Monday, September 13, 2021

The Word of God (Heb. 4:12-13)


Yesterday (9/11/21) was the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon and the tragic downing of Flight 93, all orchestrated by Islamic terrorists bent on an agenda of destruction and hate. Twenty years later, our country ingloriously left Afghanistan, the training ground of these terrorists, leaving thousands of people there to the mercy of the Taliban – especially Afghan Christians. One wonders after all this what was accomplished: has anything really been done in the last twenty years to stop the progress of militant Islam? It can be discouraging to dwell on.

However, we need to remember in these uncertain times that God is in control. Tragedies like 9/11 or the abandonment of the Afghan people don’t happen because God forgot to keep his hand on the wheel of the universe. God allows things like this to happen on purpose, not because he gets delight out of human suffering or because he doesn’t care about justice, but because he is going to bring about something much better out of the rubble and the ashes caused by human evil. Though God allows evil to take place, the reality is that evil will not have the final word. He will make things right. Another way to put this is that God will have the final word, and by this word he will bring about surprising good for his people and surpassing glory for his name.

This is one of the lessons of Psalm 33. There we read about the power of God’s word: “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD: let the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the LORD standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:6-11). The same word that created the universe is the same word that brings the counsel of the nations to nothing. In the end, God’s word will stand. His word is a powerful word because the God who speaks is omnipotent and sovereign.

In our text, we are face to face with this powerful word of God. It is the word that the Hebrew Christians needed to be reminded of. They needed to remember that, whatever the difficulties that were making them think twice about their faith in Christ, nothing is able to stop or stand in the way of the fulfillment of God’s word, either in his promises to his people or his warnings to his enemies. In the end, God’s word will stand. All the voices that have been raised in opposition to God will one day be silenced. All the plans and the counsels devised against the people of God will come to nothing. For only God can speak and it is done, can command and it infallibly comes to pass.

But what, or who, is the word of God spoken of here in the text? There actually has been quite a bit of debate over the referent to the “word of God” in verse 12. Some, like the fourth-century church father Athanasius, have said that this has the same meaning as we find in the gospel of John, where we are told that, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14), clearly referring to Jesus the Son of God. However, given the context, the word of God here clearly means the word which God speaks, his utterance, and which is communicated to us in the pages of Scripture. The context demands this interpretation. Notice the word “for” at the beginning of verse 12: “For the word of God . . .”. It is the reason why we are to do verse 11: “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” The danger of unbelief is the failure to believe God’s word – both his word of promise and his word of warning.

Again and again we see this emphasis on what God has spoken and said, particularly in Psalm 95. Remember that back in chapter 3 where this Psalm was introduced, it was introduced with the expression, “as the Holy Ghost saith” (3:7). Then, throughout the following verses we have this repeated reminder that God is speaking to us in the words of the Psalm (see, for example, 3:10, 11, 12, 15, 18; 4:2, 3, 4, 7, 8). This is not just a Psalm of David; it is God speaking to us in the Psalm of David (4:7). This is the word of the Lord.

Thus, when we come to the phrase “word of God” in 4:12, the first thought should be the word of God as spoken in the words of Scripture. Though it is true that the word here is logos, as in the gospel of John, we also see that logos is used in 4:2 – “but the word (logos) preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” There, in the immediate context, logos means the word of God which is preached, and which is identified with the exhortation given in the word of God written (Ps. 95). Note that the word here is likened to a sword – this should remind us of Paul’s description of God’s word in Eph. 6:17, which is surely meant to refer to God’s written word.

However, you cannot separate God’s word from God himself. Thus, when we get to verse 13, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do,” we are manifestly getting a description there of the omniscience of God himself. The idea is that God will always back his word. He will not let it fall to the ground. What he says he will do. What he says will stand, even though the entire world of human thought stands against it. “Let God be true, and every man a liar,” as says the apostle Paul (Rom. 3:4). Thus the prophet Isaiah writes, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

In the same way, though I don’t think we should identify the “word of God” here with the second Person of the Trinity, there is an intimate connection between the spoken word of God and the eternal Word of God who is Jesus our Lord. You see it in the vision that the apostle John had of our Lord: “And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Rev. 1:16; cf. 19:15). The fact that the sword is coming out of his mouth is meant surely to signify his word which is, as here, like a sharp two-edged sword. But again, though we don’t identify the two (the sword is not the Son), neither do we separate them. To reject the word of God is to reject God. To obey God’s word and to believe God’s word is to believe God.

Thus, when we consider what is said here about God’s word, we are made to realize that the reason why God’s word possesses the qualities that it does is precisely because it is the word of God. The qualities which are possessed by the word of God in verse 12 are the qualities of God. The point of the author here is to raise the eyes of the recipients of the letter from God’s word to God himself. The God who spoke in the promises and warnings of his word stands behind those promises and warnings. Again, to reject God’s word is to reject God himself. So if we are looking at this text and asking the question, “Is this talking about God or is this talking about Scripture?” I think we are presenting ourselves with a false choice. This is talking about the God who speaks in Scripture.

However, we haven’t yet addressed the question as to how these two verses are meant to function as a reason why we are to labor to enter into God’s rest so that we don’t “fall after the same example of unbelief” (11). More to the point, how do the qualities attributed to God’s word motivate obedience and faith? To answer this question, let’s look at each of the qualities listed in these two verses. We can group them under three categories: powerful, piercing, and perceptive.

God’s Word is Powerful

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful” (12). The translation “quick” is the old English word for “living” (it is related to the English word “quickened” which means to make alive). When we are told that the word of God is living and powerful, we are meant to understand that God’s word will always do what it promises to do. None of God’s promises or warnings will ever fall to the ground. “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect” (Rom. 9:5). That cannot happen.

This doesn’t of course mean that we can use the Bible like a talisman, as if by quoting a Scripture at someone we could cast as it were a magic spell. What this is saying is that nothing can get in the way of the fulfillment of God’s word. The “scripture,” as our Lord put it, “cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35). Or as he put it in the Sermon on the Mount, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mt. 5:18). The point is that we can believe without hesitation all that God has spoken. It is living and powerful; it is not a dead word that promises much and accomplishes little or nothing.

You see this connection between God’s word and God’s power also in the story of Abraham. Here is the way Paul put it: “...it is written, I have made thee [Abraham] a father of many nations, before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:17-21). Why did Abraham believe God’s promise? He did so because he believed God was able – was powerful enough – to do what he said he would do. In fact, the God who spoke the promises is the one who is able to speak something out of nothing! There is simply no power in the universe that can match or compete with the power of God. What is impossible with man is possible with God. Abraham knew that, and that enabled him to endure through many setbacks and long waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise.

In the immediate context of Hebrews 4, the point is that these wavering Christians should remember that the promise of entering God’s rest is sure, not because of their power to make it happen but because God’s word is powerful – it will come to pass no matter what kind of opposition the believer encounters. There is nothing and no one that can stand in the way of God fulfilling his word (cf. Rom. 8:31-39). It is when we truly believe that God is fully able to bring his promises to pass that we will persevere through discouragement and opposition and trials.

On the other hand, just as God’s promises are sure, so are his warnings. There is a fearful warning there in the ninety-fifth Psalm: “Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest” (Ps. 95:11). In fact, as the author of Hebrews will put it later, “if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27). You cannot resist God and therefore you will not be able to resist his word – either his word of warning or his word of promise.

God’s word, by the way, doesn’t depend upon us believing it. “If we believe not, yet he remaineth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Just because we have convinced ourselves that God’s word is not reliable doesn’t mean it will not come to pass. A lot of people are like Casey-at-the-bat1: they don’t like the way God pitches his word to them and they let it just pass by. But every time, God calls “strike”! and eventually they strike out and it is too late.

God’s Word is Piercing

Next, we read that God’s word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (12). Too much ink has been spilled over this verse over the wrong things, as if the point of it is the distinction between soul and spirit. There may be such a distinction. The point, however, is how penetrating and piercing God’s word is. It pierces to the level of soul and spirit; it goes beyond the external and pierces to the level of the joints and marrow. It is summarized in the words “and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” By “heart” is not meant the physical organ that pumps blood, but the totality of the inner man, including the thoughts, the affections, and our volition. In other words, God’s word speaks to who we really are; not merely as we appear to be but who we are on the inside – the real me.

There are two ways that this works. First, God’s word in Scripture pierces us in the sense that as we read it, the Holy Spirit speaks through it to us – it is the sword of the Spirit – and when he speaks to us he is able to do so in a way that cuts through our hardness and our excuses. There are no blunt edges to this sword for it is two-edged. The Spirit uses God’s word to convict us of hidden sins. Or he speaks through it a word of comfort and hope. I am thankful for both. You see how this worked in the early church through the prophets – “if all [the church] prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (1 Cor. 14:24- 25). Have you not experienced this? Have there not been times when you have been reading God’s word and all the sudden you felt as if God were speaking directly to you and into your situation? Have you not felt as if the word had discovered the very secrets of your heart? Thank God for that!

But there is another way it works. God’s word is piercing in the sense that God’s word demands nothing less than obedience all the way down to the level of the heart. The commands that come to us in God’s word are not meant to make us hypocrites; they are not concerned with merely external obedience. God does not look on the external appearance as man does; he looks on the heart (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7). Even so his words pierce to the heart in the sense of commanding and demanding the obedience and the affection of our inner man. We are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

We run into problems when we begin to treat God’s word as if it were just concerned with appearances. We can all keep up a good appearance, even when our hearts are far from God. Like those in our Lord’s day, who drew near to God with their mouths but their hearts were far from him (Mt. 15:8). But sin begins in the heart and is only carried on with the permission and consent of the heart. Sin begins in the imagination before it filters into action. Lust precedes sin in the overt act. It is therefore imperative that we keep our hearts with all diligence, for from it are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23). Hence Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that God’s word pierces to the heart, not merely in an experiential way, but in terms of its authority and scope. In fact, the reason why God’s word can prick us in the heart (Acts 2:37), is because of the scope of its commands. God’s word commands your thoughts, your loves, your priorities. If we are not obeying him on that level, we are in serious danger.

And this word which pierces us will judge us accordingly. As our Lord put it, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (Jn. 12:48). It is true that not everyone who hears God’s word responds in repentance. But those who have hardened themselves against it will one day find that it pierces them and discovers the weakness of their excuses as they stand before the Judge of the universe.

God’s Word is Perceptive

“Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Here we move almost imperceptibly from God’s word spoken to the One who speaks. Again, we cannot separate God and his word. He always stands behind his word. To reject God’s word is to reject God.

Now in a real sense this statement is a confirmation of the previous one. The reason why the word of God is able to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart is because the God of the word is omniscient. However, there is a difference. Whereas the focus of the previous statement was the depth to which the word of God pierces, the focus here is on the breadth to which the God who speaks sees. It is not saying just that God knows a few people well (down to the depths of their hearts and souls) but that he knows everyone this way (“neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight”). There is no one who can escape God’s penetrating gaze: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3).

The point is that you cannot escape God. Now these struggling Christians were wanting to escape the suffering that they were enduring. And one route they could take was the route of abandoning the faith in Christ. That would have afforded them temporary but immediate relief, and this made it very tempting. How does the book of Hebrews counteract this tendency? It does so by reminding them (and us) that no matter where we turn, we do not move outside the realm of God’s kingdom. He knows everything we do at every moment. And we cannot ultimately escape his judgment.

Jonah found this out the hard way, didn’t he? God told him to do something that was to him very distasteful, and so he decided that he wasn’t going to do it. And so “Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish [the opposite direction from where God told him to go – Nineveh] from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:3). That’s the beginning of the chapter. You know how it ends? “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (1:17). You cannot outrun God. You cannot really go from the presence of the Lord. When God had the fish vomit Jonah back up onto land, he simply reiterated his command to Jonah (2:1-2). “So Jonah arose...” (2:3), finally learning his lesson!

In the same way, when God warns us against rejecting his word (like Jonah tried to do), we should not think that we are somehow going to weasel our way out of the consequences of disobedience. It just doesn’t work that way. Now I know that a lot of people will object here and point out all those who are living in abject rebellion against God and seem to be doing just fine. But the judgment of God, like the Christian hope, is something mainly reserved for us on the other side of death: “It is appointed unto men

once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The reality is not that God doesn’t care about the wickedness of the wicked but that he is giving space for people to repent (cf. 2 Pet. 3:1-9). In fact, to use God’s forbearance – the temporary staying of his hand of judgment – as a reason to go on in sin, only exacerbates our guilt: “And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Rom. 2:3-4). Shall we despise the goodness of God by scoffing at his judgment which is temporarily restrained by his mercy?

Note the way God is described at the end of verse 13: he is the one “with whom we have to do.” We can ignore God now; we can deny he exists or doubt it and think that belief in God is irrelevant. That’s the way a lot of folks in our society look at God. However, you will have to deal with God; it is unavoidable. He is the one with whom you have to do. He is the one to whom we will all have to give an account. He is the one in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Of him and through him and to him are all things (Rom. 11:36).

Since we cannot run from God, the only logical thing to do is to run to God. This quote in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics puts it so well:

When you wish to do something evil, you retire from the public into your house where no enemy may see you; from those places of your house which are open and visible to the eyes of men you remove yourself into your room; even in your room you fear some witness from another quarter; you retire into your heart, there you meditate: he is more inward than your heart. Wherever, therefore, you shall have fled, there he is. From yourself, whither will you flee? Will you not follow yourself wherever you shall flee? But since there is One more inward even than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither you may flee. Will you flee from him? Flee unto him.2

This would be frightening if God only revealed himself to us as our judge. But that is not the only way he is the one with whom we have to do. In the person of Christ God reveals himself to us as God reconciled. We see this in the following verses, which we will (Lord-willing) consider in more depth next time (Heb. 4:14-16). There our Lord is presented to us as a high priest – the function of the high priest being to represent God’s people to God and to provide atonement for their sins – so that the throne of God becomes to us in Christ a throne of grace. This is the point of the apostle Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church: “All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:18-21). The gospel is the gospel (good news) precisely because in it God comes to us in Christ as reconciled.

And it is important, by the way, to understand who it is that needs to be reconciled. The problem is not mainly that we need to lay away our enmity toward God. That is true of course and it is important that we do this – we do need to repent of our hostility toward God. But that is not the primary problem! The primary problem with the human race is not man’s beef with God but God’s holy and just anger toward us. We need to be reconciled to a God who is alienated from us on account of our sin. And the only way this can happen is through Christ who bore the punishment due to sin so that those who believe in him might be made righteous before God and reconciled with God.


See https://poets.org/poem/casey-bat

Quoted in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (2nd ed.), p. 210-211.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Nature and Basis of Christian Ethics


  1. Introduction: the importance of studying Christian ethics

    1. What we are doing – and how it connects with our study of Bible doctrines (first three questions of the Shorter Catechism).

    2. We won’t act with conviction on what we don’t believe is true or if we don’t understand why it is true. “When the pollsters go on to questions how beliefs influence life, it becomes clear that for many people ‘belief’ is little more than religious assent. . .. They give conventional answers because they have never stopped to consider the implications of those stated beliefs for their manner of life. There is a disturbing gap between belief and personal commitment to those beliefs.” Eddie Gibbs, In Name Only: Tackling the Problem of Nominal Christianity; Qtd. In The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer, p. 82.

    3. The state of our culture. The rebellion against authority, esp. Biblical authority. “Americans are making up their own rules, their own laws. In effect, we’re making up our own moral codes. Only 13 percent of us believe in all of the Ten Commandments. Forty percent of us believe in five of the Ten Commandments. We choose which laws of God we believe in. There is absolutely no moral consensus in this country as there was in the 1950’s, when all our institutions commanded more respect. Today, there is very little respect for the law – for any kind of law.” (Findings from a survey by James Patterson and Peter Kim of over 2000 Americans who responded to 1800 questions. Quoted in The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer, p. 79-80.)

  2. Definition: What is Christian Ethics? John Murray writes: “If ethics is concerned with manner of life and behaviour, biblical ethics is concerned with the manner of life and behaviour which the Bible requires and which the faith of the Bible produces.” Basically, the question of ethics is: what is right and wrong, and how do we go about determining this? Christian ethics is the Christian [Biblical] view of right and wrong.

a. This assumes the Bible is from God, which assumes that God is the ultimate basis for ethics.

3. Opposition: Alternatives to Christian ethics

  1. The secular materialist point of view: getting “ought” from “is.” Problem: you

    don’t get moral facts from non-moral facts.

  2. Relativism: all values are relative. Each person decides for himself or herself.

    There is no ultimate standard. Problem: no one actually lives that way. (You see how this is worked out in the LGBTQ+ advocates: these lifestyles are permissible and celebrated as good because they are the products of human self- determination. However, if you disagree with their choices, you are viewed as a bigot, which is the ultimate sin of our generation.)

  3. An action is right if it promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people (utilitarianism). See Jonathan Swift’s essay A Modest Proposal. Problem: how do you define “greatest happiness”?

  1. We should just let “love” be the standard. This seems to have Biblical warrant (see, for example, Mt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8-10). Problem: who defines what is “loving.” Also, as for the Biblical warrant, note that

    1. First, love fulfills the law, not in the sense that love exclusively defines the content of the law, but in the sense that love motivates and propels us to fulfill the law. As John Murray put it, “love fills to the brim the cup which the law puts in our hand.”

    2. Second, love itself depends on God’s law: it is itself commanded: “Thou shalt love...”. God’s law is primary to and precedes the act of love.

    3. Third, Biblically, the exercise of love is determined by God’s commandments. We love precisely when we keep the commandments of God. Jn 14:15; Phil. 1:9-11.

  2. Each of the above alternatives dissolves into relativism and ultimately makes determining what is right and wrong impossible. This is scary because at this point the only thing that is left to order society is not law but power. And that is truly frightening.

4. Foundation (I): The Ultimate Basis for Ethics is God. Ought implies a law and law implies a lawgiver. Any lawgiver other than God makes law arbitrary.

       a. Why God has the right to dictate behavior: he is our Creator. We are not our own. He is the Potter and we are the clay. Ps. 100; Rom. 9:20-21.

            i. For the Christian, there is another reason: he is not only our Creator, but also our Savior. Far from becoming a reason to live any way we want; it is another reason to live a holy life: 1 Cor. 6:19-20.

  1. Right and wrong, good and bad, is determined by the character of God. 1 Pet. 1:15; Lk 6:36; 1 Jn. 4:19; Eph. 5:1-2; Mt. 5:48; Col. 3:9-10; 1 Jn. 3:2-3.

  2. Ethics are not arbitrary nor could God’s law look any different than what it is for God is unchanging.

            i. Objection: What about the differences between OT and NT? Ans: We must make a distinction between temporary regulations (like the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law) and abiding moral norms. What we are talking about in this study are those laws that are always true for all people. We will talk more about the laws of the Old Covenant and how they relate to the NT Christian at a later date.

       d. God’s laws are universal. His rules don’t just apply to Christians but to everyone, regardless of their spiritual condition or their geographical location. Gen. 18:25; Ps. 96:13; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 2:13-15; 1 Pet. 4:4-5.

5. Foundation (II): The Ultimate Source of Ethical Standards is God’s Word. We made a case in our first study on Bible doctrines that Scripture is God’s written word. We will see that an obvious implication of this fact is that it is authoritative for what we believe and how we are to act.

      a. We cannot rely on reason alone because we are corrupt and sinful. Sin has blinded our ability to perceive God’s law. Our consciences are imperfect.

  1. Certainly, if God has spoken in Scripture, we should listen! Ps. 1; 19; 119. (In our study of Bible doctrines, we will look at reasons why we can trust in God’s word.)

  2. The purpose of Scripture is not only to tell us how God saves us but also how we are to live. To insist on the latter is not legalism; it is obedience. Mt. 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 7:19; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Jn. 2:3.

6. Application. This should:

  1. Increase our love and gratitude to God for revealing to us what is best for us and

    for our flourishing. “Blessed is the man...”.

  2. Increase our confidence in knowing what is right and wrong. God has spoken

    clearly in his Word.

  3. Increase our desire for the Holy Spirit who through Christ enables obedience.

Resources: Christian Ethics by Wayne Grudem 

Principles of Conduct by John Murray


Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Nature and Canon of Scripture


I. The Nature of Scripture

A. What do we mean by “Scripture”? (Gk. graphe - writing)

   1. It is the Word of God in written form.

   2. How the Scriptures became the word of God (inspiration). Comment on 2 Tim. 3:14-17 and 2 Pet. 1:20-21.

   3. Heb. 3:6 – human author eclipsed by the Divine author, the Holy Spirit.

   4. Mt. 19:5-6, quoting Gen. 2:24, in words not specifically attributed to God in the text are nevertheless quoted as the very words of God, indicating that our Lord understood all the Pentateuch to be the words of God.

   5. “And the LORD spoke to Moses...” throughout the Pentateuch. Also, “Thus saith the LORD” in the prophets.

B. What about the NT?

   1. Apostles spoke the words of God: 1 Cor. 2:12-13; Jn. 14:26; 16:13-15.

   2. They understood their writings to be Scripture (1 Tim. 5:18, quoting Luke

10:7; and 2 Pet. 3:16 referring to Paul’s epistles in the category of Scripture).

C. Other forms of God’s Words (as distinguished from Scripture per se)

   1. Jesus, the incarnate Word, Jn. 1:1, 14.

   2. God’s decrees. Ps. 33:6

   3. God’s personal address, speaking from heaven.

   4. God’s words through the prophets (not written down)

   5. God’s word in nature (Ps. 19; Acts 14:17)

D. Why focus on Scripture in our study of theology?

   1. Because this is how God’s word is available to us today, and it is the written word (law) that is repeatedly encouraged to be the object of our study and delight (see Ps. 119).

E. Why start here (why not start with theology proper)?

   1. Because the only saving knowledge of God can be found in Scripture. We can know God as creator in nature, but not as Savior (Ps 19).

   2. Because, apart from God’s word, our corrupt hearts will twist God’s general revelation into idolatry (Rom. 1; 1 Cor. 1). Natural theology needs special revelation to keep it on the straight and narrow.

II. The Canon of Scripture

A. We need to know what body of writings compose the Scriptures. As Grudem puts it, “What belongs in the Bible and what does not belong?”

    1. See Deut. 4:2l

B. OT Canon:

    1. Jewish witness: Josephus (Against Apion), after enumerating the list of books in the Jewish Scripture – which corresponds to the books in our OT – says, “We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures. For although such long ages have now passed [since the last book in the OT was written], no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them.”

        a) In the same book, Josephus divides the OT into three categories, which the Jews call the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Under these three categories belong all the books of the OT. This is significant, for the following reason. Our Lord witnesses to it!

    2. Our Lord’s witness – Luke 24:44. Here is Henry Alford’s comments: “This threefold division of the O.T. is the ordinary Jewish one, into the Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa – the first containing the Pentateuch; the second Joshua, Judges, the four books of Kings, and the Prophets, except Daniel; the third the Psalms, and all the rest of the canonical books, - Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah being reckoned as one book, and the Chronicles closing the canon.”

        a) See our Lord’s attitude to the OT: Mt. 4; 5:17-18; Jn. 10:35.

    3. What about the Apocrypha? Refer back to points 1 and 2! It only gained gradual approval in the Roman Catholic Church, and wasn’t even granted canonical status until the Council of Trent in the seventeenth century.

        a) Grudem’s summary: “(1) they do not claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the Old Testament writings; (2) they were not regarded as God’s words by the Jewish people from whom they originated; (3) they were not considered to be Scriptures by Jesus or the New Testament authors; and (4) they contain teachings inconsistent with the rest of the Bible.”

C. NT Canon:

    1. Apostolic authorship (see the comments on the nature of the NT writings).

    2. Apostolic oversight (Mark, Luke-Acts, Hebrews)

    3. Widespread use by the church

D. What about other books? Like the gnostic gospels (Gospel of Thomas for example)? Didn’t the church use its power to squelch other books (as claimed in The Da Vinci Code)? Weren’t there many Christianities at first and we have the Bible of the winners?

    1. There were always various “Christian” sects, but the reality is that, from the first century to the fourth when it was recognized by the Roman Empire, there was always one dominant Christian Church, as can be seen from the bishops of the time and from the description by Celsus of the “the Great Church.”

    2. Also, the early church – as early as the second century, long before the church had the power of the state to back it up – believed in the Four Gospels as canonical, and nothing else. Irenaeus, writing in the late second century: “It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the ‘pillar and ground’ of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.”

    3. Origin, writing in the early third century (again, before the fourth century when all this was supposed to be decided): “I know a certain gospel which is called ‘The Gospel according to Thomas’ and a ‘Gospel according to Matthias,’ and many others have we read – lest we should in any way be considered ignorant because of those who imagine they possess some knowledge if they are acquainted with these. Nevertheless, among all these we have approved solely what the church has recognized, which is that only the four gospels should be accepted.”

    4. Not only the gospels were fixed by the second century, but most of the rest of the NT books were considered Scripture. It is true that some of the smaller books (like 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude) continued to be debated until the fourth and fifth century. But two things need to be noticed: the core of the canon was already there, and it was considered and quoted as Scripture by the early church.

    5. Writing about Irenaeus, Michael Kruger notes: “In the midst of his battles with the heretics of his day, he provides one of the clearest articulations of the state of the canon in the second century, affirming the scriptural status of at least the four Gospels, Acts, all the Pauline epistles (minus Philemon), Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 1 and 2 John, and Revelation – 23 out of the 27 books in the New Testament.”


Resources: Systematic Theology (2nd ed), by Wayne Gudem

Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell L. Bock

Christianity at the Crossroads, by Michael J. Kruger


Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Rest of the Story (Heb. 4:1-11)

 


If you want to read your Bible for the purpose of understanding, one of the things you want to do is to look for key words or ideas.  What it the main idea here?  And is that communicated through key words?  Well, here in Hebrews 4, there is no doubt what the key word is.  It is the word rest.  The noun “rest” is used seven times in the first eleven verses, and the corresponding verb “to rest” is used three times.  A similar word for “rest” is used in verse 9.  So if we really want to understand what this passage (verses 1-11) is about, we need to really try to wrap our minds around what is being said here about this rest, what it is and why it is so important.

And rest is important, isn’t it?  I think in one way or another, everyone is trying to find rest.  If we are not seeking physical rest, we are seeking rest from feelings of guilt, from the past that haunts us, from the sense that what we have done with our life is not meaningful.  Sometimes the things that nag us are not those things which are wearing us down physically, but the things which are wearing us down mentally and emotionally.  And we want deliverance from those things; we want rest.

There is rest, and I am grateful that one of the ways that Scripture presents salvation to us is in terms of rest.  Isn’t this what our Lord did?  “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).  However, the Bible is equally clear that this salvific rest is not for everyone.  The prophet Isaiah tells us, “I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him.  But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.  There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa. 59:19-21).  So if we want true rest, we have to seek it in the way God gives it.  And the book of Hebrews helps us here.

The author is still expositing, so to speak, from the ninety-fifth Psalm, which began back at 3:7.  In chapter 3, the emphasis was upon the unbelief and disobedience of the wilderness generation of the Israelites.  In this chapter, the emphasis is on what they rejected through their unbelief and what we obtain by faith: God’s rest.  Given the importance of rest, we really need to understand what is begin said here about God’s rest.  So with that in mind, there are three things I would like us to consider about this rest.  First, I want to show that this is an available rest; second, that it is a heavenly rest; third, that it is an infinitely desirable rest.

God’s rest is an available rest.

First, we know it is still available because the rest promised to Israel is the rest promised in the gospel.  This is the logic behind verses 1 and 2.  In verse 1, the author argues that rest (spoken of in the previous chapter) is promised to us, although it is not an automatic thing and we shouldn’t take it for granted, and we should “therefore fear, lest . . . any of you should seem to come short of it.”  But how is this rest promised to us?  It is promised in the gospel, which is the point of verse 2: “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them.”  

Now this is interesting because a lot of people have a misconception here.  There is this idea out there that people in the OT were saved differently than people in the NT.  But this is not the Biblical picture.  We are justified by faith in Christ under the New Covenant and folks were justified by faith in Christ under the Old Covenant.  But you might ask, “How could people believe in Christ before he came?”  Well, though it is true that folks who lived before Christ didn’t understand fully who he was or exactly how he would accomplish salvation, they did look forward to the promised Messiah, and those who put their trust in him were saved.  And the way they looked forward to him was through the promise of redemption that God progressively unfolded through history, culminating of course in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

The reality is that the gospel has been present and preached in the world since the Fall of man into sin.  It is there in the promise of the Seed of the woman in Gen. 3:15, in the words of God to Satan: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”  But it flashes even more brightly in the promise God gave to Abraham: “and in thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).  Here is the apostle Paul’s commentary on this verse: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:8).  Did you hear that?  God preached the gospel to Abraham.  When did he do that?  When he gave him the promises.  And when Abraham believed that, he was justified (Gal. 3:6; Gen. 15:6).  So you see, people have always been justified by faith in Christ, from the very beginning, even if they didn’t know as much about him as we know.  Listen to what our Lord said about Abraham.  “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (Jn. 8:56).  If that’s not faith in Christ, I don’t know what is!

The point is that the gospel has been around for a long time.  It is not just a NT phenomenon.  It is of course much clearer today.  It was presented in the OT period primarily through types and shadows.  But through these types and shadows, the gospel was preached.  In fact, I would say that it is in part because of the types and shadows, especially those under the Law in the sacrifices, that we can make sense of what Jesus did on the cross.  We couldn’t really understand the gospel apart from the OT.  God was building a vocabulary in the law for us to understand the substitutionary work of the sacrifice of Christ.  But again, the point is that the gospel was preached long before Jesus was born.  It was preached every time the promise of God to Adam and Eve was recited.  It was preached every time the promise to Abraham was retold.  It was preached in the promises that God made to King David.  It was preached in the Law and it was preached in the prophets.  And when people believed God’s promises, like Abraham they were justified.

Thus, even the physical land of Canaan was meant to be a picture of the rest that we have in Christ.  When the wilderness generation of the Israelites refused to believe that God was for them and turned away from the Promised Land, they were refusing much more than dirt and earth on the other side of the Jordan River.  They were refusing to believe in God’s promises, and when they refused to believe they were in essence rejecting the gospel.  What the author has been doing is to exhort the folks in the church there at Rome not to do the same, not to follow their bad example.  It is only those who believe – who believe the promise of rest in the gospel who enter into that rest: “For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest” (3).

But now in the following verses, he essentially seeks to argue why the rest promised to Israel and the rest promised to us is the same rest.  That is, he is going to show that the gospel preached to ancient Israel in the wilderness is the gospel which is being preached to first century Jews in Rome (and to us).  Or, another way to put it: how is he justified in using Psalm 95 for a Jewish-Christian audience in first century Rome (or for us)?  Up to this point, he has simply assumed and stated the fact; now he argues for it.  And this is what he is doing in verses 3-9.  Note the conclusion in verse 9: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”  That is what he is aiming for.  How does he justify this conclusion?

The key to his whole argument is to note the way God describes the rest in Ps. 95.  It is not just any rest: it is “my rest” (cf. Ps. 95:11).  This is God’s rest.  And what does that refer to?  It refers to God’s ceasing his work of creation on the seventh day.  This is the point of the end of verse 3 and verse 4.  In fact, the author quotes Gen. 2:2 in verse 4: “For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.”

However, it might seem strange the way this idea is introduced at the end of verse 3: “although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”  Why “although”?  What does that mean?  Why put this in the form of a concession?  Usually, when you use the word “although” it is because what you are about to say seems to militate against it.  For example, I might say, “Although I am tall, I am afraid of heights.”  I use the word “although,” because you might think that being tall would make a person naturally not afraid of heights!  So why would the fact that God’s works were completed on the seventh day be a problem with the promise of entering into God’s rest?

It is a problem because that’s in the past and the rest which is set before us in Ps. 95 and Heb. 3-4 is something into which we can enter now, today (note the present tense in Heb. 4:3).  How can this past rest of God’s apply to us in the present?  That is the question which is solved for us in the following verses.  What is being argued is this: what is past with God is present and future with respect to us.

That it is past with God is the point in verses 3-4.  Now look at verses 5-6.  “And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.  Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief….”  In verse 5, he again reminds us of Ps. 95:11.  What he sees in this psalm are people being urged to not follow the example of the wilderness generation of the Israelites and to enter into God’s rest which they rejected.  This only makes sense if that rest is still available, if we can still enter into it.  David wrote this hundreds of years after the Exodus (the Exodus occurred about 1450 B.C. and David reigned about 1000 B.C.), and yet the promise of rest was still intact.  And clearly this Psalm wasn’t just meant for Israel in David’s day, but for succeeding generations as well.  In other words, what is past with God is present and future with respect to us.

Then note the argument in verses 7-8: “Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.  For if Jesus [that is, Joshua] had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”  David wrote this long after the Exodus and the wilderness journeys.  It would not make sense to tell people to enter into this rest if it only applied to the physical possession of the Promised Land in Canaan.  Though Canaan is certainly a type of the rest promised here, it is not the rest in its fullness.  It was pointing to something much, much better.  Hence the conclusion of verse 9: “There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God.”

God’s rest is a heavenly rest.

But how can we enter into God’s rest?  How does that make sense?  This is explained for us in verse 10: “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.”  In other words, the way we enter into God’s rest is by imitating him in his rest.  How do we do that?  There are several things to note as we think about this.  First, the works from which God ceased were good works, not bad works.  “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).  I note this because it might be tempting to interpret ceasing from our works as no longer relying on our own personal goodness for salvation.  “Works” are used that way in Scripture – to refer to things done in order to merit God’s favor.  And of course we should never trust in our works, in our goodness, as the reason why we think God will accept us into his friendship and fellowship.  We must trust only in Christ and in the grace of God through him.  But that is not the meaning here, because those kinds of works are not really good works.  It is not a good thing to trust in your works, in your righteousness, before God.  Ceasing from that would be ceasing from a bad thing.  So that is not the idea here.

What is the idea?  I think we get at it in Rev. 14:13. There John writes, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”  Those who die in the Lord rest from their labors.  Their works follow them in the sense that the memory of them never dies (“God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love,” Heb. 6:10).  To rest, then, is to rest from the labors of the good works done now by the grace of God for the glory of God.  This is a rest that we really only truly enter into when we enter into heaven.  Right now, the Christian life is a life of labor, of blood, sweat, and tears.  “We must through much affliction enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  We must strive to enter in (Lk. 13:24).  To follow Christ and to honor him this side of heaven is not always easy.  Our Lord described it in terms of dying to yourself, of taking your cross and following him.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  We are presently to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).  And it is the reason why we read, in verse 11 of our text, “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”  This side of heaven we are laboring, we are striving, we are working.  We are not yet resting in the sense of the rest promised here.  But for those who belong to Christ, that rest is sure to come.  There is coming a day when we will no longer have to fight the flesh, the world, and the devil.  Our tears and pain and toil and fears will one day cease and we will enjoy unfettered fellowship with the living God.

This interpretation of rest is supported by what the author has already said in chapter 3.  Remember that it is in chapter 3 that he introduced the passage from the Psalm.  That Psalm was meant to support statements like these: “But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Heb. 3:6; cf. ver. 14).  The rest promised corresponds to the hope that we have in Christ, and this hope points us beyond this life into the next.  It is the same hope shared by the patriarchs: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having received them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.  But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:13-16).  Our rest is in heaven; until then we are strangers and pilgrims upon the earth.

But I want to notice something else about this rest.  This heavenly rest is not a rest in the sense of total cessation of all activity.  Heaven is not going to be a place where we just lounge around.  It is not a place where we will just be floating around on clouds plucking at a harp.  Frankly, that would be boring after about one minute.  No, my friends, heaven will be a place of unceasing activity.  When God rested, he did not stop all activity.  His work of creation stopped, yes; but he continues to work in providence and salvation.  In the same way, our resting means ceasing from one sort of activity (the labor of pursing holiness under the condition of sinfulness and the opposition of the world) to another (the never-ending, ever-increasing joy of unbroken and unhindered fellowship with God).  Heaven, will, I believe, be a place where we will expand the creative abilities given to us by God, only this time without the sweat of the brow.  Remember that before Adam sinned, he worked; work as such is not bad, but sin has made it difficult.  Our working will not completely cease, but the sin which makes it untasteful and difficult will. 

It is important to remember this, because if the only idea you have of heaven is as a place of ethereal existence floating around singing all the time, it will be hard for you to get excited about it.  No, we are embodied souls, and we will enjoy eternity in resurrected bodies in a very tangible new heavens and new earth, and worship will be something that will be inevitable because we will not be able to help rejoicing and praising and glorying in the beauty and glory and excellence and majesty of the God whom we will see and know even as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12).  Think about all the things that make earth distasteful for you and those will be gone.  No more sin, no more worry, no more hurting, no more loneliness, no more rejection, no more failure, no more shame, no more frustration.  Pure, unbroken fellowship with God.  We will be able to be fully what God created us to be.  And that is a reason for hope.

But if this rest is a heavenly rest, and we know that the only way we can get into heaven is by the unmerited grace of God, why are we told to labor to enter into it?  Why are we told to fear not entering into this rest?  How is that consistent with the fact that eternal life is a free gift of the grace of God that not only saves us but keeps us?

Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that we are to labor in order to earn it.  We can’t do that.  We are sinners before God and against God.  We have given up any chance on earning eternal life.  As the apostle Paul put it, “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.  For what saith the scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:2-5).  Eternal life is “the gift of God . . . through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 6:23). 

So then what does it mean to labor to enter it?  Well, there is only one road that leads to eternal life.  You don’t get on that road because you are better than those who aren’t.  You’re there because of the grace of God.  But the road that leads to glory is a path that involves repentance and perseverance and killing sin and denying self.  If you aren’t on that road, you can’t say that you are saved.  It’s what our Lord was getting at when he said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mt. 7:13-14).  What kind of road ends in eternal life?  It is the road that begins with the strait gate.  The road is narrow.  The way is hard.  It is a road which requires your full attention.  It can be very hard and difficult at times.  The way of the world, on the other hand, is easy.  It is a broad way, an easy way.  It lets you be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do.  Both these roads end, but what they end in does not end.  The broad road ends in eternal destruction.  The narrow road, the laboring road, ends in eternal life.

If you want to see what this looks like, consider the example of the apostle Paul.  This is what laboring to enter in looks like: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended” – in other words, he didn’t think he had arrived; there was still much growing to do, much laboring to do.  “But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).  Reach forth, pressing forward for the prize – that’s what it means to labor to enter into God’s rest.  Or, as the apostle Peter puts it, “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:12).  In other words, all of life is to be lived in light of eternity.  My choices and priorities, and the way I spend my time, ought to reflect that.  Does it?

God’s rest is an infinitely desirable rest.

The fact that we are to fear lest we don’t enter into this rest, that we are to labor to enter into it, shows that this rest is an infinitely desirable rest.  The fear here is not a fear that the elect will lose their salvation; that is not possible.  But it is the fear that I might be a fake.  It is that healthy sort of fear which leads you to examine yourself to see if you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).  The fact of the matter is that there are people out there who call themselves Christian and they have never been born again, they have never truly repented of their sins, and they have never truly put their faith in Jesus Christ.  And when the going gets tough, like Pliable in Pilgrim’s Progress, they will leave the faith.  This is what the author is saying here.  Make your calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10).  The biggest fear should not be earthly loss.  The biggest fear is that my faith is not real and that my hope is the hope of a hypocrite.

But here’s the point: I only fear missing out on those things that I really want and desire.  I will only put in maximum effort for those things that I find truly valuable.  And that’s the reason why this text is bookended the way it is.  Fear lest you fail to enter in (1); labor to enter in (11) – why? Because eternal fellowship with God is infinitely more desirable than amassing earthly wealth or growing a business or going on exotic vacations or basking in fame.  All those things will eventually rot.  You can’t take any of them beyond the grave.  But you will meet God, and you will either enter into eternal rest or eternal ruin.  And in light of eternity, God’s rest will be seen to be infinitely desirable and every other object of one’s desire will shrink into comparative meaninglessness.

So many people labor for that which does not profit.  But Christ is infinitely valuable and supremely desirable.  The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat that which is good and let your soul delight itself in fatness” (Isa. 55:1-2).  Without Christ, you are laboring for that which is not bread and does not satisfy.  With Christ, no matter what we endure, we know that in the end we will have eternal life and unbroken joy.  And you know the amazing thing about this bread and water of life?  You can have it without paying for it.  For if you belong to Christ, you already have eternal life by virtue of his perfect life and atoning death.  As the hymn puts it, “He paid the price; he bore the burden.”

Another way to put this is, how do we keep the sabbath?  The word “rest” in verse 9 is actually a different word from what is used every other time in this chapter (4).  It is the word sabbatismos and literally means “keeping of sabbath” or “a sabbath rest.”  What the context shows is that God’s sabbath points forward to an eternal sabbath rest, this rest to which we are pointed in our text (it is sometimes noted that the seventh day in Genesis doesn’t have an evening to it; that is, it doesn’t end – it too is an eternal rest).  And this sabbath is kept in Christ.  It is to what the weekly sabbath, the resting from physical labors one day out of the week, was meant to point.  Christ is the fulfillment of that sabbath, which is why the apostle Paul will tell the Colossian believers, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).  We don’t keep the sabbath holy in the New Covenant era by literally physically resting one day out of seven (not that this is bad; it is just no longer part of our obedience to God).  However, that doesn’t mean we don’t keep the Sabbath at all – it just means that we keep Sabbath in the truest sense of the word, by finding eternal rest in Christ.  He is our sabbath, and we find rest in him by faith (cf. Mt. 11:28-30).

So,

“Come, ye weary, heavy laden,

Bruised and mangled by the fall;

If you tarry till you’re better,

You will never come at all. 

 

I will arise and go to Jesus,

He will embrace me in his arms;

In the arms of my dear Savior,

O there are ten thousand charms.”

 

The Word of God (Heb. 4:12-13)

Yesterday (9/11/21) was the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon and the tr...