SERMON TITLE: Greater than Joshua
TEXT: Hebrews 4:1-13; Matthew 2:1-18 (NLT)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
Watch the sermon here.
Take notes here.
As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.
We’re in the third week of our Christmas series. And — during this Christmas season — we’re seeing how Jesus is Greater. “Greater than what,” you may be wondering. A great question. Two weeks ago we saw that Jesus is greater than angels. And — last week — we saw that Jesus is greater than Moses. Setting us up for today — where we’ll see that Jesus is greater than Joshua. And — though Jesus is infinitely greater than me — I’m not the Joshua we’re talking about today. This is the Joshua of the Old Testament — the man Moses handed off leadership to as the people of God entered the Promised Land.
So let’s turn to our passage for today. If you have your Bible please turn with me to Hebrews chapter 4. We’ll be looking at verses 1-13 together. We’re in Hebrews chapter 4. Beginning in verse 1.
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. 2 For this good news — that God has prepared this rest — has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. 3 For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said, “In my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest,’” even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. 4 We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5 But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.” 6 So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. 7 So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted: “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.” 8 Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. 9 So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. 10 For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. 11 So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall. 12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. (Hebrews 4:1-13 NLT)
Rest. If there’s anything we’ve lost the art of — in our society — is the ability to rest. Now I’m not talking about wasting the day away on a screen, finding creative ways to procrastinate working on that project for work or school, or going into winter hibernation because it’s dark at 4pm. I’m talking about rest from worry. I’m talking about having a restful peace — regardless of our circumstances. And there are many news headlines trying to rob us of the rest that’s been promised to us. War. Viruses. Politics. Shootings. Take your pick. And personal events: a doctor's report, a parenting challenge, relational friction, or the longing for a relationship in the first place. All kinds of thieves of the rest that's been promised to us.
Now — in the biblical Christmas story — earlier you heard a part of the story that’s often left unread each year. Oh — we read the story of the Magi and the gifts they bring to Jesus — but Herod’s response to the Magi not telling him where to find the Messiah child — the murder of every male child under two years old throughout the area of Bethlehem and the cries of the mothers and fathers of these murdered baby boys — well — that doesn’t exactly create an atmosphere of merry and bright feels — so we usually end the story with the wise men leaving Mary and Joseph — because who wants to spoil Christmas with Herod’s reaction?
But — Herod’s reaction — and the sorrow and anguish it brings — is what I want us to consider. Think of the emotions of that moment. Think of the loss and sorrow for the families. No peace. No rest. No comfort. Just weeping and mourning and wailing.
Maybe this Christmas season is one of weeping or mourning for you. Maybe this is your first Christmas without your spouse — or without your mom or dad or a child. Maybe it’s not your first Christmas — but it’s not any easier this year. Maybe this Christmas culminates another year of infertility and the sorrow it brings. Or another year of desiring a God-honoring relationship — ending — once again — in singleness. Maybe your sorrow comes from your workplace or your health or a move that’s brought you to a new place with all of your friends living elsewhere. Regardless — on some level — I think we all can relate to the weeping of the families in Bethlehem. It doesn’t take long for life to teach us sorrow and mourning — it’s why resting is so difficult.
Now — in the Old Testament — the people of God — the Israelites — also lacked rest. After hundreds of years enduring enslavement in Egypt — working tirelessly day after day — never having a day off for rest — God rescues them out of Egypt through the leadership of Moses. Astoundingly — even after a miraculous rescue out of slavery — the people quickly stop trusting in God’s ability to provide for their needs. And they look back — longing to return to Egypt and the land of their enslavement. And — because of their refusal to trust God — an entire generation wanders in the wilderness — never experiencing the rest that had been promised to them. The lesson for us is this: We can refuse to receive the rest God’s promised to us.
And — after a generation died off — the next generation — their children — under the leadership of Joshua — entered into the Promised Land. This was to be their land of rest — their land of peace — their land of comfort. And — what we find — is that this generation also fails to trust in God’s provision. They fail to enter the rest God offered to them. Thus the author of Hebrews begins with a promise and a warning. We’re back in verse 1.
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands… (Hebrews 4:1a NLT)
So here’s some good news! God has made a promise and that promise still continues today: we can enter his rest. By that — the author means — the comfort, security, and peace offered to us in salvation. Where we find rest from the internal battle that wages within each of us. A never-ending war to define our worth and value. To discover who we are. To prove to others — and even ourselves — that we’re worthy of love and acceptance. The world does not offer rest — it demands us to slave away — day after day — like the Israelites in Egypt. “Prove who you are. Prove your worth and value. Prove that you’re worthy of being loved.” And we never measure up — slaves never do, after all — but this is the worldview many are enslaved in — a worldview that lacks rest.
So — good news — the promise of God’s rest is still being offered today! But — the author of Hebrews goes on to say…
So we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. (Hebrews 4:1b NLT)
Not all will enter God’s rest. Though God’s promise of rest still stands — some — many, in fact — will fail to experience it. And this truth should cause us to tremble with fear. If you’re a Christian, don’t fear for yourself. If you believe in Christ alone for your salvation — God’s rest is yours. It’s guaranteed. You’re at peace with God — reconciled with him — not because of anything you’ve done — but because of what Christ has done for you.
But — dear Christian — fear for those who have not believed in Christ. Their destiny is not eternal rest and peace but eternal damnation and judgment. Unpopular beliefs — I know — but popularity does not determine truth. God’s Word tells us what is true — including the fate of those who fail to experience the rest of salvation.
Maybe this is you today. You’ve not yet believed in Christ — you’ve not yet received his offer of salvation and rest. If this is you — in love — I warn you to tremble in fear. You know not the day or hour or minute upon which you will breathe your last breath — none of us do. But God does. And his desire is that you would respond to his love and grace — not reject it. That you would receive the rest he offers — not continue as a slave of the world. This is the good news that the author of Hebrews is referring to when he writes…
2 For this good news — that God has prepared this rest — has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. 3 For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said, “In my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest,’” even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. 4 We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5 But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.” 6 So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. 7 So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted: “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.” 8 Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. 9 So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:2-9 NLT)
God has been so gracious to us — to you — by announcing the way of salvation. He’s made clear the path that leads to rest for your soul. What is this way of salvation? Christ has done for you what you could not do for yourself. He lived the life God demands of us — a life of perfection and holiness — a life without sin — a life we’ve all failed to live Christ lived on our behalf. And he was crucified on a cross where he suffered the punishment we deserve for our unholy lives. Though innocent he died a sinner’s death in our place and was buried in a tomb. And though this is Christmas — not Easter — we cannot forget that three days after his death Jesus rose from the grave. For this is why he was born. To live. To die. To rise from the dead defeating Satan, sin, death, and Hell. And — in doing so — providing rest for all who respond to this good news in faith. How have you and are you responding to this news?
Our verses show us that — throughout history — some will respond in faith — believing and receiving rest — while others will reject the news — rejecting God’s rest — continuing to toil night and day as a slave. Even the Israelites did this! God’s chosen people rejected him after he had miraculously rescued them. They rejected his good news — they rejected his rest! And God judged them for this and they died in the wilderness never entering his rest.
Then another generation heard the good news. And — as we see throughout history — some received the news and entered God’s rest while others rejected the news and did not enter it. And this has continued on and on up to our present day. Like the Israelites some today will respond to the gospel and enter God’s rest while others will reject the gospel and die in the wilderness.
And not even Joshua — for all the good he did for the people of God — for all of the faithfulness he displayed as the leader of the Israelites — not even Joshua could provide the rest the people were in desperate need of. For there was a greater rest still to come for the people of God. A special rest — the author tells us — a supernatural eternal rest that only Christ can provide. A rest that is counter to the demands of the world. A rest that is way more than simply entering a new geographic location — even if it’s called the Promised Land. Here’s what we read in verse 10.
For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. (Hebrews 4:10 NLT)
Earlier we saw the ways the world enslaves us. That internal battle that wages within each of us. That never-ending war to define our worth and value. To discover who we are. To prove to others — and even ourselves — that we’re worthy of love and acceptance. “Prove who you are. Prove your worth and value. Prove that you’re worthy of love.” And we never measure up.
But — for those who’ve entered God’s rest — by believing in his Son — by receiving and responding to his good news — they rest from all of the demands of the world. God’s people rest from defining our worth and value for our worth and value are now defined by God and not what we do. We rest from trying to discover who we are because God has told us who we are in his Word. We rest from proving our worthiness of being loved for we look to the cross and see that Christ loved us when we were at our very worst.
For the Christian, when we feel the pressure to prove who we are — we’re to rest in our being united to Christ — for he defines who you are. When we feel the demand to prove our worth and value — we exhale a sigh of relief — because those wicked chains of slavery have been broken and our worth and value are gifts to us from God. And when we hear the words of condemnation — “you don’t measure up; you’re not worthy of being loved” — we agree without being beaten up. Because — though we don’t measure up — and — because of our rebellion don’t deserve to be loved by God — we believe in the One who measured up for us and who — in love — and in being love — demonstrated his love for us on the cross. And if Christ accepts us and loves us — well then — the only Person’s opinion of you and me that really matters is eternally delighted in us because we’re in Christ. And that’s good news that provides rest for our soul.
So how are we to respond to this good news? We find our answer beginning in verse 11.
So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall. 12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. (Hebrews 4:11-13 NLT)
The final word we’re given is to be diligent. To do our best. Not only individually — but corporately — as we hear and respond to God’s good news together. The promise of rest is still for us today and so is the consequence of disobedience. You don’t have one without the other — so don’t presume on God’s mercy or assume you’ve got more time to decide to believe. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to respond to God’s news — to his Word. And his Word — I pray — has pierced your heart and soul today. Exposing your thoughts and desires. Exposing you to the enslavement you’ve been caught up in. Revealing to you that — the rest you’ve been searching for and have failed to find — is being offered to you today. Today you’ve caught a glimpse of rest. Of peace. Of hope. How will you respond to it? Will you seek it out? Will you chase after this rest or will you run from it?
Nothing is hidden from God — he knows how you’re responding — even right now — to his offer of rest. And he will hold you accountable. May today be the day of your salvation. May today be the day when you enter his rest. May today be a reminder — for many of us — who came here today already believing in Christ — already having received God’s good news — may today be a day of remembering that Christ defines who we are. Christ determines our values and worth. Christ tells us that we are loved. Christ has broken our chains of slavery to the demands of the world that are never-ending and never-satisfying. Christ has given us peace — in all circumstances. He’s provided rest for our souls — an eternal rest even in this life — even in your circumstances. For he’s greater than Joshua — the one who brought the Israelites into the Promised Land. And Jesus is leading us into the greater Promised Land — the eternal Promised Land — and he’s offering us a taste of the rest that will be ours for all eternity — today. Believe in him and receive his rest — for today is the day of salvation. Let’s pray.
Father, Son, and Spirit — open the eyes and hearts of those who’ve been hearing your Word today so they receive it and respond to it in faith. Trusting in Christ alone for their salvation. May they turn from the enslavement of the world and find the freedom that you graciously and wonderfully offer to them and to all.
Jesus, thank you for setting us free. Thank you for leading us — even now — towards the greater Promised Land. Eternity with you. Forever freedom from the bonds and chains of sin and death. A freedom purchased by your blood as you gave your life on the cross.
Spirit of God, for many this season is one of weeping and wailing and great sorrow. Like the families in Bethlehem, these are hard and difficult days. May your light pierce the darkness of their days like the star of Bethlehem. And — just as the star guided the wise men to the Messiah child — may your light guide them to the Savior that child was born to become. And may they find rest in him. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
May you go having received the freedom and rest that Jesus Christ offers. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.
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