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The Greatest Rest

Date: Mar. 12, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Hebrews 4:1-13

Key Verse: Hebrews 4:9-10

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.”

Today is the start of Daylight Saving Time, so you probably are tired sitting here listening to me. Well, I’ve got some good news for you. Today, we are going to talk about rest. Honestly, I wish we had nicer seats like armchairs or recliners where you can pop your feet up. Then you could sit back and relax and get the rest you need. We’ve all have hectic lives and each of us could use a break. Who here needs a break? Give me a show of hands. Well, did you know that if you worked in the United Kingdom, you would get 28 days of vacation as mandated by law. Out of a five-day workweek, you would get almost six weeks off a year. That’s a lot. In Austria, you would get 25 days of vacation, plus another 13 days for public holidays or 38 total days off a year. Saudi Arabia requires employers to give 21 days of vacation and Sudan has 20. But here is in the US, we have zero mandated vacation days. Now, our employers might give us vacation days, but there is no government requirement and we are one of the few countries that is like that and the only developed country to not have a mandate. Ours is a culture that keeps sneaking work into times of rest. We can now check our work email on our phones and are in constant contact. However, when God created everything, He knew that we need rest in our lives. We need a time to put all the work aside and rest our souls in him and the rest that God is giving us is greater than any rest that we can find.

Our passage begins, “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” (1) The passage begins with a “Therefore”, which means it ties to the previous section. In the previous section, the author of Hebrews was reminding the readers that most of the Israelites that left Egypt with Moses had rebelled against God, and, in their unbelief, they forfeited their right to enter the Promised Land. God was angry at their rebellion and caused the Israelites to wander the wilderness for forty years until the last of the generation that rebelled had died. Because of their unbelief, they were not allowed to enter God’s rest. Their children grew up in the wilderness, and when that rebellious generation had passed, under Joshua’s leadership, the next generation entered the Promised Land to take hold of it. They could wage war and drive out the Canaanites, who caused so much fear to their fathers. That generation trusted and obeyed God’s commands and took hold of the Promised Land.

As this passage begins, “the promise of entering his rest still stands.” (1) When reading this, that statement seems to come out of nowhere. Nowhere in chapter 3 is it mentioned that the promise still stands, but the author just comes out and says it here. Where he is coming from common knowledge at the time. The idea of the Promised Land and rest goes all the way back to Abraham, where God promised to Abraham that his descendants would take possession of the land of Canaan. When the Israelites finished wandering the wilderness and entered Canaan, it seems that this promise was fulfilled, but, if you read the references, they seem more open-ended. In fact, the promise of rest was also given to David as king for the eternal king. This led to the promise focusing on the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah wrote about the Branch of Jesse, David’s descendant, that would bring peace even between lion and lamb, leopard and goat and that this rest would come with a new heaven and a new earth as creation is renewed. The author of Hebrews held onto this as he recognized that the promise of entering God’s rest still stands.

Well, think about it this way, if entering the Promised Land was considered rest, then why did they have so much trouble in the Promised Land? If you go back into the Old Testament and the enter into the Promised Land in the book of Joshua, by the next book, the book of Judges, the Israelites were oppressed left and right by the Philistines. When their plight was so severe that they could take no more, they cried out to God for relief. Then, God would raise up a leader, called a judge, to lead the people against the oppressors, and as soon as the leader died, the oppression returned. That is not a restful situation. If you go further into history, when Israel had a king, first under Saul and then under David, Israel was at war so often, and again, war is not restful. After Solomon’s time, the kingdom was split into two and there was animosity between the two kingdoms for generations. Again, not very restful. You see, just being in the Promised Land is no guarantee for rest. Just look at the Promised Land now. Now, there is some debate as to whether modern Israel is even related to the Hebrews, but that whole region is oven and it is not very restful. Therefore, the rest that God promised must be something else and it must be a promise that still stands today. God’s rest must still be out there and we need to be careful that we don’t fall short of it.

Now, the passage continues, “For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.” (2) The passage says that we have also had the good news proclaimed to us. Some translations simple say “gospel”, which literally means “good news”. The author is saying that the Old Testament Israelites had the gospel proclaimed to them. That is interesting. We like to think that the gospel didn’t come into existence until Jesus came, but this passage says that the gospel was given to the Israelites in the wilderness. They had the good news proclaimed to them, but instead of knowing the name of Jesus, they could only look forward to his coming and the salvation that he brings. That salvation is rest, God’s rest. Some people want to think that the gospel is old and doesn’t pertain to life now, but it is not old; it is timeless. If you think about it, it is really amazing to see the timelessness of the gospel. It expands forward and backward in time. It reaches us and everyone who heard the promise of rest, all the way back to Abraham. They looked forward to the coming of Jesus. They never saw the promise fulfilled. We know that the promise of the gospel has been fulfilled and we look forward to Jesus’ return, when God’s rest comes in to completeness.

Now, I’ve talked quite a bit about God’s rest without really explaining it. As the author of Hebrews notes, “For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all his works.’” (4) The author quotes a verse from Genesis, the first book of the Bible and it is about the creation of the world. Now, in that passage, God worked for six days to create everything: the sky, the sea, the sun, the moon and stars, fish, birds, all other animals and people, but on the seventh day, God rested from all his works. His work was done and God took the time to rest and see his creation. Now, God doesn’t get winded and need rest. Instead, his taking rest is an example for us. God created us flesh and blood, body and soul. He knows that we can’t go on forever. We need rest. As an adult, we are supposed to sleep eight hours a day. We were designed to rest. To get it into our heads that we need rest, God didn’t just tell us what to do, he showed us by working hard for six days and resting on the seventh day. Our week is still set up in that way with seven days in a week. We are to take the seventh day and rest.

Now, that rest means that we put down our work, but it also means that we take the time to reconnect with God. We are not to take the time off to binge-watch something or plant ourselves on the couch and watch every football and basketball game. Now, who has done something like that, where you just plop down and veg out on something? How do you feel afterwards? Rest is supposed to revive us, but vegging out and being lazy don’t refresh us. In fact, many times, we desire more of it. We become insatiable for laziness. Idleness is not rest. You could sleep for twelve hours a day, and I know that there are those out there that wish that they could do that, but all that sleep won’t revive you. You will wake up and still feel tired. Rest is something more. Rest is reconnecting with God. God is the source of life and, when our life feels drained, we need to reconnect to that source. We’re like smartphones. When it is fully charged, it can run and do its business. It can do a lot of tasks, like the aforementioned binge-watching, but over time: a couple of days, a day or part of a day, it needs to get plugged in. You need to recharge your smartphone for it to keep going. We are no different. When life starts to wear thin, where we are either being attacked or the worries of the world are on our shoulders or we just have a lot of work to do, that’s when we need to recharge. God’s rest recharges us and that is why it is so important. God’s rest fills us with life, and that is life everlasting. We come to God and we don’t feel tired. We come to God and we don’t feel stressed. We come to God and we don’t feel worried. If we just keep working, we will collapse from exhaustion. If we try to find rest by lounging and taking vacations, we really won’t find rest. We pack our vacations too full to be restful and lounging is a self-perpetuating downward spiral. You can never get enough rest from lounging. Only God’s rest satisfies. Only God’s rest is what our bodies and souls need.

We should not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the fact of God’s rest. The author urges us, “Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’” (6-7) Those who disobeyed did not enter God’s rest, but today, right now, you have an opportunity to enter that rest. You have an opportunity to take hold of perfection. Do not delay. If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Do not deny the truth. You need rest and God’s rest is the greatest rest that there is. We can enter that rest. It is still out there. Verse 8 says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.” The rest was not the Promised Land. The land of Canaan was merely a shadow of the true Promised Land; the one where God gives us complete rest.

We can see next, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” (9-10) The Sabbath was the seventh day, but there is a real rest for God’s people. Because in this rest, we rest from all our works. This is something that is still to come. It is where our hope lies. This future rest is the real rest. In it, there is no more toil, no more pain, no more bosses and no more unfulfilling work. Back when God created everything, man worked the garden. It was paradise, but it was still work. After humanity disobeyed God and kicked out of paradise, man was cursed to painful toil. That is more than just work, but it explains our current situation. Whether it is schoolwork, homework or work work, it is stressful, pointless and a burden on our bodies and souls. In God’s perfect rest, all that work ends and we get to spend one hundred percent of our time with the Lord. All our time, will be in the presence of the life source. All the backbreaking work will end and the singing of praises will begin. There will be feasts and celebrations for eternity. On this earth, there are times where it feels like there are enemies all around. The Israelites felt that after taking possession of Canaan. All around them were hostile peoples that wanted to wipe them out and there might be people maneuvering to knock you out, but in the perfect rest, we rest from all our enemies too. They can’t get to us, because we are with God. All our enemies will be destroyed, including death. It is written, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26)

Because this rest is so perfect, we really need to make sure that we have it. Our passage says, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (11) We don’t want anyone to perish. We must see that everyone we can help find their way to the rest. We don’t want to follow the disobedient examples. It is up to us to make every effort to get there. We can’t let it slip through our fingers. If we miss it, the it is gone forever. Some people out there think that they don’t need rest. They push and push and push to get ahead, but if they pass this up, they might miss their opportunity for real peace. We need to make the decision today to make every effort to enter that rest. If we don’t get in, then we are lost for eternity. It is really something that is dire and we need to understand the severity and urgency of the situation.

So, what is this effort that’s being talked about? It really sounds like we need to do something. Earlier in the passage, it talks about belief and that is the most important thing we need to do, but it in the last two verses, there is a warning that God sees everything. Our effort is not in what we do, but in our hearts and thoughts. Those last verses say, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (12-13) Man, verse 12 just seems like it is out of nowhere. Don’t get me wrong; it is a good verse, but it just shows up. One thing I want to take away from it is that God’s word does not judge our actions, but our thoughts and attitudes of the heart. God’s word penetrates us beyond our surface actions to see what is inside us, the intangible things. God knows our thoughts and hearts. He knows why we do things. When it is time for him to make the decision of whether we can enter his rest, it is not our actions he judges, but our thoughts and attitudes. If we are scheming, he will know. If we are doing things grudgingly, he will know. If we are holding back, he will know. There are countless reasons to do something. We can feed the hungry or share the gospel, but why do we do it? God knows what is in your heart and he knows why you feed the hungry and share the gospel. You need to ask yourselves whether you seek that rest for your glory or his.

Now this is a spot where we can get into trouble. Each of us has a duplicitous heart. We have mixed motivations for doing things. Does that mean that everything is lost? Is it a moot point to talk about all this? I mean, we can try to turn our lives around right now, but we are so mired in sin that we go astray even if we don’t want to. We try to do good, but the good we want to do we do not do. What hope is there for people like us? There is so much hope. Did you know that almost exactly one year ago, I gave a message on rest? On March 13, 2016, I gave a message on rest from Matthew 11. What are the odds that I got this topic two years in a row exactly a year apart? I was also the start of Daylight Saving Time. I bring this up because the key verse of that message give us hope now. In that verse, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Jesus is the giver of rest. It is only through Jesus that we can get through to enter God’s rest. He is the one who takes away our burdens. He is the one who conquers all our enemies. He is the one to destroyed death. Jesus is the one who can correct our attitudes. When we come to him and give everything that is in our hearts to him, he gives us the rest we seek. We can’t find it anywhere else.

Many times, we have the tendency to think that if we had just that one thing, then we would be all right and we could find some rest. Unfortunately, that’s not true. I will give you one example. Back when my wife was in school, we were struggling financially. God provided for us every time things looked dire, but there were times where we had to put something on the credit card and it just started ballooning. We couldn’t save anything. Now, we could have thought that if he had just a little more money, then life will be all right. I want to be clear, we didn’t thing that, but we could have. Now, my wife has a good job and we are paying off monster student loans, but we aren’t struggling financially anymore. We’re paying down our debts and saving. It is a nice change, but we don’t have any rest. We are so busy running around that we are exhausted every night. Money didn’t give us rest. It solved an issue, but it was not a cure. It never will be, and that is because true rest, the greatest rest, is only found in God through Jesus. Nothing else will ever satisfy our bodies and souls.

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