Posts Tagged ‘Rest’

Our High Priest (Part 1)

Our High Priest (Part 1)

© C. O. Bishop 3/21/17 THCF 4/2/17

Hebrews 4:9-16

Introduction:

We spoke last time about the rest that God offers: we saw a serious warning to professing believers that they recognize what is being offered and not fail to enter the salvation-rest through unbelief. We also saw that the rest has two parts…one part is a gift, offered to unbelievers on the sole condition of faith. When a person chooses to believe that Jesus’s blood is full payment for his or her sins, specifically, then they become a believer in Jesus, and that “salvation-rest” is given as a gift: they are no longer under the curse of God’s Law. This is a positional truth. Since the believers are now “in Christ”, their new position frees them from the law of sin and death.

But, the rest has a second part: the second part is conditional upon continuing, day by day, in an ongoing relationship with Christ on the basis of faith. It is a relational rest, and is available only to the believers, and only as they continually choose to enter into His rest, by faith.

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

The writer concludes that neither the Sabbath-day rest nor the Canaan rest were the actual fulfillment of the rest offered by Christ. Notice that he says that this specific rest remains “for the people of God”—believers. What is the “rest”, then? And why is it offered after faith has come? If salvation itself is not the “rest”, in this case, then what are we talking about?

10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

What rest? How do we labor to enter into rest? It is actually pretty difficult, in some ways, to accomplish what is being taught, here, because it goes against our flesh. We all want to believe that we can do something to earn a right standing with God. Even though we know we were saved by Grace through Faith, we still want to think that, at some level, we “deserve” God’s Grace. But the word “deserve” means to “have earned”…if you can earn God’s favor, it is no longer Grace but wages.

So, he says that “he who has entered into rest has ceased from his own works.” It requires constant attention for us to break the cycle of legalism, by which we hope to impress God with our behavior. We have to learn to submit ourselves daily to God, to allow Him to live through us. The result is that we quit worrying about whether we are “doing enough”. We simply do what He calls us to do.

How does this bring about “rest?” For one thing, I quit wondering whether I am really saved. Having placed my faith in Jesus’ completed work, there is nothing for me to add, nor can it be diminished. Jesus said “it is finished!” And it is! But we need to consider who He really is!

Who are we dealing with?

12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

It is odd that this verse begins with the word “for”—it would seem to indicate that we are to labor to enter into His rest, because God’s Word is alive, etc. It certainly says that all these things are true of the Written and the Living Word. Remember that it is truly God’s Word, not Man’s. (1st Thessalonians 2:13)

The issue is that, regardless of what we say we are doing, and why…the Lord knows our hearts. He knows our real motives. We may fool others, and we certainly often fool ourselves, but we don’t fool God. He says that the Word of God is alive and powerful. (The old English word “quick” means “alive”, not “fast on its feet.”) Incidentally, the word translated “powerful”, is the Greek energes, which is usually translated “effectual”—accomplishing something. The Greek word looks like “energize”, and it is tempting to grab that English word as a meaning, but that is not what it means. It means that Jesus, the Living Word, is alive and still working today. And…He sees things as they really are.

He further says that the Word is sharper than any two-edged sword…it can be used for a weapon or for surgery, apparently, as he says it separates between soul and spirit, as well as joints and marrow. However, there are only two words in the New Testament that are translated “sword”—this one is the Greek word “machaira”, which comes from the verb “to fight”, and means, specifically, a fighting weapon. I am not sure why this specific picture is drawn for us. Perhaps it underscores that this is the believer’s offensive weapon, but that it can be used in discipline against us, as well. Bear in mind that it is two-edged: whenever we think it is applying to others, it is also applied to our own lives, at one level or another. Every honest preacher knows that every sermon applies to himself.

I don’t know whether you have ever noticed, but inside any bone there is a substance called “marrow”, which has a vital part in our survival, as that is where blood cells are made. But, in a cooked soup-bone, for instance, we can see that at the end of each bone, approaching the joint, there is a transition between marrow and bone, where it seems to be a mixture of the two, and it is hard to tell which is which. God says He can see the difference, and can separate the two.

In similar manner, though we may have a hard time explaining the specific differences between soul and spirit (some people even denying that one or the other exists), God not only recognizes both but is completely clear on the differences. It is only from God’s Word that we even know for sure that a spirit and a soul are definitely two different things, and that a human is a three-part being, having Body, Soul and Spirit. God is clear on all of it. He knows what our real position is, and is never in doubt.

He meets us with compassion, but no human has ever “pulled a fast one” on God. We have never succeeded in “pulling the wool over the eyes” of God. It is tragic that we even try. But, if you think about this regularly, and use it as a measuring-stick against your thoughts and motives, it may help you to set aside self-effort, and enter into His rest.

Nothing I can do can add to my salvation or my security in Christ. And nothing can detract from it. It does take labor to enter into the rest offered to believers, because our flesh constantly wants to doubt it. The labor we exert, then, as members of Christ, is only an effort to be His hands, feet, heart, and voice, here on Earth. We are already part of Him…we serve because we are a part of him, not to become part of him.

He knows our hearts completely, understands our weaknesses and conflicts of interest and is completely tender toward us…which is a good thing, because he is also our High Priest!

Jesus is Our Great High Priest

14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

The phrase, “Great” High Priest is not a reference to Jesus being “great” at the job, though He certainly is. It means that He is high, and lifted up, far above all the other high priests of the history of Judaism…just as He is called the Great Shepherd, because He is the Master Shepherd, and high above all the human shepherds of the history of the flock of God. Remember that because the human shepherds have human failings, and, in some cases, have abdicated their responsibilities, God has declared that He is taking over the job (Ezekiel 34). It hasn’t happened yet, in its final fulfilment, but I personally believe that the final fulfilment is coming soon.

The High Priests of the time during which Jesus served in his earthly ministry (Annas and Caiaphas) were completely corrupt, and were his worst enemies. Though we don’t know their identities, the priests at the time when this book was written were the last to claim that title, as the temple was destroyed about five years later. Jesus is the Great High Priest, today and forever.

I have no doubt that there will be some sort of priesthood during the tribulation period, but it will be very brief, and will be cut short by the Antichrist. So the priesthood of Jesus is really the only one left. He is not only “our” great high priest; He is THE Great High Priest, for all eternity. His sacrifice stands forever, and his intercession for us is continual. The writer tells us that in light of this fact—the eternal priesthood of Christ—we are to hold fast to our profession.

This does not say we should hold on to Christ, or hold on to salvation, but to maintain a life that honors Him…our profession—our testimony. Since OUR high Priest (in contrast to that of the Jews at that time) has passed into heaven, and is not in danger of dying, now (as theirs was), nor is he corruptible, or vacillating, let us press on! Let us live lives that honor Jesus…adjusting our priorities to match His. We are secure in Him, and we can live in that security. We can walk confidently in the reality of His presence and His continuing ministry on our behalf.

Remember: this was written before the destruction of the temple (which happened in A.D. 70), but not much before…maybe four or five years. So, the system of faith within which they had grown up (which was God-ordained; not man-made) was about to be literally destroyed. Perhaps some historians know what happened to the priesthood of that day. Perhaps some even survived the destruction…perhaps none did. But the temple and all of its trappings were gone for good.

The Hebrew believers to whom this epistle was written did not know what was about to happen. The writer, here, was warning them of the need to make a full transition from Law to Grace; from the human-built temple to “a Temple made without hands.” Part of that transition means recognizing that Jesus is the replacement for every aspect of what they were about to lose. In fact, he had already replaced them all, but they, the Jewish believers, simply had not yet seen it.

The Gentile believers had never experienced any of the things written here. They were new to all of it. And, in spite of the fact that I have been a believer more than two thirds of my life, I am still nearly completely ignorant of the inner workings of Judaism. I cannot know it from the inside, because I am not one of them. The writers of the whole New Testament were primarily (if not exclusively) Jews; but this epistle makes a special outreach to the Jews who already had embraced Jesus as their Savior Messiah, but who were still living within Judaism. He is telling them that it is high time that they all step all the way into Christ. Not to become Gentiles, in any way, but to transfer their loyalties and dependencies to the Risen Christ.

15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

We should keep in mind that Aaron, the first high priest over Israel, was not born a priest: he was Moses’ younger brother. He was reared as a Hebrew slave, after Moses was taken up to be reared by Pharaoh’s daughter. He knew what it was like to grow up under the thumb of the Egyptians. He knew what slavery was like, and what hard work was like. He had travelled in the desert, as had all the other children of Israel who escaped under Moses. He knew the taste of manna in the morning, and quails in the evening. He had drunk water from the rock as they all had done. He had seen the judgment of God upon the disobedient. He had looked to the blood of the covenant for salvation. He could completely relate to all the experience of the Jews at that time. But he sinned and failed Israel in many ways. And, finally, he died.

There was never again a High Priest like Aaron, who had grown up under the exact same life as the rest of the Jews. The later priests all grew up in the home of a priest, and had lived a separate life…a somewhat privileged life. Consider, then, that the “great high priest” that Aaron was, even with his flaws, could never have been repeated, until Jesus stepped into that role. Why? Because he did live out the life of a poor, ordinary Jewish man, and yet is the High Priest.

Jesus has experienced all that the Jews of that time experienced, and did not sin. He lived under the hand of God the Father, though he, along with the whole nation of Israel, was subject to Rome. He was tested in every way, and still honored God with every breath he took, every decision He made…every Word He spoke. So, when I am tired, discouraged, or feeling under attack, and in pain, and want to give up, I frequently remember how tired He must have become during his ministry on earth, being exposed to every sort of hardship, and deprivation. His friends abandoned Him. His enemies sought to kill Him. But He pressed on, in faith and obedience. He is our Great High Priest! And, unlike Aaron, the prototype High Priest, he cannot die, leaving us to start fresh with another, lesser priest. He is alive forever—immortal: and forever unchanging: immutable. He is incorruptible, and holy. He is compassionate and wise.

So where does all this leave us? These things are all true…we see them in God’s Word, and not in just a few remote, obscure passages…these are all major doctrinal themes: The lostness of man apart from God; the Deity of Christ; the Holiness of God in the Person of Christ; the efficacy of the Blood of Jesus at Calvary, the preaching of the Cross, Salvation by Grace through Faith, and the eternal priesthood of Jesus, the Messiah. So, where does that leave us?

The Conclusion is in Verse 16

16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

On the basis of all those truths, the writer encourages his readers to draw near to the throne of Grace in full assurance that the High Priest is a friend, a companion, who truly, completely understands and accepts us, and is not secretly condemning us as hopeless sinners. He died to clear the way for us to approach God freely, and now calls us to do just that.

The review of these eternal truths leaves us with an open invitation…in fact, a standing command…to enter into the throne room of God on a regular basis. In fact, to make it our dwelling, as the Psalmist suggests (Psalm 15:1): “LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?”

We are invited to enter that tabernacle, and to abide there. Psalm 91:1 says, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the Shadow of the Almighty.” And that is where we are to approach the Throne of Grace, to obtain mercy, and find grace, to help in time of need.

God invites us to change our priorities. To read the Gospels and see the priorities of Jesus. To adopt His priorities as our own. He invites us to enter into His rest, and abide under His shadow.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts to abide in you, to rest in you, and to live under the constant awareness of your intercession on our behalf. Let us serve beside you, as priests in the Body of Christ. Make us your hands and feet, reaching to the lost world. Make us a blessing to those around us.

 

 

 


Entering into God’s Rest

Entering into God’s Rest

© C. O. Bishop 3/13/2017 THCF 3/19/17

Hebrews 3:14-4:11

Introduction:

Last week we talked about the rest God offers to his people, and the fact that there are at least seven different kinds of “rest” spoken of in His Word:

  1. The rest of God himself after the Creation,
  2. The rest offered to Israel in the land of Canaan,
    • The rest given to the next generation of Israel in the land of Canaan,
  3. The rest demanded for the Land
  4. The rest offered to Ruth (and provided to her) in the book of Ruth,
  5. The rest Jesus offered to unbelievers, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,
  6. The rest Jesus offered to believers, “Ye shall find rest unto your soul…”
    • The rest God offers for the believer in Christ’s labor and His rest,
  7. Eternal rest in Heaven.

Notice that some of these are gifts, given to all who become believers. Jesus said “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” That is a gift given on the sole condition of placing your trust in Him for your salvation. But others are based on some further conditions. For example, Israel had to actually enter into the land to experience the rest God offered there.

Conditional Rest

In the same manner, the rest in question here, in Hebrews 3 and 4, is the rest offered to believers, conditional upon their faith and obedience. You have to enter in to the rest, by choice, by faith.

14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;

In a very practical sense, we only “partake” in the person of Christ by a continuing relationship with him, which extends beyond initial faith. There is a wide variety of possible responses to God’s Grace, beyond initial saving faith. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus said that there were four different kinds of “soil” into which the “seed” of God’s Word could fall:

  • The first group completely ignored the Word, and were called “the pathway”, or, “the wayside”…and the birds of the air came and removed the seed. These are not those to whom this warning applies. There had been zero response to the Gospel. There was no pretense…they simply were not interested. The Word made no impression upon them.
  • The second group were called “stony ground”: there was an initial response to the Gospel, even a joyous response; but there was no depth, and they fell away at the first difficulty. This may be those to whom this warning applies; I can’t be sure. Remember that among those who escaped Egypt, there were always those who strongly advocated a return to Egypt. It is entirely possible that this group were never believers, so they desired to “return to their father’s house.” This may parallel those who made an initial response but were never committed to the truth of the Word. They heard it all, but apparently never really believed: Judas, among others, fell into this category. He was never born again.
  • There was a third group who had genuine root, and were a genuine plant, but in thorny ground, where it could not become fruitful. These were evidently real believers, but ones for whom it never became a high enough priority to change their life. The cares of this world choked the seed so that it did not become fruitful. That does not mean they were not genuine…it means they never bore fruit. Are they saved? I think they are, though many disagree.
  • The fourth group, of course, are those called “good soil,” and whose lives bore fruit for God, in varying quantity.

Fruit-bearing is subsequent to salvation, and is not a guaranteed result, as far as I can see—it is a normal result, a desirable result, and an expected result; but not guaranteed. And, even within that group in the parable, there was a wide variance in the amount of fruit borne. Believers are constantly exhorted to lay aside the sins that so easily beset them, and focus on the task at hand. (Why? Because, typically, we don’t!) In fact, if the “normal Christian life” were the only possibility, most of the New Testament would be unnecessary, as Christians would just automatically do the right things. But we don’t: we have to be constantly reminded.

It is interesting, though, that, in the few places where we are told to watch (or examine) the “fruit” of other people, it was false teachers against whom the warning was being made, and the fruit was their teaching. When he said “by their fruits ye shall know them”, the issue was false teaching, not the way they lived.

Is there another kind of fruit? Yes, we are told that our lives are to bear fruit, and that the fruit is to remain. There is an aspect of fruit-bearing that is specifically referring to spiritual progeny, as a result of a Godly life, and faithful testimony. The Fruit of the Spirit is supposed to be there at all times in a believer’s life, but it should result in others being drawn to Christ, as well. We are to be witnesses for Him. We will talk more about fruit at another time.

Entering by Faith—or Not

15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.

16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.

So, we see that there was a mixture of folk who came out of Egypt. in fact, it is apparent that there were some who may not have even been Jews, as well: they were referred to as the “mixed multitude” and they were a source of trouble. They were frequently the source of grumblings and rebellion. They may or may not have even been believers, though all had at least gone through the motions of a professed faith, to the extent that they survived the judgment on Egypt.

Unbelievers in the local church are commonplace. They don’t actually belong to the body of Christ, but they are still people for whom Christ died, and as such, they are precious souls, not a foreign body to be rejected, unless they force it. We are to recognize that there may be those among us who have never truly believed. Jesus knew Judas’ heart, and his final warning (if you can call it that) was given in John 13:10, 11. Judas had come along for the ride, had seen the miracles, and partaken of the spiritual experience…but was not made clean through faith in the Word, as were the others (compare John 15:3.)

These are those to whom the sternest warnings are extended, so far as I can tell. They are in deadly danger, having become inoculated against faith by constant exposure to the truth, and the gradual hardening of their own hearts. It has been noted that while exposure to warm sunlight softens wax, the same exposure will harden clay. The difference is in the heart of the hearer. We reveal who we really are by our response to God’s Word. By the way, I think it is appropriate to point out that Jesus is several times identified as being “The Word”, or even the “WORD OF GOD” (all caps), in the scripture. I think it is safe to say that how we respond to the written Word is indicative of our real response to the Living Word, Jesus himself.

17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?

18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?

19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

The warning stands, as it is written, for all to read. All I can say, is “let him that hath an ear hear what the Spirit saith.” A person has to check one’s own heart and ask where he or she really stands.

Vernon McGee told how, when he was young, he was sent to the barn to tend the animals at night. He carried a lantern, and, as he entered the dark barn, two things happened: the rats that crept through the barn at night would scurry for cover, fleeing the light. But the birds in the rafters, thinking the lantern light was sunrise, began to sing. Why the difference? The difference was in the character of the individual. Jesus said “And this is the judgment; that light has come into the World, and men loved darkness, rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Jesus is Better than the Sabbath day: (He is the real Sabbath.)

Hebrews Chapter Four

1Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

Here is a very plain explanation of that difference. Judas heard all the same words as the other disciples, but chose to disbelieve. Therefore, when he was still present, Jesus said “…ye are not all clean.” But after Judas had left, he reiterated the earlier statement of cleanliness, saying to the remaining eleven,  “Now ye are clean, through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” The difference was faith.

In the case of Israel in the wilderness, they had really intended to enter the land. They were directed to send the twelve spies into the land, one from each tribe, to discern the best way to enternot to decide whether to enter. When the spies returned, they showed the fruit of the land, and confirmed that everything God had promised about the land was completely true, but they had seen giants there. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, confirmed all of the above, and said, “Let’s go get ‘em!” The other ten said, “Forget it! They will eat us alive! Let’s go back to Egypt!” The people wept all night because of the evil report of the ten spies, and, in the morning, when Joshua and Caleb reiterated their call to action, the people wanted to stone them, and were ready to appoint new leaders to take them back to Egypt. That is when God stepped in and forbade that generation to go in, and a lot of them died of the ensuing plague—the ten spies died on the spot, punished by God.

What about the believers who also failed to enter in? They could not go back and “un-apply” the blood of the Passover, or “un-pass” through the Red Sea. Those things were done…they had believed God, at that point, but had failed at the point of entering the land. If, like them, I am “failing, through unbelief”, I can’t go back and “un-apply” Jesus’ blood to my sin, nor “un-impute” his righteousness to my account (both of which were done by God, not me.) All I am doing is failing to receive the blessing and security and rest that he still offers to believers.

For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Now we are entering a different issue: the rest offered to believers. All believers have entered into the “salvation rest” Jesus offered. (Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.) The writer confirms that all we who have believed DO enter into rest. But not all have further submitted themselves to His loving leadership and learned from Him; so, not all “find rest” unto their souls. This is a hard concept, though the application is simple.

For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

This, of course, refers back to Genesis 2:2. We see this as the beginning of the teaching regarding the Sabbath, and so we should. That is what it is. But we need to carefully consider the remainder of what the scripture teaches regarding the Sabbath.

And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.

Here we see a warning regarding the rest he was offering Israel, in Canaan. It had nothing to do with the keeping of a seventh-day Sabbath. It had to do with following through with the offer of God, and entering the land of Canaan.

Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:

Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

This is from Psalm 95—many long years after Israel had not only entered the land but (especially under David, who wrote this psalm) had actually laid claim to nearly every bit of the promised territory. They were relatively secure in the land. They had “arrived!” And yet they were warned to “enter in” to God’s rest! The Land was not the rest. There had to be something else: something more!

For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

(This is referring to Joshua, actually—the Old Testament name “Joshua” is the Hebrew name that Jesus actually bore, so the KJV translators correctly translated it from its Greek form, “Iesus”, into English, but it confuses us, who read it today.) The point was that Joshua DID bring them into the land. If that was the “rest” offered, and had already been received, then why did David describe such a “rest” as still being offered to believers, nearly 500 years later?

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

The writer concludes that neither the Sabbath rest nor the Canaan rest were the actual fulfillment of the rest offered by Christ. Notice that he says that this specific rest remains “for the people of God”—believers. What is the “rest”, then? And why is it offered after faith has come? If salvation itself is not the “rest”, then what are we talking about?

Conclusion:

10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

“Labor” to enter into “rest?” What rest? How do we labor to enter into rest? It is actually pretty difficult, in some ways, to accomplish what is being taught, here, because it goes against our flesh. We all want to believe that we can do something to earn a right standing with God. Even though we know we were saved by Grace through Faith, we still want to think that, at some level, we “deserve” God’s Grace. The word “deserve” means to “have earned”…if you can earn God’s favor, it is no longer Grace but wages. “Grace” specifically means “unearned favor.”

So, he says that “he who has entered into rest has ceased from his own works.” It requires constant attention for us to break the cycle of legalism, by which we hope to impress God with our behavior. We have to learn to submit ourselves daily to God, to allow Him to live through us. The result is that we quit worrying about whether we are “doing enough”. We simply do what He calls us to do. And what He calls us to do is to share His yoke—share the job he was sent to do; share the concerns of His heart. He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me… and ye shall find rest to your souls.”

How does this bring about “rest?” For one thing, since I am convinced that His blood was full payment for my sins, I have quit wondering whether I am really saved. Having placed my faith in Jesus’ completed work, there is nothing for me to add to His work, nor can it be diminished. Jesus said “it is finished!” And it is!

So, we can stop “trying to be good enough” for God. Jesus is the only one who makes the grade at all, and, if you have been born again, you are in Him, and that is the only way God sees you! His work was completed at the Cross: Rest in Him!

Daily seek to maintain fellowship by trusting Him and obeying Him. Feed on His Word. Reach out to those around you with His Love and care and kindness. But rest in Him. The work is done! Even as we serve as ambassadors, we are only fulfilling the works God prepared for us in advance. According to Ephesians 2:10, all we are doing is “walking in them.” We don’t even generate the will to do so… Philippians 2:13 says that “It is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Rest in Him: let Him work through you.

 

Lord Jesus, teach us what it means to “rest”, and to “enter in to your rest.” Feed us on your Word, encourage us by your Holy Spirit, and enlighten our minds by your presence.


Don’t Miss Out on God’s Rest

Don’t Miss Out on God’s Rest

© C. O. Bishop 3/10/17 THCF 3/12/17

Hebrews 3:1-13

Introduction:

1Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;

Perhaps the first thing we need to do is look at the significance of some of the words used, here: It is interesting to me that the writer addresses his audience as “Holy Brethren”.  “Holy” means set apart for God’s purpose. We are no longer slaves to sin, but neither are we our own masters: we are not free agents but, rather, we are ambassadors for a Holy God. We have a job to do: we are to be about His business.

What about the word “brethren?” It just means brothers, of course…The writer was a Jew, and he spoke to other Jews, so, it is possible that he used the word “brethren” only in that regard, but it seems doubtful. They were familiar with that use, of course, but this goes a little deeper. All those who have placed their trust in Jesus as their savior have become brothers in Christ. I think that meaning more closely follows the intent of the book. Furthermore, it supports the concept that this book is to all believers, even though the primary audience was the Jewish believers of the first century church (pre-AD 70.)

He says that we have been made partakers of the “Heavenly Calling”. Give that one some thought: in what way are you a partaker of the heavenly calling? Is that a reality in your life? In Romans 8:29, 30 Paul makes it clear that every single believer is called to God’s service…how are you responding to that heavenly call? Perhaps this will require some soul-searching…. In my own case, I have to ask, do I spend more time concerned with the things of God, or am I primarily interested in my own things…my own needs and interests? Something to think about.

Apostle” means “sent one”. Jesus was sent by God to do a specific job—to offer himself to God as full payment for the sins of humanity. He completely fulfilled all the prophecies concerning himself, some over which he would have zero control if he were not God incarnate, though some people have argued that he artificially engineered the “fulfillments.” Many were utterly outside his control as a human. He was God in the flesh, fulfilling His OWN Word. He could literally pick his place of birth, his parentage, etc. He was sent to do the will of God, the Father and he fed on that reality. He said “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)

The “High Priest” was the only one who could enter the holy of holies, with a sacrifice for the nation, and approach the throne of God. And he could only do so once a year. Jesus is the High Priest upon whom our lives depend. Either his sacrifice, presented before that Holy God, is sufficient, or we are forever lost. The writer is telling us to give this some thought…consider who we are dealing with. Jesus carried out his ministry with absolutely flawless faithfulness. Then the writer compared the person of Christ to Moses, who was also faithful:

Jesus is better than Moses

Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.

Moses was also called faithful. But he was part of the creation, while Jesus was the creator, thus worthy of greater honor.

For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.

For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. 

A further point is made, that, relationally, Moses was still a servant. Jesus is the only begotten Son: the heir of all things, as well as the creator of all things. He is literally “God in the flesh”.

And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;

But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.

 So, as sons of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus, we are encouraged to not lose sight of who we are in Christ: part of the household of God. And, he exhorts those who are dabblers, still uncommitted, to make a decision before it is too late. For every opportunity, there is a closing date: a “pull-date”—a time after which the offer is no longer valid. And, to all who play games with the Gospel, claiming faith, but never committing themselves, he warns that the result can be eternal loss. He uses Israel as an example, saying that unbelief is why the first generation, who left Egypt with Moses, failed to enter into the land. (Notice, here, that the land was not a picture of salvation. It was a picture of the rest-relationship with God. They had already been under the blood of the Passover, by faith; and they had already been through the Red Sea, again by faith. But when they balked at entering the land, he said, “Fine, then: you can’t go in.” So, in spite of the fact that they were saved by faith, they lost their opportunity to enter into the joy of that relationship, because of unbelief.)

The Second Warning: “Harden Not your Hearts”

Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,

Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.

There seem to be fairly harsh warnings throughout the book of Hebrews…and while some might be simple warnings against failing to enter into the rest relationship, others are clearly warning against eternal perdition…being lost forever. Since that has already been ruled out for the child of God, one must read more carefully, and then we can see that some of those who originally received this epistle had never committed themselves to the sacrifice of Christ, but were simply “along for the ride”, thinking that, “if it doesn’t work out, I can always return to the Mosaic Law, the Levitical priesthood, and the sacrifices thereof.”  But, since the real sacrifice now has been made, the earlier ones which were only pictures of the coming Lamb of God, no longer have any validity. There is nothing left, to which they could go back…it is just an empty shell, now.

While we, as believers should take to heart the warnings of this book, we need to see that the sternest warnings, here, are to those who have failed to place their full trust in the blood of Jesus at the Cross. There is no threat of a believer losing his or her salvation. We are secure in Him. But those who pretend faith are not only not secure, they are in special danger as having “neglected so great a salvation”, and having “hardened their hearts” (the first two warnings.)

10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.

11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)

Notice that is says “they have not known my ways”…not that they once knew them and simply slid back into their old ways. This is a critical difference. To those who are lost at the Judgment of the Living Nations (Matthew 25:31, ff ), Jesus says. “…I never knew you.” It is possible for a believer to continually live in the flesh and never learn the “ways of God”. But it is not possible for God to address a true believer and say, “I never knew you.”

Seven Rests from the Word of God:

(So, what is the “Rest” offered here?)

There are at least seven “rests” mentioned in scripture:

  1. The rest of God himself after the Creation,
  2. The rest offered to Israel in the land of Canaan,
    • The rest given to the next generation of Israel in the land of Canaan,
  3. The rest demanded for the Land
  4. The rest offered to Ruth in the book of Ruth,
  5. The rest Jesus offered to unbelievers, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,
  6. The rest Jesus offered to believers, “Ye shall find rest unto your soul…”
    • The rest God offers for the believer in Christ’s labor and rest, today.
  7. Eternal rest in Heaven.

Some of these are very similar, and I will not try to “surgically” separate them, but some are very different, and God says so. Those I will attempt to explain:

  1. When God rested after completing the creation, it was not because he was tired. The word used is “Shabbat”…from which we get the transliterated word, “Sabbath”. It means to cease from our usual labor, or from labor in general. It means “rest”, in the sense that we mean when we say “give it a rest!” (Stop doing that, now…)
  1. God offered rest to his people in the land of Canaan: They were already believers, having trusted in the blood of the Passover, and having passed through the Red Sea under the cloud of God’s presence. But they were offered “rest” in Canaan. Rest (in the sense of “relief”) from persecution, rest from poverty, rest from the desert. It was a picture of the Rest in Christ, to which the New Testament believer is invited. As demonstrated in their lives, it is entirely possible for a believer to miss out on that rest. The next generation entered into Canaan, but we see in subsequent passages (Psalm 95) that there still remained a “rest” for believers to embrace—Canaan itself was not the promised rest…it was only a picture of the promised “rest.”
  1. God demanded “rest” for the land. The land was to be left fallow every seventh year, and allowed time to regenerate. Israel did not follow this command, and, after 490 years of disobedience in this regard, were cast out of the land for 70 years, to make up for the 70 missed “Sabbaths” of the land. Interesting fact.
  1. Ruth was offered “rest” by Naomi. Ruth was working to support herself and Naomi, by gleaning in the fields. She had no security, as a stranger to Israel, and there were no “social services” offered. A widow, especially a foreign-born widow, did not have much hope in that society. (Their “welfare system” was limited to the gleaner’s rights.) But, she had placed her trust in the God of Israel (Boaz said so, supplementing her own statement of “Thy God shall be my God.”), and Naomi asked whether she might seek “rest” for Ruth, in the form of marriage, so that she had some security. The remainder of that story is as fine a holy romance as one can read. That was “rest,” in the form of security and blessing.
  1. Jesus offered two “rests”, in Matthew 11:28-30. The first was offered to those who labored and were heavily laden (unbelievers). He said “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This is the rest that is conferred upon us in salvation: it is a free gift.
  1. The second is different: He said “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. This “rest” is not a free gift; it is a product of an obedient relationship with the Savior. It comes as a result of walking with Jesus. “Ye shall find rest unto your souls.” It is only available to saved people, but not all saved people experience it. This is the primary “rest” discussed in Hebrews 3:7—4:11, although the “rest” involved in salvation is also alluded to. (In similar fashion, peace with God is a reality for all believers (Romans 5:1), but the Peace of God is offered on the conditions of faith and obedience. (Philippians 4:6,7)
  1. The final rest offered in the eternal state is described in numerous places in scripture, but notably in Revelation 22:1-3. “…no more curse”. We yearn for that final rest, and it is guaranteed to us: but we can experience God’s Rest in this life as well.

Departing from the Living God.

12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.

Is it possible for a believer to “depart from the living God?” In the same sense that the Prodigal Son left his father, yes, it is possible. But it is important to remember that all the time the Son was on the road, going or coming, he was a son. All the time he was feeding those pigs, and wishing he could eat their food, he was a son. And had he died there, he would have been a dead son: not a dead pig! His human father did not know where he was, so, from his perspective, he was dead…they were separated. (Death always is a separation of some sort, in scripture.)

But when he woke up and realized his own folly, he headed back to his father’s house. His Father saw him coming, and without hesitation, ran to meet him. He confessed his folly, and fellowship was instantly restored. The consequences of his sin remained…he was penniless. The remainder of the father’s fortune was still going to the elder son.

But his position as a son had never changed. Only his condition had changed. We see similar results in a Church-age believer’s life, in 1st Corinthians 3:10-15. There are those whose life-work will be lost, because it is entirely of a temporal nature (having no eternal value), but who will still be saved, themselves, though as one escaping through flames.

13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

On the other hand, let’s consider the alternative: were there people who lived in Egypt, and saw the plagues, who were impressed enough to obey Moses, and sacrifice a lamb? And who ate of that lamb, and followed Moses out of Egypt? Even followed him through the Red Sea? And, were terrified at Sinai, hearing the trumpets and voices, and seeing the smoke? And ate of the manna, daily, but somehow still never placed their trust in the living God? I have no way to know for sure, but my experience with churches today tells me it is entirely possible that there were people at that time, as well, who went through all the motions, but never knew, nor desired to know the living God as their savior and God. How can we know this?

During the Earthly ministry of Christ, there was one for sure (Judas), and likely others, who saw all the miracles, heard all the teaching, and ate the loaves and fishes, etc., but who never believed. (Definitely true of Judas!) And, during the Church age there have been many who attended church all their lives, sang the songs, prayed the prayers, took communion, listened to the preaching, and in many cases, went into the ministry themselves, but never believed the Gospel. I have met some of them. Peter warned against them (2nd Peter 2).

I have known some believers whose spoken testimony confirmed that for years they “played along”, living like a believer, but knowing, all the time, that they were living a lie. At some point they realized the deadly danger they were in and repented: they changed their mind about the pretense they were maintaining. From that point on, their perspective had changed.

There are others who pressed on with their smug self-will, certain that they were leaders of the blind, and that all these “sheep” were simply misguided fools. I have known pastors who outwardly seemed model Christians, but who eventually confessed that they did not believe the Bible. I cannot explain that, but it is true…and, from testimonies I have heard, it is not even all that uncommon.

The Deceitfulness of Sin:

Notice it says that their hearts were hardened “through the deceitfulness of sin”. Why is the sin called deceitful, rather than the sinner, in this passage? Because the sinner is being deceived by their own sin nature. Jeremiah 17:9 states that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”. The blood-circulating pump that is the physical heart is not the issue. That one either pumps blood or it doesn’t. The deceitful “heart” in Jeremiah is the old sin nature of the New Testament. This is the “evil heart of unbelief” warned against in verse 12.

God seldom uses the word “heart” to refer to the pump—he uses the word to denote the seat of emotions and intellect—the soulish part of the human trichotomy. We are a three-part being: body, soul and spirit. And the human psyche or soul, is contaminated with sin. (The Greek word is “psuche”…that is where we get our word “psyche.”)

Your old nature doesn’t “go away” when you become a believer. In fact, it is frequently referred to as “the flesh”, just as the soul is sometimes referred to as the heart. But you were given a new nature. That is why Jesus called it being “born again”. You have a new nature. That new nature is completely holy, just as this passage suggests, and it is truly “made in the image of God” in righteousness, as well as true holiness. (Ephesians 4:24) That is one reason I can say with assurance, that, if you have been born again, this passage is to you! The book of Hebrews is for you, as a believer. The seven warnings are to a specific group spelled out in the book: those who have not been born again, but who are pretending faith. But, to the believers, he addresses you as “Holy Brethren!”

However, because you are a believer, you need to especially be aware that your old nature is still extremely deceitful. You have had all your life to practice “listening to your heart”, as we are so often told to do. We have to deliberately practice listening to God instead of our hearts. People say “Your heart won’t lead you wrong!” But, in fact, the opposite is true. We have to constantly soak ourselves in God’s Word, so that we are less likely to be drawn away by our old sin nature.

Conclusion:

There are four things we should be able to “take away with us,” here:

  1. If you have been born again, God counts you as holy, and righteous, and as His child.
  2. If you have been born again, you have a job to do…a heavenly calling: you are God’s ambassador.
  3. If you have been born again, there is a rest you are invited to enjoy, and warned not to miss out on.
  4. If you have been born again, you have two natures, and one of them (the old one) is very deceitful. There is a war going on, and the enemy’s best weapon against us is that old sin nature…our deceitful hearts.

So…what do we do about it? We choose daily to walk with God, and saturate ourselves with His Word, so as to minimize the effect of our old nature. We pray, we worship, we fellowship with other believers around the person of Christ. We pray for and look for opportunities to do our jobs as ambassadors of God. We study to equip ourselves for that work, and keep our testimony clean so as not to be disqualified for service. All this we do under God’s Grace and under the guidance of His Holy Spirit, who indwells us and keeps us through all our lives.

Lord Jesus give us the Grace to continually walk with you and not to miss out on your daily blessings through sin and inattention to our jobs. Teach us to live in such a way as to draw others to you, not drive them away. Teach us to rest in you. Amen