Hebrews 4:1-11 – Enter God’s Rest

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. 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. 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 works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again, in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

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.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 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. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (New International Version)

“I’ll rest when I die” was a phrase one of my congregants used to say whenever he was encouraged to stop moving for a while and rest. He is now gone, having died at a relatively young age. It is common in American culture to define rest as almost optional. Many people feel guilt when they sit still, living with the belief that unless they are constantly busy and doing something that they are lazy or selfish.

The kind of rest the author of Hebrews was talking about was not just a future time of finally sitting in some kind of celestial recliner after a life of constant work. Rest is available now; and it’s encouraged.

Today we have the opportunity to enter into God’s rest for us. The ones who had the good news preached to them before didn’t enter rest because of disobedience. It is not just contemporary people who have a problem with Sabbath; rest itself has had a rather unrestful history.

It seems to me we need to ask ourselves why we have this tendency to interpret “rest” as only occurring after a lot of hard work has happened. 

If Sabbath rest has relevance to us now, perhaps our cultural model of work-is-greater-than-rest is really to be reversed as rest-is-greater-than-work. Consider this: God created humans on the sixth day. God rested on the seventh day. So did Adam and Eve. That means the first people rested before they even had a chance to begin working the garden God created.

Maybe instead of inventing new ways to overfill our schedules and erase any margin from our day to day existence, we ought to create ways of ruthlessly eliminating hurry from our lives. 

It could be that our world’s many ills and woes come more from our inability to rest than anything else. God not only calls us to an active Christian life; God calls us to rest, too.

In our daily work-a-day world we poke, prod, push, cajole, and finagle to move forward and get our way on all kinds of things. To separate ourselves from our typical routine is akin to an addict’s withdrawal. Some folks are tired, cranky, and negative all the time. Methinks it is because we find all kinds of reasons to not rest, and even when we do we’re still trying to impose our will on God.

What Christians need most is simply Jesus – to know Christ, be with him, and experience the depths of our wondrous and gracious union with the Lord. And that cannot happen, at least not fully, unless we practice rest.  To rest means to relinquish all our plans and agendas to God for a time and just come into the divine presence and enjoy one another.

Our compulsions for performance and perfection are the real culprits to rest. We want to do everything right.  We long to pray right, talk right, be right and live right instead of coming to Jesus like a little child who needs him. 

Perhaps we are so profoundly discontent with so many things because we are not really content in Christ. Maybe the best or right prayer to pray is that we all be content together no matter the circumstances. Only then might we find our burdens are light.

Jesus modeled the life of rest for us. If there was anyone who did not need to pull away and rest, it was Jesus, and yet, he continually did so. So, if Jesus created a sacred space to commune and enjoy the Father, then how much more do we need a Sabbath rest and a place to do it? 

Jesus rested to connect with his heavenly Father. There was no multi-tasking or juggling other responsibilities. There was simply the radical pursuit of intimate rest.

If we do not rest and intentionally practice times of Sabbath, then we are expressing our confidence that money, hard work, and individual talent are really all we need, rather than God.

Rest is only secondarily about refueling our depleted resources; it is primarily about connecting intimately with Jesus and a good gracious Father. Just as we need a special room and a certain bed for sleep, so we need a particular place and a certain time set aside to pray and enjoy God.

Real spiritual and biblical rest only “works” when we realize we don’t have it all together – that we are helpless and need Jesus. Apart from Jesus, the blind man cannot see, Lazarus remains dead, and I am lost in my sin. I cannot “do” life without Christ in me and with me.

As long as we try and manufacture results instead of relying on the Lord for refreshment and renewal, rest will be elusive. Enjoy Jesus today, my friend, and leave the results to God.

God of the Sabbath rest, just as you rested on the seventh day, help me to alter my life in such a way as to engraft new avenues of rest into my busy schedule. In doing so, may I connect with you more deeply and find greater health and fulfillment in myself and my relationships. To the glory of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

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