This past week I saw a funny post on Facebook. It said, “Dear Naps, Please forgive me for hating you as a child.”
If there is one thing that we appreciate more and more as we get older it is rest. Our downtime becomes more and more valuable with every passing year because our bodies are aging and feeling the effects of the fall.
The word “rest” is used around 10 times in the passage, and this theme is picked up from our text last week. You remember there he was talking about having a hard heart. And he quoted from Psalm 95 which ended by saying, “They shall not enter my rest.”
The author of Hebrews comes back to that in our text today to develop it a bit more. So this morning I’d like us to consider the rest that God affords. As we listen to what the author here says about rest, I hope that we’ll be all the more encouraged to heed his exhortation to enter into that rest.
Of course, if we are going to talk about this rest, we need to first understand a little bit about it. That’s why we need to start by talking about its perfection.
I. Its perfection
In this passage the author seeks to lift his reader’s eyes up beyond the types and shadows of the OT. He wants them to understand that the Promised Land in the OT never was the culmination of God’s saving purposes. The land never afforded them the rest that God intended.
In the first few verses it talks about how the people of Moses’ time didn’t enter the land of promise. Verse 3 says, “I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest.” They were turned back and sent into the wilderness for 40 years.
But they eventually did make it to the promised land, didn’t they? Joshua led them in and they fought all those battles. But the text says that they never got the rest they were looking for. As a matter of fact, that was the point of David’s Psalm. The author here quotes from Psalm 95, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” David wrote that Psalm. And he lived some 4-500 years after Joshua, and he is saying, “Hey, you still need to enter God’s rest.”
So the author of this epistle is trying to lift their eyes up and help them realize that the OT promised land was not the full realization of God’s promise. There was something more. And that’s where verse 4 comes in.
Verse 4 points us to the perfection of God’s rest. It says, “For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” Then in the next verse he says, “They shall not enter my rest.” In other words, it is God’s rest. It is the rest that he possesses. It is the rest that he himself enjoys.
So the author is pointing everyone’s attention to the fullest possible rest that can ever be experienced.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about what happened there on that 7th day of creation and considered the kind of rest that God enjoyed. You know, it wasn’t like God pulled up a lawn chair and sat back with a lemonade thinking, “Whew. That was a long week. I’m tired. I need a rest.”
That’s not right. God doesn’t grow weary or need physical rest like we do. God’s rest was of a different sort.
At the end of the creation week it says, “And God looked at all he had made and saw that it was very good.” There is a sense in which God was fully satisfied with all that had been made. The idea that leads into the seventh day was that God was perfectly content and overjoyed with his new world.
That is at the heart of God’s rest. And that is the kind of rest that is afforded to us in God’s promise of salvation. Our life of sin is one of complete restlessness. As Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee.” When we enter God’s rest, we enter into the world where there is no sin or sadness. There is only joy and you are perfectly satisfied.
So that is the point the author is trying to make. God has a rest in store for us. And it is a rest that is associated with the full realization of God’s saving plan. It is a rest that is analogous to God’s rest and the rest that characterizes the pre-fall world.
So you see, his point is that there is a rest that is yet to be obtained. And that brings us to our second point. Now that we understand something of the promise, we can talk about its possession.
II. Its possession
The author seeks to impress upon that this rest can only be ours through faith in the gospel. You might even say that this is his main purpose because it is stated so many times throughout this passage.
We can begin by looking at verse two. It says, “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”
That is repeated in verse 6 where it says that they failed to enter because of disobedience. Some of you will have the word disobedience translated as “unbelief.” The two translations are pretty much concurrent. Disobedience is just active unbelief.
This is, of course, talking about the good news that Joshua and Caleb preached to the people after having gone in and spied out the land. You remember that 10 men were sent to check out the Promised Land. When they came back, two of them had faith and gave a good report. They said, “Let’s go get it!” But everyone believed the 8 men who said that they were grasshoppers in comparison and they were sure to be destroyed.
The idea of Israel’s lack of faith is repeated again with the quotation of Psalm 95 in verse 7. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” A hard heart is simply the opposite of a soft, and believing heart. It’s just as we said last week, a hard heart is a heart that refuses to believe.
The point that the author is making though is that Israel’s great sin was unbelief. The reason they never entered the promised rest was because they never believed the gospel.
Then verse three states it positively. It says, “We who have believed enter that rest.”
So how do you obtain this rest? How do you come to possess it? It is simply by trusting the good news of the gospel.
And the opening and closing of the passage give you two marks of true faith. Real faith in God’s promise will be characterized by godly fear and striving to enter this rest. In other words, you faith will seek to ensure that this faith is a sound and steadfast faith.
So you see, the whole of this passage is seeking to emphasize how you can gain possession of this rest. And it all comes down to this one thing: believe God’s promise; believe in Jesus Christ and it is yours.
The best illustration I can give is of some of our children in our congregation. Your child will sometimes curl up in your arms and fall asleep. Why is that? It is because that child has faith in you, doesn’t he? He trusts that you will take care of him and has no doubt that in your arms there is perfect rest.
That is the argument that is being made here. He’s trying to impress upon his audience that Jesus Christ, by virtue of his dying on behalf of sinners, is the one who provides perfect rest.
But as you hear his call to possess this rest, do not miss out on the pattern of rest that he outlines.
III. Its pattern
Look at verse 9. It says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” You need to take note of this verse. Because the word rest in this verse is unique. It is different from all the other times rest is used in this passage. The word that is used most frequently is katapausis. But the word used here is the word sabbatismos. You’ll readily notice that it is a form of the word “Sabbath.” And this is a special form of that word. It literally means, “A Sabbath keeping.”
So, if you were to translate it literally, it would say, “There remains a Sabbath keeping for the people of God.” In other words, it is referencing the 4th commandment. The rest that we enter into by faith is shown by our continuing to uphold the 4th commandment.
And that fits with the rest of verse 10 too. For whoever entered God’s rest also rests from his works, as God did from his.
Now, a lot of people take this to be “resting from our sinful works.” But the rest from works is parallel to God’s works that he rested from. And God didn’t rest from sinful works. He rested from his good works of creation. That’s essentially what we are to do each Lord’s Day. Today we are to rest from our regular employments and such that we are doing for the glory of God so that we can worship and remember our God.
Understand why this fits into his argument. He’s appealing to these Jews, who would have been very much concerned with the keeping of the Sabbath. He’s saying, “Far from dispelling it, the rest that Christ affords gives us all the more reason to keep the Lord ’s Day holy.” We get to show the rest we have in the future right now by the way we rest on Sunday.
And really, when you look at Sunday like this, it keeps it from having that feeling of drudgery. You can really get down on Sunday and think it is a bunch of do’s and don’ts if you think of it just in terms of “sabath laws.” But remembering that this day is a foretaste of the rest to come gives it a whole new perspective and allows it to be something that is enjoyable.
The last thing I want to mention is simply the promise of this rest.
IV. Its promise
If you don’t catch anything today, catch this: God still offers the promise of rest. And That is reinforced with the quote of Psalm 95, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” This urges you to embrace God’s promise. You can’t miss the word “Today.” That impresses you with the urgency of embracing the promise. But it reminds you that the promise is available to you. God’s offer to you today is that you come to Christ and take part in the rest that he affords.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.