HEBREWS, Part 7

Moses, looking at the Promised Land

Christ: Our Rest

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. (4:1)

Chapter 4 of Hebrews could well be called “Entering into the Rest of Jesus.” Two words stand out. First, the word “rest” is used an astonishing nine times in 16 verses. Eight times the word translated “rest” is katapausis and one time the Greek word is sabbatismos. The first word means “settled peace” and the second means “Sabbath-state,” and it’s the only time the word is used in the whole New Testament. The other significant word, used eight times, is “enter,” and is always used in connection with “rest.”

From the very first verse, we get the author’s application: If the generation that perished in the wilderness did not enter the Promised Land because of their disobedience, what makes us think that we as Christians will enter our rest if we are as bad as they were? Disobedience on our part will produce the same results as the disobedience of the Hebrews in the wilderness. God is consistent. There is a unity in the way He deals with His people from age to age, culture to culture. God always demands faith, and continual unbelief always results in His judgment.

God’s promise still stands: there is rest for His people. But it’s serious thing to make sure your faith stands. The TNIV’s “let us be careful” is really “let us fear,” as the KJV renders it. This is a good and helpful fear. Sometimes fear is a good thing. It’s good to be afraid of a lion or a rattlesnake. There are certain things that you should be afraid of.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)

This fear is not irrational; it has a purpose: God’s promise stands, so let’s make sure we are able to appropriate it. We have been promised rest, so let’s make sure we are in the right spiritual place to receive it.

What is “rest” for the believer? First, it’s a place created by God for His people. In the case of the Israelites, it was a land overflowing with milk and honey. God took the initiative to make provision for His people but He left it to them to respond to that initiative. So “rest” is really a spiritual principle that says believers should always be responding to God’s initiative. The first thing God does for the sinner is call him to Himself. The sinner, with the help of the Holy Spirit, reaches out in faith and grasps what God is offering him: salvation. But that’s not the end of God taking the initiative and offering the believer more in terms of his salvation, and each time God makes an offer, we must be ready to receive it.

God has made the offer of eternal rest to His people. Jesus Christ, not Joshua, is the One who clears the way for this rest. On man’s side, faith is the condition that enables us to receive this rest. This rest is both present and future. You and I, as we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ through faith, begin to experience this “eternal rest” right now, today. What we experience by faith today we will experience in reality when our “faith becomes sight” and is finally consummated.

1. A similar danger, verses 1—3

For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. (verse 2)

The “good news,” or “gospel” to Moses’ generation was the hope of entering Canaan. Christians also have a “Gospel,” but ours involves a kind of “rest” which even Joshua could not provide: the rest in Christ.

The Israelites, through Moses, heard God’s good news, His wonderful provision for them. So we also have heard the same good news, God has given us something through Jesus Christ. Now, the good news given to Israel through Moses didn’t do them any good, not because it was improperly preached, but because the people did not receive it in faith.

What a powerful lesson for Christians. It’s not enough to just hear the Word; it must be believed and obeyed. It doesn’t matter how much faith your pastor may have as he preaches the Word, the hearer must have faith as he hears it. Faith combined with the Word results in salvation. And faith combined with Word produces the conditions necessary for the believer to grow and mature in the faith, receiving all that God has for him.

Now, verse 3 is a little confusing:

Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

Key in understanding this verse is remembering it is linked to verse 1—

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

The inspired writer is teaching that those of us who have confessed Christ are eligible to enter into His rest providing we do not forfeit our eligibility by hardening our hearts, because, according to what God has just said, those who have lost faith shall not enter into His rest.

2. A spiritual rest, 4:4—10

And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” (verses 4, 5)

The writer to the Hebrews has been using Psalm 95 as a warning against a kind of false confidence and a warning against disobeying God when He speaks. Now he interprets “my rest” as the plan and provision of God for His people. This rest for all believers is represented by Canaan; the end result of a life of faith and obedience.

This “rest” which God has for all who believe and have faith in Jesus Christ is His ultimate offering to us. To “rest” means our work is done. That’s why we read about God resting in these two verses. God finished His work and rested. After a lifetime of believing and faith, we too will be able to rest. But for those who lack the faith, they cannot ever enter into that rest.

Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (verses 6, 7)

God’s rest for His people still remains, even though so many have refused to enter into it. God’s rest has been ready since the beginning, in fact. Nothing more needs to be done on God’s side. And God, who is patient, continues to leave the offers of salvation and eternal rest on the table; He has not withdrawn them just because so many have rejected them. And again God pleads with those on the fence: do not stop believing.

Since Joshua’s work was left undone, there is another offering from God; another day and another chance to believe.

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. (verses 9, 10)

There will come a time in our future when what we have been struggling to believe is revealed, when our hopes will become reality, our faith will become sight and the absolute perfect peace God has promised us will be ours. “There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” By faith we have it now, but it will be our real possession at some point in the future. When that occurs, we will finally be able to rest from our works, as God rested from His.

The future looks good for those who faithfully serve the Lord; for those who hang on to their faith. None of us can ever retire from our kingdom work, by the way.

3. Enter the rest! 4:11—13

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (verse 11)

Everything that has been written so far has been designed to spur the reader to action; that’s what verse 11 says. Notice that, once again, the writer has included himself with his readers. No believer is exempt from this exhortation, even the one giving it! Even the “super saints” among us need to “press on” in the faith, never giving up.

Now we come to an oft-quoted group of verses which most people know but are unaware of their context:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (verses 12, 13)

Essentially, these verses state that God’s Word still requires a response from those who hear it. These verses do not primarily refer to God’s written Word, the Bible, as we have it today, although it does refer to it. The fact is, these verses cannot be properly understood apart from the discussion we are looking at, as if they are a sudden digression of thought.

The word “for” really means “because.” In case any of his readers got the wrong idea, our inspired writer wants his readers to understand that while what the ancient Israelites did was bad, the main point of his discussion is that it wasn’t the word of Moses or the word of Joshua they were disobeying, it was the Word of God. And the Word of God is not like any human word. It’s greater than any human word. The Word of God is not like an old, unplugged microphone; it is live and it is amplified at the very moment God is speaking.

The Word of God to Moses’ people concerned God’s will regarding them. The Word of God spoken through Jesus Christ, today, concerns God’s will for His people, today. It is the message of the Gospel; of eternal rest and salvation, first spoken through Christ, then through His apostles and now through the written Word of God, the Bible, proclaimed by the followers of our Lord.

God’s Word is not only alive, but it is powerful, always searching the mind, convicting the heart, and exposing the sin in our lives. It’s like a double-edged sword that separates your spiritual self from your soul-ish self. You may be cultured, well-spoken, even religious, but not saved. You may believe in God yet not know Him. You may know all kinds of Bible verses and be sympathetic to things of God yet be spiritually dead. God’s Word exposes these things and forces you to deal with your true spiritual state.

There is nothing you can hide from God because God’s Word exposes the guts of your spirit to yourself. Since we cannot hide from God, we cannot hide our doubts and disobedience from Him. Our failure to enter into His rest is known by Him. Our unbelief, our waffling, our double-mindedness, our feet-dragging, and our secret sinful desires are all known by Him.

Such is the nature of God’s Word.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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