May 14, 2017
Did you know that the word “rest” shows up over 300 times in the English Bible? And your response, I am sure, is to say, “yippie!” Okay, maybe not… You know, what amazes me is that while I can do things like this with a couple keystrokes on a computer, in times past, people would count these things up manually, making a record of instances of words throughout the scriptures. That, to me, is Amazing.
What is most important, though, is that of the many uses of the word, “rest,” in most cases, I don’t think that the word is used in the way that most often we think of the word being used. Let me explain…
When I think of resting, the first thing that comes to my mind is a nap, or sitting with a good book, or perhaps watching a movie or playing a game with my family. Yet, when we encounter a word like “rest,” our first question should be to ask, “rest from what?” For example, a number of you have commented about seeing me out splitting firewood in the evenings. When splitting firewood, there are different tools for different size logs. For the larger ones, I use a sledgehammer and wedges; smaller ones, I use an axe. Swinging a sledgehammer wears me out but I can swing an axe almost all day long. So, when splitting wood, and working with large pieces, I often take a rest…which means I break from splitting big pieces and work on smaller pieces with an axe. Rest from what? Rest from swinging the sledge by swinging something lighter.
So, what happens when you ask the question, “from what” when you see the language of “rest” in the Bible? And that is where things get interesting, for while “rest” sometimes means from one’s physical labors, most commonly, it refers to rest from the effects of sin (war, idolatry, etc…).
Now I want you to hold onto that idea, because there are many Christians who take this passage to imply that the Sabbath command has been done away with and replaced by an anticipation of an eternal sabbath to come. But, that is not what this passage is stating. We will get to that idea more when we arrive at those verses, but for now, let me clarify just for the record that the Law is a unified law and thus the Fourth Commandment is an eternal and immovable aspect of that law. It is binding in this life as it always was and it is such for our benefit.
Now, before we get to the text, there is one more idea that I want to remind you of. And that is the idea of Typology of which we spoke last week — of things in the Old Testament foreshadowing things in the New (typically with a greater fulfillment in Christ). And thus, like Israel in the wilderness, we the church are in a wilderness of this world — an in-between time where there is a redemption that has already been purchased but that is not yet realized in full. As I described it last week — we are in the “In-Between-land” or as CS Lewis would call it, “The Shadowlands.” We are between what is already and what is not yet.
A clear understanding of these concepts is helpful in understanding our passage this morning. So, let’s go to the text…
It begins in verses 1-2:
“Therefore, let us be fearful, lest you consider it probable to fall short, forsaking the promise to enter his rest, for the good news came likewise to them also, but the word they heard did not benefit them because they were not united in faith to the ones who heard.”
First, there is a comparison being made: Old Testament Israel had the word of the Good news preached and taught to them by Moses, but it did not benefit them as they died in the wilderness. That’s the type.
The application of the type, then is found in the Christian church and therefore, as the author says, we must be “fearful”… we must tread with caution lest one of us in the church fall short of faith, forsaking the promises of God and not enter into his rest.
This sets before us an unpleasant truth. Just as all of national Israel was led out of Egypt and entered into the covenant community of God through Moses….and many were not believers and died in the wilderness under God’s judgment…we should not be surprised to see that the same is true in the Christian Church.
In other words, just because someone is a member of our covenant body does not mean that they will go to heaven when they die. We’ve heard that, but sometimes we are tempted to think, “well, pastor is speaking about someone else than me…” do not be content in your personal state of affairs; the scriptures may be speaking of you.
We do not earn the salvation that is offered in Christ and we do not deserve it when given. Yet, having received salvation, we demonstrate our gratitude to God as we live out our lives — our outward lives being a testimony of an inward reality.
And just as the litmus paper does not make a solution acidic or alkaline, but indicates that it is acidic or alkaline, our lifestyles do the same thing. They simply reflect what is our inner nature.
So, what does one say of the inward reality if the outward life does not truly reflect a life of gratitude, obedience, and faith?
This is why the author said in the previous chapter that we are to examine ourselves and here he is telling us to be fearful. In my words…”to tread carefully.”
George Whitefield, the great 18th century evangelist observed that the disciples at the last meal, when Jesus stated, “One of you will betray me” did not respond initially by pointing fingers at Judas or at each other. They asked themselves, “is it I?”
So, if it was the first instinct of these men of faith to ask, “could it be me?” should that not be our first response as well when the Scriptures give us warnings?
This does not deny the doctrine of Assurance, but I believe bolsters our assurance when we ask questions such as this and spend time in introspection and repentance of indwelling sin. Paul tells us in Romans 8:16 that the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are sons of God. So, I charge you this morning to ask yourself this question…”Is it I, Lord? Am I rebelling in the wilderness against you?” And then look to your life for the evidence of the work of faith.
Yet, if we stop there, we miss a critical aspect of these two verses: “But the word they heard did not benefit them because they were not united in faith to the ones who heard.”
Paul writes in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ. Yet, to have hears to hear, the Holy Spirit must give you spiritual rebirth. Without that work of the Spirit, you will remain deaf to the things of the Word and faith will not be a reality. You will hear with earthly ears, not spiritual ones.
There is also a communal aspect mentioned. They did not hear because they were not united in faith to the ones who did hear. When you are born again and brought to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ, you become part of the body of Christ. There is no such thing as a “Lone-Ranger-Christian,” — we are not out on our own — but we are part of one body and as such we are called to gather at God’s command as one body for worship — united in faith.
“For we who believe” (insert here: those united in faith, who hear) “will enter into the rest, in the same way as he said , “As I swore in my wrath, they will never enter my rest.” We covered this language last week, but notice what is added: “Yet the work was done from the foundation of the cosmos.”
But wait, wasn’t this work completed on the cross? Indeed, the work was fulfilled or consummated on the cross, but the sending of the Son to redeem the elect was part of an inter-Trinitarian Covenant of Life made between the Father and the Son before Time began. This is language that can only be understood in the light of election, foreordination, and predestination. No other explanation makes sense.
“For he spoke somewhere about the seventh” (‘day’ is inserted here for context) “in this way, And God rested on the seventh day from all his work. And in the same way again, ‘They will never enter my rest. Therefore, because it remains in place for some to enter into it and those who formerly received the Good News but did not enter because of disobedience, again, one sets apart a day, ‘Today,” he says by David so great a time after, it was foretold, ‘Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart’
— Why? Those whose hearts are hardened are those who fall away and do not enter into God’s rest.
That leads us into verse 8…
“For if Joshua gave them rest, he would never have spoken about a day after this.”
If some of you are reading the older King James version, you may be scratching your head at this translation because your Bible reads, “Jesus” not “Joshua.” Is this a contradiction? No.
The Hebrew name, “Joshua,” or “Yeshua” in Hebrew, is translated into Greek, it is written as Iasus…or Jesus. Jesus and Joshua are the same name, in other words and where you see the word written, the context tells you which of these men it is referring to. In this case, Joshua led the people into the Promised Land so most modern translations, including the NKJV, choose to translate it as Joshua.
But don’t go discarding your King James all at once. For, let me remind you that in Jude 5, Jude states that Jesus led the people out of Egypt and destroyed those who did not believe. So, the KJV translators are trying to capture this truth and create a link between these two passages in our minds.
Anyway, the thrust of the verse has to do with this idea of rest. And again, most often in scripture, the rest is from the effects of sin in the land and amongst the people (see for example, Deuteronomy 3:20, 12:10; 25:19; Joshua 1:13; 22:4). Yet the author is pointing out that there is “another” rest after this — a more permanent one.
Notice how this works itself out in the scriptures…
For example, Isaiah writes (30:15)
“For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, in repenting and rest, you shall be saved; quietness and trust shall be your strength, but you were unwilling.”
And in Jeremiah 6:16
“Thus says the Lord: stand by the roads and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it and find rest for your souls. But they said, we will not walk in it.
But it has its culmination in Matthew 11:28-29, when Jesus says,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
Notice, none of this is about physical rest, it is a matter of spiritual rest and the rest that Jesus was offering was spiritual and notice the parallel between rest and walking in the paths of God. We find rest in Christ but that requires our obedience amongst other things. This is the only place we will find rest for our sin weary souls.
And thus, we say with the author of Hebrews (verse 9),
“Therefore there remains in place a Sabbath for the people of God.”
And this is where people sometimes go astray. They say, “Look, the Old Testament Sabbath anticipates this later, eternal Sabbath for the people of God which is in heaven (and the new Creation).”
So far, so good…but their conclusion is erroneous: “so the 4th commandment is no longer binding on us; we await that Sabbath in the time to come.”
And no. While it is true, we await a full and eternal Sabbath, we who are in the “in-between” still practice the 4th Commandment for it anticipates that eternal Sabbath to come — a Sabbath where our souls will find perfect rest and freedom from the effects of sin.
We should also note that the 10 Commandments are not a bunch of individual parts, but a singular whole with ten different aspects. When one breaks an aspect, one breaks the whole, that at least is the language of James.
But notice the parallel. The Israelites did not wait until they were in the promised land to practice worship and thankfulness to God for their deliverance; neither should we wait.
I want to take you back to Deuteronomy 12:8-9 — part of a section of scripture that is entirely directed toward the worship of God’s people:
“You shall not do according to do all we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, for you have not yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your God is giving you…”
Do you see the connection? God is saying through Moses that the people’s worship in the wilderness was a mess. And the people need to straighten up and get it right before they enter the Promised Land. This is the regulative principle of worship (we only include what God prescribes for worship, not whatever we want) but it also is a reminder of the connection between the inheritance, rest, and worship — that our worship is governed by God so that it can anticipate heaven — an eternal Rest or Sabbath for the people of God.
“For the one entering into His rest has also rested from his work in the same way as God.”
Have you ever considered how God rested in Genesis 2:2? What God did to rest on the Sabbath? It wasn’t to take a nap, though there is nothing wrong with physical rest, but God is Spirit and without a physical body. What we are told that God did was to cease from his work of creation and to set the day apart as holy, a Sabbath to the Lord and a day for our whole being to worship. The day is set apart to focus on God’s purposes, not man’s.
And then, in the new Creation, all earthly work will turn toward worship, an ongoing Sabbath, free from sin and the distractions of its effects — eternally.
Mark Twain wrote a little book entitled Letters from Mother Earth. One of the observations that he makes in the book is of Christians who claim to be looking forward to eternal worship in heaven but who dread to spend an hour or two in worship here on earth. Or if they do not dread it, it is not their passion or priority. How odd a contrast, is it not? But it speaks to us, does it not?
One more thing before I close this morning. Whenever I teach on the Sabbath day, one of the questions I almost always get afterwards is, “can I do this in the Sabbath?”
My conviction, though, is that if you are inclined to ask, you probably already know the answer to the question on that one. More importantly, when we find ourselves embroiled in the “do’s” and “don’t’s” of the Sabbath, we become legalistic and create a hierarchy within the church. Plus we rub ourselves of the delight the Sabbath (Isaiah 58:13-14).
Instead, I simply prefer to ask the question, does this activity glorify God or man? If it glorifies God, then by all means, do it. If it glorifies man, then there are six other days of the week; use them.
But I will remind you of one more thing. The things of God will last forever; the things of man will pass away swiftly. So, which are your works? What do you dedicate yourself toward?