Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews 4’

Have you ever come to someone to share a weakness or a failure, to get some help only to have them be hard-hearted or even condemn you? A story from my life . . .. Notice in our Scripture today how Jesus is not like this.

15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

We all have weaknesses. We are human. And as Jesus said of us, “the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). This phrase, “the flesh is weak” refers to the frailty and weakness of being human; our fears and our desires which so often control us.

And so when we go through times of trial and suffering we are tempted to give in to our fears and our desires and to take the easy way out so that we fail, so that we sin – instead of doing God’s will. As James says, “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). This is what the writer is talking about when he speaks of “our weaknesses” – our frailty and our failures.

Well, Jesus was fully human. As Hebrews 2:17 says, “he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.” As a human, he knows all about human weakness and frailty.

And he went through trials and suffering as well, which tempted him in all the kinds of ways that we are tempted. As the author puts it in v. 15, “in every respect (Jesus) has been tempted as we are.”

  • Remember, just before he began his ministry – the devil tempted him in the wilderness three times.
  • Jesus himself characterized his whole time of ministry as a series of trials in Luke 22:28.
  • And at the end of his ministry, in the garden of Gethsemane, facing death, he was tempted not to go to the cross. The writer of Hebrews refers to this in chapter 5:7. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.”

Jesus knows all about human frailty and weakness.

And this is precisely why he can sympathize with us in our weakness. Hebrews 2:18 says, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

The word “sympathy” includes in its meaning the ideas of empathy and compassion. He can relate to our situation. And the word also can carry with it the sense of giving help (Hebrews 10:34). He is not waiting to condemn us. Rather he understands our struggle and wants to help all who desire to overcome.

You might say, “Well, yes Pastor, but Jesus was sinless. That makes him different than us.” This is true. But the difference doesn’t disqualify him from helping us, it is exactly what qualifies him to help us. It shows that he knows how to overcome in the midst of weakness and temptation – and so he can help us overcome as well.

Because all this is so, v. 16 exhorts us to act. “Let us then, with confidence draw near to the throne of grace . . ..” We can come with confidence – or courage or boldness, and draw near, that is, into the very presence of God, because we know that through what Jesus has done, we can find grace with God (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Indeed, God’s throne is called here “a throne of grace.” It is often associated with judgment, but because of Jesus it is a throne of grace for us.

16 tells us that we are to draw near to God so “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Mercy is mentioned first, and this certainly includes forgiveness for our failures.

But we also receive aid. It says, “that we may receive . . . grace to help in time of need.” Jesus gives us the mercy of his forgiveness, but he also wants to strengthen us in our weakness and to cause us to overcome in our times of testing and suffering, just as he did. This is an empowering grace; this is the strength that the Spirit gives. For thought the flesh is weak, the Spirit is willing (Mark 14:38), that is, willing to empower us to do God’s will even when it seems impossible.

Are you weak this morning? Are you struggling? Are you going through trials and temptations? Are you in a “time of need”? Have you failed? Come to Jesus in prayer; draw near with confidence “that you may find mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”


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Sunday school lesson

Review. We have looked at the two parts of Psalm 95. The first calls us to worship God. The second calls us to listen to and obey God’s voice. Now we look at how these two parts fit together, along with how the second part of this Psalm connects to some other key Scriptures.

Read the text. 

“[1] Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! [2] Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! [3] For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. [4] In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. [5] The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. [6] Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! [7a] For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

“[7b] Today, if you hear his voice, [8] do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, [9] when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. [10] For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ [11] Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

How the first and second parts of the Psalm connect. There is such a significant difference between vs. 1-7a and vs. 7b-11 in tone and focus that many have thought they should be seen as separate. Yet there are a number of connections between the two parts. Here are three examples:

Question 1: What name is God called in v. 1 (part one)? What plays a key role in the two stories in part two (Massah and Meribah)? 

Question 2: Near the center point of this Psalm (in terms of words) , God is called “our Maker” (v. 6). How does this name speak to why we should praise God (part one) and why we should listen to God (part two)?

Question 3: What is the image of God in v. 7a (part one)? How does this fit with the call to listen to his voice in 7b (part two)? [hint – John 10:4]

A central connection between the two parts is the progression of worship in the Psalm as a whole, noted before. The people come to the temple with loud praise, they come in to bow down (part one) and then they listen to a message from God (part two). And there is a message in this. Yes, true worship involves thanksgiving and loud praise, as well as bowing down before God (part one). But it also involves listening to and obeying God in faith. The first is relatively easy. The second is not always easy. For instance, in Exodus 15 Israel praised God with song, but in Exodus 17 they did not obey, but tested God at Massah.

The idea of God’s rest is also a connection between the two parts of this Psalm. As we saw last week “God’s rest” can refer beyond just entering the promised land. It can also be a reference to the temple (1 Chronicles 28:2, Psalm 132:14, Isaiah 66:1) and it can look back to when God created the world and then rested (Genesis 2:2-3).

  • If we see also a reference to God’s rest as creational, then this ties part two together with part one’s focus on God creating both the earth and Israel.
  • If we see also a reference to God’s rest as relating to the temple, then this ties part two together with part one’s focus on coming to the temple to worship.

How Psalm 95:7b-11 connects with other Scriptures. It is tied to numerous other Scriptures that reference Massah and Meribah and testing God in the wilderness. We will mention one and look at another.

Psalm 95’s sermon may well be based on Deuteronomy 6, which is itself a sermon based on Israel’s testing of God in the wilderness. Deuteronomy 6:16 says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” Notice also two key words from Deuteronomy 6 – “hear” (vs. 3, 4) and “today” (v. 6) that are also found in Psalm 95:7b.

If Psalm 95:7b-11 is a sermon based on Deuteronomy 6, Hebrews 3:6-4:11 is a sermon with Psalm 95:7b-11 as its text. Notice the layers here: 1. Massah (Exodus 17:1-7) and Meribah (Numbers 20:2-13); 2. Deuteronomy 6; 3. Psalm 95:7b-11; 4. Hebrews 3:6-4:11.

The author of Hebrews uses Psalm 95 to reflect on Massah and Meribah and to apply it to Christians. Look at the material below and then read Hebrews 3:3-4:11.

  • The situation in Exodus and Numbers: the children of Israel are without water in the wilderness
  • The situation in Hebrews: Christians struggling under hardship and persecution. The “today” of Psalm 95 is applied to this.
  • The failure in Exodus and Numbers: they tested God by not believing and obeying him.
  • The failure in Hebrews: they will test God if the message of the gospel is not held to by faith with obedience.
  • God’s rest in Exodus and Numbers: the promised land is at the forefront.
  • God’s rest: the promised land is combined with the creational rest of God in Genesis to speak of the rest of the coming new creation, the kingdom of God.
  • The result in Exodus and Numbers: they did not enter the land.
  • The result in Hebrews: they will not enter God’s rest, unless they renew their faith.

*According to Hebrews 4:1, 6, 8, 9 – the truest fulfillment of God’s rest has to do with Christians entering the kingdom of God.

Hebrews 3:6-4:11: [6] – And we are his (God’s) house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. [7] Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, [8] do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, [9] where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works [10] for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ [11] As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”

[12] Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. [13] But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. [14] For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. [15] As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

[16] For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? [17] And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? [18] And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? [19] So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

[4:1] Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. [2] For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. [3] 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. [4] For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” [5] And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”

[6] Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, [7] again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

[8] For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. [9] 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. [11] Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

Note: Massah and Meribah are translated not as place names but according to their word meanings, here rendered as “rebellion” (Meribah) and “testing” (Massah). [This is how the Greek Old Testament (LXX) translates Psalm 95. The King James also.]

Question 4: According to the author of Hebrews how does the message of Psalm 95:7b-11 challenge Christians in his day?

Question 5: How should it challenge us today?

Large group discussion of answers.

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