Rest is one of the most soothing words in the English language. Could there be anything more appealing than rest in this world of turmoil and hustle-and-bustle? And rest is the main theme of Hebrews 4:1–11, this morning's passage. It's mentioned eleven times in eleven verses.
Hebrews 4 follows straight on from Hebrews 3. Remember that the writer is pointing us to the Israelites of Moses' generation. Sadly, they did not trust the Lord. They hardened their hearts. They missed out on rest. They died in the desert instead of entering God's rest in Canaan.
There's a sense in which as soon as we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we enter into rest. See Matthew 11:28–30. We come to Christ and He gives us rest! He takes our weariness, our burden, our heaviness, our sin; He takes it away and He gives us rest.
However, we don't yet have complete rest. In this life our souls are still troubled at times. Our rest is disturbed. But there's a greater rest which is in store for us. It's waiting for us in heaven. And it's that future aspect which is dominant in the mind of the writer.
Let's trace this through our passage. Remember that the Israelites of Moses' generation were not allowed to enter God's rest because of their unbelief. So v1–2 start off by asserting that there is still rest in store for God's people. The Israelites of Moses' day may have missed out. But there is still rest available.
v3–5 then point us back to creation to show us something of what that rest is like. It's the rest which God entered into when he'd finished creating the world.
Then, in v6–8, the writer anticipates an objection. "What about Joshua? Joshua led the next generation of the Israelites into the Promised Land. He gave them rest. So is there really a rest for us today? Hasn't Joshua fulfilled the promise?" "No," replies the writer. "In Psalm 95, David spoke of a rest still being available years after Joshua lived. Joshua can't have fully fulfilled the promise of rest. The promise still remains."
So in v9–10, this is what the writer concludes. There is a rest for God's people. It's like the rest of the Sabbath day. It's like God's rest when he'd completed His work of creation. And then, characteristically, the writer challenges his readers again in v11. There is a rest on offer, so make sure you get it!
There is, then, a rest on offer for God's people today. It's like God's rest after he had created the world, like the rest of the Sabbath day. So, more precisely, what is God's rest like?
Hebrews 4 points us back to Genesis 1–2. v4 quotes Genesis 2:2. God took six days to create the world, and then on the seventh day (which for the Israelites became the Sabbath), he rested. That does not mean, however, that he is now inactive. John 5:17 proves that. And it's was the same for the Israelites on the Sabbath. They rested. But they didn't do nothing all day, just as we don't do nothing [two genuine double negatives here] on the Lord's Day. The rest in store for us would be dreadful if it were simply an eternity of inactivity.
No. God's rest is the rest of completion, satisfaction and contentment. At the end of the six days of creation, God had created everything. He'd finished his work. Therefore he rested from all his work. He entered into a kind of Sabbath-rest. It's the rest of completion, the rest of satisfaction in a job well done, the rest of contentment as God saw everything he'd made and saw that it was very good. And that's what the rest in front of us Christians is going to be like. We will inherit God's rest. It's the rest of having completed your work. It's the rest of satisfaction in a job well done, not by yourself, but by God. It's the rest of contentment in all the Lord has done.
And that's glorious! Christian, you will be liberated from all the trials and pressures of your life now. Aren't there so many of them? Scarcely a day goes by without something difficult to face. But you'll be freed from all your toiling, all your tribulations. You'll rest from everything which wears you out. You'll be perfectly satisfied in your God, worshipping him beautifully without hindrance, serving your Saviour joyfully in His very presence. You'll be totally content, and there will be nothing at all which will chip away at that contentment. It will last for ever.
ii So what?
v1 and v11 sandwich Hebrews 4:1–11, holding the whole passage together. The writer's heart is yearning for his readers, longing that none of them miss out on God's rest. And people do miss out on God's rest. Look at the Israelites in v2. There was a message for them. They heard it. But they did not believe it and they lost everything. Go and rake around in the desert near Mount Sinai. Dig up their bones. And see how useless they made the message.
Similarly there is a message for us today: Christ died to save sinners. The message needs to be heard: and Christians must make it heard. But then the message needs to be believed. Do you believe it? There's no other way for you to be saved.
So in v1 and v11, the writer pleads with us not to miss out. "Let us fear lest any of you be judged to have fallen short of God's rest," he says. "Make every effort to keep going!" He does not want even one of them to falls short. And there are practical implications for us.
Firstly, as a Christian here at Carey, look out for every other Christian here. We're in a dangerous situation. We're in a spiritual battle. Therefore we need to look out for one another. If someone seems to be drifting spiritually, you should help him. If someone seems to be backsliding, you should get alongside her. Fear lest any of us is found to have fallen short of God's rest. Don't be afraid to ask a challenging question or two. Don't be afraid to challenge others. Don't be afraid to take a challenge yourself. Are you doing that? In the church, the many are responsible for the one. How well are you fulfilling your responsibility?
Secondly, examine yourself. Tonight, when you're looking at yourself in the mirror brushing your teeth, have a look at what you're like on the inside too. Can you see any hardness of heart developing? Can you detect any cooling off towards the Lord? Can you sense a lack of willingness to trust or to obey the Lord? Have a long, hard look at yourself. Examine yourself, and if you need to repent and to come back to the Lord, do it! "Let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of [God's rest]." "Let us … make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience."