Hebrews 3:1, Matthew 11:29

Consider Jesus…

Chapter 3 of Hebrews begins a fascinating study of the difference between Jesus and the Law. Whoever the writer is, it’s obvious that he is well informed regarding the struggles facing the early church with regards to the place of the Old Testament Law in the lives of Christians, especially the non-Jewish ones. He is going to contrast Jesus with Moses. The Religious leaders in Jesus day often rejected Jesus because they said “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29).  The term “Moses” did not just refer to the man himself, it was used to refer to the whole Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) which Moses wrote. Moses is traditionally referred to as the “law-giver” because he wrote what has been known as the “law.” The law is a third of the Old Testament and by Jesus day when people refer to Moses, they mean the Law. So the comparison the writer of Hebrews is making is between Jesus and the Law.

He knows the subject isn’t going to be the easiest thing to talk about so he begins by exhorting his readers to “consider” his suggestions about Jesus and the Law. The Greek word is “katanoeo” (Greek: κατανοέω).  According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament it means, “to give very careful consideration to some matter.”[1] According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament it means, “’to direct one’s whole mind to an object, also from a higher standpoint to immerse oneself in it and hence to apprehend it in its whole compass.”[2] Because of these definitions I’m not satisfied with the standard English translation of “consider.” It doesn’t carry the intensity the Greek word suggests. Therefore, I’d subscribe to the New Living Translations phrase, “think carefully about this Jesus…” It more accurately reflects the author’s intent.

Please note that verse 1 of Hebrews chapter 3 addresses Christians. The chapter begins with, “therefore, holy brothers, sharers in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus…” His appeal is to people he believes will be in heaven with him. He’s not threatening them in any way about the loss of their place in heaven, he’s addressing the experience of their faith in the here and now. This exhortation is not to try harder, to be better, or more diligent in religious expressions. That’s work! He’s calling them to understand Jesus’ role more profoundly to find the rest that He promises. Jesus said in Matthew 11:29, “learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 349.

[2] Johannes Behm and Ernst Würthwein, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 973.

Genesis 1:1, John 1:1

In the Beginning…

When Jesus met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, he did for them what we need to understand and do for ourselves. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Further, when Jesus was confronting the Pharisees, he pointed out as John 5:39 says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” So, “beginning with Moses” let’s look at the “Scriptures” and find Jesus! Whenever the term “Scriptures” is used in the New Testament it refers to the Old Testament. I know some disagree with that but it doesn’t make sense to me that the writers of the New Testament Gospels and Epistles would refer to their own writings as Scripture as we rightfully refer to them today.

The Bible begins, Genesis 1:1, with the assertion, “In the beginning…” When John begins his Gospel about Jesus, he begins with the same opening phrase. He writes in John 1:1, “In the beginning.” This phrase is significant because in the Law, the first five books of the bible, the name of each book in the Hebrew text is taken from the first word in that book.  The name of the book of Exodus is “These are the names” because that’s the first phrase in the book in the Hebrew text. The names of the family members of Joseph that came down to Egypt are there.  Leviticus begins with the call of God on Moses. The Hebrew name for that book taken from the first word is “God called.” Numbers is “The Lord Spoke.” Deuteronomy is named, “These are the words” followed by the second recitation of the Law given to Moses at Sinai. Getting back to Genesis, the name of that book is “In the Beginning.” I’d argue that John is not just referring to the beginning of the book, but the entire book. I’d also argue that John is not only referring to the whole book of Genesis but he is referring to the whole Bible. He is the one who recorded in his gospel what Jesus said to the Pharisees about the Bible bearing witness to Jesus.

Modern translations have mishandled this verse by making it a “dependent” or “subordinate” clause and translating it something like, “when god began to create…” This is seen in Today’s English Version, The New American Bible, The New English Bible, the New Jewish Version and a few others.  But as the United Bible Society’s Handbook for translators says, “If the traditional interpretation is followed, then the beginning refers to the time when the universe came into existence, rather than the beginning or opening of the story of creation.” Even in the opening phrase in the Bible we learn that God’s love, expressed to us through Christ, began at the very beginning of Creation. Before there was anything at all there was God’s love! This might appear to be stretching it now, but it will become clearer when we continue to compare Genesis with John.

Exodus 20:11, Genesis 2:2-3, Romans 3:23, Psalms 53:2-3, Isaiah 53:6, Hebrews 4:9-10

Jesus is the Sabbath

The final verse dealing with the fourth commandment to remember to keep the Sabbath day holy concludes, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” This was very familiar to the Jews, as it should be familiar to us, because it’s a recasting of the conclusion of the Genesis creation account. Genesis 2:2-3 records, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” The word for Sabbath has taken on two distinct meanings, both of which are seen in these passages. First it simply means “seven.” And secondly, it means “rest.” Rest is actually the primary use of the word “Shabbat” in Israel today. The standard greeting in Israel on the Sabbath day is “Shabbat shalom.” Rest and peace to you!

My mother used to say when I got in trouble, “there is no rest for the wicked.” That didn’t scare me too much but as I matured it began to make sense. The guilty have no peace of mind, no rest. And for sinners there is no rest or peace to be found in the Law! All have broken it! The Bible is extremely clear on this as was Jesus’ ministry to the religious leaders who thought they were keeping the law. Romans 3:23 is clear on this issue, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But Paul just takes truths from the Old Testament when he says this. Psalm 53:2-3 says, “God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Yet Jesus calls to us sinners saying, “come to me all who are burdened down with falls and failures, wounds and worries, griefs and regrets and I’ll give you true rest for your souls” (See Matthew 11:28). Hundreds of years before Jesus made this call, Isaiah the Prophet explained it to us. He writes in 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” When the author of Hebrews talks about entering “His” rest, he is referring to Jesus’ rest into which He calls us. But notice that he compares it to the Sabbath rest of Exodus 20:8-11. In Hebrews 4:9-10 he writes, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” The only real “rest” from our works (self-efforts) is to be found in Jesus. He is our Sabbath.

Exodus 20:11, John 1:3, Colossians 1:16, Philippians 2:10, Galatians 6:15, 2 Corinthians 5:17

God Did All the Work!

Why does God call for “No Work” on the Sabbath? Because He did all the work! That explanation is seen in Exodus 20:11. It reads, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” It could be rendered “sky, earth, seas.” That was the ancient way of saying “everything.” Just as the Hebrews used the three word phrase, “Law, Prophets, and Writings” to refer to the entirety of the Old Testament, so too is the phrase “sky (heavens), earth, seas” used to refer to everything above the earth, on the earth, and under the earth! But it wasn’t enough for God to express the three major categories in the world; sky, earth, seas. He also mentioned that part of His work was creating all the life in all three categories. He made the birds of the sky, the animals on the earth, and the fish in the seas! That’s the work that matters and that’s the work that must be “remembered” on the Sabbath.

Let’s think about this from our Christian perspective. Who made everything? Who did the work that should be “remembered” and kept holy? John made it clear to us that it was Jesus.  John begins his gospel with “in the beginning” referring to the Genesis creation account and He writes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Paul clearly agrees with John and focuses more attention on the creative work of Jesus in Colossians 1:16. He says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities…” It’s pretty clear who the New Testament credits with the work on the six days of creation. It was Jesus! And it’s that reason that, as Paul writes in Philippians 2:10, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Please notice the thoroughness of the three categories: heaven, earth, and under the earth!

Paul says that once we come to faith in Christ we are “new creations.” He says this twice: Galatians 6:15 says, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Then He says it again in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The Galatians passage directly refutes those trying to enforce the elements of the Law on Christians, especially regarding circumcision. Paul is making it clear that it’s not religious legalism, or strict adherence to laws, regulations, or rituals that matters. It’s the work that Jesus accomplished for us. The work of creation “in the beginning” was His. The work of our salvation in each of our lives is His! Remember to keep the Sabbath holy by focusing on the work He accomplished on our behalf and not the work we do in the flesh.

Exodus 20:9-10, Ephesians 8-9

Defiling the Lord’s Day

The middle verses explaining the 4th commandment, Exodus 20:9-10, say, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” Just as an interesting observation here, the Hebrew word “Sabbath” is also the world for “seven.” That comes from the creation account that the day God rested was the seventh day. There might be something to the fact that Moses lists exactly seven things or people that should not work: 1) you, 2) your son, 3) your daughter, 4) your male servant, 5) your female servant, 6) your livestock, and 7) sojourners. This was a common literary device used to aid in memorization. No one had their own copies back in those days and this served their memories. This was probably even more important here because the commandment in verse 8 begins with “remember the Sabbath.” Matthew uses a similar device recording Jesus’ genealogy (a discussion for another time).

It seems to me that God desires all the hustle and bustle in and around us to just stop for the day! You have six days to live in the world of sowing and reaping, meeting deadlines and expectations of employers, teachers, parents and everyone else in the world. Let that be enough and step off the treadmill for a day and focus your attention on the work that God has done for you.  Don’t ask anyone around you to do work either! We don’t make the Sabbath Holy by not doing any work, though. The Sabbath is already Holy because God “ceased” all His work on that day in the creation account. It’s already Holy! We can “keep it holy” by resting in the finished work of God.

We can’t make the Sabbath Holy, but we can defile it. We do that by doing those things that we should do on the other six days. “Six days you shall Labor and do all your work.” That too is a command. Do your work on those six days and then take the Sabbath rest to reflect on the greatness, fullness, and completeness of God’s work. When our “works” become the focus on our Sabbath day, we defile the Sabbath day. It’s no longer “Holy” for us if our attention is upon trying harder in life to be a better person, or doing more good deeds, or giving more for good causes, or on anything that we “do” as opposed to what God has done for us. “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, it’s not of works lest any man should boast. It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

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