A Sabbath Rest For The People Of God
Key Verse 4:9
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.”
In chapter 3, the author’s concern was that we fix our thoughts on Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. Christ should always be heard, trusted and obeyed, first because of who he is— for he is the Son of God! And second, because of the consequences of not hearing him, trusting him and obeying him. And the author took pains in explaining this second point in chapter 3. He gave us an example from the history of the Israelites who didn’t listen to Moses, hardening their hearts and perishing in the wilderness. The consequences of their failure to open their hearts and hear the words of Christ caused them to miss out on God’s promise. They failed to enter the rest God had prepared for them in escaping the wilderness and entering Canaan, the land of promise. In chapter 3, as the author has written, the first section dealt primarily with Psalm 95:7-8 (Hebrews 3:7-10) — with mainly not hardening one’s heart when hearing God’s voice. Now the second section— the section we are going to deal with in this passage— deals primarily with Psalm 95.11 (Hebrews 3:11)— that is, mainly with God’s rest. This second section of the exposition of Psalm 95 (as the author has written) goes beyond the description of unbelief and its dire consequences (3:12-19) to define the nature of the “rest” which those who disobeyed had forfeited. So we are mainly going to be talking about that word “rest” found in Hebrews 3:11 as the author defines it for us.
Read verse 4:1. “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.” This passage clearly begins with a warning and at the same time an encouragement. It also begins with another “therefore”! Simply speaking, he’s telling us that a certain promise God had made is still available and that we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to grab it! This seems to be straight forward. He’s been warning his readers from the start not to let go of their faith in Christ. He’s been encouraging them from the start to hold on to their original conviction and confession. Neither Christ Jesus nor our faith in him are a thing to be trifled with nor a game of chance we can afford to play. He is God the Son and our faith in him or lack of it is a matter of life or death. Jesus himself said these very words: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) The author’s warning and encouragement throughout the letter are strong and valid. Why? He doesn’t want them to perish for any reason— whether their faith was suffering because of hardship or because of some doubt they were having or simply because they seemed to love their sins more than they loved Christ. He didn’t want them to perish. He wanted them to have faith in Christ and live. Faith in Christ must rise above all things in our hearts.
Look again at verse 1. First of all, we need to define what is this important word “promise” that God had given us, and which the author brings out for the first time in the book of Hebrews. What then is this “promise”? [Look how defines the word] The content of this “promise” are defined in verse 1 as “entering his rest”, or “entering (God’s) rest”. Regardless of what elaborate meaning this “promise” may have (including that of the eternal life he alludes to in verse 11 in contrast to the word perish), the fact that he speaks of the good news of the gospel in verse 2, tells us that the “promise” is related to, and looks forward to the eternal rest in heaven— that is, the eternal salvation God had promised to anyone who believes in Jesus. (John 3:16)
The apostle, having defined the promise as “entering God’s rest”, he tells us that the promise still stands. And since the promise is still available for us all, he warns and encourages that we not be found to have fallen short of it. As we said earlier he doesn’t want anyone to miss out on heaven’s experience— on God’s promise of salvation. Why? The answer is simple. Our Lord Jesus said: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) And that’s the truth! There is nothing more important in a man’s life than the salvation of his soul. He should be ready to lose the whole world in order to save his soul. And God’s promise to do just that is still available as the apostle tells us. It is a most precious promise that no human being should be found to have fallen short of— especially because it’s offered to us by grace through the sacrifice of our high priest Jesus, and because it’s available to anyone who asks for it by faith in Christ Jesus.
And that’s what the author continues to tell his readers in verse 2. He tells them why they shouldn’t miss the opportunity of being blessed with the glorious promise of God’s eternal rest. Read verse 2. “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” In this verse we see two kinds of people who hear the gospel— and two ways to receive it or respond to it. And what he tells us here is very relevant to us personally. It teaches us that what word of God we hear is of no value to us unless we combine it (or mix it) with faith— especially the message of salvation which is the gospel of our Lord. This we call saving faith for those who have not yet received it!
The question here is, what does it mean to combine faith with the gospel message we hear! To answer that question the apostle gives us the same example of those in the time of Moses (in the previous chapter) who heard the same gospel message— yet the message didn’t save them nor give them the promised rest. Why? Because they didn’t combine it (or mix it) with faith. Actually, of that whole generation who perished, only two people lived to see God’s promise fulfilled in their own lives. Why? They were the only two who combined faith with the message. Who were they and what is their story? Moses sent the 12 spies into the land God had promised to give the people to investigate the land and to bring back a report about it. These 12 were carefully selected from each of the tribes as their representatives, men of standing and influence in the community within their own tribes. Their reports would be highly valued by the communities they represent. Here’s a quote of the report the 12 brought back when they returned and what happened as a result of it. You can see through it what 10 spies reported and what the 2 reported and compare.
“They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there… Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
“That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.” (Numbers 13:27-33; 14:1-10)
All the spies saw and experienced exactly the same things regarding the land God was promising to give them. Yet not all 12 spies came back with the same report to share with the people. What ten of the spies reported became the seed that caused the rebellion and the eventual destruction of these people. Why was their report so destructive that it destroyed them and everyone who heard them? Well now, that’s the clue to the whole mystery, isn’t it! They heard the same gospel message that promised victory. But they didn’t combine the message with faith. There were two other spies, the remaining two of the 12 who went, who had heard the same message, who had seen the same difficulty to conquer the land of Canaan. But their reports were utterly different from the other 10. Why? Because they had combined the message they heard with faith. None of the other spies shared their faith. These two as you know were Joshua and Caleb.
When we listen to their report we can immediately tell what it means that they didn’t combine or mix faith with the message. The message they heard was that God was ready to give them the land. All they needed was too believe the message and take it to heart. What then betrayed their faith and separated their faith from combining or mixing with the message? They had gone to spy out the land, and it had become a trap for their senses. They saw fortified cities and strong fighting men and well established peoples. And then they let fear and doubt grip them. Whatever faith they had died away. The message never changed— God is with you. But their faith did. Every word they spoke to their community was steeped in unbelief. They became the death of their own people. On the other hand, Joshua and Caleb heard the same message. They saw the same fortified cities and the same powerful enemies. But they combined their faith with the message. Meaning— they trusted God’s word more than their own senses— more than what they saw and heard and experienced— more than what their hearts and minds were telling them. They believed that God’s message is reliable and true and has the power to fulfill all that it has promised, regardless of situations and circumstances!
What promises of God or message of God are you combining or not combining with faith today? Is there a word of God that you need to combine with faith or are you letting your senses or human circumstances separate your faith from the message or promise which can otherwise make a difference in your life? How often do we let what we see and hear and feel and think interfere with the message God had for us! We should always combine faith with every message we hear in the word of God, because it is this very combination that bring us the blessings we have in Christ our Lord. He has paved the way for our eternal rest. Now through faith we can gain access to every blessing we have in him. Mere knowledge of his word of promise is not enough. We need to ever combine that faith with every promise.
Read verse 3. “Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, ‘So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.” And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world.’” Now Joshua and Caleb were among the few who actually entered the land of promise, that is Canaan— the “physical rest” which God had promised his faithful people. But this rest was only a shadow of the real “spiritual rest” God promised to give all those whose faith is in Christ Jesus his Son. So, Joshua and Caleb were in fact among the Great multitude of people in the Old Testament who combined the message of the Good News of the Gospel with faith and truly entered God’s promised rest— which is the promised eternal life and the kingdom of God. So in verse 3, the apostle once again addresses the Christians who have believed the message and assures them that, just as the rebels would never enter his rest, (that is, that they would never receive the eternal life and kingdom God promised), those who have believed the message would most certainly do— that is receive them.
Read verses 3b-7. If you look at the last part of verse 3 and on till verse 7— the apostle’s reference to the fact that God having already finished his work— well, that’s very interesting as well. What the apostle is telling us seems a little complicated and simple at the same time. Simply speaking, he explains the character or nature of God’s work and rest. They are both eternal as God himself is eternal. [When talking about entering God’s rest, God speaks at times in the past tense, at times in the present and at times in the future. And there’s a good reason for that. It doesn’t mean that God’s rest is ever changing or God is ever creating new resting places or times. He worked once and finished. He did so in eternity. For us who live in time, there is history, a yesterday a today and Tomorrow. There is a people of God who rebelled in the wilderness and perished, and the people of the book of Hebrews, our Christian brothers and sisters who believed and are resting with God as promised. And then there is us who believe and will some day rest in God. For us God’s rest is in the future. Our day of faith is “Today”. But for God who is eternal, his work was finished at creation. His rest accomplished. That’s what the author wants to convey to us. He also wants to convey something else.]
He is saying that that rest is guaranteed because the work has been finished, and his rest already accomplished, and that we are all invited into it. You only have to believe. It’s not a rest that God has yet to fulfill. It was done the moment God rested from his work. Since God is eternal, rest in him is also eternal. But it’s there for you now in your own time frame in history “Today”. Therefore, grab it while you are alive, while the opportunity is given to you. Don’t be caught short of it! How urgent is this message to today’s people. And how many Christians today think they already have it while they are the most hardened to it. We of all people need to repent of our hardened hearts towards God’s message and combine it with faith.
Read verse 8. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.” This verse as well is very interesting. The author yet again makes claim to Jesus’ superiority— this time to Joshua. He’s still on the same subject of explaining to his readers about the true rest that God has promised to give God’s people. When he promised the Israelites rest in the promised land, he was referring to the physical land of Canaan. But we cannot forget that that promise was a shadow of the real promised rest God would give his people, which is eternal life in the spiritual kingdom of God. And that’s exactly what the author is explaining here to these Hebrew Christians. Joshua may have led them to rest in the promised physical land of Canaan! But God’s real rest did not come through Joshua or Moses. Real promised spiritual rest came only through Jesus Christ who is far greater than either Joshua or Moses. Joshua brought them into the promised land of Canaan, but it was merely earthly rest and only a shadow of the heavenly rest. So the author tells them, otherwise why would God even speak of another rest later on!
Why are we even talking about this? Why is it significant for us? Well it is! And in many ways! God promised the Jews rest in Canaan after their long slavery in Egypt and after a long wilderness experience. He promised that they would possess a land flowing with milk and honey. Joshua led them into that land and they conquered it and settled it. But they never really had proper rest in it throughout the years. Even though God was their God they didn’t rest well as long as they were still living in this world. That’s why God’s real rest is never in this world, otherwise God would not have spoken of another day of rest to us. That’s why he sent Jesus to deliver us from this world and open our eyes to see that nothing in this world can give us true rest— that only he and his kingdom can provide that rest for us. Today there are many charlatans who promise a paradise for weary Christians here on earth, promising to settle them in comfort and riches and peace. But even if Joshua and Moses themselves should come down to give you rest in some promised land, know for certain that they are liars and that only Christ Jesus gives true rest and no one else, and it’s certainly not in this world at all.
Read verses 9-10. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” “Sabbath-rest” has a tremendous meaning. First of all, it clearly defines what rest God is talking about here all along. Therefore “Sabbath-rest” means spiritual rest as opposed to earthly rest. Second, it also refers to the seventh day when God commanded the people to not do any work on that day. And why did God give such a command? So that you could lose money and be miserable, or so that your friends can think you’re religious fanatics and make fun of you? Not really! God’s reasoning back then was that we take rest in him, and seek him and replenish our souls from a hard week’s work. God’s reason later was not much different either. It was because, as he says, he himself rested on the seventh day from his own work, he would bring us as well to rest. So this gives rise to a whole new meaning to the “Sabbath-rest”. It tells us what spiritual rest that God had in mind for us is all about or what it is akin to. As God rested, meaning as God finished his work and rested, so also our “Sabbath-rest” would be a rest, a completion of our own work as well, the fulfillment of our earthly mission and final destiny of our soul.
You see God created Adam and gave him a mission. When Adam fell and God was given to casting him out of the Garden and cursing the ground because of him, Adam lost his God-given mission of life. And when he lost his God-given mission in life, he also lost the purpose and meaning of his life all together. His whole life and existence was reduced to nothing more than work for survival. Look at any man— examine the history of all men! The meaning and purpose of their lives has been tied down to working hard to survive— working to eat and eating to work— nothing but a struggle to survive. It’s pathetic how men and nations in history— the rise and fall of empires had been a game of survival of the fittest. That’s what happened to all the descendants of Adam.
Then came Jesus, the second Adam and he said things to us like “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. (Matthew 4:4) He said things like “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you”. (John 6:27) He showed us that our lives are not a struggle for survival, work to eat and eat to survive and work to eat and then to die in a meaningless struggle. He saved us from our sins, and restored the true purpose of our lives. And why is that? Of course, out of his great love for us. But that is not all. The Lord saved us to restore us to our original purpose. That we may serve God as we were originally created to do! We have a mission in this life to serve God’s purpose. This is our real life. Our life in this body is serving our creator. To work with him. Our Lord, who is the Pioneer of our salvation and Master, while he was paving the way of salvation and rest for us said: “My father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (John 5:17) He meant that God’s work is going on in this world and that Jesus had a mission from God to fulfill. We too are his followers and servants and we too have a mission to fulfill. We can’t rest till this mission is complete. After that, it will be a “Sabbath-rest” for us. The apostle mentions a “Sabbath-rest” here to remind us that as God rested on the Sabbath when his work was completed, so also there is a “Sabbath-rest” for us when our mission is completed as well. We must not neglect our mission while we wait for God’s promise to be fulfilled. It would be a great mistake— a blatant act of unbelief to do so. The apostle in writing these Hebrew Christians wanted them to know that Christians who are in Christ and who follow Christ Jesus also listen to his voice and obey him from the heart. They live for his glory and do as he wills. And the Lord’s will is clear. The gospel must be preached at any cost. It will not be easy. As we preach the gospel, we will invite all kinds of criticism and sometimes even persecution and suffering. But that should be the crown on our heads. For we are a people who are not looking for a rest in this world, but a Sabbath-rest that the Lord has promised us.
Read verse 11. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” So let us make every effort to enter God’s rest. We should begin this every effort with sincere prayer, because prayer is depending on God, and our expression of faith in God. And we should combine our faith with his message believing that he will use us to serve his purpose until we enter his rest after we have fulfilled our mission in our life. Amen.