Rest for the People of God
Hebrews 4:1 – 13
Rest for the People of God
The best rest?
What picture comes to mind when you hear the word rest?
Putting your feet up?
Reading a book?
Sitting out in the garden?
Talking with friends?
Maybe being waited on hand and foot!
I imagine it will be different for each of us! both because of our different personalities, but also of course, what it is that we want to take a rest from!
If you spend all your time with people, then maybe your ideal rest is to be on your own,
If you’re always on your feet, perhaps rest conjures up images of sitting down for hours on end!
A friend of mine told me once how, during the 1980s, his aunt would take a holiday to Northern Ireland when she felt that she needed a rest.
And you think 1980s, Northern Ireland, go and drop yourself right into the troubles there! I thought, “Who’d go there for a rest?”
Turns out his aunt lived in the Gaza Strip in the 80s, and so Belfast was a comparatively peaceful place to go for a rest!
Well, this part of the letter to the Hebrews, is one of the places in the Bible where we learn the most about rest.
You might not have thought that the Bible speaks much about rest beyond maybe the Sabbath as a day of rest, so let’s have a look and see what God wants us to learn.
Rest is available today (v 1 – 11)
And straight away we find that rest is available, today.
Look at verse 1 with me, 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
Whatever else we’re about to learn about rest and what it is, straight away the author wants to assure us, that it’s available! We’re not too late to take advantage of this.
the promise of entering his rest still stands
When we empty the bins here on Sunday mornings, they tend to be quite full of cups and wrappers from McDonalds breakfasts. The bands and the setup teams often stop there on their way in!
And Maccas have been running their Monopoly competition recently, where you get little stickers with your order and you can win free stuff.
And I don’t know about you, but anytime I seem to get one of those “you’ve won a free, something or other”, by the time I go to collect the free thing they’ve offered me, the competition’s closed and it’s too late!
Well, not so with this rest. the promise of entering his rest still stands the author says.
Whatever it is, it’s available. It’s something you can take hold of today.
You’re not there, trying to hand over your McDonalds Monopoly coupon, and discovering that you’re too late.
This is something that you can benefit from, today.
Verse 1, 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
Verse 6, Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest
Verse 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest
And those verses from Psalm 95, which are indented in the Bible text so we realise they’re quotes from somewhere else, those are all about Old Testament Israel not entering God’s rest in the land of Canaan.
God had promised that land to Abraham, and his descendants, and he wanted them, the people of Israel, to inhabit the land,
To enjoy its blessings and provision,
To have peace.
But with all this emphasis on the fact that the promise of entering his rest still stands, clearly there’s more to rest than Canaan.
That’s the point of verse 8, 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.
That is, God wouldn’t spoken in Psalm 95, and said sure you don’t miss out on God’s rest.
When Psalm 95 was written, The people of Israel were in the Promised Land,
They’d lived there all the lives,
The original audience of the Psalm weren’t those who missed out on rest in the Promised Land;, verse 6, those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience
No, Psalm 95’s warning, “don’t miss out on God’s rest” was spoken to people who were enjoying God’s rest in the Promised Land!
So what does that tell us?
The rest that God had in store for his people, can never have just been about enjoying the good gift of the land of Canaan.
If you can be living in Canaan and yet still be warned by Psalm 95 not to miss out on God’s rest, then clearly, rest is more than enjoying peace in that particular part of the world,
God’s blessings aren’t contingent on geography.
See, we mustn’t ever think that when Jesus turned up, God’s plans, and what God wants for people suddenly changed.
No, the rest that Israel enjoyed in Canaan, was only ever going to be a taste, a fore-shadowing, of the eternal rest that is still open to be taken hold of today.
As Christians we sometimes imagine that in the Old Testament, God’s blessings were physical and material, but then the New Testament came along, and the blessings of God suddenly become spiritual, and they’re all less tangible!
Which sometimes means, I think, we find ourselves wishing we were back in the day when God’s blessings were material;, land, money, prosperity.
We can find ourselves imagining, that that was better than what we’re offered now.
But do you see that rest in the Promised Land, far from being the better version of what came later, it was just the free sample of what was coming later!
I ordered something online once, and when it arrived in the post, in the box was a little sample of washing powder. About enough to do one load of clothes!
The people who sent it to me, do they think that giving me one washing load’s worth of detergent is a wonderful gift? Do they think it’s going to make all the difference to my life?
No, they want me to sign up for the whole box-ful, for the real deal,
That’s why they give me the sample.
Don’t think of rest in the Promised Land as the thing that makes all the difference, the real deal is what was coming later, the rest that is available today.
God gave that rest, to get people to sign up for the whole box-ful, if you’ll forgive me attributing a commercial motivation to God!
Verse 8, For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God
You’ll probably know that Hebrews was written in Greek, that was the language that you wrote letters in, in the Roman world. And in Greek, the names Joshua, and Jesus, are the same name.
Now, it’s not hard to work out who the author’s talking about in verse 8, clearly he’s talking about the leader who was around before God spoke in Psalm 95, so that’s obviously the one we know as Joshua.
But the ambiguity serves the author’s purpose nicely.
Because in saying “there was a leader called Jesus who didn’t give the people rest”, it immediately causes you to think of another leader called Jesus, and to wonder, “well, does he offer some kind of rest?”
And of course, the answer is yes.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. There is true rest available today.
It’s God’s rest
But let’s have a think about that this rest actually is. Because it quickly becomes clear, that this is somehow God’s own rest.
It’s described as his rest, verse 1,
Down in verse 3, one of the quotations from Psalm 95, God says, ‘They shall never enter my rest.
But also look with me at verse 4, where the author quotes from that section of Genesis that we read earlier, 4 For somewhere he, that’s God, he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.”
The rest that can be ours today, it’s God’s rest. And it’s not just that God gives it.
It’s the rest that God himself enjoys.
So in Genesis 1 and 2, after God created everything in 6 days, on the 7th day God rested.
Rest is something that God himself does, and we’re invited into that.
It’s not that God kind of wore himself out creating the world, and so needed to take a rest on the 7th day to catch his breath!
And actually this rest is not inactivity. It’s not doing nothing. So when I asked you your idea of rest before, if you thought just doing nothing at all, that’s fine for you! but this rest that God calls you to, and which God himself takes part in, is slightly different.
God’s rest is not doing nothing, but a sign of completion, a sign of achievement.
God doesn’t stop working after he creates the world, he nurtures what he made. And in fact we’re told that God, in Christ sustains everything that he made, even to this day, so that actually if God did stop working, if he became inactive, the whole created universe would cease to exist!
So, in chapter 5 of John’s gospel account, Jesus says to the Jewish religious leaders, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. God hasn’t stopped working, Jesus says. He and the Father are both still working.
So, rest is not the absence of activity, but it marks completion and achievement.
So, Genesis 1 and 2, God created. And then having completed, having achieved what he set out to, God rested.
And it’s this rest, God’s own rest, that Hebrews says is available to people today. I think it’s quite remarkable, quite staggering, that God invites us to share in his own rest. It’s God’s own celebration of completion and achievement that he invites us to share.
Imagine you get a phone call tomorrow, and it’s Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. He’s inviting you to come and holiday with him on his private island, Necker Island, in the Caribbean.
It’s been a busy few months for Sir Richard, investing in space travel, and Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, but now that he’s inked those deals, and achieved what he set out to, he’s going to spend a couple of weeks resting on his Island.
The island gets rented out for about 82 thousand dollars a day, except that when Sir Richard’s there having a rest, he pays the bill, and he wants you to go and share in his rest with him.
What would you say?!
Well, I really don’t like islands and resorts and those kinds of things, but even I would say yes! None of us would want to miss out on that, would we? To share in his own 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
Or verse 9, There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his
God invites you, to share in the rest that he has enjoyed, since he created the world.
And you may have noted in Genesis 1 and 2, that we saw the end of the sixth day, there was evening, and there was morning, just as had been the pattern for each of the previous days during which God created the heavens and the earth, but that pattern is noticeably absent on the 7th day.
It’s as if the 7th day continues,
God’s rest which was started then, continues until today.
And we’re invited into it.
God’s rest is both in the present and the future
And this rest is something we can enjoy both in the present, and in the future.
There are some words from Jesus printed on your outline,
From chapter 11 of Matthew’s gospel account. He says 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28 - 30
Clearly what Jesus is offering there is for this life, it’s rest now.
The religious Jews of his day, of which, of course, Jesus was one, they made sure they obeyed the Sabbath laws, not doing any work on the Sabbath, as the way of entering into God’s rest, but Jesus flips that on its head, and says, “the way to get the rest you need, is to come to me”
Do you see the difference?
Entering into God’s rest, tasking hold of the rest that God offers us, is not something we get by keeping the rules, or being religious, or whatever, but by coming to Jesus, entering into relationship with him.
And it’s significant that in Matthew’s gospel, the only gospel that includes those words from Jesus, they come right at the time that Jesus comes into conflict with the religious leaders over their understanding of how to obey the Sabbath, how to rest.
See, notice when Jesus offers rest, what does he then offer? A yoke, and a burden. Once again we see that the rest we’re invited to take part in isn’t the absence of any work,
To have a yoke on you is to be like an ox out ploughing a field.
Certainly the rest that Jesus calls us to for this life, what he offers us now, is not inactivity.
It’s work. But it’s work that Jesus describes as easy, and light.
So, God’s rest that we enjoy in this life, is service. The service for which we were created.
If we allow ourselves to submit to human religion,
If we think the way to God is through keeping this set of commands, or making sure we don’t disobey those regulations,
There’s no rest in that, is there? Some of us know that first hand. There’s no rest in human religion and religious rule-keeping. How do I ever know that I’ve done enough?
If I try and do enough, be good enough, to enter into God’s rest through my own efforts, not only will I never be entirely sure if I’ve been good enough to get into God’s eternal rest, because how could I ever know if I’ve done enough, how good does one have to be,
But also the effort that I have to put in to try and get there, certainly means that there’s no rest now.
I slog my guts out now, in the hope of getting into that rest, then.
That’s where rule-keeping and depending on my good works will get me. And it doesn’t actually offer us rest now or later.
But come to Jesus, trust in him, and we’re invited to share in God’s rest now, and in eternity,
Because we’ll find ourselves doing exactly the work we were created for.
So Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 are mostly about rest now, Hebrews 4 though gives us that same present reality, but raises our eyes also to rest in eternity by showing us that this rest is something that will come in the future.
So we have in in verse 3, Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said. Present tense, we enter that rest,
But also look at verse 10, for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, f just as God did from his.
The grammar is still present tense, but we don’t rest from our works, now, do we?, certainly not those works Jesus wants us to do when we come into relationship with him.
We’re not yet done with everything that God has set before us.
That only happens, when we die.
When that day comes, and you’ve completed the work that God appointed for you, here’s the assurance of what happens the other side of death:, You can share in God’s own rest, which is all about completion and achievement.
There’s a sense in which the promise of sharing in God’s rest is being fulfilled throughout our lives. We taste it, we experience some of it now, but it’s not totally realised, until our works are completed, and we’re welcomed into God’s presence to share his rest.
This is the promise of rest in heaven, when you’ve achieved everything in your life that God wants you to do,
Death is not the end, any more than the 7th day was the end for God!
What does God want you to do for all of eternity? We get different pictures in different parts of the Bible, but here we’re told that God wants you to share in his resting,
It’s not a bad invitation, is it?
A couple of weeks on Richard Branson’s island sounds good.
This rest is even better.
So we see that rest is both a present reality;, something we can enjoy now, and something we look forward to in eternity.
You can miss out if you don’t keep going
But the other thing that the author goes to great lengths to demonstrate here, is that while this is available to us, you can miss out on it, if you don’t keep going.
The reason, I think, that he keeps quoting Psalm 95, it’s been 4 separate times in 2 chapters, is to warn his readers, warn us, not to follow the example of Old Testament Israel and miss out on the rest that God offers.
You see his aim there in verse 11, 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
The rest of the Promised Land, was partial, sure, we’ve seen that, but it was still real, and some people missed out on it, because of disobedience.
“Don’t do what they did,” he says
You know the story of the mum who catches her young son teaching their pet parrot swear words, and she says, “What are you doing, teaching the parrot to say swear words?”
And he replies, “I’m not, I’m teaching him what not to say!”
Well, what Old Testament Israel said out in the wilderness, that’s what not to say.
That’s what not to do, because that leads to missing out on God’s rest.
Here in verse 11, what not to do, is disobedience.
That’s pretty straight forward;,
God says, “here’s my pattern for life”, we go off and carve our own pattern, that’s disobedience.
Although up in verse 2, it was slightly different language, wasn’t it? The “what not to do” bit was, unbelief. the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed
So, obedience and faith are linked together, meaning their opposites disobedience and unbelief, are also in the same genre.
If we choose not to hear God’s voice as Psalm 95 repeatedly urges us to, then we’re both choosing to disobey God, but also we’re demonstrating our lack of trust in him.
If we disobey God, we’re saying that we don’t trust him with our lives,
If we turn our back on his Word, we’re saying that we trust ourselves, more than we trust God.
Disobedience, and lack of faith, really share the same space.
And see this is why I think it’s interesting that the author uses both images in his warning, to say, “don’t miss out on entering God’s rest”,
We might not think of ourselves particularly as disobedient.
I tend to keep the rules,
I imagine that mostly I do what God commands me to, or I try to.
There wouldn’t be too many areas of my life where you could point to something and say “Clayton, that’s a clear-cut case of disobedience.”
But if disobedience is really the same thing as not trusting, not sharing the faith of those who obeyed verse 2, well that certainly feels like it opens up much more of my life for consideration.
There’s any number of areas in my life where I’m tempted to let my faith dwindle,
To not trust,
To trust in myself, rather than in Jesus.
Every time I doubt that God really has my best interests at heart, I’m not sharing the faith of those in Old Testament Israel who obeyed,
Every time I think I know better,
Each time I think I’d do a better job of running my life than God can,
I’m not sharing the faith of those in Old Testament Israel who obeyed
And it’s probably not just me! That’s probably the case for some others of us here, as well!
And it’s serious! If we don’t share the faith of those in Old Testament Israel who obeyed, we miss out on the rest that is open to us.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. Remember Jesus talked about the rest that he offers as easy and light compared to any other means of trying to find rest. Having faith, and being obedient isn’t a burden, and it doesn’t mean we have to understand everything or even that we can necessarily see God’s wisdom in everything.
There may be times when we obey, because we know God’s calling us to, but we’re not yet convinced that that is what’s best.
Some of us are old enough to remember a hymn that churches used to sing a bit. It was an old one, from 1887, and the refrain goes Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Now, it might sound a little bit simplistic when you just have the refrain, but the song picks up the ideas here in Hebrews 4 about obeying, and sharing the faith of God’s people.
But that line, “trust and obey” came about, because one day in 1886 a young man stood up in a church gathering and said he was putting his faith in Jesus.
He said, “I am not quite sure about everything, but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.”
And someone in that church noted down that phrase, and eventually it got turned into a hymn.
Don’t ever think that God’s rest is dependent on you understanding everything,
On you being perfect in your obedience.
It’s quite OK to say, "I am not quite sure about everything, but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey."
But we must continue to the end.
The language here is about not falling short of it, verse 1,
About making every effort to enter that rest verse 11
When it comes to entering God’s rest, what’s most important is not how well you start, but that you continue, and don’t fall short.
Do you remember Steve Bradbury? Australian short track speed skater who became a national hero after winning the thousand metres event at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.
Bradbury was coming last behind skaters from China, Canada, the US and South Korea, when all 4 of them crashed on the final corner of the race, leaving him to take gold.
Those 4 skaters had started well, and they’d been skating well for the whole race,
They were all in contention for the gold medal, and yet they all missed out, because they didn’t continue to the very end.
And in what was described as the most Australian sporting moment of all time, Steve Bradbury who had started not really very well, and done most of the race in very unspectacular fashion, all he needed to do, was to stay upright, to continue what he was doing, and he won the prize.
If we come right back to where we started, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short
I’m sure you noticed the communal language again, like we saw last week.
let us be careful, that none of you plural, be found to have fallen short
Or verse 11, Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
It’s possible to start well in the Christian life, to hear God speak, to obey,
To exercise exactly the same kind of faith as Old Testament Israel did when they heard God’s Word and followed Joshua into the promised Land,
And yet, having started well, to fall short. It’s where this section opens, and it’s the warning that the whole thing presents to us.
And yet the point of a warning, is to enable us to do something about the danger, isn’t it?
When they were digging up Hampden Rd where the TMB offices are, they had warning signs up everywhere, “Danger, deep excavation”, because they didn’t want people to fall into the hole that’s maybe 3 or 4 metres deep.
But actually they didn’t have the signs everywhere. I walked up to the hole and looked in, yes, ignoring the sign, I understand that! And they didn’t have the warning sign in the hole!
Why not? Well, because when you’re in the hole it’s too late! No point warning you about falling into the hole then! The warning signs go up some distance away, when there’s still time to hear the warning, and take it to heart.
The reasons there’s these warnings, is because it’s not too late.
Regardless of how you’ve started, or whether you’ve even started at all! You might not ever have given Jesus any thought before you got out of bed this morning and decided to come to church.
Regardless of what kind of start you’ve made or haven’t made, God’s rest is available today.
God’s Word is powerful for his purposes (v 12 – 13)
And that’s the link between everything that’s been said in these 2 chapters, and these last couple of verses in this section, that can seem at first glance, to be kind of tacked onto the end.
We’ve been talking about rest,
About obedience, and not falling short,
And then we suddenly move into these couple of verses about God’s word being like a sword, and nothing being hidden from God.
And certainly from this verse, we learn things about the word of God that we can apply in a whole range of situations,
These things are true of God’s Word generally, Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit etc etc,
If you’re thinking about any part of God’s Word, the Bible, these things are true.
But this isn’t just a random statement about the word of God, as if it just popped into the author’s mind and he really wanted to say it!
What’s he been doing in this part of the letter?
He’s been taking us to the word of God,
Quoting Psalm 95,
Quoting Genesis 2,
Quoting Psalm 95 again,
Referencing what God had said about giving rest through Joshua, And that’s just in 6 verses!
He’s being talking about the word of God, as the means by which we know there is a rest,
As the means by which we know it’s God’s own rest,
the word of God is how we know that the offer of rest is open today,
the word of God is the measuring stick by which we can see whether we’re being obedient or disobedient,
Whether we’re sharing the faith of God’s people,
Or trusting in ourselves instead?
How else are we going to know all that?
How else are we going to diagnose the hardness of our hearts?
The fact that the word of God is alive and active, is very good news for us who want to enter God’s rest, because the Word of God is the means of us receiving the blessings of God,
It’s the word of God that teaches us how to be obedient,
It’s the word of God that teaches us what it is to trust, completely, and not to depend on ourselves.
Without God revealing himself to us in his Word, we have no hope of entering God’s rest.
But because of it, we can.
The picture here, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, it means the same as what’s said in the next verse, nothing is hidden.
Our inmost beings are exposed,
Our motives are shown,
And as verse 13 says, whatever disobedience or lack of faith we do a pretty good job of hiding from others or even from ourselves, they’re exposed by the word of God, and nothing is hidden from God’s sight.
The double-edged sword imagery is quite neat, because we see what we might call the dangerous side of the word of God, exposing everything,
But also the glorious, encouraging ministry of the word of God, speaking to us, most clearly through Jesus, of exactly how to enter God’s rest.
We are utterly at God’s mercy, and God in his mercy gives us exactly what we need, to enable us to enter his rest.
Let us, therefore, make every effort