Partaking of Promised Rest

Posted: May 3, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 4:1-10, “Partaking of Promised Rest”

A common prayer request for humanitarian aid ministry is for our shipments of humanitarian aid to pass through customs. … Container loads of aid, equipment, and supplies might be sitting in a warehouse ready to go – but they don’t do anyone any good if they can’t be distributed. … The Hebrew Christians were being warned of a similar scenario. God’s rest had been offered to them through the work of Jesus Christ – but some were stopping short of receiving it. Even worse, some were turning away from it to go back to Judaism…

We begin with a “therefore,” so we need to look at the context thus far. The prelude to the book shows Jesus to be Supreme: He’s the glory & revelation of God… Ch 1-2 show Jesus to be better than the angels… Declared Him to be the captain of our salvation… Ch 3-4 show Jesus to be better than Moses. Moses is certainly worthy of respect – but he’s just another part of the house of God (like us), whereas Jesus is the builder of the house. And although Moses presented the promise of God’s rest to the people, he could not take them into the Promised Land due to their hardened hearts & disobedience.

In Ch 3, the author of Hebrews started a discussion of Psalm 95:7-11. [READ HEBREWS 3:7-11] He starts by looking at the warning – what the Israelites did wrong in hardening their hearts toward God… In Ch 4, he’s going to take it to the application. I.e., if we don’t want to have our hearts hardened toward God, what should our response be towards Him? Hardened hearts prevent us from the promise of God’s rest; but God invites us to partake of the promise through Jesus Christ!

Hebrews 4:1-10 (NKJV)
– God’s rest has been promised…
1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.

A. Define “rest.” Especially from a 1st century mindset when Christians were a persecuted minority, the idea of “rest” may have been somewhat contradictory with their circumstances. Combine that with the common OT (mis)understanding that people who followed God were blessed materially & physically (rather than spiritually), and it’s easy to understand why the Hebrew Christians across the Middle East were getting confused. In their mind, they thought “rest” meant ease & prosperity – but that’s not what they were experiencing. Instead, they got the tribulations & trials that Jesus told them would come (John 16:33). Gk “rest” = “being set in a state of rest” – taken from a word meaning “to cease/retrain/prevent”. The question then, is: what is being caused to cease? Tribulation doesn’t fit the description, since Jesus told us to expect it – especially as time gets nearer to the end. With the context of Psalm 95, the idea of rest is associated with the Promised Land – i.e. their walk with God. The disobedient Hebrews did not enter the rest of God because they did not believe the promises of God – they fell short. We who believe the promises of God in faith walk with God by faith – thus our striving for a right relationship with God has ceased. Jesus has done all the work on our behalf.

B. So far, the author of Hebrews has been assuming that his audience are believers in Christ. (Ch 3:1, 12, “brethren”) Why should he warn them that some might have “come short”? Because his assumption is just that: an assumption. Anyone who might have claimed the name of Christ with his/her lips but not actually trusting Him as Lord would have fallen short of actually entering the rest of God. … Note the writer doesn’t include himself in the description: “let US fear lest any of YOU…” The author could examine his own heart to see if he was in the faith (2 Cor 13:5) – but he couldn’t do that for anyone else…and thus he feared that there might be some who were missing out.
__a. There will be people who “come short.” You could play the part of a Christian all your life in public – but if you don’t have the witness of the Holy Spirit in you, then it doesn’t matter what you think you’ve done to earn God’s favor – it’s never going to be sufficient. The rest of God is only found in salvation given us by believing the gospel & trusting Jesus as our Lord, Savior, and God crucified for our sins & risen from the dead.
__b. Don’t miss the fact that God’s rest is promised to us! Once you’ve examined yourself to see if you’re in the faith, don’t live in doubt. … God has promised His rest – and if God promises it, you can trust His word. Let God be true & every man a liar!
__c. Grab hold of that promise today…

2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.

A. Did OT saints get the gospel preached to them? Yes! Was it fully revealed? Obviously not – Jesus had not yet come incarnate in the flesh. But the message of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ is evident throughout the OT – starting in Genesis 3! (And continuing through the Abrahamic covenants, etc…) For the Israelites in question, they had seen a picture of the atonement through Passover… They had seen God’s work in redeeming them from slavery through the Red Sea… They had been given the promise of rest & a Messiah… The message didn’t profit them because they obviously did not believe it.
__a. How were people saved in the OT? The same way they’re saved in the NT: by grace through faith. We look back on the finished work of Christ; they looked forward in faith to God’s promise of a Messiah & God’s sacrificial work…

B. The problem with so many is that although they heard the word, they didn’t combine it with faith in response. That’s true of both the OT & NT! … Especially here in the Bible Belt – people hear the basics of the gospel over & over, but since they think everyone around them is a Christian, that must mean they’re a Christian too. Not true! Your grandmother’s faith cannot save you… []
__a. Faith is what takes the gospel from your ear to your heart… There were many who saw Jesus with their eyes, witnessed the miracles, and heard His teaching that never believed Him. There were others who actually counted themselves as Jesus’ disciples who turned back when Jesus’ teaching became too tough…they didn’t have the faith to simply trust Christ for Who He is. John 6:66-69 (66) From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (67) Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” (68) But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (69) Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [] God has promised His rest through the gospel – but we must mix it up with faith! …

3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ ” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

A. What’s the result for those who mix faith with the gospel? Through their belief they enter the rest of God… [] Did you notice the possessive pronoun here? “WE who have believed…” That’s for US! If you have believed the gospel, trusted Christ for salvation & been born again of the Holy Spirit, you have entered the rest of God!
__a. No longer do you need try to impress God (if that were even possible)! Now as a new creation, you trust Christ your Savior – you pray to be filled with the Spirit – you walk in newness of life in the relationship God has for you. You can rest in Jesus & His work on the cross! …

B. Which works are “the works”? God’s works. The “works were finished from the foundation of the world…” Normally when we read about the “foundations of the world” in the NT, it’s speaking of the eternal past atoning work of Christ (which is an amazing thought!) – but that’s not the idea here. The theme is obviously the rest offered by God & when it’s placed in the context of creation, it’s pointing to God’s rest: the Sabbath. God set the example for rest & He offers that same rest of ceasing from work to His people…

4 For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5 and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.”

A. Quoting from Genesis 2:2. [Review creation…] God has a rest to give – but the Hebrews under Moses/Joshua did not enter it, even though they actively & religiously practiced the Sabbath every week… If God’s rest isn’t truly found in a particular day (it’s modeled there, but not found there), then where is it found? In a Person. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. Not only is He the One to offer it to mankind through Creation, but He’s the only place where true rest is found.
__i. Remember that the Sabbath to the Jew was one of the signs of the covenant they had with God through Moses (Exo 31:13). They were to work 6 days and then trust God for His provision on the 7th. The key being that God was providing for them, so there was no work they could do that day. The rest God gave was founded in the provision God made.
__ii. Likewise in Christ. When it comes to our salvation, Jesus does 100% of the work, and we do 0%. Our rest is founded on His provision – and there’s no work we can do to add to it.

B. Does this mean that Christians ought to be keeping the weekly Sabbath? [] The idea of a Christian being commanded to keep the Sabbath is directly at odds with this concept of rest (ceasing from work). Salvation only comes through trusting in the finished work of Christ & resting from our efforts. Attempting to “add” on a rest in order to please God is simply another work…
__i. How should we treat the Sabbath? With liberty… Romans 14:5-6 (5) One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. (6) He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. []
__ii. Writing against legalism… Colossians 2:16-17 (16) So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, (17) which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. []
__iii. Bottom line, if you want to keep the Sabbath (which is a wonderful gift of God & healthy for His creation), then do so with the blessings of the New Testament. But to command all Christians to obey the rule of the Hebrew Sabbath is antithetical to the gospel message & confuses the shadow for the substance. The rest of the Sabbath is found in Jesus; not our ability to try to keep it on a weekly basis.

– God’s rest is available for partaking…
6 Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, 7 again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”

A. Do people not enter God’s rest because of unbelief (vs 2) or because of disobedience (vs 6)? Both! They go along hand-in-hand…we saw the same thing in Ch 3:18-19. Their disobedience was based in their unbelief. They saw giants in the land & thought themselves to be grasshoppers in comparison – and in doing so, showed their lack of faith in the God who’s infinitely bigger than the giants…

B. The point? There’s a rest to be given – and the rest is available today! The writer anticipates the likely argument against him: “If the ‘rest’ mentioned spoke of entering the Promised Land, then God already meted out His discipline on those who rebelled. One generation fell dead in the wilderness, but another generation entered…so they must have entered God’s rest.” But that’s the whole point of quoting Psalm 95. If Joshua truly gave the people rest, then how could David write hundreds of years later through the Holy Spirit, “Today, if you will hear His voice…”? IOW, there was still a promise of rest by the time of David – thus the ‘rest’ spoken of by God was something spiritually different than the Promised Land. See vs. 8…

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.

A. Joshua is an interesting character in the OT. Where Moses was forbidden to go (due to his sin), Joshua completed the work God gave by taking the people into the Promised Land. The book is bathed in spiritual application & is filled with pictures of what God does for us & how we walk with Christ. Moses couldn’t take the people into the land because he represents the law (which cannot save), but grace & truth come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17) & thus Joshua can take the people in. Joshua pictures walking in the power of the Holy Spirit (rivers of living water) by crossing the Jordan – the attitude Christians should take toward our ongoing battle against sin (to be conquered; not compromised with), and more…
__a. Gk for “Joshua” is the same word as “Jesus” (Ἰησοῦς). Obviously the OT Joshua is in mind here (considering the context of going from the wilderness to the Promised Land), but the readers would have been readily reminded of the typology between Joshua & Jesus.

B. If Joshua was just a type, did he really do anything? Sure! Joshua really did take the people of God into the Promised Land – He really did lead the conquest God had given him to do through the power of the Holy Spirit – the people really did take hold of their possession. … But the writer’s point is that although the Israelites historically possessed the land that God promised them, they did not enter the rest of God – even after God had finished disciplining them in the 40 years of wandering…

C. When is the “another day?” Right now! God’s rest is available for us to partake of right now…it’s today! Over & over again throughout Ch 3-4, the writer has been pointing out “today” – he’s proclaiming an urgency. Today is the day the rest of God is being offered to us…now is the time… 2 Corinthians 6:2 For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. [] This is the time the OT saints were looking forward to! Salvation has been offered to the world – and it’s available to you today!
__a. The danger for the Hebrew Christians that this letter was written to was that they’d abandon the rest offered to them through Christ in order to go back to the system that never truly delivered the promised rest of God. The rest that the ancient Hebrews missed out on is available to the world today.
__b. Don’t miss out on the promises for today! Beware of going back to a legalistic mindset of trying to “do” certain things to make yourself right with God. Does God call us to walk holy? Sure. Are we commanded to abstain from sin? Absolutely. But we do so in Christ; not in man-centered ritual.

9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

A. Rest comes from God. Rest is for God’s people. The perpetual Sabbath rest of Jesus Christ is Jesus’ to give; and He desires to give it to His people. (Word for “rest” in vs 9 is actually specific to the Sabbath here = σαββατισμός) Follow the analogy here. God rested on His work on the 7th Day (thus establishing the Sabbath as a picture of His rest). God offers a rest for His people (pictured through Joshua’s victorious conquest of Canaan). Thus it follows if we enter the rest of Jesus, then we rest from our works just as God rested from His. We enter the “Sabbath-rest” of Christ (who’s the Lord of the Sabbath)…
__a. Is His rest for now or for the future? Yes. It’s for now in the sense that we do not work towards our salvation or to attempt to please our Father. Jesus’ work is sufficient for that & we enjoy a spiritual rest right now. But we also look forward to a future rest when we see Christ Jesus face-to-face forever apart from the presence of sin…

B. Does God still rest? He’s working & active today, drawing people to Jesus, convicting them of sin, righteousness, & judgment, interceding for the church & more. But the work of sacrifice is complete. God has ceased from that work (John 19:30, Tetellestai!). It’s paid in full! …

There’s an obvious question looming in all of this: are you resting in Christ? What a tragedy it would be to have heard the gospel message, played the part of the Christian, but never actually partaken of the rest offered through Jesus Christ! No wonder the writer of Hebrews began in vs. 1 by fearing for his readers… Don’t let the rest of God pass you by – as vs. 11 says, “let us be diligent to enter that rest! ”

A. God’s rest has been promised to us: It’s promised through the gospel, but needs to be combined with faith to be effective… It’s modeled by God Himself as the Sabbath – and available to us via the Lord of the Sabbath…
B. God’s rest is to be partaken of: It’s available to us today! We don’t have to wait for another time – we need not fear that it’s already been taken by people who have come before us. It’s available right now, and we (as the people of God) are invited to rest in Christ through the grace of God.

Are you relying on His promise & partaking of His rest? Have you believed the gospel message & put your faith/trust in Jesus Christ as Lord? Salvation is not a 5-step program of things we need to do; it’s a 1-step stop to Jesus. Our works/deeds cannot save us – not only is relying upon our works not resting in Christ; it’s futility. We think “Good people go to heaven,” but define “good”… None of us are good enough, except God alone. Repent & trust the Savior…

What about for a Christian? The same application applies to you too! We don’t want to taste of the rest Jesus has for us & then go back to our old man-centered system of trying to be right with God. That’s putting ourselves under legalism – going back to spiritual slavery. Jesus has given you freedom – and with that freedom comes His rest. We can not earn God’s favor as Christians any more than we could earn God’s favor as pagans. Everything about our relationship with God is wrapped up in the work of Christ on our behalf. Any change that takes place in our life takes place because of the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us. Jesus has given us His rest. Are you resting?

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