Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hebrews 3.7 - 4.13

Hebrews Chapter 3.7 – 4.13

The background behind the book of Hebrews is this particular congregation of Hellenistic Jews had received the Gospel of Christ but were now under pressure to regress back in to their old ways and religious practices.  Being Hellenistic Jews caused their expression of Judaism to be different from Palestinian Jews.  For example the author of this letter has to warn the congregation against the worship of angels.  This was because they were more Greek in ethos than they were Jewish in religion.

During our last meeting we discussed the author’s comparison between Moses and Jesus arguing Jesus’ superiority to Moses.  Once again we see another distinguishing example from Palestinian Judaism who would have given more honor to Abraham than Moses.  Yet what the author is telling us is while Moses received great glory Jesus receives even greater glory.  Moses was obedient to God as was Jesus but Moses pointed us to Jesus and therefore it is Jesus who secures our heavenly calling because He is not only our high priest but sent from God to offer true atonement for our sin.

Beginning in verse seven the author writes “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says”.  We must remember that the author is attempting to show the superiority of Jesus to a group who has fallen back into their old religious ways.  Therefore, the author mentions that this teaching comes from a more superior source, the Holy Spirit.  In other words if you are going to have a correct understanding of the Old Testament then you ought to pay close attention to what the Holy Spirit says about it.  This is how he prefaces Psalm 95.  There is a message here for us today in that our interpretation of Scripture should be from the perspective of the whole text just as the author understands the Old Testament in light of the New.  Those who don’t follow the author’s advice here will stumble all over Scripture. 

Now the author quotes from Psalm 95.  The Psalm begins with a warm and friendly invitation and sense of salvation but follows with a serious warning.  Psalm 95 refers back to the wilderness wanderings where God’s people rebelled and put God to the test in spite of having seen and benefited from God’s mighty works.  In retrospect we could be asking the question “why would God’s people after receiving His provision put Him to the test?”  There are a number of way we describe this, they lacked faith can sum it up quite well.  This testing refers back to Exodus 17 (read verses 1-7).  Therefore this entire moment is captured in Psalm 95.

After delivering this strong warning about lacking faith, verse 11 concludes with an affirmation of “rest” as the final point of God’s covenant people.  Rest is an import ant topic that I will discuss below.  However, it should be understood that true rest is actualized in the New Testament as resting in Christ from the covenant of works.  Rest always was a sign of eternal rest that was coming in the new heaven and the new earth.  There is an interesting interaction that we will get to between rest as place and rest as time. 

One thing to notice is the reference here to Psalm 95 leaves us with an unanswered question.  If “they shall not enter my rest” then who will?  In other words isn’t God’s rest intended for God’s covenant people?  The author’s use of Psalm 95 reminds us that there will be some who appear to be a member of God’s covenant community when in reality are outside of it.  This seemed to be what was taking place in with this congregation being written to.  Moreover, this is important for us today as the Church seems to appeal to a notion of ad populum as the basis for ministerial legitimacy.  It takes more than a building called “Church” or a gospel message that is gutted of grace.  This is much like Aaron who created a golden calf for the people to worship, who they even referred to as YHWH.  It order to be Christ’s Church Christ must be central to its very existence.  Therefore our author points to Jesus being more superior.

In verse 12 through 15 we must now understand this from the context of the new covenant.  In the new covenant the Christian life is a constant calling to renewal.  Therefore we need such things as warnings, calls, encouragements, exhortations.  If we aren’t doing these things we need to consider the possibility that we might not be taking our new calling very serious.  Gross disobedience is a sign of unbelieving heart.  We need to accept the reality that some who profess Christ have an unbelieving heart.  That is why this is such a serious warning to everyone.

What is the practical here?  The remedy for gross disobedience is to first ask yourself if you have a believing heart.  If you can affirm your believing heart then the next thing is to repent because repentance brings sanctification.  When it comes to repentance Psalm 95 is such an appropriate passage because it describes God’s loathing for His people.  Those who have a believing heart do not want to be loathed by God.  Genuine repentance is to recognize that where I have deviated and to repent from it.  This is something that the unbeliever does not do.  Those with the believing heart demonstrate true faith which comes from the Gospel of Christ and once again the faith of the believing heart will embrace it and rest in it with all earnestness.

Rest for the weary who toil in the desert of their day to day lives is a significant comfort.  In chapter 4 verses 1 through 13 the author continues this discussion of rest.  Remember, his argument to this congregation who is experiencing some who have reverted back into their former ways and others who are considering it is that Jesus is more superior than Moses.  The new covenant is more superior than the old because it is in the new covenant that we find actualized which was formerly in the old covenant type and shadow.  So his argument continues that the Sabbath rest is also actualized in the new covenant.

In 4.1 having just quoted Psalm 95 in reference to Exodus 17 where Israel rebels against God and is not permitted to enter His rest or the promise land the author of Hebrews wants to ensure his readers understand that this promise to enter His rest still remains only as we are going to see it isn't a physical geographical location but rather it is a future and eternal rest.  Moreover the author at this point introduces the idea of promise which becomes a constant theme through out the book of Hebrews.  This is because it is God who issues the promise and is the primary basis of our faith.  The problem in this congregation is there may have been some who don't care about the promises of God and some who question whether God will make good on His promise.  What ever the case this is the promise of the new covenant a covenant of grace.  That is the reason for the "fear" for there were some in the congregation that were acting like their rebellious ancestors as they rebelled against God in Maribah (rf. Exod.17 Ps.95).  Why bring this up?  The author of Hebrews is simply asking his readers to weigh the consequences of their disobedience, "do you truly want the Sabbath rest in this life and the life to come?

Verse 4.2 the author reminds them that we have both heard the good news.  Israel had heard the good news through the exodus from Egypt and tearany of sin but also in the covenant of grace given to Abraham for all of his spiritual descendants.  As it turns out Israel didn't believe God's promises.  In spite of His mighty miracles at passover, the splitting of the Red Sea, the provision in the wilderness, they simply did not believe God's promises.  Non-believers are not willing to wait on God's time, if it does not happen now in their own timing they are easily willing to abandon God's promises.  

In Verses 4.3 - 5 the point in this is not that the promise rest was a temporal physical or geographical thing.  The point is that the promise rest began all the way back at creation on the seventh day.  Moreover, on this day God was not at rest because he was tired of all the work he had been doing and needed a breather.  His rest on the seventh day was divine rest.  And while this pattern has health benefits for us, ultimately it is to remind us of our eternal rest.  

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