Hebrews 4:11-16 Help for the People of God WC McCarter
Last week we saw that there is still a rest for the people of God. We were given three evidences to support that claim. First, the original hearers in Moses’ day did not receive the promise of rest because of disobedience. Second, Joshua’s conquest did not secure rest because the promise was given again later. Third, the Holy Spirit spoke through David to say that the promise is for “today.”
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Diligence Instead of Disobedience (11)
The word “therefore” links us back to what has already been said. On the basis of the warning and promise of the previous passage, the author of Hebrews says, “Let us be diligent to enter that rest.” You should fear that you may come short of it through disobedience, that possibly is a real threat, which is all the more reason to diligently pursue that rest. You are not to shrink back in fear so that you are stunned. No, that holy fear should motivate you to faithfully obey all that the Lord has said. We have been exhorted to fear lest we fall short, and now we are exhorted to be diligent lest we fall short. We do not want to “fall according to the same example of disobedience” as that of the Exodus generation. They heard the word of promise and did not trust it.
A Word for the People of God (12-13)
There is no more appropriate way that I can think of to summarize what has been said here in chapter four of Hebrews and, really, what the author has said from the beginning of the letter to this point. Verses 12-13 conclude a major section about the word of God. God spoke creation into existence, He spoke in the OT to and through the prophets, and now He has spoken finally and resoundingly through His Son. This word should not be rejected or neglected. “The very fact that God’s word provides such a great salvation (2:3) and promises eternal ‘rest’ means that it is also a word of judgment on those who reject God’s gracious offer” (Cockerill, 214). So, we continue to hear in the background the echo of Psalm 95, “Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Today is the day of salvation. Hear the word of God, trust the word of God, and obey the word of God. There is urgency because of promise of rest remains, and there is a fully sufficient means to enter that rest- the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here we come to one of the most famous verses in all the Bible about the word of God. Here the Bible speaks about itself, and there is much to realize. I notice five things in verse twelve about the word: living, powerful, sharp, penetrating, and discerning. Each part builds upon the previous so that the word of God is not only living (applicable to us today and all those after us), but it is powerful. It is not only powerful, but it is sharp. It is so sharp that, like a two edged sword, it pierces to the depths of a person. The word sword may actually be a reference to a surgeon’s knife. The word of God can cut us open and lay us bare. It can divide things within us thought to be indivisible. For example, how does one separate the soul and the spirit? It is not so easy to separate joints from marrow. We are told that, “For the ancients ‘marrow,’ deeply hidden inside the bones, served metaphorically for that which was most intimate in the body of a person” (Smillie). He knows us to our hidden depths. Not only does the word of God divide, but it discerns. The Lord is all-knowing. He knows every part of us. He knows our innermost thoughts and intents. God knows your heart, and I assure you, His word cuts deeply and judges thoroughly.
The call of these verses is to repentance. “Not only the human heart of person, but absolutely nothing in the creation he has made is beyond his penetrating gaze” (Cockerill 217). There is no creature hidden. All things are naked and open to the eyes of the Judge. You may have things hidden from your family and friends. You may think that they are tucked away so that there is no possibility that anyone would ever see, but God will lay all things bare, and you will be required to give an account to Him. We like to think fondly of the grandeur of the word of God in these two verses, but the truth of the matter is that these two, little verses are meant to crush us. We are to feel the weight of the word of Almighty God here to the point that we feel helpless and vulnerable. Either you faithfully enter God’s rest or you disobey His word and fall into the hands of a God who discerns the core of who we are and judges necessarily, appropriately, and righteously.
A Priest for the People of God (14-16)
Verses 12-13 were meant to prepare us to receive the word about Christ’s High Priesthood here in 14-16. I find in the discussion of the word of God a great hope that I do have a revelation from the Lord, there is a promise, but I also feel the crushing weight of the accountability that is required. Therefore, I need help, and the Father gives it in the form of a Great High Priest who is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. Verses 14-16 are a transition from the previous section into the next so that we cannot disconnect these verses from what we have just discussed, but they are ready to turn to another subject. The hope here is that although you may be overwhelmed in and of yourself before God, you have a Great High Priest who ministers in your behalf. Jesus the Son of God who has passed through the heavens is all we need to persevere in faithful obedience. All of the benefits that flow forth from Him are more than enough to get us through this age and into the next.
It is because of Him that we should hold fast our confession. The Exodus generation may have confessed their loyalty to the Lord at some point, but they did not hold fast their confession, and they fell in the wilderness. What is our confession? We confess that Jesus is the Son of God; the revealed, incarnate word of God; that He was sinless; that He is our Great High Priest; that He is unique in every way; and able to save us from our sins.
Our High Priest sympathizes with our weaknesses which, in this context, refers to temptation. The Lord Jesus knows temptation. When the author of Hebrews wants to stress the Lord’s humanity, he uses the name Jesus as he does here. The Word became flesh, coming in the likeness of humanity, and lived like us. He knows temptation because He was in all points tempted as we are, but He was without sin. There is a great difference between Him and us. He was sinless perfection, and we are utterly sinful and rebellious. But He can sympathize with our weaknesses, therefore we should come boldly to the throne of grace. Here we begin to see why the Lord can be called the Great High Priest. There is none that compares to Him because He has the power to save. The throne that may have seemed so intimidating and overpowering because of the judgment of Him who sits on it is now seen as the throne of grace. Why/how can it be called by that name? It is there that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
As one person has said, “God’s ‘help’ is ‘timely’ because it is available twenty-four hours a day – whenever his people face trials and temptations” (Cockerill). Notice the “let us” admonitions based on Jesus’ High Priesthood. Since we have a Great High Priest, “let us hold fast our confession” and “let us come boldly to the throne of grace.” You have the saving power of the sinless, Son of God. You have the sympathies of the Great High Priest. You have the mercy and grace that flows from God’s heavenly throne.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) If you have been drifting away from the will of God and neglecting His words of promise and warning, then you must wake up! Replace you spiritual laziness with passionate pursuit of the promises of God. Do not go any longer in your spiritual slumber claiming to know Christ but not actively trusting Him. The call of Hebrews is loud and clear today: Wake up! Wake up!
(2) Notice the us, we, and our language of the passage. There is a great concern for the whole congregation. We are in this together. You are not expected to live this life as a loner. That rest of God is not for a select few. It is for all of us. We must together be diligent to enter that rest, meaning that I must be diligent for you and you must be diligent for me. We all must be diligent for one another and together as we strive to enter that rest. But, let me reiterate, it is not that we strive to earn our own salvation. We strive to continually reject a heart of unbelief and to continue by faith in the Son of God who gave His life for us. It is an ongoing battle to rest in faith.
(3) If you need help, here it is. If you need help keeping the faith, if you need help dealing with your sins, if you need help with any of life’s struggles–here it is. God has provided a word for His people. There is no doubt what He expects of us. It has been revealed on the pages of holy Scripture. Hear it and do it. He has also given us His Son as our High Priest. He takes away our sins. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. There is help for the people of God!