THE SABBATH REST OF GOD

HEBREWS 4:1-13

"You made us for Yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you." (Augustine, Confessions).

If there is one attribute that characterizes the world today, it can be summarized in the one word RESTLESSNESS. Our society today is made up of people in a constant state of agitation and unrest. It is like the man who jumped on his horse and galloped off madly in all directions. We need only to pick up a newspaper to find the evidence of the great unrest in the world today.

And yet, we need not remain in this state of restlessness. God has offered us a place of peace. He has for us a rest into which we can enter.

 

COMING SHORT OF GODíS REST

Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you would seem to come short of it. (Hebrews 4:1).

The writer to the Hebrews begins this section with a warning. The warning begins with the word "therefore" and takes us back to the previous chapter. It was there that we saw the example of the Israelites who died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. And because of their example, we are now given a warning. It is a warning against failing to enter the "rest" of God.

Now I want to ask you a question. What is this "rest of God?" Some Bible teachers have said that it is some mysterious level of spirituality to which we must attain. But I would suggest that spirituality is not an issue in this passage. The problem that these Hebrew Christians were experiencing was that of turning away from Jesus to return to their Jewish ceremonies and sacrifices.

This gives us a clue to the meaning of the "rest of God." It is the salvation rest that comes through Jesus Christ.

The Jewish religious system was one of continual work. It had continual sacrifices. It had continual observances, It had continual Sabbaths and ceremonies. And none of these aspects were ever completed. Each one had to be repeated on a regular basis.

But the work of Jesus Christ is a finished work. He accomplished the work of our salvation on the cross and then He said, "It is finished." After He rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. The work has been finished. And we can enter into that finished work. We can enter into that rest. How is this accomplished? It is very simple:

The Gospel + Faith = Rest

Do you ever have doubts as to your relationship with Jesus Christ, questioning the reality of your faith in Him? Of course you do! And that is not in itself a bad thing. I am not speaking of questioning whether God is faithful to His word, but rather a questioning of our own commitment to Him. The writer of this epistle says that it is okay to ask such questions. Indeed, he says that you ought to be FEARFUL of not entering into the rest that God provides.

The problem with failing to enter into that rest is that it is so available. Notice that a promise remains of entering His rest. It would be one thing to ignore the rest of God if we werenít certain that it existed. But having been assured by God that such a rest is available, it is foolish for us to neglect it.

 

FAITH - THE KEY TO ENTERING INTO GODíS REST

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.

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," although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. (Hebrews 4:2-3).

Here is a promise. It is that we can enter the rest of God. This is what the cross is all about. It is known to us as the "good news" ó the gospel.

This same message was proclaimed to the children of Israel who came out of Egypt. They were told that there was a place of rest that God had prepared for them. They only needed to do one thing to enter that place of rest. They had to BELIEVE.

  1. The Negative Result of Unbelief: But the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard (4:2)..
  2. The "they" of this verse refers back to the last chapter. It speaks of the children of Israel in the wilderness. The Israelites who followed Moses out of Egypt failed the test. They came short of entering into the rest of God. They were told that they could enter the land of Canaan and that God would give it to them. They need only believe the promise of God.

    But they did not believe. They called God a liar. They said that He was not big enough to take the land for them. They said that the giants who were in the land were too big for God to handle.

    Donít miss this! They heard the promises of God. They heard the word of God. But they did not believe it. And because they did not believe it, they did not benefit from the promise.

    The Example of Israel in the Wilderness

    The Application to the Church Today

    They heard the word.

    We have heard the word.

    Faith was required in order to enter into the Promised Land.

    Faith is required in order to receive eternal life and enter heaven.

    Israel did not believe and did not enter in.

    What will you do?

    It is not enough to hear the word. The Israelites in the wilderness heard the word. They were given the Law straight from Mount Sinai. But the word did them absolutely no good because their hearing was not mixed with faith.

    There is an application here for you. You might hear the message of the gospel. You might be persuaded that it is a wonderful message. You might come and join the church and pray a nice prayer. But unless your hearing is united with faith, then it will not help you.

  3. The Positive Result of Faith: For we who have believed enter that rest (4:3).

Notice the two tenses which are used. We who have believed (aorist tense) enter (present tense) that rest. When you believed in Christ, you entered into a process. It is a process which is still continuing. You began that process and you are continuing in that process. It is the process of entering into Godís rest.

This is an amazing truth. To enter into and to partake of the rest of God takes faith. Not good deed. Not works. Not church attendance. Not tithing. These things are all self accomplished. But faith is a dependence upon the work of another. Christ has already worked on our behalf. He did His work for us on the cross. By trusting in that work, we continually experience the process of enjoying His rest.

 

THE PROMISE OF THE SABBATH REST

For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; 5 and again in this passage, "They shall not enter My rest."

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 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."

For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. (Hebrews 4:4-8).

This concept of a Sabbath rest did not originate with the Mosaic Law. It goes all the way back to the beginning of history. It goes back to creation. It goes back to the seventh day of creation.

You remember the narrative. As each of the six days of creation are recorded, we continually read that "God said" such and such and then He created and made that which He had ordained. As we come to the beginning of Genesis 2, there is a change.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. Any by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Genesis 2:1-3).

We are usually in the habit of thinking of the sixth day as the crown and the climax of Godís creation. That was the day in which He created man. But God did not bless the sixth day. He did not sanctify the sixth day. It was the seventh day that He declared to be special. This was the day of His rest.

Adam and the woman would have been a part of that Sabbath rest in the garden. They enjoyed the finished work of God. They were partakers of the rest of God. But they threw it all away when they sinned. When sin came...

And so, another work had to be accomplished. It was the work of Christ on the cross. It was a work that was done on our behalf. And by trusting in that work, we can now come back into Godís rest.

In verse 6 we read that those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience.

This points to the fact that there have been those who heard the message of Godís rest and who failed to enter into that rest. They failed to enter in because of disobedience. They were the children of Israel who sinned in the wilderness. They were the ones who heard the pessimistic report of the spies who had searched out the land and who said that it was a strong land inhabited by giants. They did not believe that God was strong enough to conquer the giants in the land. And so, they rebelled against God. They decided to return to Egypt. They decided to return to their former slavery. And they turned their back on the rest of God.

I donít want you to miss what is happening here. This is addressed to Jewish Christians who are in danger of repeating the mistakes of their forefathers. They have left the bondage of their sin. They have been promised a place of eternal rest. The work of God has been accomplished on their behalf. But before they can enter into that land of rest, they must trust God as they face the giants.

The giants that the Hebrew Christians are facing is a period of intense persecution. They are being tempted to forsake Christ and to return to the bondage of their Judaism. To do this will be a disobedience of the same sort that condemned their forefathers to die in the wilderness.

 

A SABBATH REST REMAINS TODAY

There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10).

There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. This is a promise for you today. You can enter into that rest which is promised.

We have already seen how this rest is similar to the rest that was promised to the children of Israel in the wilderness.

The Rest Promised in the Wilderness

The Rest Promised Today

Israel had formerly been in bondage in Egypt

You were formerly enslaved to sin.

Israel was delivered from Egypt through the plagues and the Passover

Christ delivered us from sin by becoming our Passover Lamb.

Israel was faced with the threat of giants in the land.

The church is faced with the problem of persecution.

Israel was commanded to trust God and to enter into the land.

You have been commanded to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having noted these similarities, we should also note that the rest of God is similar to the rest which God Himself experienced after His work of creation.

You remember the account. Genesis 1 tells us of how God created the heavens and the earth in six days. On the seventh day He rested. It was not because He was tired. It was because the work of creation was finished. There was nothing else which remained to be done.

Creation Rest

Canaan Rest

Continued Rest

Provided for God at Creation

Israel did not enter in

A rest remains for us

A rest for God

Physical rest

Spiritual rest

God finished the work of Creation

They lost their rest and died in the wilderness

Christ finished the work of salvation for us

God promised a further rest

They did not believe God

We can enter in through faith.

Have you been trying to win Godís favor through your own efforts? You need to know that there is a place of rest for you. Have you been trying to work up enough good works to earn your salvation? There is a place of rest for you. Have you been trying to put those problem sins from your life so that God will not judge you for them? There is a place of rest for you.

The place of rest is in Christ. It involves trusting in the perfect work that He accomplished on the cross. You cannot add to that work. You cannot make it any better than it already is. You can only trust in Him. You can only rest from your own futile works and trust in the work that He has done on your behalf.

 

A CALL TO ENTER THE REST

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience.

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.

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. (Hebrews 4:11-13).

This is the climax of this chapter. Everything the writer has said has been building up to this point. It is a warning. The warning is against doing what the Israelites did in the wilderness. It is a warning against following their example. It is a warning against failing to enter into the rest of God. There are three reasons that this is so important.

  1. It is important because it is possible for one to fall by following the Israelites in their example of disobedience (4:11).
  2. It is important because the Word of God is alive and powerful and is able to judge the heart. It will make the determination as to whether you are really a believer or not and you will be judged on that basis (4:12).
  3. It is important because there is no creature hidden from the sight of God. He sees your every action and your every thought and He will judge accordingly (4:13).

Have you entered the rest of God? Have you placed your faith in Christ? I cannot see inside your heart. I cannot tell if a true conversion has taken place. But the word of God is able to do just that. And there is coming a day when the God who sees all things will pass judgment. There will be only one place of safety. It will be that place of rest. It will be in Christ.