Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 4:1-5

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.[a] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

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Last week’s entry was about the unknown author’s warning about rebellion against God and unbelief leading to eternal condemnation rather than eternal rest.

The same theme continues, again, with the author’s citation of Psalm 95.

Even though we do not know who wrote Hebrews, we can be sure the Holy Spirit was at work.

The contextual background is the Israelites’ rebellion in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The Hebrews author says that, as the Messiah came to Earth, the Jewish audience — most of whom were converts to Christianity — has a greater share of rest and eternal life, therefore, they mustn’t lose it.

John MacArthur sums it up well (emphases mine):

Unbelief forfeits rest. And the word rest used back there in Psalm 95, which is being quoted here, has reference to entering a land of Canaan. Resting from the wanderings and the persecution in Egypt, and so forth and so on. It’s the rest of finally getting into your own land, not being persecuted, not being pressured, not being killed, not being made slaves. It’s rests from all of that. And they never entered into that promised rest because of unbelief. That’s the basic principle of this whole passage. Nobody experiences God’s rest apart from faith. That’s the key to entering into rest.

Now, if you go back to Moses’ situation in Numbers chapter 14, you find in verses 22 and 23 these words, “Because all those men have seen my glory” – this is God talking to Israel in the wilderness – “They’ve seen my miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and they have tempted me ten times and have not harked to my voice. Surely they shall not see the land which I swear unto their fathers. Neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.” God said “Because you’ve never believed me but you’ve constantly thought you needed to put me to the test. You’ve never accepted me, you always wanted to prove me. You’ve never believed. You’ll not enter the land.” And the Bible says their carcasses would die in the wilderness.

Now, even under Joshua – of course you realize that was a whole generation that died off. Then the younger generation when into the land. But even when the younger generation went into the land, they did not enjoy the full rest that God had planned for them. And the reason they didn’t enjoy that full rest was simply because when they got into the land, instead of doing what God told them to do and believing God in obedient faith, they rejected God’s information to them. And God said, “Because of that, I’m going to drive you right back out of the land.” And that’s exactly what he did at a later time.

So even the generation that went into the land never experienced full rest. It was a hassle all the time. Fighting against every imaginable group, and they got messed up from beginning to end of their time in the land. So, there was no rest in either Moses’ case or Joshua’s case, the people who died in the wilderness or who entered the land because of unbelief. And may I say this? There is still a rest available. The rest of Canaan pictures a divine spiritual rest that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a picture of salvation rest. And that salvation rest, as we shall see in a moment, is still available. But it is only available to those who believe God, who commit themselves in faith to him.

Israel never entered full rest because of their unbelief, and Moses couldn’t make it happen, and Joshua couldn’t make it happen. But God has a rest far greater than Canaan. God has an eternal rest. It’s available to you by faith in Jesus Christ. And it takes a greater than Moses and a greater than Joshua to make it a reality. And that greater than both is Jesus Himself.

The author warns again against unbelief in Hebrews 4:1: no backsliding, otherwise, God will withdraw the promise of eternal rest.

Note the word ‘fear’ in that verse. That is the fear of God and His fair judgements. He blesses us so abundantly, yet so many of us turn from Him in adversity. This was the situation that the Jewish converts found themselves in. As serious as those were, the persecution and rejection were temporal. Being more concerned over temporal difficulty, as awful as it was for some, they had taken their eyes off the goal — eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Verse 2 is just as crucial for us as it was for the Hebrews of the early Church. We all hear the same Gospel message of the Good News, but it does not meet with faith in all who hear it.

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates:

We do not mix faith with what we hear; it is faith in the hearer that is the life of the word. Though the preacher believes the gospel, and endeavours to mix faith with his preaching, and to speak as one who has believed and so spoken, yet, if the hearers have not faith in their souls to mix with the word, they will be never the better for it. This faith must mingle with every word, and be in act and exercise while we are hearing; and, when we have heard the word, assenting to the truth of it, approving of it, accepting the mercy offered, applying the word to ourselves with suitable affections, then we shall find great profit and gain by the word preached.

I read online of people who are so subsumed in spiritual doubt that they cannot extricate themselves from it. They spend their time navel gazing over past sins, surely forgiven. That is some of Satan’s finest work: urging someone to navel gaze and wilfully ignore the promise of the Word, Jesus Christ.

I have run across a few personally. I have urged them to pray for more grace and faith. I have encouraged them to read the Bible, over and over. Unfortunately, they ignored my advice at the time. Perhaps their circumstances have improved since then. I certainly hope so.

Pray for more faith. Pray for more grace. God will surely grant it, through His Son.

How does one pray? One begins with the Lord’s Prayer. One also petitions God, through Jesus, for a good day, for help in case a problem arises, for personal safety and health not only of ourselves but also of our loved ones. One works up the frequency of prayer, sometimes reciting prayers from church or Bible verses (e.g. the Psalms).

St Paul prayed unceasingly.

Reading the Bible regularly helps to increase the frequency of prayer. My favourite books, in order, are the Gospel according to John, the Book of Acts and the Book of Hebrews. I cannot recommend them too often. Start with those three. Read the Lectionary readings for each Sunday. Understand how the Old Testament and the Old Covenant promised the New Testament and the New Covenant, respectively. Do this often and soon it becomes part of a daily routine.

In verse 3, the author once again reminds the Hebrew audience of Psalm 95, wherein God withdraws rest from those who have turned away from Him. May that never happen to us. We must continue in a ‘lively faith’, as the old Anglican and Episcopalian liturgies say.

Henry explains the delicate balance of faith, backsliding and unbelief:

Observe, 1. Grace and glory are attainable by all under the gospel: there is an offer, and a promise to those who shall accept the offer. 2. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who might have attained salvation by faith may fall short by unbelief. 3. It is a dreadful thing so much as to seem to fall short of the gospel salvation, to seem so to themselves, to lose their comfortable hope; and to seem so to others, so losing the honour of their holy profession. But, if it be so dreadful to seem to fall short of this rest, it is much more dreadful really to fall short. Such a disappointment must be fatal. 4. One good means to prevent either our real falling short or seeming to fall short is to maintain a holy and religious fear lest we should fall short. This will make us vigilant and diligent, sincere and serious; this fear will put us upon examining our faith and exercising it; whereas presumption is the high road to ruin.

The author points out that God also rested — on the seventh day (verses 3, 4). Now we enter into the notion of temporal — everyday — rest during our lifetimes. God also commands us to follow His example: keep holy the Sabbath Day. That means a temporal rest from our labours but also contemplation and praise of God for the promise of eternal spiritual rest.

MacArthur says:

So, when the Bible says here in Hebrews 3 and 4 that God offers you rest, it means … A new relationship with God that is multi-faceted … It’s full. It’s blessed. It’s sweet. It’s satisfying. It’s peaceful. And this is exactly what God is offering to every man, and this is exactly what was pictured in the Canaan rest that Israel never understood and never entered into because of unbelief.

The author again warns against rejecting God and ending up in a state of unbelief (verse 5). Once that happens, God’s promise of rest is over, because the unbeliever has broken with faith.

Henry explains further:

they shall never enter into this spiritual rest, either of grace here or glory hereafter. This is as certain as the word and oath of God can make it. As sure as God has entered into his rest, so sure it is that obstinate unbelievers shall be excluded. As sure as the unbelieving Jews fell in the wilderness, and never reached the promised land, so sure it is that unbelievers shall fall into destruction, and never reach heaven. As sure as Joshua, the great captain of the Jews, could not give them possession of Canaan because of their unbelief, notwithstanding his eminent valour and conduct, so sure it is that even Jesus himself, and captain of our salvation, notwithstanding all that fulness of grace and strength that dwells in him, will not, cannot, give to final unbelievers either spiritual or eternal rest: it remains only for the people of God; others by their sin abandon themselves to eternal restlessness.

Many theologians throughout history have said and continue to say that all are saved and that Hell is empty. Millions of people believe it. My theory is that such people are trying to make excuses for themselves and others, trying to assuage their own consciences.

However, Scripture does not tell us that all will be saved. It never has, no matter how we try to parse it.

Hebrews is one of the Bible’s greatest books. Studying it will make Christians appreciate our Lord and Saviour even more.

Christianity is an inestimable treasure. Let’s pray for those whose faith is shaky. May we never lose our own faith. May more come to follow Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Next time — Hebrews 4:6-11

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