Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Heb. 4:6 “Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:”
Due to sin, men fell short of God’s creation-rest, but God’s mercy was not destroyed by human failure. Men refuse God’s rest, but He persists in offering it. Rest remains because God is merciful and refuses to cut it off.
Heb. 4:7-8 “Again, He limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today after so long a time; as it is said, TODAY IF YE WILL HEAR HIS VOICE, HARDEN NOT YOUR HEARTS. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”
Rest was available after the rejection of creation-rest, and also after the rejection of Canaan-rest. Once the wilderness generation died, Joshua (Greek form: Jesus) led Israel into Canaan. Their entrance into the land was proof that God still wanted to give His people rest.
Unfortunately, the Israelites eventually made a grave miscalculation in their understanding of God’s rest. In having the symbols of God’s rest, they had the real thing. They felt they had all of God’s intended rest because they observed the Sabbath, the sign of God’s creation-rest, and because they possessed Palestine, the sing of God’s Canaan-rest.
The first readers of Hebrews were struggling with this very conflict. Were the symbols of Old not enough? Was there more to God’s rest than the Sabbath and Canaan? Our author cries out a resounding “Yes!” and uses their own scriptures to prove it.
Joshua led Israel into Canaan and helped establish Sabbath observance in that land. These things pictures God’s rest, but could not have been all God intended because centuries later the Psalmist (95:11) warned against failing to enter God’s rest. They were keeping the Sabbath and living in the land, but David realized more was to be enjoyed than what Joshua had provided.
Joshua did not give all the rest God intended. God’s rest included more than legal observances and ownership of property. The land and the Sabbath were not the end, but signs pointing to a fuller and greater spiritual rest. They bespoke the deep repose, which is found only in intimate communion with God. The Sabbath and Canaan were God’s way of inviting, “Come, share my rest.” Based on this truth, a great conclusion is drawn…
Heb. 4:9-10 “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into rest, he also hath ceased from his own works as God did from his.”
Symbols may pass away, but realities remain. The Sabbath and Canaan may be lost, but rest remains. Believers under the New Covenant lose nothing. Every Privilege enjoyed in the Old is still available in the New. We have no less blessing than those enjoyed by Israel of old. God would never allow any man to be a loser by trusting in His only begotten Son.
The writer is pleading with the believing Jews, “Do not go back to Judaism!” To go back would mean a retreat into symbols, and a departure from the reality. The rest found in Jesus is the rest, which the symbols pointed to.
It is a rest from being bound to legal ceremonies. It is a rest from having to depend on symbols instead of being able to enjoy the real thing. Resting in Jesus allows us to rest from our own works as God did from His. We can put the old ceremonies and observances aside. They were flawless and served their purpose well, but they are finished in Jesus. He is the reality they symbolized.
The rest, which is found only in Jesus, is the rest, which God intended for men from the first. It is the best type of rest, and leads our writer to an admonition…
Heb. 4:11 “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
This capsulizes the previous section, which is one of the most intricate portions of the New Testament. “Labor” means to strive eagerly, to be zealous and diligent. It carries a note of urgency. Act quickly and with all your might. Rest does not fall down into our laps while we are sleeping on a bed of sloth.
Body and soul must be exercised in this matter of entering rest, lest we become, like Israel, an example to others of unbelief. The sinners whose corpses fell in the desert can have successors. A punishment for not entering God’s rest is to become a public example, like Israel in the desert, of the consequences of unbelief. Better to heed an example of unbelief than to be one.
There may be things in which you can be careless, but with regard to God’s rest, you had best take great pains with detail. Diligence is needed. Leave nothing to chance. Correct yourself as relentlessly as Lord Macauley did his own writings. “He could not rest till the lines were level to a hair’s breadth, and the punctuation correct to a comma; until every paragraph concluded with a telling sentence, and every sentence flowed like running water.” That same attention to detail is needed in our striving for rest. Do not leave any “i” undotted or any “t” uncrossed.
Give yourself totally to entering God’s rest. Let this be the focus of your prayers. Concentrate on it. Napoleon won his victories primarily by rapid concentration of his forces on one point of the enemy’s line. He would strike, strike, and strike again until success was won. Even the smallest magnifying glass can start a fire when it focuses sunbeams on one point. Earnest concentration is the secret of success. Focus your heart on one thing, being right with God, having His rest, pleasing Him.
Entering God’s rest requires diligence for several reasons. First, our nature is weak, apt to sink when under duress. It is very hard for us to stay alert spiritually. As Jesus said to the three in Gethsemane, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (MT 26:41). We are dust, but our enemies are strong. Be ever mindful of this. Stay on your guard.
The world and the devil are formidable opponents. They do not want you to enter rest. They want you to stay powerless and fretful, for it destroys your witness. They throw themselves against you, and carelessness on our part will prove disastrous.
Entering God’s rest requires diligence, secondly, because we are prone to forget the full privileges and possibilities of the Christian life. Sometimes we find ourselves yielding to the pessimism of the world. Talleyrand, on his 83rd birthday, wrote in his journal, “Life is a long fatigue.” Christians often give in to such despair. But for believers, the direction of life should ever be higher and higher.
No one ever exhausts the fullness, which God offers believers in this life. You do not have all the flower and all the fruit, you have seed and sunshine. You do not have the full house, you have bricks and boards. Your whole Christian life should be one of daily growth and building.
You have not arrived at the port of perfection. The canvas you received at conversion was not meant to be a quilt to sleep under, but rather a sail in which you catch the blowing graces of God and waft ever closer to Him. There is more to be enjoyed in this life, and we must strive to have it.
Entering God’s rest requires diligence, thirdly, because it is worthy of the effort. Trifles are not worth striving for, but God’s rest is not a trifle. It is worth having, but if we do not strive to enter it, we treat it as if it were unimportant, and pour contempt on the gift of God.
Maybe nothing reveals the delusion of Satan more vividly than our lackadaisical attitude regarding entering God’s rest. The devil keeps us from entering the very part of our birthright, which all humanity is seeking. Heart-rest is the aching desire of the entire world. The exasperation of man was expressed in the words of a tribe to a missionary, “We are weary; give us rest.”
Lost men cannot have rest, yet they seek diligently for it. They want rest, but do not want to find it in God. They turn elsewhere, seeking it in the world, its pleasures and illusions. Some turn to sensual lusts. Some try to find rest in being Pharisees, trusting in their own goodness. Many turn to false religions. Lost men look everywhere for rest, but never find it.
Believers, on the other hand, can have rest and know exactly where to find it, but they do not give themselves to striving earnestly for it. Believers have in their birthright the very thing, which the whole world is seeking.
When speaking of the lost, I have often referred to the prayer of Augustine, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and we are restless till we rest in Thee.” I have decided it is a prayer appropriate for believers as well. Rest is found only in Jesus. Let us strive to enter it.
God grant us an inner sanctuary where surface disturbances can not reach, a place where we can shut our doors around us and enjoy the rest of Heaven while yet here on earth. May the calm face of your corpse, with all the lines of care faded away, be an emblem not only of the life into which you will have entered, but also of the life you have left behind.