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Hebrews 4:1-13: Jesus' Rest is Better Print E-mail
Sunday, 16 October 2016

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We were created for rest. Our bodies are desperate for it and our minds need it as well. When God created us, He rested on the seventh day. God did not do this because He was tired from all of His work of creating the universe. He rested because His work was complete. We were created to rest as well. Of course, our need for rest greatly increased due to sin, but even before that we were created to rest. When God rescued His people out of Egypt He commanded them to rest on the seventh day, or the sabbath. They were to conclude each week with rest and worship, mirroring God’s rest after creation. Part of the promise for the Promised Land was a promise of rest from all of Israel’s surrounding enemies (see Deuteronomy 12:10, fulfilled in Joshua 21:43-45). The whole story of our redemption involves the theme of God giving rest to His people (as we will consider more fully tonight). We were created for it.

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The author of Hebrews picks up the theme of rest from Psalm 95. As we noted last week, the author is expositing Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:7-4:13. In the first part of his exposition he warns and encourages his readers to avoid the mistake of unbelief. David writes in the psalm about Moses’ generation and how they hardened their hearts and refused to enter the Promised Land. The author of Hebrews warns his readers against making that same mistake by forsaking their faith in Jesus. Instead they should take care and exhort one another every day. At the end of chapter three he notes that Moses’ generation failed to enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief. He picks up the argument in chapter 4 by continuing to comment on Psalm 95 and in particular the verse where God says: “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” The author encourages his readers to avoid this same judgment by entering God’s rest through persevering faith in Christ. He introduces the idea in verse 1. Look at that with me. In his exhortation to enter the rest of Christ, we see the nature of Jesus’ rest. How does the author describe it and how does that encourage us to enter it?

Jesus’ rest is good news

In the midst of his warnings, the author of Hebrews wants us see the goodness of Christ and His rest. Look at verse 2. What is the good news that came to Moses’ generation? God was going to give them the Promised Land. It was a beautiful and abundant place. He was going to drive out all their enemies and give them rest on every side. This was good news indeed. Yet, because of their unbelief, they failed to obtain it. They did not believe in God’s promise and they did not enter their rest.

What is the good news that has come to us? God sent Jesus to take on flesh and live a perfect life in our place. Jesus obeyed the Father in every way, including laying down His life for our sins at the cross. The Father raised Him up on the third day and everyone who turns from their sins and believes in Him are promised everlasting life, which includes everlasting rest. This is good news indeed! God promised the wilderness generation rest but they failed to enter it because of unbelief. They missed out on the good news. What about you? Have you missed out on the good news because of unbelief? Will you turn from your sins and trust in Christ today, thereby entering His everlasting rest?

Jesus’ rest is already, but not yet

The author wants his readers to understand that God’s promise of rest still stands today. Moses’ generation missed it because of unbelief, but the promise still stands. Look at verses 3-5. The author writes in verse 1: the promise of entering his rest still stands. He is now demonstrating this by again quoting Psalm 95 and pointing to the enduring nature of rest since the time of creation. David was writing hundreds of years after the wilderness generation. He was also writing after God had given the people of Israel the Promised Land. Yet, he applies the promise of rest to his generation and tells them not to harden their hearts like their forefathers did. The author of Hebrews is saying that the promise of rest still stands in His day. If they will believe and persevere in their faith, then they will enter that rest.

Thus, we see that God’s promise of rest is ongoing. It was for the people of Israel, but that first generation failed to obtain because of unbelief. Even though they eventually did get the land, David recognizes the continued importance of belief for entering God’s rest even after that. In the same way, the author of Hebrews points to the promise of rest in His day through persevering faith in Jesus. For those who have truly believed in Christ, they enter that rest. Jesus speaks of coming to Him and finding rest for our souls. Thus, we are in one sense already enjoying the rest of Jesus. Yet, we are not yet enjoying it fully. We are awaiting that Final Day when the opportunity to enter the rest will be no more for the rest will have finally come. The emphasis in this passage seems to be on the promise of future rest through persevering faith in Christ.

Jesus’ rest is a Sabbath celebration

Verses 3-5 argue that the promise of God’s rest is still available, since it is tied to God’s rest after creation. The author continues that line of thought in verses 6-10. Look at those with me. Perhaps there were those among these Jews who felt like they already had what they needed from the Lord. God promised them the land, Joshua delivered on that promise, so they didn’t really have a need for any future promise of rest. The author of Hebrews responds: ‘Yes, but even David knew there was a future rest promised by God. The work of Joshua was great and the rest he gave was great, but Jesus’ rest is better. The ultimate promise of rest is found in Him.’

And what type of rest will Jesus bring? The author describes it as a Sabbath rest for the people of God and compares it to the rest that God had on the seventh day. What does he mean by this? First, the Sabbath rest of God was a rest of completion. God rested when His work of creation was complete. There will come a day when all who have trusted in Christ will rest from their works. John describes that day: And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors…” (Revelation 14:13). A future rest from all our labors is promised through Christ. It will be a rest of completion, like that of the Lord’s on the seventh day. Second, the Sabbath rest of God was a rest of celebration. Over and over Moses tells us that what God created was good (see Genesis 1-2). His works praised His Name. When the Lord gave Israel commands concerning their Sabbath Day of rest, it was to be a day of rejoicing. Many of the feasts of Israel involved days of rejoicing. Even the word itself could be translated ‘Sabbath celebration.’

When you put all of this together, we see an amazing picture of Jesus’ rest. It is good news because it means deliverance from all of our enemies, namely sin, Satan, and death. It is a reality that we can currently enjoy in this life even as we look forward to its future consummation. And it is a rest that will be free from labor and full of joy and celebration. Don’t you want to be a part of this rest? Don’t you want to enjoy such rest forever? This begs the question: how can we enter the rest of Jesus?

Jesus’ rest is entered through persevering faith

The main point of the author’s exposition of Psalm 95 is to encourage his readers and us to persevere in our faith in Jesus. He gives us the example of Moses’ generation to warn us about the error of unbelief. He repeatedly quotes God’s oath to them that they will not enter His rest. He wants us to feel the weight of what we are discussing. Sometimes we take the things of God too lightly. Sometimes we act like persevering faith is optional. Sometimes we are just too busy or distracted to pay attention at all.

In order to confront this, the author of Hebrews paints us a vivid warning. Imagine you are standing on the edge of the river Jordan, the one that marked the boundary of the Promised Land for Israel. The author of Hebrews points behind you to the wilderness and when you turn, all you see is bodies lying in the sand. A whole generation of bodies being consumed by the desert heat. And the author whispers in your ear: ‘This is where unbelief will lead you. They claimed to believe in God but they did not persevere. They did not obey.’ But then he points you over the Jordan. And on the other side you see a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of beauty and abundance. You can hear the singing and the laughter and it is the sweetest sound you have ever heard. And even though the path seems narrow and the river a bit wide, you hear Jesus call to you from the other side: ‘Come to me and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy and my burden is light. The price for your sins has been fully paid in my blood. Do not turn back, only believe.’ Which will you choose?

The author closes this argument with a final appeal. Look at verse 11. He started these comments by encouraging them to fear lest they fail to enter God’s rest. Here he tells them to strive to enter that rest. He does not want them to make the mistake of unbelief, the mistake that left their forefathers dead in the wilderness. They need a holy fear. They need to be sobered by their mistake. They need to forsake the idea of abandoning their faith in Christ. They need to be moved by the Sword of the Spirit. Look at verses 12-13. The author has been commenting on God’s Word. His exposition of Psalm 95 should not be easily dismissed. For the Word is living and active, it is not dead or dormant. It is able to cut through all of our lies and all of our self-deceptions. It lays us bare before our Creator. He is not fooled by any of our excuses.

The author of Hebrews brings Psalm 95 to bear on his readers. Each week it is my hope to bring the Word of God to bear on our hearts so that we might learn the truth and persevere in the faith. Psalm 95 (and the author’s comments on it) leaves us desperate for Christ, desperate for persevering faith, desperate to avoid unbelief. It exposes us and drives us to our need for a Savior. It doesn’t just show us Christ (although it gloriously does that), it shows us our need for Him. He is our faithful High Priest (as we have seen and will continue to see next week). He is our Joshua, the One who is leading us to the Promised Land. The rest that He provides is nothing short of the Sabbath rest of God. So brothers and sisters, strive to enter that rest through faith in Him! Amen. 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 02 November 2016 )

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