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A Sabbath Rest For The People Of God (ch. 4:1-13)

 

Chapter 4 continues on in the same thought as the last chapter, that is, being sure that his readers enter into Godís rest.  To make sure, we need to understand what the rest is that the writer is talking about.  The Old Testament verses that have been quoted said that Israel did not enter into their promised rest because God was angry at the Jews.  What rest did the Jews not enter into?  I believe the rest was the Promised Land.  God promised them a geographical piece of land where they could be free from their enemies and enjoy rest from war and strife. 

 

The question remains for us today then, what is Godís rest for us as New Testament people.  Since in chapter 4, verse 1, says that "entering into His rest still stands?"  I believe Godís rest is salvation.  In verse 3 it says that "we who have believed enter that rest."  I think that answers our question to what rest is.  The way to enter into rest, therefore, is to believe, have faith, or trust, in Jesus.  When we think of trusting Jesus, we think of salvation in all of its varying aspects.  We think of a salvation where we do not work to attain, but simply rest, relax, and trust Jesus.    

 

The author of Hebrews encourages his readers to not to fall short of this rest.  Some would suggest that this phrase implies that the people to whom the writer is addressing has never entered this rest.  They are falling short of this rest which means they are not believing in Jesus.    

 

Verse 2 tells us that the Jews in the Old Testament had the gospel preached to them.   You might ask how the Jews in Old Testament times heard the gospel of Jesus.  Well, the specific Jews that the author has been righting about are the Jews who wandered in the desert for 40 years.  I don't believe the gospel they heard was the gospel of Jesus and salvation.  The gospel, good news, they heard was the good news of entering the Promised Land.  If they had entered the Promised Land, and obeyed God's commands, human history would have been altogether different.  Of course, these Jews did not obey the commands of God and thus history has been as it has been.  Jesus needed to come to earth and provide salvation for us, as He did on the cross.  This salvation is received by us by faith, something the Jews in the desert did not have, as is stated here in verse 2.              

 

Verse 2 states that the message that the Jews heard in the desert was not received with faith.  This means that the people to whom the message was spoken not only did not believe the message, but, they did not believe the one giving the message, and that was God, through Moses.

 

Again, in verse 3, for the third time the writer quotes Psalm 95:11 where it says that God made an oath in His anger that those people would never enter His rest.  In other words, God covenanted with Himself that He would never lead these Jews into the Promised Land.  Once again the author of this letter is stressing the point that if God could be angry with His people back then, He can be angry with His people now.  It is those particular Jews in Old Testament times that God would not allow to enter into His rest, but as Paul says in Romans 11, there is a remnant of Jews that will be saved.  I believe those Jews will enter God's rest at the end of this age. 

 

The writer continues by saying, "Yet His work has been finished since the creation of the world."  By these words we are back to the Garden of Eden.  In creation God worked and on the seventh day He rested from all His work, because His work was completed.  To be clear, this rest does not imply that God was tired.  It simply means He stopped the work of creation because it was complete.  Godís intent for man was that man should have entered into this seventh day rest with God, but man did not enter this rest because of his act of rebellion.  If Adam would have obeyed God, things would have been completely different throughout history.  Of course, that assumes that someone else did not disobey and cause man and creation to fall.  When it comes right down to it, Adam did not believe or trust the God who created him.  As a result, God told him that he could not enter into His rest.

 

Part of the point the author is making in this section of the book is that there is always some kind of rest offered to people of every era in history.  Adam was offered a rest.  The Jews were offered a rest, and now we in New Testament times are offered a rest, which is our salvation which will lead to eternal rest.  

 

Verse 4 begins with the words,  "Somewhere it has been spoken of ..."  This may sound like the author has no clue where the quote he is about to use is found, but this is not the case.  This is a Hebrew rabbinical idiom that actually expresses the inspiration of Scripture.  Basically, it means that if in the Bible it's inspired. 

 

Again, verse 4 speaks of the rest of the seventh day of creation that I have just addressed above.

 

Verse 5 is a simple reminder of what the author has already stated about God covenanting with Himself that the rebellious Jews in the desert would never enter their promised rest.   This is important.  If God was so angry with the Jews in the desert that He refused to take them into their promised rest, how much more angry is He, or will He be, with those who refuse to receive His promise of eternal rest.  We will talk about this later.         

 

In verse 6 the writer of this letter says that some will enter into this rest.  That is to say, that there still is a rest for us to enter into in these New Testament times.  Man missed the rest at creation.  The Jews missed the rest in their days.  All that beings said, there is a rest today that is found in the Lord Jesus Christ that we all can enter that has lasting and eternal implications.

 

The author repeats Himself a lot here.  In verse 7 he quotes from Psalm 95 again with the emphasis on the word "today."  It's today that we must believe.  It's today that we must enter into rest.  Waiting for tomorrow may be too late.  This has been the Evangelical call to the unsaved ever since the Evangelical Movement began.   

 

In verse 8 the writer brings
Joshua into the discussion.  Joshua eventually led the second generation of Jews after their Egyptian deliverance into the Promised Land.  To be clear, Joshua and the Jews of his day, never did inherit, or get all of the land that God promised to the Israel in the Abrahamic Covenant.  This might well be another reason why God said that Israel in Old Testament times would not enter into His promised land.  Israelis never found real rest in Canaan, the land of promise, partly because of further disobedience and partly because they failed to fend off their enemies.  Therefore, as verse 10 states, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  The people of God in this particular context I believe are Jews.           

 

Verse 10 is crucial in understanding what rest the author is really getting at here.  He points out that the rest he is talking about is ceasing from working for our rest.  He is talking about salvation that is not by works but by faith. 

 

The writer says, "Anyone who enters Godís rest also rests from His own works."  This is the message of the gospel.  This reminds me of Romans 4:5.  It says, "The man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness."  Once again, the point of salvation to be made here is that there is nothing we can do, no matter how hard we work at it, that can bring salvation to us.  Salvation, as Paul puts it in Romans, is spoken of in terms of us being righteous, that is, us being perfectly right in the essence of who we are, not just what we do. 

 

In verse 11 the author basically says that if we are to work hard, it is to work hard at making sure we donít fall short and disobey with an unbelieving heart.  This work is not for our salvation.  This work is to make sure we really do trust Jesus alone, and nothing else.  In one sense of the word, we do need to put all the effort we have into putting our full trust in Jesus.  That being said, we cannot do that on our own.  The Holy Spirit must be involved in the process of repenting and putting our trust in Jesus.  Romans 12:5 clearly states that faith itself is a gift from God. That means we need help from above to help us believer to enter rest.     

 

At this point I would like to summarize what the writer has said about rest, because he has actually spoken about more than one rest.  He has spoken of God resting from His work on the seventh day.  He has spoken of the rest that the Jews were to enter with when they crossed the Jordon River into the land of Canaan .  Lastly, he has spoken of another rest for the New Testament people.  It sounds a little confusing, doesnít it?

 

There are basically three rests described here. They are, Godís rest on the seventh day, a rest for Israel in the Promise Land , and, the rest of New Testament salvation.  In the first two instances man failed to enter into the rest God provided, but, donít give up.  The writer says, because there still remains a rest for us today, we should enter that rest.  This rest is our salvation.  When we trust Jesus with our lives, we stop working for our salvation, and rest in His ability to provide this rest right now in real time, which, lasts into eternity.       

 

Verse 12 is a well known verse.  The NIV puts it this way.  "For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  There is a lot in this verse.  The Word of God is said here to be living and active.  The writer has been quoting from Old Testament Scriptures where God has spoken to His people in the past.  Here he is saying that even today, God speaks to His people for His word is living and active.  Godís word is alive today and is active in the sense that He is still speaking.  Even today, Godís Word is active in the proclamation of the good news.  If this is the case then, those who hear must receive the message with faith or else it will be of no effect to them. 

 

How does God speak to us today?  The first and foremost way that He speaks is in the Bible that is revealed to us by His Holy Spirit.  The spoken word through prophecy is another way in which we hear God's word today.  We just must keep in mind that not all we hear is actually God's word.  Whatever we hear must be in concordance with the Bible and must be discerned and judged.  Then there is the Holy Spirit speaking to us as individuals.  This too must be discerned and judged because we are fallen people and we don't always hear the Holy Spirit right.    

 

Godís Word, that is, the things Godís says, is so powerful that it gets right into the core of who we are.  It separates the soul and spirit within us.  It gets right into the joints and marrow of our bones.  Godís Word can get into a life more than any other words spoken by any other person. His Word can get right into us and judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts, something man cannot do.  This is what the New Testament is all about.  That is, our lives as Christians begin with the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.  This is where God wants to work within us.  He knows if He can get into our thought and attitudes, He can change the way we live.  All of our outward actions are a result of the thoughts and attitude of our hearts.  Long before we verbally hurt someone, we have been thinking such thoughts in our hearts.  The Old Testament dealt with external sins.  The New Testament thinking is to deal with the internal sins, knowing that if the internal sins can be dealt with, the outwards sins will not be a problem.

 

In verse 12 we see the distinction between soul and spirit.  This distinction has been problematic and a source of debate for centuries.  Is all of who we are a soul that is implied in Genesis 2:7 or are we body, soul, and spirit, that might be implied in 1 Timothy 5:23?   Hebrew culture viewed humans as being a soul while Greek culture viewed humans as possessing a soul and spirit.  I, at least at this moment, believe humans possess a soul.  Both Old and New Testament speaks of people having a soul, not being a soul.  Besides this, when it comes to the distinction between soul and spirit, if indeed there is one, things get a bit blurry.      

 

Verse 13 carries on with the thinking of internal sins.  God sees everything.  He sees every thought, every feeling of the heart of man.  Nothing can be covered over.  Nothing can be hidden from God, so there is no use trying to hide from God, yet so often we act as if no one can see into the thoughts and attitude of our hearts.  This is far from the case.  God sees everything, and someday He will speak to us about it all.  What will our response be on that day?  The sins of those who have been redeemed are forgiven, but, as this verse states, we will have to give account of ourselves to the Lord Jesus some day.

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