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Sermon February 24, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1386

February 24, 2019 Hebrews 4.1-16

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

A Sabbath Rest”

 

  • A Rest Still Remains --Heb 4.1-10

 

Someone, I won’t name names, recently commented on Heb 4.1-10 saying that it was like a flashback scene in a movie that flashes back so much it confuses more than clarifies. Every time I see the start of a TV show or a movie that flashes back to a memory or two weeks ago, I’m immediately frustrated. Hebrews does indeed look back on more than one occasion. But much of scripture does this when it comes to quoting events and texts from the Old Testament. While it takes some unpacking to get these particular verses organized in Hebrews 4, let us suffice it to say that the point for us is that a rest remains for us!

God promised a rest for those who were obedient through the wilderness wanderings. But He clearly says there would be no rest for the disobedient. This rest is promised to those who persevered through the Exodus wilderness, probably referring to the promised land, a place of rest described as flowing with milk and honey. The other rest this chapters refers to has been with us since creation. On the seventh day God rested and God has commanded a rest for us to this day. So we practice a day of rest called the Sabbath. The third type of rest we find here is a spiritual rest, in Christ, with Christ. It is something like the peace that surpasses understanding (Phil 4.7). So, these first ten verses speak of a rest in the promised land, on the Sabbath, and in Christ.

The rest of the promised land is used here to teach us about the rest of Sabbath and in Christ. The lesson is a warning - let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it (Heb 4.1). Why did those in the wilderness not enter the promised land rest? They did not believe (Heb 3.19). They were disobedient (Heb 4.6). But notice what Hebrews says in verse 4.6, those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience. This verse says that the people in the Old Testament had good news preached to them. Where is that? John Piper suggests one place is Exodus 34.6-7 --“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,

This is good news. This is the forgiveness of God, forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sin. Does that sound familiar to what we have heard in the good news? The point is that people have had good news preached to them in both Testaments, some believed and other did not and those who do not will not enter God’s rest.

 

What is interesting about the rest we have is that it has been inaugurated today but is still awaiting consummation. Our rest is here and now, and yet, much more to come. It is like a prophecy yet to be fulfilled. We have the hope and even the ability to live within that which is prophesied but we will know fully at a later time. This is true about rest, about God’s kingdom, about redemption of all things, for example. Let me point us toward two passages that might clarify:

Here is an example of the rest today, “Come, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11.18). And an example of rest to come, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them” (Rev 14.13)!

Hebrews 4.1-10 is all about entering the rest of God. We enter this rest in obedience to God’s word and call and love and commands. We enter this rest in belief of God’s existence and good news and promises and that He has sent His only Son to die for us that we might live. God’s rest has been given to us through faith and obedience and belief. What Hebrews reveals here is that rest has been given in creation. Rest was lost to the people in the wilderness. Rest is for today, so do not harden your hearts! A rest still remains for the people of God.

 

Since a rest still remains, how shall we respond? Three imperatives are given in Hebrews 4.11-16. Let us strive to enter the rest. Let us hold fast to our confession. Let us draw near to the throne of grace.

 

 

  • Let Us Strive --Heb 4.11-13

 

Let us strive. Let us strive means we are to persevere, to endure, to keep the faith, to press ahead. To do anything else is to disobey God’s Word. We strive for this so that we do not fall into disobedience as God’s people did long ago. This is why Hebrews quotes Psalm 95 where we see the disobedience and the failure to enter God’s rest. Now we might ask how we strive to enter this rest. I think the answer is found in verse 12 primarily, but also 13, but 12 is the one always quoted. Verse 12 --For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. This verse is often plucked out of Hebrews 4 to demonstrate the power of the Word, but it is seldom used in the particular context in which it is found. Here I understand the way we strive to enter God’s rest is by living in this living Word. This is the Word that has the power to keep us from falling into disobedience precisely because it discerns our thoughts and intentions. It opens our minds and hearts to the way we should live. It keeps us guarded and guided and obedient. It leads us to rest.

Jeremiah, who called on God’s people to follow God’s Word, says this in 6.16,

Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

 

The problem in Jeremiah’s day was that no one would heed this call. Where is the good way? Where is the path of God? Where should be walk? That is, where shall we live? The Psalm of the Word makes it clear.

 

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Ps 119.105).

 

We strive to enter God’s rest by sticking close to His Word, the Word that lights our way, protects us from danger, saves us from sin, lifts us to stand on solid rock, brings joy and grace and mercy and peace.

 

 

  • Let Us Hold Fast --Heb 4.14-15

 

The next imperative responds to the recognition of Jesus as our high priest, verses 14-15. You will recall that Jesus is noted as our great high priest more faithful than Moses, superior to Moses, and so to conclude this section on looking back to Moses and the people who were disobedient, we are able to hold fast to our confession of Jesus Christ as our high priest, Lord, and Savior. The author gets us back to Jesus here, back to the reason for all this writing. We have the good news of Jesus, of forgiveness, of salvation, and even more we have the relationship of the Christ who has been where we are, tempted, knows our weakness, and yet sinned not. The message is implied here that Jesus Christ gave His life for our sins, not His own. He is the perfect sacrifice, not just a priest who offers a sacrifice on our behalf, but is the lamb Himself, without sin, without blemish, and thus the perfect sacrifice to take away our sin and iniquity and transgression.

This is how John’s gospel introduces us to Jesus in 1.29,

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

It is also how the book of Revelation reveals Jesus in places like 5.12,

saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

 

Hold fast to this confession, this belief, this confidence, this affirmation, that we worship the lamb who was slain, our great high priest.

 

 

  • Let Us Draw Near --Heb 4.16

 

The final exhortation is to draw near to the throne of grace. Not just to draw near but to do so with confidence, that is, we can be bold to come before God’s throne. We are able to approach God with courage to know that it is a throne of grace. We are able to come to God’s throne honestly, authentically, with reverence and awe, without fear of wrath. When we come we receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. These two words, mercy and grace, have their root in the Hebrew word for steadfast love. God’s love is so deep and so powerful that within it is everything we need for life and forgiveness and hope and salvation. God meets us in our time of need. Anytime, anywhere, God is present for us to reach out in prayer, in a cry, in a shout, in need. We can draw near because we have the high priest who knows our weakness and our needs as human beings. He is and was perfectly divine and perfectly human. He can relate to us and we to Him. We certainly hold a very high view of Jesus Christ, but we also can have a view of an approachable God in Jesus Christ, at this throne of Grace.

 

In the end we might conclude that everything we need is at hand. Rest. The Word. Our confession. Grace. Strive for that rest by keeping His Word. Hold fast to the confession of faith. Draw near to the throne of grace. All of these things are right here, right now, in our time of need. Amen.