Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Fear and Rest (Hebrews 4:1 - 11)

Hebrews 4:1 – 11 “On Fear and Rest”

How we understand God comes from Scripture. How we understand Scripture we often call “theology.” Theology is a “big” word that literally means “Theo” for God and “ology” for “study.” So theology is the study of God.

Theology is important because it determines how we interact with God, each other, and the world.

This section of Hebrews 4 cannot appropriately be isolated from the lesson of unbelief in Hebrews 3. After leaving Egypt the people missed out on God’s best blessing through unbelief.

In Hebrews 4, we are taught a link between Israel entering the Promised Land and the Christian entering heaven. Historically Israel is a picture of the church… the lessons are there, as Paul tells us in Corinthians, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” [1 Corinthians 10:6]

I. A promise of a future.

A. There are two words that jump of the page in our text today.

1. The first word is “Fear”

a. In fact, it the Greek, the chapter (as we know it) starts with the words, “Let us fear.”

b. Fear is the cure for the caution of Hebrews 3 about drifting into unbelief.

2. The second word is “Rest.”

B Theology that is necessary to understand.

1. Our understanding is imperfect… it is fragmented…

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, [10] but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. [11] When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” [1 Corinthians 13:9 – 12]

a. We are expected to “grow up” like a child would grow up.

b. But we will always be handicapped with “seeing in a mirror dimly” because of our ability to only know in part.

[The story of the blind men describing an elephant: What they describe depends on what part they are holding. So it is with us theologically.]

2. What causes this blindness?

a. In some cases it is our natural temperament. We want something to be true, so we believe it to be…

[Like the person that said, “I’ll see it when I believe it.”]

b. Our theological blindness also comes from the conformity to the group we are in or what we thought we were taught.

c. Preconceived notions and the need to defend a theological tradition can lead us to have blind spots.

d. In some cases, sinful tendencies cause our blindness.

*****I grew up believing that God took away our sinful nature and it was no longer possible for the believer to sin. As a result I struggled with the assurance of salvation and lived in constant fear of losing my salvation.

When I went through the classes to be ordained in the Free Methodist Church… that was corrected. In fact, the teacher at Headquarters made it clear that Wesley and Free Methodist do not believe that…

Historically there are two sound bites every one of us should know. Wesley liked to condense his teaching into easy to understand sound bites to help people remember. So here they are:

1. “God does nothing to denature us.” In other words God never removes the sinful nature. We can never say we are without sin or without the ability to sin.

2. “Sin remains but does not reign.” Another way to say that is just because the sinful nature is still around does not mean I have to sin.

C. Let’s be courageous enough to admit we have an imperfect mind, influenced by our limited experience, and tainted by our flawed culture.

1. So we are given to one-sidedness and particular emphasis.

2. Forms of godliness and types of doctrines become substitutes for truth.

3. In the end, doctrines and systems that are imposed on the Scripture we don’t like become idols because they have become confused with truth.

II. The reality of the fight we are in: FEAR

A. What is fear?

1. Fear is commonly misunderstood.

a. Some people understand fear as distrust of God’s grace.

b. Some people feel fear is the absence of love.

c. Some people think fear is bondage.

2. The “fear of the Lord” is much different.

a. It is the beginning:

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” [Proverbs 1:6]

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” [Proverbs 9:10]

***** Without the fear of God we will know Him nor will we understand how to live our lives.

b. The fear of the God guards against self-righteousness. (a.k.a. “overconfidence”)

“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” [Proverbs 14:27]

“By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.” [Proverbs 16:6]

B. “Fear” recognizes the reality of the fight we are in…

1. Reality... We need to dread:

a. We need to dread our sinfulness and sin.

b. We need to dread the pain of temptation and the cost of failing.

c. We need to dread the pressure of worldly influence (in us and our children).

2. This is a real fight (we cannot deny it).

a. There is a real enemy.

b. The wounds are real and the pain is real.

c. The attacks are real.

3. What we are talking about is exercising caution and care.

(Ill. Of passing a police car on the freeway: If you are in the speed limit, the police’s presence makes you secure knowing if something happens help is not far away. If you are speeding then there can be fear you will be punished.

III. A choice to move forward.

A. Definition of rest:

1. “Rest” is reflected in the Sabbath day of Creation… “God rested.”

a. …with God.

b. …following God’s example.

2. “Rest” is reflected in the Promised Land… “a land flowing with milk and honey.”

3. “Rest” may be reflected in the new birth one has when we initially humble ourselves at the point of “salvation.”

B. Why did Israel fail to enter the Promised Land?

1. Ideas:

a. They disobeyed after being delivered. (“unbelieving heart”)

1.) This is the “contingency” theory. (God’s promises are conditional.) (Fact: God want us to invest something… without investment, it’s not ours.)

2.) Reaching the goal is contingent on human faithfulness.

b. They never had an inward appropriation of God’s delivering work.

1.) This is the “security” theory. (Emphasis on the word “seem” to fall short.)

2.) Reaching the goal has nothing to do with human faithfulness.

2. The dark side of theology:

a. Contingency: How good do you have to be to enter heaven?

b. Security: How bad can you be and enter heaven?

IV. The balanced skills for promise fulfillment. (Normal behavior for God’s people.)

A. Faithful listening as opposed to an unbelieving heart.

1. Israel’s problems:

a. They needed sight… golden calf. (“walk by faith not by sight”)

b. They missed Egypt… veggies (Forgot the tyranny of slavery.)

c. They were easily bored… demanded meat (rather than God’s provision of manna).

d. They lacked trust… complained

e. They reached a critical point… rebelled by refusing to take the land God gave them.

2. Faithful means to look past ourselves and circumstances and believe God can and will take care of the situation.

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. [17] If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. [18] But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." [Daniel 3:16 – 18]

B. Obedience as opposed to rebellion.

1. At the critical point of entering the Promised Land… the people rebelled.

2. Here at the critical moment, they refused to put the effort God required of them.

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” [Hebrews 4:11]

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” [John 10:9]

a. “Strive” carries the idea of being eager and alert (Robertson).

b. “Already but not yet” principle.

1.) We already have this rest by trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice, His broken body and shed blood provided for us but the grace and love of God.

2.) But we are not yet in the final rest heaven.

c. Obedience is the basic mark of those who are saved.

C. Balanced discipline as opposed to stubborn blindness.

1. Some of us need to learn to “fear the Lord.”

a. We take God lightly.

b. We misunderstand our true spiritual condition.

c. We have a form of godliness but no power.

2. Some of us need to enter God’s rest.

a. We can enter that rest only in and through Jesus.

b. Which means we will have to surrender our efforts, our religion, our righteousness.

D. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine…”

1. Do you know God has a tattoo?

“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” [Isaiah 49:16]

2. Is your name written there?

3. Are you acting like it?

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