Strive to Enter God’s Rest, part 3 (Hebrews 4:6-11)

This modern age could be called an age of restlessness.  People are agitated and stirred up by the slightest thing, satisfaction and contentment are in high demand but short supply.  Emmanuel Mounier, the founder of the French “personalist” philosophical movement, writes that human life is characterized by a “divine restlessness.”  The lack of peace within our hearts spurs us on a quest for the meaning of life–a command imprinted on “unextinguished souls.”  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 10)

I’m convinced that if our civilization were to be uncovered by curious archaeologists thousands of years from now, they would see relics of an anxious society.  Vacation destinations provide havens for those approaching the critical zone of “burnout.”  Treatment facilities house countless victims of mental, emotional, and physical breakdown.  Therapists help calm the fretful, and physicians routinely prescribe antidepressants and anxiety medications.  Our generation is marked by all the ingredients of a society dominated by anxiety, which include feelings of apprehension, uneasiness, worry, and dread.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights: Hebrews, pp. 60-61)

We ended last week talking about God’s rest.  This is the rest that God has promised to us through the gospel and it is God’s rest.  It was the rest displayed at creation when God brought everything into existence with each day and called it good.  The seventh day, however, is endless.  And on that day He rested. 

At the conclusion of God’s magnificent creation, there was nothing more to add.  It was perfect, complete, harmonious.  It was exactly the way God wanted it to be.  It was “very good.”  And that’s what God’s rest is: perfect satisfaction, perfect peace, perfect contentment in the knowledge that God has done very well. 

John will expand on this in Revelation 21:3-5: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” 

Rest was promised to the exodus generation, enjoyment of the land of promise in peace and prosperity.  Because of their disbelief the vast majority of them didn’t experience it.  It was available to Joshua’s generation, but because of their disbelief, they didn’t experience it (v. 8).  It was available to the audience of the book of Hebrews in the first century, but they were in danger of not experiencing it because of unbelief.  It is available to you and me today, but we have to believe it as well.

These are the words of the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 4:6-11

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.

So today we begin with a third principle from this passage:  Ultimate rest is a promise God still extends.  Verses 6 and 7: “Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 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.”

The promise of entering God’s rest still stands.  And we can be thankful for that.

How do we know that the promise still stands for us today?  Because centuries after the exodus generation and Joshua’s generation, God’s Spirit is still exhorting us, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”  He’s still holding out the promise of rest to us today.

If you have heard of Christ, if the Holy Spirit is convicting and calling your heart to repent of your sins and embrace Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith, now is the time to believe.  Don’t put it off another day!

That rest is available right now!  Don’t the words of Jesus Christ sound so inviting?

28 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.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus doesn’t “pay” you rest as if you’ve earned it after a few decades of hard work.  He “gives” you rest because He has already done the work.  All other religions are spelled “D-O.”  Christianity is spelled “D-O-N-E.”

That rest is available to you…right now!  Verse 3, which introduced this section on the nature of our rest, says, “For we who have believed enter that rest.”  The verb “enter” is in the present tense, which means that as believers we are in the process of entering.  There is a now and then to our rest.  Now, in Christ, we have entered and are entering our rest.  Our experience of rest is proportionate to our trusting in him.  A wholehearted trust, for example, brings his rest into our souls in all its divine, cosmic, and ideal dimensions.  But there is also a future rest in Heaven—the repose of soul in God’s rest, forever joyous, satisfied, and working —“work that never becomes toil nor needs repose.”

Sam Storms points out these dynamics of our current rest.  See if these express your current experience.

  • Rest = the soul’s sigh of joyful relief and satisfaction that comes from experiencing release from the anxiety and tension of constantly wondering whether or not I’ve done enough to gain favor with God.
  • Rest = the soul’s sigh of joyful relief and satisfaction that comes from never again fearing death as some dark and unknown termination.
  • Rest = the soul’s sigh of joyful relief and satisfaction in knowing that even if everyone else abandons me, God never will [leave me or forsake me.]
  • Rest = the soul’s sigh of joyful relief and satisfaction in trusting the perfect and finished work of Christ for me rather than trusting the imperfect and never-ending effort on my part to work for Christ.
  • Rest = the soul’s sigh of relief and satisfaction that comes when you forsake the endless and ultimately empty legalistic demands of religion and find everlasting peace and joy and hope in what God has done for you in Jesus.

In God’s rest we are forever established in Christ.  We are freed from running from philosophy to philosophy, from religion to religion, from life-style to life-style.  We are freed from being tossed about by every doctrinal wind, every idea or fad, that blows our way.  In Christ, we are established, rooted, grounded, unmovable.  That is the Christian’s rest.  (John MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur NT Commentary: Hebrews, pp. 96-97)

Our future experience of rest is that final and perfect and never-ending state of complete satisfaction and joy and fulfillment and pleasure and fascination that will be ours when our bodies are glorified and our hearts are entirely joined to Christ’s.

Joshua’s experience of taking and settling into the land of Promise was only a shadow, a foretaste of the future experience of rest promised here.  That’s why verse 9 says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.”

So the obvious conclusion is: 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.

The author argues that the purposes of God are not frustrated because Israel of old disobeyed him and failed to enter the rest he had promised his people.  The promise remains.  If the ancient Israel did not enter God’s rest, then someone else will; namely, the Christians.  But this should not lead to complacency.  If the Israelites of an earlier day, with all their advantages, failed to enter the rest, Christians ought not to think there will be automatic acceptance for them.  They must take care lest they, too, fail to enter the blessing.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 39)

Restlessness is a gift of God.  If we are not restless, we would never search for God.  Simon Guillebaud, in his little book Choose Life, 365 Readings for Radical Disciples, has this little poem: “Look around and be distressed; look within, and be depressed; look to Jesus, and be at rest.”

Jesus said, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.”  He gives that invitation to those who “labor and are heavy laden.”  Does that describe you?  Are you laden down with expectations?  With guilt?  With shame?  Are you just tired of trying to be “good enough”?  I don’t know how many people I have talked to who, when asked about their salvation, said “Well, I hope I’m good enough.” 

We aren’t!  We are not good enough!  But Jesus was good enough.  He was perfectly righteous and died on the cross for unrighteous, ungodly sinners like you and me.

When we come to faith in Christ, we move away from every attempt to try to work our way to heaven.  We repent of trusting in our own righteousness, our own good works.

We don’t have to work for our salvation, our rest.  But once we’re saved, we have to work at staying in that rest.  We won’t lose our salvation, but we may let our satisfaction drain away.

We can taste the firstfruits of that ultimate rest now.  Full rest, God’s rest, when all the toilsome work, labor, pain and sacrifice will one day be brought to an end.  Revelation 14:13 says, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

This is an offer that God still extends to you and me. (1) Ultimate rest necessitates belief in the gospel.  (2) Ultimate rest is the experience of God’s own rest.  (3) Ultimate rest is a promise that God still extends today and you and me.

And Principle Four: Ultimate rest merits our most serious consideration.

Verse 11 says, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

He includes himself in this exhortation, “let us” do this.  True Christians need to do this too!  It also reminds us once again that genuine assurance is a community project.  Remember Hebrews 3:12-13, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  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.”

To be concerned about one’s own salvation is commendable; to pray for one’s fellow man is praiseworthy; but to strive for the salvation of everyone within the confines of the church is exemplary. We ought to take careful note of members who may be drifting from the truth in doctrine or conduct and then pray with them and for them.  We are constantly looking for spiritual stragglers.  (William Hendriksen & Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: Hebrews, 104)

Do you know what a gibbet is?  It is a structure, a gallows, on which the body of a criminal already executed is hung on in a town square to continue to serve as a warning to others.

This is what the writer does as he closes this warning passage:  He holds the exodus generation up once again as a warning to his first century audience and to us today, showing what can happen to those who come up short of authentic faith.

“Strive” or “make every effort” is not saying that we have to work endlessly for our salvation.  He is saying, however, that we do have to do everything possible to insure that we are not deluding ourselves, thinking that we have entered God’s rest when we haven’t because we are not truly trusting in Jesus Christ, but because we are trusting in ourselves.

There is a place for close, microscopic scrutiny, testing the quality of our faith, to see if it is indeed the real thing.  More than merely acknowledging the truth of historic facts, more than mere assent, but an absolute throwing ourselves upon the mercy of Jesus Christ in urgent trust that He is faithful to save us.

Is that what you possess?  If not, you’re still short of the mark and will fall short of entering God’s rest.  There is only one way to enter that rest—through faith in Jesus Christ, by trusting fully and only in Him.  There is no other way.  God doesn’t offer another option.

Our work now is merely an extension of his continued work in us.  As Andrew Murray says, “We work, because He worketh in us to will and to do” (The Holiest of All, p. 152).  That is a reflection of what Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

God is still at work.  He initiates my working by placing in me both the desire to do his good pleasure and the power to be able to do his good pleasure.  I would be unable to “work out my salvation” without his prior work in me but because he does do it my desires and abilities are secured.

So “striving to rest” is not an oxymoron.  We only work out what God is working in us, in his power.  Listen to these verses:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29).

Hebrews 13:21 continues our author’s benediction with these words: “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight.”

We enter his rest by working out his working in us.  It ultimately is his power and strength, not our own.

There’s something else interesting to take note of in this text.  It’s there in the Greek text.  These readers read Greek.

The name Joshua, in verse 8, and the name Jesus, are both spelled exactly the same way in Greek.  And remember, the name literally means, “Yahweh saves.”

Verse 8 does refer to the historical Joshua, but the first century readers would hear or read these words and their minds would have been directed very powerfully to both a Joshua who led their ancestors into the land, but not to rest; and a second Joshua, who didn’t lead them into the land, but does lead us into rest.  And that Joshua is Jesus Christ.

Therefore, make every effort to enter into that rest.  There is no other way in.  The greater Joshua is not interested in a piece of geography, but he is interested in your heart.  He wants your heart to enjoy the contentment and satisfaction in knowing that everything is good in Jesus Christ.

It’s not just the facts, it’s an act of trust in Jesus Christ.  So, let us strive to enter God’s rest.  Or, in other words, let us labor to quit laboring!  Trust, lean on Jesus Christ, put all your hope in Him.  Be “all in” for Jesus.

Spurgeon says: “It is an extraordinary injunction, but I think he means, let us labor not to labor.  Our tendency is to try to do something in order to save ourselves; but we must beat that tendency down, and look away from self to Christ.  Labor to get away from your own labors; labor to be clean rid of all self-reliance; labor in your prayers never to depend upon your prayers; labor in your repentance never to rest upon your repentance; and labor in your faith not to trust to your faith, but to trust alone to Jesus”  (Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Hebrews, 99).

If we continue to look to ourselves, to our own efforts, to our own goodness, our hearts won’t be at rest.  They will be troubled, saddled with the disturbing thought, “Have I done enough?  A, I good enough?”

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was saying, “paid in full.”  Nothing has to be added, or can be substituted for, what Christ has done for us.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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