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ENTER GOD’S REST

Hebrews 4:1-4:13
Key Verse: 4:11

In the last lesson we learned that holy brothers who share in the heavenly calling are to fix their thoughts on Jesus. May this be our life clear direction in our journey of faith to the end, fighting against sinful unbelieving thoughts at each moment. Today’s passage is about God’s rest. A most serious issue for many people in our time is that they have no rest in their hearts. Though they enjoy the latest technology, and unprecedented levels of material prosperity and entertainment, their hearts are more restless than ever. People are anxious, frustrated, nervous, fearful and desperate. How can we be free from all kinds of anxiety and stress and have rest in our hearts? Today’s passage teaches us how to enter God’s rest, which is the true and deep rest for our souls. The word “rest” appears thirteen times in chapter 3 and 4. In this study we can we can think of the way to enter God’s rest and the significance of God’s word.

First, God’s rest (1-11). 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.” In Psalm 95:11 God said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest’”, instead of saying, “…They shall never enter the promised land.” And the author of Hebrews quoted it as it is. If it is written, “They shall never enter the promised land of Canaan,” the event of entering the land would have no part with us, only with the Israelites of that time. It would be just the past event; some entered and others did not enter, and that’s it. We would only be able to learn the importance of faith, by the words, “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” However, by declaring, “They shall never enter my rest,” God make clear that the event is applicable of all of people of all generations. And so the promise of entering his rest stand to the people of any generation including us. In this the author of Hebrews urges the audience, saying, “…let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” Here we can infer that entering God’s rest is as certain and concrete as entering the promise land, and falling short of it is too miserable to imagine.

Look at 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.” The word “gospel” meaning, “good news” is written here and later on in 4:6, only two times in the book of Hebrews. The gospel, the good news of God’s promise to enter the land of Canaan, was preached to the Israelites, which was flowing from Abraham and was included in the promise, “You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). Also, the gospel of entering the kingdom of God through repentance and faith in Jesus has been preached to us. To the author of Hebrews, in that sense of the gospel being preached, the people in the Old Testament and in the New Testament are the same.

Yet in verse 2b, “but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” Here we see that hearing the gospel is one thing and combining it with faith is another. Surely, combining it with faith means one’s whole-hearted response to the gospel as the only way of living. Those who respond to it whole-heartedly know that it is a matter of eternal life and death. But there are many people who consider the gospel as a secondary thing in life rather than the primary one. Then the gospel has no effect on them at all, although they seem to be believers. Their lives are basically not different from unbelievers. Not combining the gospel with faith is not a light matter.

Then in verse 3a, “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.”’” Here the author of Hebrews understood that the promise of “they shall never enter my rest” also meant “some will surely enter.” “Now we who have believed enter that rest.” In this expression we see the effect of faith. It does not say, “We who have believed will enter that rest,” but “We who have believe enter that rest.” Faith is effective here and now. Instead of experiencing God’s anger those who have believed experience God’s rest, surely in a right relationship with God through Christ Jesus. This is as Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

And then in verses 3b-4, “And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” According to Genesis chapters 1 and 2, God’s creation work was completed in six days and on the seventh day God rested from all his work. Why did the author mention it? God rested from all his work, not because he was tired. It was to commemorate his creation work. He wanted mankind to appreciate his creation and dwell in his rest having fellowship with him. But because of sin men became restless apart from God’s rest. So again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” God’s creation work was done, but men were not able to enter his rest because of sin. In this conflict God began his redemptive work. That’s why Jesus once said to the Jews who were persecuting him for healing on the Sabbath, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” So after God’s creation work God’s redemption work and history has been going on until now and it will be so till the end of the age.

So in verse 6, “It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience.” It is notable that in verse 3, the author wrote, “Now we who believe enter that rest”, and here in verse 6, he wrote, “some will enter that rest.” So entering that rest is an event both at present and in the future. The expression, “some will enter that rest” includes “others will not enter that rest.” Still those who will not enter that rest have hope. But in verse 6b, “those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience.” This was a tragic thing. Since their lives on earth were gone, there was no more hope for them. So while there is still hope, people should consider seriously whether each one enters God’s rest. Thus verse 7 says, “Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’” Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “‘In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” Yet, Today is the day of salvation, the day of entering God’s rest. Today can be the last day of one’s life. So there is God’s urgent call in each present generation, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Thus we may also know that today is the day of preaching the gospel.

Then in verse 8, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.” After mentioning God’s rest on the seventh day, now the author is talking about Joshua’s rest, the rest Joshua gave in the land Canaan. The point is that the promise of entering God’s rest has not yet been completed. God’s rest is not just physical rest, that is, rest from war.

Look at verse 9, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” Here we should understand “Sabbath-rest.” In the Bible the seventh day is the Sabbath or Sabbath day. It is the day of rest and a holy day. The word “Sabbath” is first used in Exodus 16:23, “He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’” The Israelites were not to go out to gather manna on the Sabbath, depending on God’s provision. Then in Exodus 20:8, in giving Ten Commandments he said, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” After man’s fall God did not withdraw his rest as he did not remove the Garden of Eden but guarded it. God established the Sabbath day after the Exodus, and trained his people to keep it holy so that they may enter God’s rest (Ex 20:8). God wanted them to cease regular work, come to God through his words, praise and worship him, and have fellowship with him and each other. The last use of the word “Sabbath” is here in Hebrews 4:9, with the expression, “Sabbath-rest.” So we can infer that Sabbath-rest is the prototype of the true and eternal rest of God for the souls of God’s people through salvation in Christ Jesus. This indicates that there will be eternal-torment of the souls outside Christ Jesus.

Then in verse 10, “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” Here “enter God’s rest” and “rests from his own wok” are present tense. Man’s toiling work began after the fall. Man’s blessed work for mission turned into toiling work for survival. God said to Adam, “…through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” In this world of survival of the fittest people are to work hard for three meals a day and somehow survive. Students have to study heard to get a job. Also, people try to do good work to earn salvation. Some work desperately; some, anxiously. But man’s work cannot satisfy his soul or reach God’s standard. Only God’s rest satisfies our souls. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Solomon confessed in Ecclesiastes 2, “I undertook great projects…My heart took delight I all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (2:4, 10-11). True rest and salvation is from God, not from man’s work. It is the gift of God. So Paul said in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” But anyone who enters God’s rest also rest from his own work. The purpose of his work in this world is changed. He does not work for his own sake but for God’s purpose. It is not a toiling meaningless work anymore. All his work in a company or school is directly or indirectly related to God’s purpose of entering his rest of many. This is a joyful and meaningful work resting in God. So Jesus said, “Do not work for food that spoils but for food that endures to eternal life.” He also said, “Seek his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 633). Our Sunday worship service is one clear expression of entering God’s rest. Someday all our work in this world will be finished as we enter God’s eternal rest (Rev. 14:13).

Now the author says in verse 11, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” Here we should be aware that the Israelites disobeyed in the course of following their own way of surviving. They did not regard God’s grace of deliverance from their bondage in Egypt so precious, but made light of it and even treated it with contempt. They pursued their own way of living distrusting God their deliverer and ignoring all the work of God for them. At the hard life situations it is easy for us to follow their example of disobedience. We need to make every effort to keep God’s grace in Jesus Christ and continue our life of faith in this world to enter God’s eternal rest, following God’s way and trusting and resting in him at each critical time.

Second, God’s word (12-13). Now verse 12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Shaper 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.” Do you like this verse? We have studied about the word of God in Psalm 119. Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” and 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Surely we like these verses concerning the word of God. And Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statues of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” How about these expressions? Certainly, these words are encouraging and very positive about the word of God.

Then why did the author of Hebrews write this concerning the word of God: “For the word of God is living and active. Shaper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even dividing…it judges…” The conjunction is “for.” How can it be possible to make every effort to enter God’s rest, not falling by following their example of disobedience? It is through the word of God. The word of God is living and active. The expression is not “the word of God was or will be living and active.” It is present. All the words of God written in the Scriptures are living and active even concerning the past events or the future events. And, they are shaper than any double-edged, it penetrates even dividing soul and spirit, joins and marrow. In other words the words of God heals sin-sick souls and even sick bodies. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nobody knows another’s thought and hidden motive. But the word of God does. So the word of God can lead us to true repentance. And repentance is the best remedy for anyone at any situation. Without repentance based on the word of God, there is no living work of God in a person’s heart and life. The author of Hebrews wants us to have sincere struggle with the word God. That is the way not to follow the example of disobedience. We should not be deceived by people’s complements or our own interpretation or understanding. We all should learn to stand before the word of God, and experience the power of God work in and through us.

And 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 should always remember that nothing is hidden from God’s sight, and we must give account to him in every aspect of life. God and his word cannot be separated. Standing before the word of God is the safest life in light of God’s thorough unmistakable judgment.

In this study we remember the words, “the promise of entering his rest still stands” (1), “It still remains that some will enter…” (6), and “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” Thank God for his gracious invitation to enter his rest. May we make every effort to enter God’s rest with faith in the living and active word of God and in personal obedience to it.

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