Read Hebrews 4
A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God
1 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”
6 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, 7 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.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
This is one of those passages that we need to sit with for a bit–particularly the final few verses. The author of Hebrews is laying a foundation to ensure that the recipients of this letter have a healthy Christology (literally translated as the study of Christ). Remember who the readers were: Jewish Christians, steeped in the tradition they had grown up in (Judaism) and some were veering away from Christianity and back towards what was comfortable. If we merely read this chapter and think, “Yep, Jesus is pretty great. Now on to Hebrews 5!” then we are doing a disservice to what God’s word tells us.
The end of the chapter (verses 14-16) are a reminder to us just how unique our faith is and what makes it distinct amongst other major religions. In every other major religion, the deity doesn’t care to get in the thick of it with the people. We believe that God sent Jesus, His son, down into the mess of the world and lived among the people. John 1:14 tells us that “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” God isn’t some distant being without any understanding of what it’s like to be human–He lived it with us. He understands temptation, humanity, and all that comes with being on the earth. Yet He remained sinless and therefore was the perfect sacrifice.
So why is that so important? The Jewish Christians reading this were having to re-orient their understanding of what it meant to approach God. Historically, only the high priests could actually approach God (and that could only happen once a year). But now, God is close to them (and us) and because of the Holy Spirit, we have access to Him all the time. When we are tempted to sin, when we feel the weight of the world all around us, or when we feel lonely or isolated, God is with us. Nobody understands pain quite like Jesus. He experienced it firsthand. And that’s the beauty of what we believe.
- What does this passage teach you about God?
- Why would this concept of a near God have been difficult for its original audience? Is that concept difficult for you?
- What does it mean that we can approach the throne of grace with great confidence? What does this confidence mean to you?
Did You Know?
To ancient Greeks, a primary trait of God was the ability to not feel anything. Contrast that with Jesus, who came to earth as a person and is able to sympathize with us in every way. This is yet another way Jesus flipped the world on its head.