LINK: Hebrews 4
Hebrews is one of my very favorite books of the Bible! It links the Old and New Testament together and opened my eyes to their unity. People have sometimes told me that they don't think God is like the God of the Old Testament. This is a common view today - that somehow the God Christians worship is more loving and kind than the God we read of in the Old Testament. Well, the God of the New Testament is the God of the Old Testament. Hebrews has helped me understand that, as well as the importance of the Old Testament as the foundational layer of our faith in Jesus Christ. I will say this, too: as we get better acquainted with the Old Testament, the book of Hebrews becomes more meaningful.
I went to a Christian high school and we picked verses to put with our photo in the yearbook. I put two verses together, one from this chapter and one from 1 Thessalonians 5. " There remains, therefore, a Sabbath rest for the people of God. ... Rejoice always!"
This chapter alludes to several Old Testament passages (and events) to make its point about rest. It speaks of God resting on the seventh day - something that is mentioned in Genesis. It speaks of the Israelites who didn't have faith to believe that God would get them into Canaan, and so disobeyed God - something that is recounted in Numbers 13-14. It quotes Psalm 95.
"As C.S. Lewis once observed, 'one of the rewards of reading the Old Testament regularly' is that 'you keep on discovering more and more what a tissue of quotations from it the New Testament is." (from ESV article "How the New Testament Quotes and Interprets the Old Testament")
What is rest? Rest is the freedom from work. It also connotes peace and gladness. God Himself rested on the seventh day when He had finished the work of creation. The first part of this chapter builds argument from Scripture to show us that this rest is more than entering the land of Canaan, though it is similar. The Hebrew people had to trust God - a kind of trust or faith that resulted in obeying Him - in order to have enter the rest of the promised land. Because, though, rest is referred to in Psalm 95 (after the nation of Israel entered Canaan), it is clear that that the rest we are told to enter is something different, something that we can enter "today."
So just what is this rest the passage speaks of? I think that it is two-fold. First, we have rest in the Lord as believers. We have rest from our own work and effort. We are given rest in Christ. "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt. 11:28) Just as God rested because His work of creation was completed, so now, we who are believers can rest in Christ's completed work on the cross. This is really and truly mind boggling! We don't work to earn any part of the rest of salvation. Our salvation isn't about success or failure - about karma or doing it all right - it's about trust, about believing God. Secondly, we look forward to the final fruition of rest - Heaven!
Three things stand out to me as I read this chapter.
There's a kind of paradox in vv 10-11: "...whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works .... Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience." We strive to rest. In some sense, it takes struggle to rely on God rather than myself. Because we are egocentric, we so want to believe that it depends on us. That is tiring! That egocentricity, that self-sufficiency, is in itself sin. If I trust myself, then I'm not trusting God. Lack of trust in God results in the sin of unbelief - disobeying God - relying on my own perspective and sight.
How do I know if I'm relying on myself and not trusting the LORD? "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." (ESV) God uses His word, this book we are reading together, to show us our hearts and motives. He sees us completely and He pierces us with His word. If we belong to Him we can be comforted with this. He knows us better than we know ourselves and He will reveal our own thoughts and intents to us through Scripture.
Finally, this chapter encourages us to turn to our Lord Jesus when we need help. He offers grace and mercy to His children. Jesus is our great high priest, something that is spoken of more in the next chapter. The Hebrew high priest offered sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jesus, our high priest, understands and sympathizes with just how weak we are. He became human. He was subjected to our temptations - the temptation to serve self, to quit trusting God - only (unlike us) He didn't sin. So he understands the battles that rage in us.
There is so much in this chapter!
Are you resting in Jesus' finished work on the cross? Or are you somehow living as if you are the one in charge? That is the struggle. Who do you trust in? It takes some work to trust in the Lord - and to continue to believe Him. But basing our actions on our own set of rules - on our own vision - is endlessly tiring - a never ending need to live up to what we define as good. Who do you trust?
If you ever wondered why we need to dwell in God's word, your answer is in this chapter! God's word acts as God in our lives. It is not a dead, ancient book, but something living and active - able to convict and comfort. Spend time meditating on it.
Jesus came and lived and died for us. He offered Himself for us. He lived as one of us, so knows us; He understands what it is to be human and sympathizes. We can run to Him for help, and we know that He is there with open arms full of grace and mercy - not judgment. If you are trying to live life apart from Him, if you are running from Him - turn around! Find rest.
Help us as we struggle to trust you. Give us hearts to believe you so that we can have rest.