We come this morning to some very familiar verses of Scripture. We're familiar with what they say, but are we familiar with their meaning?
The first eleven verses of chapter four talk about entering into God's rest. Rest in this context refers to the New Heavens and New Earth, the New Covenant Age. The Old Covenant was about to end with the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70; thus ending the Jewish persecution against Christians and bringing the consummation of the New Covenant age. Those believers who grew weak in faith turned back to Judaism and were most likely killed in the destruction of Jerusalem. The writer of Hebrews encourages them to hang on to their faith lest they turn back to Judaism and lose their lives in Jerusalem's destruction.
Israel of old lost their inheritance because they wouldn't trust God, they wouldn't obey his voice, and their disobedience cost them their inheritance in the land of Cannan. Cannan was a type or picture of the New Testament inheritance which is the New Heavens and New Earth.
As believers, we are to let the Word of God dwell in our thinking:
Colossians 3:16 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Whatever we do is to be done as unto Christ:
Colossians 3:23-24 (NKJV) And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
They were to serve the Lord with all their ability knowing that the Lord was "about to" provide for them an inheritance. Now, note the warning in the next verse:
Colossians 3:25 (NKJV) But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
Over and over in Scripture believers are warned against disbelief and disobedience. This is why the writer of Hebrews warned these believers. He tells them that Israel fell from the promised joy of God because of the disobedience of unbelief. And the same thing can happen to the Hebrew Christians. To keep it from happening, he says, "Be diligent to enter God's rest" (Hebrews 4:11). The word "diligent" is the Greek word spoudazo. It means: "to exert one's self, endeavor, give diligence." The verb speaks of intensity of purpose followed by intensity of effort toward the realization of that purpose.
The strength of this verb, spoudazo, can be seen by looking at its use in:
Ephesians 4:3 (NKJV) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The word "endeavoring" is spoudazo. How important is unity to God? Very important. In John 17 Jesus prays over and over for our unity:
John 17:21 (NKJV) "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
Our unity is a powerful testimony to Christ in the world.
Paul brought up the subject of unity in every letter he wrote to a church. Probably there is not a single thing so much insisted on in the New Testament as the importance of unity. So, when Paul says, "endeavoring to keep the unity", he is saying, "Make every effort, to labor, to be diligent." It takes work, effort , to keep unity. It is fragile. This is a strong verb speaking of maximum effort.
Hebrews 4:11 (NKJV) Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.
Be diligent! Pay close attention to what you've heard (2:1); don't neglect your great salvation (2:3); consider Jesus (3:1); do not harden your hearts (3:8); take care against an unbelieving heart (3:12); exhort one another every day against the deceitfulness of sin (3:14); and FEAR the unbelief that will keep you from your promised rest (4:1).
The Christian life is a battle, and victory doesn't come easy. Those who enter God's rest are those who apply maximum effort to stay in the faith.
2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
"Be diligent" is spoudazo - make every effort. And the word "approved" is dokimos. It means: "one who has been put to the test and measures up, thus winning the approval of the person testing him." How do we do this? By handling correctly the Word of God. Is that an easy task? No! It takes maximum effort. And if you don't do it, you'll be ashamed.
Hebrews 4:11 (NKJV) Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.
This verse says that if we are not diligent to enter God's rest, then we are following an example of disobedience. Whose example? The example of Israel in the wilderness:
Hebrews 3:19 (NKJV) So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
The disobedience that 4:11 is talking about is the disobedience of unbelief - a failure to trust. "Don't be like them", the writer says, "because their failure to trust kept them out of God's rest". And it will keep you out of God's rest.
What they failed to trust was the good news, the Word of God, that was preached to them in the wilderness - the promises of God that he would care for them and give them victory. They didn't believe God. They murmured in their troubles and wanted to turn back to Egypt rather than follow God. This is their unbelief and their disobedience.
So, verse 11 urges them to be diligent to enter God's rest so that they don't fall through unbelief as the Israelites did in the wilderness.
What verse 11 urges, therefore, when it says, "Be diligent to enter that rest," is, "Be diligent to hear the word, the good news, and be diligent to believe in it, to trust the good news, so that you don't murmur and want to forsake God and go back to the Egypt of sin".
Verse 12 is giving a reason or a support or a ground for the call to diligence in verse 11. Verse 11 says, in essence: "Be sure that you know and trust the word of God, the good news of God's promises." Then verse 12 says, "This word (the good news referred to in verse 2) is living and active", etc. So verse 12 is an argument for why we should be diligent to enter God's rest by hearing and believing His word.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that entering into "rest" takes maximum effort. And the closing statement of verse 11 suggests judgment, "...lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience." The word "fall" here is the Greek word pipto. In the Old Testament context, being considered this recalls the statement of:
Hebrews 3:17 (NKJV) Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?
This refers to the punishment inflicted upon the disobedient Israelites in consequence of their disobedience.
Failure for the readers to enter rest will carry with it the punishment just as for the wilderness people of the Old Testament.
Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The logical connection, indicated by the conjunction "for," lies in the consideration that disobedience mentioned at the conclusion of the previous verse involves the notion of disobedience to a word that has been spoken to express the will of God. The word of God can never be disobeyed with impunity (without punishment), precisely because it is the Word of God.
"For the word of God is...." At a time in which God's Word is so often neglected, even by some Christians, it never hurts to contemplate the wonder of God's Word. The qualities attributed to the Word of God show that it is regarded in its judicial power, whereby it doomed the disobedient Israelites to exclusion from Cannan, and shall exclude the disobedient Hebrew believers from their rest -inheritance.
"Word of God" - this phrase occurs at least 39 times in the New Testament and almost exclusively is the designation for the spoken or written word of God. Scripture is the voice of God:
Hebrews 3:7-8 (NKJV) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you will hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness,
Hebrews 3:15 (NKJV) while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
Hebrews 4:7 (NKJV) again He designates a certain day, saying in David, "Today," after such a long time, as it has been said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts."
Don't harden your hearts against the Word of God. To harden your heart is to disbelieve and thus fall away from God.
Hebrews 3:12 (NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;
The writer reminds the Hebrews and us that God's word cannot be taken lightly. If we do not listen to his word, we face no one less than God himself:
Hebrews 10:30-31 (NKJV) For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Hebrews 12:28-29 (NKJV) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.
God's word demands a response, because God does not tolerate indifference or disobedience.
The word "living" is the Greek word zao. It means: "to live, be alive." The Word of God is alive, actively alive. And it is "powerful," which comes from the Greek word energes, from which we get our word energy. It means: "active, energizing." Its effectiveness derives from it source, which is God himself, and from its purpose, which is the will of God; and neither God nor his will is ever subject to frustration or defeat.
The essential character of the Word of God in its inexhaustible vitality and dynamic efficacy is clearly defined in:
Isaiah 55:11 (NKJV) So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
This is my confidence in teaching. God's word is living and powerful, it will always accomplish His purpose. All those who teach the Bible can rest in this truth. It shall not return empty.
That God's word is "alive" is seen in its "power." It works effectively in those who believe:
1 Thessalonians 2:13 (NKJV) For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
It can make the man of God complete for all good works:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
How could anything with such power be a "dead letter"? With such a "living" and "powerful" word at our disposal, we would be foolish to neglect the blessings it offers, or the warnings it gives!
"...sharper than any two-edged sword...." - the word "sharper" is from the Greek tomoteros, which comes from temno meaning: "to cut." This is a more comprehensive word meaning: "to cut with a single stroke" thus sharper. A "two-edged sword" is an instrument of judgement. It occurs only here and in:
Revelation 1:16 (NKJV) He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
Revelation 2:12 (NKJV) "And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, 'These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:
Revelation 2:12-16 is a picture of judgment for sin.
"... piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow...." - the word "piercing" means: "to go through, penetrate." Soul and spirit and joints and marrow - the author is not concerned to give us a psychological or anatomical analysis of the human constitution but rather to describe in graphic terms the penetration of God's word to the innermost depth of man's personality.
"...a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." - the word "discerner" is the Greek word krino, which means: "to divide or separate"- thus to judge. It does not mean: "condemn." It means: "assess." When we show somebody a painting and say, "What's your judgment?" We don't mean, "What's your condemnation?" We mean, "What's your assessment of the quality? Is it good or bad." So the word of God penetrates to the deepest place in our lives and assesses what's there. Is it good or bad? The word of God is able to penetrate into the furthermost recesses of a persons spiritual being, sifting out and analyzing the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Implicit here: if the heart is hardened by sin and unbelief, the Word of God can and will expose it. Our heart is exposed by our response to God's Word.
Why were Joshua and Caleb willing to obey God and go into the land? They trusted God, they were walking by faith. The unbelief of the other 10 spies was exposed by their response to God's command to take the land. They were walking in the flesh, and God's word exposed that:
Romans 7:7-10 (NKJV) What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." 8 But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. 9 I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.
If God asks nothing of us, all seems to go well, but as soon as He demands something of us the occasion is provided for a grand display of our sinfulness.
The word of God is living and active and penetrates to the bottom of our lives and rips the mask off the ugly face of sin. The only reason anybody sins is because they start believing the lies of sin instead of the promises of God. Sin whispers through the desires of the flesh and the rationalizations of the mind. It says your only hope of future happiness is to have an abortion. It whispers that you will not have a chance in the future if you don't cheat on this test. It says that you won't be noticed and liked if you don't dress provocatively. It says, you will lose the one person who seems to care for you if you don't compromise your sexual standards. It says you won't have job security if you speak up about the dishonest practices at work. It says your life will be wasted in this relationship if you don't get a divorce. It says that only a fool would go on looking weak instead of getting some kind of revenge.
Every one of those statements is a lie. It's what Hebrews 3:13 calls "the deceitfulness of sin."
Hebrews 4:13 (NKJV) And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
This verse can be comforting or it can be terrifying! It tells us that God sees everything there is to see about us. Others don't perceive many of our inner thoughts and motives, and we're glad they don't, because so much of it is really rotten. But God does see all of this. Nothing is hidden from his sight; he evaluates every thought and intention of our hearts.
There is no escape for anyone from this judgmental operation of the word. No creature can hide from its penetrating gaze. "...all things are naked...." - The word "naked" is the Greek word gumnos. It is used of the soul being without a body:
2 Corinthians 5:3 (NKJV) if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked [gumnos].
Or of a body being without clothing:
Acts 19:16 (NKJV) Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked [gumnos] and wounded.
Here in Hebrews it means that all things are truly uncovered before God. Gumnos continues the thought of exposure, perhaps with an overtone of shame.
"... naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account...." - the word "open" is from the Greek trachelizo . This is an unusual word found only here in the New Testament and not very common outside it. The verb trachelizo is a technical term used in wrestling and means to grip one by the throat; and since this hold is hard to break, the verb came to mean: "to throw an opponent or to overthrow, to conquer". The image is probably one of exposed powerlessness.
The word, therefore, has an unbreakable grip on the creature, which stands exposed and helpless before the eyes of God. This powerful passage is wrapped up in verse 13b with a word play - "to whom we must give account." The word "account" is the Greek word logos. This is the same word used in verse 12 translated: "word." The idea of accounting is a well known usage of logos. God's Word is our irresistible critic, while we in turn must have our word with God.
What does the author have in mind? The statement of the verse is in the present tense. The writer could have in mind an accounting that takes place in this life, as it did for the Israelites of old. They missed God's rest, and they fell in the wilderness. Hence, disobedient Christians can fall under the judgement of God's Word and be helplessly exposed to retribution.
Hebrews 4:11 (NKJV) Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.
If these Hebrew believers behave themselves as did the Israelites of old, they stand exposed for that same word which condemns them.
Abortion will not create a wonderful future for me; neither will cheating or dressing provocatively, or throwing away my sexual purity, or keeping quiet about dishonesty at work, or divorce, or vengeance. And what rescues me from this deception is the word of God.
Believers, how do you respond to God's Word? I had a believer say to me, "I'm not convicted in that area at all." He was talking about something that the Bible calls sin; thus exposing his hard heart in that area. We don't sit in judgment on God's word, it judges us and condemns our disobedience.
What do I do if I realize my heart is hardened; what resources do I have to avoid falling under the judgment of God? Verses 14-16 give us the answer:
Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
We have a great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God. He directs us toward our Apostle and High Priest.
Hebrews 3:1 (NKJV) Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,
These Hebrew believers need not fall, as the Israelites of old. Instead, they can find all the help they need at the throne of grace. After terrifying them, the writer now comforts them.
Hebrews 4:14 (NKJV) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
This verse calls them to hold onto their Christian confession. They need to maintain their confession and resist the temptation to let go and fall back. Do not miss the power of this admonition! Holding fast our profession, or holding firmly to the faith we profess, is an obstinate refusal to quit believing, trusting, or relying upon our God! This reflects again the major concern of the writer.
Note: it is those who DO HAVE such a Priest who are exhorted to hold fast their confession! Do unbelievers have a high priest? No, they do not!
He is saying, "keep your eyes focused on Jesus in the midst of the trial". What is the catalyst for faithfulness? For some, it is being linked up with what they consider to be a lively church. For others, it is an occasional good convention or rally. Some think long-term decisions to keep the faith are made in an environment of hype and ecstasy.
Whatever may be said of all those things - and they all have some value - there is nothing to compare with a consideration of our great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God.
Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
This verse points to the sympathy that the High Priest has for those who need his aid. This picks up the thought of:
Hebrews 2:17-18 (NKJV) Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
"... who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.... " - this points to a knowledge that has in it a feeling for the other person by reason of a common experience with that person. The word "sympathy" literally means: "to suffer with." The Greek word suggests an intensity that is lost in the English word "sympathy."Westcott describes it as "the feeling of one who enters into the suffering and makes it his own." Jesus' sympathy is due to being "tempted as we are, yet without sin." Our Lord's appreciation of our infirmities is an experiential one, based upon the fact that He was tempted like we are. The fact that he never sinned means he boar the full impact of the temptation. One of our deepest longings is to relate to someone who knows us fully (warts and all), but who still accepts us fully and is completely and actively committed to our good
Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This is a call for believers to avail themselves to these resources. "Let us therefore come boldly...." the word "come" is the Greek word proserchomai, it is present active middle and could be translated: "let us keep on coming to our high priest." Instead of deserting him, let us make daily use of him.
This is a priestly expression, used in the Old Testament of priests in their approach to God:
Leviticus 21:17-21 (NKJV) "Speak to Aaron, saying: 'No man of your descendants in succeeding generations, who has any defect, may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 'For any man who has a defect shall not approach: a man blind or lame, who has a marred face or any limb too long, 19 'a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, 20 'or is a hunchback or a dwarf, or a man who has a defect in his eye, or eczema or scab, or is a eunuch. 21 'No man of the descendants of Aaron the priest, who has a defect, shall come near to offer the offerings made by fire to the LORD. He has a defect; he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God.
It denotes approaching God for worship and prayer. The word "boldly" is parrhesia, which means: "saying all, frankness, full and open speech." In ancient Greece It was used to describe the right of a citizen to speak his mind on any subject in the town assembly. only "full citizens" had this right, slaves did not. Pour out your heart before Him.
"Throne of grace" - this expression only occurs here in the New Testament. It points both to the sovereignty of God and to God's love to men. "Mercy" - points to the ways in which God can alleviate our problems and trials. "Grace" - might be thought of as the various enablements which we require to bear up under them. Sometimes we find relief, sometimes strength, often both. To find grace is to obtain mercy, for grace to bear a trial is itself a mercy that lightens it.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NKJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
All mercy, or relief, is an expression of God's grace. Therefore, the throne is a throne of grace. In light of the throne of grace, we can hold fast our confession.
This offer of help to any who struggle with the pressures and problems of life on earth is undoubtedly the most widely neglected resource for Christians. Many believers look only for human help, and if it is not available, succumb quickly to discouragement, defeat and despair. And so this passage speaks of the wonderful privilege Christians have through prayer to approach our gracious God, with full confidence that He hears our prayers!
Believers, consider Jesus Christ our High Priest; focus your attention upon him.
Romans 10:13 (NKJV) For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."
I think the word "saved" is better translated here as "delivered." As we call upon God in the time of need, we find deliverance. We must live our lives in dependence upon Jesus Christ, trusting him for the mercy and grace we need to endure to the end.
To the first century believers, to whom this book was written, this passage is referring to the "rest" of the New Heavens and New Earth, the New Covenant Age. The Old Covenant was about to end with the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70 - thus ending the Jewish persecution against Christians and bringing the consummation of the New Covenant age. Those believers who grew weak in faith turned back to Judaism and were most likely killed in the destruction of Jerusalem. These Hebrew Christians are being warned not to forsake Jesus and return to Judaism. The writer of Hebrews encourages them to hang on to their faith lest they turn back to Judaism and loose their lives in Jerusalem's destruction.
These Hebrew believers need not fall, as the Israelites of old. Instead, they can find all the help they need at the throne of grace. They are being exhorted to look unto Jesus for the strength they need to endure their suffering.
We (twenty first century believers) still have a promise of rest. I think that we can apply this text by using "rest" as faith-rest. If we do not trust God, if we grow weak in faith, we will lose the temporal benefits of the New Covenant age. By that I mean, we will lose our fellowship with God and come under His chastening hand. As we draw near to God in faith, we "rest" in His care. As we live in dependence upon his power, we'll be able to "rest" in Him.
We also have a great High Priest, and we are to keep our eyes fixed upon Him, looking to Him for strength to get us through the trials of life.
God's word is an awesome instrument of judgement that will cut right through us and expose us completely. Don't take God's Word lightly - obey His voice! Apply maximum effort to living out your Christian life all the while trusting God to empower and enable you to live in obedience and endure the trials.
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