Be Obedient

Explore the Bible Series

September 24, 2006


Background Passage: Hebrews 3:16-4:13

Lesson Passage: Hebrews 3:16-4:7, 9-13




Now I saw, upon a time, when he was walking in the fields, that he was reading his Book, and greatly distressed in his mind; and as he read, he burst out, as he had done before, crying, “What shall I do to be saved?” I saw also that he looked this way, and that way, as if he would run; yet he stood still, because he could not tell which way to go.”


                                                    John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress


Bunyan began his timeless classic with a picturesque description of the restlessness nature of the unregenerate heart. The poor, agonized sinner, aware of his spiritual ruin, cannot gain relief from his distress.  From the Book in his hand, he knew that justice awaited him, and he knew that he must do something to escape the sentence of death upon him; yet, his ignorance paralyzed him.  


Some years ago I had a problem with kidney stones.  The initial attack occurred while I watched a football game.  My wife and children had gone shopping, and I remained alone to enjoy the game.  By half time my lower abdomen hurt so badly that I crawled (literally) to the phone to call a friend to get me to the hospital.  After some x-rays, the doctor told me that I would have to wait this out, and she gave me some heavy-duty pain medication to dull the agony.  Frankly, the drugs did not help much.  It took six days for the stone to pass, and I had never, to that point in my life, experienced pain like that.  Of course, I tried to sleep at night, but I couldn’t find much relief.  I turned from side to side, every position imaginable, but I could not find any posture that eased the pain.  Whatever sleep I got was fitful and restless—nothing seemed to help.  The sinner’s restlessness, it seems, resembles the dilemma in which I found myself.  The pain of separation from God seems unbearable—nothing dulls the agony. The sinner turns here and there, often flitting from one distraction to another; nevertheless, the heart remains restive.  Human beings possess remarkable imaginative skills, and the lost man may experiment with a thousand “remedies” for his spiritual agitation, but nothing proves satisfying. 


The Third Chapter of Hebrews deals with mankind’s need for spiritual rest, and the grave danger that restless sinners may come short of a satisfactory prescription for their malady.  The author of this work used the wilderness experience of the ancient Israelites to illustrate the danger that his readers faced.  Like Israel, this first-century audience knew a great deal about the promises of God, and they possessed an impressive amount of information about the nature of God’s redemptive work for his people; nevertheless, they stood at the threshold of apostasy because their unbelief.  The author exhorted them to remain “…diligent to enter the rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” 


Personal Note: I do not make a habit of offering criticisms of the Lifeway materials, but I find the title for this week’s lesson (“Be Obedient”) a bit puzzling.  I affirm, along with the lesson’s author, that saving faith always issues in practical obedience to Christ.  Also, I celebrate the lesson’s emphasis on the active verbs in this chapter (i.e. “be diligent” in 4:11); nevertheless, it seems that the chapter emphasis falls on the promised rest which God provides for his people. 


One other word of introduction, the passage uses four images of rest.

  1. The rest Israel failed to enter when they believed the evil report of the ten unfaithful spies.
  2. The Sabbath rest in the aftermath of God’s six days of creative activity: these first two “rests” point to something beyond the mere historical occurrences of creation and conquest.  Ultimately, the text describes the saving rest which true believers experience and the glorious rest the saints will enter when they join Christ in heaven.
  3. The rest that people experience when they trust Christ as Lord and Savior:  Some of the commentators emphasize the future implications of the “rest” of the Lord’s people, but they do so at the expense of the present “rest” that sinners may find, here and now, when they trust the Savior. 
  4. The future “rest” of the people of God when they enter the glories of heaven:  This text does have an eschatological element, and Bible students should not neglect this aspect of the chapter’s teaching.  Also, the comments in point three (above) do not negate or diminish the believer’s wonderful expectation of the bliss and rest of heaven.



Background Passage Outline:


I.                   Israel’s Failure to Enter the “Rest” of the Promised Land (3:16-4:3)

A.    The sins of ancient Israel

1.      “For who, having heard, rebelled…” (3:16): Hebrews employs a word that means to behave in a provocative manner.  It denotes actions that grow from an obstinate heart that seeks to provoke someone to anger.

2.      “…those who did not obey…(3:18): 

3.      “…they could not enter because of unbelief” (3:19): notice the close connection between disobedience and faith.  Men are not saved by good works, but only a working, living faith will save (See James 2:14-26).

                  B.  Parallels between ancient Israel and apostates

                                1.  both heard the word but rebelled against the revealed will of God                                                                     

                                     (See 3:16 and 4:2).

2.      neither could enter into God’s rest (See 3:18 and 4:3).

3.      unbelief caused the failure of both to enter the Lord’s rest (See 3:19 and 4:2b).


II.                The Lesson of the Sabbath (4:4-10)

A.    The Sabbath principle stated (4:4): “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” Adam’s first full day of life was the seventh day of creation; that is, he began his existence in the context of the “rest” of God.  Eventually, of course, Adam forfeited his rest by engaging in his defiant act of disobedience. It seems significant that God’s curse on the earth forced Adam into a life of arduous labor, emblematic of the wearying toil of the rebellious, disobedient heart. Thus, this restlessness of soul has existed since the time of the Edenic Fall, but the “rest” of the Lord exists from the very foundation of the earth.

B.     The Sabbath warning (4:5-8):  Though a rest existed for mankind from the foundation of the earth, man has, through his disobedience, failed to enter the Lord’s rest. Sadly, people, even in David’s and Joshua’s day did not enter the rest of God (See vv. 7-8).  Instead, the ungodly persisted in unbelief and disobedience.

C.     The Sabbath promise (See vv. 9-10):  The human failures of the past do no violence to God’s promise that sinners may find rest for their souls.  “There remains a rest for the people of God.” The faithful person has entered the rest of the Lord and will know perfect rest, as the Lord Jesus has rested from his redemptive labors, when the entire family of God gathers in heaven.


III.             The Third Exhortation (4:11-13)

A.    A sober admonition (v.11): “Let us therefore be diligent to enter the rest…”  Only those who exercise this diligence will find God’s rest. Please note that spiritual rest does not imply indolence; rather, the repose of faith is attended by earnest diligence to seek the word of God and heed its precepts.

B.     Reasons to heed this exhortation (4:11b-13)

1.      “lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience” (See v. 11b)

2.      “For the word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword…” (See v. 12)

3.      “And there is no creature hidden from his sight” (See 13)