Summary of the Text
The author of Hebrews concludes chapter 3 with the history of Israel’s unbelief in the wilderness which kept the unfaithful among them from entering into the rest of His promised land (3:1-19). The tone of the passage is stern, serving as a warning to those who would desire peace with God to repent of “a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (3:12). Some still remain who are outside of God’s promises because of their unbelief, still waiting to be brought into full fellowship with God (4:1-10). While much of Hebrews 3:1-4:10 is a warning that the good news of God’s promises of Sabbath and other blessings are reserved for those who believe His Word, the passage hinges on 4:11, with the hope that those listening would “make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following [rebellious Israel’s] example of disobedience.”
If the passage ended with 4:11, we would only be left with the hope that we would be more faithful than Israel in the wilderness: desperate for God’s blessing but enslaved to our own sinful hearts. What’s more, our own passage begins with the reminder that the Law, God’s Word, doesn’t sleep. It finds each sinful way in us and leaves us defenseless if we were to try to argue our own merit (4:12-13). Without righteousness of our own to cling to, we cling to faith in the Righteous One, our Great High Priest who makes an offering for our sins (4:14). It is faith, rather than our records, that gives us hope. We hold fast to his record of sinlessness, not our own (4:15). It’s in our claim to Christ’s record, rather than our own, that we “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (4:16).
The complimentary lectionary readings for this week only help to clarify our need for Christ’s righteousness and our own inescapable depravity. Mark 10:17-31 describes the interaction between Christ and the rich man. While the rich man is convinced that he has led a righteous life (10:19-20), the living Word is sharper than any double-edged sword” and “penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; [he] judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12b; Mark 10:21). Ultimately, the man leaves the room discouraged by his inability to keep the Law without recognizing the righteousness available to him, speaking to him (Mark 10:22; Heb. 4:15-16).
Job, likewise, is determined to bring his own record of righteousness before God. While Job is unaware of any sin that would have brought such tragedy to his life, he wants a fair trial so God will present him with any sins unbeknownst to him. Job knows both that God’s appraisal of our hearts is a “terrifying” ordeal but also that the innocent can stand in God’s presence vindicated (Job 23:16-17). It’s only in Christ that any of us would inherit the title of “good” in God’s sight (Mark 10:17-18) and give an account of our forgiven lives (Heb. 4:16). It is because of Jesus bearing our record of wrong intentions, actions, and thoughts, experiencing the full heat of God’s wrath and full forsakenness from the Father at the Cross (Psa. 22:1-15) that we can stand in confidence and uprightness before the Father (Heb. 4:16).
For those of us who waver in our confidence before God, hesitant to rush into his presence because of our sins and forgetfulness, we must remember we enter the throne room of God without our sins and with a perfect, substituted record of righteousness because of Christ.
Logos (4:12a, 13b) – God’s Word, his ‘logos’ (4:12a) is actively instructing us how to live, leaving every one of us without excuse. It pierces all of our best excuses or explanations for life outside His will (4:12b). In turn, each of us will be called to give an account, a ‘logos,’ for every one of our thoughts, actions, and intentions (4:13b). It will be God’s logos versus ours.
Gymnos and Trachelizo (4:13b) – The physicality and violence of these verses is jarring and is meant to amplify the power of the Word of God. The Word of God pierces, disjoints, and breaks down all our attempts at self-righteousness. These two words, in particular, translated “uncovered” and “laid bare” are much more forceful and violent in the Greek. Gymnos is the word for stripping someone of their clothes and trachelizo portrays pinning someone to the ground by the neck so to publicly overpower and expose them ((think, “trachea”).
Megas (4:14) – The use of the Greek megas to describe our High Priest can either be translated “Great” or “Loud.” This may be a play on words, since the speech of our High Priest speaks louder in his advocacy for us than the accusation of the Law which exposes our sins (4:13).
Charles Teixeira was born just south of Boston, Massachusetts, becoming a believer just before college. Charles attended the University of Connecticut and then later Gordon College (MA), earning a degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. Following college, Charles served as a social worker for three years in a group home setting for teenagers who had been removed from their homes.
From 2012-2019, Charles also worked for XXXChurch (xxxchurch.com) as a contributor and a pastoral counselor to men experiencing sex addictions. Having completed his ordination in 2018, Charles moved to Midland, TX to begin his first pastoral call as Assistant Pastor of Congregational Care.
Charles is married to Elizabeth and they have two sons, AJ and Isaac, and one very orange cat named Ginny Weasley. In his spare time, Charles loves reading, traveling, and watching the Red Sox win.
“[Hebrews 4:15-16] doth, as it were, take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast, and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us, even now he is in glory – the very scope of these words being manifestly to encourage believers against all that may discourage them, from the consideration of Christ’s heart towards them now in heaven.”
Thomas Goodwin, A Puritan Theology. Grand Rapids, MI. Reformation Heritage Books. 2012. p. 390.
I can’t help but recall here a scene from The West Wing. White House chief of staff Leo McGarry reaches out to his deputy, Josh Lyman, who is struggling with PTSD. Leo tells him a parable:
This guy’s walking down the street when he falls down a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey, you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?”
The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me! Can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
James K.A. Smith, The Christian Century, “I’m a Philosopher. We Can’t Think Our Way Out Of This Mess”, February 25, 2021.
Comment: The power of this illustration is that Christ, similar to the friend in the illustration, has joined us in carrying the crushing weight of our sin. Christ not only knows the burden of our sins (Heb. 4:15), has taken the burden from us by providing a perfect sacrifice for us in Himself (10:14), but has also continued in his ministry by advocating for us before the Father (7:25).