Today’s reading continues to encourage Jewish Christians to remain true to the covenant established by Jesus by drawing analogy been their present circumstances and the circumstances of most of their forebears in the wilderness — because they wanted to turn back. Such people the writer do not enter the great rest of God.
This “rest” he speaks of can be a little difficult to follow, because he is using (each for different reasons) the term rest in several ways.
- The rest of the promise land, Canaan
- The rest of the Last day of creation, when God rested
- The rest of eternal life
And to put it in a nutshell, he’s trying to say that there is more than one rest (Canaan) to enter. His proof: that David spoke of it in Psalms 95.
Hopefully, then, having clarified things, let’s look at other passages that grabbed my attention…
Hearing united by faith — Heb. 4:2
There are some that are of the belief and practice that coming to church and enduring the sermon is quite sufficient for obtaining the home of Heaven. They hear and hear and hear, but they ever do much (anything) with it. There are good folks who will sit in an audience in church who hear numerous invitations to obey the Gospel, but who have never progressed past the hearing stage and have yet to be baptized. There are others who have become Christians, but who haven’t progressed much beyond that — we’ll talk more of them in the latter part of chapter 5. They all have failed to unite hearing and faith, that is, hearing and believing enough to prompt them to action, to change, to die to themselves and make room for Christ to live in them. This is what the writer fears for these Jewish Christians who had read the Scripture over a lifetime, who’d heard who knows how many sermons, and who had participated in who knows how many Bible studies; but who in the last analysis were failing to do what they had heard. It’s a oft repeated principle in the Bible, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
Sharper than any two edged sword — Heb. 4:12,13
And this word will be our judge and will be able to discern the fine details of life, including every secret, motivation, and intention. The context includes references to Israel’s receiving of the Law, styled “good news” in vs.6, but also their disobedience to it which was their downfall and failure in the wilderness, which prevented them from entering Canaan’s rest. It is the same word of God that must be obeyed now with the same fear and reverence that it was due at Sinai and otherwise as it was revealed from Moses’ during the wilderness sojourn. The words of Jesus and the apostles were not a second rate revelation from God; rather they were even superior to Mosaic Law. Therefore, they must not be abandoned or disobeyed by returning to the synagogue as some early Jewish Christians were being tempted to do — as if returning to the Law would be an acceptable alternative or plan “B” to avoid persecution (a major factor in this temptation). The lesson for modern meniscus similar — especially to modern Jewish Christians facing similar pressures and persecution to return to the synagogue — returning to a previous life is not an acceptable alternative. We will be closely judged (the point of the metaphor of a keenly sharp two edged sword) by Jesus’ words (John 12:48) and we must neither abandon nor disobey them.
Jesus was heard — Heb. 5:7
Despite the fact that He was God’ only begotten Son, despite the fact that was sinless (pious), despite the fact that of all people His prayer should have been heeded and answered with a yes, the Father still answered His prayer in Gethsemane, “No.” Suffering is part of being human since the fall; plus, there was a major promise and plan to fulfill in the cross. So, next time the Lord doesn’t answer your prayer the way had hoped, consider 1) how Jesus was heard but didn’t receive a yes and 2) that it may have nothing at all to do with how faithful or obedient you’ve been — you have been heard and loved and there is real concern from God for your plight, but sometimes things just have be this way. Sometimes there are bigger issues at stake than our own suffering. As a child I didn’t always understand why my parents did or didn’t do some things that really wanted them to do. I didn’t factor in keeping a roof over my head or food on the table. I didn’t even have my own long range good in mind — just what I wanted now.
Grow up — Heb. 5:12
Here the writer chides the audience for their apparent lack of Bible knowledge that should have led them to these same conclusions on their own; they had been Jews and then Christians long enough that they could have been and should have been teachers of these things themselves, but they weren’t. For example, he’d like to remind them about Jesus’ priesthood of the order of Melchizedek, but instead he is afraid (probably in hyperbole) that they may need remedial Christian fundamentals. Their apparent lack of knowledge and understanding was putting them in danger of falling away (chapter 6), so he was encouraging them to grow up! There are important lessons here for us, too. We mustn’t neglect our own study of Scripture. We must move beyond the basics, otherwise we place ourselves in danger of falling away.
Do not be sluggish — Heb. 6:12
God deserves our best efforts and our immediate obedience. Being sluggish in our response to anyone’s command says something slavish about us — that we really don’t want to do it, but are feeling forced to do so. Sluggishness also implies hesitation, weighing whether we’ll do it or not. And that why he exhorts us to avoid being sluggish. Glad, faithful, willing obedience jumps to the task and sees it through with diligence and enthusiasm. There’s no slavishness about it, just grateful love.
The anchor of the soul — Heb. 6:19
Hope, one of the three pillars of Christianity, is styled here as an anchor of the soul. Possibly because of the the book of Hebrews, the anchor became a symbol of Christianity that can be seen in ancient catacombs in Rome. But why is hope an anchor? It has to do with the what the Christian hope was and is — not some vague optimism in life, but a very specific certainty that death was not the end of life, but rather would flow into a comforting existence in Paradise, a resurrection, and an eternal home in Heaven! Such a hope — a sure expectation of God’s promise — kept early Christians, like those addressed in Hebrews, anchored to the Lord, rather than breaking away in the midst of fiery opposition. It is for this reason that I would suggest that hope always be a prominent topic in sermons and study materials. Are you anchored securely?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.