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Lowell Brueckner

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Greater than the Sabbath Day


  An expository study of the book of Hebrews

                            Chapter 4

 1. Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.

2. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.

3. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

4. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”;

5. and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.”

6. Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, 

7. again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today”, after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”

8. For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.

9. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.

10. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

11. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.


 What is biblical rest?

 This chapter tackles another of the Jew’s primordial doctrines, that of Sabbath-keeping. Once again, we are advised by the writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to fear. It will become evident, as we study, that we do not so much fear punishment, but rather missed opportunity. In chapter 2, the concern was focused on drifting away from the word of Christ, which brings salvation. A fear that points us in a godly direction is healthy and in this case it points us towards obtaining a promise to enter into rest. This is an obtainable promise for the believer and we should pay close attention to it.

 We know rest from a physical standpoint, but in our Bible studies, we learn the ways of God. What is biblical rest? When Naomi and Ruth entered Bethlehem, Naomi endeavored to find rest for her daughter-in-law (Ruth 3:1). It meant that she wanted her to have a home, a husband and children, but it also signified that she should find the specific will of God for her life. 

God’s will for the Israelites, was not to bring them out of slavery to live the rest of their lives in a desert. He wanted them to find rest in the Promised Land and it would become their homeland. Warren Wiersbe comments: “It was not God’s will that Israel remain either in Egypt or in the wilderness. His desire was that the people enter their glorious inheritance in the land of Canaan. But when Israel got to the border of their inheritance, they delayed because they doubted the promise of God (Num. 13-14). ‘We are not able,’ wept the ten spies and the people.” They were questioning God’s faithfulness and ability to bring them in.

 Jesus promised in His gospel: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest… rest for your souls” (Mat 11:28,29). It is a place in the Spirit, where mankind can find security, satisfaction and salvation through a relationship with Christ. Jesus personally was not offered a place to spend a night in Jerusalem, but found a home in Bethany, where He found love and rest… the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (Lk.10:38). Imagine the rest that they knew in His presence. The Jewish Christian, in particular, because he was bound so closely to the law, needed to know gospel rest. What a loss if he, or anyone else for that matter, should come short of it!

 What some, if not many, Christians ignore is that the gospel was preached throughout the Old Testament and therefore they tend to treat it lightly. The Seed of the woman, who would wound the head of the serpent, was preached to Adam and Eve. Why did Abel offer a lamb sacrifice, if he did not know of an ultimate sacrifice for sin? “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham” (Gal.3:8). It clearly states in verse 2, that the gospel was preached to God’s people throughout the Old Testament.

 They heard the gospel, but the problem was that, where there was no faith, the gospel did not profit them. The door into rest is faith and that is where every true believer has entered. In verse 3, the writer again cites Psalms 95:11: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘they shall not enter my rest.” God provided the door, but His anger was vented on those who mistrusted Him, and He swore that they would not enter. It is an insult to His faithfulness that men should not rest in confidence in Him. What God purposes, He will surely bring to pass, therefore “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 P.1:20). So the Old Testament saint trusted, before the manifestation of Christ, and so we must trust, steadfastly fixing our eyes on the cross.

 God established the Sabbath upon this principle (4). When God rested from His creation, ultimately the creation of man on the sixth day, He predetermined man’s salvation and rested in it. It is this rest, the rest of God, that we enter into. It is not the sanctifying of the seventh day of the week, for the Jews did that, without entering into His rest. He left the Sabbath-keeping Jews outside His rest (5). God confides in Himself and rests in His own purposes.

 We learned before that unbelief is the fountain of sin and those, who do not believe, are disobedient. After God provided rest for man on the Sabbath, it still remained that some did not enter in, but were disobedient (6). We should remember that, when God provided manna, He forbade them to collect it on the seventh day, yet some went out on that day to gather it. They were disobedient. Why? They did not believe that God would provide sufficient on the 6th day to last through the beginning of the next week. It was unbelief… lack of trust in God. That is what infuriates Him! 

  The Psalmist, prophesies of rest, showing that previous to his time, the people still had not entered in. (To this day, the Jews call the Psalms, David.) The Psalm is twice repeated in the last chapter, verses 7-11 and 15. There was a very long period between the Creation and the time of the Psalmist, and the people had not entered into the rest, and so again a today is offered (7). Generation after generation, they hardened their hearts.

 The people achieved a certain rest in the time of Joshua, when they entered the Promised Land (8). They no longer had to wander in a wilderness, living in tents. I quote again from Warren Wiersbe: It is unfortunate that some of our hymns and Gospel songs use Canaan as a picture of heaven, and ‘crossing the Jordan’ as a picture of death. Since Canaan was a place of battles, and even of defeats, it is not a good illustration of heaven! Israel had to cross the river by faith; they had to ‘step out by faith’ (Jos_1:3) and claim the land for themselves, just as believers today must do. Now we can understand that the wilderness wanderings represent the experiences of believers who will not claim their spiritual inheritance in Christ, who doubt God’s Word and live in restless unbelief. To be sure, God is with them, as He was with Israel; but they do not enjoy the fullness of God’s blessing. They are ‘out of Egypt’ but they are not yet ‘in Canaan.’” However, the Psalmist insists that the rest was still future after the conquest of Canaan.

 Into New Testament times, there remains a true rest for God’s people (9). Read verse 10 very carefully. It contains the secret of the entire matter that the Holy Spirit is presenting to us. God rested from His works after creation. Christ rested from His work on the cross, proclaiming, “It is finished!” The Jew rests from his slavery to the law, always striving and never accomplishing enough to secure his salvation. The believer rests from his own works in the attempt to gain salvation through good works, lays them all down at the foot of the cross, and looks up in faith to the finished work of the Crucified One. He continues to live in rest by trusting the indwelling Spirit to work His will through him, rather than striving in his own power.

 Let us be careful to obey the word that we are now contemplating… specifically the word rest (11). Paul spoke of those “who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th.1:8). To obey the gospel is to rest from our own works and place all our faith, our trust, in the work of Jesus Christ. When the spies brought Israel into unbelief, they later tried to enter in through their own efforts and were defeated in battle (Num.13:31-14:45). Joshua entered in by surrendering the command of Israel to the Captain of the army of God (Josh.5:13-15).

12. For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

13. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

14. Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

15. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

16. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

Characteristics of the Word of God

 Verse 12 defines the word, to which we must pay diligent, active attention and obey. It is a word that is alive: Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (Jn.6:63). They are powerful: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (He.11:3). “And they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, ‘What a word is this! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out’” (Lk.4:36).

 It is sharp and piercing like a two-edged sword, penetrating to the depths of man’s nature:  “Out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev.19:15). It discerns thoughts and motivations: “Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men… He knew what was in man” (Jn.2:24). “I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you” (Jn.5:42) and “Jesus knew their thoughts” (Mt.12:25).

 It is impossible to hide from His word. In omniscience, it will judge every man (v.13): “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Co.4:5).

 Jesus Christ is the Word of God personified, who fulfills all the characteristics of verses 12 and 13, and He became Man that He might be a great High Priest. After making sacrifice for sins through His own body, He passed through the heavenly sanctuary until He came into the Holy of Holies, the presence of God (14). Our rest is in a High Priest who completed the work of our salvation, who compassionately intercedes for all, who are His, before the Father. “He ever lives to make intercession for them” (ch.7:25). He is Lord of the Sabbath, greater than the Promised Land, and has provided a home of eternal rest for the believer. What is there, to which we can go back? This is our simple confession:


I have decided to follow Jesus,

No turning back, no turning back.


Though none go with me, still I will follow,

No turning back, no turning back.


 All of life’s bridges are burned behind me,

No turning back, no turning back.


He is sympathetic and He is powerful, for He overcame all temptation (15). A line of a hymn states: Temptations lose their power, when Thou art nigh. Taking all we have learned into account, here is the purpose and result: We can approach the highest throne in the universe, and know that it is a throne of grace (16). It is there for our help, it is merciful and when we feel most unworthy, we find grace, signifying unmerited favor. Hear the inspired words of the Holy Spirit, encouraging us to come in total confidence: “Let us therefore come boldly!”  And we can come boldly because the beloved Son of the Father has given us access.




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