. Lift your eyes to the Lord, listen to what He says, and be obedient. Even if you are a child, that is the best time to learn obedience and do what the Lord has told you to do. One day you will reap from that action. Ask older people if it is worth going through life obeying Him. If they are honest, they will say, ‘My child, learn it as a little child. The Lord will keep you from many, many evil things.’