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Fixing Our Thoughts on Our Future

Hebrews 4:1-13

Jim Davis

There is a nagging feeling that the key to our lives and future lies somewhere in our past. We look for fossil remains; we trace our roots; we study anthropology of past civilizations; we explore space, etc. There is no doubt that we think there is a lost key in our past that will unlock our future. Everyone is sure the key to discovering a meaningful life lies in our past. The search is never ending. This longing is something implanted by God. The Bible supports this belief.

Biblical narratives reach across untold ancient civilizations to help us find our roots in the Eternal One. Those who are interested in discovering their roots cannot afford to ignore the biblical narrative. The key to a meaningful life is found in our origin. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1) It couldn't be made any clearer. Our searches usually stop short of the beginning. Without this information humankind drifts along from generation to generation with nothing more to guide us than the winds of change.

Changing statistics and medical opinions are indicative of how the wind of change blow. In the medical field news isn't news anymore, it is a round-the-clock warning: Don't breathe—the air is toxic! And it is worse indoors than out. Don't eat—food is contaminated! Don't drink water with chemicals in it—and, for goodness sake, don't drink water without chemicals in it!

The headline writers keep blowing hot and cold:
• Oat Bran Reduces Cholesterol!
• Oat Bran Does Not Reduce Cholesterol!
• Coffee Can Cause Pancreatic Cancer!
• Coffee Does Not Cause Pancreatic Cancer!

Harvard Medical School Has Just Reversed Itself, says another news report. About what? You name it. Notes I have kept for my own medical file provide an education in vacillation:
   1950—salt causes hypertension;
   1960—salt does not cause hypertension;
   1970—salt causes hypertension;
   1980—salt relieves hypertension;
   1998—the AMA Journal evaluates 114 separate studies and concludes that salt   does not affect hypertension either way. —Paul Harvey

This is not true only for the medical sciences it is true but it is also true for just about every field you can think of. However, faith in God is much different for God doesn't change with the winds of change.

Henry Ford expressed a popular view, "History is bunk. The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history." We may not learn our lessons from history because we don't understand that our lives are dependent upon learning from our past. Much of our search for our roots ends in nothing more than a satisfaction of our curiosity. The historical biblical record involves more than a curious search for our roots. It is a journey to the past to learn lessons for our future. "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4 NIV)

Much of our encouragement for living for Christ is found in the Old Testament, but our salvation lies in Christ. The design of the Old Testament is to point us to Christ. As we look to the past to discover principles and precepts for living we must not lose sight of Christ. The Hebrew Christians were looking back to Moses for salvation, but they are reminded of the preeminence of Christ's salvation. To look back to Moses for salvation is to refuse the grace of God extended through Christ.

Galatians 4:1-4
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (NIV)

Learning from Israel's experiences is much different than trusting in Moses to save us. The Hebrew writer encourages us to learn from Israel's unbelief. He doesn’t encourage us to trust in Moses for our salvation.

A Rest Remains for the Courageous

The Hebrew writer also sees faith in God rooted in the biblical narratives. The writer seeks to teach us important lessons from the past. He seeks to reveal the relevance of the past to the present. The writer seeks to connect us to our roots as we are taken back to the forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Then he stretches our mind as he takes us all the way back to the beginning. The writer reveals to us how God’s rest on the seventh day after six days of creation relates to our future.

Hebrews 4:1-13
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, "So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work." And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest." It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (NIV)

It is essential for those growing tired and weary of the journey to focus on what awaits them at the end of the journey. To solely focus on the immediate difficulties of the journey will discourage us. To focus on what awaits us builds perseverance. Otherwise we may want to quit too soon. We must remind ourselves that reaching the final rest stop is possible. The key to reaching that final rest stop may be to look back and see how others have failed to reach it. Looking back can encourage us to look to the future.

It is interesting to know that the model for the church today is found in the Sinai desert. There in that barren desert the simple lessons of faith are discovered. It is there the greatest lessons from rebelling against belief are learned. "Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith."

It is hard to understand why the children of Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness. It is even harder to understand why the miracles they witnessed were not combined with a personal faith, which would give them hope for the future. It is even more difficult to understand their disobedience, when you realize their failures after crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It is almost impossible to understand until you realize their reasons for not believing are the same as yours. This is why the key to our survival is the same as theirs; it is found through your response to disappointment and frustration.

We have the same tendencies and we must be careful that none of us fall short of God’s rest through unbelief. How do you feel when you are disillusioned, disappointed and frustrated? Why do you lose sight of God's wrath, mercy and faithfulness when times are difficult? Why do your difficulties blind you to God’s presence? This is why the reasons they failed to enter God's rest become the keys for our entrance into God's rest.

The true rest of God remains because the Israelites never fully inherited the promised rest. After crossing over the Jordan River to conquer Canaan, the Israelites never fully enjoyed the rest the Promised Land offered. They were never completely able to drive out their enemies because of their disobedience to God. (Joshua 23:12-13; Judges 2:1-3)

Likewise, the Hebrew Christians were forsaking Christ. They were seeking to find comfort in what God did through Moses. They wanted to return to their past. The writer returns to their past with them and endeavors to teach them how their past points the way back to the rest Christ provides. Their past points the way to a greater rest than envisioned in the land of Canaan.

God's resting on the seventh day foreshadowed the kind of rest God desired for Israel in the Promised Land. Although, their lack of faith never completely allowed them to fully enjoy God's high idea of rest. The rest God desired for Israel continues to foreshadow the kind of rest that remains for us today. "It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his."

God rested on the seventh day after six days of creation. However, his rest didn't last long. Satan entered into God's creation turning the world on its head. Since that day God has been working to recreate the world through Jesus Christ. God's rest was not completely realized in the Old Testament, therefore God's rest still remains for those who seek Christ. The key to a meaningful life is found by entering into the rest God provides through Jesus Christ."

God’s rest typified the rest he desired for the Hebrews in Canaan. David makes it clear that a rest remained for the Israelites. The Hebrew writer is pointing us to the rest of which David speaks. It is clear that the writer is talking about our heavenly rest that awaits the faithful. The Hebrew writer says, " . . . the promise of entering his rest still stands . . ." The ultimate rest for the children of Israel was not in Canaan; it is not a place found on a map. Rather, it is a place that is found in the heart of God. He makes us understand that we too are standing on the brink of heaven's Promised Land. We sing an old song that speaks figuratively of the rest that remains for the children of God.

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan's fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
We will rest in the fair and happy land, by and by,
Just across on the evergreen shore
Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, by and by
And dwell with Jesus evermore.

The promise of rest is a reality for the faithful. The possibility of God's future rest gives us the courage we need to remain faithful. We must not allow earth's difficulties to blind us to the rest that remains for us.

In Revelation John gives us a glimpse the future holds for those who have chosen to be faithful. We see those who have been martyred for the cause of Christ, but they stand before God's throne as God is working to culminate his work of redemption on earth to bring eternal rest to those who have been faithful.

Revelation 6:9-11
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (NIV)

Revelation 14:13
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them." (NIV)

As we look at these verses we not only understand the rest God’s children will enjoy, but we also understand the courage needed to remain faithful.

Essentials for Entering God's Rest

An essential for entering into God's rest is to realize that we can miss it. The writer speaks of the Israelites who rebelled in the wilderness as those who would not enter into God's rest. God says, "They shall never enter my rest."

2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. (KJV)

Before we can respond in courageous obedience we must recognize our tendency to disobedience. "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." (3:12-13 NIV)

Sin is a vicious cycle of deceit. Sin makes great promises. It promises that we can become our own god. It assures us that we can direct our own lives better than God. Yet, have you ever noticed how illusive our schemes are? Just about the time you get a handle on what you are seeking, it vaporizes. The deceitful thing about sin is that it always blinds you to the consequences of sin. Sin results in a lifetime of scheming and dreaming without realizing the fruition of our efforts. The consequence of sin is the only fruit we gather from a disobedient life. This leaves bitterness and cynicism, which results in hardened hearts. Hard hearts find no comfort in God's promises, because ultimately sin has a way of blaming God for its own troubles.

For the Hebrews to leave their hopes in Christ to return to Moses was paramount to the Israelites desiring to return to Egypt after their deliverance. To leave Christ would be to return to the bondage of sin. There is no greater bondage than deceitfulness of sin.

To remain courageous despite the lure of sin, it is essential that we combine what we hear from God's word with faith. "For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith." Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, 'So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'"

Obedience is the only action I know that will combine what we hear with faith. The writer says, " . . .but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith."

A Christian husband wanted to take a trip to the Holy Lands. He was trying to convince his wife of the value of such a trip. He told his wife, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to go and shout the Ten Commandments from the place where they were originally given." The wife responded, "I think it would be better if we stayed home and obeyed them."

Obedience makes personal effort essential. "Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience." (Heb 4:11 NIV)

It is all in how we choose to hear the message, for there are may different ways of hearing. There is indifferent hearing, disinterested hearing, critical hearing, skeptical hearing and cynical hearing. The hearing that matters is the hearing that listens eagerly, believes and acts. The promises of God are not merely beautiful pieces of literature; they are promises on which a person is encouraged to stake his/her life through obedience.

The Effectiveness of God's Word

The author of Hebrews has taken the readers on a journey through the wilderness of Sinai to warn them of dangers from the past. He has taken them through a historical story about God's rest. He has revealed to them the significance of the historical narrative to their personal lives. He has demonstrated the effectiveness of the historical narrative to guide their lives. He makes the scriptures breathe as he relates the story. He gives them a living example of how those narratives can penetrate their lives. They become a part of the story as the author relates their struggles to the struggles of the Israelites. The real connection is made when the writer says, "the good news came to us just as to them . . ." The bad news is that we can ". . . fall by following their example of disobedience."

The writer not only does that in this chapter, but he is constantly quoting from the Old Testament throughout Hebrews. He is using the Scriptures to penetrate rebellious hearts by allowing the readers to see themselves in Scripture. The author consistently reveals the effectiveness of the Scriptures to sort through their problems no matter how deep-rooted they may be.

It is no accident that the admonition for us to make every effort to enter into God's rest is followed by a descriptive purpose of God's word.

Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (NIV)

Just as God's invisible qualities are made known to us by what is seen in this natural world (Romans 1:28), God's penetrating word reveals the deepest hidden secrets of our hearts. The hidden things are revealed by what is plainly written in scripture.

Jeremiah 17:9-10
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve." (NIV)

We know how fearful we are for others to see who we really are. We are even more fearful to see ourselves as God sees us. God's word is defined as that which enters our hearts for the purpose of revealing to us how God sees us. It seems scary to see yourself as God sees you.

I think one of the greatest hindrances to real Bible study is fear of discovering who we really are. It is not easy to allow God's word to set in judgment of our thoughts and the attitudes of our hearts. It requires making tough introspection. I think this is why most find it easier to study the Bible to support their theology. Theology doesn't get very personal. Theology is more interested in the positions we hold in our minds than it is with practicing the implications of those positions. Theology is more concerned about what we can do and what we can't do than it is with why we do either.

A real study of God's word lays our lives bare. Have you ever had those dreams where you are walking around naked?" You are trying to hide your nakedness. I think that's what we do when we read God's word. God’s word exposes our nakedness. We try to run from it in an effort to hide our nakedness. But this only leaves us naked.

The same Spirit that breathed God’s message into the minds of the apostles seeks to impart that written message to the deepest recesses of our being. His skill in imparting the message far exceeds the skill of the most masterful surgeon. The Spirit penetrates our hearts with the light of God's presence for the purpose of exposing the darkness of our hearts. He is inviting us to come to the light that we might be healed.

God does not seek to expose our nakedness to embarrass us. He reveals our nakedness so that we might be properly clothed. There is an XXX-Rated chapter in Ezekiel that reveals God’s desire to clothe us. Ezekiel is speaking figurative of how God viewed Israel during their rebellion before Babylonian captivity and how he sought to love them.

Ezekiel 16:1ff

Ezekiel’s portrayal of God reveals God’s compassionate desire to enter our lives to enable us to face our problems through an understanding of his powerful Word. He is not embarrassed to look upon our nakedness and he doesn’t try to hide our nakedness. He seeks to care for us as a nurse would care for a dying child.

Conclusion:

God's word is not written to just record the great events of the past. It is more than a historical record. The word "Today" is found several times in chapters 3 & 4. The emphasis of the writer is that God is speaking to us "today" through those events. He shows that God's word is perpetually relevant. The word is an energetic sword cutting through our lives without difficulty. It penetrates us through and through. It probes the deepest recesses of our subconscious existence. There is no place we can hide from it.

We have been reminded that entering into God's rest is absolutely possible. We are reminded that it is the Word of God that is able to direct us to that rest.

John 12:47-50
"As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say." (NIV)
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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