19 Sept 2020
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today”, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion”…..
And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief… Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened…. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 3:12-15,18-19; 4:1-2, 9-10).
From the passage above comes one of the greatest warnings in all of Scripture. The writer looks back to the generation in Exodus and notes that among the people of God who were led out of bondage in Egypt, they were unable to enter Canaan because of unbelief. They heard God’s voice to go ahead and conquer the land but they hardened their hearts and refused to respond to His call. Rather than experience rest in the promised land, they were doomed to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Note the key phrases – “today” and “rest”. God’s promise of rest is timeless and available to every generation. But no generation which refuses to hear God’s word to them, and is corrupted by an evil heart of unbelief, can know this rest. The apparent unwillingness of those, to whom the author of Hebrews writes, to turn to Christ completely, and trust absolutely in Him, places them in danger of ‘reliving’ the destiny of those wilderness wanderers who could never know peace because in their unbelief they disobeyed the voice of God. These were Jewish Christians who, under the threat of the Roman rulers, were tempted to return to Judaism and to escape the persecution Christians were encountering at the hands of the Roman rulers. The author of Hebrews warned them not to turn back from following Jesus and to go back to Judaism, for that would mean not trusting Jesus and the gospel completely and to turning away from so great a salvation, offered in Christ Jesus.
We have been raised to take a possession in Christ. Our union with Him makes us new men and women, and opens up the possibility of a victorious Christian life. But our possession in Christ can be of no practical value to us if we permit the same attitude to develop in us that was displayed by Israel of old. The attitude, characterised here as sinful and untrusting, can harden us and keep us from responding to God’s voice when He speaks to us. The primary focus and daily concern must be to keep our hearts open to God. We must be eager and ready to respond when we hear His voice speaking to us in our own “today”.
The word “rest’ is used in Hebrews 3-4 in three distinct ways:
1) Like Israel of old, we have been delivered from slavery. Sin’s power in our lives has been broken, and we are called by God to enter a spiritual ‘promised land’ where we will find rest. We are to enjoy the benefits of the work Christ has done for us. The Christian life is not one of struggle to carve out a bare living in some wilderness. The Christian life is one of appropriating all the benefits of the spiritual abundance that Jesus so richly provides.
2) With His creative work complete in creation, God is not inactive. But He no longer works, for His work is done – He enters into rest. We are to come to the place where we ‘take hold fully’ what God has done and stop labouring. The Christian life that so many experience as an exhausting struggle is not God’s intent for us. The life of rest God has for us is experienced only as we respond to His “today” voice, showing us the way we should go to tread pathways He has marked for us. Fear of the future, uncertainty, are taken from us when we realise that our whole duty is to let God guide, and respond when He speaks to us in our “today”. The critical problem was one of attitude toward God. The people heard what He said. But they hardened their hearts and would not respond. Unwilling to trust God, they were unable to obey. Attitudes are always linked to behaviour. The rebellious attitude exhibited by the men and women Moses led out of slavery had behaviour consequenes. When God spoke to them, their tendency was, first of all, to fail to trust His word, and second, to disobey.
Notice how they grumbled about the ‘giants’ they had to face in order to enter the promised land. Recall how they yearned for the ‘good food’ they could receive in Egypt and forgot that they were slaves in Egypt under bondage and ill-treatment. Take note of their constant complaints about the lack of water, the absence of meat and the ‘boring’ manna they had to eat daily, forgetting completely God’s miracle of providing ‘bread’ for them from ‘heaven’. They even grumbled and murmured against Moses and Aaron and talked about stoning them. What gratitude, thanksgivings are exhibited by them!
Trust in God leads us to believe that what He says to us is prompted by love. This attitude is critical to the kind of obedience that God desires. Only trust and love enable us to make a willing, inner commitment to follow the instruction of our Heavenly Father. When we trust God, we are free to obey God from the heart.
3) The author tells us to make every effort to enter God’s rest. He does not tell us to struggle to obey Glod, for this would be useless. But if we make every effort to love God and to develop this kind of attitude of simple trust, then when we hear His voice in our “today”,we will obey. And in this kind of obedience we will find rest.
There is also a looking forward to the ultimate rest, the ‘promised land’ – the new heavens and new earth where there will be no more sorrow, no more tears and no more death. There would be the beautiful eternal ‘rest’ in God forever. But before we get there, we can enter into a daily ‘rest’ in God in our pilgrimage here on earth. Do not allow people, circumstances and various disappointments in life to take away this ‘rest’ which resides and abides in Christ, As long as we abide in Him, in union with Him, nothing can take away this rest from us in Christ Jesus.