Hebrews 4:1-11 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 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. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, 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. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
We’ve just come off of several weeks calling on us to do various good, but hard things for the glory of God (missions, voting, and caring for vulnerable children). We’re still sifting through the presidential and senatorial wreckage of the election. In two weeks we begin advent which, for many, is the busiest, most hectic time of the year. What’s more, as you know full-well, for the better part of the last year we’ve been living in a time of exceptional uncertainty, fear, difficulty, isolation, division, and vulnerability. In other words, many of us are weary in fairly unprecedented ways. For all of those reasons (and, I’m sure, many more for each of us on a personal level), it seems good to me to preach on the biblical understanding of and call to rest.
In simplest terms, to rest means to abstain and recover from (mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual) work; to be replenished (in any or all of these ways); to be unproductive; to be at peace. Who doesn’t need a bit of that right now?! The bible has a good deal to say about rest. It is my aim in this sermon to highlight the most important aspects of its teaching and their implications for us. Specifically, the biblical keys for us to see are that God rested, God made us to need rest, God commanded us to rest, physical rest points to spiritual rest, and true rest is only found in Christ. And the biblical key for us to do is to rest; in every part of our being, rest; in Jesus, recover, be replenished, be at peace, rest. Let us pray, then, that we would all understand and find physical and spiritual rest in Jesus.
REST IN THE BIBLE
As I mentioned in the introduction, there are five keys to getting our heads around the bible’s teaching on rest. The first, and perhaps most surprising, is that God Himself rested. A biblical understanding of rest begins with the first person and place rest is found—God in the first pages of Genesis.
God Rested Even though He didn’t Need To
Before we get there, however, let’s be clear on something: God is omnipotent; all powerful. He has unlimited energy that never gets depleted. In other words God never had, has or will have a need for rest.
Isaiah 40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary
Jeremiah 32:17 ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.
Psalm 121:4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
And yet, even though God does not need rest, the bible says He rested. As we saw in Genesis,
Genesis 2:2-3 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
If God didn’t need to rest, but did anyway, it makes sense for us to ask why. Why did God rest on the seventh day? Some have suggested that it simply meant that God ceased working (not that He was tired). Of course in once sense that’s true. God did cease from His original created work on the seventh day. And yet, even then we know that God did not, indeed could not, truly cease from work for God is continually working to keep all things together and work all things according to the council of His will.
God’s Genesis 2 rest, then, was a symbolic day of rest done to model rest for His people and build a rhythm of work and rest into the fabric of creation. It’s sort of like the parent who lies down next to the child who desperately needs sleep, but is having a hard time accepting it. The parent isn’t tired. The parent doesn’t need rest (at that point anyway). In fact, usually parents have a lot to do. But we love our kids and want to be present with them and an example to them and so we lay down with them.
Grace, hear this: Rest is so important to God that even though He didn’t need it, He did it for us. Let that be a strong encouragement to lean into the rest of this sermon. Rest for His people matters a great deal to God. The rest of this sermon is meant to further unpack why it matters so much to God and what He means us to do about it.
God Made Us to Need Rest
The second key to understanding the bible’s teaching on rest and one of the first reasons our rest matters so much to God is that God made us with the need for rest. We are, by God’s good design, finite creatures. Unlike God we do not have limitless energy. We need recharging and replenishing. God could have made us without the need to rest, but He didn’t. Therefore, as Psalm 127 says, acting as if we don’t need rest is both a fool’s errand and a sure way to miss out on a particular expression of the love of God.
Psalm 127:2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil [it is in vain that you do not rest]; for [God] gives to his beloved sleep.
As we saw in Genesis, God made us to work. The very Garden story (even before the Fall) is a story of work. Among God’s very first commands to His creatures was to work the ground and make it bear fruit. Though sin has made it harder (Genesis 3), the necessity and rightness of work did not change (2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Colossians 3:23).
In other words, God made us to subdue the wilderness of this world and make it civilized and productive. He made us to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth. He made us to imitate Him in His creative work, to make the world beautiful. God made us to do these things in the strength that He supplies, to make the world flourish and therein to display His glory. Our work shows God’s goodness. But, again, to work well requires resting well.
Rightly understood, then, this understanding of work and rest combats both laziness and craziness. It combats the myths that (1) our main purpose on earth is leisure and (2) that we are like God in our energy levels. Of these things on pastor writes,
“Since God rested after his creation, we must also rest after ours. This rhythm of work and rest is not only for believers; it is for everyone, as part of our created nature. Overwork or underwork violates that nature and leads to breakdown. To rest is actually a way to enjoy and honor the goodness of God’s creation and our own. To violate the rhythm of work and rest (in either direction) leads to chaos in our life and in the world around us” (Keller, Every Good Endeavor).
Resist the urge, then, to rebel against the created order. Resist the urge to seek continual ease or continual effort. Work and rest earnestly. Grace, don’t be lazy, but don’t be a workaholic either. Go to sleep. Take a break. Commit to being intentionally unproductive at times. Take a vacation. Say no to good work for the sake of better work. Listen to music without doing anything else at the same time. Like the Israelites, make your meals the day before or, like Americans, go out to eat. Take a walk and let your mind be at ease while you do. Take a nap. Read a good novel. Be quiet. Be still. And help others do these things as well. Parents, teach this to your kids. Kids, give your parents a break. Husbands and wives, fight for this for your spouse. Fathers, make room for your wife to rest. Empty nesters, offer to babysit for the young families. By God’s good design, we need these things. Our bodies and minds need rest and it is always detrimental to us to deprive them of it.
Because we are finite, because of what it means to be human, we need rest. For deeper reasons still, though, God not only created our need for rest, He also commands rest.
God Commands His People to Rest
We are commanded to work, but we are also commanded to rest. There is some work to be done to explain the relationship between the OT and NT, to explain the relationship between OT commands and the NT Church’s application of them, but I invite you to note the Sabbath commands of God and the fact that they are rooted in the very created order (before sin, before the Israelites were called as a people, and before the Law itself). Again, although the Sabbath was given as a part of the Ten Commandments to the children of Abraham, it is rooted in things that preceded both. We find it in Exodus 20.
Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
To an agrarian society especially, to a society that was entirely dependent on their ability to produce, this was a significant command indeed. One day in seven God commanded His people—even if they didn’t feel like it and even if it seemed a treat to their livelihood—to do no work, to stop producing, to rest. Of this the same pastor writes,
“Anyone who cannot obey God’s command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you if you don’t have the ability to be disciplined in your practice of Sabbath. Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom. It means you are not a slave—not to your culture’s expectations, your family’s hopes, your medical school’s demands, not even to your own insecurities” (Keller, Every Good Endeavor).
The fact that there is always more to do—often things that seem essential—means that to obey requires a deep trust in God; trust that God knows what He is talking about, that the world is His to manage (Mathew 6:25-34), and above all that He (not us) is our ultimate provider.
Practically, Grace, carve out a regular time to obey God’s command to rest. Build rest into the rhythm of your life and family. Don’t let things build unto you’re ready to snap. By God’s command have a consistent rest-outlet.
Among other things God’s command to rest, coupled with His forming us to need rest, mean that rest is good and, as counterintuitive as it may seem at times, is designed to make us more productive. The fact that we need rest means that we cannot go long without it without some kind of significant physical distress. And the fact that we’re commanded by God to rest means that we must rest even when we don’t necessarily feel like it. To rebel against our need for rest leads to exhaustion. And to rebel against God’s command to rest leads to broken fellowship with God. Above all, and don’t miss this, Grace, our need and God’s command for physical rest actually point us to something much deeper: our need for spiritual rest; and that’s the next key to understanding what God’s word says about rest.
Physical Rest Points to Spiritual Rest
Like so much of God’s physical creation and so many of God’s commands, the physical is meant to point to the spiritual. The visible is meant to explain the invisible. The horizontal is meant to create categories for the vertical. In other words, physical rest is a gift of God intended to help us understand spiritual rest. Rightly resting from physical work, is a reminder of the fact that our salvation comes from rest—the Great News of Christianity! We do not—indeed, cannot—work our way into God’s favor. God’s favor comes only when we rest in Him.
Hints of this are found in the Deuteronomy account of the giving of the Ten Commandments. The beginning is basically the same as the Exodus passage we read earlier, but in Deuteronomy there’s another verse that helps us to see that the Sabbath was never mainly about physical rest. Listen to Deuteronomy 5:15 and ask yourself why God might have put this extra clause in there.
Deuteronomy 5:15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
When Israel observed the Sabbath, they were commanded to remember that their ability to rest was tied to God’s ability to rescue. Israel’s rest and Israel’s salvation were inseparably linked. True rest is not possible in captivity. Rest requires freedom and for Adam’s children freedom requires salvation.
Thus, what was hinted at in the OT is made clear in the NT. In Matthew 11 our Lord Jesus Christ proclaims…
Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Way back at the beginning of this sermon I noted that God didn’t need rest, but rested anyway to demonstrate its importance to His people. I also noted that God created us to need rest and commanded it. To all of this we were right to ask why. Earlier I highlighted the bible’s earthly, physical answers. What we learn here, however, is that God modeled, created, and commanded rest for His people ultimately (as He so often does) in order to teach us about a greater spiritual reality. God modeled, created, and commanded physical rest for His people, then, in order to give us the category of our far, far greater need for spiritual rest. Physical rest matters, soul rest, Jesus said, matters infinitely and eternally more.
Having inherited a corrupted, sinful nature from our first parents, and having continually sinned against God, all mankind is born into a state of perpetual, spiritual slavery and restlessness. Throughout history we have tried to overcome that with all kinds of work. Recognizing our enmity with God (Romans), from the tower of Babel, to the fashioning of intricate idols and massive temples, to extensive sacrifices, to religious pilgrimages, to self-mutilation and depravation, to holy wars, to … mankind has worked and worked and worked to get right with God. And for many, many years God allowed that futile work to continue in order to help us understand that it was impossible in our work. No kind or amount of work on our part can bring the kind of rest in the presence of God that we so desperately seek and need. And that leads to our final point: true rest, soul rest, is found in Jesus; not as one option of many, but exclusively.
True Rest Is Found Only in Jesus
The deepest rest, the most essential kind of rest, spiritual rest, is not found in circumstances. It’s not found in people. It’s not found in health. It’s not found in being a good person. It’s not found in the gods. It is not found in religions. It’s found fully and only in Jesus Christ.
Grace, true rest is just another way of talking about salvation. Therefore, the apostle Paul proclaims,
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Romans 9:16 So then [salvation/rest in God] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
It is not our work that gives us spiritual rest and salvation. It is our rest in the work of Jesus. And the heart of this rest is peace with God.
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We begin to taste this peace, this salvation, this rest, in this life by grace through faith—and even the beginning of a taste of Jesus’ rest is beyond anything this world has to offer—but we can only fully experience it in the new heavens and earth. There is always sin in this life and sin always means weariness—physical, emotional, and spiritual.
We see glimpses of that in the first pages of Genesis where the seventh day, the Sabbath, the day of rest, has no day and night. Most scholars (and this pastor) believe that points to the eternal rest that is ours in Jesus.
Again, what the OT hints at and implies, the NT makes clear and explicit. In closing, then, consider with me three observations from our passage for this morning, Hebrews 4:1-11.
Hebrews 4:1-11 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 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. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, 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. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
First, please note the word “fear” in v.1. The hearers of Hebrews are called to fear something; namely, not entering into the promised rest of God in Jesus. This means that soul rest, spiritual rest, is not guaranteed for everyone. Not everyone will enter into this kind of rest. Not everyone will rest in peace. As we saw earlier, true rest is exclusively for those who hope in the work of Jesus; who are “united by faith” in Jesus’ work on the cross on our behalf as v.2 says; who have believed in Jesus as v.3 says.
Second, once again, we see that this eternal rest, this spiritual rest, this peace with God, was a hidden promise of the fourth commandment (v.4). True Sabbath, true rest in God, is everlasting salvation in the work of Jesus.
And third, learning from those who hardened their heart and put off hoping in God, we must recognize the urgency of resting in Jesus. “Today, if you hear his voice [if you have ears to hear the gospel], do not harden your hearts,” v.7 says. Grace, do not wait to find rest in God through faith in Jesus.
In this life, peace in Jesus means knowing that we are right with God, that our sins are forgiven, it means being filled with the Holy Spirit, it means having the promise of God that in Jesus all things are always working for our good, it means being given promises sufficient for every hardship and joy, it means knowing that as God’s children nothing can separate us from God’s love, and it means knowing that there is nothing to fear at all.
In the next life, peace in Jesus means everlasting face-to-face fellowship with God, it means every hardship will be taken away, it means every need immediately and perpetually met, it means nothing but unending, increasing joy in God, it means uninterrupted fellowship with all the saints, angels, and persons of the godhead, Father, Son, and Spirit, and it means living forever in a world in which every effect of sin in us and around us is gone forever and ever and ever. That’s rest!
God rested as an example and pattern for His people, God designed and commanded us to need physical rest, our need and God’s commands for physical rest were always meant to point to a greater, more essential rest—spiritual rest, salvation, and true rest is only, but certainly found in Jesus beginning when we first hope in Him and most fully when we go to be with Him in heaven.
Hints and offers of all of this abound throughout the bible. All of them, however, are only made clear and true in Jesus. Therefore, rest, Grace. Rest your bodies in the many ways God has given. But more importantly, rest your souls in Jesus. Find peace with God, in this life and most fully in the next, through faith.