Hebrews 3:1—4 :2 – The Sabbath Rest and Failure to Enter
Do you need to rest? Most people who are quarantined in their homes would probably say, “No! I need to get out and work!” But of course we all need times of rest. We need to pray especially for doctors and nurses, for all medical people and others who are working tirelessly under dangerous circumstances, that they may have safety and rest.
But there is a rest of the soul. Jesus gave a great invitation to people whose souls were tired. They were burdened with guilt and were in bondage to religious teachers who were legalistic and judgmental. Their only source of religion was lifeless. So Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NKJV) They had to “labor” to become righteous, but it was impossible for them to become so because of the unrighteous legalist demands imposed on them by their false teachers. Their shepherds did not feed them; they only fed off the people for their own benefit.
Many years later, the writer of Hebrews, aware of the same lack of rest among the people to whom he wrote, explained the meaning of true rest in Jesus Christ. They were beginning to deny Christ, who is life, and to return to the lifeless religion they had before becoming Christians. Once they had enjoyed deep rest for their souls in Jesus; now they were ready to give it up, in order to protect their bodies from persecution.
Chapters three and four of The Epistle to the Hebrews teaches us about the Sabbath Rest—what it is, why some people are not able to enter into this rest, and how we can enter today. In today’s study, we will focus on the reason why some people never find true satisfaction and contentment in Jesus Christ.
Chapters one and two introduced us to Jesus Christ, God’s Son who freed us from all bondages of Satan, including the power of death and the fear of death. We have seen and heard of our Great Salvation. Jesus is the center of God’s plan for the world.
Now, in chapters three and four, we discover that God’s great purpose is not only to lead us out of sin and death, but also to lead us into fullness of life. This life is characterized by the Sabbath Rest. Remember that the Epistle to the Hebrews is similar to the Book of Exodus. Both speak about movement: Out of bondage, into rest.
First, he tells us who we are: “Holy brothers and sisters!” We are set apart from sin and evil, for God’s purposes in the world (see Ephesians 2:10). We have turned away from sin and turned towards God in the fear of the Lord. We have a “heavenly calling” to walk with the Lord. We do not belong to the world; we are “pilgrims on a journey,” not wanderers. God walks with us.
Because of this, we must be diligent to “set our minds on Christ Jesus, who is the Apostle and High Priest of God. Jesus was sent by God to deliver all men from the control of the devil, to reveal God’s Word to man and to do His Father’s will. (John 17:3-4)
Jesus Christ cannot be compared with any man, or with angelic beings. Moses was the most honored man among the Jews, the founder of the Jewish nation and the first prophet of Israel. But Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant, while Jesus is faithful as the Son over His own house. We are the house of God, the dwelling place of God (see Ephesians 2:22) We are the family of God, members of His koinonia community, if we remain faithful and hold fast our confidence and hope to the end.
Hebrews 3:7-4:2 The Second Warning of Hebrews
The first warning (2:1-4) was to be careful not to neglect God’s great salvation. This second warning is to be careful not to let our hearts be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, lest we fail to enter into God’s rest. This happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. The writer quotes Psalm 95 and gives the reason for the people’s failure to enter God’s rest (Psalm 95:8-11).
As Christians, we desire to enter into God’s rest. We want to understand the full meaning of resting in God. We will discover the amazing beauty and power of God’s rest in our next lesson (Lesson 6). But we will not understand that rest until we know the reasons why we can fail to enter God’s rest.
Numbers chapters 11-20 gives six ways the Israelites hardened their hearts could not enter God’s rest. John Wesley, in teaching about Israel’s failure to enter God’s rest, says: “Whoever finds redemption in the blood of Jesus has the choice of walking in the higher or the lower path . . . if he does not choose the more excellent way, he insensibly declines into a lower order of Christians.” The six reasons were:
- Murmuring – their unbelief took the form of grumbling and complaining. (Numbers chapter 11) “Nothing at all, except this manna!” The “manna” is Jesus. If He does not bring satisfaction, nothing else will. (Psalm 73:25)
- Jealousy – sins of the leaders (Numbers chapter 12) Aaron was jealous because the Lord spoke through Moses and not through him. God could speak through Moses because he was meek and humble (Numbers 12:3).
- Unbelief – sins of the people (Numbers chapters 13-14) They agreed with the 10 spies who gave a negative report of the land of Canaan, by saying “We felt like grasshoppers . . .” (Numbers 13:33) God forgave their unbelief, but they never attained their highest destination, their Sabbath Rest.
- Pride – sins of the Levites (Numbers chapter 16) Their ministry was the service of the house of the Lord and helping the Aaronic priests. They did not realize the glory of their calling; they could not see “the spiritual in the common.” (Barnabas, also a Levite, later redeemed the calling of the Levites – Acts 4:36-37)
- Spiritual depression – sin of the leader (Numbers chapter 14) Moses was overworked, opposed, criticized, misunderstood and threatened. He was tempted to run away, or to allow God to destroy all the people and make a new nation centered around himself. But he overcame, and avoided a nervous breakdown. But he did not enter God’s rest.
- Impatience – sins of the leaders (Numbers chapter 20) There was no water, and Aaron and Moses did not treat the Lord as holy in the sight of Israel. Moses’ impatience kept him from his true rest.
These are just six ways in which we can allow our hearts to be slowly hardened and thereby miss the beauty of entering Jesus’ invitation to come unto Him and enter His rest. After we deal with these 6 sins in our own lives, we will understand clearly what the rest of God means.
Hebrews 4:1-2 sums up the reason for failing to enter God’s rest. “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” (NKJV) They could not enter God’s rest even though they heard the promise, because they did not accept God’s Word in faith. The Word of God is an important key to victory in life. We must receive it not as the word of man, but as the absolute, authoritative Word of God. The ultimate reason for failing to enter God’s Sabbath Rest is refusing to trust God’s Word and to obey everything He says.
How can we help one another enter fully into the joy of new life in Christ? Hebrews 3:13-14 gives the answer. “Every day, as long as this today lasts, keep encouraging one another so that none of you is hardened by the lure of sin, because we have been granted a share with Christ only if we keep the grasp of our first confidence firm to the end.” (NJB) We cannot live the Christian life alone; none of us is strong enough to go it alone. We must encourage one another, and take responsibility for one another. This is the life of koinonia.
Some questions to consider:
- We know that we pass from death into life when we confess with our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. But we have seen today that many people who believe have never experienced Jesus’ promise in John 10:10. “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (NKJV) Is there anything in your life that prevents you from entering fully into the rest of God?
- What should I do if I discover that any of the 6 reasons mentioned in Numbers that prevented God’s people from entering into His rest may be applicable to me?
- We have seen that failure to live the abundant life in Christ is not only because of “big sins” that we commit; it may be because of our attitudes or lifestyle. Is there anyone in your family or your community that you need to encourage today?
A word of encouragement:
“For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again!” (Proverbs 24:16) Satan continues to attack Christians. He may cause you to suddenly fear what is happening around you, even to have a panic attack; this can happen to the strongest Christian. We need to continually clothe ourselves with the whole armor of God and be strong in His power, not in our own strength. And we must continue to strengthen one another.