Reasons to Rejoice-Reflections from Philippians

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I’m sure we could all identify with various emotions that we felt over the last several weeks. Maybe it’s anger; maybe it’s fear, anxiety, frustration, annoyance. But I’m wondering if one of those emotions that’s defined you over the last several weeks has been joy. You might think that’s kind of a strange thing for me to say. Some might even think it sounds kind of insensitive. But here’s the deal. If your joy is dependent on your circumstances, you’re destined to live a pretty unhappy life. The fact is there are very few circumstances we can control. God’s word shows that Joy is a choice. It’s an attitude, and we make that choice based on what we believe to be true.

So if you were to ask a New Testament scholar what book of the New Testament most celebrates what it means to rejoice or to be joyful as a Christian, I think they’d probably all agree it’s the New Testament book of Philippians. If you happen to have a Bible with you, go ahead and turn to Philippians. It’s helpful to understand the background of the book of Philippians. It’s written by the Apostle Paul and he’s writing from a Roman prison, chained to two guards, waiting to find out if he’s going to be executed or released. So think about this. Over fourteen times in a short, four-chapter letter, Paul talks about the theme of joy or rejoicing. When we’re going through this chapter, we’re not going to go verse by verse, line by line, like we normally do. I’m just going to pick out themes that he talks about—that he rejoices about—because he knows they’re true. I’ve identified six reasons to rejoice, no matter what the circumstances.

1) So the first one I find in chapter 1. He opens in verse 3, talking about thanking God for the Philippian believers, and verse 4, offering a prayer with joy. Why? Verse 6:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now…For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (NASB, Philippians 1:4-6)

Paul is praying for these believers in Philippi and he says he does so with great joy in his heart. Why is that? Because he knows that they have believed in the gospel, and that means that Jesus has started something in them that He’s going to finish. He’s going to complete it all the way to the day of Jesus Christ, all the way to the return of Christ and the ushering in of the new heaven and the new earth. So, Paul isn’t just rejoicing that this is true of him, but rather he knows this is true of these people and because Jesus has started something, he knows He’s going to finish. Think about this. He is sitting in a Roman prison; he is imprisoned because of his commitment to the gospel. They’ve arrested him because he proclaims the message of Christ. He has literally given his life that these people might believe. But now, sitting in a Roman prison, he knows they truly believe and because of Christ, then what the Spirit of God has started, He’s going to complete. They’re going to make it all the way to the finish line, and their future is glorious! And he would say, “That’s something worth dying for!”

Paul says in the book of Galatians 3:5, what the Spirit starts, the Spirit’s going to complete. Jesus doesn’t start something; then you have to somehow complete it. The Spirit starts it; the Spirit completes it. He says in Ephesians 2:10, through His grace, Jesus is going to make you into a masterpiece of His grace, something so glorious that He’s going to hold you up in the heavenlies and the angels will gasp at the wonder of what you’ve become. And since Jesus has started that work, we’re all going to get to the finish line, and it will be glorious! So I would say, “Not only do I find joy in knowing that’s true of me, I find joy in knowing it’s true that Jesus will complete His work in you!”

2) The second reason to rejoice I find in verse 12 and following, where Paul says:

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,

So think of it this way: Paul finds great joy in knowing that not only he, but also these Philippian believers have trusted Christ, and what Jesus has started, He is going to complete in them. But then he extends it. If that’s true, if the gospel is that wondrous, we need to add more names to the list; we need to advance the gospel. We want more people to know Jesus, to know this joy and to know this future that has been made possible. So when Paul is talking about his circumstances, basically what he’s talking about is on his second missionary journey, he arrived in Philippi, and this is a pretty famous story in the book of Acts, chapter 16:

It’s the story of the Philippian jailer. Paul and Silas are thrown in prison, and God brings an earthquake. Basically the jail is opened up but Paul and Silas remain in the jail, and the jailer says, “What must I do to be saved?” Well, this is the birth of the Philippian church, so these are the people that he’s talking about. They experienced a miraculous deliverance from jail, and perhaps somewhere along the way they concluded that’s the way it’s supposed to always work. But what happens is Paul goes from Philippi to Jerusalem, and when he gets to Jerusalem, he’s arrested. He’s then sent to Caesarea where he spends two years in jail there. As a Roman citizen, he appeals to Rome. Rome accepts the appeal, so he gets on a ship to go to Rome, but the ship gets in a storm. There’s a great shipwreck; almost everybody dies, and he ends up on the island of Malta. While he’s there, he’s picking up sticks for a campfire, and a deadly snake bites him, and finally he ends up being stranded for three months. Then he gets to Rome and in Rome he’s chained to two guards. That’s what he means, by my circumstances. And so they’re trying to figure out, if Paul is the premier church planter, he’s the premier missionary, why would God allow him to seemingly rot in jail and rot in prison? Why not another Philippian jailer story and deliver him so he can advance the gospel? So maybe they’re thinking Paul isn’t telling the truth, or maybe he doesn’t have God’s favor. In their minds, something’s kind of messed up here. So what he’s wanting them to understand is that his circumstances, whatever they may be, have been used by God to advance the gospel. So the second reason to rejoice is the reminder that God uses all of our circumstances to advance the gospel. 


So Paul basically is saying that everywhere he looks, God is using his circumstances to advance the gospel, and so he rejoices in that.
I can rejoice because He can use any circumstances—including the circumstances we’re in with this virus—and everything that has to do with it. How might God be using that to advance the gospel? He’s doing amazing things around the world, and we need to trust Him and rejoice that God is accomplishing the mission. He’s advancing the gospel.

3) The third one is also in chapter 1. I see it in verse 21 where Paul says:

For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

That’s an amazing statement. Essentially what Paul is saying is, “Either way, I win. There’s no losing in this deal.” Remember, Paul is sitting in a Roman prison and he’s awaiting word as to whether he’s going to be executed or released, so this isn’t just theory for him. This is the real deal, but he says, “I win no matter what.” When he says, “For me to live is Christ,” again he’s not saying the goal is to live to be ninety, sunbathing on the Love Boat. He says to live for Christ is more fruitful labor, in other words, more opportunity to serve, to plant more churches, to advance the mission. But he also says to die is gain. As a matter of fact, he says not just that would be better, he says that would be very much better. The reality is, when we start thinking that this world is where it’s at, that this world is what matters most, that this world is where I’m going to be happy, that this world is what I want to live for, then everything becomes about survival. Everything is about doing whatever we have to do to live to be ninety because what matters most is this life. Then we start fearing death; then we start denying death. All of that changes when we understand correctly that our hope is in the world to come. Our hope is in the promise that Jesus is coming back, that Jesus will deliver us to the new heaven and the new earth.

Historically there have always been problems with diseases and infections. Some of them have been worldwide; some of them have been much more in a particular locality. But historically, when people had a contagious disease, they often were ignored; they were neglected; they were left in the streets to die. But it was the Christians who rolled up their sleeves, who went out in the streets and they treated them with kindness, with compassion, with care. They took care of them, and often they contracted the disease and they died of the disease. It was understood that the goal, the mission, is not to see how long we can live. To live is Christ; to die is gain. It’s about being faithful. It’s about being diligent to advance the mission and being obedient to what God has called us to.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in this particular situation. I don’t know what’s coming five years from now. Nobody knows that. But I do know if there is great sickness and great suffering and there is a need for kindness and compassion and care from people who may actually die from whatever that disease is, that God calls the church to roll up our sleeves, to get in the streets and make a difference— to be the church! We’re never going to live that way unless we understand, as Paul rejoiced, “To live is Christ; to die is gain,” and there’s no losing in that deal. It’s only when we understand the world to come—and that is our hope—that we actually learn to live well in this world now.

4) The fourth reason for joy I see in chapter 3, and that is that Paul identifies that he stands righteous before a holy God, not on the basis of his religious performance or good works, but on the basis of what Christ has done for him—and he believes that by faith. In the first part of chapter 3 he goes through the list of all the things that he accomplished. He was a high achiever; he was a Pharisee; he was full of self-righteousness; he was zealous; he was the best of the best. But he goes on, starting in verse 7-9:

Whatever things were gain to me, those things [those religious achievements] I have counted as loss… in order that he might gain Christ and in order that he might know Christ. and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith  


He even goes so far as to say he counts it as rubbish. It’s just trash in comparison to knowing Christ. He goes on and says that he stands right before God, based on the righteousness of Christ, that he  received by faith. So think about that. What if, in times like this, what was required of us to stand righteous before God was to get to a certain building, was to get to a certain ritual, was to have some pastor or priest or attend some church or observe a holy day on a particular day by attending church on Saturday, or to do some certain thing that makes us right before God, but you can’t get to them because everything isshut down? What a horrible, desperate feeling that would be! But the reality has nothing to do with a building or a pastor or a priest or a ritual or day. It has to do with faith in Christ, and found in Him, not with a righteousness derived from the law, but with His righteousness . And so Paul says, “I rejoice sitting in a Roman prison cell,” because he stands right before a holy God because of his faith in Christ. He goes on in chapter 3, in verse 14:
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

That’s an interesting verse. The upward call is Greek language that would be referencing that when someone won what would have been their Olympic games, they basically were called up to the metal stand, as we would call it, in front of an emperor/king—somebody of significance—and they would receive their prize. So Paul is saying that he presses on because, at the end of the story, (He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it,) and he’ll be invited up to the metal stand and receive his prize. And his prize is this relationship with Christ. It’s the resurrection from the dead. It is the new heaven and the new earth, everything that’s promised in Christ. And it’s not based on his performance. It’s based on his faith in what Jesus has done for him!  So, no matter what, he says, “I rejoice because I’m confident. I know this is true in Christ!”

5) The fifth reason to rejoice is in chapter 4, as a matter of fact in verse 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!

It’s kind of a double joy there, and the reason he says is because he’s able to trade his anxiety for peace. Again, think about this.  He’s sitting in a prison cell awaiting possible execution, but he says that rather than being anxious, he prays to God, and the result is he experiences peace. I once heard somebody define peace as the possession of adequate resources. In other words, Paul is saying, “Because I know Christ has adequate resources for whatever I’m going through, I don’t need to be anxious, but rather I can experience peace.” As a matter of fact, it goes on and says it’s a peace that goes beyond understanding.

I think a lot of people these days are asking what they can do, and people have creatively found ways to help. But it’s hard sometimes to know how we can help in these uncertain times. Maybe the best thing we could do to help would be to display a peace that goes beyond understanding. In other words, could the people around us that are experiencing so much despair and fear and panic, look at you and say, “I don’t understand, why are you so peaceful?” It’s almost like, “Do you not understand what’s happening?” Could we say, “I’m peaceful; I don’t need to be anxious because I know God possesses adequate resources for whatever I’m going through. It’s going to be fine. I just need to trust Him.” But the key to that starts in verse 8, when he says:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Vs. 8-9)

The key to peace and not being anxious has to do with what you choose to dwell on. If you’re going to dwell on the negative, if you’re going to dwell on the bad news, if you’re going to dwell on all the things that annoy us or upset us or concern us, you’re not going to know peace. You’re just going to know anxiety. I can’t emphasize this enough:  In these days of uncertainty, when so many people are stuck at home and wondering what’s going to happen, it’s easy to feed on bad news. It’s on our phones. Every time you open up your phone, there’s some warning about the virus. Every time you get a news’ feed, it’s something about the virus. Almost all the commercials on TV right now have something to do with the virus. The media sensationalizes this thing and creates all kinds of hysteria, and people just feed on that. I would suggest it takes less than five minutes per day to get up to date on what’s happening. You don’t need more than that.

You need to dwell on the things that are good, the things that are right, the things that are beneficial, the things that are pure, that are lovely. You have to discipline yourself to dwell on the right things in order to experience peace rather than anxiety. So one of the things you can dwell on is the book of Philippians. It’s a short book—four chapters. Read it over and over and over again. It’s all about joy in the midst of difficult circumstances.

6) The last reason to rejoice is in chapter 4, starting in verse 10 where Paul says he rejoices, and then he gets to verse 11. Why?

Because he’s learned to be content in whatever circumstances he finds himself in. ..in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret..

Now, again, he’s writing from prison. He’s awaiting possible execution and he says, “I’ve learned to be content.” That’s really quite a remarkable statement! That Greek word content, this is the only place in the New Testament it appears, and it was connected to the Stoics. The Stoics were all about self-sufficiency, and that’s basically what this word means. No matter what was happening around them that they could not control, they, in their own self-sufficiency, would not react or respond to it. Paul is going to essentially redefine the term. How is he able to be content in such circumstances? Well, he tells us in verse 12 that he’s learned the secret. That word secret is an interesting word. It’s a Greek word that referenced mystery religion, and secret had to do with a secret password, a secret passageway. There was some secret they learned in order to enter into this mystery religion. So Paul is picking up on that terminology, and essentially saying, “I’ve learned the secret to contentment. I’ve learned the password; I’ve learned the entrance.”
What is it? Verse 13:

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

What’s the secret passageway into contentment? It’s the understanding, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. It’s not self-sufficiency; that would be a disaster. But rather it’s Christ sufficiency! It’s understanding that no matter what happens, Christ is enough. Whether I live or die, I win. What He started in me, He is going to complete. He uses my circumstances to advance the gospel, and we understand that is all by faith in what Jesus has done. It’s not based on my performance, so I can experience peace instead of anxiety. None of us know what tomorrow holds. But we do know that Christ is enough. So, every day there is reason to rejoice! Let’s pray.

Our Father, we are so thankful that Christ is enough. We’re reminded there’s very little in this world that we can control, but what we can control is what we believe. Lord I pray that You would remind us we have good reasons to rejoice because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Lord, remind us, day after day, that no matter what, Christ is enough! In His name we pray, Amen.

The above is Adapted from: Messages from Lincoln Berean from Pastor Bryan Clarke.

Image credited to: Transitchurch

 

Hebrews 4:1-16 The Sabbath Rest For God’s people

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First century Roman culture was a culture of despair.  Some historians would refer to it as a culture of suicide.  It was violent, it was bloody, it was dangerous, it was oppressive, it was full of death and disease.  On top of that the religious establishment had created such religious oppression that people lived in bondage.  Most had given up any thought that they could ever stand right before a holy God.  It was into that context that Jesus uttered the words, “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  About three decades later, the writer of Hebrews would give a message to people on the threshold of bloody persecution.  The message was not a message of health, wealth and prosperity.  It was a message that in the midst of the pain, you can enter His rest.  So here we are two thousand years later.  I think we all get this.  Sometimes the world can be very, very painful, hurtful, heartbreaking, confusing, devastating.  In the midst of all of that, what Jesus offers us is rest.  That’s what we want to talk right now.  If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 4.   
 
One of the terms that we’ve seen a lot in the book of Hebrews is the word therefore.  You know the old adage: Whenever you see the word ‘therefore’ you stop to see what it’s there for.  And it basically reminds us that all of these truths are connected.  You can’t take any one passage in Hebrews and pull it out of its contextfor one truth leads to another truth leads to another truth and it’s all connected together.  It’s good that we keep remembering that.  Chapter 3 was all about the cost of unbelief, which then leads us to Chapter 4 verse 1: 
 
Therefore (in light of that, the cost of unbelief), then let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, anyone of you may have seemed to have come short of it. (*NASB, Hebrews 4:1)
 
So what’s the fear?  The fear is that even though there’s still a promise of rest, it wasn’t just about people thousands of years ago entering a land.  It wasn’t just about people in the first century.  It’s every bit as true for us today.  There is a promise of rest.  The word promise is really an important word in the book of Hebrews.  As a matter of fact, no New Testament book uses the term more than the book of Hebrews.  What do you say to a group of people that are on the threshold of bloody persecution?  You remind them, there’s a promise.  There is a promise that, in the midst of the storm, I will give you rest now, and a glorious future to come.  But the concern is that they won’t believe it.  It’s interesting that he says, anyone of you may seem to have come short of it.  This basically confirms what we talked in the last chapter—that when the writer is looking at the first readers, his audience, he’s identifying them primarily as believers but he’s not convinced they’re all believers.  There is no New Testament writer who could know that everyone who will receive this letter is a believer.  So there seem to be some who perhaps don’t believe.  Maybe they’re giving lip service; maybe they’re just going with the flow, but he says, “But it may seems like you’re coming up short.  You don’t really believe it.”  So that’s our audience—primarily believers—but the writer is not convinced that everybody believes, and that’s part of his concern here.  Verse 2: 
 
For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united (mixed in) by faith in those who heard.   
 
So the children of Israel heard good news.  We talked about this last time.  The good news was that God will give you the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey.  But the truth was not mixed with faith; therefore it did not profit them.  They did not believe.  The writer is saying, in the same way we have good news.  We, too, have an offer of rest that we can enter into—a promise of rest.  But that promise has to be mixed with faith if we are going to profit from it.  It is a reminder that even though Jesus died for the sins of the world, the message is not universalism.  It’s not, “Everybody’s in!” The truth has to be mixed with faith.  There’s God’s part and there’s our part—that’s always the way it is.  God’s part is He has done the work, and He offers rest.  Our part is we have to believe, mixed with faith, in order for that truth to profit us.  Verse 3:  
 
 For we who have believed (the writer puts himself in there) enter that rest, just 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.
 
So what is he talking about there?  He’s saying we who have believed enter into this rest.  When David said to the children of Israel in Psalm 95 that with belief they can enter God’s rest—My rest —God says, there’s a reminder that even though they were in the land, David was concerned that they would not enter into His rest.  In other words, the land wasn’t the point.  The land was a picture; the land was a shadow.  Are we saying today that in order to enter into God’s rest, we have to all fly to Israel and enter the land?  And we all understand, “Of course not!”  So the land was a picture, a metaphor.  David comes along with Psalm 95, They’re in the land—David’s king over the land; he’s reigning over the land—but his concern is they still won’t enter His rest because the rest isn’t just the land; it’s just a picture, a metaphor.  So what is it?  It’s God saying, “My rest,” which goes all the way back to Genesis 2:2 where it says the rest of God started all the way back at the foundation of the world.  In Genesis 2:2, we’re told that “on the seventh day God rested.”  He quotes that in verse 4:
 
 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (VS. 4-5) 
 
So here’s what he’s saying: On the seventh day of creation, God rested.  Why did God rest?  Was He worn out?  Had he had a really hard week?  God didn’t rest because He was tired; He rested because the work was done.  The text says that when God had completed His work, He rested.  Then He placed Adam and Eve in His rest.  This is essentially what defined paradise.  God had done the work; once it was completed He rested, He didn’t begin another work and rest cycle. He rested from creative work once and for all. Adam and Eve entered into that state of rest.  This is what God has always wanted for people made in His image.  But as you know the story, Adam and Eve sin; chaos enters the world, yet God still promises rest—“to enter into My rest.”  Was it the land? Was it a day? The land was just a metaphor, just a picture.  David comes along hundreds of years later and he still desires for the people by faith to enter God’s rest.  It wasn’t just the land; it wasn’t a day. It was something far more than that.  Now one of the interesting parts of Genesis 2:2: When God rested is not on day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6—each one of those days ends with, “There was morning and there was evening.”  But on the seventh day, when God rested, you don’t read those words because the rest of God was not a day of the week.  It was not one day of the week.  It was a state.  God had now completed the work; it was a state of rest, and He wanted people made in His image to enter into that rest daily.  So the Jewish promised land is a shadow, the Jewish Sabbath day of the week is a shadow, but God’s rest is something far more than that.  Verse 6:
 
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,”  
 
So today there remains a rest for us to enter into, but we do so by faith.  We talked about this: Disbelief leads to disobedience!  Whenever I don’t believe God tells the truth, then I do it my way.  Whenever I don’t believe that God’s going to meet some need in my life, I do it my way.  Disbelief always leads to disobedience; that’s the concern of the writer. So verse 7:
He again fixes a certain day
Okay, there it is!  He again fixes a certain day—a day of rest.  What day is that?  Well, it’s today!  Oh, it’s Sunday.  Last time I said, “It’s today,” and they said, “Oh, it’s Saturday.”  This has been a longstanding debate: Is it Saturday or is it Sunday?  Are we still under the Sabbath of the old covenant?  Or is Sunday, the new covenant Sabbath?  Answer:  “Neither…Neither!”  This has nothing to do with whether or not you mow your lawn on Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether or not a business is open or closed on a Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether you have worked the fields on a Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether you took a nature walk or went to church on a certain day!  The Sabbath rest today is today!  Ask me on Tuesday; I’ll say, “It’s today!”  Ask me on Friday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  It’s not a holy day of the week; that was just a metaphor; it’s just a shadow.  It’s not a holy piece of ground or “the holy land” (Zec 2:12); it was just a metaphor—a shadow.  Ultimately it is a state to enter into the rest of God.  That’s what he’s saying: “What day is it?”  “It’s today!”  Verse 7:   
 
He again fixes a certain day, (what day?) “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He (God) would not have spoken of another day after that. (Vs. 7-8) 
 
So Joshua is the Hebrew version of the name Jesus.  So Jesus is the Greek version.  The Hebrew version of the exact same name is Joshua, and it reminds us that Joshua in the Old Testament was a type or a picture of the Messiah to come, a picture of the Jesus to come.  So what did Joshua do?  Joshua led them into the land of promise.  They claimed the land.  They observed weekly holy days. But God still promised that day of rest was yet to come.  So what he’s saying is, “If entering and possessing the land was the rest, then there would be no reason to say there’s still another day of rest coming, unless the land was merely a metaphor, a picture.  Just like the day of the week is a shadow of the ultimate fulfillment to come.  Verse 9: 
 
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  
 
Now that phrase Sabbath rest is actually one word in Greek.  It’s not found anywhere else—this is the only place it is found. It doesn’t say that there is a Sabbath day; it says there is a Sabbath rest.  So what is the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God today?  It’s not a piece of land; it’s not a day of the week; those were just shadows; they were just pictures.  What is it?  Verse 10: 
 
 For the one who has entered His rest (how did he do that?) has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.  
 
There it is right there—verse 10!  This is the main theme of the gospel all throughout the New Testament.  Who is it that enters into God’s rest by faith? Not God’s work and rest cycle, but God’s rest.  It’s the one who ceases from his or her works and enters into God’s rest.  On what day? Today. So what is the Sabbath about today?  It’s about not working.  What does that mean?  It has nothing to do whether or not you mow your lawn on a Sunday.  It has nothing to do with whether or not your business is open or closed on a Saturday.  It has nothing to do with whether or not you are working the fields on a Sunday.  It has nothing to do with that.  Sunday is not the new covenant Sabbath.  It has nothing to do with that.  What does it have to do with?  The idea of works is used consistently throughout the New Testament as defining those things we’re doing to somehow try to merit favor with God—efforts of self-righteousness, religious activity, things we’re trying to do to make ourselves good enough for God. The world is full of religion.  Religion taps into our desire to be our own god.  I want to do it myself; I want to make myself righteous; I want to make myself spiritual; I want to measure up on the basis of my own efforts.  But religion is oppressive; religion is damaging; religion is full of hopelessness and despair because every day you are reminded that you’re actually just a loser that will never measure up to the standard before a holy God.   
 
We know from the book of Hebrews what the work is that God completed—the fulfillment of a promise that at a point in time, the Creator God of the universe took on human flesh.  He blazed a trail of salvation by conquering sin and death once and for all.  As the ultimate High Priest, He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin to make propitiation for sin.  Chapter 1 said to make purification for sin.  He was buried; He rose again; He returned to the Father and what did He do?  We learned this in Chapter 1: He sat down.  The priest was never allowed to sit because their job was never done, because it was only a foreshadowing of the promise of One who would ultimately pay the price for sin.  Jesus uttered on the cross, “It is finished!”  When He rose from the dead, He returned to the Father and the great High Priest sat down!  Mission accomplished; paid in full!  What did He do at the right hand of the Father?  He rested.  He created the rest of God that God has always wanted for people made in His image.  How do we enter into that rest?  By faith!  We cease from our own self-righteous works.  We give up our own attempts to merit favor with God through religious activity, and in brokenness and humility we acknowledge the only hope we have is what Jesus did for us.  We enter into the finished work of Christ.  This is a consistent message throughout the New Testament.  We’re going to throw a couple of verses on the screen just to remind ourselves of this message: 
 
But to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (*NASB, Romans 4:5)  
 
This is the theme of the New Testament.  This is verse 10.  There is a Sabbath rest.  “Is it a piece of ground?”  “No, it’s not!”  “Is it a day of the week?”  “No, it’s not!”  Those were just shadows or pictures.  But ultimately Sabbath rest is when we rest from our own attempts at self-righteousness and we simply rest in what God has done for us through Jesus.  Sometimes people will say to me, “How come you don’t keep the Sabbath?”  Answer: “I keep it every day.” What a shame just to keep one day of the week. Ask me on Tuesday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  I rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross today.  Ask me on Friday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  I rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  It has nothing to do with mowing your lawn, opening your business, or working in the field.  It has to do with resting in what Jesus has done for us on the cross.  There is a Sabbath rest.  Verse 11: 
 
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall through following the same example of disobedience.  
 
Now clearly rest is not automatic.  It’s not even automatic for believers.  That’s why he says, “…be diligent; work really hard at resting.”  There are those who have never trusted Christ.  They need to believe this is true.  Perhaps they’ve been used and abused and beat up by religion and need to hear, “That’s not what it’s about.”  But it’s also possible for those of us who have trusted Christ to still be miserable because we don’trest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  The enemy comes along and he whispers in your ear, “You’re a loser; you’re a failure; you’ll never measure up. Who do you think you are that God just hands out some kind of a salvation as a gift? You’ve got to be kidding me.  God probably is so annoyed that you’re in His presence because you’re a loser.”  How many lies does the enemy whisper in our ears and we’re anxious; we’re fearful; we’re hopeless, and we’re despairing because we are not diligent to rest.   
 
Can I come to the end of a day where I’ve blown it, biffed it, and disappointed God and myself again and still be at rest?  Answer:  “Yes!” …resting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  I need to be diligent to rest because when I rest, when I think that way, when I remember what’s true, that is the most likely scenario where I’m going to be repentant, where I’m going to confess, where I’m going to do it differently tomorrow—because I remember again who I am in Christ!  Verse 12: 
 
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able  to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Vs. 12-13)   
 
In other words, Him with whom we will be accountable.  So the Bible is not just words on a page. It’s a living, breathing book.  It’s the God-breathed Word of God.  God takes His words with His Spirit and He penetrates and He judges and He sorts out, and He presents us naked. That’s literally what it says—naked before a Holy God—the One to Whom we will give an account.  For some people that is an absolutely terrifying thought.  For some people they will avoid the book because the book terrifies them because it penetrates and it judges; and it discerns and it sorts out; and it presents us naked before a Holy God.  But for those of us who believe, it is where we find the truth. 
It’s where we find grace and mercy.  It’s where we find relief from the bondage of religion and enter into the rest of God.  It’s where we find guidance; it’s where we find life.  When we understand the truth about God’s rest, I am not terrified to be presented naked before a holy God because I know I stand in the rest—the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  It’s the living, active Word of God that gives me life, that gives me hope, that gives me a future, that gives me what I need to rest in my most difficult moments in life.  Verse 14: 
 
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens (meaning back to the Father to be seated), Jesus the Son of God (that’s His humanity and His deity), let us hold fast our confession (our statement of faith, what we believe).  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence (boldly) to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Vs. 14-16)   
 
When we go through the most difficult moments of life, we cry out not to a god who is so abstract and disconnected we have no sense that he understands what we are going through.  That’s not who He is.  It’s the One who actually took on human flesh.  As remarkable as that may seem, the God of the universe actually became one of us—and He walked on this earth.  He knows our struggle; He knows our pain; He knows our trials and our temptations; This is the God who loves me; this is the God who saved me; this is the God who’s experienced the struggle and the pain that I’m going through.  I come boldly and confidently into the presence of God, and in my hour of need I find grace and mercy.  I find what I need to get me through another day! 
 
There is a Sabbath rest.  It’s not a day of the week; it’s not a piece of ground.  It’s a Person.  It’s a Person who did for me what I could not do for myself—and He offers it freely as a gift!  If mixed with faith, I believe and enter into His rest.  
 
He’s just inviting you, by faith, to enter that rest, to experience the forgiveness of sin, and to experience a relationship with God.  I would invite you this morning, to enter into that rest.  What day is the Sabbath rest? It’s today!  Why would you wait?  Why would you wait until tomorrow?  Why wouldn’t you enter that rest today?  
 
Our Father, it’s really just so hard to comprehend that the God of the universe actually took on human flesh to make a way of salvation, to conquer sin and death once and for all,  to make payment for sin, and to simply offer it freely as a gift.  Lord, we’ve been reminded that truth has to be mixed with faith.  We have to choose to believe that’s true to enter into Your rest.  Lord, may today be our day of Sabbath rest. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Hebrews 3:1-19 Hold Fast

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Over the first two chapters, the writer of Hebrews has told us some amazing truths—that the God of the universe took on human flesh to conquer sin and death once and for all by offering the ultimate sacrifice of Himself, that sin might be paid for, that He might offer salvation freely as a gift, that one day we might actually rule and reign with Him forever. So here’s the question, “Do you really believe that?”  Because the consequence of unbelief can be devastating! That’s what we want to talk about in chapter 3. If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 3Hebrews chapter 3, starting in verse 1, the word Therefore goes back to everything that has preceded chapter 3.
 
Therefore, (in light of everything that we have talked about), holy brethren, (set apart family. The writer is talking about us together as brothers and sisters in Christ) partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, (meaning to anchor down, to really focus on Jesus, the person and work of Christ), the Apostle (This is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is referred to as the Apostle, rightly the Apostle, the Greek word really means “the sent one,” and He is the ultimate sent one from God, sent to be the Savoir of the world.) and High Priest, (Who we learned offered the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and then sat down, indicative that the payment for sin had finally been made—mission accomplished!)  …the High Priest of our confession. (*NASB, Hebrews 3:1) 
 
Often when we think of confession, we think about confessing our sins to God or to one another, but the word confession means to agree with, and historically it has often been used just to refer to a statement of faith—a confession of faith. In other words it’s a body of doctrine and we say together, “We believe this.” The writer of Hebrews is saying Jesus is the center; the person and work of Christ is what the Christian church is all about. It’s the center of our hope; it’s the center of our confession of faith.
 
He (Jesus) was faithful to Him (the Father) who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. (Vs. 2) 
 
Now again, the comparison of Jesus to Moses might seem odd to us, just like the comparison of Jesus to the angels seems kind of odd to us. But again, if you study early christian history, what was happening with the first century readers is they were tempted to go back to the old ways, to the old covenant. There were Judaizers that were saying to them, “If God is for you, this persecution wouldn’t be happening, and you need to go back to the old covenant. You need to go back to the temple and the sacrifices and the Sabbath and all the things that God put in place.” After all the old covenant (613 commandments including the ten commandments) was mediated by the angels. So who is Jesus?  What gives Him the authority and the power to do away with the old covenant and usher in something new? Answer: He is superior to the angels. He didn’t do away with the old covenant so much as He fulfilled it and has ushered in something new. So you can also imagine the argument that Moses brought in the old covenant; therefore, who is Jesus? Do we think Jesus is greater than Moses? So that’s the nature of the argument here.  
 
The idea of Moses was in all His house provokes some discussion around, “What does he mean by house?”  Some think it means the tabernacle, so all the activity in the tabernacle. Others think of it like the household, the people of God. It’s both. I don’t know how you discuss the old covenant without discussing the people and how do you discuss the people without the old covenant, so it’s all of that Moses represented in the Old Testament. Verse 3 
 
For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.  
 
So of course Jesus is superior to Moses. The logic of that is because the builder is greater than the house.  Think of it like this: if you were to go to the Parade of Homes and see a whole bunch of beautiful homes, while you are admiring those homes, ultimately what you are admiring is the builder of these homes. In other words, nobody is going to think the house built itself. What you are ultimately admiring are the builders. Well, in the same way, the house didn’t build itself, so Moses was like a manager in the house, but he wasn’t the builder of the house. Verse 4:  
 
For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; (Vs. 4-5) 
 
This text doesn’t say anything negative about Moses, actually just the opposite. Moses is celebrated; he was faithful in his role. The idea here of a servant, typically when you see that word in the New Testament it’s a translation of the Greek word doulos which means servant, slave, bond- slave, or something like that, but that’s not this word. As a matter of fact, this is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used. It’s a term that basically is a reference to someone who is right under the person in authority, in other words right under the owner, someone who is managing everything on behalf of the owner. Maybe in our world today we would say something like, “Oh, that’s his Number 2 person.” So the owner has someone who is running the show for him. That’s this word. It’s celebrating the fact that, “Yes, Moses did a great job. He was faithful as someone who was put in position of managing the house.” It includes the idea …for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later. In other words, the whole point of the house was to bear witness to something that would happen later, that would be talked about by the prophets and ultimately fulfilled. So, Moses was the manager of the old covenant that was foreshadowing and picturing something that was yet to comeVerse 6: 
 
…but Christ (the Messiah, the anointed one) was faithful as a Son over His house— whose house we are,  
 
So Moses was a faithful servant but Christ was the builder of the house. He is the owner of the house, and He has ushered in a new house. He says, “This new house of which we are,” clearly stating that the Old Testament under Moses was all foreshadowing and picturing the fulfillment of God’s promise all the way back to Genesis 3:15—the promise made to Abraham, foreshadowed and pictured throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is the fulfillment of the old covenant. He is the builder, the owner of the house, and He has the authority and the power now to usher in something new. That’s why the old must fade away and the new must be celebrated. The end of verse 6 then says,  
 
…whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.  
 
Now those are the kind of verses that make a lot of people really uneasy because of the “if” clause. If what? Most of you are aware that down through church history there has always been a debate of whether or not you can lose your salvation—and there are good and godly people that argue on both sides of that discussion. So as soon as some people see the “if” clause, it immediately taps into their own insecurities. “I knew it! I knew it! If I’m not a great Christian all the way to the finish line, I’m out!” And it raises all kinds of discussion. So one of the things we wrestle with is, “Is this statement meant to be descriptive or is it conditional?” What I mean by that is if it’s descriptive, it’s simply saying, “Those who have truly experienced conversion will endure to the end.” Jesus promised, “I will finish what I started.” Or is it conditional, meaning only those who do perform up to a certain level to the end of the story will be saved. It is descriptive because the rest of the New Testament is very clear that God will finish what He started. If you have to perform at a certain level—and who decides all the way to the finish line—then clearly there is a level of works necessary to complete your salvation, and that’s contrary to everything the New Testament teaches. So it’s simply saying, “Those who are truly born again, truly converted, will endure to the end.”  
 
Whether today you are an unbeliever, whether you are a brand new believer, whether you have been a Christian for thirty years, it’s the same question, “Do you believe God tells the truth?” and, again, the evidence would be in your actions, your attitudes, and in your emotions every single day. Verse 7:  
 
Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,  
 
Two things real quick. One is the writer is identifying Scripture as the very words of God. Even though this psalm he’s about to quote is written by David, it’s ultimately the God-breathed words of God, and that’s what he said. This is what the Holy Spirit says in Psalm 95. The other thing to notice is that it doesn’t say said—past tense—it says says—present tense. The writer is going to argue in chapter 4 that this is a living book. Therefore it’s not just something that was said in the past, but the Holy Spirit continues to say this to us today as His people. Then he goes on to quote Psalm 95:  
 
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, 
DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, 
AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. 
“THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, 
AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, 
AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’; 
AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, 
‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.’” (Vs. 8-11) 
 
One of the key terms is today; that’s going to be repeated again in this chapter and on into chapter 4. Today, we still have today—there’s a sense of urgency. Whatever has happened to you in the past, whatever you’ve done in the past, it’s past! You don’t know if you have a future. What you have is today. So, do you believe God tells the truth today?  
 
The idea of harden your hearts is consistently presented in the Scripture as the idea of when God reveals Himself in a very clear way, nobody walks away from that experience neutral— in other words unchanged. In that moment either you believe and your faith is increased, or you do not belief and your heart becomes harder and harder. When God clearly makes Himself known and you stubbornly rebel and you say, “I refuse to believe it,” you walk away from that experience with your heart just a little bit harder than it was before.  
 
So what’s he talking about here? He’s going back to when the nation of Israel left Egypt, God manifested Himself through the plagues. They leave Egypt. God manifests Himself through the parting of the Red Sea, through the destroying of the army of the Egyptians. God led them as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God provided water. God provided food. God provided protection. God’s presence was so evident in so many tangible ways. When they got to the threshold of the Land of Promise, a land that God said, “I will give you, and it’s a land flowing with milk and honey,” Moses sent twelve spies in to check out the land.  They come back, and two of them— Joshua and Caleb—report, “It’s a land flowing with milk and honey. Let’s take it.” But ten of them said, “Yes, it is a land flowing with milk and honey, but there are giants in the land. We can’t win. Let’s not go in.” And the ten convinced the majority, and together they said, “Were not going in!” God, then, responding to their disbelief said, “I will give you the land. It will be everything that you long for,” but essentially what they said is, “God, You can’t be trusted. We don’t think You are faithful. We don’t think You are telling the truth.” And so God said, “Because of that, for forty years you will wander in the wilderness until that generation of unbelievers dies, and then maybe the next generation will trust Me.” Within that generation there would have been well over a million people, and out of that million people, two entered the Land of Promise. The consequence for disbelief was catastrophic. One can only imagine what would life have been had they just believed God tells the truth.  Had they just trusted God, after so many demonstrations of God’s faithfulness, they could have experienced a land flowing with milk and honey, but they wouldn’t.  
 
Now, again, people then start to question, “Well, were these people believers or unbelievers? Are they in or are they out?” That’s how we always want to reduce these stories, and the answer is, “There is no way to answer that question.” The Old Testament text doesn’t address that; that’s not the point of the story. Some would say, “Well, because the Promise Land is a picture of salvation and they didn’t get in, clearly then they are out.” So don’t forget Moses didn’t get to go in. Is Moses out? So it’s just not that clear; it’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is they had this opportunity to rest in the land flowing with milk and honey if they would have just trusted God and believed He tells the truth. But because of their unbelief they did not enter. Now unbelief doesn’t mean just a struggle along the way. All of us from time to time struggle along the way. Unbelief is a much stronger term. It’s an act of rebellion. It’s basically this idea of saying, “I will not believe. No matter how God demonstrates Himself to be faithful, I won’t believe. I’m going to do it my way. I don’t think God can be trusted.” It’s a very defiant rebellious act of the will, and the consequences were catastrophic.  
 
The idea of rest is interesting because Psalm 95—if you go back and read it at your leisure—is a wonderful psalm that was read every Sabbath at the synagogue.  So these people would have been highly familiar with this psalm. The whole idea of rest that they were seeking through the weekly Sabbath, was actually there to be found in Christ, in this new covenant, if they would just believe that. Verse 12:  
 
Take care (that’s a command; anchor down), brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.  
 
The Greek word translated falls away is the word from which we get our English word apostasy. The Greek just simply means to kind of distance yourself away from God. Jesus used the exact same word when He talked about the sower and the soils. When He talked about sowing the seed on the rocky ground, at first it looks like something is growing but there are no roots and it just fades away. This letter is starting to tell us that they are believers, but the writer also has a concern that mixed in with the believers are those that may not truly believe. That’s clearly a concern he has. That’s a concern of almost all the New Testament Epistles. No one could write a letter to a church somewhere and be one hundred percent sure that everyone in that church is truly a believer. So you always have these hints within every letter that there may be some among us that don’t really believe, just like Jesus talked about with the sower and the seeds. So that’s the concern, that there are some that really don’t believe it’s true. How do we help with this? Verse 13: 
 
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  
 
So how do we do that? We do it together. This will be an emphasis in the book of Hebrews—that as these people are headed into persecution, and there is a fear that they might go back to their old ways, they need to consistently come together to encourage one another, to strengthen one another, to take this journey together. We are called to come together to encourage one another, to celebrate one another, to strengthen one another, to hold one another up, to understand that we are in this together and together we get to the finish line, not just weekly, but day after day. To reaffirm what we believe to be true, because life can get really hard and really confusing at times. Again the emphasis is on “Today”! I don’t know about tomorrow; I don’t know about ten years ago. I don’t know what you did; I don’t know what was done to you. It’s past history; we can’t go back and change it. I don’t know that you have a future. What I do know is you have today so there’s this emphasis with a sense of urgency, “What do you believe to be true today, because today matters.!”  
 
The idea of the deceitfulness of sin is to understand every time I give into temptation and engage in some sin, ultimately what I’m saying to God is, “God, You cannot be trusted with this area of my life. I know what You’ve said. I know what Your track record is, but I just don’t think You are going to be faithful. I don’t think You tell the truth. Therefore, in this particular area of life, I’m going to be my own God and I’m going to run the show. That’s the deceitfulness of sin. It’s always rooted back to unbelief. “God, You can’t be trusted, so I’m taking charge.” That’s the basic idea; that’s why unbelief can be so destructive. Verse 14:  
 
For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,  
 
This again is descriptive. Those who have truly believed will endure all the way to the end, but there may be those among them that don’t truly believe. Verse 15: 
 
…while it is said, 
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, 
DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.” 
 
Now, he wraps it up with a series of questions.  
 
For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry 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? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. (Vs. 16-19) 
 
It was those that didn’t believe that provoked Him. It was those that had so much evidence of God’s faithfulness and God’s presence that were determined not to trust Him and went their own way and engaged in all kinds of idolatrous sin again and again and again. Now be careful how you read some of this, less you misunderstand. You think, “Well, what is the deal with God getting so angry?”  Think of it this way. Let’s imagine you have lived your life with the highest integrity and character. Again and again you have been faithful to someone. Again and again you have been good and kind and compassionate to someone. You’ve demonstrated your character and heart to someone again and again and again. And all they keep doing is saying to you, “I can’t trust you…I can’t’ trust you; I just think you’re a big liar.” You tell me, how would you respond to that? Would you, with an indifferent heart say, “Oh, that’s okay.”? No, you would get angry. You would get angry because your track record of goodness and faithfulness and truth is clear so, “Why do you keep saying that to me?”  
 
And that’s what God is saying—what He wants is to bless His people. What He wants is for His people to trust Him and enter into the Land of Promise. What He wants for them is a land flowing with milk and honey. What He wanted for them is so different from what they experienced. And again and again and again He made His power and presence known to them. “Just trust Me. I’ll get you in the land. I’ll take the land. It’s yours!” But with a rebellious heart again and again they said, “No, we don’t want to trust You; we don’t want to do it Your way.” As a matter of fact, often they said, “We want to go back to Egypt; we think that was better.” But one can only imagine what could have been if they had just trusted!
 
So now we are back to our question, “Do you really believe God tells the truth?” It is entirely possible to genuinely be a born-again Christian and live a miserable life all the way to the finish line because you never really believed that God would be your refuge, that God would be your rest, that Christ would be enough.  
 
Do you or do you not believe God tells the truth, and is that evident in your actions, in your attitudes, in your emotions, through the best and the worst moments of your life? Our prayer is that we would all chose, in an act of our will, to believe that God tells the truth, so in the most difficult moments of life we will truly say, “I do believe Christ is enough!”
 
Our Father, we just ask that You would give us the courage, the faith to believe that You do tell the truth, that we can really believe what You say, that we will experience Your refuge, we will experience Your rest, and that even in the most difficult moments of life we will say with integrity, “It is well with my soul,” because we believe, we believe Christ is enough! Lord, may that be true of us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.