Hebrews 3-4: How to enter God’s lasting ‘rest’

JeffSome read about the “Sabbath-rest” in Hebrews 4 and conclude that the teaching is that the remembrance of the seventh-day rest, the Sabbath, has been transferred to the Messiah, Yeshua. Yet the context of the passage and the quotations in it relating to a pivotal event in the Torah point to the fuller meaning of personal peace and real “rest” that God provides.

A big hint about reading the letter of Hebrews is that the entire book is about the High Priest and what it would mean to be without a Temple and the High Priest. That’s key to the understanding of our focus today, Hebrews 3-4.

The account of Meribah and Massah referred to in Hebrews 3-4 is reflected upon in Psalm 95, particularly Psa. 95:7-11. That is pointing to a moment in Israel’s history, recorded in Ex. 17:1-7. Let’s pick apart the names of these places. They were named this way because the people tested the LORD. Meribah means “place of strife,” and Massah “place of testing.” The key part of the account is the question on the minds of the contentious, “Is God with us or not?” (Ex. 17:7).

In Exodus 16, the prior chapter, the children of Israel complained about not having food and so God had just given them manna but this is also when God started teaching them about keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. Exodus 14-15 was the crossing of the Red Sea. Before that were the plagues on Egypt in Exodus 7-10, culminating with the death of all the first-born of Egypt and the Exodus itself (Exodus 11-13). 

God had already given them plenty of examples of His presence among His people, but the children of Israel refused to see it. 

Psalm 95 points to this generation, which had rejected God, in a sense. Because they rejected Him, they would not enter the Promised Land. The beginning of the end of that generation’s entry into the Promised Land was not with the fear from the report by the 12 spies but at Meribah and Massah. 

It wasn’t until Yehoshua (Joshua) and the second generation that the children of Israel that they entered the Land, yet there was a lingering mistrust of God. You see this in archaeology where there was a mixture of the Caananite religion with the religion of the true God. They hedged their bets, believing in many gods and hoping that one of them would have mercy on them. The question “Is the Lord with us or not?” did not end at Meribah and Massah.

What happens without a physical temple, a high priest, daily sacrifices, etc.? That question of “Is the LORD with us or not?” pops us over and over. The question is how will we respond?

“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said,  ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.’” (Heb. 3:12–15)

When God opens your ears, that is your Today. Are you going to answer that call, make that decision in faith and follow God? Do we go forward or shrink back?

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)

We have to look back to the source of all things. Is the God of Israel only one of many gods or is He the only one who can help us? God is able to judge the intentions of the heart, therefore, there’s no point in striving for His rest on our own merits. The one who is able to judge the heart can not be fooled by a show. One of the failings of a human High Priest is that he can be fooled by a good actor, a good show. You see that with Hannah and the High Priest. The High Priest assumed she was drunk because he did not know Hannah’s heart. Yeshua has no such failing. 

We enter into God’s rest when we trust in the work of His Son, Yeshua, the true High Priest. 

Shabbat has different meanings and roles. It’s a memorial of Creation, a memorial to freedom from slavery, a memorial to God’s sanctification. It is also a memorial to His High Priest. It is the High Priest Yeshua who gave us rest. It is because of Him that there is no separation between God and us. That is how we can have confidence to pray to God. We can know with certainty that God hears us because we have a High Priest who understands us and will give us the strength to overcome. 

The mission of the High Priest is to bring together what was formerly apart from God back to God. If we are to mirror what God has done for us, He restored what was lost. We were completely lost and we are to help restore others who need refreshing and restoration from God.When God says He will remember our sins no more, what we were is gone. That is what gives us confidence to approach God. 

Speaker: Jeff. Summary: Tammy. Recorded on Shabbat, the second day of Sukkot 2014 in Occidental, Calif.

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