Christ is Superior to Moses and Joshua Part 3 “Entering God’s Rest” – Hebrews 4:1-13
Pastor Mark Hardy May 17, 2015
My wife Julie and I have two grown children, Jessica and John. One of my cherished memories of Jessica was that when she was really young she would at times climb into my lap, grab both of my arms, wrap them around her and hold onto them. Then I could feel her little body just go limp. Since she was such an active child those times never lasted as long as I wish they had, but her laying there completely relaxed and secure in my arms has always been a beautiful picture of “rest” to me.
The basic meaning of “rest” is that of ceasing from any kind of exertion, work or activity, and freedom from stress, pressure and anxiety. As Christians, we understand there is no rest for our souls apart from Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean that we are always experiencing the reality of that rest.
In Hebrews 3-4 there are various kinds of God’s rest that involve physical, as well as, spiritual blessings, both in time and eternity. It is the rest that God gives that we will be looking at this morning. Turn in your Bible to Hebrews 4.
In Hebrews 4:1-13 we see four things about God’s rest in our lives that are intended to relieve us from the burdens we carry.
The first thing about God’s rest is:
I. The Warning against Missing it
A. Look at v. 1: Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.
1. Last time we saw the author’s warning in 3:7-19 to not make the same mistake as the Israelites did when because of their unbelief they died in the wilderness and missed entering the physical rest God promised them in the Promised Land of Canaan. As we now come to 4:1 this warning proceeds to its second emphasis, as the author now applies this Old Testament example of Israel to his readers so no one misses the “rest” which God provides.
2. As we begin it is important to remember that all those who claim to be Christians can be a “mixed group” of true believers and false believers. Therefore, the Spirit of God applies all warning passages like a shotgun blast that is intended to hit everyone where He knows we are in our true heart relationship with Jesus Christ.
3. Look again at this warning in v. 1, “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.”
4. The word “rest” occurs eight times in vv. 1-11. Whereas we saw last time that in chapter 3 “rest” had to do with “Canaan rest” (3:7-19), which is a type or picture of a deeper spiritual reality, the “rest” here in 4:1 refers to “Salvation rest” (4:3a, 8-9).
5. This is the spiritual rest that true believers in Christ can experience in this life. It includes the confidence of present and future salvation, the security of His strength and the comfort of His peace.
6. This rest is “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1) having ceased from all self-effort as far as salvation is concerned, whereby we experience freedom from the guilt of sin. And the “peace of God” (Phil. 4:7), which is a deep sense of inner tranquility of soul, calmness, settledness, security and contentment that frees us from worry and anxiety, no matter what difficult circumstances we may be facing.
7. When the author says “let us fear,” all are to examine their own spiritual condition with reverential fear, so that no one will “come short” of “entering His (God’s) rest.” For this will mean eternal condemnation for false believers—those who have never fully committed themselves to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, and the loss of the “peace of God” for true believers.
8. Remember that God’s warnings function as a means to encourage and motivate believers to persevere in their faithfulness to Christ, in order to secure their future salvation.
B. Now the author goes on to show that this “Salvation rest” can only be received and experienced by faith. Look at v. 2: For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
1. The good news that Israel heard of God’s promised rest in the land of Canaan did them no good because they didn’t unite or mix it with faith. Because of their lack of faith, they missed entering God’s rest.
2. The same is true today! Mere knowledge of the gospel of Christ is not enough.
3. Those who hear God’s message and intellectually know the facts about who Jesus is and what He did, but never personally commit themselves to Him in saving faith miss God’s salvation rest.
4. The message must be acted on and received by faith. This is true for us as believers as well; we must trust the Lord wholeheartedly for the welfare of our soul to experience God’s “salvation rest” of the “peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Phil. 4:7).
5. We will miss it if we don’t! The second thing about God’s rest is:
II. The Nature of God’s rest
A. Look at v. 3: For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,” (Stop there)
1. In stark contrast to the Israelites in the wilderness whose unbelief excluded them from entering God’s promised rest, “…we who have believed enter that rest.” Again we see that the spiritual blessing of entering God’s “Salvation rest” belongs only to those who believe; those who wholeheartedly trust the Lord.
2. The author again quotes Psalm 95:11 (v. 7a) for the purpose of calling attention to the rest God offers—“… just as He has said, ‘AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,’” which is then repeated in v. 5.
3. Notice that God calls the rest He offers “My rest.” This is because it is the rest that He Himself enjoys.
B. God’s rest is further explained in 3b-4: “… although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS;”
1. Although the author does not precisely locate his quotation, he is referring to Genesis 2:2, where God’s “works” of founding or creating the world were “finished” after His six days of creation. On the seventh or Sabbath day God rested from His labors, not because He was tired, but to indicate the completion of creation.
2. Each of the six days of creation had its beginning and ending marked by the words “the evening and the morning,” but the seventh day had no mention made of its termination. Concerning this, Homer Kent, Jr. accurately states, “This does not imply that the seventh day was not a literal day with an evening and a morning, just as the previous six days of creation. However, the author has used the silence of Scripture on this point to illustrate his argument that God’s Sabbath rest has never ended.” (p. 82)
3. Here we see God’s “Sabbath rest.” This is the rest that God Himself enjoys and has always existed since the completion of the six days of creation.
4. However, this was not a rest from work, but a rest in work. For God continues to work in various ways, such as miracles and providence.
5. For example, when Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath He defended Himself by referring to the Father’s present activity as justifying His own actions. He said in John 5:17, “…My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”
6. Therefore, God’s “Sabbath rest” has to do with the satisfaction and enjoyment He Himself enjoys, and this is what He has wanted to share with His children ever since. So it was not because God’s rest was not available that the Israelites in the wilderness failed to enter into it; it was because of their unbelief that brought about God’s judgment on them.
7. We see this clearly in v. 5, where the author again quotes Psalm 95:11: and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” Those who exercise faith in the message of God enter into the rest which God provides, and those who don’t will not enter into His rest.
8. The third thing about God’s rest is:
III. The Availability of God’s rest
A. Look at vv. 6-7: Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.”
1. The opportunity to enter God’s rest remains open. The author already said in v. 1, “…a promise remains of entering (God’s) rest,” and here he drives home the point that “it remains for some to enter it.”
2. It is not yet too late to enter! God had offered His rest to the Israelites in Moses’ time but they failed to enter it because of their disobedience, which flowed out of their unbelief.
3. God continued to offer it in David’s time. Notice that “(God) again fixes a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David after so long a time (i.e. 400 years after Moses’ day) just as has been said before, ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.’”
4. And 1,000 years after that God offered it to the readers of Hebrews, and now 2,000 years later the offer is still the same. God is still patiently inviting His people to enter His rest.
5. It is still “Today” as far as God’s promised rest is concerned. It has always been available since the completion of creation.
6. As we saw last time, the word “Today” means “now” and indicates urgency. Since the voice of God is sounding, immediate action is imperative.
7. Respond now in faith while the words of God are fresh in your mind—“…do not harden your hearts.” For the only way God’s rest is missed is through disobedience, which flows from a hardened, unbelieving heart toward God.
B. Now if we are still not convinced that God’s rest is available, the author goes on to say in vv. 8-9: For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.
1. Since under Joshua the next generation of the Israelites did enter the rest of the Promised Land of Canaan (Josh. 21:44; 22:4; 23:1), some might conclude that God’s rest had already been fulfilled. But “Canaan rest” was only a very limited aspect of the blessed rest that God had planned for His people.
2. God’s rest is ultimately spiritual not physical. Homer Kent, Jr. again says, “The spiritual rest in salvation, which is the possession as well as the prospect of believers, was beyond Joshua’s capability to bestow. The proof is the fact that long after the days of Joshua God would not have spoken in Psalm 95 about a need today to enter into rest if it had been previously accomplished.” (p. 84)
C. The author then summarizes God’s rest that is still available in vv. 9-10: So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.
1. The term “Sabbath rest,” used only here in the New Testament, was made because the author wants his readers to think in terms of God’s own rest, which was just explained in its connection with creation in v. 4. This rest is still available for all those who will truly trust the Lord Jesus wholeheartedly, both for their salvation and sanctification.
2. Both of these are seen in what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
3. How often do we as believers trust the Lord as long as we like what God is doing or can understand His ways it to some degree. But what happens when we don’t like what He is allowing in our lives and have no clue what He is up to?
4. In Isaiah 50:10 we read, “Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.” And what happens if we don’t? Verse 11 says, “Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourselves with firebrands, walk in the light of your fire and among the brands you have set ablaze. This you will have from My hand: You will lie down in torment.”
5. That’s the opposite of rest! Rest for our souls is found only in trusting Jesus Christ!
6. Augustine, the fourth century theologian, said it so well, “For Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (Kent Huges p. 107).
7. Now this rest that only comes from God is both present and future. It is “already,” in that it is something that we as believers can experience right now in our daily lives as we live in obedience and submission to God and His Word.
8. But it is also “not yet,” in that the fullest satisfaction of God’s rest will not be experienced until that future day when we either die or Christ returns and we actually enter God’ presence in heaven. This future aspect of God’s rest is called “Heaven rest.”
9. We see this in in v. 10: For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.
10. Here we see that the one who has entered God’s rest has ceased from something, just as God did. Just as God ceased from His good works of creation, so we as believers have ceased from our good Christian labors at death in heaven, where Revelation 14:13 says that we finally “rest from (our) labors.”
11. The fourth thing about God’s rest is:
IV. The Exhortation to Enter it
A. Look at v. 11: Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.
1. In view of the tragic example of Israel in the wilderness who did not enter God’s rest because of their unbelieving disobedience, the author now exhorts us to make sure we enter God’s rest and don’t miss it.
2. There is a real need for active, responsible exertion of energy, so that we may secure the rest that God has promised. The word “diligent” here means to make every effort, to be zealous and earnest.
3. The rest that God provides is not something to be trifled with; for He calls us to be serious about this and to earnestly do everything we can to enter it. Here are three practical ways we can be diligent to enter God’s rest:
4. First, believe God’s rest is still available and can be experienced. You’re not going to make every effort to pursue after something you really don’t believe exists.
5. Second, choose to trust the Lord no matter what He is allowing to happen in your life. There is no rest without trust.
6. God wants us to trust Him and not be controlled by fear, worry and anxiety. This is why we are commanded in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
B. Third, earnestly read and obey the Word of God, which will continually addresses your true spiritual condition. Look at v. 12: For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
1. The “word of God” here refers to Special Revelation, the written Scriptures. Ephesians 6:17 tells us that the Word of God is the “sword” of the Spirit of God that He mightily wields to accomplish His purposes.
2. Now here in v. 12 we see three characteristics of God’s Word: First, it is living and active. As the Word of the living God it cannot fail itself to be living since it is filled with the vitality of God Himself, for God’s Word is His breath (2 Tim. 3:16).
3. And as God is the God who acts with power, His word cannot fail to be active and powerful. It is energetic and effectual in its operations to fulfill its God-intended purpose.
4. For God Himself says in Isaiah 55:11, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
5. Second, it is penetrating. God’s Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword.”
6. It is more powerful and penetrating than the sharpest scalpel devised by man. The divine surgeon uses it to pierce “…as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow.”
7. The point is that God’s Word penetrates to the innermost depths of man’s immaterial being. God’s Word cuts through all of our facades, masks and pretenses to expose what is hidden and bring about conviction of sin (Acts 5:33; 7:54).
8. Third, it is discerning. It is “…able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
9. Since the “heart” is the mission-control center of our being that includes our mind, will and emotions, God’s Word not only penetrates but also passes moral judgment on all of our “thoughts and intentions” or motives. It functions as a mirror to discern and reveal who and what we really are (Jam. 1:23-24).
C. And since God and His Word can never be separated, the author now shifts from God’s Word to the Person of God Himself in v. 13: And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
1. Here we see that not one single creature or thing in the whole of creation is “hidden (or unexposed) from God’s sight.” Instead, “…all things are open (or naked) and laid bare (or exposed)” before His eyes.
2. Although we may conceal our inner being from others and even deceive ourselves, but nothing escapes the gaze of the omniscient (i.e. all-knowing) God. He sees all we do and knows all we think!
3. In 1 Samuel 16:7 we read, “…for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
4. And Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place; watching the evil and the good.” God misses nothing and cannot be fooled!
5. While this is a sobering and discomforting truth if we have something to hide; it can also be an encouraging and comforting truth that God knows everything about us and He lovingly cares for us.
6. And since absolutely nothing is hidden from the Lord who is the Supreme Judge of the universe, there is coming a day when believers and unbelievers alike will give an account of ourselves to “Him with whom we have to do.”
7. This is why it is crucial that we heed this exhortation to be diligent to enter God’s rest and not miss it.
The hymn writer spoke of God’s rest so beautifully with the words:
Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.
Are you resting in the strong and loving arms of Jesus this morning? No matter what difficult circumstances we may be going through right now, we as believers can experience God’s rest and supernatural peace that surpasses all comprehension in our lives. These truths about God’s rest are intended to relieve us from the burdens we carry.
But we will only be able to experience His rest to the degree that we are trusting in Jesus Christ wholeheartedly. First and foremost for salvation, and secondly for everything else He allows us to go through for our sanctification. May we all choose to trust Him “Today!” Don’t leave here without doing what the Spirit of God is calling you to do! Respond now in faith while the words of God are fresh in your mind.