‘Ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’
Today’s reading is difficult. The writer is drawing on an interpretation of ‘rest’ that had been a lively subject of debate among Jewish teachers. The concept combines material from Genesis 2:2, Deuteronomy 12:9,10, Numbers 14:35 and Psalm 95:11. By the time that Hebrews was written, ‘rest’ referred not just to the Sabbath or to the entry of the children of Israel into the Promised Land but to the peace experienced by believers. In one sense this is still future, but it is also a present reality for believers.
Jesus offers rest in this sense. In contrast with the oppressive legalism of the scribes and Pharisees, his offer was ‘a realisation of a deep existential peace, a shalom, or sense of Ultimate well-being with regard to one’s relationship to God and his commandments. Paradoxically, we are told in Hebrews to ‘make every effort’ to enter this rest. Other translations say ‘strive’. The point is not that we have to work hard to attain it but that we need to understand how important this is and make sure that we have attained it. The difference is between struggling on our own to meet our own to meet demands that we can never meet and finding peace through trust in Christ, who helps and encourages us through the Holy Spirit. All we need to do is to come to Jesus without pretence, like Pilgrim in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress whose heavy burden fell to the ground at the cross of Christ. The writer emphasises the seriousness of this, with an emphasis that is particularly applicable to many of today’s evangelical communities. Do we take God’s grace for granted? Have we reflected on what it cost Jesus to make it available to us? Have we thought about the cost of forgiveness? Are our lives lived daily in profound love and gratitude?
Think hard about the warning passages in Hebrews. What to they say to you?