Make Every Effort To Enter [His] Rest
Key Verse 4:11
“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”
This last passage in chapter 4, mainly verses 11-16 end the section that tells us about Christ’s superiority to Joshua. That section began at verse 1 with the beautiful promise that God gives us of His rest. And before we get into what we will be looking at this time, I would like to point out that it is indeed his rest and not ours that God promises us. It’s important that we keep this in mind as we consider the promise of the rest which God offers us. It will be a rest for us, but it will forever be his rest that we get. That’s who our God is. He has always given us of himself. Everything we have and receive are his; they are always his gifts; given from him to us. While all religions and philosophies begin with man himself, and focus on man himself, and work themselves upward to God, trying to achieve something from within themselves for God— our faith is entirely different. All that we are and have is his. It is his peace that he gives us, for Christ himself is our peace. It is his light that he gives us, for the Lord himself is our light. It is his bread that sustains us, for he himself is our bread from heaven that we eat. It is his strength given to persevere, for the Lord is our strength. God is our God, and he gives us himself, and of himself. It is his righteousness that he gives us, for Christ is our righteousness and our very life. So then, indeed when the author says his rest, it is surely his rest, because the Lord himself who gives us himself is himself our rest.
Look at verse 11. This verse carries over from what the author began to say in verse 1: “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.” And he concludes in this verse 11, where he says: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” He is very earnest in this! There is no doubt that he wants them (and us) to make every effort to enter his rest, meaning God’s rest. We’ve been talking about God’s rest for a while now, explaining it’s meaning. The whole course of the Bible history talks about God’s rest in many ways, but the meaning is the same. This world can offer us no rest. Especially there is no rest for our souls in this world. There’s only anxiety and worry, insecurity and fear wherever we turn. Recent events in the world shook to the core people’s security and longing for peace and rest. Only God can give us the rest our souls long for. Jesus talked a lot about rest. He invited anyone looking for rest to come to him. In other words Jesus invited us to find rest through in him so that we can find peace with God here and now, and make our way back to him. No wonder the apostle here fusses over the issue of rest so much. These people heard the gospel and believed in Jesus. They should entertain no doubts whatsoever.
When God offers his rest to people through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus, he’s offering salvation from sin and from his terrible wrath. He’s offering eternal life rather than eternal condemnation. He’s offering a return to paradise and the kingdom of God’s Son who rules with righteousness and with love. God’s rest which God offers is by far the most precious thing anyone can hope for. It’s the promise God made to Adam and to all our ancestors and fulfilled through Christ Jesus his Son. No wonder the apostle urges them and us to hold on to it and never let go. The salvation of our souls isn’t a game or a joke. One cannot gamble like this when it comes to their soul. So when we look at verses 1 and 11, we see two serious admonitions that compel us to consider what he’s saying more seriously.
The first serious admonition is in verse 1 where he says something like don’t be found having fallen short of it. The words I want you to consider here are fallen short of it. These words that the apostle uses here are really very interesting. They have the same meaning as something being done too late, or not quite achieved on time. Let me explain. Last time I told you about the 10 Israelites spies who returned with a bad report and corrupted the faith of the whole community. When they didn’t combine God’s word with faith, they fell into unbelief. And because these men sinned so greatly against God by corrupting the faith of the community, they all died. Then God rebuked the whole community through Moses and gave them another word; he promised that they wouldn’t enter his rest. They should have accepted it as God’s word to them. But here’s the rest of the story we did not go into last time; here’s what they did though after hearing God’s word of rebuke.
“When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. ‘We have sinned,’ they said. ‘We will go up to the place the Lord promised.’ But Moses said, ‘Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.’ Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.” (Numbers 14:39-45)
It’s what the apostle had been talking about. That’s why he used the word fallen short of it. It all goes back to these people, who sinned and were rebuked, but then they disobeyed and were routed or defeated. They had lost the privilege of receiving God’s promise because of their unbelief. By the time they decided to believe and lay hold of the promise, it was too late. They were a day late in deciding to believe. They had fallen short of it. And that’s the tragedy of many people as well. Time and again, our Lord Jesus taught about the urgency of believing— of making use of every opportunity God had given us— not only in believing in him, but also in all areas of our spiritual lives. Especially in the area of kingdom work, eventually regrets are useless. Now is the time to listen to the Lord, to serve him and to do his will!
Now we come to verse 11 where the author admonishes yet again regarding God’s rest, and this time he says that in view of what he has explained thus far, we should make every effort to enter God’s rest. Actually not just us, that is, you and me the Christian, but all people everywhere should make every effort to enter God’s rest. Why? Because contrary to the worldly opinion, God takes no delight in seeing anyone perish, but “wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3) And people tragically perish, not because God is unfair but certainly for a reason. The apostle defines the reason clearly in verse 11. He explains why those whose example we shouldn’t follow perished. They perished because of their disobedience. Not because God is mean or because he didn’t like them personally. Not because they were set aside from birth for destruction. But because of their disobedience. Therefore, those who obeyed entered God’s rest, but those who disobeyed didn’t enter God’s rest. The disobedient perished, while the obedient received God’s promised salvation and kingdom.
Now all this sheds bright light for us on the words of admonition make every effort. They tell us what these words mean. Initially make every effort gives us the impression that entering God’s rest is a matter of works, of hard works nonetheless! How are we to make every effort to enter God’s rest? Does the salvation that God promises depend on our effort— strength— ambition— skill or ability? But the apostle is clear that salvation is a matter of obedience to God. In other words— no— salvation has nothing to do with man’s effort at all, and has everything to do with God’s own effort. Obedience on our part isn’t effort. Obedience to God is simply submission to God’s will and plan of salvation. You and I cannot make a plan for ourselves to be saved. It is God who makes the plan and it is God who carries out the plan, and you and I simply accept his plan and submit to it. That’s obedience!
To put it most simply then, obedience to God is faith. And making every effort to enter God’s rest then is none other than faith, in fact, even faith in action. That’s obedience in its finest form. God in heaven above in his eternal glory had given us his Word. We who are born of this earth receive God’s word and take it to heart in good faith. That’s obedience! Whatever that word may be— whether it’s God’s plan of salvation— or a word of promise— or a command to follow— or a calling to service— or a word of rebuke or a word of encouragement— whatever that word may be, our point of contact with our God in heaven while we’re here on earth is to receive his word— to believe it— to cherish it— to take it to heart— to obey it with a childlike trust. Obedience is faith, and faith is obedience! Make every effort to enter God’s rest is a call to faith in Christ Jesus, a persistent, unwavering, fierce faith in him and in who he is, and faith in what he says and does. It’s a call to obedience to his word, to every word that he has said and continues to say to you too me today tomorrow and always.
The subject of obedience is as old as the Bible— as old as our ancestor Adam who lost us paradise because of his act of disobedience to God. Ever since then, our whole story of redemption throughout the Bible has been to restore us to obedience to God. Read your Bible and you’ll see how God had to painstakingly teach us obedience all over again. It took generations upon generations. It was a very long journey. But finally a Hero was born on Christmas day who changed the course of history. He obeyed God in everything, while all along teaching us how imperative it is for us too to obey God. Then in an act of selfless sacrifice and in complete obedience to God, he died on a cross and liberated us from our long suffering bondage to sin and disobedience. And he gave us a gospel of life, his life, that we should believe, accept and obey. Because of our Hero’s obedience and life giving Spirit, we now have his Spirit of obedience living in us. The Lord Jesus made it possible for us once again to obey God where it was impossible to obey him. That’s faith! It’s faith working to believe— to trust— to accept everything he commands us and to put it into practice. Making every effort to enter his rest isn’t hard labor. Nor is it burdensome. It’s simply the obedience of those who love Jesus and trust him in faith. (John 15:9-10) Jesus showed us the best way when he said: “Remain in me and I in you.” (John 15:5) As we remain in him, we live by faith and obedience, making every effort to enter God’s rest. While the world is making every effort to take a vacation, to increase their income, to drown their sorrows in pleasure, we should make every effort to enter God’s rest.
Let us make every effort to enter his rest, the author says! Why? We already talked about why it’s imperative that we make every effort to enter God’s rest. However, the apostle gives us in verse 12 another because! In verse 11 when he first says because, it seems that the apostle’s concern was the well-being of our souls, our salvation, our eternal rest in the heavenly presence of God our Father. His concern is that no one fall short of it, that is, that no one perish on account of their disobedience, but live through the obedience that comes from faith! If that is so, then what is the apostle’s concern when he added this second because [or For] in verse 12? His concern is entirely focused on two things here. First, in verse 12, he is deeply concerned that they understand the nature of God’s word— which they are called to obey. And second, in verse 13, he is also deeply concerned that they understand the One who issues God’s word— which they are called to obey. It’s truly remarkable how the author helps us in our spiritual journey. We are called to put our faith in God and to trust his word. Now he explains to us the glory of such a faith. In other words our faith in Christ and in his word are worth every investment of life we have made to have them. And this is why.
Let’s read verses 12-13. “For the word of God is living 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.” First of all, what is “the word of God” which the author is referring to here? It is all of the words spoken by God throughout the ages. We have a Bible in our hands; that is the word of God. The gospel we have heard; that is the word of God. Our Lord Jesus himself is the incarnate Word of God who lived among us for a while and relayed to us all of God’s words. Jesus’ words had been also as the author describes them— Living and Active. As when God spoke at the beginning and through his word all things came into being, so also when Jesus spoke, men’s hearts awakened from sleep. The ocean calmed. Diseases were cured. Demons shuddered and fled. His word was not the word of an ordinary man. There was nothing ordinary about it. It has life and it gave life. It worked its way into hearts and accomplished what no man could ever accomplish. And this same living and active word of God is still Living and active. He sits on his throne in heaven and commands the universe to function. He also defends his people with his words. His words which we have recorded in this book are as living and active as the day God himself uttered them. The proof of that is the testimony of history that through the word of God passed down, through the message of Christ passed down, we have a world filled with Christians who have been touched and blessed and changed by the living and active word of God.
The word of God is powerful and active, the apostle tells us. He had a clear point in saying this. Obedience or disobedience to the word of God is not a small matter. As we said before, obedience or disobedience to God’s word is matter of life or death. Disobedience is committing spiritual suicide, for who in their right mind would turn away the only thing that can save their lives. Jesus himself referred to the words he has given us as “Spirit and Life” (John 6:63). Peter was an ordinary fisherman who didn’t understand much about anything except survival. But when he heard Jesus’ words, and saw the power by which Jesus’ words spoke and the effect they had on the human heart, he had to confess: “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68) His understanding and insight penetrated through the darkness of this world into the light of heaven. Later on, after Jesus’ ascension to his rightful place in heaven, Peter fully understood the power of Jesus’ words. He realized where life has its beginnings, not only physical life, but spiritual life as well. In other words, he understood how a person is made new, how a spiritual child is born even in an old man’s body, how new life can rise from the decay of the old life, and how a person can sustain that new life and grow in it, until he or she can truly overcome all things and begin to resemble the Lord Jesus. When he wrote to us, he said: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23) Indeed the word of God is that sharp instrument that has the power to divide soul from spirit, giving birth to new life within us. But after that, it is the instrument that works in every area of our lives, judging the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. It is that instrument that shows us clearly who we are, pointing out our sins, now rebuking us now encouraging us. Why? To sustain us by his word, and to shape our lives according to the will of God.
The Hebrew Christians needed to hear these words. They needed to hear that the word of God is not merely Script on paper, nor a ritual to follow. But the word of God is Alive and Active, working deeply among us and within us for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. When they hear it, they must have the right attitude towards it, trusting it and submitting to its life changing powers so that it might shape them accordingly. This is a great comfort for us. The word of God is Living and Active. When we let the word of God into our hearts, it has the power to work on its own according to God’s will and purpose. Making every effort to enter God’s rest, as we said before, is not a matter of our own labor. Rather it is submission to the word of God in faith and obedience, letting the word of God guide us in all things. When we humble ourselves and submit to the word of God in obedient faith, the word of God carries us through our journey of spiritual growth on to our final rest. God himself tells us who he admires among his people: “This is the one I esteem, he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” When we tremble at his word, we hold it in high honor and believe in its power to work within us to accomplish its purpose. (Isaiah 55:11)
The Hebrew Christians needed to hear some other words as well, as we do too. He tells us in verse 13: “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.” We can pretend all we want before the eyes of other people. We can act out a role in our lives and be very convincing. We can make others believe that we have taken an advice to heart or have put away a sin in our lives. We can hide our hearts from one another. But we can never hide our hearts from the Living God. To God, everything is uncovered and laid bare and he sees and knows all things, in our hearts, in our lives, even our secret of secrets. The apostle especially draws our attention to our accounting before God. The day will come when every one will have to stand before God’s judgment seat and give an accounting for all things. (2 Corinthians 5:10) We can neither escape nor hide, and certainly we have no excuse not to listen to his words and submit to them in obedient faith. This was Jesus’ last command to his disciples, that when the gospel is preached, men and women are taught to obey everything he has commanded us. (Matthew 28:19-20) We need to remember who God is. God is Sovereign and he knows and sees all things. We honor him as God and acknowledge his sovereign presence in our lives and community. And then we need to remember that his words are alive and active. With that faith, we not only make every effort to enter his rest, but we also encourage others to share our faith as well and revere God and his word. Amen.