HEBREWS 4:1-11

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

Therefore, since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

(New International Version)

In Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, she said to Him, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” In response, Jesus said to her:

Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.  (John 4:20-24, NASB)

Jesus’ response to the woman at the well was not meant to simply settle a controversy that existed among the people of that day.  Rather, Jesus intended to set forth a truth regarding all such discussions that were concerned with when, where, and just how to go about worshipping God.  Jesus’ point was that all such discussions would soon be coming to an end; at least for those whom He calls the “true worshipers.”

You see, in these statements, Jesus takes worship out of the realm and jurisdiction of earthly, physical, liturgical forms and ceremonies and elevates it to that spiritual realm where it has always belonged. Under the New Covenant in Christ, worship will no longer have anything specifically to do with “Jerusalem” or “this mountain” because it will be centered in that “greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11, NASB).

The New Testament informs us that the Law of Moses was “only a shadow [prophecy] of the good things to come and not the very form of things” (Hebrews 10:1, NASB). When Jesus died on the cross, “behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51, NASB).  These mysterious events surrounding the death of Christ signaled that the whole Hebrew sacrificial system of justification and worship had now come to an end.  There would no longer be a hagia (holy place) and a hagia hagion (most holy place).  The veil being ripped in two provided a new way into the one Holy Place – the very dwelling place of God.  Now, as a result of Christ’s sacrifice, “we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20, NASB).

You see, Jesus, our high priest, has gone ahead of us into the holy presence of God and made atonement for us with His own blood.  But, unlike the Old Testament high priest who went in alone, leaving the rest of the people behind, Jesus invites us – His “holy priesthood” (I Peter 2:9), His “kingdom of priests” (Revelation 1:6) –  to follow Him, to join Him there.  Jesus Himself is also that “new and living way.”  We don’t look for a material veil, a physical line of demarcation, that must be traversed in order to approach God.  Rather, “His flesh” – in other words, the body of Christ sacrificed for us upon the cross – has become the veil.  When we, by faith, become partakers of His atoning sacrifice, we step through the veil of His flesh and into the very presence of God.  Do you see the difference between the physical trappings of temple worship ordained through the Law of Moses and our spiritual, life-giving relationship with the Father sanctioned by the New Covenant in Christ?

Many people today, even many calling themselves “Christians,” struggle with these distinctions – the distinction between the physical and the spiritual, that is.  Despite Jesus’ words about how we “must worship in spirit and truth,” it appears that people today continue to err from truth by trying to make our worship some kind of physical, sanctimonious display or liturgical ceremony that must be practiced at a specific time, in a specific place, and in a specific manner; similar to how they thought of worship back in Old Testament days.

For example, perhaps you’ve heard people debate back and forth over whether the “church” should “meet together” for “worship” on a Saturday, or on a Sunday? Those who are of the Sabbatarian persuasion speak of the “sanctity of the Sabbath” – a practice that was ordained by God from the very beginning of the creation, for on the Seventh Day the Lord rested, or ceased His work of creation.  They say that this practice was later codified in the Law of Moses so that the Jewish people would not lose sight of the importance of observing this special day; and that nothing in the New Testament negates that command.

Other would-be scholars debate them and herald “the sanctity of Sunday” – the 1st day of the week; the day upon which the Apostle Paul said he met with the brethren to “break bread” (Acts 20:7) and the day Paul asked the church at Corinth to “put aside and save” a sum of money to help with the relief efforts of the Christians suffering down in Judea (I Corinthians 16:2).  Some even call Sunday “The Lord’s Day” thinking that it must have been the first day of the week that the Apostle John was talking about when he said, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…” (Revelation 1:10).  Some refer to the 1st Day of the Week as “the Eighth Day,” and assign it all kinds of symbolic meaning not actually taught in the New Testament.  However, all these people, on both sides of the issue, just don’t quite comprehend the truth that the cross makes the whole argument a moot point—meaningless in light of Biblical teaching. People who debate such issues are entirely ignorant of the fact that, for the authentic child of God,  there is no particular holy day or time. Every day we exist as a “living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1, NASB) becomes a holy day because WE are “Holy to the Lord.”

I love how Hebrews Chapter 4 speaks of entering into God’s rest.  The Hebrew writer speaks of the Sabbath day rest, inaugurated by God at the creation (verse 4) and then references the Children of Israel entering into the Promised Land and enjoying rest – provided by God – from their wilderness wanderings.  He is comparing and contrasting these two Sabbaths, these two “rests,” with something else, something that was prophesied through these examples but had not come yet – as of the time of the writings found in the Old Testament.

If we take note of verse 3, where it says, “For we who have believed enter that rest,” we see that entering God’s rest – celebrating the Sabbath (if you will) – is directly related to believing in Christ; not to following a particular religious observance or point of law.  Then in verse 6, we read: “Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience…”  Here the writer speaks of people who had not yet entered God’s rest, but would one day.  But he speaks of people who have had “good news preached to them” but “failed to enter because of disobedience.” So, we see that entering God’s rest – again, observing the Sabbath – is directly related to obedience to the good news – or to the word of God, the Gospel.

Then the Hebrew writer makes the most beautiful and sweeping statement in verses 9-11, when he says: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore, let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience” (Verses 9-11).

Taking these verses together, and doing our best to keep the context, it appears as if the writer is combining the present tense – “we who have believed enter that rest” (verse 3) with the future tense – “there remains a rest for the people of God” and “let us be diligent to enter that rest.”  The Hebrew writer may simply be exhorting the reader not to delay, but to enter into a New Covenant Relationship with God right away – today!  Or the writer may be combining our present entering into a New Covenant relationship with God with our ultimate destiny – our final rest, or Sabbath, when Christ Jesus our Lord takes us home to glory.

Either way you look at it, it becomes clear that he is not talking about the Old Covenant Sabbath day, as codified in the Law of Moses, or even a Sunday – which some have erroneously dubbed the Christian Sabbath – or any other particular DAY of the week; he is talking about entering into a personal, intimate, life-giving relationship with God.   And we who are “Holy to the Lord” – the New Covenant Children of God – have entered into that “Sabbath rest for the people of God.”  We did that when we, by faith, became partakers of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and entered in the New Covenant in Christ.

So we see that the New Covenant, itself, is our Sabbath day.  We have, as the writer says in verse 10, “rested from our works,” in that we no longer ascribe to the Law of Moses, or appeal to the practice of any moral or religious law, as the basis of our salvation.  It is not about our performance, or our track record; and, while a living faith works (James Chapter 2), our faith is not in our works, but only in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And this fact, this knowledge, is a great source of peace, comfort, and rest for the Children of God.  The Apostle Paul says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

The early Christians living in the 1st Century, who were constantly under threat from the Jewish persuasion, needed to understand this; and this is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians living in the city of Colossae saying:  “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17, NASB).  I’ve heard people say, “Oh, he is not talking there about the regular Sabbath day there, he only has in view special high and holy days; he’s only talking about High Sabbaths that occur seasonally.”  But the text does not use the term “High Sabbath,” it says, specifically, not to let anyone act as your judge in regard to “a Sabbath day.”

The authentic children of God understand this, and they understand why.  It’s because no particular day, not Saturday, not Sunday, not Christmas, not Easter, not Hanukkah, not Yom Kippur, no particular “day” is any more holy, or unholy, than any other day – every day is a holy day for the authentic New Covenant child of God.  Why? Because WE are “living and holy sacrifices,” WE are “Holy to the Lord” and, therefore, every day we live, can be – if we will it so – a day of holy worship unto the Lord. This is also why we are told, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17, NASB). Every day is holy and all that we do is worship because WE, the children of God, are “living and holy sacrifices” to the Lord.

Oh Lord, my God, I know these things to be true. But tradition is so strong, and people are so adamant about their traditions, their dogma, their religious beliefs.  Lord, I know it must grieve You to see people who love You so divided and refusing to love and fellowship with one another because of their various opinions about truth. And all the while they ignore the greatest truth of all, that the way we will be known to be Your disciples, Your children, is by our love for one another. I may not be able to make much of a difference in Your kingdom when it comes to calling your children to peace with one another. But I pray that I can make a difference in a few individual hearts and lives, calling them to experience Your divine “peace,” now and in eternity, by sharing with them the good news of Your sacrificial love poured out for us through the gift of Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, when He stepped into this world to live as one of us and then went to the cross to die as the perfect sacrifice in payment for our sins.  Thank you, Oh Lord, for Your beautiful Sabbath, the New Covenant in Christ, and “the peace that surpasses all understanding” that it provides.

Copyright © 2022 Philip R. Stroud

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