What is this sabbath rest spoken of in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4?
For one thing, we know from Hebrews 3:1 and 4:9 that it concerns Christians. The Christian life is likened to Israel‘s journey from Egypt through the wilderness and into Canaan.
We know it is a place of rest from our own works, efforts and struggles. 4:10
We know that only unbelief keeps us out of that land. 4:11
The Exodus from Egypt
Israel‘s 400 years of slavery in Egypt is an illustration of our condition before we were saved. We were slaves of Satan and knew nothing of true freedom. We were, as Hebrews 2:15 describes, all our lifetime in bondage to religion; trying, but failing to gain merit with God.
Then in the fullness of time God gave them Moses to lead them out of Egypt and slavery. That took place at the first Passover described in Exodus 12. You remember that each family had to slay a lamb and smear the blood on the doorpost of their house so that the death angel would pass over them as he went through Egypt that night killing all the first born of the land. The death angel passed over the homes covered by the blood. What a picture of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was slain for our sins! How important it is that we trust in that shed blood for our salvation! Those covered by the blood of Christ will never experience God’s condemnation. Are you covered by that blood? Are you trusting the blood sacrifice of Christ on Calvary as your only merit for salvation from sin and judgment?
Next day, after the angel of death had struck Egypt and Israel had been spared, they began their journey from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. You remember the miracle of crossing the Red Sea on dry ground and then later the Egyptian army being drowned in the Red Sea as they pursued after Israel.
The rest of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy describe Israel‘s journey through the wilderness on their way to Canaan. Those books speak, not only of their journey, but also of the laws, the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system that God gave them for dealing with their sins and living their lives so as to please Him.
Their destination, the land of Canaan, does not speak primarily of Heaven, as many of our Christian songs teach; but of a life of victory we can experience as we live in a sin-cursed world. Yes, Canaan is a picture of the life that every Christian ought to be living here on earth right now. This life in Canaan, though filled with battles with Satan our enemy, is described as a life of REST.
REST is the key word in Hebrews 3 and 4.
As Israel journeyed through the wilderness they eventually came to Kadesh-barnea in the northern desert just south of the border of Canaan. Number 13-14 tells the story of how Israel sent twelve spies into Canaan to spy out the land so that they would be prepared to enter. Ten of those spies brought back a negative report of unbelief. “It was too dangerous. There were too many enemies. It was impossible.” Only two spies, Caleb and Joshua, brought back a positive report. “Yes, there were enemies, but with God’s help, they could enter the land and be victorious!”
Israel listened to the majority report and gave up right then. They moaned and groaned and said it was impossible to enter. God became angry with them and sentenced all the Israelites twenty years old and older to continue to wander in the wilderness until they were dead. Forty years later when all were dead, God called Joshua to lead the new generation, including eighty-five year old Caleb, to enter Canaan and begin conquering the enemy. That story is told in the book of Joshua. Basically, they were told to rest in the Lord, obey Him and watch Him conquer the enemies and enable them to possess the land. This is told in the first nine verses of the first chapter of Joshua.
What dangers do we face as Christians?
Through the sin of failing to trust God, we risk the danger of never entering the land of Canaan, the victorious Christian life. We risk the danger of just existing all our days, walking as living zombies with no purpose, no joy and no victories over sin. That’s the warning in Hebrews 3:7-11. Though saved, we depart from the living God and live our lives as though He were dead. I’m afraid that Israel wandering in the wilderness for forty years is a picture of many Christians who go through the motions of Christianity, but with no reality of walking with the Living Lord and experiencing His purpose, joy and victory in their lives.
Hebrews 3:13 instructs us to be aware of those defeated Christians and exhort them daily, lest their hearts become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Be aware that if we entertain and coddle even just a little sin in our lives, our hearts will gradually become calloused and hardened to where we don’t care.
We Christians who rejoice in our eternal security in Christ need to be especially cautious that we do not use that truth as an excuse to become careless about sin. If you’ve not read it, I encourage you to read my article on eternal security in our SALVATION series.
How do we partake of Christ?
Note the exhortation in Hebrews 3:14 “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfastly to the end.” How do we partake of Christ each day? We partake of Him as we read and take heed to His Word daily. His Word is the daily food that sustains us. Find a church that is faithful to the Bible where you are faithfully fed. Use this web site to help feed your soul as you test by the plumb line of the infallible, living Word of God what I or anyone else writes or says.
What must we fear?
Hebrews 4:1 warns us to fear something. What is it that we are to fear? Certainly not our eternal security in Christ. A Christian need not ever fear losing his salvation. Read Romans 8:28-39 for a powerful statement on why this should never be our fear. Our standing in Jesus’ righteousness can never change.
Certainly we ought not be concerned whether we are pleasing God through the Sabbath observance or through any other ceremonial law for Israel under the Old Covenant. That is not even an issue. If you have come to Jesus as your Saviour and are trusting Him, the observance of ceremonial laws and sabbaths should have no place in our lives. Those are all shadows of Christ. We have Christ Himself. The only value of studying those shadows is that we can learn more about Jesus.
If you’ve trusted Christ for your salvation and for your life, you have nothing to fear as far as your standing is concerned. I John 4:18 says that “perfect love casts out fear.”
What is it then that Hebrews 4:1 is telling us to fear? The fear should be that of falling short of entering into Christ’s rest. We should fear displeasing our Heavenly Father.
Do you remember when you as a little child were warned by your parents to stay out of the street so you would not be hit by a car? As a little child, did you live each day in mortal fear of being hit by a car or being punished by your parents. Of course not! While you played in your yard or in the park with your parents or an older brother or sister, you didn’t even think of the dangers of the street; however, if your ball rolled out into the street, you were fearful of venturing out into the street. Even if a car didn’t hit you, you did not want to risk getting punished for disobeying your parents. Hopefully, your friends exhorted you to stay out of the street. So in our walk with God Christian friends and pastors exhort us to avoid seeing how close we can play with fire without being burned. They exhort us to come to church when we are beginning to get discouraged and slack off. See Hebrews 3:13 and 10:24.
How do we labor to enter this land of rest?
Hebrews 4:11 asks that question.
For one thing, we get into the Word of God. 4:12 It exposes the thoughts and intents of our heart like nothing else can. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to bring us to conviction of sin.
As we struggle with our infirmities and sins, remember that Jesus our great High Priest walked this earth as a man experiencing all the temptations we face yet without sin. He invites us to come boldly before His throne of grace, to obtain mercy and find grace to help us discover His victory when we are tempted. 4:14-16
Have you come to know Christ; not only as your Saviour, but as your Victory and Rest? I’m not teaching present perfection. I John 1:8-10 teaches that we will not be sinlessly perfect until we arrive in Heaven in our glorified bodies at the Rapture of the Church.
However, even though we are not perfect yet, we can learn to enjoy consistent victory over sin as we come to Jesus, our Sabbath Rest. Jesus invites us in Matthew 11:28-30 to come to Him, learn of Him and yoke with Him in service. We will discover the wonderful rest that comes in fellowship and service with Him.
My prayer for you, dear reader, is that your eyes will be opened to grasp this wonderful, life-changing truth of discovering The Lord Jesus Christ; not only as your Saviour, but as your Lord, as your Life, as your Victory over sin and as your Sabbath.
When God created the world, He rested on the seventh day and blessed it, setting it apart from all the other days of the week. Genesis 2:2-3 It was not because God was tired; but He rested and hallowed the seventh day for the good of mankind. Everyone, needs to rest from work one day a week for his own health and well being.
SABBATH FOR ISRAEL
In Exodus 16 God introduced His Sabbath to His people, Israel. The Sabbath, Saturday, the seventh day of the week is observed by all devout Jews. In Exodus 20:8-11 the Sabbath observance is listed as the fourth of the ten commandments. It was just as important and just as binding as the other nine. How seriously does God look at Sabbath breaking? Read the account of a Sabbath breaker whom God commanded to be stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath Day. Numbers 15:32-36
PHARISEES MAKE IT BURDENSOME
During the period of time between Ezra and the coming of Christ, the scribes invented scores of detailed regulations concerning the Sabbath that made life almost intolerable for the Jews. When Jesus began His ministry, He clashed with the scribes and Pharisees over the heavy burdens they had laid upon the people. In Mark 2:27-28 Jesus confronted the Pharisees when they charged His disciples for breaking the Sabbath laws by picking some grain to eat while traveling through a field. Jesus announced to them, “The Sabbath was made for man; and not man for the Sabbath.” He also announced to them that He was ” the Lord of the Sabbath.”
CHRISTIANS OBSERVE THE LORD’S DAY, NOT THE SABBATH
When Jesus was crucified and risen from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week; the early Christians began meeting on that day to worship the risen Christ. Acts 20:7 I Corinthians 16:1 Most Christians today continue to observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Some groups still hold fast to their observance of the Sabbath. In Colossians 2:8-23 Paul warns Christians to not allow themselves to be put into bondage concerning the observance of ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. In verse 16 and 17 of that chapter Paul specifically warns Christians to not allow anyone to put them into bondage by requiring them to observe Sabbath days nor any other holy days. In that passage he explains to them that the Sabbath, as well as other ceremonial laws, were all just shadows of one to come and that one was Christ. Christ is our Sabbath just as He is our Passover. I Corinthians 5:7 In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus invites us to come to Him for rest. The writer of Hebrews in chapter 4 speaks further of the rest we can have in Christ as we trust Him.
APPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTIANS
There are two applications for those of us who are trusting Christ for our salvation. First, we are no longer under the Sabbath and other ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. We rejoice in the freedom we have in Christ. Secondly, since God from the creation of the world has seen fit to teach us to rest one day out of seven and since Christians now observe the first day of the week as The Lord’s Day; it seems right that we Christians should take more seriously our privilege and responsibility of observing the Lord’s Day as a day of rest and worship.
Although I would not for one minute seek to put any Christian under bondage, I believe we are missing blessings God has for us when we fail to observe the Lord’s Day as a hallowed day devoted to worship. Many of us are too busy and too tired to be faithful in our church attendance. Perhaps we need to simplify our schedules and rearrange our priorities.
If your work requires you to work on Sunday, God has a solution for you concerning this. Ask Him to show you what He would have you do. Remember what Jesus said,
“The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”
Christ wants to bless you; not add burdens to your life.
In Luke chapter 14 we find Jesus invited to the home of a Pharisee for dinner on the Sabbath Day. It wasn’t that the Pharisee was hospitable. Actually the Pharisees, as a whole, hated Jesus and were continually watching for opportunities to entrap Him through His words or actions and thus destroy His influence among the people.
As the story opens the conversation around the table turns to the proper observance of the Sabbath. Jesus’ attitude towards the Sabbath was a constant source of irritation to the Pharisees. The Sabbath issue came about as Jesus observed a sick man with dropsy who needed to be healed. It appears that this Pharisee was waiting to see whether Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath Day. In verse 3 we read that Jesus answered the Pharisee’s question. Whether it was spoken or just thought; Jesus, aware of the Pharisee’s evil intentions, asked them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath Day?”
The Pharisees did not answer, so Jesus healed the sick man and let him go. Again Jesus answers the malignant thoughts of the Pharisees with another question. “Which of you shall have a donkey or an ox fallen into a pit and will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath Day?” Note once more that the Pharisees gave Him no answer.
Why? If they answered “Yes”, they would have to agree that Jesus did the proper thing by healing on the Sabbath. If they answered “No” they would come across as cold, uncaring, hard-hearted men. In either case, they would have been check-mated and silenced. They knew God’s Law concerning the care of animals in distress. Read it in Exodus 23:5 and Deuteronomy 22:4.
Let’s review what the Bible says about the Sabbath.
1. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day; not because He was weary and needed to rest, but because He was setting the example to us to work six days and rest on the seventh. Genesis 2:2-3
2. The fourth of the Ten Commandments commanded Israel to rest on the seventh day as a Sabbath Day of rest. Exodus 20:8-11 Resting one day in seven and devoting it to God is a moral issue. It is a matter of right and wrong.
3. As circumcision is a sign of God’s Covenant with Israel, so observing the Sabbath is also a sign between God and Israel. Read the entire 19th chapter of Leviticus and note the sixteen times God announced to Israel, “I am the Lord your God.” Note in verse 30 of that chapter that Israel was commanded to “keep His Sabbaths and “reverence His sanctuary.”
4. Leviticus 26 is filled with promises of blessing to Israel if they obeyed God and warnings of judgment if they disobeyed Him. Note especially the warnings in Leviticus 26:33-35 that if they disobeyed and profaned the Sabbaths, they would not get away with it. While Israel was in captivity and scattered, the land would recover her Sabbaths that the people had ignored.
5. Note in Ezekiel 20:12 that God gave His Sabbaths to Israel as a sign of His Covenant with them.
How about the Church today? What are we to understand about the Sabbath?
Observing the Sabbath or attempting to keep any of the Ten Commandments cannot make us righteous. Romans 3:19-20 shows us all to be guilty Law breakers before our Holy God. We are all guilty sinners and worthy to die and be eternally separated from God in hell. Read Romans 6:23 Revelation 20:11-15
We Jews and gentiles are made righteous and fit for Heaven; not through Sabbath observance nor any good works; but only through faith in Christ who was sacrificed on Calvary‘s cross, shedding His blood for our sins. Read Romans 3:21-31.
Not only are we declared righteous through faith in Christ, but we are made righteous through the work of the Holy Spirit who comes to live in the believer. This is clearly taught in Romans 8:1-4.
Now turn to Romans 10:1-4 and note that Christ is the “end” or the fulfillment of God’s righteousness in the heart of everyone who trusts Him. That means that if you are trusting in Christ alone for salvation, God sees you as having perfectly fulfilled all the Law of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ Himself is our righteousness. This salvation is a Gift. According to Titus 3:5-6 it has nothing to do with our works.
Christ is Lord of the Sabbath according to Luke 6:1-5. In fact, in Romans 9:27-33 and in James 5:1-4 His name is Lord of Sabbath.
The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:23-28
The Sabbath, along with all the feast days and ceremonial laws for Israel, are not for the Church today. Colossians 2 makes that clear.
Christ Himself is our SABBATH and our REST! We do not find our rest in Sabbath keeping. We find our rest by trusting Jesus alone for our righteousness. Read that wonderful invitation Jesus gives us in Matthew 11:28-30.
Augustine, a bishop of Hippo in North Africa who lived 354-430 AD, said, “God has made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Him.”
Why do Christians observe Sunday, the first day of the week, as their day of rest?
Christians need one day of the week to lay aside the routine and the cares of life in order to assemble together to hear the Word of God and worship Him. Because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1) and because as I Corinthians 15:12-21 teaches, Christ’s resurrection is central to the Christian’s Faith and the basis for our joy and assurance as Christians; the early church turned to Sunday as their day of rest and worship. Though the Apostle Paul gathered with the Jews on the Sabbath to preach to them and reason with them, gradually Christians began to gather on Sunday, the first day of the week, to hear the preaching of God’s Word. Acts 20:7, I Corinthians 16:1-2.
I encourage you to read through Paul’s short Epistle to the Galatians and see how utterly worthless the ceremonial law of God with its feasts, sabbaths and holy day observances are to the Christian. As you read through all of Paul’s Epistles, it becomes obvious that the chief opposition to the Gospel Paul preached came from the Judaizers who wanted to put the early Christians back under the bondage of the ceremonial law, which was but a picture of Christ who would come and be the total fulfillment of that law.
The Judaizers are still at work today attempting to bring Christians under these laws. Galatians 5:1 challenges us to “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”