11 Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. 14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.1
As usual, God tends to give me quizzes that pertain to sermons I am preparing to preach (or ones that I have recently delivered). In my last message, I concluded with some practical areas in which Christians might find an occasion to experience rest, areas like ministry and family and politics and money. Well, my test came mid-week. I was working away at my computer when it crashed. That has not happened for a long time, and consequently I had become a little sloppy with regard to precautions like backing up my files. The entire system went down, leaving me without my calendar, my contacts (address book, etc.), and my notes thus far on the coming week’s sermon.
In days gone by, I would have secretly delighted, because these are occasions when an upgrade would be necessary. But I did not rejoice this time. Having been down this trail before, I knew what was ahead. It would take both time and money that I could not spare. I agonized for a while, and then it occurred to me that I was not “resting” in the midst of my circumstances. I asked God to help me in my time of need. Then I went to the computer store and purchased the needed components. When I got home, I determined to start with the least expensive part first, just to see if it would solve my problem. If not, I would move forward until, if necessary, I would build a new computer, with all the expense and troubles that would bring.
The first component was a video card. I had some unconfirmed suspicions that this could be the culprit. As it turned out, it was. And here’s the best part. When I get the factory rebate back, the part will cost me nothing, and the time spent in making the repair was just a few minutes. God was gracious to me in my time of need. I should have rested the whole time. Perhaps you have had some similar experience.2
For several lessons, we gave our attention to the first two chapters of Hebrews, where we saw through various means that Jesus is vastly superior to the angels. And thus the revelation that we have received through Jesus – God’s final and full revelation – is one that we should heed more carefully (2:1-4).
When we arrived at Hebrews 3, we found that the Lord Jesus is also superior to Moses (3:1-6). Two lessons ago, we studied Hebrews 3:7-19, where the author builds his exhortation on the last half of Psalm 95, a psalm which exhorts the Israelites of that time to gather for worship and mutual encouragement, and thus to stimulate faith and perseverance. In our last lesson, we sought to define “rest” more precisely through our study of Hebrews 4:1-10. In this lesson, we come to the author’s concluding exhortation, before he turns the focus toward the high priestly ministry of our Lord Jesus.
Our goal in this lesson will be to focus on the theme of the Word of God in the early chapters of Hebrews. We will trace the argument of the author in relation to the Word of God through chapters 1-5. This will give us a better grasp of how Hebrews 4:12-13 fits into the context of the author’s argument. In all of the messages on Hebrews 4:12-13 that I have heard or read, few of them have dealt with these two verses in the light of their context. That is what I will endeavor to do in this lesson.
In chapter 1, we find that the introduction to the Book of Hebrews consists of the author’s declaration that while God has revealed His Word in various ways and at various times through the prophets of old, He has now revealed His Word fully and finally through His Son, who is greater than the angels (1:1-4). In these opening verses, the author gives us seven descriptive statements about the Son, which (among other things) make it clear that He is fully divine. He is the Sustainer of the cosmos. He is the perfect reflection of the Father’s nature and glory. And having accomplished redemption for lost sinners, He is now raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. The author now buttresses these seven descriptive statements with seven Scripture quotations from the Old Testament, which further demonstrate the supremacy of the Son.3
I like to title chapter 1, “Look Who is Speaking,” because these verses reveal that the One speaking is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Wives know what I’m talking about. A wife talks to her husband at the breakfast table, largely concealed behind the newspaper. He grunts occasionally when he knows a response is expected, but when it is all over, his wife knows that he has not been paying close attention to what she said. Now if her husband were talking to a fishing buddy, or to the President, he would not miss a word. We pay close attention to those we regard most highly. (Which means husbands should be listening carefully to their wives but we, too, can get “dull of hearing.”)
Chapter 1 began with an emphasis on the Word of God, as revealed through the Son. He then showed that the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of the Son in the same way. And so as chapter 1 was all about Scripture, so chapter 2 begins with an exhortation to pay more careful attention4 to the revelation which has come through Jesus. His Word is the message of salvation. The apostles reported what Jesus said and taught, and their inspired writings were authenticated by the many miracles which God produced through the Word. We see many of these recorded in the Book of Acts.
In verses 5-14, the author pursues a theme that we find in the Gospel of John:
Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:14).
He who is “higher than the angels” (chapter 1) for a little while became “lower than the angels” by adding sinless humanity to His undiminished deity (chapter 2). This is known as our Lord’s incarnation. Verses 5-14 describe some of the fruits of our Lord’s incarnation. By taking on our humanity, our Lord qualified Himself to atone for our sins and to be our high priest. His incarnation enabled Him to graft us into Abraham’s blessings and to become a part of His family. Through His incarnation, He became for us a merciful and faithful High Priest.
That chapter 3 should begin with a section that demonstrates the superiority of the Son to Moses comes as no surprise. If Jesus is greater than the angels (chapters 1 and 2), then He is surely greater than Moses (3:1-6). The devoted followers of Moses could not claim the statements of 1:2-4 for their leader, nor could they apply the seven Old Testament Scripture citations to him (1:5-14). And they most certainly could not claim that he came down from heaven and achieved the accomplishments of 2:5-18. And so we are told that the Son is superior to Moses (3:1-6) by being the builder of the house, rather than the house, by being over His house, rather than merely being in God’s house, and by being a faithful Son, rather than merely a faithful servant.
While Moses was faithful, like Jesus (3:1-2), the generation of Israelites that he led were not faithful. Indeed, that first generation of Israelites failed to enter into God’s rest because of their unbelief, hardness of heart, and rebellion. But their experience in the wilderness did have some lessons for others to learn, some of which the psalmist spelled out in Psalm 95. Psalm 95 should be a warning to every believer that we are prone to wander, prone to drift. In spite of having God’s Word confirmed to them, they refused to believe and rebelled against Moses, and even against God. We need to be aware of the dangers that face us, the same kind of dangers that resulted in Israel’s failure.
God spoke to Israel through Moses and testified to his authority by the many miracles He performed at his hand. And yet the people of Israel did not believe, but rebelled. If their rebellion kept them from entering into rest, how much more serious was rebellion against God’s revelation in Christ? After all, we should pay much closer attention to His Word because it too has been shown to be given with divine power and authority (2:1-4). The writer wants his readers to know that this same danger of unbelief and rebellion exists today and must be taken seriously. There is great danger in hearing God’s Word, seeing it authenticated, and then refusing to believe it and act upon it.
Warnings continue in chapter 4, reminding us of the danger of not entering into rest because we have not believed in the Word which we have received:
1 Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith (Hebrews 4:1-2).
The “good news” that the ancient Israelites received was not the “gospel” that one would read in the Book of Acts, but it was good news – the promise of “rest” for those who trusted in God’s Word. This “rest” was not the same as the “rest” which God swore the Israelites would not enter. The rest which is offered to us “today” is not the “rest” which the Israelites experienced when they entered the land, led by Joshua. It is a Sabbath kind of rest, like the rest which God took when He had completed creating the world (Genesis 2:2). That kind of rest is a rest from one’s works. The Sabbath was a day of rest, based upon the completion of God’s work. And so our rest is a rest based upon the completion of Christ’s work of redemption, a rest for everyone who believes in Him. We rest from striving to please God in our own strength, and rely upon the work which He has done (at Calvary) and which He continues to do (as our High Priest) for us.
I know that we are getting ahead of ourselves here, but let’s take just a quick look at chapter 5 to see how the author continues to emphasize the importance of the Word of God.
11 On this topic [of Melchizedek] we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).
The author wants to speak of “meatier” matters, but his readers are hardly up to it. They cannot follow deeper teaching because they are accustomed to “milk.” The problem is that while they have heard the Word taught, they have been short on putting it into practice. The mature can handle “solid food” because they have gained maturity by putting the truth into practice, thus being able to discern what is good and what is evil. No wonder the author feels the need to underscore the importance of God’s Word (chapter 1) and to exhort the readers to pay more careful attention to it (2:1-4). No wonder he goes to great lengths to warn and exhort us from the example of the ancient Israelites and from the instruction of Psalm 95! Failure to heed the Word has dire consequences.
11 Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience.
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.
14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:11-16, emphasis mine).
These verses are our author’s concluding exhortation, the application of his teaching regarding rest. We see that there are three exhortations, introduced by the words, “let us.”5 We are thus exhorted to …
Let’s consider each of these exhortations.
11 Thus [Therefore] we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience (emphasis mine).
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.
Why must we “make every effort to enter that rest” when we have just been told, “For the one who enters God'srest has also rested from his works, just as God did from his own works” (verse 10)? I think there are several dimensions to the answer.
First and foremost, our “work” is to believe in Jesus Christ.
28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds [works] God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed [work]6 God requires – to believe in the one whom he sent” (John 6:28-29).
Second, good works are the anticipated result of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (and that faith is a gift of God, not the result of our works).I’ll say it differently. Faith is not the result of our works; works is the result of the faith God gives us:
8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Third, our rest comes when our work is complete. God rested after He had finished His work of creation. Rest is not the absence of any work, but the rest that comes after our work is done.
7 I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! 8 Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day – and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Fourth, we are to cease from our works, not to cease from all work. We are to cease from our labors in the power of the flesh, for they will never please God. Instead, we are to “work out our salvation” in the power which He provides.
I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person (Ephesians 3:16).
12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God (Philippians 2:12-13).
I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
9 For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects – bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light (Colossians 1:9-12).
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good thing you do or say (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
16 At my first defense no one appeared in my support; instead they all deserted me – may they not be held accountable for it. 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message would be fully proclaimed for all the Gentiles to hear. And so I was delivered from the lion’s mouth! (2 Timothy 4:16-17)
9 Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings. For it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not ritual meals, which have never benefited those who participated in them (Hebrews 13:9).
“Drawing near to God”7 takes action on our part while drifting is the result of doing nothing with regard to God’s Word.8 In this sense, then, the author can challenge his readers to “make every effort to enter that rest” (4:11). We cease from all efforts in the flesh, but we actively strive to do God’s will in the power of the Spirit. Thus, “resting from our (fleshly) works” is not a contradiction to “striving to enter God’s rest” by completing the work He has given us to do.
Now comes the intriguing part of verses 11-13 – verses 12 and 13:
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Verse 12 begins with the word “For,” which connects verses 12 and 13 to the exhortation of verse 11. There are very good reasons why God’s people should “make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience.”9 If an entire generation of Israelites failed to enter “that rest,” then there must be very real danger here. Those on the Texas coast just experienced the devastation of Hurricane Ike. Some remained in their homes and died because of it. They simply did not believe the danger was as great as they were told. So, too, we may read of the failure of the Israelites to enter their rest and take the warning too lightly. We need to listen to Paul’s words of warning, based upon the failure of that generation:
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).
Now let’s take a few moments to consider the relationship between the exhortation of verse 11 to the words of verses 12 and 13. We have been exhorted to pay more careful attention to what God has revealed through His Son (2:1-4). Now we are exhorted to expend more effort to attain the rest which is before us. Israel’s failures should have alerted us to the dangers, but that is not the only indication of our need to draw near to our Great High Priest. The Word of God exposes our sins and our weaknesses, so that we can see our great need and turn to our High Priest for help.
God’s Word is “living and active.” We read these words in the first chapter of John’s Gospel:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it… . 9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him… . 14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:1-5, 9-10, 14).
Our Lord Jesus became the living Word. He had life in Himself, and as the Creator, He was the source of all life. His Word is alive. It is not something dead, which we have to energize; it is powerful and active.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).
You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23).
Have you ever watched some of those commercials for cleansers that make it look as though the product works all by itself? Phooey! Most cleansers are like a scrub brush. They just sit there, unless you put your hand on them and then scrub like crazy. God’s Word is different; it just needs to be released, like letting a lion out of its cage. It will do all the work. Our task is to believe that Word, and act upon it, and then share it with others:
13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news” (Romans 10:13-15).
Jesus is also the Light of the World, and thus at His incarnation, He exposed the darkness. The written Word originates from God and it, too, is alive. It, too, exposes sin for what it is. As Adam and Eve were naked before God, so the Scriptures strip away all of our “fig leaves,” exposing our sin. The Word of God is something like the MRI I recently had (of my neck). It exposed what was going on in my spine, beneath my skin. It revealed the likely source of some pain and also made it obvious that surgery was not the proper course of action.
In Proverbs 1, there is a Hebrew word for wisdom which means “to distinguish between.”10 Wisdom is the ability to make distinctions, sometimes very subtle distinctions. Wisdom is not only the distinction between good and evil, but between good and better. No surgeon’s knife was ever more skillful in dividing than the Word of God. It can distinguish between “soul and spirit,” something I find impossible to do on my own. Physiologically speaking, it distinguishes between joints and marrow. Spiritually speaking, it exposes the condition of our hearts. It judges the thoughts and intentions of our heart, which we know to be desperately wicked:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)
The Word of God does many wonderful things.
But here in our text, the Word of God exposes our sin so that we know we are in desperate need of help (4:12-13). And then this same Word that exposes our sin urges us to draw near to Jesus as our Great High Priest, who offers us mercy and grace in our time of need (4:14-16).
14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:14-15).
What does he mean when the author says that we have a “great” high priest? It means “mighty” or “powerful” as it does in Titus 2:13:
12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:12-13, emphasis mine).
Our high priest is great; that is, He has the power and the authority to get things done. That is what the author tells us in the remainder of verse 14. He is a high priest who is the Son of God, who has “passed through the heavens.” This calls our attention to the resurrection and ascension of our Lord to the right hand of God:
The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).
As the Son of God, He sits enthroned at the Father’s right hand. What better, what closer, what more influential place for one whose task is to represent men before God (5:1)? When we draw near to Him, we draw near to God. When we draw near for help, we draw near to One who is able to help.
Beyond this, we draw near to One who desires to help, who understands our weakness and sympathizes with us (4:15). His incarnation has not only qualified the Son to represent men before God, it also gave Him great empathy with those who are weak. He can sympathize, not because he wrestled with sin and lost, but because He experienced temptation and prevailed. We all have our breaking point, but God is faithful and never tests us beyond the limits of what we could endure (if we turn to our High Priest for help):
No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The Son, however, was tested to the ultimate degree, far beyond what we could endure, and He did endure without failing. To whom should we flee? To one who failed when tested minimally, or to the One who was victorious when tested to the maximum? This is why we can hold fast to our confession and draw near to our High Priest – because He alone can keep us from falling.
24 Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemish before his glorious presence, 25 to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen (Jude 24-25).
Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:16).
Why the emphasis here on approaching our High Priest confidently or boldly? I think there are two reasons. The first has already been disclosed in verses 14 and 15. We can approach Him confidently because He has the power and the authority to help us. We are confident in His ability to come to our aid. He is our “great” High Priest, the Son of God, who has passed through the heavens, and who sits at the Father’s right hand. He is able to help.
But there is another reason why men are reluctant to ask for help. We may be hesitant to ask for help because we may fear that God will rub our noses in our weakness and failure. We’ve all experienced this when dealing with men. We make the mistake of asking the wrong person for help and then they make us pay by berating and belittling us. When we approach the “throne of grace,”11 we are assured of receiving grace whenever we need help. I am reminded of another text which assures us of God’s help, minus humiliation:
But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).
We have come to the conclusion of this message, but we are also at a point of conclusion for our author as well. The three “let us” exhortations of our text indicate this to the reader. If a conclusion tells us anything, it tells us where the author has been headed all along. It tells us the main point of what the author was trying to say to the reader. (Except, that is, for stories written by Alfred Hitchcock. He always likes his conclusion to take an unexpected turn, one that appears very different from where the author seemed to be taking the reader.)
So where has our author been leading us? What is his message to his readers, and thus to us as well? Fundamentally, the author has been doing two things. (1) He has been expounding the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the One through whom God has spoken authoritatively, as the One who created the world and sustains it, as the One who is higher than the angels and greater than Moses, as the One who stooped lower than the angels to save lost sinners and to become the great High Priest to all who come to Him. (2) He has been expounding the sinfulness of man. Drawing upon the example of the first generation of Israelites to leave Egypt, the author has shown how we are prone toward unbelief and rebellion against God. An entire generation rebelled against God for forty years, and because of this, they failed to enter into the rest God had placed before them. We share the same nature, and if we have any doubt about that, the Word of God exposes the deceitfulness of our hearts before God.
When we come to the concluding verses of chapter 4, we see how the author has brought these two major truths to a point of convergence, and thus his three exhortations. There is a rest available to men and women today, but it is a rest that we are predisposed to resist and reject. It is a rest which we cannot attain by our own efforts, but it is also a rest that we are exhorted to strive to enter. How can this be? Because God has provided a salvation for lost sinners, a salvation which provides not only atonement for our sins in the cross of Christ but a Mediator who is a great High Priest. He has passed through the heavens, and He is seated at God’s right hand. He is none other than the Son of God. He is powerful and positioned to serve as our High Priest. But His incarnation also exposed Him to the same trials and temptations which we face; thus, He is a compassionate and merciful High Priest, whom we may boldly approach for mercy and grace to help in our time of need. His mercy and grace intersects our weakness, willfulness, and need in the person of Jesus Christ. His Word reveals the way of salvation through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. We must acknowledge our need and accept His grace through Calvary to be saved. And, those who have trusted in Him for salvation must continually draw near to Him for the grace to live in a way that pleases Him.
So far in the Book of Hebrews, the author has highlighted the importance of the Word of God. It reveals God to us, and it also reveals us (as sinners, weak, and in great need) before God. It holds before us the hope of our salvation, and it warns us of the dangers we face by pointing to the example of those who have gone before us.
If the Word of God is as important as our author (and many other biblical authors) claims it is, then we should expect that it will come under attack, both by Satan (“Has God said… ?” – Genesis 3:1), by the world – the culture in which we live, and by our own flesh. The Bible is not written to make us feel good about ourselves. It is written to expose us for what we are, and Jesus Christ for who and what He is. It is written to turn us to Him, dying to self and living in His power.
Post Modernism is a culture that rejects absolute truth, and thus it rejects God’s Word as absolute truth. If there is any truth (our culture tells us,) it is “our truth,” what is true for us. But that is not what will be true for many others. And thus the teaching of Scripture cannot be embraced as God’s full and final revelation in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4). And so, too, our culture claims, we do not need to pay more careful attention to it, though our author tells us we do (Hebrews 2:1-4). And so the sin-exposing power of God’s Word is denied and ridiculed, as is the salvation it sets forth. If we will embrace God’s Word as Hebrews exhorts us to do, we will fly in the face of what our culture believes.
Is it any wonder, then, that the absolute values of Scripture are being cast aside, not only by the unbelieving world, but by many who profess to know Christ as Savior? Many who profess to know Christ are not so sure that the Bible is absolute truth. They are not so sure that God’s standard for marriage is one man and one woman for a lifetime. They are no longer so sure that homosexuality is a sin. They are not so sure that the distinctive roles God assigns to men and women are valid for today. Let us listen to God as He speaks to us through Hebrews, my friend, for this is a significant portion of God’s revelation to us. If we ignore God’s Word, we begin to drift. May God draw us near to Himself as we hear and heed His Word, and as we come to our great High Priest for help in our time of need.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 I realize that my experience is not the essence of “rest” as described in Hebrews 3 and 4, but it may be a small expression of the kind of rest we need to experience in the daily difficulties of life.
3 In the process, these Old Testament citations do something more. They underscore the unity of the Scriptures, Old Testament and New. The Old Testament Scriptures pointed ahead to the coming of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Even though the New Testament is God’s final word, the Old Testament Scriptures are likewise inspired and authoritative (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
4 Does the expression, “more careful attention,” mean that we should pay greater attention to this later and final revelation than we have been doing? Yes, I think so. But I am also wondering if it does not also mean that the readers are to pay “more careful attention to the New Testament revelation” than they have been doing in relationship of the New Testament to the Old. These Hebrew saints came from a religious context where the Old Testament Scriptures were considered authoritative – we might even say, considered God’s full revelation. Thus, when Jesus came with further revelation which did not square with the Pharisees’ teaching of the Old Testament, they rejected Jesus’ words and clung to their (mistaken) understanding of the Old. Did these readers not need to realize that the New Testament revealed mysteries that were hidden in the Old Testament (see Ephesians 3:1-13; 5:22-33)? Thus, while both the Old and New Testament are inspired and authoritative, the Old Testament must now be read and interpreted in the light of the New. To the extent that the New explains the Old, the New has a certain priority over the Old. For Hebrew Christians, accepting this would be a real stretch, especially if any were considering turning back to Judaism.
5 In the NET Bible, verse 11 begins, “Then we must . . .” but virtually all of the other translations render this, “Let us. . . .” The three-fold repetition of this expression indicates that there are three specific exhortations addressed to the reader.
6“Deeds” (verse 28) and “deed” (verse 29) are a legitimate rendering of the Greek term employed here, but given the works-oriented mindset of the Jews, I think it better to render the term “works” in verse 29 and “work” in verse 30. This is in keeping with the marginal note in the NET Bible.
7 Hebrews 4:16; 7:19.
8 Hebrews 2:1.
9 Hebrews 4:11.
10 “The second synonym in Proverbs 1 is understanding, or insight. . . . The background idea (though it is not always prominent) can be gauged from the fact that the verb ‘to discern’ is parent to both nouns, and the preposition ‘between’ is a near relation. Solomon put the two together in I Kings 3:9: ‘that I may discern between good and evil’. (Cf. Phil. 1:9, 10; Heb. 5:14)” Derek Kidner, The Proverbs (Chicago, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), p. 36.
11 I love this expression, “throne of grace,” because the word “throne” reminds us that our help comes from our powerful King, and “grace” reminds us that He deals graciously with us. What a perfect union, that of power and grace.