Teaching series from Hebrews

Entering God's Rest

Hebrews 4:1-16

Teaching t10575


This week, I want to elaborate on a theme that was mentioned last week—entering God’s rest. Last week in Heb.3, we learned that we can forfeit this blessing by responding to God’s voice with a hardened heart.  This week in Heb. 4, we learn more about what this rest is and how we can enter into it. 

What is this rest?                                                   

Let’s jump right into the passage (read 4:1-9).  What the heck is he talking about?  One thing is clear—he is saying that the blessing of God’s rest is available to us today.  He asserts this three times (4:1,6,9).  His point is that although the Old Testament spoke of two “rests,” it also clearly spoke of another future and greater rest that God’s people could enter into.  (TIMELINE)

There was the weekly Sabbath rest—rest from physical labor on Saturdays.  Gen.2:2,3 says that God rested after his creation of the earth—not because he was tired, but because he was finished with the work.  And the Israelites were invited to enter into God’s creative rest by not working on Saturdays and trusting that God would provide for them.  In a world of subsistence living (and the Wilderness), this was unheard of.  Yet as the Israelites expressed faith in their God in this way, it was a testimony to the other nations that their God was real and powerful and faithful to his people.

But this wasn’t the only rest God offered Israel in the Old Testament.  He also offered them the Promised Land and rest from their enemies.  He said he would go before them and defeat their enemies so that they could live securely in the land he had given them (Deut.12:9,10).  All they had to do was trust him and go into the land—and he would protect them so that they could settle in the land and live securely.  As we learned last week, the Exodus generation forfeited this rest because they refused to trust God’s promise by going into the land.  But the subsequent generation did trust God, and following Joshua they entered this rest.

But even this wasn’t the ultimate rest that God offered his people.  400 year later, with the Israelites living securely in the land, David in Ps.95 speaks of yet another rest that God’s people could enter.  This implies that a greater Joshua (Hebrew version of the Aramaic “Jesus”) would yet provide a greater rest—the rest of salvation that the Messiah would offer when he came.  Both of the previous rests pointed to/foreshadowed this Messianic rest.  Now Jesus the Messiah has come, and his rest of salvation is available to everyone who comes to him.

Jesus spoke of this rest in Matt.11:28-30 (read).  What a beautiful image!  He calls out to people who are weary from trying to pull loads that are too heavy for them.  He is obviously not speaking of physical loads—but rather the burden of living in this broken world by our own inadequate resources.  He says that he is able to pull this load because he is strong, and he invites us to get into his yoke by coming to him and learning from him.  If we will do this, we will experience rest for our souls—the wonderful blessing of his presence and power enabling us to pull this load.

F. B. Meyer describes this rest in this way: “To all of us Christ offers ‘rest,’ not in the (next) life only, but also in this life.  Rest from the weight of sin, from care and worry, from the load of daily anxiety and foreboding.  The rest that arrives from handing over all worries to Christ and receiving from Christ all we need.  Have (you) entered into that experience?”1

What a shame it would be to have this kind of rest offered to us—and not take advantage of it!  This raises the obvious question—how do we enter this rest?

How do we enter it?

The author has already told us that the key to entering God’s rest is faith—believing in his promise of provision (4:2,3).  But what does this faith look like?  The rest of chapter 4 answers this question.  4:10-13 explain the essential nature of this faith, and 4:14-16 explain the proper object of this faith.

4:10-13 explains faith’s essential nature.  Listen closely—this is the hardest part to get.

Read 4:10,11.  Faith involves both ceasing from your works and making every effort.  This sounds like a nonsensical paradox (e.g., Buddhist koan: “Think of the sound of one hand clapping”).  But this is not the case.  There is a sense in which biblical faith involves both passivity and effort.

It requires passivity in the sense that you stop depending on your own resources and depend instead on God’s resources.  Faith is saying: “I cannot do this—only God can do this.”  (EXAMPLE)

Yet it requires effort to choose to depend on God.  We instinctively rely on our own efforts and resources instead of on God’s.  This is the heart of what it means to be fallen.  So faith is counter-intuitive, a deliberate choice that is usually against our feelings and “wisdom.”  It was counter-intuitive for the Israelites to not work on Saturday when they didn’t have excess food.  It was counter-intuitive for the Israelites to go into a land full of strong enemies.

What convinces us that we need to stop trusting our own resources and instead depend upon God and his provision?  The answer is God’s Word (read 4:12,13).  Notice the “for” in 4:12.  When we read God’s Word or hear it shared/taught by others, God himself opens our eyes to see how desperately we need to depend upon his provision.  It reveals the discrepancy between what we have and what God wants us to have, it exposes the reason for this discrepancy (lack of faith), and it creates a healthy “tension” that motivates us to close that gap by depending on God. 

I think many of you experienced this effect of God’s Word last week as I shared what God says about a hardened heart.  Many of you realized (as I have many times) that you had forfeited God’s transforming presence in your life by saying “I don’t trust you” in a specific area.  It was God’s Word that searched your heart and exposed this and motivated you to cry out to God: “I have not been trusting you, God.  I have been calling you a liar.  I want to trust you again so I can be close to you.”  This was God’s Word exposing your need and motivating you to humbly entrust yourself to God.

Many of you are experiencing the same effect of God’s Word this morning as we hear what it says about God’s rest.  (I had the same experience this week as I studied for this teaching.)  Your heart is attracted to the rest that Jesus offers—and you realize that you don’t have this rest, and this means you aren’t relating properly to Jesus or you would have this rest.  This is what God’s Word does—it shows us lack of faith, and it points us to Jesus as the proper object of our faith...

Read 4:14-16.  The central idea is that Jesus is our High Priest, and that therefore personally depending on him is how we enter into God’s rest.  We will look more closely in the next few weeks at the Old Testament concept of priesthood and how Jesus fulfills it.  For now, it’s enough to know as our High Priest, Jesus is the One who through whom we receive God’s mercy and grace.

“Mercy” means not getting the punishment you do deserve.  When the policeman pulls you over for speeding and then lets you off with a warning, that’s mercy—he didn’t give you the fine you deserved.  “Grace” means getting the favor you don’t deserve.  If the policeman also fixed your leaky tire and gave you a sandwich and escorted you to your destination, that’s grace—he gave you help that you didn’t deserve.

The author is saying that you need both mercy and grace from God—and that God is offering you both mercy and grace through Jesus and Jesus alone.  This is God’s rest!

You need God’s mercy because you have violated his law countless times and you deserve his condemnation. 

You have no resources to get out of this predicament.  You can insist that you’re a good person or that God won’t judge you—but that is mere “magical thinking.”  You can rely on observing religious rituals or performing good deeds—but God says this can never get rid of your guilt. 

Your only hope for mercy is Jesus.  Only Jesus lived the perfect life that you owe to God, and only Jesus sacrificed himself up as a perfect payment for your guilt.  When you humbly admit your guilt to God and depend only on Jesus’ sacrifice, you will find mercy.  God will release you forever from the judgment you deserve.  No matter how many times you blow it after trusting Jesus’ sacrifice, you need never fear God’s judgment.  It is a wonderful “rest” to know that this problem is permanently resolved.  Have you entered God’s rest by doing this?  If not, why not do so today?

But through Jesus you receive more than God’s mercy—you can also receive his grace.  That is, you can receive God’s help that you don’t deserve. 

Now this is not getting God to help you do what you want and get what you want.  That turns you into God and it turns God into your butler.  This is the help that you need (but don’t deserve) in order to serve him and follow his will for your life (“throne”).  This is God’s help to overcome temptation, to have his love for other people, to receive his guidance for today, to comfort and encourage you when you are disheartened, to receive the wisdom and power to impact others with God’s presence, etc. 

This help is available to whenever you need it (which is always), and even though you never deserve it.  All you have to do is come to God through Jesus and ask him for it, believing that he is willing and able to give it you.  The more regularly you do this, the more you experience his undeserved help, and the more humbly confident you become that he will always help you.  This is entering God’s rest—and it is a life of peace and hope and even joy in the midst of life’s storms.  This rest is available to you—are you laying hold of it?

NEXT WEEK: more on Jesus’ High Priesthood...

1 Cited in Life Application Commentary on Hebrews, p.49