Here are my notes from yesterday:
Last week we looked at Israel as an example not to follow, what was their problem? Unbelief, they refused to believe God’s promise and enter the Land, and the pastor writing to the Hebrews is worried that they too may be hard hearted and lapse into unbelief.
He is continuing his exhortation to faith as he interprets, explains and applies Psalm 95, as God speaks through his word by his Spirit. There are two sides to this warning 3:7-19 are a call not to harden your hearts and here he sets before them and us the promise of entering God’s rest by persevering in faith in Jesus.
1. Rest reached by faith
What do you think of when I say rest? Sleep, lazy day by pool, doing nothing, relaxing...
The pastor wants his readers to understand the rest God promises and how to get there.
a. Promised by God (1)“Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful...” God promises his people rest, just as he promised Canaan to Israel, and God keeps his word. The bible is the story of God keeping his word – he kept his promise that if Adam and Eve ate the fruit they would die, he kept his promise that Abraham would have a son, that Israel would be freed from Egypt, and ultimately of one who would be bruised but would crush Satan – Jesus God the Son.
God is a promise keeping God and he the promise to enter his rest still stands. Believe in his word.
b. It is still open The promise still stands, the pastor exhorts his readers to enter now. But how is that possible? Psalm 95 looks back to the events of Numbers 14 when Israel are on the verge of Canaan with its end to bloodshed struggle and frustration, and its promised fruitfulness, unhampered constructive activity and security, and says God’s rest is still open because Canaan was a picture pointing back to Eden and forward to an eternal rest.
But here the pastor adds another dimension, v3-4, what new idea does he introduce? God’s rest on the 7th day. Gen 2 “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
God rests on the seventh day because creation is complete, he has finished his creative work. It is the pinnacle, the climax of creation and notice it is different from the other 6 days – there is no morning and evening and thus no end to it. The Sabbath rest is not idleness but it is the ongoing state of fellowship with God in which Adam and Eve serve in the perfect garden.
That rest is still available says the pastor(8-9), it is still open.
c. It’s worth entering But what is it like? We have seen it is spoken of in terms of Eden, which the Promised Land looked back to, that it isn’t blissful inactivity but serving in fellowship with God in perfect security without frustration or futility. But there is more, how does he describe it(9)? “a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.”
On the surface that tell us much because we think of the Sabbath as a day for not doing much, perhaps it conjures up rules from your childhood – no ball games, no playing out etc... But the idea is of a Sabbath celebration, a festival of adoration and praise to God. There remains then a fellowship festival of joyful celebration of God for his people. It’s the hope of an exuberant, constructive, active, secure, blissful celebration of being in unfettered fellowship with God.
d. It is coming and yet is now (9-11)Just as Israel journeyed to the Promised Land so for the Hebrews and us God’s rest is in the future. When Jesus comes again we shall finally enter God’s rest and enjoy everything that goes with it.
But there is more than just hope for the future, how was the Promise of Canaan meant to impact the Israelites? They were meant to live in the light of it, it was to affect their every action, because their hope was certain, they were to draw the reality of the promise into everyday life. We see that in Joshua and Caleb – in their mind the land is theirs therefore they see and live by faith.
We rest in and on what God has done for us in Jesus our High Priest and Apostle and by faith in God’s word live in the light of our certain hope and future and the rest we will enjoy. It liberates us to live now.
e. It is entered by faith (2-3)The promised land was Israel’s for believing but they didn’t. But do you see what the pastor says “For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us...” The good news of being able to enter God’s rest because of Jesus death and resurrection for us and our being credited with his perfect record.
And we are to respond by faith to that message, we enter by faith. We are to be careful that we believe, we are not to let our hearts become hardened, we are to encourage each other so we continue to believe, and the effort (11)speaks of is not works but avoiding disobedience which is unbelief.
God promises that by faith in Jesus we will enter his rest, a rest which is worth entering, that is coming and yet we taste now, that is still open, that is certain because he promises it, and which is reached by faith. Don’t fall short, believe.
It’s easy to sit here and think there is no danger of that. But God speaks to us warning us of just that danger. We face it because we live breathing in the air of cynicism that pervades our society. And that cynicism will infect us. How will we know if we are infected? It’s in the thought ‘That’s too good to be true’, or ‘Yes, but he’s been so long in coming.’ Or in the attitude ‘If I expect nothing then if something good happens I am thankful.’
Cynicism strangles hope, it undermines the foundations and ultimately demolishes faith, because cynicism is unbelief. What is the antidote to cynicism? It is to refresh yourself in your hope and expectation and the character and cost to the one who promises you his rest through Jesus.
2. God’s speaks so we don’t fall short
But God doesn’t just tell us to believe and leave us to it, the other emphasis in ch3-4 has been that God speaks to us. 1:1 “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets...but in these last days... to us by his son...” 2:1 “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard...” 3:1 Jesus is described as our Apostles – the ultimate envoy and messenger of God. 3:7 reminded us that God speaks to us through his word by his Spirit today! And God’s speaking runs throughout this passage (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). And now the pastor reminds them of the nature of God’s word.
a. Alive and Active It is living, it brings life where before there was death, and it is not just 2000 year old words it is alive today. It is not like a novel or a newspaper, it still speaks with the living God’s voice and authority – that’s why the warnings from Numbers and from Psalm 95 apply ‘Today!’ because God still speaks to his people because his words are like no other.
They are active and effective to do the work God has for them to do. That is why sometimes as we read the Bible or hear someone preach, or discuss it with other believers, or are encouraged by someone it is as if we are having a 1-2-1 with God. God is infinite but he is also personal and he speaks to us through his word so that we do not fall short, so that we keep believing as we hear him speak.
b. Penetrating and Powerful What’s the image used? Double edged sword. But he says “it is sharper than any... dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow...” God’s word is so sharp, so penetrating and powerful that it can find its way into the smallest places it examines the most subtle divisions.
And (13)to be exposed to God’s word is to be exposed to and examined by God. To have our hearts, minds, fears and dreams laid bare before God himself. There is a sense in which to read the bible, to expose ourselves to God’s word is an awesome and frightening thing to do. We ought to come to it expectantly but also fearfully, we come to our loving heavenly father as his holy children, and God in his perfect love will examine us and expose us to what he sees we need not what we may want.
But God gives us his word so that by exposing ourselves to it we may not fall short, or harden our hearts, but by believing we may enter his rest.
Our problem is that we want to appear better than we are even to ourselves. In Gen3 what do Adam and Eve do after eating the fruit? They sow together fig leaves to cover their nakedness. They are afraid to stand before God laid bare so foolishly and pointlessly they try to cover it up.
We have the same problem Adam and Eve do. But just as God’s word confronts them with their nakedness before him so it will with us.
But sometimes when we read the Bible we muzzle it, or to carry on the sword analogy we keep it sheathed – never exposing ourselves to its blade. We read it but not too closely, we read it but don’t think through how it applies, or think how it applies to others – if you preach or lead home group this is something we are particularly prone to. Sometimes it doesn’t feel as if God is speaking to us because we won’t allow him to, we look only for what we want it to say and discard the rest.
We need to take the scabbard off the word of God and aim it at ourselves not others, asking God to expose our pride, lust, self worship, idolatry, anger, destructive tongues, lying lips, cynicism, hard hearts, and our unbelief. To point us away from ourselves and back to Jesus and what he has done for us.
It may not be pleasant but it will make us mourn our sin as we stand exposed before God. It will drive us back to our great High Priest who was tempted in every way as we are yet did not sin. It will ensure that our faith is in God not ourselves, that our faith is growing and doesn’t shrivel and that cynicism is replaced by a confident hope of entering God’s joyful rest which is ours in Jesus.