Florence Chadwick was born in 1918, and by the time she was ten years old, she was famous as A LONG DISTANCE SWIMMER. She was the first child to swim the San Diego Bay Channel.
From there she went on to break the women’s record for swimming the English Channel. 32 kilometers in 13 hours and 20 minutes. The next year she became the first woman to swim the channel in the other direction. France to England.
Then, in 1952, in what was to be her victorious homecoming, Florence Chadwick, with much publicity and fanfare, set out to be the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel; 34 kilometers, from Catalina Island, just off Los Angeles; to Long Beach.
Compared with some of her other swims, it should have been easy. Besides which, she had the home crowd advantage.
But after 15 hours swimming, on a swirling foggy morning, Florence Chadwick was pulled out of the water, exhausted; just 800 metres short of her goal. After 33.2 kilometres of swimming against the tough seas, she gave up. Just 800 metres short of the beach.
800 m short of a victorious homecoming. Of the cheers and applause of the crowd. 800 m short of the warm blankets, and the hot, sweet drinks. The rewards for the finishers. Of a triumphant rest.
Why didn’t she make it? She stepped out of the support boat to face the crowds and the media. She’d failed. And she was asked why. And she said, It wasn’t the waves. And it wasn’t the freezing cold. She said, it was the fog. She said, the thing that stopped me was that I COULDN’T SEE THE SHORELINE. IF I’D KNOWN HOW CLOSE I WAS, I COULD HAVE MADE IT.
If only I’d known. If only I’d known how close I was… I could have kept going.
As we turn to our passage in Hebrews today; again, a passage that looks complex at first; I want you to keep in mind that it’s all about THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING GOING. It’s all about the danger of stopping short. Of giving up. Before you reach the goal.
It’s a passage that talks about A LONG ROAD TRIP TO A FIVE STAR DESTINATION. The kids in the back seat are saying “Are we there yet?” And they want you to stop now. And you’re tired and you’re cranky and you’re hungry. And you’re tempted to pull in to the trashy caravan park and set up camp there.
But you don’t. Because you know it’s worth pressing on. For the better rest that lies ahead.
Where Are We Up To?
It’s been a while since I’ve preached here on Hebrews. So it’s worth having a quick re-cap. We’ve seen that Hebrews is like the transcript of a first century sermon; a message specifically aimed at a group of Jewish Christians, who are in danger of turning their backs. Giving up their faith in Jesus and reverting to their Old Testament ways.
Which really means they’re in danger of stopping short of their destination.
Back to the start – Wilderness Wanderings
And today’s passage is complex. Because you’ve somehow got to keep in your head a couple of JUMPS IN TIME, a sequence of events, before you can catch the main point.
Our section starts with a long quotation from Psalm 95. It’s a Psalm about WILDERNESS WANDERINGS. All about the danger of stopping short.
Just in passing, you’ll notice if you’re someone who wishes the Holy Spirit spoke to you a bit more, that verse 7 starts with the assumption that THE HOLY SPIRIT SPEAKS TO US THROUGH THE SCRIPTURES. Because that’s what he’s quoting. Verse 7… as the Holy Spirit says. And then four and a half verses lifted directly from Psalm 95.
Which he quotes again, you’ll notice, in verse 15. And again in chapter 4 verse 3, and verse 5. And finally in verse 7.
It’s a simple Psalm. And I want to unpack that a bit before we dive in. Because Psalm 95 is a Psalm King David wrote… looking back at the earliest days of the history of Israel. Looking back at the time God promised the Israelites that he’d take them out of slavery in Egypt… to THE PROMISED LAND. Which he said would be A PLACE OF REST.
God said, trust me. I’ll take you through the wilderness to a land of milk and honey. I’ll take you on a road trip to the best holiday destination you can imagine. You’ll be my people, I’ll be your God; and together we’ll rest. It’ll be just like back in the garden. It’ll be just like the seventh day when we rested together.
That was the promise. But what did the people do? As soon as things got the slightest bit tough… they started GRUMBLING. As soon is they got tired or hot or hungry, they started saying, we’d rather be slaves back in Egypt. They weren’t convinced by God’s promise.
To the point where they get to the borders, and God says, It’s yours. And they say, No, the people there are too big. We’d rather stop here. To which God says, have it your way. And they wandered for 40 years in the desert. A whole generation didn’t get to enter God’s rest in the promised land.
Now that’s the story David looks back on in Psalm 95.
And I want you to see what he says. Because David, as he writes the Psalm hundreds of years later, wants to draw a lesson from it FOR HIS OWN GENERATION.
Let’s pick up the quotation in verse 7 in Hebrews 3:
So as the Holy Spirit says: TODAY if you hear his voice, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS as you did in the rebellion… during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That’s why I was angry with that generation, and I said, THEIR HEARTS ARE ALWAYS GOING ASTRAY and they have not known my ways. So I declared on oath in my anger… THEY SHALL NEVER… ENTER MY REST.
The Two Dangers
David’s saying, I’m warning you TODAY, it’d be a terrible thing to miss out on God’s rest.
Which, when you think about it, must have seemed a bit odd to the people of Israel. Because when David’s talking, they’re already IN THE PROMISED LAND.
I mean, a GENERATION missed out – Moses and the adults he led from Egypt. But in the end, by David’s time… they’re IN the promised land. It took a while. But now EVERYTHING’S GOOD. They’ve got A KING. They’ve got A PALACE. They’ve defeated their enemies on every side. This is GLORY DAYS.
And yet David says to them, today I want to warn you… don’t make the mistakes of the past. Don’t stop short. And fail to enter God’s rest.
Which to Jewish ears must have been kind of odd. Because in their minds, they’ve got what they want already. They’re convinced that THIS IS ALL THERE IS.
And maybe these later Christian Jews have thought the same. Maybe YOU HAVE TOO. Maybe YOUR eyes are fixed in LIFE NOW. You reckon IT’S PRETTY GOOD. Family, work, hobbies.
But let me tell you – this life is NOTHING compared to what God’s got planned. You don’t want to miss out.
And so there are two dangers we need to be aware of. Two dangers highlighted in the passage. There are two dangers that can stop us before the finishing line.
a) Thinking you’re there when you’re not – there remains a rest
The first danger; thinking you’re there… when you’re not. It’s stopping at the tired old caravan park when you’re just a block away from the five star resort where you’re meant to be heading. They’ve even got your reservation. In fact, your resort holiday is fully paid.
For the Israelite’s David’s talking to in the Psalm, it’s thinking that the rest in the promised land is all there is. It’s thinking that in those years before/ when their forefathers followed Joshua into the promised land… that that was as good as the rest was going to get.
No more blisters, no more dust, no more manna. A home, a family, some sheep and a bit of peace and quiet.
When in reality, it was JUST THE BEGINNING. Which is why David can warn his own people IN HIS OWN DAY… who are IN the promised land… that they need to be careful they don’t miss God’s rest. That they need to be careful of complacency.
Which is the point of the words in chapter 4 verses 6 to 11.
Even in the promised land there’s A FAR BETTER REST just up ahead. And especially verse 8.
For if Joshua had given them rest, verse 8, for if coming into the land was really the rest, God wouldn’t have spoken about ANOTHER DAY. There remains, then, verse 9, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; it’s not just the promised land.
There’s still A REST TO COME. With all the harmony of the unspoiled world on the seventh day of creation. Where we’ll rest from our own work PERFECTLY.
So whatever you do, don’t be complacent at this point. And stop short of it. Verse 11. Let us therefore, MAKE EVERY EFFORT to enter that rest… so that no one will fall by following their example… of disobedience.
So number 1, don’t think that you’ve made it already. If you’re an Israelite in the time of King David, and you’re thinking, we’re living in the promised land, so now I can do what I like, there’s still a lesson to learn from the ones who DIDN’T ENTER THE REST IN THE FIRST PLACE. There’s a better rest to come. So keep going. And don’t turn back.
It’s the perspective some Christians need to hear TODAY. When it comes to the sorts of things they long for and pray for. Their view is that God wants to bless them materially and physically. Now.
That to be healthy and wealthy is our birthright as Christians. You’ll hear that view on any of the American Christian TV shows if you happen to be watching at about 4 am.
But that sort of person needs to BE WARNED. They’re at risk of MISSING OUT. Because their gaze is fixed on rest NOW. When God’s got a MUCH BETTER REST STILL TO COME.
And God DOES promise us complete healing, and vast riches. But only in OUR ETERNAL REST. They’ve got THE PROMISES right, just THE TIMING wrong.
There’s a better rest to come. So keep going. And don’t turn back.
And it’s the perspective that we need when A CHRISTIAN DIES. If we think this life is the best it’s going to get/ then we’re SAD for the person. They’re MISSING OUT.
But if our gaze is fixed on the HEAVENLY REST AHEAD/ then we REJOICE for them. Because their rest has begun. The existence they were MADE FOR.
And it’s the rest WE need to make sure WE keep going for. There’s a better rest to come. So keep going. And don’t turn back.
b) Hard hearts that refuse to Listen to God
I said there were two dangers. And the two go hand in hand.
The second danger is the danger of THE HARDENED HEART. The danger of having a heart that refuses to listen to the word of God.
Which is exactly what brought the first Israelites in the desert unstuck. Go back to the start. Verse 7 and 8 in chapter 3. Today, if you hear his voice, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS as you did in the rebellion. The problem starts AT THE HEART. The affections. The WILL. Or verse 10. There it is again. God says,
That’s why I was angry with that generation, THEIR HEARTS ARE ALWAYS GOING ASTRAY, and they have not known my ways. So see to it brothers that none of you has a heart like that.
Ultimately, you see, the problem is with a heart that hears the voice of God, hears the promise of God… and DOESN’T TRUST IT.
That’s the idea of v18 – have a look at it. The ones who didn’t enter the land were those who DISOBEYED. The word for DISOBEY has the idea of HEARING the command, but REFUSING TO BE CONVINCED BY IT.
It’s an attitude. An attitude of DISTRUST in God’s promises. In the hardness of their hearts they REFUSED TO BE PERSUADED by it. Which is perhaps the worst kind of disobedience of all.
And it’s the same in verse 6 of chapter 4. They didn’t go in… because they were UNPERSUADED. And verse 11. Don’t make the same mistake. Don’t follow their example. Make every effort to enter that rest that’s still up ahead… so that no-one will fall by following their example of UN-PERSUASION.
They’re the sort of person – no matter how much you try to persuade them to keep trusting the word of God – all they say is “Nuh – There’s absolutely nothing you can say. I’m UNPERSUADABLE.”
That’s an attitude that comes from the heart, isn’t it? Not the head.
a) Active Unbelief
Here’s the point. Here’s how the two dangers are connected. The Israelites in the wilderness heading for the promised land. They STOPPED TRUSTING GOD. And they DIDN’T MAKE IT TO THE PROMISED LAND.
Continuing to TRUST God. Every day, CHOOSING TO BELIEVE his promises. Choosing to fix your eyes on the REST TO COME. Is the way TO KEEP GOING. To stick it out.
Every day REFUSING to let your gaze be distracted by the good and attractive things that we rest on HERE. And fixing our gaze on our HEAVENLY REST. Which is BETTER BY FAR.
The bottom line is simple. Whatever you do, don’t harden your heart and stop trusting in Jesus.
There’s a confronting thought here. And I want to leave you with it.
The thought that refusing to listen to God is actually an active choice. The thought that refusing to listen to God actually requires a deliberate hardening of your heart.
The though that there are maybe people here today going through exactly that process. Hearing God’s voice. And deliberately saying, no, I’m not going to believe it. Deliberately saying, no, I’m fine how I am. Deliberately saying, “No, I’ll stop right here. And not go any further”.
If that’s you, there’s a word for you in verses 12 and 13 of chapter 4. But you know this already as well, don’t you? If you’re choosing to be unpersuaded, it’s not because God’s word isn’t getting through to you, is it? God himself is speaking to you. Just as clearly and powerfully as he did to Israel.
Because verse 12 says, the word of God is living and active… it’s sharper than any double edged sword. It’s finer than a scalpel. The word of God penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; the word of God, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is laid bare.
It’s GOD. Warning you from the pages of this book. Through the example of the people of Israel. Through the writings of King David. God is speaking TO YOU.
And somehow deep down you know that. And yet the danger is, you consciously make a decision to remain UNPERSUADED. And you consciously make the decision to stop looking forward to the rest that lies ahead. And to make yourself comfortable now.
I’ll pull in at the first rest stop I come to. And set up house there. And surround myself with comforts and make myself number one.
Don’t let that be you.
Give yourself a heart healthcheck. Check you heart. And make sure it’s not telling you to stop listening. What things are catching you eye? Distracting your attentions from Jesus? Filling your thoughts, your diary. Flirting with your affections.
Is your heart set on Jesus?
And here’s a real practicality; verse 13 Ch 3. See, what can you do to make sure you’re not turning away? You can ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER. Watch out for each other.
The Psalm said, today if you hear his voice, don’t harden your heart. Well, every day, DAILY, encourage each other. Open your hearts to each other so you can watch out for each other; so that none of you may be hardened, in the words of verse 13, by sin’s deceitfulness. So very easy to fool yourself. Because the game plan is, verse 14, TO HOLD FIRMLY TIL THE END THE CONFIDENCE WE HAD AT FIRST.
You can HELP EACH OTHER in that. By being part of a small group. By being regular at church instead of only turning up when there’s no better offer. By doing your best to KNOW PEOPLE… and LET YOURSELF BE KNOWN. To spur on your friends. And be spurred on yourself.
I’ve heard your church camp was cancelled due to lack of interest. What A SHAME! What a GREAT OPPORTUNITY to SPUR EACH OTHER ON. To encourage each other to fix our eyes on heaven.
It’s SO important, Verse 1 in chapter 4, we need to BE CAREFUL. Don’t be complacent.
Be careful you set the right priorities. Be careful you keep meeting together to encourage one another. Be careful of the signs of a hardening heart.
And be very clear, says the next verse, that you’re not so complacent that you think just HEARING God’s word is enough. You might think it’s enough to just hear a sermon every Sunday that entertains your ears. Even better if you hear TWO. You might be kind of proud of your right doctrine. Or your attendance.
But Verse 2 sounds a warning. For 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, didn’t COMBINE IT WITH FAITH.
Hear it. And take it to heart.
If only there was someone like that for Florence Chadwick. Some saying, “Florence, the coast is just up ahead. Keep going. You’re nearly there”.
If only there was someone who could see through the fog and say, you’ve nearly made it. You’d be crazy to stop now.
God has a BETTER REST planned for us. Let’s keep sticking at it, and make sure we all make it there.