Homiletical Idea: Let us strive to enter the rest of God
Good morning church! I again have the privilege of bringing you this morning’s sermon. You may remember that over the last two weeks Tom and I have begun to preach through the book of Hebrews, today we will continue to look at the this quite profound book.
Have you ever had a really restful vacation planned, a trip where you would get away from the toils of daily life, and then found it, for one reason or another, fall apart and never happen?
I unfortunately experienced this at the end of last summer. Before heading back here for school I had planned to go on a 3 day hike up in the Rockies with some friends of mine. The night before we were to go we were all getting ready and one of my friends ended up falling down some stairs and as a result, we ended up cancelling the trip!
I was quite disappointed, I had had been working all summer, so I was looking forward to the time of rest away from the city, it would also have been a good time with some close friends. Our trip fell apart before it even began because of an accident, but there have been other times where a trip of mine has fallen apart because something vital was forgotten at home, or someone did something stupid and we had to call it off.
Have you ever had a similar experience?
The ancient Israelites did. Early in the Old Testament, in the book of Numbers, we read a sad story about the nation of Israel.
Israel had been delivered from slavery in the land of Egypt and had entered into a profound relationship with God. God had conveyed upon them the privilege of being His chosen people, a people that would share a unique relationship with Him.
He pledged to be their God and they pledged to be His people. This all took place at Mt. Sinai where God entered into a covenant, which is basically a relationship established or confirmed by a formal agreement, promising to be their God and they promising to be His people.
After this encounter with God the people of Israel set out to enter into the land that God had promised to Abraham and then to the people of Israel; entering into this land was rest for the people, it would be the end of a long sojourn from slavery to journeying and finally ending in peace dwelling under the providing hand of God.
Unfortunately, the people of Israel did not find this rest when they were expecting it; instead of entering accepting God’s promise and entering the land they become afraid and rebelled against God.
Instead of entering the rest they had been promised, they were punished with 40 years of wandering in the desert. This is the background that undergirds the verses we will be looking at today.
Turn with me in your Bibles to, you guessed it; the book of Hebrews. We will be looking today at Hebrews 3:7-4:13. That is Hebrews chapter 3, starting at verse 7.
“7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9where your father put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”16For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 4 1Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For 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. 3For 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. 4For he has somewhere spoke on the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again 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.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” [i]
(You may remember from a few weeks ago when I introduced the book of Hebrews that at the heart of this book is a warning to the Hebrews to stop turning back to Judaism and to continue in the Christian faith. Today we find ourselves once again in one of the specific messages of warning that the author writes to the Hebrews)
The Rest of God:
The author of Hebrews in chapters 3 & 4 warns those he is writing to that unbelief will disqualify them from entering God’s rest. Throughout 3:7-4:13 we find an argument made from Psalm 95 that the rest the Israelites entered when Joshua led them into the promised land was not the final rest promised, there was still a rest waiting for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. It is this future rest that awaits all believers that will become the focal point of these chapters.
(The argument the author of Hebrew is making comes from a detailed explanation of Psalm 95:7-11)
The Exposition of Psalm 95:7-11
In warning the Jews that they are on a dangerous path and that they need to turn back in faith to Jesus the author of Hebrews compares the situation in which his audience finds themselves and the situation in which the Israelites found themselves. Look with me at verses 15-19 of chapter 3, here we read;
“15As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”
Here we come back to the illustration I gave you this morning, the Jews were all packed up and ready to go! They were on a grand adventure to enter the rest that God had promised their fathers; but because they rebelled against God and were disobedient, because of their unbelief, they were unable to enter this rest. Unbelief was the reason that the Israelites had not entered the promised rest, and the crux of the warning that the author of Hebrews is giving his audience is that if they enter into unbelief, they will, like Israel, fail to enter God’s rest. This would have puzzled the Jews reading this letter for they would have thought; “we already entered God’s rest, we live in the Promised Land!”
The Jews thought they had were in God’s rest, but the author Hebrews shows them from Psalm 95 that in fact, they had not entered God’s rest; the promised land merely pointed towards a future rest with God that still awaited them.
The contrast of Rest:
In showing the Jews that there was still a rest to enter the author of Hebrews contrasts the rest they thought they were in and the rest to come.
In the Old Testament we read that the promised land was a land “flowing with milk and honey,” it was a place of abundance and provision where the people of Israel would find peace. The Jews were living in this promised land, but the author of Hebrews argues that this is not the final rest, that the Old Testament speaks of a rest that is still open for believers to enter. In verses 5-8 of chapter 4 we read;
“5And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again 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.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.”
The beautiful thing about the book of Hebrews is that the author makes his arguments very clear. In these verses he is quoting from Psalm 95 and argues that if these Jewish Christians had already entered God’s rest, by dwelling in the Promised Land, then it makes no sense for the Psalmist to speak of a rest yet to be entered.
This rest yet to be entered is the hook upon which the author hangs his warning to the Hebrews.
In verse 9-10 the author goes on to tell us a little bit about this rest; “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”
In this rest those who believe will find rest from their service in this world and from their struggles and trials in this life. In verse 9 in describing this rest which remains open you may notice that the author switches words describing the rest, he switches from the word we translate “rest” to the word we translate “Sabbath rest”; he does this to highlight the nature of the rest.
Sabbath here in this verse does not refer to the Sabbath day, for the Jews Saturday, but to the idea of the Sabbath celebration.
It does not just speak of rest, but of rest accompanied with praise; this rest is not simply the cessation of activity but rest accompanied with joy and festivities; “expressed in worship and praise of God”.[ii]
(This is what the author of Hebrews is saying through chapters 3:7-4:13; by arguing from Psalm 95 he warns the Hebrews that God’s promised rest is still open and that only those who believe will enter this rest; if the Hebrews continued drifting from the Christian faith back into Judaism they will be disobedient and will find themselves in the same place as Israelites who were unable to enter the Promised land; they would be unable to enter the rest and joy and festivities, manifested in the praise and worship of God, that characterize this final Sabbath rest. What did this mean for the Hebrews who would have heard this message?)
Strive for perseverance:
Throughout the book of Hebrews the author is warning the Hebrews that they need to persevere in the Christian faith for if they return to Judaism they will be in the same state as unbelievers and face the same fate as an unbeliever, in chapter 3 and 4 this warning is delivered powerfully.
A warning for perseverance:
in 3:14 the author writes that “we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” and in 4:1-2 we read “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. 2For 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.”
The author is telling the Hebrews in these verses that what they need to do is persevere in the faith, he fears that some would not have this faith characterized by perseverance and therefore fail to enter the rest of God. His application to them was that they need to persevere in Christian faith or their current faith would mean nothing.
The reward he shows that they will receive if they persevere is that they will enter the glorious rest of God; a rest free from the struggles of this life where peace and joy abound in the praise and worship of God.
But the consequence of a failure to persevere is that they will not enter into the final rest of God, this is something which the author of Hebrews finds fearful. In verse 11 of chapter 4 we read succinct statement of what act the author of Hebrews is trying to encourage, he gives this exhortation; “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”
(Couched in the this language of warning the Hebrews are told to persevere in the Christian faith, to strive to enter the rest of God by keeping the faith; I don’t think that we need to hear this morning a message of warning towards unbelief like the author of Hebrews here gives, but the exhortation he gives applies to the life of a Christian with or without the need he saw for a warning. With the author of Hebrews we can in our daily lives take up the call to action he gives in 4:11.)
Let us strive to enter the rest of God:
Let us strive to enter the rest of God
(To strive is not just to mildly pursue an end but to contend and exert oneself towards a goal, the end for which the author of Hebrews gives for us to strive is entering the rest of God. Have you ever heard the saying a picture is worth a thousand words? At times like this I really hate that saying, for it is true! To illustrate this idea of striving I wanted to find a picture of a guy who was putting all his effort into reaching his goal, and then a guy sauntering through a park; illustrating the difference between the exertion involved in “striving” and weaker verbs like “trying.” Even with the internet I was unfortunately unable find a picture that would convey the idea I wanted… so I will attempt to illustrate this in hopefully less than a thousand words. Later in Hebrews, in chapter 12, the author uses the illustration of running a race to describe this perseverance or endurance in faith. This striving that the author of Hebrews is calling for is like that of an athlete giving all he has to give so that he may finish his race; he uses every resource at his disposal so that he may be ready for the race, and then expends everything he has so that he may finish the race. In striving to enter the rest of God we are to give it our all! Not just sauntering down the track, but running with all our might. )
Strive to enter the GLORIOUS REST of God [Application to the Emotions]
This rest of God that the Hebrews were being told to strive for, and end for which we also should strive is glorious rest! As I described it earlier, it is rest from the works of service in this world, from the struggles we face, as well as the positive experience of joy and festivities found in the continual praise and worship of God; picture with me what a glorious state this rest is!
In this rest there will be no pain and struggle that we find in our daily lives, no more disease and death.
There will peace and freedom from the chaos of war.
We will no longer struggle with sin in our lives; there will no longer be any appeal in disobedience, we won’t even desire sin!
There will be everlasting joy in the very presence of God and continual celebration!
(In this rest we will truly and completely know God’s peace. Let us strive to enter the rest of God! If this is the rest of God for which we are to strive, what does it look like for us to strive for it?)
STRIVE to enter the rest of God [Application for the will]
Striving to enter this rest does not mean amassing good works so that God ignores our sins and accepts us into His rest, for on the Cross Christ bore our sins and once and for all brought us into a favourable state before God; but striving to enter the rest of God means continuing to trust in Jesus throughout our lives, persevering in our faith.
In continuing in our faith we have the responsibility of using the resource God has given us to do this.
The reason the author of Hebrews gives the powerful warnings he does is for this very reason; these warnings are a means by which the Hebrews would continue in the faith and enter God’s rest.
We must, like Paul, continually, daily, be in prayer so that we may joyfully endure the trials that consistently appear in our lives; we must talk to God and turn to Him for strength so that we may endure until the very end to enter the rest of God.
Lastly in striving, in making every effort,[iii] to enter this rest we need to continually look to Scripture as our guide for life, for hope in enduring struggles of life, and for the strengthening of our faith so that we will endure to enter God’s rest.
Two weeks ago we looked at Hebrews 1 where the author of Hebrews tells his audience that the Superiority of Christ means the Superiority of His Gospel. The authority of Scripture conveyed in that chapter holds true here, for in faithfully adhering to the Word and what God has said in it above all else we will find the resources we need to persevere.
As we strive to enter the rest of God we also have a responsibility to help each other out in our daily walk of trusting Jesus.
In 3:13 the Hebrews are given instruction for what they must do to help each other stay true to their shared faith in Jesus, the author of Hebrews gives them this instruction; “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Striving to enter the rest of God is neither something we can, nor something we should try to, do on our own; to persevere in faith is a community effort.
Sin is deceitful and is constantly trying to convince us that God is not real, or at the very least that we shouldn’t follow Him.
As we strive to enter the rest of God we are prayer for our friends and family that they may continue in the faith and we are to encourage one another in walking faithfully according to what God has instructed us to do in His word, and if needed we are to gently correct each other in love so that we may continue in the faith that we share.
Let us strive to enter God’s rest; this striving is something we do together as a body, not something that we can do on our own.
If we were left by ourselves to persevere in and by our own strength, I honestly would feel fear; I know my own strengths and weaknesses and I don’t believe I could endure the trials of this life by myself.
But we are not left by ourselves, God gives us fellowship with one another to strengthen each other in our walk and He promises that He himself will give us strength so that we may successfully strive to enter His rest, to persevere in our faith.
When we read Scripture we are not to read each passage in its own isolated bubble, I have heard Tom in a few of his sermons talk about context and how we must read Scripture within its context.
The immediate context, both the preceding and proceeding verses as well as the entire book, are incredibly important, invaluable, for understanding what a specific section of Scripture is saying; but we are also to look continually at what the rest of Scripture says to better understand an individual passage we are studying. This becomes a sort of spiral; as we better understand an individual passage we better understand the whole of Scripture, and as we better understand the whole of Scripture we better understand the individual passages that make it up.
In 1 Peter 1:5 we find a statement made by Peter that God helps us through our faith to strive for His rest.
Peter speaks of those who have been born again, that is believers, “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
The salvation He speaks of is not a synonym for rest, but is an aspect of eternal life, of which our final entrance into God’s rest is also an aspect. He says that God, in His power, works through our faith so that we may be able to endure in it!
(Let us strive to enter the rest of God, in striving we are to turn to God who strengthens us through our faith, we are to turn to Him in prayer and turn to His word for guidance, and we are to exhort each other so that as a body we may persevere in the faith.)
In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the author of Hebrews delivers a warning to His readers; if they continue drifting away from their Christian faith and back towards their old life of Judaism, they will be unbelievers and will fail to enter the glorious rest of God that is still open for them to enter!
He exhorts them to persevere, to strive that they may enter into this open rest of God! The warning he gives here is one of the means by which they may persevere!
We are not in the same situation as them, facing unbelief; but we can take up the call for action that the author of Hebrews gives.
Life is hard, and we all will, at one point or another, face trials; but in it all let us strive to enter the rest of God!
In striving for this glorious rest that awaits us, one of the many aspects of our hope in the future finishing of our salvation with eternal life, we are to turn to God in prayer for His strength to endure trials, strength by which He promises He will guard us through our faith; turn to His word for guidance in our lives, and exhort one another in our striving for our shared goal of perseverance in the faith.
Probably my favorite group of Christian writers and Pastors, Englishmen known in their time as “Puritans,” saw our life as a pilgrimage or a journey, like that of Israel towards the Promised Land.
In one of the most famous books of this time, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the puritan John Bunyan rights of the end of the journey, of the rest achieved when we enter eternity; He writes of the end of the toils of life and the doubt as we see the face of God and find peace. He writes, through the character Mr. Stand-Fast;
“I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am going to see that head which was crowned with thorns, and that face which was spit upon for me. I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith; but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him in whose company I delight myself. I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot too…. His voice to me has been most sweet, and his countenance I have more desired than they that have most desired the light of the sun. His words I did use to gather for my food, and for antidotes against my faintings. He hath held me, and hath kept me from mine iniquities; year, my steps hath he strengthened in his way.”[iv]
Let us strive to enter the rest of God!
[ii] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. ; Apollos, 2010), 170–171.
[iv] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress : from This World to That Which Is to Come, Delivered Under the Similitude of a Dream (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 263.