- Text: Hebrews 4:1-11
- Series: Christ in the New Covenant, Pt. 8
- Date: Sunday, June 24, 2018 – AM
- Venue: Trinity Baptist Church – Seminole, Oklahoma
- Speaker: Jared Byrns
- Audio: mp3
Have you ever needed a rest? Have you ever been so tired that all you could think of was resting? Sometimes, when Charla tells me that supper is ready, I’ll come in from working outside and tell her that I’m just too tired to eat. Eventually, I get over that feeling, as you can probably see. But the only thing I want out of life at that moment is to sit and rest.
We all have moments like that because God designed us to rest. We do stuff, we get tired, and we rest. That’s how we recharge our batteries. But we don’t just need physical rest; we need spiritual rest as well. Picture a world where you live in constant fear that the slightest misstep will lead you to everlasting condemnation; a world where there are stringent rules governing every aspect of your life, from meals to hygiene, to growing food, to conducting business, to relationships, to worship—to everything; a world where you strive to do your best in all of these areas, but you can never be sure whether God accepts you or not. That would be exhausting!
That was the world of the old covenant. And that old covenant was to show us how sinful we are so we’d see our need for Christ when it came time for the new covenant. But so many people today think that they’re going to earn God’s acceptance through their efforts, that they unwittingly put themselves back in that world. Maybe you’ve been wearing yourself out trying to earn God’s acceptance when what God really calls you to do is to rest in Him.
Today, we’re returning to the book of Hebrews to learn about this rest that God calls us into and how we get there through Jesus Christ. I’ll be honest: this was not an easy passage to sift through. I have struggled to decipher it over the last week, and I still have some unanswered questions. But from what I have learned, this passage has a lot to tell us about finding our rest in God. So turn with me to Hebrews chapter 4, and we’ll look at verses 1-11. It says:
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day 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. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
At the end of chapter 3, in verses that we haven’t studied in this series, the writer of Hebrews recalled how God intended to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land. They refused to trust God, so instead of entering His rest in the Promised Land, they were left to wander in the wilderness for a generation because of their unbelief. Looking back at their example, the writer said that we should fear. Take a look at verse 1. It says, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.”
Now, this fear doesn’t mean that God wants us to live our lives overwhelmed by mortal terror; a better explanation is what the theologian John Gill wrote—that it means “a cautious fear” or “careful circumspection.” In other words, we’re called to think seriously about God’s promises.
There’s a promise made here that those who come to the Father through Jesus Christ will enter into His rest. Yet there’s the warning that some in the audience would fall short of receiving that promise. This warning doesn’t mean that we must earnGod’s promise, or that we might fall short by not doing enough. If you’ve been with us for very many weeks of this study, you’ll remember that Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish people who were largely on the fence about Jesus. In that group, there were people who had professed faith in Jesus but were flirting with the idea of returning to the old covenant—meaning that their faith may never have been real at all. Others were intellectually convinced about Jesus without ever having been spiritually converted. In other words, there were a lot of people who had the appearance of faith without actually putting their trust entirely in Jesus Christ.
A person can go to church and participate in a pretense of Christianity for decades and still never have a relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s why the writer gave this warning. It’s not enough simply to hear what God says. If we don’t believe God, we will never enter into His rest.
He continued discussing the role of faith in verse 2. It says, “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
The people who initially received the book of Hebrews had heard the Gospel. The word Gospel means good news. So they had heard the good news of the new covenant that Jesus Christ died to pay for their sins in full. The Israelites of the old covenant had also heard good news from God. God had promised that He would be their God and love them if they would be His people and love Him. God had promised to send them a Messiah to deal with the problem of sin—a Messiah Who, incidentally, would be the focus of the good news in the new covenant. And God had promised to bring them into a land of their own, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Everyone concerned here—in the old covenant and the new—had heard good news from God, but there was a problem. The good news doesn’t change anything for you if you don’t believe it. Verse 2 says that the good news, which was proclaimed to them, “did not profit them.” Why not? Because it was not “mixed with faith in them that heard it.” They didn’t believe it. The Israelites of the old covenant repeatedly walked away from the promises of God, simply because they didn’t believe Him. In the case that the writer described in chapter 3, an entire generation of people missed out on the Promised Land, simply because they did not believe what God said. And now, another generation of people was about to forfeit the blessings of God—they were about to skip out on all the promises of the Gospel—because they refused to take God at His Word.
Now, let’s take a look at verse 3: “For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”
The writer of Hebrews explained to them that there was no reason for them to doubt God’s Word, because God’s promises were being fulfilled before their very eyes. When he wrote, “For we which have believed do enter into rest,” that meant that believers were already entering into the rest of God. The writer of Hebrews and those around him who had truly put their trust in Jesus Christ were already experiencing what it means to rest in Him—this sense of peace that comes when we lay down our burdens and instead put on the yoke that He gives us.
The next part of the verse is a little bit tricky. It says, “As he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest.” I spent nearly a full afternoon wrestling with this statement. I had to look at a few different English and Greek versions. The writer of Hebrews was quoting Psalm 95:11, which says, “I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” It’s quoted in Hebrews 3:11 and 18, here in Hebrews 4:3, and later in verse 5. All of the Greek texts are basically identical, but three verses say “they shall not,” while two say “if they shall.” I don’t understand the reasons for the different word choices, but I finally realized that all five of these verses mean the same thing: God swore that the unbelieving in Israel would not enter into the Promised Land.
Then it ties all of this back to the work of God, which was “finished from the foundation of the world.” It’s talking about His work in creation.
Here’s verse 4: “For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.” This refers back to Genesis 2:2. God spent six days creating the Universe, and then He rested on the seventh. God didn’t need six days to create; He could have done it instantly. He also didn’t need to rest; God’s strength can never be diminished. All of this was to set a pattern for us. God calls us to rest—both physically and spiritually.
But then we see again in verse 5, it says, “And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest.” Just like in verse 3, it’s telling us that, in the old covenant, God swore that Israel would not enter into His rest because of their unbelief.
We have to take these three verses together, verses 3-5, to get a better picture of what they’re saying. God rested, simply as an example to man, and then He called man into His rest. If we believe Him, He promises to bring us into that rest. If we refuse to believe Him, He promises that we will never enter into His rest.
Then, verse 6 indicates that He is still offering His rest to us. It says, “Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:”
There is still the opportunity for people to enter into the Lord’s rest. The writer said “it remaineth” for people to enter in. The rest He offers in the new covenant is not exactly the same as the rest He offered in the old covenant. The previous rest was a physical rest, and it was a temporary rest. In the new covenant, the rest that God offers is spiritual and eternal. But if we want to enter into the rest that He offers, we still have to do it by faith. It says there’s still an opportunity to enter His rest, but in the same verse here, it cautions us to understand that a whole generation of Israelites missed their rest in the Promised Land because of unbelief. Faith is what God requires of us. As Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” We must come to God believing that He is Who He says, and come with confidence that He will fulfill His promises and bring us into His rest.
Now, take a look at verse 7. It says, “Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” That word limit means that God has appointed a time for us to enter into His rest. God appoints a time to offer salvation and gives us the opportunity to receive it. He offers His rest to us now, but there will come a time when our opportunities have all passed. It’s just like Paul wrote in II Corinthians 6:2, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
This verse quotes the same chapter of Psalms that we have already looked at. Psalm 95:7-8 say the same thing as this verse: “To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart.” The writer here was begging his readers not to follow the example of the faithless Israelites. God has made this incredibly gracious offer to take us into His spiritual rest, but there will come a day for each of us when the opportunity to receive it has passed. In light of this, the writer issued a challenge not to waste time by hardening our hearts.
You see, the Israelites who left Egypt to go to the Promised Land started doubting God’s promises the very first time they got into a sticky situation on the banks of the Red Sea. God saved them from Pharaoh’s army by parting the waters, but they never seemed to let go of that unbelief. As time went on, they dug in their heels and became solidified in this position where they constantly doubted God. Their hearts grew less receptive to Him, and when the time came for them to enter the Promised Land, they practically staged a riot because they were so convinced that God was leading them to their deaths. Because their hearts were hardened in unbelief, they missed out.
That’s the warning. The longer we persist in unbelief, the more determined we become to stay there. The longer we reject God’s promises, the easier it becomes to reject them in the future. This verse is imploring us to respond to God and receive His promises now—rather than put Him off and see our hearts continue to harden in our unbelief.
Now, let’s look at verse 8, where it compares the rest that God offers in the old covenant to the rest He offers in the new. It says, “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”
This verse is also confusing until we realize that in Hebrew and Greek, the names Jesus and Joshua are the same. For both, the Hebrew is Yeshua, and the Greek is Iesus. In context, this is talking about Joshua, the successor of Moses, not Jesus Christ. When the Israelites finally reached the Promised Land, Joshua was the one called by God to lead them there.
Even though God used Joshua to bring His people into His rest in the Promised Land, it was only a physical rest and a temporary rest. Their struggles were far from being over. Then it says, “then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” So if they had found a true and lasting rest in Joshua’s day, then God wouldn’t have continued to promise something better. But there was something greater in store for God’s people than an earthly Promised Land or a temporary Sabbath.
Verse 9 says, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” There’s an even greater place of rest for the people of God than anyone in the old covenant could ever have imagined. In the new covenant, our rest is not from our physical labor. It’s not a rest that lasts a short time until we return to our work. It’s not a piece of land that we have to defend. Our rest in the new covenant is Jesus Christ. He brings us a spiritual rest and one that can never be taken away.
Imagine what that prospect meant to people who spent their entire lives working, struggling, toiling, trying to do everything just right so that maybe, just maybe God would look favorably on them. They were faced with the impossible task of living up to the demands of the Law. They carried this enormous burden, with no assurance that they could ever be good enough. To these people, God announced that a rest was coming.
Some of you may have felt that same burden—that overwhelming sense of alienation that comes from knowing that you’re not good enough for God. Maybe you’ve tried, maybe you’ve worked hard, struggled to live right, and done everything you know to do. Yet you still feel like God is distant. Maybe you’ve tried so hard that you’re exhausted from all the effort, yet you have no assurance that God will ever accept you. There’s a place of rest that remains for you—Jesus Christ.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
He invites us to come and find rest from our labor and struggle in Him. He invites us to trade in our heavy burdens for his light yoke.
This rest that He offers us changes everything. Verse 10 says this, “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” Just as God completed the work of creation in six days and rested from all of that work on the seventh, when we enter the rest that He gives, we also cease from our work. Don’t forget; this is talking about a spiritual rest under the new covenant. It doesn’t mean we’re supposed to sit around like sloths waiting for Jesus to come back. He gives us rest from our spiritual labors. Even spiritually, it doesn’t mean that we’re to become lazy and undisciplined. It means that we are no longer under the obligation to keep the letter of the Law in order to try in vain to earn God’s approval through our good works.
We can rest from that kind of work, because Jesus has already done all of the work that was necessary for our salvation. He accomplished what we never could. Now, as far as earning our way into God’s acceptance, there’s no longer anything for us to do. Jesus did it all, and He calls us to rest in Him.
Then, in verse 11, this passage ends with a challenge. It says, “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” Now, it says we’re supposed to labor to enter into the rest that God provides in Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean that we have to go out and work to earn it. That would be a pretty blatant contradiction to what was written in verse 10. That word labor means more than work. Young’s Literal Translation translates this phrase “Let us labour” as “May we be diligent.” I think that’s a good way of saying it. The Greek word σπουδασωμεν can also mean something like, ‘let’s be quick.’ That fits too. This verse is telling us to pay attention to the whole issue of God’s rest, to take it seriously, and to make up our minds. This is a serious issue because we don’t want to end up like the generation of Israelites who were excluded from the Promised Land due to unbelief. Unless we trust God to keep His promises, we will not enter into His rest.
This morning, there’s a rest that God invites us to. It’s not a physical Promised Land. It’s not a temporary Sabbath. God invites us to a spiritual rest and a permanent rest in Jesus Christ.
If you’re plagued by the sense that, no matter what you do, you’ll never be good enough, God invites you to come and rest in him. The truth is that none of us will ever be good enough to live up to God’s standards; that’s why he calls us to come and rest in Him through Jesus Christ. You and I are separated from God by our sin. Every act of disobedience we’ve ever committed stands between us and God like an impenetrable barrier that we can never cross. And no matter what good works we may perform, no matter how well we may try to live our lives, no matter how much we try to do to make ourselves acceptable to God, nothing we can ever do will make even the tiniest dent in that barrier.
We are absolutely separated from God. We are resigned then to a life of spiritual wandering and turmoil terminated by death and separation from God in Hell. But God loved us enough that He sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross so that He could pay for our sins in full, rise from the dead, and break down that barrier once and for all. You could never be good enough for God no matter how hard you work, so Jesus came to give you His righteousness; He died so that He could declare you good enough through His work on the cross.
Because of what Jesus did, God invites you into His rest. He calls you to put aside your futile efforts to earn His acceptance, to walk away from a life of spiritual wandering and toil, to leave behind the insecurity and the uncertainty of trying in vain to forge your own path into eternal life, and instead simply to come to Him through Jesus Christ and rest in Him. Jesus has already done all the work, so that you can be forgiven, so that you can have eternal life, so that you can have a relationship with the Father and rest in Him. All that’s left for you to do is to believe. That doesn’t mean an intellectual belief where we just agree with a statement. It means the firm conviction that what God says is true and the willingness to trust Him in such a way that you put all your eggs in that one basket: that you trust Him completely and unreservedly to bring you into the rest that He promises.
Because of what Jesus did, all that’s necessary for you to enter into the rest of God—all that’s necessary for you to have the peace that comes from this relationship with Him—is for you to have faith. Just like Israel in the old covenant, unless you believe you’ll never enter in.
The above text is a rush transcript of the message and may contain errors.
© 2018, Jared Byrns. All rights reserved.