Monday, August 1, 2011

There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God; Hebrews the Rosetta Stone for understanding the New Covenant

Pease forgive the long post. This is a repost of four separate posts that should be read together and therefore I am including them in one longer post.

This post will begin a series of posts looking at the New Covenant. We have acknowledged that the New Testament shows covenants in transition. We have looked at the Jew – Gentile distinction found in the book of Acts and other places and will look at it in greater depth as we explore the New Covenant. To recap this view it can be seen that the New Testament writings transitioned from John the Baptist the last Jewish Prophet through Jesus, Prophet, Priest and King… to the cross and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus… to the day of Pentecost and the birth of the Jewish church… to Cornelius’ house and the inclusion of the Gentiles… to Acts 15 where the elders made rulings on the Jew – Gentile distinction… to the letters of Paul and others that began to look at the New Creation, lively stones etc. All of this was looking forward to the point of total transition where the New Covenant alone would stand all by itself. Furthermore, they were anticipating a time when all of the Jewish prophecies would be fulfilled. And, they thought that it would be imminent. Audience relevance becomes ultra important in properly understanding this transition. The first question one should ask when looking at the New Testament writings is what would the audience that it was written to think?

It seems to me that so much of modern evangelical doctrine does not properly address and consider this all important audience relevance. This generation, the generation alive in the first century, the generation that had gained adult status during the ministry of Jesus is the audience that is being addressed. The old folks during this time might say that they would perhaps not live to see the fulfillment but, surely the young adults would. It was expected that they would view the fulfillment of all things; the passing of the one covenant and, the complete installation of the New Covenant; the end of the age and, the dawn of the age to come. This is what was considered to be the case when one looks at audience relevance and, there can be no other conclusion.

Personally, I think that the book of Hebrews sheds great light on the passing of the old covenant and the installation of the New. The focal point for this event is the destruction of the temple. The tabernacle/temple of the Old Covenant was a pattern for the temple of the New Covenant. The New Covenant temple would not be a stone and mortar building. The New Covenant temple would be made up of living stones that would actually be the arc of the covenant, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and the place whereby God would dwell with men forever. After all the purpose of the tabernacle was stated clearly in Exo 25:8 And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. The purpose of the Old Covenant and the tabernacle/temple was to foreshadow God’s desire to indwell humanity. In subsequent posts we will look at how Jesus then became the tabernacle/temple of God while here on earth and, how he merely became the firstborn of a living temple for God to dwell in on the earth.

In the last post we began to look at the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant that is found throughout the pages of the New Testament. We began to look at Hebrews. In this post we will look at an overview of Hebrews that explains the transition of the New Covenant which will culminate with the destruction of the temple. In other words, we will show that the Hebrew believers were suffering persecution at the hands of the non-believing Hebrews and, if that wasn’t enough, Nero was beginning to persecute Christians in general i.e., both the Jew and Gentile Christians. It is reasonable to believe that the non-believing Jews were telling the believing Jews that they should repent from their faith in Jesus and, go back to being good Jews…There were no doubt some that were saying that the persecution of the Christians was God’s punishment on the Christian Jews for following Jesus.
Therefore, the writer of Hebrews, set out to show the superiority of Jesus and the way in which the Old Testament scripture spoke of the New Covenant and, specifically how Jesus was the Messiah. He further went on to explain how Jesus and, faith in him as Messiah, was superior to the Judaism of the day and the Mosaic Covenant.

No doubt, there were some Jewish non-believers who were telling the believers that Jesus was just an angel… that he performed good works among them but was not really the Messiah. The writer spends a lot of ink explaining that Jesus was in fact the son of God and, was far superior to the angels.

He goes on to show that Jesus was superior to Moses. In the gospels it becomes evident that many of the Jews, especially the Pharisees were claiming that because of their understanding of Moses Jesus could not be the Christ. Joh 7:47-49 ESV The Pharisees answered them, "Have you also been deceived? (48) Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? (49) But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed." It is obvious from this passage that the Pharisees did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah based upon their reading of the Law.

According to Jesus…the Pharisees and Jews were trusting in Moses. It is natural that they would do this with their view of specularia and Numbers 12:6-8. Jesus on the other hand was telling them that they received the Law and Prophets so that it could point to him so, that in believing in him, they could have and, find life. The gospel in the Old Testament was that Abraham’s seed would bring blessing to the whole world… the Jews thought that it meant them and, Jesus was showing them that it meant him… the suffering servant that would represent Israel. He told them in John’s gospel the following: Joh 5:45 NKJV Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. In reality Jesus explained that had they really believed Moses they would believe him because Moses wrote solely of Him.

The unbelieving Jews were still trusting Moses when the book of Hebrews was written and, they were still claiming that those who trusted in Jesus were accursed because they did not know the law.

In the last post we began looking at the Sabbath Rest spoken of in Hebrews chapter four. This is one of the most important notions in the entire description of true discipleship. For one to be an effective disciple of Christ it is necessary that they are resting in Jesus and his accomplishments. The letter to the Hebrews explains very succinctly what those accomplishments were. Notice this verse: Hebrews 1:3bAfter making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. And in another place it is written: Heb 9:14 ESVhow much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. This is precisely the point of the rest.

Did Jesus speak of the rest in the gospel accounts? The answer is yes; Mat 11:28-30 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." These words came upon the heels of upbraiding the towns that had rejected him. He was telling the Jews that they were working unnecessarily. What was the yoke? Well, Peter explained it in Acts fifteen. He asked the apostle’s why they should put a yoke on the gentile believers that neither we nor our fathers could bear? The yoke was law righteousness. Notice I did not say obedience…that is another matter that will be explained in this series at a later time. Law righteousness suggests that one gains righteousness or right standing from the works or, doing of the Law.

Jesus said, “take my yoke upon you” and then…he goes on to say,,,”my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The easy yoke and the light burden is the Sabbath Rest, available after the death burial and resurrection and, the writer of Hebrews explains that in great detail. Jesus explained that he had finished/accomplished the work that he came to do (John 17:4).
Since Jesus was the lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) and, since God had purposed redemption to the praise of His glorious grace from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-6) it becomes easy to see why one should be able to rest in Jesus and his accomplishments. In fact, this is what the Sabbath Rest is all about. The Sabbath Rest equals resting in Jesus. Next we will look at what the author of Hebrews has to say about the Sabbath Rest.

What exactly is the Sabbath Rest? The answer is a rest from working for acceptability before God and, salvation at any time. One cannot work to achieve salvation and, one cannot work to maintain salvation. In other words, it is descriptive of one totally resting and relying, totally trusting and, totally confident of the redemption, salvation and, the forgiveness of sin brought about by the death, burial and, resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now you may be asking the question…So? Isn’t that what everyone believes?

My answer is no. That is really not what everyone believes. In fact, while most of evangelical doctrine states the above…it is obvious by actions and attitudes that most do not believe that grace alone is what keeps the saint. This is even true of those who claim to believe in the perseverance of the saints…i.e., that once a person is truly saved, that they will be kept saved, by the grace of God. Why do I say this? Because of the attitude that is reflected in Calvin’s statement….”faith alone saves but, faith that saves is never alone.” This idea renders salvation to be only evidenced by the reformed obedient life and, it puts the saint on a working contract with God.

The Sabbath Rest on the other hand, when properly understood and believed, becomes the catalyst for the reformed life and in some folks, especially those with addictive personalities it takes more patience than in others. Unfortunately, when the saint finds that they can easily conform to the behavioral standards set up by evangelical doctrine and dogma they are cheated of really understanding God’s grace. This quite frankly makes them judgmental and leads to sin…instead of loving their brother/sister, they become a judge condemning them. They are robbed of joy as they remain always concerned that their behavior is not good enough to really please God. This opens the door for the accuser of the brethren, Satan (Rev 12:10), to bring condemnation forcing them to work still harder. The reason for this is that like our first parents (Gen 3:8-10) we naturally hide our nakedness from God…our spiritual nakedness.

Heb 4:3 ESV For we who have believed enter that rest, 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. …..and…..Heb 4:9-10 ESV So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, (10) for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. I suggest that you carefully read the entire passage from Hebrews 3:7 thru 4:11 realizing that in 4:12 thru 4:16 the Word of God as used in the passage is Jesus and not the scriptures. The passage ends with the concept of going boldly to the throne of grace to find grace and mercy whenever it is needed.
The dynamic of the Sabbath Rest is that grace alone is driving the train taking one to discipleship. It is the engine, if you will allow the metaphor that ultimately over time produces the transformation. Paul said in Romans three that one should realize that it is grace that leads to the repentant life. The Sabbath Rest is resting in Jesus period.

For those of you who follow the blog regularly, I will be blogging three to four times each week and not everyday from now on. I will certainly blog everyday if the need arises but, right now it seems to me that three or four posts a week will cover the material in a year….after that, we’ll see what direction the blog takes then.

1 comment:

  1. There is such a calmness that comes over me sometimes (the stronger my relationship with my Daddy; the more at peace I am) now that I let go and let God, that is scares me occasionally. To know that I can rest in Jesus and not have to worry about being disappointed, let down, or judged (the way that people judge) is such a wonderful feeling.


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