Drift – Hebrews 3 & 4
It never happens quickly. The change is usually so gradual it’s invisible. But as anyone who has followed Christ for a while can tell you: there comes a day when you look around and realize – your faith just isn’t want it used to be.
Worship is dull. Scripture is bland. Your prayer life… is not alive. Your faith is adrift.
What do you do when this happens? How can you find your way back to the passion and energy of when you first believed? Is it even possible?
Well, we believe the answer is “yes.” That’s why we created this series, “Drift,” looking at the book of Hebrews. We’re trying to answer a single question: What do we do when our faith is not what it used to be?
This is week two of the series. If you haven’t watched last week’s sermon, I strongly encourage you to check it out. My dad talked about the 10 signs that your faith might be drifting.
· He set up the book of Hebrews and explained
· who it was written by (we don’t know)
· who it was written to (Jewish believers)
· and why it was written in the first place (their faith had started to drift as well).
Ultimately, he shared the purpose of this whole series: We want to help restore your faith to what it used to be… and more.
So today, my hope is that we can start by understanding what faith looks like, practically speaking. How it actually plays out in our lives.
To do that, we’re going to look at Hebrews chapters 3 & 4. And you’re going to want a Bible in front of you, because this passage is pretty dense. [HOUSE BIBLES]
What we have here is the author of Hebrews interpreting a Psalm from the Old Testament and applying it to his readers in the early Church. He’s saying, “this was true for the Israelites, but it’s also true for you.”
Now it does get a little bit complicated, because the Psalm he is using, Psalm 95, is actually all about events that happened in the books of Exodus and Numbers (even farther back in the Old Testament). And then to interpret the Psalm he uses an idea he gets from the book of Genesis.
So yeah. It’s a lot. I bet some of your eyes just glazed over as I was saying that.
But hang with me for a second, because it is possible to understand this passage. And not just to understand it, but to let it change our lives.
The key thing to remember as we read this passage is that the author of Hebrews had a grand view of God’s revelation. He understood ancient scriptures, and prophecies, and traditions, and even the events of his day to all be connected - threads of truth woven together.
When he read Psalm 95, he didn’t see just some old, dusty poem. He saw the very words of God breathing through every line. He had spent his entire life meditating on Scripture. He understood the bigger picture.
By the way, this is why it’s so important for us to read the Bible often. Not because we hope to get some little nugget of wisdom for our day, but because the more we encounter the words of scripture, the more we start to see and understand the threads that weave throughout the book.
These themes and ideas interact and build off one another to reveal the very nature of God.
For example, I recently took a class on Isaiah, and the more time I’ve spent in that book, the more it has absolutely blown my mind. Dots are connecting for me I didn’t even know were connected. I read through the book and I’m like,
· Oh, that’s what Jesus was referring to!
· Oh, I bet that’s where the apostle John got that imagery
· Oh, that’s how the legacy of King David connects to the exile and the Messiah
The more I read, the more convinced I am that scripture is way more than we make it out to be.
The Bible is not a collection of quotes for your wall calendar. It’s a symphony of revelation that connects us to the grand narrative of humanity and the very mission of God.
Now that seems like a tangent that I just went on, but I promise it wasn’t. If we want to understand Hebrews 3 & 4, we have to see Scripture the way the author of Hebrews did - as a God-breathed, interconnected, masterpiece of truth.
Alright, so are you ready to dive in? Let’s start with Hebrews 3 verse 5. The author is comparing the Israelites under the leadership of Moses to his current readers under the leadership of Jesus.
Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His word was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.
That is why the Holy Spirit says,
And this next bit, is a part of Psalm 95.
Today when you hear his voice,
Don’t harden your hearts
As Israel did when they rebelled,
When they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
Even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest.’
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God.
Ok. Let’s stop here for a second. What exactly is going on here?
Well, big picture, the author of Hebrews is talking about the fact that the Israelites had a really bad track record of trusting God.
From leaving Egypt as slaves until they finally entered the Promised Land, God did miracle after miracle for the Israelites. He parted the waters of the Red Sea. He provided pillars of clouds and fire to guide the way. He made water come out of a rock. He gave them manna to eat.
You’d think that would be enough to just trust God implicitly. “Ok, this guy’s got our back.”
And yet, every time the going got tough, their faith seemed to falter. They complained. They wanted to go back to Egypt. “Waaa, we’re tired of eating this miraculous bread that shows up on the ground every morning without any sort of logical or scientific explanation.”
You can imagine how frustrating this would be for God.
Ultimately they crossed the line. When they were about to enter the Promised Land, the Israelites saw how powerful the inhabitants were. They were scared. They didn’t trust God to protect them. They rebelled.
In the midst of their doubt and disbelief, God had had enough. Look at what he says in verse 10. “So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ So in my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”
And he followed through on his promise. Because the Israelites didn’t trust God enough to protect them in the Promised Land, he gave them exactly what they wanted: a return to the wilderness.
There they wandered the desert for forty years until a new generation had grown up with the faith to trust God and enter into the Promised Land.
So that’s the setup. The author of Hebrews is saying to his readers, “Be careful, guys. You’re all starting to doubt. Your faith is drifting. And you know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of the Israelites before entering the Promised Land. They doubted too. And God didn’t let them enter into his rest.”
Ok. So what exactly is this “rest” of God?
Well, let’s keep reading. Look at chapter 4, verse 1.
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news - that God has prepared this rest - has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest.
As for the others, God said, “In my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest,’” even though this rest has been ready since he made the world.
We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”
So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today.
Alright. So here the author of Hebrews is explaining this idea of “rest” by looking all the way back at the book of Genesis, the story of creation.
If you remember, the story paints this beautiful poetic picture of God speaking the universe into existence for six days, and then on the seventh day, resting from his work of creation.
And this is where we get the idea of “Sabbath,” of working for six days of the week, and taking the seventh day off of work completely.
But what does that rest have to do with entering the Promised Land? And what does the Promised Land have to do with first century believers? Or us for that matter?
Well, to be clear, there is a lot of debate about the precise meaning of “God’s rest.” Theologians go back and forth about what this actually means in Psalm 95 and Hebrews.
But from my perspective, most of their theories seem to revolve around a single idea, and it’s this: God may have stopped creating on the seventh day but he didn’t stop working.
When God “rested,” he wasn’t just pulling up a recliner to watch the show. No. God’s rest is active. Because God is the king of creation. On the seventh day, God stopped creating, and started to rule.
When God rested he didn’t sit on a La-Z-Boy. He sat on a throne.
So when humanity enters into the “rest” of God, we are entering into God’s rule. Into creation the way it was meant to be. Creation before we rebelled and brought sin into the world. Before violence, before hatred, before death. God’s rule and reign fully realized - the good life in the Promised Land.
Rabbi Joshua Heschel, who was a leading Jewish theologian in the mid-20th century, described the “rest” of God as a place of tranquility. He said,
“It is the state wherein man lies still, wherein the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. It is the state in which there is no strife and no fighting, no fear and no distrust.” -Rabbi Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath
In other words, when God is on the throne, humanity is at rest.
So what did the Israelites do wrong? Why did God send them back into the wilderness? Well the answer is that their faith drifted. They stopped believing that God was the king.
They stopped trusting that God had the power to protect them - to provide for them. Instead, they chose to rely on their own power - their own strength. They tried to be their own rulers.
They lost their chance to experience the “rest” of God.
But the Israelites are not alone in this. Over and over in the scripture God extends this offer: “Trust me and I will take care of you. I’ll provide for you. I’ll protect you. Try me!” Yet over and over again, the people lose faith that it’s true.
They forfeit the rest of God and try to make it on their own. They choose the wilderness instead of the Promised Land.
Remember how earlier I mentioned that the Bible is full of threads of truth woven together? Well this is one of those threads.
You see it everywhere in scripture: the idea that if we would just stop doing our own thing and trust God, he would guide, protect, and provide for us completely.
And the thread continues in Hebrews 4. Look at verse 9.
So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.
God’s rest is still available to us today. We can experience it. It’s called the kingdom of God: the rule and the reign of our Creator made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The kingdom of God, which is healing the six broken places, restoring creation to God’s intended design.
One day, scripture tells us, the rule of God will be complete. God’s rest will envelop humanity - it will cover the world once again.
“There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things [will be] gone forever.”
“There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” -Revelation 21:4
But even now, while sin still clings desperately to power in this broken world, you and I can enter God’s rest. We can enter the kingdom of God.
We can experience the good life that he has promised. Peace, joy, purpose, provision, hope… A release from anxiety, fulfillment in our work, love for those around us. Not just in the afterlife, but now. We can enter God’s rest.
How? By putting our trust in God. By stopping the drift of our faith. By taking the Creator of the universe at his word that he is in control.
True rest comes only through true faith.
Alright that all sounds really neat, Barry. Super inspirational. But come on. What does that look like practically?
It’s all well and good talking about peace and love… but how is that supposed to work when I have no idea who I am? When I’m being crushed by my job, or when my marriage is falling apart, or when I’m drowning in an ocean of homework, or when I’m facing disease, chronic illness, or tragedy?
Well, let me ask you this. How long have you been trying to fix it? Whatever it is. How long have you been bashing your head against the wall trying everything you can think of to make it better?
How’s that working out for you?
What if I told you there was another way? What if I told you the Holy Spirit is inviting you to take a step along a different path. The path of trust. Of faith. The Path of Yes.
The Israelites standing on the border of the Promised Land had a choice to make. Would they trust God?
The Path of Yes led them into the land, into battle with terrifying enemies, into an uncertain future. The Path of Yes required great faith that God would carry them through.
The Path of No led them back into the wilderness. It wasn’t ideal, but at least they were in control, right?
Think about what that generation lost by trusting in themselves instead of God.
Every person in this room is standing at the same crossroads.
The Path of No keeps you on the throne of your life. Keeps the crown of control firmly on your head. The Path of No says, “I’ve got this. The pain, the anxiety, the brokenness… I’m sure I’ll figure it out if I just keep at it. If I just try hard enough.”
The Path of Yes says, “Enough. I’m done trying to fix my own life. I’m done being in control. It just doesn’t work. I’m going to take God at his word and let him guide my steps wherever they lead.”
Now, here me when I say this. Fully trusting God is not going to magically fix all your problems. In fact, it may even give you a few new ones.
But by stopping the drift of your faith - by putting God back on the throne of your life - by walking step by step along the Path of Yes, you will be transformed. You will find a level of peace and hope that will blow your mind. You will find God’s rest.
Which path are you on?
As you’re thinking about that, we’re going to watch an interview I did with Brooke Smalley, a Grace attender whose own Path of Yes led her to work full-time as a nurse with Nehemiah Vision Ministries in Haiti.
Listen to the rest that she has found on the Path of Yes…
[VIDEO: BROOKE INTERVIEW]
I never said the rest of God was comfortable. Sometimes he calls us to do things which seem like the very opposite of rest.
When Jesus called his disciples, he made it very clear that it was not going to be a cakewalk. He warned them that the world would hate them. He said they’d be homeless, penniless. And promised that most of them would be murdered violently for their faith. But he also said this:
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.
Entering into God’s rest is not a promise of comfort. It’s not a guarantee of safety.
No. The rest of God is a promise that he - the king - will satisfy our souls. That we will experience heaven on earth. That we will find the purpose and hope and peace that we’ve all be longing for.
Many of you have heard my story before. For years and years, I tried to find meaning and purpose in life on my own and I just kept coming up short. My faith was hollow. And I was miserable.
But then I heard a call from God to take a step along the Path of Yes.
That first step began a journey that took me around the world. To slums, to homeless shelters, to refugee camps, to mountain villages. I was very uncomfortable most of the time.
But in the midst of my discomfort, I found a rest I can hardly describe. My fears began melting away. My life began to have purpose. I had hope.
I had jumped into the stream of God’s kingdom, put Christ back on the throne, and my life would never be the same.
Friends, we are desperate for each one of you to experience that. We want you to know the rest of God. To take off your worthless crown and throw it at the feet of Jesus.
Now look. God may not call you to travel to some exotic location. Your path might keep you right here in Central Indiana. I don’t know where your Path of Yes begins. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal that to you.
But I do know this. There is nothing for you in the wilderness. The life you are longing for lies ahead in the Promised Land.
God is asking you to trust him. What will your answer be?
Right now I want you to hear from Curt Austin & Sue Rosecrans, two people from this campus who have been discovering God’s rest in their own way.