Hebrews 4 — Rest, Through Salvation
Video available here: http://youtu.be/yuiCr0XRozg
Hebrews chapter 4 is a section committed to explaining the Old Testament principle of Sabbath rest as it applies to the New Covenant believers--those saved by Christ's sacrifice. The first principle of Sabbath rest that must be established is that 'rest' in the life of the Christian is very important to God--so important, that the author of Hebrews equates the observance of 'rest' to faith:
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
"So I declared on oath in my anger,
'They shall never enter my rest.'"
And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world.
"The Message" bible translation (not to be confused with the message of William Branham--this is a idiomatic translation of the Bible in comtemporary language) makes these verses a little bit easier to understand. Here's how it phrases verses 1-3:
For as long, then, as that promise of resting in him pulls us on to God's goal for us, we need to be careful that we're not disqualified. We received the same promises as those people in the wilderness, but the promises didn't do them a bit of good because they didn't receive the promises with faith. If we believe, though, we'll experience that state of resting. But not if we don't have faith. Remember that God said,
Exasperated, I vowed,
"They'll never get where they're going,
never be able to sit down and rest."
It is ultimately by faith that we accept the rest of God--and if we are unwilling to accept the true rest that is available and promised to us through Jesus Christ, the question becomes, "Where is our faith?"
In order to fully accept this rest that God has available to us we must first come to an understanding about what God means by 'rest'. Let's continue in Hebrews and see if we can gain a better understanding about what resting in the Lord is all about:
4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "On the seventh day God rested from all his works." 5 And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest."
6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it "Today." This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts."
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
So, to summarize: in the Old Testament, God commanded the children of Israel to take a full day off every single week from their labors. This day was the Sabbath, and it was considered holy and consecrated unto God. This Sabbath day was symbolic--it reminded the Israelites to take time and commit it to spiritual things, but it also reminded them about the promises of God--promises that He kept when he brought them out of Egypt and into the promised land--promises that the Israelites over and over could not believe.
Because of their disbelief in the promises of God to provide them with true rest, throughout time man has failed to grasp the true nature of rest in God. Thankfully, though, God is longsuffering, and He will have His way! God has kept His promise to provide rest for the soul to whomever will believe upon Him, whenever they believe. Verse 7 says that God sets a time calling it Today--that He is, in effect, constantly drawing us to Him and giving us an opportunity to come into rest NOW--Today. David knew this Truth, and said in his Psalm, "Today, if you hear his voice and do not harden your hearts..."
It was a continual promise that didn't have an expiration date. All it takes is faith.
If the true rest that God intended to give the Israelites had been the promised land, God would not have spoken about it after they entered the land as if it was still something on the horizon (verse 8)--but He did keep talking about it, and commanded them to continue resting from their labors on the Sabbath--to continue in faith waiting for the 'promised land' and God's rest.
Verse 11 urges us to then continue seeking to enter into true rest so that no one will perish by following the Israelites' example of disobedience.
And what was their example? They were impatient, and they did not believe that God was going to deliver them into the promised land and into true rest.
We can do that too, spiritually. We can get so caught up in our life's journey that we lose sight of its purpose. God leads us into valleys, and He leads us up to mountain tops. There are seasons of blessings and seasons of drought. It is not difficult for us to forget that there is purpose to our lives' trials. There will one day be an end to our worldly troubles, and our worldly gains and losses will be rendered completely insignificant.
If we maintain faith, though we will find rest in the promises of God, and we won't become overwhelmed with our worldly troubles, attempting to seek out our own path--a path of disobedience to God's plan for our lives and His Word.
And now...one of the iconic verses William Branham used in order to puff up his ministry--Hebrews 4:12. In context, it becomes very clear that this verse has absolutely nothing to do with 'discernment' or telling people trivial facts that William Branham attempted to tie to this verse. Hebrews 4 thus far has demonstrated the promise of God to give us rest and that this promise endures to this day. It established that the 'rest' the Israelites had on Sabbath and the 'rest' they gained when they entered the promised land were not the ultimate goal--it was always about a spiritual rest and the peace that comes from faith in the promises of God.
Now, verses 12 and 13--in this context:
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
The author first established that we are talking about the attainment of rest by faith in God. He continues by saying, "For the word of God is alive and active."
He is essentially says, "Let's be careful not to fall into disobedience but to have faith." How is that going to be accomplished? "For the word of God is alive and active..."!
The Word of God--Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, is alive and active. The Word of God is sharp and can penetrate any surface, even dividing the intentions of our hearts from the longings of our souls, separating the two and revealing the truth of our hearts. The Living Word of God is able to judge our thoughts and attitudes, and make these judgments known to us. Nothing remains hidden--but God, by His Word, exposes it all and lays it bare.
God makes these judgments known to us in a number of ways. By the Word of God found in the Bible we can read Truth, and if we are humble and open to correction, be molded and guided by it. We are led by the Spirit, and even when we feel like we're in a fog and cannot see where we are going, God can lead us with a 'still small voice' or a prick in our hearts.
For what purpose does the Word of God reveal the secrets of our hearts? Once again, it has nothing to do with a demonstration of power or 'vindication'--verses 14-16 clearly tell us the purpose of the Word of God's ability to uncover the truth within the hearts of man:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we areâ€”yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Once again, we find that it all comes back to our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Word of God reveals the secrets of the heart for a purpose--and that purpose is to draw us into closer fellowship with Jesus. He is our High Priest--He never ceases to empathize with our weakness and help us through our temptations and struggles, but we must come before Him in both humility and in faith, and seek His mercy and grace in our times of need.
Rest, then is something we have by faith. It is something constantly available to us, and it is something we can attain by having faith in the promises of God. Even when we have doubts and struggles, God's Word is there, making known to us our needs so that we can take them before the Throne of God. Faith allows us to be at peace. When we have faith, we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are who God says we are, and that God is able to do what He says He can. We needn't fear that God is going to forsake us--Because His Word promised that it would not! When we do have struggles, we can by faith come to God with them and have confidence that He will hear us and that He will help us.
That doesn't mean that everything in our lives is going to be perfect. We are going to have trials. We are going to have temptations. But at the end of the day, we can find rest believing that God is in control. Though we suffer, by faith we can trust that our suffering has an eternal purpose, for God's Word has promised us this, and Jesus Christ affirmed the promises of God to us by His death and resurrection on the Cross. We can find rest for our souls for every area of our lives by simply believing the promises of God. It was God's intention all along--and thanks be to the Lord that we can attain that ourselves through the finished work of Jesus Christ!