by Pastor Mark Hudson
The author is concerned that these Jewish believers fail to reach the rest that God has promised. This is such an interesting passage. The author is warning his readers to place their faith in Christ and not just listen to the gospel without faith. In the O.T., people were told to believe but they disobeyed. His listeners are compared to the Jews in the O.T. who failed to reach the promised land but died wandering about in the wilderness. Then we begin a discussion about the 7th day of creation.
In Genesis 1, at the end of every day, Moses writes, “And there was evening and there was morning, the ____ day. However on the seventh day, this expression is absent. In Genesis two, there is no evening signifying the day of rest has not concluded. There was a morning on day seven but no evening and no conclusion of that day. God rests from creation but He was not inactive. He still provides providence and upholds the world and provides and judges, etc. So rest with this understanding means rest from labor but not merely sitting around or inactivity.
In Hebrews 4:3, he writes, “For we who have believed enter that rest.” So if one believes, one experiences that rest. But the author is more concerned about warning his readers not to miss this rest. He begins this chapter with a warning in v. 1 and the reason the Jews did not enter the rest in v. 2. In vs. 8-10, the rest is explained but the author hurries back to the theme of disobedience or unbelief which are two sides of the same coin. We are to strive in v. 11, be obedient and soft hearted in vs. 6-7, combine faith and hearing in v. 2; fear in v. 1. Even later as the author points us to our great high Priest, we are to hold fast our confession in v. 14 and with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace in v. 16.
While the rest is not precisely explained, there are a few pointers to help us. First, the rest is God’s rest. In v. 1, “his rest” and “My rest” (v. 3, 5) or “God’s rest” in v. 10. Then the promise of entering that rest is still available or “still stands” or as v. 6 promises, “It remains for some to enter it.” We also know what the rest is not in v. 8. Entering the promised land is not the rest God or the author is referring to in this chapter. We may have considered entering the promised land as God’s rest. But this “rest” Hebrews is describing is a spiritual rest. (We should never think that the O.T. authors thought in terms of physical fulfillment in contrast to the N.T. authors who promised spiritual fulfillments.).
Both faith and obedience are related to this rest and also the means to enter this rest. Verse 11 says “to strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Then in verse 12, the well-known verse, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . .” Then in v. 14, we are encouraged to :hold fast our confession.” So both obedience and faith surround the verse about the word. Disobedience is disobeying the Word of God. When we disobey, we are snubbing God’s Word, His authority, His kingly reign and refusing to obey His word. When we have faith we believe what His prophets wrote. So the discussion in v. 12 fits nicely in this discussion of entering God’s rest.
To enter God’s rest we obey His word and have faith in the Messiah His prophets wrote about. We fail to enter His rest when we disobey His word and when we do not place our faith in all the prophets wrote about. The hymn Trust and Obey is really a profound statement of faith. In reality, a believer can never have one without the other. Yet the Bible is not alienated from God. In v. 12, the author is talking about the Bible then in v. 13, the topic seamlessly continues on to God. Clearly v. 12 is talking about the Bible because Christ is not referred to as a sword but yielding a sword (Josh. 5:13; Rev 1:16; 2:12; 19:15). So closely is God to His word, that the author easily moves from the Scriptures in v 12 to God Himself in v. 13.
Even as the author points us to Christ as well as to obey Christ, we are looking at an obedient and believing Messiah. He is “without sin” in v. 15. He was obedient yet He struggled with that obedience with “loud cries and tears” to Him “who was able to save Him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” in v. 7. Christ is not a stoic Savior but One who fights sin and that fight is not easy. Yet, Christ is victorious over sin.
Christ is a sympathetic high priest who encourages us to come to His Father or “the throne of grace” to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” in v. 16. He is gentle and leads us to the Father where instead of thundering and judgment those who strive to obey and place their faith in the Messiah find mercy and grace. This is a strikingly beautiful expression of how kind, forgiving, and giving our Triune God is. Why would he be kind to people like us? Nothing makes sense other than to pure “Godness” of God. He is beyond what we can ever imagine or could ever imagine a God could be. He is thrice holy and wonderful beyond description.
Our dear heavenly Father. There are countless reasons to worship you. The natural world is a theater of Your creativity and concern. Our spiritual lives are so alive, full, and satisfying because of Your grace not because of our obedience. Yet we are called to both trust You and obey You. That is our protection and our duty and all that You command is for our good and eternal joy. We love You and remain Your deeply loved children. In Christ’s name. Amen.