This chapter begins with the word 'therefore'
– and this is there for a reason – it is to remind us again of the passage we looked at last week and to set in context the passage that follows that we are going to look at this morning.
Verse 1 speaks of the promise still standing. What promise does this refer to, you ask, and to whom was it made?
This is what the 'therefore' is there for – if you can remember back to Denis' message last week from Chp 3 – it closed with the rebuke to those of Hebrew descent
regarding the Exodus from Egypt. The people 'hardened their hearts' over a period, complaining about just about everything, even though Moses spoke to them words directly from God that he was to lead them to a 'Promised Land' a land flowing with milk and honey,
where you could suppose there would be 'rest' from the toils they had endured in slavery.
We know from
reading in the OT that only a very few who left Egypt actually even saw this place that God had given them, let alone lived there. Why?
Well one commentator says it was because although they 'heard' the message, they didn't really 'take hold of it by faith'. In the words of the NT they all fell short of the goal/prize because of their essential unbelief.
One commentary said:
Think of the joy Israel had in coming out of Egypt and approaching the Promised Land – and then think of all the graves dug in the desert. A wonderful promise was available but unattained. They
came short because though they heard God’s word, it was not mixed with faith.
F.F. Bruce said, "The sense is plain enough; the good news had to be assimilated or appropriated by faith if it was to bring any benefit to the hearers."
In my reading about this Chpt. one suggestion was that we must watch out for each other in this journey in the same way that the exiles from Egypt must have
cared physically for each other – we must care for our brothers and sisters so that no-one falls or gets left behind.
may be that we have a strong faith and are able to 'withstand the fiery darts of the evil one' KJV Eph 6:16, but some may not be that strong and it behoves us to watch out for those who may falter. Verse 1 translates a word here in the NIV as 'careful' but
the ASV uses an old fashioned word 'haply' and an American commentator expands thus:
word "haply" injects the idea of inadvertence. Alas, it must be supposed that the far greater part of Christians falling away from faith in Christ do so unintentionally. Few indeed ever decide boldly against the Lord, and move decisively against him; but,
on the contrary, they allow inattention to spiritual things, carelessness in attending worship, neglect of daily prayer and study of the Word, and encroachments upon their time due to worldly and pleasure-loving friends to divert their attention first, and
later their whole life and conduct from the path of honour and duty. It is hard to imagine a more urgent and persistent warning than the one given here.
So let's move on a bit to what this 'rest' looks and feels like.
If it was just a rest from the
toils of slavery, or indeed from a 40-year long march back and forth through the wilderness, (which should only have taken about 11 days!!) then you could draw the conclusion that once Joshua led them across the Jordan and into Canaan then the 'rest' would
begin. But, we know from reading the accounts of this period that rest was a long way from being an actuality.
There were battles
to be fought, people to conquer, a land to be 'possessed' before any sense of indolent 'rest' could be envisaged.
And why bring
God and the term of Sabbath Rest into the equation?
The OT has many examples of 'types' within it and the writer to Hebrews
was very aware of the symbology of OT experience and the fulfilment brought about through the life of Christ.
There were things
like the snake being held up on a pole to show deliverance, the 10 Commandments to show that God had expectations and a view of how people should live together and conduct themselves, the first of which was expanded and fulfilled by Jesus in his death on a
cross and the second by his teaching through passages we call 'the Sermon on the Mount' and through the parables he told.
the very beginning God created the heavens and the earth and it took him 6 days we are told – whether this is literally 6 x 24hour periods has always been debated (it doesn’t really matter) – but on the 7th day we are told 'God rested from his labours' Gen. 2:2-3. God had completed his work of creation and it was done.
what has he been doing since? Creation, we are told, is sustained by his will so it does not require of him to 'do' anything – so almost all the commentators agree that he is still enjoying his rest!
And the amazing thing is that he invites us to join him in that state of 'rest'.
What does it mean – rest?
The old Puritan commentator John Owen described five features
of this rest for the believer:
means peace with God.
means freedom from a servile, bondage-like spirit in the worship and service of God.
means deliverance from the burden of Mosaic observance.
means the freedom of worship according to the gospel.
means the rest that God Himself enjoys.
Rest, if I have understood from these more learned than I scholars, is in essence rest from seeking to please God through our own efforts and ceasing to justify ourselves through our own works.
We have to accept and believe and hold firmly to the belief that salvation is only through the grace of God himself – we
can make no difference to the way that God sees us as sinful, fallen people but by accepting
Jesus as Saviour and Lord. When we stop all our efforts to 'please' God and wholly accept his saving grace – we can truly enter his rest.
Spurgeon wrote this: Those who preach this rest must possess it themselves. “Not long ago, one of our ministers was preaching upon salvation, and the work of the Spirit in the heart, when one of the congregation rose and asked him respectfully, ‘Sir, do you know all this by the report
of others, or has this taken place in your own experience?’ The preacher was by no means put about by the question, but rather rejoiced in it; for he could honestly reply, ‘I have trusted Christ. I am saved, and I know and feel the peace which
results there from.’ If he could not have made that solemn statement, he would have had no influence over the person who had put the question.”
There is, surely for the believer, an understanding that God had ‘purpose’ in creation, including the creation of man. He must have had an end in sight at the beginning, otherwise what could possibly have been
When I set out to decorate a room or make something out of parts, I know in my mind and imagination what the
end result will look like. It is not easy for others sometimes to ‘see’ what you see in this way. When I/we decided to make changes in the first little house we owned by having the loft converted, the first thing I had to do was literally move
the bathroom to a different location to make way for a staircase. I thought about it, planned it out and even drew my wife a picture of how it would look, but it was only when I had finished it that she could ‘see’ the reality of what had been
in my mind – her comment – “It looks just like your drawing!”
In the same way the message these references
carry is that God's plans and purposes for people predate the formation of the world itself. "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world" (Eph
1:4). Now I don’t want to start a debate on predestination but you can see in this that the ‘promise of rest’ must have been there from before the beginning. That state only lasted for a short time and we see as early as Gen 3:8
when God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day and discovered Adam & Eve hiding because of the realisation of good and evil that their disobedience to God’s commands had woken in them, that their ‘rest’ was shattered and they
were thrown out of the garden and made to work just to stay alive.
There is some correlation between, God's Sabbath Rest, the
promise of a place of freedom for the Israelites and the perfect rest that this passage speaks about. God did not 'need' to rest after he had finished the work of creation – he would not have been tired in the sense that we get tired – the principle
demonstrated is that there is a cessation of working. The Israelites were not going to suddenly find themselves in a place where the grapes peeled themselves, but the labour involved in accessing and obtaining the substance of the promise was completed when
they crossed over the Jordan – they then had the task of 'possessing' that promise, so the 'rest' was incomplete. For us we can begin that rest, that we are invited into, right now because we can possess that promise personally as Spurgeon's little account
suggested, but we will 'enjoy' it fully when we are in the presence of him who invited us to share in it - maybe when we return to the garden!
Someone I was reading said it was one of those “Now and not yet.” moments, actualised in our present experience, fulfilled in our inheritance.
A greater rest is yet to come when we will be released from all suffering, and when we will inherit the earth. Jesus embodies this greater rest that still awaits the people of God, a people fashioned through obedience
and faith. If some of us fail to enter that rest, it is because we fail to answer the call.
We need to have a sense of expectancy
– a sense that ‘the best is yet to come’. Cynics and critics of faith have called this “pie in the sky when you die” but one of our preachers years ago suggested that what we should attest to is a little “cake on your plate
while you wait”. I have often said that one of my favourite scriptures is 1 John 3:2 “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.” NIVUK
We know something of what God's promises to us mean but we have to rest in the truth of scripture: 1 Cor 2:9 (NIVUK) says this:
However, as it is written: ‘What no
eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived are the things God has prepared for those who love him”
passage in Heb 4 talks about again is that word ‘today’. The hearers are admonished not to be like the Israelites of old who, because of circumstances, thought that what they had endured in Egypt was better than what was promised to them. 2 Cor 6:2 tells us that “Today is the day of salvation” there can never be a better time than ‘now’ to acknowledge that only the Lord can free us from the bondage and penalty of
doing things our way and so make us able to right at that moment and in those circumstances, enter His rest.
The next section
of this text talks about the 'word' of God and what it can do. Spurgeon (again) talks about it being two edged, meaning that it has an edge whichever way it is being used – it also has a piercing or penetrating capability like a rapier with a sharp point.
Again one commentator describes God's Word thus:
word, everything finds a rhythm, a place. It fills, empowers, enlivens, and redeems us. But it also divides and destroys. It pierces and exposes our disobedience and unfaithfulness.
Nothing is ever hidden from God – he knows our inmost thought as well the Psalmists knew and he will not be fooled by those who, like the Israelites, are prepared to follow but have no real conviction
Someone I was reading wrote these words:
Because the soul and spirit both have reference to the “inner man,” they are easily confused. Often an experience intended to build up the spirit only “blesses” the soul. There is nothing wrong with “soulish” excitement
and blessing, but there is nothing in it that builds us up spiritually. This is why many Christians go from one exciting experience to another but never really grow spiritually – the ministry they receive is “soulish.” This is why the Word of God is so powerful and precise; it can pierce even to the division of soul and spirit, which isn’t easy to do.
We have seen this in some of the excesses of the 'charismatic' movement. There seems to be a joy in the experience but no deep understanding of how that experience helps anyone to grow spiritually or even give a meaningful witness to non-believers.
Paul says in I Cor 14:9 “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
On the other hand we know of people who know a lot 'about' God but who have little experience of him as an active force within their lives. There needs to be both an active
relationship with the Lord through Jesus and the Spirit and a growth inducing knowledge of him through his word.
come to the last short section of this chapter which will lead us into Chpt 5 next week. We are introduced to the Great High Priest – the only use of 'great' in this context of priestliness.
Jesus is described to the readers in terms very familiar to Jews. Only the High Priest was allowed through the curtain into the Holy of Holies – Jesus surpasses all of that –
he has gone through the heavens! He is the Son of God and because of that we can have assurance of faith. He is not a god who is far off, not interested in humankind – as one person explained it:-
To the ancient Greeks, the primary attribute of God was apatheia, the
essential inability to feel anything at all. Jesus isn’t like that. He knows and He feels what we go through. The ancient Greek word translated sympathize literally means “to suffer along with.”
writer reminds us the readers that though he was tempted in every way like we are he was without sin. The reason for this is because we are 'fallen' people we have fallen short of what God had in mind for us – not so Jesus – he came to do the Father's
will – in obedience and humility he experienced the physical temptation that we experience but unlike us his heart was pure and his spirit untainted by self-aggrandisement.
The result is that through him and his sacrificial death and his subsequent resurrection, we can approach the 'throne of grace' boldly to find mercy, grace and help – and to rest in God's love.