On The Sabbath Rest
The Christian life is described in Scripture as a journey of pilgrims to the heavenly city of New Jerusalem, our Paradisaical garden, palatial, celestial home. To help us on our way, readers of the New Testament are informed that the entire record of the Old Testament was recorded for their instruction in finding their way along the perilous path out of death into everlasting life. Paul the Apostle tells us,
"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4)
First Corinthians Chapter Ten contains a remarkable short commentary on the Exodus---that entire forty-year journey, the Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt to the Promised Land. This passage is quoted below with a few running notes added, followed by a listing of the Old Testament events referred to by the Apostle in this chapter:
I want you to know (or, to not be ignorant)
[agnoia = ignorant, without knowledge, as in agnostic],
brethren, that our fathers
(our spiritual progenitors, the descendants of Abraham)
were all under the cloud
[nephele = the Shekinah cloud,
the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night],
and all passed through the (Red) sea,
and all were baptized
[baptizo = to immerse, to place into]
into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (The Red Sea),
and all ate the same supernatural
[pneumatikos = spiritual]
food [broma] and all drank the same supernatural drink [poma].
For they drank from the supernatural Rock [petra]
which followed them,
and the Rock was [the] Christ.
Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased
[eudokeo = to be well reputed];
for they were overthrown
[katastronium = strewn over the ground, laid low]
in the wilderness.
Now these things are warnings
[tupos = types, figures, from tupto = to strike, also in v11]
for us, not to desire
[epithumetes = to crave, intensely long for]
evil [kakos = evil or base things]
as they did.
Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written,
"The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to dance." (Ex. 32:6)
We must not indulge in immorality [porneu]
as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.
We must not put the Lord to the test
[ekpeirazo = to prove, put to the test],
as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents;
[gogguzo = to grumble, confer secretly together, discontentedly complain],
as some of them did and were destroyed
[apollumi = not the idea of extinction but of ruin and wasting, loss of well being] by the Destroyer
[from olothreutes = to destroy, especially by slaying].
Now these things happened to them as a warning,
but they were written down for our instruction
[nouthesia = admonition,
to bring to mind for correction or encouragement],
upon whom the end
[telos = goal, purpose, the end in terms of fulfillment]
of the ages [aionon] has come.
Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands
take heed lest he fall.
No temptation [peirasma] has overtaken you
that is not common to man [anthropinos].
God is faithful,
and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength,
but with the temptation will
also provide the way of escape
[ekbasis = a way out, an egress],
that you may be able to endure it.
[hupophero = to bear up or carry by being under]
Therefore, my beloved, shun
[pheugo = to flee (whence "fugitive")]
the worship of idols [eidololatreia]. (1 Corinthians 10:1-14)
While Moses Receives the Law, Israel Makes a Golden Calf and Throws a Party:
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, "Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." And Aaron said to them, "Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD." And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
And the LORD said to Moses, "Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, `These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation." But Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does thy wrath burn hot against thy people, whom thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, `I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.'"
And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people. And Moses turned, and went down from the mountain with the two tables of the testimony in his hands, tables that were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, "There is a noise of war in the camp." But he said, "It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear." And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tables out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it upon the water, and made the people of Israel drink it. And Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you have brought a great sin upon them?" And Aaron said, "Let not the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, `Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' And I said to them, `Let any who have gold take it off'; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and there came out this calf."
And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to their shame among their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, "Who is on the LORD's side? Come to me." And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel, `Put every man his sword on his side, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.'" And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. And Moses said, "Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, that he may bestow a blessing upon you this day." On the morrow Moses said to the people, "You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." So Moses returned to the LORD and said, "Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin---and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." But the LORD said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them." And the LORD sent a plague upon the people, because they made the calf which Aaron made. (Exodus 32)
Balaam And Balak Set Up A Party To Divert Israel Into Immorality
While Israel dwelt in Shittim the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel; and the LORD said to Moses, "Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel." And Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Every one of you slay his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor."
And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation, and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the inner room, and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman, through her body. Thus the plague was stayed from the people of Israel. Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. And the LORD said to Moses, "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, `Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace; and it shall be to him, and to his descendants after him, the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the people of Israel.'" The name of the slain man of Israel, who was slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, head of a fathers' house belonging to the Simeonites. And the name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was the head of the people of a fathers' house in Midian. And the LORD said to Moses, "Harass the Midianites, and smite them; for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the prince of Midian, their sister, who was slain on the day of the plague on account of Peor." (Numbers 25)
Israel Tests the LORD and Experiences the Fiery Serpents
When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel vowed a vow to the LORD, and said, "If thou wilt indeed give this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities." And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and gave over the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities; so the name of the place was called Hormah. From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food."
Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:1-9)
Korah's Rebellion Against the Leadership of Moses and Aaron
Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" When Moses heard it, he fell on his face; 5 and he said to Korah and all his company, "In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to him; him whom he will choose he will cause to come near to him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; put fire in them and put incense upon them before the LORD tomorrow, and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!"
And Moses said to Korah, "Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; and that he has brought you near him, and all your brethren the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together; what is Aaron that you murmur against him?"
And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab; and they said, "We will not come up. Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Moreover you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up." And Moses was very angry, and said to the LORD, "Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one ass from them, and I have not harmed one of them." And Moses said to Korah, "Be present, you and all your company, before the LORD, you and they, and Aaron, tomorrow; and let every one of you take his censer, and put incense upon it, and every one of you bring before the LORD his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer." So every man took his censer, and they put fire in them and laid incense upon them, and they stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron.
Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation. And the LORD said to Moses and to Aaron, "Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment." And they fell on their faces, and said, "O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be angry with all the congregation?" And the LORD said to Moses, "Say to the congregation, Get away from about the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram." Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him. And he said to the congregation, "Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins." So they got away from about the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones. And Moses said, "Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they are visited by the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD." And as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split asunder; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.
And all Israel that were round about them fled at their cry; for they said, "Lest the earth swallow us up!" And fire came forth from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest to take up the censers out of the blaze; then scatter the fire far and wide. For they are holy, the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives; so let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar, for they offered them before the LORD; therefore they are holy. Thus they shall be a sign to the people of Israel." So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned had offered; and they were hammered out as a covering for the altar, to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no one who is not a priest, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the LORD, lest he become as Korah and as his company---as the LORD said to Eleazar through Moses. But on the morrow all the congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, "You have killed the people of the LORD." And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting; and behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared.
And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the LORD said to Moses, "Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment." And they fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the congregation, and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun." So Aaron took it as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly; and behold, the plague had already begun among the people; and he put on the incense, and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stopped. Now those who died by the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped. (Numbers 16)
See especially 1 Cor. 10:1-3, Heb. 3,4 and Matt. 11:28-30.
In the pilgrim journey of every Christian, we leave the world-system under the care of Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep. However throughout our lives we are opposed on our pilgrimage by three powerful foes:
The Christian's three enemies are:
The World: The Greek word kosmos, meaning "ornament, decoration, arrangement" gives us our English word "cosmetics." Hence a concern for external appearances more than inner content and quality. As used in the NT, the world does not refer to nature, but to the world-system, to society and human culture. The world system is outwardly religious, scientific, cultured and elegant. Inwardly it seethes with national and commercial rivalries.
The general characteristics of "the world" as the term is used in the Bible when referring to the fallen "world system" may be described roughly as follows. The world:
The Devil is "the god of this world" or, actually this present "age." He does not preside over hell, but over the earth, that is, over society. He has access to heaven, as can be seen in the Book of Job. As a "liar and a murderer from the beginning," Satan seeks to twist, warp, cripple and destroy man, and to further ruin God's creation. His basic appeal is to persuade men to be their own gods, to be self-sufficient, to attempt mastery of their own fates and destinies. Satan is not equal to god, and must obtain permission from God for all that he does. He is clever, deceitful, treacherous, and man's deadly enemy. (C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters is an excellent reference revealing the stratagems of the Evil One by means of a well-written fictional accounts of the devil's agents at work).
The Flesh is the fallen nature of man as empowered, ultimately, by Satan. The seat of the flesh in the Christian is in the body (which has not yet been redeemed as the spirit and soul have been). The Flesh has two aspects: good and bad. The bad side of the flesh leads to activities that everyone acknowledges as wrong: murder, lying, stealing, cheating, adultery, etc. The good side of the flesh includes such things as our best efforts on God's behalf, or our "good works" undertaken to impress others, our attempts to merit points with God, or our self-imposed acts of penance to assuage our guilt. Both the "good" and the "bad" sides of the flesh are of course evil in the eyes of God. Flesh may be defined as "self-effort," that is, any human activity which springs from selfish motives or from actions not undertaking in trusting, dependent faith upon the indwelling life of Jesus Christ within us. Thus, "Whatever is not based on faith is sin."
An excellent example of the results of failing to destroy all aspects of the flesh is found in the disqualified life of King Saul as recorded in I Samuel 15. Amalek, the grandson of Esau is used in Scripture as a type of the flesh, as also are all the Canaanites inhabiting the promised land. Note that Saul's obedience was incomplete in that he preserved the "good" side of the flesh---and dedicated it to God! The most notable evidence of the flesh is "self-effort"---trying harder, attempting to be moral in one's own strength, or the pursuit of selfish goals in life.
Some Types: Egypt is a type of the World. God's people are in bondage and servitude as long as live under the dominion of the world and its Satanically inspired values. Pharaoh is a type of Satan as the god of this world system Moses is a type of Christ as Deliverer, Prophet, Leader, and Intercessor. Joshua is a type of Christ as Captain and Pioneering Trailblazer of our salvation. The Wilderness of Sinai pictures the believer's life of self-effort, serving God in the strength of the Flesh and our attempts to keep the law which invariably lead to further failure. Crossing the Red Sea pictures our dying to the world and its values. Crossing the Jordan pictures our dying to self, Galatians 2:20. The Promised Land is not a type of heaven, but of the Spirit-filled life, realizing our full inheritance in Christ, in this lifetime.
It is most important for every believer in Christ to enter into God's Rest. This "Rest" may be understood by remembering that God (Elohim) rested on the Seventh Day of Creation, "from all His works." Note that the Jews were to cease from all work on Friday at sunset and observe rest for 24 hours. "Keeping the sabbath day holy" was a shadow of the true rest God has for his people. The promised land was also to be rested every 7th year. When we truly rest we appreciate that ultimately everything we have comes as a gracious gift from God. Joshua brought a rest to the people of God from their weary wanderings in the wilderness after he led them into the land and conquered the Canaanites. David expanded the kingdom's boundaries bringing rest from warfare and a time of great prosperity. All these events point towards God's "rest" for the believer, which most believers apparently fail to enter.
The Greek word most frequently translated "rest" in the Septuagint (in place of the Hebrew word for the sabbath rest) and also in the NT, is anapausis. [pauo is the root verb meaning "to make to cease" or "to refresh"]. Vine's dictionary says of this word, "Christ's rest is not a rest from work, but in work, not the rest of inactivity but of the harmonious working of all the faculties and affections-of will, heart, imagination, and conscience-because each has found in God the ideal sphere for its satisfaction and development." The concept of rest in the NT is not unlike the concept of the Tao, or the Way, that is the path of spontaneity and harmony been all opposites, described in Zen Buddhism.
The Rest we are to enter is clearly defined for us in Hebrews 4:10. It is a ceasing from one's own self-efforts in all areas of life so as to live thereafter in dependence on the indwelling Christ. The Christian life is called "an exchanged life." That is, the believer finds a new dimension of Spirit-filled living when he or she appropriates Galatians 2:20:
"I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me."
Jesus calls all of us to enter His rest. This applies not only to non-Christians, but to all of us!
"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
The lengthy exhortation by the author of Hebrews, (Chapters 3-4), to make certain we have "entered God's rest" is immediately followed by verses that seem, at first, to be out of context:
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:11-16).
However, when we consider that we seldom know our hearts and must examine ourselves daily in order to identify and reject the subtle new tactics of the enemy and our own flesh, these verses make perfect sense. No matter how far we have come on our spiritual journey we must allow the Word of God to sift the motives, thoughts and intents of our hearts; and we must allow the Word of God to constantly judge us so that we keep on resting in Christ. This is the path to wholeness and maturity in Christ. We dare not kick back and think we have arrived--the pilgrim journey is new every day and our Trailblazer beckons us to press on, offering us His boundless resources for what still lies ahead.
Classic reading on the above subjects: Major Ian Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ; Norman Grubb, The Deep Things of God
I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to dance." We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:1-13, RSV)
How Israel Failed To Enter Into God's Rest: Rest Illustrated From The Old Testament:
Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in God's house. Yet Jesus has been counted worthy of as much more glory than Moses as the builder of a house has more honor than the house. (For every house is built by some one, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ was faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.' As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" Take care, brethren, 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 only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said, 'Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.' Who were they that heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And with whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they should never 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 remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, 'As I swore in my wrath, "They shall never enter my rest,"' although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, 'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.' And again in this place he said, 'They shall never enter my rest.' Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he sets a certain day, "Today," saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 'Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.' For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day. So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 3, 4)
From the Epistle to the Hebrews
Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in God's house. Yet Jesus has been counted worthy of as much more glory than Moses as the builder of a house has more honor than the house. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to all the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ was faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope. (Heb 3:1-6 RSV)
The writer declares, "We are that house -- if." At this point he interjects the little word, if: "And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and.. our hope." And again in Verse 14: "For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end." Now a cloud passes over the sun. The possibility is raised of being self-deceived in this matter of belonging to Christ, of being his house. It all hangs upon that word of uncertainty, if.
What does this mean? Well, there are two possible views of this that are usually taken by the Christian world:
There is that view which says, we can enter the house of God and become part of it, that Christ can come to dwell in our hearts and we can be the tabernacle of the Most High, and then, later on, because we fail to lay hold of all that God gives us and we sin, we lose all we have gained, Christ leaves us and we lose our salvation. This is the view that is called Arminianism (not Arminianism) after a man named Arminius, a theologian in the Middle Ages. This view suggests that it is possible to lose our faith after we have once become the habitation of the Most High.
But, if we take that view, we are immediately in direct contradiction with some very clear and precise statements elsewhere that declare exactly the opposite. There is no possible way to hold that view without putting Scripture into contradiction with Scripture.
For instance, in John 10:28, Jesus said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish." Why? "Because no one is able to take them out of my Father's hand," he says. "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand," (John 10:29 RSV).
Romans 8, Verse 35, asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Paul goes on to list all the possibilities, then he declares, "No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us," (Romans 8:37 RSV). It is impossible, you see, to take that view of it.
Then what is the correct view? There is another possible meaning here which suggests that, once having professed to receive the Lord Jesus, once having him come in, if then we do not manifest signs of new life, if nothing happens to our behavior as a result of this, we have simply been self-deceived. We never had faith despite the external appearance, the religious observances that we have gone through. This is the danger this whole book faces. We will return to it again and again. The book of Hebrews is addressed to a body of people among whom were certainly some whose Christian life was highly in doubt because they were not growing, they were not going on, they were not entering in to what God had provided for them.
This was not mere hypocrisy. The writer is not speaking of one who deliberately tries to pass himself off as a Christian, knowing in himself he is not. There are those who join a church because they think it is good for business, or it helps their status or prestige in the community, but they know they are not Christians. They do not believe what they hear, they do not have any interest in what is said. Such people stick out like sore thumbs among the saints. They deceive no one but themselves.
But he is talking here about some who have fallen into a self-confident delusion and who feel themselves to be Christians. They have gone through every possible prescribed ritual to identify themselves with Christianity. Because of this they feel they are Christians. They believe the right things, they hold the right creed, they have orthodoxy in every bone of their body. They are rigid about the proclamation of the truth and conform to doctrine in every degree. But they are self-deceived, for as they are unable to manifest what God has come into human hearts to produce, they reveal that there never was faith in the beginning. So, in Hebrews, continuance is the ultimate proof of reality.
The illustration he gives confirms this very clearly. If it is properly understood, it is designed to shake us to our eyeteeth. It is the story of the rebellion of Israel in the wilderness:
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
"Today, when you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, 'They always go astray in their hearts;
they have not known my ways.'
As I swore in my wrath,
'They shall never enter my rest.'" (Heb 3:7-13 RSV)
Further, in Verse 16:
Who were they that heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And with whom was he provoked forty years? What it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Heb 3:16-19 RSV)
The writer points out this people comprised almost the whole number of those who left Egypt under Moses. They had fulfilled every prescribed symbol of deliverance, but they were not delivered. While they were in Egypt they had killed the Passover lamb, and had sprinkled the blood of it over the doorposts. On the terrible night when the angel of death passed through the land and took the life of every first-born son in every household, they were safe. They had followed Moses as they left Egypt and had come to the borders of the Red Sea. As the waters flowed before them and the armies of the Egyptians were fast approaching from the rear, Moses lifted up his rod and the waters parted and they all passed through the sea as well. As Paul says in First Corinthians, they were "baptized unto Moses in the sea" (cf,1 Cor 10:2), they were united unto him.
Many of us, perhaps, have likewise looked to the cross of Christ and in some degree counted his death as valid for us, as the blood of our Passover lamb. We have gone through the waters of baptism, testifying by that we believe we have been baptized by the Spirit of God into the body of Christ, made to be part of him.
These people, as they wandered through the wilderness on the way from Egypt to Canaan, had enjoyed the protection and guidance of the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day, speaking of the protection, guidance, and fatherly care of God. They had even been fed every day by the manna as it came from the skies, fresh every morning. Centuries later, when the Jews of our Lord Jesus' day heard him refer to them as children of the devil they said to him, "We are not children of the devil, we are children of Abraham. Don't you know what happened to our fathers? Talk about people of God! We are the true people of God. Our fathers ate bread in the wilderness for forty years; if that is not a sign that we are the people of God, I don't know what could be!" (cf, John 6:30-66). But the writer says, "With whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness."
When the test finally came and they stood on the borders of the promised land, they were given the word of the Lord through Moses to advance and take the land. But they held back because they were afraid of the giants that inhabited the cities of that land. When they were asked to face the giants and, by the principle of faith, overcome them and enter into the rest of the land, they refused to do so. They turned back and for forty years wandered in the wilderness. The test came when for the first time they were asked to come to grips with the thing that could destroy their life in the land, the giants, and their failure to do so revealed the bitter truth that they never had any faith. They had never really believed God. They were only acting as they did to escape the damage, death, and danger of Egypt. But they had no intention of coming into conflict with the giants in the land.
The Word of God is pointing out to us that we may profess the Lord Jesus, we may take our stand in some outward way at least upon the cross of Christ and claim his death for us, we can profess to have been baptized into his body and say so by passing through the waters of baptism ourselves, we can enjoy the fatherly care and providence of God and see him working miracles of supply in our life, and even find in the Scripture much which sustains the heart, at least for awhile. Yet, when it comes to the test, when God asks us to lay hold of the giants in our life which are destroying us, those giants of anxiety, fear, bitterness, jealousy, envy, and impatience and all the other things that keep us in turmoil and fret and make us to be a constant trouble to our neighbors and friends -- when we are asked to lay hold of these by the principle of faith, and we refuse to do so, the writer says we are in danger of remaining in the wilderness and never entered the promised rest.
Take care, brethren, 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 only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. (Heb 3:12-14 RSV)
We share in Christ if that faith which began continues to produce in us that which faith alone can produce, the fruit of the Spirit. This is the second warning of this book. The first one was against drifting, the danger of paying no attention, of sitting in a meeting and letting the words flow by while our minds are occupied elsewhere. The peril of letting these magnificent truths which alone have power to set men free, to drift by, unheeded, unheard.
But this second warning is against the danger of hardening -- of hearing the words and believing them, understanding what they mean, but of taking no action upon them. The peril of holding truth in the head, but never letting it get into the heart. But truth known never does anything; it is truth done which sets us free. Truth known simply puffs us up in pride of knowledge. We can quote the Scriptures by the yard, can memorize it, can know the message of every book and know the whole book from cover to cover, but truth known will never do anything for us. It is truth done, truth acted upon, that moves and delivers and changes.
The terrible danger which the writer is pointing out is that truth that is known but not acted on has an awful effect of hardening the heart so that it is no longer able to act -- and we lose the ability to believe. This is what the Lord Jesus meant when he said to his disciples, "If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe though one should rise from the dead," (cf, Luke 16:31).
A man said to me not long ago, "If we only had the ability to do miracles like the early church did, then we could really make this Christian cause go. If we could perform these things again, and had faith enough to do miracles, we could make people believe." But I had to tell him that after thirty years of observing this scene, and studying the Scriptures, I am absolutely convinced that if God granted us this power, as he is perfectly able to do, so that miracles were being demonstrated on every hand, there would not be one further Christian added to the cause of Christ than there is right now!
At the close of Jesus' own ministry, after that remarkable demonstration of the power of God in the midst of people, how many stood with him at the foot of the cross? A tiny band of women and one man, and they had been won, not by his miracles, but by his words.
This is why God says, "I swore in my wrath, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" That is not petulance. That does not mean God is upset because he has offered something and they will not take it. That is simply a revelation of the nature of the case. When truth is known and not acted upon, it always, on every level of life, in any area of human knowledge, has this peculiar quality: It hardens, so the heart is not able to believe what it refuses to act on.
Now we come to the sign of reality. What is it that unmistakably marks the one who has genuinely become part of God's house? What is the rest of God, the mark of reality?
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers. (Heb 4:1-2 RSV)
That does not mean the message did not meet with belief. When the Israelites stood at the borders of the land they had no doubts at all that the land was there, they believed in it. Nor was it that they did not believe there was honey and milk in the land, the fullness of supply awaiting them; they believed it. There was a species of belief, but there was no faith, for faith is more than belief. Faith is activity upon that belief! There was belief, there was even strong desire to enter the land, but they did not enter because there was no faith. They would not act upon that which had been given.
The writer says the same gospel was given to us as to them; we have the same good news, the same possibility of entering into a life of rest.
These words must be taken seriously. The Word of God knows nothing of the easy believism that is so widely manifest in our own day. We think we can receive Jesus as Savior, raise our hand to accept Christ, and that settles the matter. We will go to heaven and there can never be any doubt about it from then on, though there is no change in our life. But the promise of Christ is that when he comes into the human heart there is a radical change of government which must inevitably, in the course of its working, result in a revolutionary change in behavior. Unless that takes place, there has been no reality to our conversion. The goal of his working in us is rest. Now what is this rest?
In Verse 3 we learn it is pictured for us by the Sabbath:
For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
"As I swore in my wrath,
'They shall never enter my rest,'"
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. (Heb 4:3 RSV)
Here is a rest that has been available to man ever since man first appeared on earth. It was available from the foundation of the world.
For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." And again in this place he said, "They shall never enter my rest." (Heb 4:4-5 RSV)
You know the story of creation. On the seventh day God ceased from his labors, he rested on the seventh day, intending that to be a picture of what the rest of faith is. It has been available to man since the beginning of the world. The Seventh Day Adventists and other legalistic groups have focused upon the shadow instead of the substance and have insisted that we must observe the Sabbath Day much as it was given to Israel; that this is what pleases God. But God is never pleased by the perfunctory observance of shadows, of figures.
Here is one of the great problems of Christian faith. We are constantly mistaking shadows for substance, pictures for reality.
A teenaged girl told me recently, in an anguish of repentance, that she had gotten up from a communion service, and gone out to engage in some very wrong activities. When I said to her, "How could you do this? How could you leave a communion service to do this?" She replied, defensively, "Well, I didn't partake of communion." And I said, "What difference does that make?" That was a mere shadow. Communion pictures the sharing of the life of the Lord Jesus, and if we deny that in our activity but are scrupulous about its observance in the shadow, in the mere picture, it is an insult to God.
This rest was figured in the Sabbath and anyone who learns to live out of rest is keeping the Sabbath as God meant it to be kept. It was also prefigured in the land of Canaan, yet in Verse 8, it says,
...if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day. (Heb 4:8 RSV)
If the figure had been enough God would not, later on in the Scriptures, have recorded the words,
...there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God. (Heb 4:9 RSV)
Obviously, Canaan, too, was nothing but a figure, nothing but a picture, a shadow. Then what is the real rest? We come to it in Verse 10; it is most clearly stated:
...for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. (Heb 4:10 RSV)
Here is a revolutionary new principle of human behavior, on which God intends man to operate, and it was his intention from the beginning. It is from this that man fell, and it is to this, now, in Jesus Christ, he is to be restored. Unless this principle is operative in our life, we can have no assurance that we belong to the body of Christ. This is the clear declaration of this writer throughout the whole of the book.
We all have been brainwashed since birth with a false concept of the basis of human activity. We have been sold on the satanic lie that we have in ourselves what it takes to be what we want to be, to be a man, a woman, to achieve whatever we desire to be. We are sure we have what it takes, or, if we do not have it now, we know where we can get it. We can educate ourselves, we can acquire more information, we can develop new skills, and when we get this done we shall have what it takes to be what we want to be.
For three and a half years, the Apostle Peter tried his level best to please the Lord Jesus by dedicated, earnest, sincere efforts to serve him out of his own will, and he failed dismally because he could not be convinced that he did not have what it takes. When the Lord Jesus told him, "You will never have what it takes until the cross comes into your life," he would not receive it. He said, "Lord, don't talk to me about a cross. I don't want to hear anything about that." And the Lord Jesus said, "Get behind me Satan, you are an offense unto me. You do not understand the things of God, but only the things of men," (cf, Mat 16:21-23). And it was not until that wonderful day, the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to the full meaning of the cross, and all the Lord Jesus had made available to him by his indwelling life became part of Peter's experience, that he realized what the Lord had meant. Not till then did he realize what it took to be a Christian.
We repeat: It takes Christ to be a Christian, and it takes God to be a man. When you put Christ back in the Christian, you put God back in the man. This is God's design for living, this is the new principle of human activity -- to stop our own efforts.
We do not have what it takes, and we never did have. The only one who can live the Christian life is Jesus Christ. He proposes to reproduce his life in us. Our part is to expose every situation to his life in us, and, by that means, depending upon him and not upon us, we are to meet every situation, enter into every circumstance, and perform every activity. We cease from our own labors.
This is the way you began the Christian life, if you are a Christian.
You came to the place where you stopped trying to save yourself, did you not?
You quit trying to be good enough to get into heaven.
You said, "I'll never make it, I'll never make it."
You looked to the Lord Jesus, and said, "If he has taken my place, then that is all I need."
Thus, receiving him, and resting on that fact by faith, you stopped your own efforts, you ceased from your own work, and rested on his.
Now, Paul says in Colossians, "As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him," (Col 2:6 RSV). As ... so -- in the same way. As you have received him, so live in dependence upon him to do all things through you. Step out upon that, and what is the result? Rest! Wonderful rest! Relief, release, no longer worrying, fretting, straining, for you are resting upon One who is wholly adequate to do through you everything that needs to be done. He does not make automatons of us, he does not turn us into robots. He works through our thinking, our feeling and our reasoning, but our dependence must be upon him.
Notice the word that is stressed throughout this whole section, today. This is God's design for living today. It is not inactivity, but it is freedom from strain. It is the principle upon which he expects everything to be done: your work, your schooling, your studies, your play, your responsibilities in the home, at the shop, wherever you are. All are to be fulfilled out of reliance upon this new principle of human behavior. "Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of [by the authority and ability of] the Lord Jesus," (Col 3:17).
Now one final word on how.
If you have never yet entered into this principle in any degree and yet have been truly born of God by the Holy Spirit, this study will find you asking the question, "Lord, show me how. I want to enter into this rest, I want to know what this is." Then look at the instrument by which we enter in, the Word of God.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:11-12 RSV)
In order to enter into this new principle we must repudiate the old. But the problem is, the old basis of activity is so ingrained in our thinking that we automatically respond to old thought patterns, along old lines of reaction. Thus, though the new life of the Lord Jesus may be in us, we find ourselves repudiating it and responding along old lines, reacting in bitterness, impatience, anger, frustration, anxiety, worry, fear, trepidation, uncertainty and inferiority. We do not know how to recognize the old in its practical appearance. What will help us? The word of God! This living, marvelous word becomes an instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit with a two-edged action. It strips off the false. If we seek to obey it, as we read it we shall discover that it exposes the entrenched power of the flesh in our life, and strips off all pretense. It is not only the Bible which is meant by the phrase "the word of God." It is the truth of God, whether it comes by sermon, by Scripture, or by some confirmation of life. It is the truth that strips off the false. It can be utterly ruthless, moving in on us, backing us into a corner, taking down all our fences and facades, worming its way right into the heart of our nature, discerning even between the soul and the spirit.
I watched this week the book of Esther in the hands of the Holy Spirit take a group of people and strip off their pretenses and expose them to themselves. For the first time they saw, with horror, that they really were under the domination of this sin principle, the flesh.
But the Word has a two-fold action. It not only strips off the false, but it unveils the true. When we come to the place where, like Jacob, we are ready to take a good look at ourselves, then there comes the marvelous, healing, wholesome, comforting, sweet, delivering word that sets us on our feet again, and shows us, in Christ, every provision for every need. We need no longer to go on doggedly, wearily, fighting a battle that is already lost, but we can step out each fresh, new day into the glorious experience of a victory that is already won.
And what is the final outcome? Look at Verse 13:
And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Heb 4:13 RSV)
We come at last to the God of reality.
Remember when Adam sinned, that he hid from God. He hid because he realized he was naked and he was ashamed and clothed himself.
When all pretense is stripped off, and we see ourselves for what we are, and by faith have appropriated what Christ is;
When we believe that he not only died for us, but rose again to live in us;
When we realize that we not only need him for what he did, but also for what he is;
Then we can stand again before God exactly as we are, naked without need of facades, masks, or pretenses.
We are exactly what we are, that is all, just men, just women, just sinners saved by grace, with nothing to defend, nothing that need be hidden, nothing that cannot be fully exposed to everyone. We discover a wonderful lifting of burdens, a wonderful freedom, a wonderful release -- we have entered into rest. The fences come down between us and our friends and neighbors, we do not try to hide anything any more. Because we are what we are before God, we can be exactly what we are before men.
Perhaps some of you have been in the wilderness a long, long time -- too long. Normally, as this book will make clear as we go on, it is expected that a Christian who comes to know the Lord Jesus will be led into the experience of rest within a few years after his conversion. It may take no longer than a few months. But even if you have been living in the wilderness of self effort for many years it is yet possible to die to your unbelief, as that old generation died, and to leave the carcass of unbelieving self-sufficiency behind, and like the new generation born in the wilderness, follow your heavenly Joshua into the land.
You cannot crucify the flesh; that God has already done, but you can agree to it. And when you do, you will discover this priceless gift of peace -- of rest. But if you refuse, knowing what to do but not willing to do it, the living death that marks your fruitless, crabbed, self-centered, so-called "Christian" life, will be the tombstone of a phony faith, a faith that never really was, a house built upon the sand, which, when the floods and storms of life strike it, is swept to destruction.
From Hebrews, by Ray C. Stedman
The Time for Response Is Today (Hebrews 4:3-7)
In verses 3-10, we learn the full meaning of the word rest. First, it is a rest which believers of the first century (and today) can actually experience (v. 3). The writer uses the present, but not the future, tense, we. . . enter that rest. Jesus had declared, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). That is the same promise of rest which the writer, in verse 1, has declared still stands. If believed, it requires a response, for though the promise is still valid, so is the threat that follows: Just as God has said, "So l declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest. '" Now is the time to enter it (today--- v. 7), and now is the time to lose it, if one test God's patience too long.
Second, this true rest has been available since creation (vv. 3-4), and some who may not have entered Canaan could have entered God's rest still. God calls this rest my rest. This means not only does he give it, but he himself also enjoys it! He experienced rest when he ceased the work of creation, as recounted in Genesis 2:2-3. As we have seen, this does not imply subsequent idleness, for God continues to maintain his creation, as 1:3 attests. He is endlessly active in the work of redemption too, as Jesus declared in John 5:17. It does mean he ceased creating; he has rested from that work since time began. What that means for God's people will be made clear in verse 10. The third factor the writer stresses is that entering this rest must not be delayed. Again, he quotes Psalm 95:7, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.
Delay hardens the heart, especially when we are fully aware that we have heard the voice of God in the inner soul. Every shrug of the shoulder that pus off acting on God's urging for change, every toss of the head that says, "I know I should, but I don't care," every attempt at outward conformity without inner commitment produces a hardening of the heart that makes repentance harder and harder to do. The witness of the Spirit must not be ignored, for the opportunity to believe does not last forever. Playing games with the living God is not only impertinent, but also dangerous.
There is a line, by us unseen,
That crosses every path.
The hidden boundary between
God's patience and His wrath.
Today is a word of hope. All is not lost while today lasts. Though there has been some hardening, it can yet be reversed if prompt repentance is made. The situation is serious, though, for Today is never more than twenty-four hours long and that's all anyone is given at a time!
The Rest Obtained Is New-Creation Rest (4:8-11)
Though Jesus is not compared here with Joshua in terms of relative greatness, it is apparent from verses 8-10 that the work of Joshua in leading Israel into the rest symbolized by the Promised Land was far inferior to the work of Jesus. He provides eternal rest to all who believe in him. The fact that God repeats his promise of rest through David in Psalm 95, centuries after Israel had entered Canaan, is used to indicate that Sabbath-rest is the substance and Canaan-rest but a shadow. There was an experience of rest for Israel in Canaan (from armed invasion, natural disasters, failure of crops) when they were faithful to God. But even at best that rest was outward and essentially physical, and could not satisfy the promise of rest to the human race which was intended from the beginning. The author specifically states, There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.
In verse 10, we learn at last the nature of that rest. It means to cease from one's own work, and so, by implication, to trust in the working of God instead. In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul asserts, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith---and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God---not by works, [we are to rest from our own works!] so that no one can boast."
The use of the term sabbatismos ("Sabbath-rest") suggests that the weekly sabbath given to Israel is only a shadow of the true rest of God. Paul also declares in Colossians 2:16-17 where he lumps religious festivals, New Moon celebrations and sabbath days together as "a shadow of the things that were to come, the reality, however, is found in Christ." Thus rest has three meanings: (1) the Promised Land; (2) the weekly sabbath; and (3) that which these two prefigure, that cessation from labor which God enjoys and which he invites believes to share. This third rest not only describes the introduction of believers into eternal life, but also depicts the process by which we will continue to work and live, namely, dependence on God to be at work through us. "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil 2:13).
This is in many ways the lost secret of Christianity. Along with seeking to do things for God, we are also encouraged to expect God to be at work through us. It is the key to the apostle's labors: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:13). Also, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). Note, "I no longer live"---that is, I do not look for any achievement by my own efforts. Rather "Christ lives in me" and the life I live and the things that I do are "by faith"---that is, done in dependence on the Son of God working in and through me.
This makes clear that truly keeping the sabbath is not observing a special day (that is but the shadow of the real sabbath), but sabbath-keeping is achieved when the heart rests on the great promise of God to be working through a believer in the normal affairs of living. We cannot depend on our efforts to please God, though we do make decisions and exert efforts. We cease from our own works and look to his working within us to achieve the results that please him. As Jesus put it to the apostles, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). They must learn to work but always with the thought that he is working with them, adding his power to their effort. That is keeping the sabbath as it was meant to be kept!
Learning to function from a position of rest is the way to avoid burnout in ministry or any other labor. We are to become "co-laborers with God," to use Paul's wonderful phrase. This does not mean that we cannot learn many helpful lessons on rest by studying the regulations for keeping the sabbath day found in the Old Testament. Nor that we no longer need time for quiet meditation and cessation from physical labor. Our bodies are yet unredeemed and need rest and restoration at frequent intervals. But we are no longer bound by heavy limitations to keep a precise day of the week.
Paradoxically, we read in verse 11 the exhortation to make every effort to enter that [sabbath] rest. Of course, effort is needed to resist self-dependence. If we think that we have what it takes in ourselves to do all that needs to be done, we shall find ourselves rest-less and ultimately ineffective. Yet decision is still required of us and exertion is needed; but results can only be expected from the realization that God is also working and he will accomplish the needed ends. This is also the clear teaching of Psalm 127:1, "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain." Human effort is still needed, but human effort is never enough.
Failure to expect God to act caused the disobedience of Israel in the wilderness, and a similar failure destroys thousands today. It is called overachieving now, but it is the cause for most of the breakdown of Christians under the pressure of stress or responsibility. Pastors and teachers particularly have often been taught that they are personally responsible to meet the emotional needs and to solve the relational problems of all in their congregations. Many sincerely attempt this but soon find themselves overwhelmed with unending demands and a growing sense of their own failure. Relief can come only by learning to operate out of rest and by sharing responsibility with others in the congregation whom God has also equipped with gifts of ministry.
God's Word Will Reveal the Problem (4:12-13)
The subtlety of the temptation to self-dependence is highlighted by verses 12-13. The opening For strongly ties them to verse 11 since they explain what the Israelites who fell in the wilderness failed to heed. David asks, in Psalm 19:12, "Who can discern his errors?" The answer he gives in the psalm and that of the writer of Hebrews is the same. Only the Word of God, which is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, is capable of exposing the thoughts and attitudes of a single human heart! We do not know ourselves. We do not even know how to distinguish, by feelings or rationale, between that which comes from our souls (psyches) and from our spirits (pneumas). Even our bodily functions (symbolized here by joints and marrow) are beyond our full knowledge. Only the all-seeing eye of God knows us thoroughly and totally (Ps 139:1-18), and before him we will stand and ultimately give account.
The images the author employs in this marvelous passage are effective ones. Like a sharp sword which can lay open the human body with one slashing blow, so the sword of the Scripture can open our inner life and expose it to ourselves and others. Once the ugly thoughts and hidden rebellions are out in the open, we stand like criminals before a judge, ineffectually trying to explain what we have done. Yet such honest revelation is what we need to humble our stubborn pride and render us willing to look to God for forgiveness and his gracious supply.
Plainly, Scripture is the only reliable guide we have to function properly as a human in a broken world. Philosophy and psychology give partial insights, based on human experience, but they fall far short of what the Word of God can do. It is not intended to replace human knowledge or effort, but is designed to supplement and correct them. Surely the most hurtful thing pastors and leaders of churches can do to their people is to deprive them of firsthand knowledge of the Bible. The exposition of both Old and New Testaments from the pulpit, in classrooms and small group meetings is the first responsibility of church leaders. They are "stewards of the mysteries of God" and must be found faithful to the task of distribution. This uniqueness of Scripture is the reason that all true human discovery in any dimension must fit within the limits of divine disclosure. Human knowledge can never outstrip divine revelation. (from IVP Commentary on Hebrews by Ray C. Stedman)
The Peril of Walking in the Flesh: Based on outward appearances, Saul ought to have been a fine first king for ancient Israel. He was handsome and tall, and a skilled military man. But he was soon disqualified from being king because of his incomplete obedience to the Lord. The account is found in 1 Samuel 15.
"[The prophet] Samuel said to Saul, 'The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore hearken to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, `I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.''"
So Saul summoned the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valley. And Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.
The word of the LORD came to Samuel: "I repent that I have made Saul king; for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments." And Samuel was angry; and he cried to the LORD all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning; and it was told Samuel, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned, and passed on, and went down to Gilgal. And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed be you to the LORD; I have performed the commandment of the LORD." And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed."
Then Samuel said to Saul, "Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night." And he said to him, "Say on." And Samuel said, "Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, `Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed. 'Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?' And Saul said to Samuel, "I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal."
And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king." (1 Samuel 15:1-23)
What makes this incident especially significant for us today is that Amalek was the grandson of Esau (later, Edom) -- and Esau is a type(or illustration) of the flesh. The flesh is that natural self-centered life of Adam in each of us. There is nothing at all in our natural (Adamic) life that can be saved! The "good" and the "bad" in us is all "bad" as far as God is concerned. For us to keep what we think is the "best of the flesh" and then dedicate it to God is unacceptable to our Lord -- God has determined to war against Amalek forever. Thus we have the New Testament admonition,
"...walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." (Galatians 5:16-25)
Saul's failure of incomplete obedience in not coming to a full surrender to God in regard to the flesh explains much of the weakness and failure of professing Christians today. Our "best efforts" on God's behalf are of no value to God. He does not need our help, He can (and does) run things without our assistance, we are not essential to His programs. Only what Jesus Christ does in and through us has lasting value as far as God is concerned. Performance-oriented self-effort for God -- trying harder, doing one's best for God -- are all, in effect, lapses into the old life of the flesh. Today's weak, worldly, ineffective Christian living results from our failure to surrender our whole selves to God, in order that the old life of Adam may be nullified and rendered ineffective by the work of the cross. A. W. Tozer expressed this as follows:
"The cross is the symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. it struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more. That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel."
The Old Covenant and the New: Entering God's Rest and the Exchanged Life. Our Bible is divided into an Old Testament and a New Testament. Our English word "Testament" reminds us that the New Covenant is, in effect the "Last Will and Testament" of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:15ff). The New Covenant rests on better promises, but also on the endless of life of Jesus as Testator, Executor and Guarantor of God's gracious gifts in the present age.
Everything God does with individuals and with nations is done by means of covenants or agreements. (http://ldolphin.org/Covn.html). However, there is a radical difference in God's Old Covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai and the New Covenant promised to the Jews by the prophets (see Jeremiah 31:31ff for a clear statement of this Covenant). This New Covenant was placed into effect by Jesus at the Last Supper,
"Jesus took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, 'Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.' And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And likewise the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'" (Luke 22:17-20)
At Pentecost, 54 days later, the disciples were commissioned to become the Apostles of the newly-born church of Jesus Christ. They were instructed to go into all the world inviting Jews and Gentiles alike to become part of God's family under the wonderful terms of the New Covenant. (But, don't forget that all of Israel will still be brought under the terms of the New Covenant when Jesus the Messiah returns to rule the nations of earth from Jerusalem.).
The Law of Moses is, in effect, a statement of God's character. "Do these things and you will live" was the requirement placed on Israel at Mount Sinai if they were to keep company with the Holy One. Naively the people agreed:
"Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.' So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, 'All that the LORD has spoken we will do.'" (Exodus 19:3-9)
Should the people fail the terms of the Old Covenant, a system of sacrifices and a complex (Levitical) priesthood were there in place so that sins could be forgiven and covered (but not removed). Judgment due because of sin was postponed, and a promise was given: In due time Messiah would remove (and forget) sin once and for all. Messiah would finally bring in a new kingdom of God's loving rule among men on earth. So there was much hope even under the Old Covenant. (Many individuals did find the heart of God under this Old Covenant. Read David's confession of faith in Psalm 51 for instance).
The Old Covenant dealt largely with externals, though there was plenty of symbolism in the tabernacle and the priestly rites to point to better, invisible realities. Law itself tends to stir up the flesh in us our natural tendency is to try to live up to what the Law demands to the best of our ability. When moral demands are placed on us, we all tend to slip into performance-oriented living, trying harder, putting forth extra effort, striving to live up to what are actually impossibly high standards. But, the Law actually requires perfect behavior from sinners -- sinners are incapable of this. James said, "For whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point is guilty of all." (2:10) The New Testament explains in detail that the purpose of the Law is to prove human failure and reveal our deepest need which is for mercy and grace. Driven to despair by constant failure under the Law, the goal was to cause men to seek God with one's whole heart -- in which case they received immediate Divine help -- then as now.
Using startling language the New Testament contrasts the New Covenant with the Old:
"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for 'He who through faith is righteous shall live'; but the law does not rest on faith, for 'He who does them shall live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree' -- that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3)
"For if that first [Old] covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second. In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the [New] covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises." (Hebrews 8:6, 13)
"If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void." (Romans 4:14)
"On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:18-19)
"Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." (Romans 3:19-21)
"For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:18-29)
Covenants require the consent of both parties. The New Covenant requires a response from all of us to whom it has been offered. This part is frequently misunderstood in our day we are not inclined to take any contracts or covenants very seriously. Under the New Covenant God offers to renew our minds and change our hearts -- then He agrees to empower us in the inner man with His Spirit. On our part, our consent to the Lordship of Christ means we become identified with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection. God then removes our sins (once and for all) and forgets them forever. He gives us a new heart and identity.
"For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:14-19)
Usually upon coming to know the Lord Jesus in a personal way, we will give up fairly soon certain those bad habits that are not socially acceptable in the Christian community. But the flesh in us has a more sinister side and will do anything to avoid the death sentence of the Cross. Thus, as King Saul did, we tend to keep "the best of the flesh" and then naively proceed to dedicate it to God. The flesh loves to sing in the choir, the flesh becomes skilled at preaching and teaching and in imitating Christian living through good works and polite behavior. But in reality all that counts as far as God is concerned is what Christ accomplishes through us works for which we get no credit at all! God wants us to surrender fully to Him so that His life and light can be made known through us:
"For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)
In consenting to the terms of the New Covenant every Christian is asked to agree with God about the complete end of his or her natural self-centered old life inherited from Adam. Paul says,
"For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose." (Galatians 2:19-21)
Chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews urge us to make certain we have entered into God's "Sabbath Rest." Israel under the Old Covenant repeatedly failed to discover this underlying principle of resting in the sufficiency of an indwelling Lord. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that "rest" is ceasing from one's own [self] effort and doing everything by faith and trust in God who resides within us. "Everything coming from God, nothing coming from us," was how the founding fathers at my church (PBC) put this 50 years ago.
The author of Hebrews gives us a clear call to stop "trying" to serve God, and instead to rest in dependence upon Another. "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience." The principle of the Sabbath rest for believers today is key to understanding the New Covenant.
We who follow Christ begin our Christian life by surrendering as much of his person to Jesus as we are aware of. This is how one first enters into what the New Testament calls the Sabbath rest. The principle of rest is not given to us as a one-time surrender, it is something which must be renewed every day. Since we do not know ourselves very well, our motives are frequently mixed. We only learn the deeper things of God through experience, ("solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.") Truth not acted upon is of no value. If we do not first learn to stand, we can not learn to walk, and without knowing how to walk we can not run. We grow in Christ only as we gain confidence in trusting God for everything and setting aside the life of the flesh daily. As we learn by steps of faith and trust -- by activity based on trusting in our indwelling Lord -- we will see the need to make constant "course corrections." Steeping in the Bible allows God to constantly teach us new truth and to shine His light deeper into our hearts and souls.
Immediately after telling us how to "rest" in Christ, the writer of Hebrews continues with an exhortation called attention to the power of the Scriptures to guide us day by day:
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:9-16)
The New Covenant asks us to trust God, to walk by faith not by sight. Many Christians only call on God when they are in trouble, or when they can not do something in their own resources. In our affluent society, a lot people don't "need" God very much if at all -- or so they think! Many churches these days apparently run on auto-pilot. Their trained professional staff members are so skilled they really don't need to trust God for anything important. (Of course, God's blessing is invoked before the service starts. His presence as a Guest is invited -- after all it is His church). All this deception about ourselves places us in deadly peril with God. The real problem would seem to be that many believers today have not been taught to discern the flesh from the spirit, nor to appreciate the radical nature of the New Covenant. Real faith means trusting God precisely for those things which we can not bring about by self-effort. Self-effort (of any kind) means the flesh is at work and "those who are [acting] in the [energy of the] flesh can not please God." (Romans 8:8) At the end of our lives all that is not of God in our lives is burned up. All that will survive is what we have allowed Christ to do through us. (2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15) For many Christians this will mean a scanty reward in heaven, though they may have enjoyed success, power and prominence in this present life.
Our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew tells us plainly how to find the true Sabbath Rest:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (11:28-29)
The authentic Christian life has often been called "the Exchanged Life" -- because we grant Jesus permission to live His self-giving life in and through us. Norman Grubb used to say, "In a sense 'Christ in you' is the real new you." The Apostle Paul writes, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose." (Galatians 2:20-21)
Finally, C. S. Lewis put it this way,
"Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life, and you will save it. Submit to the death of your ambitions and your favorite wishes every day, and the death of your whole body in the end, submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look out for yourself and you will find, in the long run, only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in."
Why do Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday rather than on Saturday?
There are several reasons that we, as Christians, celebrate the Sabbath on the first day of the week. Some Scriptural basis for it can be found in Acts 20:7 and Revelation 1:10.
"Now on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight" (Acts 20:7).
"I [John] was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet" (Revelation 1:10).
The passage in Acts has the Christians gathering together on the first day of the week to break bread. The grammar here makes this out to be a regular occurrence. And so, this, if not the day during which the Church was observing the Sabbath, needs to be explained. Also, John, being in the Spirit on the Lord's day demonstrates that the first day of the week bore enough significance to merit such a familiar nomenclature as "the Lord's day" and John speaks of this day as if it were a normal occurrence. These are just some reasons.
Here are a couple more based upon Biblical Theological models for interpretation. The original Sabbath is based in the seven days of the Old Creation: God worked six days and then rested on the LAST day of the week. Whereas the Sabbath falling on the last day of the week was indicative of the Old Creation, the Christian practice of observing the Sabbath on the FIRST day of the week is a congruent with God's New Creation. Christ rose on the first day of the week and began His Sabbath rest then (cf. Hebrews 4).
Also of interest is the fact that the two versions of the Sabbath are typological of the two covenants that go along with each Creation. With the Old Creation, Adam was given a covenant of works whereby he would work for a time and then receive his heavenly rest. Adam failed in this and God uses the institution of the Sabbath falling on the first day of the week to demonstrate that with His New Creation, man begins in his rest and the good works follow.
These are all fair reasons I think that we, as Christians, celebrate the Sabbath on the Lord's day (i.e., Sunday).
by Ray C. Stedman
Today we come to Genesis 2, and one of those unexplained and unexplainable misplaced chapter divisions which we find so frequently in the uninspired division of our Bibles. The first three verses of Chapter 2 really belong with Chapter 1 and complete the record of the creative week. We must now consider the seventh day of creation.
Yesterday, which was the seventh day of the week, my wife and I attended a Bar Mitzvah service for a Jewish neighbor lad, to hear him conduct the service much as a rabbi would. He read, for the first time, from the scrolls of the Torah, the first five books of Moses. It was very impressive to see the rabbi unlock the ark in which the Torah is kept, bring out the scrolls, unroll them on the table, as Jews have done for centuries, and hear this thirteen-year-old boy read in Hebrew from the scrolls. Then he gave thanks for two things which have been the treasure of Israel for centuries, the Law and the Sabbath.
As you know, the Sabbath is one of the oldest institutions in the world, dating, as the Bible makes clear, from the very earliest appearance of man upon the earth, when God blessed and hallowed the Sabbath. Later, it was part of the Law given to Moses and Israel. Many Christians today are troubled -- considerably at times -- by the question: "Should we be observing the Sabbath yet today?" There are certain Christian groups who feel that this is the case; in fact they insist that we are not genuine Christians unless we observe the commandment of God to keep the Sabbath continuously. It is those claims that I want to examine now as we look at this record from the book of Genesis for the seventh day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation. (Gen 2:1-3 RSV)
We must try to unfold the riddle of this passage, the hidden mysteries which God delights to hide within these simple words. We will look together at seven facts which will open to us the remarkable truth that is hidden in this strange institution of the Sabbath. It seems strange that after 2000 years of Christian teaching the Sabbath is still little understood, though its true meaning is of crucial importance to us.
The most outstandingly noteworthy thing that this passage indicates, which differs completely from the other days of creation is the absence of any reference to an evening or a morning. The record of all the other days of creation closed with the words, "and there was evening and there was morning, (a first, second, etc.,) day." But there is no reference to evening or morning in this passage. This helps to confirm what we have already seen in these "days" of creation: that these "days" do not primarily emphasize time, but development. The evening and morning were indicative of a developing process, beginning in a rather incomplete state and moving toward light. But on this seventh day there is no evening and morning. In fact, twice in this brief passage we find the word, "finished," occurring. "Thus the heavens the earth were finished" (Gen 2:1a RSV) and "God finished his work" (Gen 2:2b RSV). Obviously there is no need for development, no place for it. The work of God is complete on the seventh day, and therefore no evening or morning is mentioned.
Therefore, whatever the Sabbath is (which we will see as we go along), it is a perfect thing. It is always the same whenever we experience it. It is not something to grow into; it is something to step into and to discover it to be exactly what it always is perfect, finished. That is our first clue.
Let us now look at the second. It is obvious from this passage that the supreme meaning of sabbath is rest. In fact, the word "seven," the word "sabbath," and the word "rest," are all the same basic word in Hebrew, Shabbat, seven, sabbath, rest. Therefore, the heart of the meaning of sabbath is rest. That is its primary significance.
Let us not misunderstand that. That does not mean rest as we often think of it. When we have been working hard and are weary and tired we need rest in order to restore our strength. But this is not the significance of the word here. It simply means the ending of activity, the cessation of effort. God was not tired by his creative work, he did not need to rest to restore strength. He did not stop because he was fatigued; he stopped because he was through. The Hawaiians have a very expressive word for it, pau. It means finished. He is pau, finished; and so he stopped. That is what we do when we are through with something, we stop. And this is what God did. He stopped because he was through. He had done all he intended to do and he rested in the midst of a perfect creation. Therefore the true sabbath, we will learn from this clue, is not the keeping of a special day but the ending of a specific effort. That is what sabbath means.
As a third point here, the specific effort from which God rested was creation. The text says, "So ... God rested from all his work which he had done in creation," (Gen 2:3 RSV). This is the last account of any creative activity. Man was made and then God rested, and there has been no creation since. Man is the last effort of God in creation, on the physical level. Therefore this sabbath, this rest upon which God entered, is still continuing today. God is not creating physically today. God is ceaselessly active in many, many ways, but not in creation. In the fifth chapter of John, when Jesus was in the synagogue the Jews were very distressed because he had healed a man on the sabbath day. The Pharisees accused him of breaking the Sabbath and Jesus answered them by saying, "My Father is working until now, and I am working," (cf, John 5:17 RSV). His argument was that it was proper for him to do a deed of mercy on the sabbath day because he was simply imitating his Father who was ceaselessly active in mercy and love on his sabbath day, his long rest. God had stopped creating but he was still busy in a thousand different ways. Thus the sabbath means that God's creative activity has ended.
Even evolutionists acknowledge this. Interestingly enough, many evolutionists admit that man is the end of the evolutionary ladder, and that nothing further has been evolved since the producing of man. We cannot agree with them as to how man came into being, but it is interesting that they agree at this point that there is no further evidence of development beyond man.
As a fourth point we must therefore recognize that the weekly sabbath, i.e., Saturday, is not the real sabbath. It never was, and it is not now. It is a picture or a reminder of the real sabbath. The true sabbath is a rest; the Jewish sabbath is a shadow, a picture of that rest. All the Old Testament shadows pointed to Christ. They were predictions, foreviews, of the coming of the One who would fulfill all these remarkable things. Every lamb that was brought as an offering was a shadow of the work of Christ. Every burnt offering, every bit of incense that was offered, was a picture of the fragrance of Jesus Christ. The tabernacle was a shadow of him. The high priest, in his garments and his office, was a shadow of Christ as our High Priest. Read the book of Hebrews and you will see how beautifully all this is brought out. These Old Testament shadows were looking forward to the coming of the One who would fulfill these and thus end them. When the work of Jesus Christ was finished the shadows were no longer needed.
We behave very similarly today. Some twenty-two years ago when, as a much younger man, I was in Hawaii, I found myself engaged to a lovely girl who lived in Montana and whom I hadn't seen for three or four years. We were writing back and forth in those lonely days, and she sent me her picture. It was a beautiful picture and I showed it to all my friends dozens of times. I propped it up on the desk and I would look at it at least three or four times a day. It was all I had to remind me of her and it served moderately well for that purpose. But one wonderful day she arrived in Hawaii and I saw her face to face. I didn't spend much time with the picture after that, nor have I since. The other day I was cleaning out the garage and ran across the picture. It was still a beautiful picture, and I noted that she had not changed very remarkably since those days, but I found that the picture was quite incomplete and unsatisfying. When the real thing came there was no longer any need for the picture.
This is exactly what happened with these Old Testament shadows, including the Sabbath. When the Lord came, and his work was ended, making possible the true fulfillment of God's intention in the Sabbath, the picture was no longer needed. The weekly sabbath ended at the cross. Paul specifically says this. In the letter to the Colossians he confirms it to us. In Chapter 2, beginning with Verse 13, he says,
And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it [not him; it, the cross].
Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col 2:13-17 RSV)
That should make it clear. This is why the claims of the Seventh Day Adventists, the Seventh Day Baptists, and other groups, that Christians changed the sabbath, are absurd, ridiculous. They claim that the Pope changed the sabbath by a papal edict from Saturday to Sunday, and that around the third or fourth century Christians began to celebrate Sunday rather than Saturday, out of obedience to this papal edict. But nothing could be further from the truth. History does not corroborate that in any degree. The Sabbath has always been Saturday and it always will be. It is the seventh day of the week. Sunday has always been the first day of the week. It has never been a sabbath, and it is pure legalism to call it a sabbath or to treat it as one. It is not a day of rest or restricted activity and it is not designed as such. It is the first day of the week; to Christians, the Lord's day.
The shadow-sabbath ended at the cross, as Paul has made clear. The next day was the day of resurrection, the day when the Lord Jesus came from the tomb. On that day a new day began -- the Lord's day. Christians immediately began to observe the Lord's day on the first day of the week. They ceased observing the Sabbath because it was ended by the fulfillment of its reality in the cross, and they began to observe the first day of the week. This is what you find reflected in the book of Acts. Justin Martyr, who writes from the 2nd century, says,
But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, when he changed the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ, our Savior, on the same day, rose from the dead.
A fifth fact about this: Though this shadow-sabbath, i.e., Saturday observance, ended at the cross, the true sabbath, the rest of God, God's ceasing from effort, continued and still continues today. That sabbath, in its application to us, is defined for us in Hebrews 4, Verses 9 and 10:
So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God [it is available to us now]; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. (Heb 4:9-10 RSV)
That is what the true sabbath is, to cease from your own labors, your own efforts, your own activity; to cease from your own works.
"Well," you say, "if I did that I would be nothing but a blob, an immobile inactive piece of flesh."
Exactly! Of course you would. But the implication is that you cease from your own efforts and depend on the work of Another. That is the whole import of the book of Hebrews, another One is going to work through you. This is why Paul cries, "Not I, but Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me," (cf, Gal 2:20). This was also the secret of the life of Jesus, as we have seen. He himself said, "It is the Father who dwells in me who does the work," (cf, John 14:10). "The Son can do nothing by himself," (cf, John 5:19). This is the secret of the Christian who learns "it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure," (cf, Phil 2:13). So the secret of true Christian life is to cease from dependence on one's own activity, and to rest in dependence upon the activity of Another who dwells within. That is fulfilling the sabbath, the true sabbath.
That true sabbath, we read in Genesis 2, God blessed and hallowed. As we have already seen in this series, blessing is connected with fruitfulness and dominion. God blessed the animals and said, "Be fruitful and multiply." He said to man, "Be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over all the earth." That is what blessing means, to make possible both fruitfulness and dominion. When God "hallowed," or "sanctified" (KJV), the sabbath, he assigned it a specific function to perform. That is what sanctification always is -- to put to a proper or intended purpose. Thus God designated the true sabbath to the function of producing blessing (fruitfulness and dominion) for man. This is why the Lord Jesus declared, "the sabbath is made for man; not man for the sabbath," (Mark 2:27). So the true sabbath rest is to rest on Another, and this is the divine provision to produce fruitfulness and abundance of victory in a Christian's life.
Let us look at that a little closer because that is God's provision for living adequately today. Are you adequate? Do you find yourself able to cope with the situations in life into which you are thrust day after day, moment by moment? Are you confident? Are you capable? Are you panic-proof? Are you filled with fruitfulness, fragrance, abundance? God's rest is designed to produce that. God said it would. He makes it available for that purpose and it is the only thing that will do it; there is no substitute.
I'm afraid most of us fit the self-description of someone who said he was a mouse studying to be a rat. By our best efforts we can rise to a high level of mediocrity -- inadequate, unable. Why? Simply because we are depending on our effort. We are either extroverts, confident that we can do things and therefore frequently falling flat on our face; or we are introverts, so afraid to try anything that we don't even dare show our face. It is all because we are looking to ourselves as our resource; our background, our training, our gifts, our talents, our education, etc. It either results in feeling that we have what it takes and can be confident, able, and powerful; or, as we look at ourselves we say, we don't have what it takes and therefore we can't take it and we won't even try. So we become either over-confident and under-equipped, or under-confident and overworked, trying constantly to make up by activity what we lack in results.
God knew that this would be our problem. He understands us. Nothing is hidden from him; he knows exactly the way we operate. Therefore he has designed an adequate provision for our weakness, teaching us how to operate on an entirely different basis, to no longer look to oneself but to look to the one who dwells within; to expect him to do something through you, using your mind, your will, your emotions, your feelings, but it is he who does the work. But unless you begin to count on his working you will never experience it.
Right here comes the seventh factor, the one serious problem which remains. Christians say again and again, Why is this so difficult to do? Why do I have so much trouble? Why is it that Hebrews 4:11 goes on to say, "Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience." Why must we work at this?
Some seem able to learn it, and from time to time we see someone virtually come alive and their Christian life is simply transformed by learning to operate on this principle. They lose their egotism, as extroverts; or they lose their introverted feeling of self-consciousness. They begin to do things and to enjoy them, experiencing the blessing and excitement of Christian living.
Others say, "I see all this, and I want to do it too. I know what is said about how to rest, but I try it and it doesn't work. Why? Why do we fail?" The answer is given, I think, in a word of the Lord Jesus, recorded in Matthew 11, words we well know:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt 11:28-30 RSV)
Notice that twice in that passage is the word rest. One rest is given, the other is found: One is experienced when we first come to Jesus Christ. He gives us rest. Do you remember when you came to Christ? You simply believed what the Scripture said, that on the cross of Calvary he took your place, he died for you; he bore the punishment for your sin; he was wounded for your transgressions, he was bruised for your iniquity; and you believed that. Immediately there was a sense of peace flooding your heart, a quietness. You felt no more guilt, no more fear of death, no more need for painful efforts to win Brownie points with God. You were resting on the work of Another. Christ paid it all; you were freely forgiven. What a sense of rest that was! He gave it to you.
But as you went on as a Christian you found that problems began to return and failures came. Your Christian life became boring and dull, barren and uninteresting. You knew something was wrong and you resolved to try harder, to give yourself more fully to Christian activity, to throw yourself into it with more zeal and effort. This you did, and for awhile things went better, then it seemed to ebb out again into the same old thing. You ended up bored and disillusioned, disenchanted, discouraged. What is the answer? Well, it is what our Lord said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and you will find rest," (Matt 11:29-30a RSV)
Back in the days of the old West the oxen teams that came across the prairies were yoked together with a great, wooden yoke, made to fit over the necks of two oxen. A yoke is always made for two, never for one. Jesus was a carpenter, and in the carpenter shop in Nazareth he often made yokes. From this he draws this very apt simile. "Enter into the yoke with me," he says, "you on one side; I on the other." A yoke is also a symbol of servitude, of controlled labor and activity. It means the end of self-service. When an ox is yoked, he is no longer free to do what he wants to do. He is under the direction of the owner, the driver. To be yoked means the end of running his own life and seeking his own way. This is what Jesus means. He did this. "He learned obedience by the things which he suffered," the writer of Hebrews tells us (cf, Heb 5:8). He learned to do what he did not want to do, because God wanted him to do it. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me," he says (Matt 11:29a RSV).
When you enter into the yoke with Jesus you expect the Father to take over the program of your life. You may be surprised what he does with it. You no longer have the right to decide what you are going to do with your life. It does not make any difference what time of your life you enter into this yoke, whether you are a youth at the beginning of your adult life, or whether you are a man sixty years old, with a great business depending upon you as the executive head. It does not make any difference. When you enter into the yoke with Jesus Christ you give up the right to determine what your life may be. You expect him to direct you.
It is his job to give the orders, it is his job to make you know what he wants you to do. He may make some dramatic changes, or he may not. He may leave you right where you are, doing what you are doing now, or he may tell you to stop it all, at great cost perhaps, outwardly, and leave it and go some place else to do something else. But one thing is certain, one thing he surely will do, no matter if he sends you some place else or leaves you right where you are -- one thing he will certainly do: He will remove you from the spotlight, out of the center of things, he will enroll you in school. And do you know what the curriculum will be? "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart," (Matt 11:29b KJV). He will begin to teach you humility -- how not to be the center of attention, how to be content with letting someone else get all the credit. He will enroll you in the school that cancels out ego satisfaction. That is the principle by which the world lives, in its delusion. It is the thing that is destroying human life; the desire to be a god, your own god; to run your life to suit yourself. This can never be for those who are called to be Jesus Christ's -- "you are not your own, you are bought with a price" (cf, 1 Cor 6:19b-20a).
The reason why you cannot enter into the joy and glory and excitement of the rest which God has provided in ceasing from your own activities and resting upon his, is because, in some way or another, you are protecting some area of the ego, the self-life, saying, "This is mine; keep your hands off." As long as you do that you cannot have rest.
"Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it brings forth much fruit." (cf, John 12:24 KJV)
Rest is the secret of human fruitfulness. As you consent to this, a wonderful thing will begin to happen. You will find rest. Jesus said you would. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest." (Matt 11:29 KJV). Rest, with all it implies in terms of fruitfulness and dominion; reigning, ruling, producing that which is worthwhile and satisfying in life. That is the secret of life. This is why Jesus said, "If any man will save his life, he shall lose it. But if he shall lose his life for my sake, he shall find it," (cf, Matt 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). He will find rest, he will fulfill the sabbath for that is what the sabbath is. It is God's divine provision for us.
This last week I was in a meeting in San Jose with a group of college kids. We were discussing together various aspects of the Christian life and after the meeting closed I was standing with a young man by the fireplace. The room was buzzing with conversation all around us but we were talking quietly together. With great earnestness he told me of the emptiness of his Christian life, despite the fact that he was doing all the things he knew he ought to do. I believed him, too. Yet he was not finding anything of the electric excitement that belongs to a Christian, or of the joy of daily adventure of faith with Jesus Christ. He had no sense of the glory of Christ's presence in his life, or of the peace that floods the hearts of those who are resting on his activity in them. As we talked together it became apparent that he had made his own plans for his life, had determined what he ought to be, along the lines of his gifts, and was pursuing that program. I said to him, "Perhaps that's your problem. You see, you don't have the right to tell God what you ought to be; whether you're going to be an engineer, or what it is. You don't have that right any more. You have only the right to come to him and say, 'Lord, here I am. Now you tell me what you want me to be. You set me in the direction you want me to go.'" Very honestly, he said, "Well, if I did that I'd just end up a drifter. I'd become nothing, I'd just go from place to place. My life would never be worthwhile." I asked him, "Do you know what is the most worthwhile life that was ever lived on earth? It was that of Jesus of Nazareth and he said that the secret of his life was, 'I do always those things that please the Father. Where he sends, I will go.' The program is in his hands, and I am simply fulfilling what he wants me to do. It is up to him whether my life ends up worthwhile or not."
I do not know what this young man is going to do, but I know that is the secret of finding success in life, a success which is not measured by the empty standards of the world. In the only judgment that is ever worthwhile, the judgment before the assembled hosts of heaven, when every life is reviewed as to whether it was worth the living, whether it hit the target or not, the secret of a success that will merit the words of Jesus, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," is to learn the rest of God. Anyone who learns that (and to the degree that you learn it) is keeping the sabbath as God intended the sabbath to be kept.
Speak to us, our Father, with those living words which individually suit the message to each heart. Make us to understand ourselves and our relationship to you. Help each one of us to say, with all our heart, "Lord, I acknowledge it. I surrender. I give to you the direction of my life, and I look to you to indicate to me what it will be. Lord, I'm ready to follow, depending upon you to produce in me what you want." In Jesus' name, Amen.
Copyright: © 1995 Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. This data file is the sole property of Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. It may be copied only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice. This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products offered for sale, without the written permission of Discovery Publishing. Requests for permission should be made in writing and addressed to Discovery Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA. 94306-3695.