Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11-13 ESV)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)
The book of Hebrews shoots straight with brutal honesty. You don’t have to read far into this epistle before this becomes very evident. Hebrews 2 warns against a drifting heart by stating “…we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it …” (Heb. 2:1). Hebrews 3 puts up red flags in regard to the dangers of a deceptive heart: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin….” (Heb. 3:12-15) There are three more warnings to follow as you read on and along with these warnings are many practical challenges to put into practice.
As you read the Bible though, you will find that Hebrews is not unusual or out-of-synch with the rest of the Canon. To echo two other NT passages: “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14) and it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:23). The writer to the Hebrews, in chapters 3 and 4, pulled out Psalm 95 to warn against rebellion and not entering God’s rest. Psalm 95 does not record an isolated low point for the children of God. Read the OT and you will find this reoccurring theme throughout its pages. Go to the Psalms alone and you will see the disobedience and unbelief of God’s people on the macro level in Psalms 78, 79, 80, 81, 85, 90, 95, 106 and 137, and this does not include the psalms addressing the sin of individuals. The ongoing battle against our flesh, the world and Satan is very real and will not end until we see Jesus face-to-face. While it is true that we are already beginning to realize God’s rest now, we will not fully experience this Sabbath-rest until heaven. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews will continue his call-to-arms through his letter. It is a call to persevere through life trusting the nature, work and promises of God.
However, to simply say, “Be good! Act right! Stick with it and love Jesus!” is nothing more than moralism and in the end it’s worthless—providing us no help at all. Fortunately for us, there is genuine help. What we have at our disposal is the power of the gospel which goes internal and transforms us from the inside out. And as brutally honest (and difficult at points to understand) as Hebrews is, the letter also provides this real help for the child of God. There are three specific sources of help we find in chapters three and four.
1. The Fellowship of the Saints (Hebrews 3:12-13): It is through the exercise of our spiritual gifts and the mutual encouragement we provide that we are strengthened and given the occasional kick in the pants that we all need.
2. The Word of God (Hebrews 4:11-13): Scripture comes to our aid as a source of judgment, life, and a functional tool which reveals our thoughts, motives and attitudes to keep us from falling by “the same sort of disobedience” that overtook the Children of Israel. The Bible is living and active—not just applicable to a Tenth Century B.C. shepherd king, or a First Century A.D. struggling church, but also to saints living in the 21st Century. The scope and power of the word of God penetrates deeply … no one is hidden from God’s sight—we are all exposed / laid bare and will either be justified or judged by His word.
3. Prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16): God’s throne of glory and majesty that once struck legitimate fear in our hearts has been transformed into a throne of grace by our High Priest, Jesus Christ. He has served faithfully and made propitiation for our sins (see Hebrews 2:17; 3:1-2) and is fully aware of what it is to be tempted in every way and yet He was victorious over every temptation. God waits for us. He longs to be gracious to us and invites us to come into His presence through prayer to find mercy for the sins of yesterday and to receive grace for today to hold fast our confession of faith and to run with perseverance the race that has been marked out for us.
I love the way Phillips puts it: “The Lord you serve, the Savior to whom you look, is not aloof from your trials, but feels then with intimate acquaintance. He is not disinterested or cold to what you are going through; he came to this earth and took up our human nature precisely so that he might now be able to have a fellow feeling with us. Therefore, he is eminently able to represent you before the throne of his heavenly Father, pleading your cause, securing your place, and procuring the spiritual resources you need.”
So while the challenges of this life and the hardness and craftiness of our own hearts are more than we can handle on our own, we find in the gospel the power and hope to overcome everything thrown against us and to finish well to the praise of His glorious grace.