“Rest” is directly mentioned nine times in the first eleven verses of Hebrews 4. “Rest” is clearly the theme of passage. The summary purpose of Hebrews 4:1-13 is to exhort the reader to fearfully and reverently consider the spiritual condition of their heart, specifically to “harden not your heart.” Here in chapter 4, the writer of Hebrews is doing what he previously suggested in Hebrews 3:13. He’s practicing what he just preached. He is exhorting others to avoid unbelief and embrace the sweet rest that exists as a result of belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From this passage we will consider the question “Are You Resting” as we see the promise, the profit, the picture, the priority, the pursuit, and the procedure found in this text.
1. The Promise of Rest (vs 1)
The definition of the word “promise” in this text is “a divine assurance of good; a message or pledge, or an announcement.” This promise is a reference to the incarnate Christ and His message of redemption for sinners. He is the divine “assurance of good.” This promise goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelium of the Christian’s faith. The promise is heard from Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This promise is about the One we are instructed to “consider“ in Hebrews 3:1. He is the Apostle and High Priest. He is more faithful than Moses and superior even to angels. The promise is the story of our Redeemer and the supply of our redemptive rest. The phrase “any of you should seem to come short of it” (vs 1) is correctly understood when you remember the previous content in the book of Hebrews. To worship Moses, or angels, or anything other than Christ is “to come short” of receiving the promise of rest which is found only in Jesus. He is “so much better than the angels” (1:4) and Jesus was “counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (3:3). We are to be “Looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the divine provider of the promise for eternal rest in heaven. Are you resting in Christ?
2. The Profit of Rest (vs 2-3)
“But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith…” To those of us who understand the immense profitability of the Word being preached, it’s a little startling to think that “the word preached did not profit them.” They heard it, but they didn’t believe it. They didn’t mix it with faith. It’s like reviewing the menu at your local Cracker Barrel restaurant but never ordering any of the food. When the waitress comes and says, “May I take your order?” you decline and explain that you’re not hungry. To the waitress, it seems absurd. She would think, “Why are you looking at the menu if you’re not going to eat?” It’s like knowing the flight destinations, arrival and departure times of every airline at your local airport, yet never having personally traveled on any of those flights. Sadly, some people hear the Gospel but never go anywhere with it. They know what’s on the Gospel menu, but they never partake of it. They hear it, but they choose to live in unbelief. Certainly, it’s alarming and sad to realize that people willfully choose to harden their heart towards the precious Word of God. After all, the rest of eternal heaven awaits the believer, but also this rest calms and comforts believers as they face the continuous trials of this temporal world. This is the profit of resting in Christ. “For we which have believed do enter into rest…” (vs 3) However, to live in Gospel unbelief, to hear the “gospel preached” and to not have “faith” in it, is unprofitable both eternally and temporally. To reject the Gospel is to live in restlessness, eternally in hell, and temporally on this earth. Eternal restlessness is explained in Jesus‘ description of hell as recorded in the Gospels: “weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” The various torments of hell described in the Bible are all torments of eternal restlessness; unquenchable fire, worm dying not, eternal darkness, etc. In this life, temporal restlessness exists in the heart of the unbeliever as they willfully indulge in one sinful vice after another, trying to fill the internal void that only God can satisfy. Life on this earth, and the eventual eternal destination of the unbeliever, is an existence of constant and agonizing restlessness. The writer of Hebrews wants us to understand, there’s no profit in that. Further, the writer of Hebrews personally understands this sad reality. He understands that God has “sworn in (His) wrath“ that unbelievers shall not enter into heavenly rest. (See Hebrews 3:11; 4:3, Psalm 95:11) That’s why he compassionately exhorts the reader to avoid unbelief and avoid hardening your heart. He calls the reader to believe in Christ, to have “faith” in the preached Word, and enjoy the profit of resting in Christ. Are you resting in Christ?
3. A Picture of Rest (vs 3b, 4-6; 10)
The writer of Hebrews now uses an illustration to help make his point. He describes God‘s work in creation and points out that after six days of creation, God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). This illustration, like the previous verses, has both temporal and eternal applications. We know that God never “sleeps nor slumbers“ but on the seventh day, He did “rest” which is to abstain from the work of creation. God cannot be fatigued and He does not need to be rejuvenated. He was establishing a pattern for us to follow. We do get fatigued and we do need to be rejuvenated therefore, we do need to follow His pattern. Throughout life, it is spiritually healthy for people to cease from their creative work and rest. The seventh day of the week is Saturday. As a pastor, I often encourage Christians to take time on Saturdays to marvel at God‘s creation. Taking a walk in the woods, or marveling at the Gulf ocean water, helps the Christian put life in the proper perspective and rest in God. Look at what God did! The sand in your toes, the beautiful sunlight, and deep breaths of the fresh air can be spiritually and physically medicinal. On the day that God rested from His work of creation, it’s wise and spiritually healthy for Christians to take time to rest in His creation. Of course, Sunday, the first day of the week, is the day that Christians gather with their local church family and worship our risen Savior! After having concluded the week resting in God’s creation on Saturday, the last day of the week, the Christian’s heart is primed and ready to start the next week off by worshiping our risen Savior on Sunday. When it comes to eternal life, the writer of Hebrews wants us to know that the only way to enter into God’s heavenly rest, and avoid His wrath over sin is through Jesus who is the ultimate Sabbath Rest. Sadly, many people who have heard the Gospel preached have “entered not in (to God’s rest) because of unbelief” (Hebrews 4:6). So many religious systems teach that sinners must work their way to heaven. They are hoping that their good works outweigh the bad. However, it’s “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…” (Titus 3:5). Hebrews 4:10 says that “he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” Just as God “rested” on the seventh day, so are we to cease from trying to work our way into favor with God and rest in Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross for sinners. Good works for the Christian are the result of the redeemed heart. (Consider Ephesians 2:8-10) Good works are not done in order to earn redemption but are the fruit of a grateful Christian because of Christ’s redemption. (Consider Romans 12:1-2). So, are you resting?
4. The Priority of Rest (vs 7-9)
Notice the tone of urgency in the passage to prioritize this rest. The writer of Hebrews wants the reader to put this at the top of his priority list! He communicates the importance of this priority with words like “limiteth” and “Today.” He wants the hard-hearted individual to believe in Christ today! He wants the reader to recognize that we are not promised tomorrow. James 4:14 teaches us about the brevity of life when it says, “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” The writer of Hebrews is revealing his burden for others. He sympathetically urges the reader to prioritize the condition of their soul because he knows the danger of unbelief. In verse 8 the KJV uses the word “Jesus” in reference to Joshua of the Old Testament. “Jesus” is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Joshua. It’s not wrong for the KJV to use the word “Jesus” there but we need to understand that it’s not referring to Jesus of Nazareth, but Joshua; the one who led the children of Israel into the promised rest of Canaan land. The writer of Hebrews wants us to be reminded that only some of the children of Israel made it out of the wilderness into the promised land. The difference between the individuals that made it, versus the ones that did not, is the issue of belief or unbelief, just as it is with Jesus. Spending eternity in the promised land of heaven is dependent on one’s belief in Christ. Prioritize your relationship with Him today because your time is limited.
5. The Pursuit of Rest (vs 11)
Verse 11 is a call to keep on believing. The text says, “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest…” We are to continue to pursue sincere belief in Christ. Even the greatest man “born among women” had a time a doubt. After preaching that Christ must increase and he must decrease, John the Baptist vacillated about the true identity of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews calls us to pour ourselves into the Bible, the Word of God. We are to “labor” in the Word of God to further understand the Gospel and its implications. 2 Timothy 2:15 presents a similar idea when it says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
It is the happy labor of the Christian workman. Verse 11 concludes with “lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” Laboring in the Word of God, and in the pursuit of the knowledge of God, enables us to better learn from the example of the children of Israel, many of whom never entered the promised land because of their unbelief. When you make the study of the word of God, your pursuit, your faith in God will be strengthened. Avoid listening to the many voices that are promoting the “deceitfulness of sin.“ (Hebrews 3:13) Those voices; the world, the flesh, and the devil are often very loud. They amplify one another. This is why a sincere Christian must “labor” or strive in the pursuit of the implications of the Gospel. It’s not labor to give into the deceitfulness of sin, that comes naturally to our carnal flesh. For the Christian to grow, we must labor like a faithful workman in the precious Word of God. He must be our pursuit! Are you resting in Him?
6. The Procedure for Rest (vs 12-13)
The hard-hearted person is in desperate need of a spiritual procedure that no medical doctor can perform. The hard-hearted person needs the Great Physician. And the primary tool of the Great Physician is the word of God. Verse 12 explains that “the word of God is quick,” which means it’s alive! It says that the Word of God is “powerful,” which means it’s “active and dynamic.” The Bible is “sharper than any two-edged sword” which means it has no blunt end. It’s the perfect tool for a spiritual procedure on the hard-hearted individual. The Word of God is “piercing” which means it penetrates. To what degree does it penetrate? “Even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It cuts to the depths of our core. The Bible exposes the hard heart. It reveals the true motives of the individual. This spiritual procedure bares all. Hebrews 4:13 explains “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Rest in Christ today and stop running from Him. Admit that you’re a sinner and believe on Christ now before it’s too late. You will be eternally grateful! And, if you are already a Christian, remember, as you navigate the turbulence of this life, rest in the God of all comfort. As we face the “thorns and thistles” of this sin cursed earth, apply the healing balm of the Great Physician through the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Apply Proverbs 3:5-6. Don’t just memorize it, live it out. In the midst of a world full of chaos, Christians need to be found resting in Christ. We don’t fear death because, “to be with Christ is far better.” Phil. 1:23
The above article was written by James C. Johnson. He is the Pastor of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola. To offer him your feedback, find him on twitter, @JamesJohnsonSFL or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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