A. Considering Jesus.
1. (1a) Therefore: who we are in light of the previous paragraphs.
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling,
a. Therefore: From the previous chapter, we are left with the picture of Jesus as our heavenly High Priest. Since this is true, it teaches something about who we are. Understanding who we are in light of who Jesus is and what He did is essential for a healthy Christian life. It keeps us from the same depths of discouragement the Hebrew Christians faced.
b. Holy brethren: This is who we are because Jesus regards us as such, because our heavenly, holy High Priest is not ashamed to call them brethren. (Hebrews 2:11) It should bless and encourage us that Jesus calls us His holy brethren.
c. Partakers of the heavenly calling: Because Jesus is committed to bringing many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10), we are partners in His heavenly calling. This should bless and encourage us to press on, even through times of difficulty and trial.
2. (1b) Therefore: what we are to do in light of the previous paragraphs.
Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,
a. Consider the Apostle: We don’t often apply this word to Jesus, but He is our Apostle. The ancient Greek word translated apostle really means something like ambassador. In this sense, Jesus is the Father’s ultimate ambassador (Hebrews 1:1-2). God the Father had to send a message of love that was so important He sent it through Christ Jesus.
i. The ancient Greek word translated consider is katanoein: “It does not mean simply to look at or to notice a thing. Anyone can look at a thing or even notice it without really seeing it. The word means to fix the attention on something in such a way that its inner meaning, the lesson it is designed to teach, may be learned.” (Barclay) The same word is used in Luke 12:24 (Consider the ravens). It is an earnest appeal to look, to learn, and to understand.
ii. The message is plain: consider this. Consider that God loves you so much He sent the ultimate Messenger, Christ Jesus. Consider also how important it is for you to pay attention to God’s ultimate Apostle, who is Christ Jesus.
iii. God also chose His original, authoritative “ambassadors” for the church. These are what we think of as the original twelve apostles. God still chooses ambassadors in a less authoritative sense, and there is a sense in which we are all ambassadors for God. Yet surely, Jesus was and is the Father’s ultimate ambassador.
b. Consider the… High Priest: Jesus is the One who supremely represents us before the Father, and who represents the Father to us. God cares for us so much that He put the ultimate mediator, the ultimate High Priest, between Himself and sinful man.
i. The message is plain: consider this. Consider that God loves you so much to give you such a great High Priest. Consider that if such a great High Priest is given to us, we must honor and submit to this High Priest, who is Christ Jesus.
c. Of our confession: Jesus is the ambassador and the mediator of our confession. Christianity is a confession made with both the mouth and with the life (Matthew 10:32, Romans 10:9).
i. The word “confession” means, “to say the same thing.” When we confess our sin, we “say the same” about it that God does. In regard to salvation, all Christians “say the same thing” about their need for salvation and God’s provision in Jesus.
3. (2) Consider Jesus as faithful in His duties before the Father.
Who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house.
a. Who was faithful: When we consider the past faithfulness of Jesus, it makes us understand that He will continue to be faithful. And as He was faithful to God the Father (Him who appointed Him), so He will be faithful to us. This should bless and encourage us.
b. As Moses also was faithful in all His house: Moses showed an amazing faithfulness in his ministry; but Jesus showed a perfect faithfulness – surpassing even that of Moses.
B. Jesus, superior to Moses.
1. (3a) Jesus has received more glory than Moses did.
For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses,
a. Moses: Moses received much glory from God. This is seen in his shining face after spending time with God (Exodus 34:29-35), in his justification before Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12:6-8), and before the sons of Korah (Numbers 16).
b. For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses did: But Jesus received far more glory from the Father, at His baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), at His transfiguration (Mark 9:7), and at His resurrection (Acts 2:26-27 and Acts 2:31-33).
2. (3b-6) Moses the servant, Jesus the Son.
Inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.
a. Inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house: Moses was a member of the household of God but Jesus is the creator of that house, worthy of greater glory.
i. According to Morris, the ancient Rabbis considered Moses to be the greatest man ever, greater than the angels. The writer to the Hebrews does nothing to criticize Moses, but he looks at Moses in his proper relation to Jesus.
b. Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant… but Christ as a Son over His own house: Moses was a faithful servant, but he was never called a Son in the way Jesus is. This shows that Jesus is greater than Moses.
c. Whose house we are if we hold fast: We are a part of Jesus’ household if we hold fast. The writer to the Hebrews is encouraging those who felt like turning back, helping them to hold fast by explaining the benefits of continuing on with Jesus.
i. True commitment to Jesus is demonstrated over the long term, not just in an initial burst. We trust that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
ii. Whose house we are: 1 Peter 2:4-5 says we are being built up a spiritual house. God has a work to build through His people, even as one might build a house.
C. The application of the fact of Jesus’ superiority to Moses.
1. (7-11) A quotation from Psalm 95:7-11 and its relevance.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
In the day of trial in the wilderness,
Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me,
And saw My works forty years.
Therefore I was angry with that generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they have not known My ways.’
So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
a. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: The Spirit of God (speaking through His Word) told us that Jesus the Messiah is much greater than Moses. This truth should lead someone to action, and now the writer to the Hebrews will encourage those actions.
b. Do not harden your hearts: If those who followed Moses were responsible to surrender unto, to trust in, and to persevere in following God’s leader, we are much more responsible to do the same with a greater leader, Jesus the Messiah.
i. The point is clear. As the Holy Spirit speaks, we must hear His voice and not allow our hearts to become hardened. We hear the Spirit speak in the Scriptures, in the heart of His people, in those He draws to salvation, and by His works.
ii. Just as the Spirit speaks in many ways, there are also several ways we can harden our heart.
· Some harden their hearts by relapsing into their old indifference.
· Some harden their hearts by unbelief.
· Some harden their hearts by asking for more signs.
· Some harden their hearts by presuming upon the mercy of God.
c. Today: There is urgency to the voice of the Holy Spirit. He never prompts us to get right with God tomorrow, or to trust in yesterday – the Holy Spirit only moves us to act today.
i. The Holy Spirit tells us today because it is a genuine invitation. We know that the Holy Spirit really wants us to come to Jesus because He says, “today.” If someone asks me to come over their house for dinner but they give no day or time, I know it isn’t a firm invitation yet. But when they say, “Come over on this day at this time,” I know it is a firm invitation, that they want me to come, that they are ready for me to come, and that it will be prepared for my coming. The Holy Spirit gives you a time for His invitation – today.
ii. Charles Spurgeon pointed out one reason why the Holy Spirit is so urgent: “Besides, he waits to execute his favourite office of a Comforter, and he cannot comfort an ungodly soul, he cannot comfort those who harden their hearts. Comfort for unbelievers would be their destruction. As he delights to be the Comforter, and has been sent forth from the Father to act specially in that capacity, that he may comfort the people of God, he watches with longing eyes for broken hearts and contrite spirits, that he may apply the balm of Gilead and heal their wounds.”
iii. We must also have great urgency about today. “Select the strongest man you know, and suppose that everything in reference to your eternal welfare is to depend upon whether he lives to see the next year. With what anxiety would you hear of his illness, how concerned you would be about his health? Well, sinner, your salvation is risked by you upon your own life, is that any more secure?” (Spurgeon)
d. As in the rebellion, in the day of trial: The day of trial refers first to the trial at Meribah (Numbers 20:1-13). More generally it speaks of Israel’s refusal to trust and enter the Promised Land during the Exodus (Numbers 13:30-14:10). God did not accept their unbelief and He condemned that generation of unbelief to die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:22-23 and 14:28-32).
i. This only makes sense because there is some continuity in God’s work among His people through the centuries. We can learn from the mistakes of God’s ancient people.
e. And saw My works forty years: Because of their unbelief, the people of Israel faced judgment which culminated after forty years. This warning in Hebrews was written about forty years after the Jews’ initial rejection of Jesus. God’s wrath was quickly coming upon the Jewish people who rejected Jesus, and would culminate with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.
f. Therefore I was angry with that generation: God’s anger was kindled against that generation on account of their unbelief. They refused to trust God for the great things He promised, and they were unwilling to continue in trust. Therefore they could not enter the rest God had appointed for them, the Land of Canaan.
2. (12-15) Beware: Don’t be like the generation that perished in the wilderness.
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
a. Lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief: This is strong language, but we often underestimate the terrible nature of our unbelief. Refusing to believe God is a serious sin because it shows an evil heart and a departing from the living God.
i. “Unbelief is not inability to understand, but unwillingness to trust… it is the will, not the intelligence, that is involved.” (Newell)
ii. One can truly believe God, yet be occasionally troubled by doubts. There is a doubt that wants God’s promise but is weak in faith at the moment. Unbelief isn’t weakness of faith; it sets itself in opposition to faith.
iii. “The great sin of not believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is often spoken of very lightly and in a very trifling spirit, as though it were scarcely any sin at all; yet, according to my text, and, indeed, according to the whole tenor of the Scriptures, unbelief is the giving of God the lie, and what can be worse?” (Spurgeon)
iv. “Hearken, O unbeliever, you have said, ‘I cannot believe,’ but it would be more honest if you had said, ‘I will not believe.’ The mischief lies there. Your unbelief is your fault, not your misfortune. It is a disease, but it is also a crime: it is a terrible source of misery to you, but it is justly so, for it is an atrocious offense against the God of truth.” (Spurgeon)
v. “Did I not hear some one say, ‘Ah, sir, I have been trying to believe for years.’ Terrible words! They make the case still worse. Imagine that after I had made a statement, a man should declare that he did not believe me, in fact, he could not believe me though he would like to do so. I should feel aggrieved certainly; but it would make matters worse if he added, ‘In fact I have been for years trying to believe you, and I cannot do it.’ What does he mean by that? What can he mean but that I am so incorrigibly false, and such a confirmed liar, that though he would like to give me some credit, he really cannot do it? With all the effort he can make in my favour, he finds it quite beyond his power to believe me? Now, a man who says, ‘I have been trying to believe in God,’ in reality says just that with regard to the Most High.” (Spurgeon)
vi. The living God: “This divine title is of supreme significance, and shows that God’s character is the same to believers as to all else.” (Griffith-Thomas)
b. Exhort one another daily: If we will strengthen our faith and avoid the ruin of unbelief, we must be around other Christians who will exhort – that is, seriously encourage us. This shows our responsibility to both give exhortation and to receive exhortation, and to exhort one another daily. It is an easy thing to judge and criticize, but that is not exhortation.
i. If you are out of fellowship altogether, you can’t exhort or be exhorted. When we are out of fellowship there is much less around us to keep us from becoming hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
ii. Some think that Jesus’ command to not bother with the speck in our brother’s eye while we have a log in our own (Matthew 7:5) indicates that we should not exhort one another daily. Yet Jesus told us to first deal with our log in our own eye, but then to go and deal with the speck in our brother’s eye. He did not tell us to ignore their speck, only to deal with it in proper order.
iii. This emphasis on the importance of fellowship stands in the face of society’s thinking. A United States survey found that more than 78% of the general public and 70% of churchgoing people believed that “you can be a good Christian without attending church.” (Roof and McKinney)
iv. “You are to watch over your brethren, to exhort one another daily, especially you who are officers of the church, or who are elderly and experienced. Be upon the watch lest any of your brethren in the church should gradually backslide, or lest any in the congregation should harden into a condition of settled unbelief, and perish in their sin. He who bids you take heed to yourself, would not have you settle down into a selfish care for yourself alone, lest you should become like Cain, who even dared to say to the Lord himself, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Spurgeon)
c. Lest any of you become hardened: Christians must be vigilant against hardness of heart. That hidden sin you indulge in – none suspect you of it because you hide it well. You deceive yourself, believing that it really does little harm. You can always ask forgiveness later. You can always die to self and surrender to Jesus in coming months or years. What you cannot see or sense is that your hidden sin hardens your heart. As your heart becomes harder you become less and less sensitive to your sin. You become more and more distant from Jesus. And your spiritual danger grows every day.
d. The deceitfulness of sin: The sin of unbelief has its root in deceit and its flower is marked by hardness (lest any of you be hardened). Unbelief and sin are deceitful because when we don’t believe God, we don’t stop believing – we simply start believing in a lie.
i. One great danger of sin is its deceitfulness. If it came with full revelation, full exposure of all its consequences, it would be unattractive – but the nature of sin is deceitfulness.
ii. From the very beginning, much of the power of sin lies in its deceitfulness.
· Sin is deceitful in the way that it comes to us.
· Sin is deceitful in what it promises us.
· Sin is deceitful in what it calls itself.
· Sin is deceitful in the excuses it makes, both before and after the sin.
e. Partakers of Christ: Believers – those who turn from sin and self and put their life’s trust in Jesus – are gloriously called partakers of Christ.
i. Partakers of Christ – this is the whole picture. Partakers of His obedience, partakers of His suffering, partakers of His death, partakers of His resurrection, partakers of His victory, partakers of His plan, partakers of His power, partakers of His ministry of intercession, partakers of His work, partakers of His glory, partakers of His destiny. Saying “Partakers of Christ” says it all.
ii. There are many ways that the believer’s union with Jesus is described:
· Like a stone cemented to its foundation.
· Like a vine connected to its branches.
· Like a wife married to her husband.
f. Do not harden your hearts: We often say our hearts become hard because of what others or circumstances do to us. But the fact is that we harden our own hearts in response to what happens to us.
3. (16-19) It isn’t enough to make a good beginning.
For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
a. For who, having heard, rebelled? As a nation, Israel made a good beginning. After all, it took a lot of faith to cross the Red Sea. Yet all of that first generation perished in the wilderness, except for the two men of faith – Joshua and Caleb.
i. Think of their great privilege:
· They saw the ten plagues come upon Egypt.
· They had great revelation from God.
· They had received great patience from God.
· They received great mercy.
b. They would not enter His rest: 11 times in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4, the Book of Hebrews speaks of entering rest. That rest will be deeply detailed in the next chapter. But here, the key to entering rest is revealed: belief.
c. So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief: One might be tempted to think the key to entering rest is obedience, especially from Hebrews 3:18: to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? But the disobedience mentioned in Hebrews 3:18 is an outgrowth of the unbelief mentioned in Hebrews 3:19. The unbelief came first, then the disobedience.
i. It was unbelief and not something else that kept them out of Canaan:
· Their sin did not keep them out of Canaan.
· Lack of evidence did not keep them out of Canaan.
· Lack of encouragement did not keep them out of Canaan.
· Difficult circumstances did not keep them out of Canaan.
ii. In a New Testament context, our belief centers on the superiority of Jesus Christ, the truth of who He is (fully God and fully man) and His atoning work for us as a faithful High Priest (as in Hebrews 2:17). When we trust in these things, making them the “food” of our souls, we enter into God’s rest.
d. They could not enter in: Israel’s great failure was to persevere in faith. After crossing much of the wilderness trusting in God, and after seeing so many reasons to trust in Him, they end up falling short – because they did not persevere in faith in God and His promise.
i. Jesus reminded us in the parable of the soils with the seeds cast on stony ground and among thorns that it is not enough to make a good beginning, real belief perseveres to the end. It is wonderful to make a good start, but how we finish is even more important than how we start.
ii. C.S. Lewis speaks to the difficulty of persistence (from a tempting demon’s fictional perspective): “The Enemy has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations. But, if only he can be kept alive, you have time itself for you ally. The long, dull monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it — all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition. If, on the other hand, the middle years from prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He fells that he is ‘finding his place in it’ while really it is finding its place in him… That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unraveling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth.” (The Screwtape Letters)
iii. If we enter in to God’s rest then the coming years will only increase our trust and reliance on Jesus. If by unbelief we fail to enter in, then the coming years will only gradually draw us away from a passionate, trusting relationship with Jesus.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission