The Book of Hebrews has two big topics: the Superiority of Christ and Christian Perseverance. What we’ve read in chapter 3 is the beginning of the section on the superiority of the ‘Rest’ that Christ has in store for us. The Psalm we read together is the main Old Testament text that the book of Hebrews deals with in this section, including this rather serious warning about the importance of persevering in faithfulness in order to enter into God’s Rest.
ENTERING INTO GOD’S REST
The Israelites knew three layers of God’s rest:
- the weekly Sabbath rest,
- the rest in the Promised Land from bondage in Egypt, and
- the rest in God’s promised kingdom.
As Christians today we still have those images closely connected together. When we gather together on Sundays for the Eucharistic service we participate in a foretaste of the promised rest of the Kingdom of God. We look back to the Exodus led by Moses from slavery in Egypt as a shadow of the great Exodus led by Jesus from slavery in sin! The Promised Land we receive is, in a sense, the Holy Spirit, the presence of God in us and among us. It’s not the complete rest of God, because we still are sullied by sin in this world, but we’re released from the ties that bind, and thus enabled to get a taste of the complete freedom from sin that will finally be known when Christ returns.
HARDEN NOT YOUR HEARTS
What needs to be understood, though, is that despite the awesome gift of the New Covenant – the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit & the beginning of our redemption made manifest – our journey through this Exodus from the slavery in sin is not yet complete. You can read the stories in full in the books of Exodus and Numbers and Deuteronomy, but Psalm 95 gives us a good brief summary. God led his people to safety, and spoke to his people, yet they didn’t listen or trust or obey. They rebelled, tempted, and tested God because they hardened their hearts – they insisted on taking God’s words on their own terms. So God punished them by keeping them out of the ‘Rest’ of the Promised Land, thus forcing them to wander in the desert for forty years.
The author of the book of Hebrews takes this story and throws it right back at us Christians. He asks who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? The message is simple: unbelief, or unfaithfulness, holds people back from receiving God’s rest. If you believe in, trust, or obey someone more than you believe, trust, or obey God, then you’re seeking the ‘Rest’ that they offer instead of God’s. And God respects that; if you want to serve someone else, ultimately he’ll let you.
If you’ve already come to know Christ – to believe in him, trust him, and pledge to obey him – then that’s what you’ve got to stick to! If indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end, we have come to share in Christ! It’s a call to perseverance, to stick to your guns, to hang in there. But this is not a message for any one of us alone, this is not directed to the individual. We are called to assist and support one another in this perseverance. Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. That is how we take care, lest there be in any of us an evil, unbelieving heart, leading us to fall away from the living God!
EXHORT ONE ANOTHER EVERY DAY
Sure, when you go to church on Sunday you partake of the ministry of Word & Sacrament, you hear the written word of God read and preached, you receive the body & blood of our Lord in the bread & wine. And sometimes you even go to a mid-week worship service where some young upstart itinerant deacon yammers on about being faithful to Christ for fifteen minutes. That’s great – these times of corporate worship can be powerfully formative experiences to strengthen us in the Christian walk. But ultimately even that may not be enough. How many people do you know who go to church once or twice a week and still aren’t living for Christ?
That is why the author of Hebrews goes so far as to say exhort one another every day. We need that constant encouragement. In the Reformation, the Anglican Church brought back daily Morning & Evening prayer for the whole church, rather than relegating it to the monasteries as had happened in many places at that time. The Daily Office is an excellent example of such a tool for encouraging us and exhorting us daily to persevere in faith, to walk with God, to believe and trust and obey Christ above all others. Yet even something as simple as fellowship with other Christians can be sufficient. Time spent with others on the path of Christ is wonderful, is it not? We may still talk about the weather, the Red Sox, how the family’s doing, but we can also talk about God, the Scriptures, our struggles in sin, and our victories in Christ. As long it is “today” let us continue to lift one another up on this Exodus out of the bondage of slavery in sin, into the final perfect Rest in God’s Kingdom. Amen.