Sunday, September 5, 2010

Greater than the Sabbath

I wanted to say a few more things about my third thought from the other day. Not just because this has been an enforced topic de jour for me lately, but because it is necessary that we continue the Biblical-Theological conversation on these matters. Theology is done in community, and I write out these thoughts to allow ya'll to contribute to them.

In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the topic of discussion is "entering God's rest." The main point being made is that the promised land of Canaan is not the "rest" that God provides for his people, a better rest is now available in Christ. The key word in the passage is the word "Today." As in, when do we enter into God's rest? Today! The word comes from the passage from Psalm 95 which is quoted in Hebrews 3. And the word "today" is quoted FIVE times (Heb 3:7, 13, 15, 4:7 2x). The point is, that even though Palestine was occupied by the Romans, and the book of Hebrews might well have been written to believers nowhere near Jerusalem, still they were able to enter into God's rest Today!

How? By faith. Entering God's rest did not mean relocating to God's promised land, it meant trusting in Christ. Heb 4:3 emphasizes that the way of entering God's rest is by faith. The physical promised land was only a sign and a shadow of the reality which was provided by Christ.

When? Today. How? By faith. These are the key ideas.

The way he brings the Sabbath into the discussion is interesting. In 4:1-3 he is arguing that some have failed to enter God's rest because of unbelief, but that we who have believed have entered it. He then cites a verse out of Psalm 95 about God swearing that unbelievers shall not enter his rest. This brief mention of "God's rest" leads to the mention of God resting on the Sabbath day in the creation story. At this point, the sabbath doesn't really play an important part in the argument, it is just a description of the quality of God's own rest. The author goes on establishing his main point the the promised land was not God's ultimate gift of rest to his people, rather God's rest is found in Christ, is entered into by faith, and can be entered "today."

So then. In verses 8 and 9 he's bringing his argument in for a landing. Verse 8 says, "For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on." This just summarizes his argument to this point. And the day God spoke of, is of course, "today!" Then verse 9, "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God." This is also just summary, he's been making this point for the last 21 verses that there is still rest available for God's people even though the promised land is unavailable. The rest is given in Christ. In this summary he characterizes the rest as "sabbath rest." This makes sense in light of 4:4, where he also characterizes God's rest as 'sabbath rest.' The fact that he calls it "sabbath rest" does not mean that it is available only on the sabbath. It is a sabbath-like rest that is available every day to the one who believes.

The key themes are the same. God has given us rest through Christ. You enter it by faith. And it is available 'today.' And now we also know it is characterized as being God's own sabbath rest.

What this passage most emphatically does not mean, is that the institution of the weekly sabbath is still in force. Do you see how that actually has nothing to do with the topic at hand? The promised land and the OT sabbath (itself a reflection of God's own rest) were both shadows of the ultimate rest that God would provide for his people in Christ. A rest that would never be invaded or taken away. Let us strive to enter this rest.

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