THE REMAINING REST
"Let us fear therefore, lest haply, a promise being left of entering into His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good tidings preached unto us, even as also they: but the word of hearing did not profit them, because it was not united by faith with them that heard. For we who have believed do enter into that rest; even as He hath said, As I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He hath said somewhere of the seventh (day) on this wise, And God rested on the seventh day from all His works; and in this (place) again, They shall not enter into My rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some should enter thereinto, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached failed to enter in because of disobedience, He again defineth a certain day, To-day, saying in David so long a time afterward (even as hath been said before), To-day if ye shall hear His voice, Harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into His rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:1-11, ASB).
A SUMMARY STATEMENT
The glorious benefits of the New Covenant are preparatory in nature. They are not an end of themselves! The ultimate objective of our salvation remains ahead of us. Presently, we are en route to the promised land, so to speak. Like Israel journeying through the wilderness, we are in a desert area. The Psalmist called this world "a dry and thirsty land, where no water is" (Psa 63:1).
Indeed it is! Here and now, we face enemies, and must engage in warfare. Through Christ, God is, however, leading us to the realm where war does not exist. Hardship, testing, and struggle, will be forever behind us. This state is called "rest," or "the sabbath-rest." We experience this rest now, but only partially, or in an introductory manner. Jesus spoke of this "rest" when He said, "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" (Matt 11:29). He spoke of a rest from the tyranny of sin, the weight of a condemning conscience, and the dominance of death.
In this preliminary rest, the tediousness of living is removed, and the element of hope prevails. At this time, faith is the predominating quality required by the saints. This is the capacity to receive from the Lord--more specifically to "hear" Him that is speaking from heaven (Heb 12:28). Faith has a two-fold ministry. First, it brings the capacity to know and respond to the Living God. Second, it enables its recipient to have a true perspective of the present time. The world is seen as a place of testing and proving, as well as working together with God (1 Cor 3:9). Time is seen as an opportunity to invest in eternity by acquiring and developing an appetite for heavenly things.
It is critical that the believer maintain the stance of faith hearing and believing the Lord, Who is bringing us to glory. If the Word of God is not believed--trusted and wholeheartedly embraced--it brings no advantage to the hearer. Furthermore, those who do not believe God, provoke Him. Unless hardness of heart is averted, God will exclude such an individual from eternal rest. He has given us Israel as an arresting example.
Remember, there is a capacious difference between coming to God on the basis of doing, and approaching Him believing, or in faith. If you can see the vastness of the "rest" that remains, the foolishness of attempting to appropriate it by working becomes apparent. The promise is too large to be gained by human accomplishment. Only faith can obtain it. We are, therefore, to occupy ourselves with the work of believing God, and His Son Whom He has sent (John 6:29). By so doing, we will be prepared to enter His rest which is everything! Suffice it to say, those that accentuate works above grace only acknowledge by their emphasis they have not seen the purpose of God's calling. Let every soul so handicapped pray that God will "open the eyes of their understanding" (Eph 1:17-19).
This is an arresting text of Scripture. It strikes at the root of unbelief, showing its absolute incompatibility with the Kingdom of God. It also proclaims the superiority of faith, the only means of appropriating the promises of God. Many men have chosen to argue about the role of faith in salvation. They suppose faith is weak and insipid, incapable of obtaining the promise. As we will see, this is not at all the case. Salvation is ever "by grace through faith" not by grace through works!
There are several perspectives in this passage that will shape our thinking about the things of God. First, even though the promise of God is not attained by those to whom it is spoken, it still can be realized by those that will believe. Second, the Word of God brings no advantage in any way to those that do not believe it. Hearing and faith must be brought together to receive the promise. Third, God's wrath will be kindled against those that do not believe and thereby appropriate His promises. Fourth, the promises of God will never be abandoned. Those that dare to believe will obtain them, even though those to whom they were originally addressed are excluded from them. Fifth, the fulness of the blessing is yet to be obtained. Sixth, participation with God, and the cessation of living for self, is God's objective for every believer. Seventh, the obtainment of the promise of God requires diligent effort on our part. Where this is not found, unbelief will soon dominate, causing the individual to fall beyond the reach of the blessing. These are principle matters in our association with the Living God.
It is evident that we are speaking of weighty matters. Everything about salvation is conducive to thought as well as enjoyment, to contemplation as well as benefit. There are whole bodies of theology that fail to come to grips with these realities. Such are harmful to the soul in every sense of the word. The experience of salvation involves the entire person spirit, soul, and body (1 Thess 5:23). So far as personal involvement is concerned, the whole "heart," "soul," "mind," and "strength" are effected in our deliverance from sin (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). This particular section of Scripture summons our minds into activity. We are called to ponder the objective of our calling, and the appointed means of realizing that objective.
LET US FEAR
Keep in mind, this is written to believers to people that were "once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come" (Heb 6:4-5, ASV). The "fear" of which he speaks is not a cringing fear that compels one to withdraw from God. Adam had that kind of fear. As it is written, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid" (Gen 3:10, NIV). Israel also was dominated by a fear that caused them to withdraw from God. When hearing angels speak the Law (Heb 2:2; Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19), the people were so afraid they said, "Speak to us yourself (Moses) and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die" (Ex 20:19). It is said of them, when they confronted the glory of God in the face of Moses, "they were afraid to come near him" (Ex 34:30). This is not a sanctifying fear! The further you get from God, the further you are from the blessing! This is not the type of fear the Spirit urges us to have.
Fear Is Fear!
For the individual interested in the original language, the word translated "fear" is Fobhqw/men (phob-ath-o-men), which means to frighten, i.e. to be alarmed; to be in awe of, i.e. revere:--be (sore) afraid, fear (exceedingly), reverence. Thayer says this word includes the idea, "to be struck with fear, to be seized with alarm . . . to hesitate to do something for fear of harm . . ." Admittedly, this is an aspect of spiritual life with which few are acquainted. It does require some amplification. The Spirit is not promoting the fear of Sinai, but a fear that proceeds from faith--and there is a vast difference. The general absence of this type of fear (often called reverential fear) is evidence of aloofness form God. Its simply is not possible to knowingly dwell in the presence of the Lord and be disrespectful. Jesus apprized the unbelievers of His day that they knew not their "visitation" (Luke 19:44). They were in the presence of the Lord, but did not know it. That is why they were so presumptuous before Him.
The remarkable casualness that exists in the average American assembly calls for a summons to "fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach" the "rest" that "remains" (Heb 4:1). I do not mean to dwell upon this subject too long, or to appear as though I am too critical. It is my persuasion, however, that there is very little awareness of God in many of the circles that claim experience closeness to Him. The general lack of fear, repentance, sobriety, diligence, and fervency belies any profession of closeness to God. Where the qualities of faith are not found, faith is not found. It is not present by profession, but rather by possession. We cannot overemphasize this aspect of spiritual life. Faith is the cause, and "godly fear" (Heb 12:28) is the effect. If the effect is not present, it is due to the cause being absent.
Blessings Are Possessed By Faith
Everything possessed by the child of God is held by faith. Nothing is earned! Human achievement, however laudable, has not gained a single eternal benefit. The nature of God will not allow men to "boast" in His presence, or to claim worthiness on their own account. Few passages state this as succinctly as Romans 4:2-5. "If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.' Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." What we are reading about in Hebrews is justification by faith. Whereas the book of Romans emphasizes faith itself, Hebrews underscores the Object of our faith, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Christ is indispensable to the accomplishment of our salvation, so faith is indispensable to the realization of it by the individual.
Further, spiritual blessings are not ours because we are identified with the correct religious movement, or have subscribed to the proper dogma. This is highly disruptive of much of the religion of our day. Faith is the hand that takes hold of the blessing, and the eye of the soul that sees the promise. If we do not walk by faith, there is no hope of receiving the promise. The benefit is too far away for flesh to grasp it. Although the promise speaks in a loud voice to faith, unbelief has no ears with which to hear.
Faith Can Be Cast Off
It is possible to "obtain like precious faith" (2 Pet 1:1), then "cast off" that first faith [pi,stin] (1 Tim 5:12). Faith does come from God, but it cannot uphold the individual apart from personal involvement. Living unto God is not artificial, and cannot be maintained by contrived means, like ritual or procedure. It is not possible to become a child of God by faith (Gal 3:26), then maintain that status by lifeless discipline, or identity with a mere religious movement. In Christ, faith is everything. Without it, "it is not possible to please God" (Heb 11:6). It makes no difference what is espoused intellectually, or what is wrought through human expression. If people do not believe with their hearts, they cannot obtain the blessing!
Lest we think this irrelevant, consider how much contemporary religion is only procedural. Real faith is rarely required by religious institutions. However, it is always required by God. Institutions will settle for a token admission to the creed. God will take nothing less than total reliance upon His Son! The involvement of the heart is not integral to procedural religion, but is imperative for Divine acceptance. Faith sensitizes the human spirit to the eternal realm, calling the individual into fellowship with God, Christ, the spirits of just men made perfect, the whole body of the redeemed, and a great company of angels (Heb 12:22-24).
The Word of God is not a proof-text to the believer, but the source of spiritual life (Matt 4:4). It is remarkable how this clashes with much of the "Christian" activity around us. For some, a theological position is the fundamental thing, whether it is seen and embraced or not. For others, participating in sanctified activities, or liturgies, is the key element. It should not surprise you that myriads of professed Christians are more like the Stoics and Athenians of Greece than those that are in Christ Jesus. It was said of those heathen that they "ignorantly worshiped" an "unknown God" (Acts 17:23).
We Do Not Yet Have the Fulness
The point of our text is that we are not yet in the fulness of the blessing. As Canaan was ahead of Israel, so the realms for which we are being adapted are beyond current experience. It is possible to have a noble beginning--like Israel being delivered from Canaan--and yet not enter into the land of promise. The Spirit admonishes us to be afraid of coming short of what God has promised. Jesus spoke of such when He said, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt 7:22-23). He was speaking of those that had no faith, who performed religious activities perfunctorily, without heart or spirit. The parable of the five foolish virgins accents the same truth (Matt 25:1-10). People began, but did not finish!
Although he had given himself to unusual activity for Christ, Paul gave attention to subduing his flesh and living by faith, lest after he had preached to others, he himself would become a "castaway" (1 Cor 9:27). It is not possible to attain to glory without this mind-set. It is the type of mind that Jesus had, and it is imperative that you have it also. Its possession compelled Paul to "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." He urges us to think in the same way (Phil 3:14-16). The reason for the admonition should be apparent. The life of faith demands this posture. ithout being concerned about coming short of the promise, laxity will set in, robbing the soul. Remember, we are still in the land of the enemy, hounded by the devil, and disadvantaged by a fallen nature that clings to us. All of this can be overcome by faith, but only so!
Accept the Challenge
Between you and glory, there are testings, challenges, and war. Only faith can successfully face these trials. It, and it alone "is the victory that overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4-5). The legalist fears this emphasis excludes obedience and ardent effort. He is wrong! The most avid workers for Christ are those whose faith is strong. How forcefully this is brought home by the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. The great men and women of the Kingdom were ALL motivated by faith. Faith propelled them into the will and purpose of God. Faith kept them from being ultimately deluded by the evil one. Fear losing your faith! Fear it enough to "give no place for the devil" (Eph 4:27), or make "provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Rom 13:14). The NIV translates our text, "let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it." That is too weak, and does not blow the trumpet loud enough in Zion. Assaulted by the devil, clothed in a frail and vile body, and surrounded by a cursed realm, we must, "though we still have God's word that we may come into his rest, go in fear that some of you may be unable to do so" (Basic English Bible). The handicap is unbelief! The advantage is believing! Israel could not enter the promised land because of unbelief. Joshua and Caleb entered because they believed.
God has left us a promise of rest. It is intended to be an incentive to us, to run a good race and fight a good fight. The "rest" is worthy of the most ardent effort. Poignantly Isaiah said of the coming Redeemer, "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa 11:10). Indeed, it is!
Defining "the REST"
Our text speaks of "His rest" God's own rest! Later in the dialog, God refers to it as "My rest" (v. 3 & 5). What is this "rest" of which He speaks? The Spirit informs us that it occurred at the conclusion of the creation. As it is written, "for He spake in a certain place concerning the seventh [day] thus: 'And God did rest in the seventh day from all His works'" (Heb 4:4, Young's Literal Translation). From the Divine perspective, we are told, "His works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Heb 4:3). The term "rest" refers to the Divine frame of Spirit that accompanied that completion. The word "rest" does not mean cessation of activity, but puts the accent on the completion of the work and God's satisfaction with it.
The Spirit has more in mind, however, than the origin of the "worlds" (Heb 1:2). The point being made is this: God did not undertake the creation of the world until the reason for its existence had been established. His "great salvation," under the administration of the Son, was determined before the arena in which it would be enacted was designed. Jesus was, after all, "foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you" (1 Pet 1:20). God has not adjusted to the human situation! His objective is an "eternal purpose" (Eph 3:11), and therefore has never changed. We must not allow ourselves to view the works of God as a mere reaction to the activities of humanity.
To be sure, there are Divine reactions in Scripture. To name a few of them: (1) The casting of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, (2) The flood, (3) The dispersion at Babel, (4) The faith of Abraham, (5) The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, (6) The cursing of Israel at Kadesh-Barnea, etc., etc. Our text rises, however, to a higher level, viewing the salvation which we enjoy from an eternal perspective. This is a good view, and worthy of our contemplations. Those that react in a slovenly manner to the grace of God must know He will react to their ways. Those that, by faith, embrace the redemption that is in Christ Jesus will experience a glorious and beneficial response from God. At this point in our text, however, the Spirit is lifting us higher, giving us a glimpse into what God has "prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor 2:9-10). The principle of reaping and sowing is certainly true, but that is not the theme of this text. The objective of the human enterprise was determined "according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began" 2 Tim 1:9, NKJV). The aim of salvation is described as "the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began" (Rom 16:25). We are talking about a Divine initiative that dictated the creation of the universe and all that is within it--including mankind! The purpose of God was the REASON for the creation of the heavens and the earth. The earth, in particular, is a stage upon which the drama of redemption is being enacted. The spectators are the angels, and the display of Divine wisdom is the present outcome. However, on the trestle boards of eternity, God has designed a position and condition to be occupied by mankind. It is described in our text as "His rest."
When the creation was completed, "God did rest the seventh day from all His works" (Heb 4:4). He "rested" in anticipation of the fulfillment of His purpose. In due time, He would place the purpose in the hands of "His only begotten Son," Who would carry it to its appointed conclusion. The Father trusted in the Son, willing to place everything into His hands. He endured faltering humanity in the prospect of the Son, Who would bring the purpose to its intended conclusion.
The Father's "rest" accentuates satisfaction--joyful satisfaction. This is not, as we have said, a term denoting inactivity. Rather, it declares the satisfactory inauguration of a purpose that would be brought to sure fruition. Briefly stated, men would be brought into the Divine purpose, enjoying participation in God's "rest." What He had planned for His offspring, in which He found great delight, and for which He patiently waited, would be enjoyed by mankind. That is why He made man.
From the beginning, the Lord sought for men to enter into this purpose--to enjoy Divine fellowship and be prepared for an eternal reign. As time progressed, the Lord divulged more and more of this purpose. It would be preceded by the absolute frustration of Satan (Gen 3:15), the blessing of the world (Gen 12:3), and the ultimate conformity of the redeemed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29). Here and there, faith enabled individuals to be caught up in the purpose. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, and Abraham rose above their peers. In a preliminary sense, they entered into the "rest" of God. They believed in a coming Savior, and chose to separate themselves from the cursed order, living in harmony with what was revealed to then. Moses and all the holy prophets did the same, entering into the introductory phase of God's "rest." They experienced the satisfaction that comes from believing the purpose of God would be fulfilled in a coming Redeemer. In anticipation of that blessing, they too rejected the world order. Our text tells us Israel was also offered participation in the "rest." The ancient people could have joined with the Living God in the anticipation of the coming Redeemer. Like Enoch, they could have walked with God, and like Noah, they could have found grace in His sight. True, they were offered only a preliminary taste of it, but it was available to them. They did not believe, however, and thus did not join the Father in the joyful anticipation of the redemptive work of Christ. For them, entrance into the promised land constituted becoming part of the "rest." There, God would have prepared them more fully for the coming blessing. However, they preferred the cursed order, typified by Egypt, and were thus excluded from the blessing. They chose to desire Egypt rather than the blessings to which the Law and its attending ordinances pointed.
MIXING FAITH WITH HEARING
The words of the text are captivating. "For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it." Believe it or not, the textual critics have a great deal of difficulty with this verse. One linguistic approach considers the proper rendering of the text to be, "The word of hearing did not profit them, because they were not united by faith with those who not only heard, but hearkened and obeyed." In this case, the faith was not united with the Word, but with the faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb. This, in my judgment, is a clumsy view that clouds the text, making it difficult to profit the hearer. The unacceptability of this view can be seen by the rendering of most major translations. " . . . because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (NASB), " . . . because it did not meet with faith in the hearers" (RSV), " . . . because those who heard did not combine it with faith" (NIV). The NIV adds in a footnote, "because they did not share in the faith of those who obeyed." The point of the text is NOT that the unbelieving Israelites were not like the believing ones, but that they chose not to believe. The condition would have been just as true if no one had believed at all! Unbelief is the point, not identity with a body of believers! The idea of the text is simply this, hearing and faith were not joined together in those God refused. It is written, "faith comes by hearing . . . " (Rom 10:17), but not irrevocably so! By that I mean, an individual can hear without believing, a circumstance that is altogether too common in our time. This is the condition Jesus referred to when He said, "When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart" (Matt 13:19, NASB). This is a condition of heart that finds the Word--even the good news of the Gospel--unreasonable and contrary to the bent of the heart. The individual does not believe because the Word contradicts his manner of thinking. When that condition ensues, the Word cannot profit the hearer. Thus, it is snatched from the heart by the devil, moved beyond the reach of the unbeliever. Notice, the Lord does not stop the devil from doing this. The devourer is not rebuked when unbelief dominates (Mal 3:11). It is a blessedly simple and uncomplicated principle, yet myriads have missed it. The Word, particularly of the Gospel, is to be received as from God Himself. The heart is to be fixed upon it, and the desire to obtain it must dominate the hearer. God will then, by His grace, mix hearing with faith, bringing eternal profitableness to the hearer. There must be willingness on the part of the hearer. However, if God were not active, willingness, of itself, would be powerless. Without the involvement of God Himself, faith simply is not possible. Without willingness on the part of the hearer, God will not involve Himself!
Wherever skepticism is allowed to penetrate our minds, unbelief lurks at the door. In such a case, Divine rejection is imminent! It is not enough to simply "study," reviewing the truth of God as though it were a procedural annual, or an interesting and novel message. I am confounded by the prevalence of this attitude in Sunday Schools, congregational gatherings, and other "studies." Those with no heart for the Word of God pretend they are His children. They imagine that a brief weekly exposure to a modicum of Bible thoughts is sufficient to waft them into heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth! A casual academic approach to the Gospel of Christ is an open door to our adversary--and he will surely enter through that open door. The frame of spirit in the average Sunday School class is not conducive to Kingdom advance. The glory of the New Covenant is in its promises! It is a "better covenant, established upon better promises" (Heb 8:6). God Himself shares His purpose with men in order that they might participate in it. It is not simply information! Think what Israel was promised. (1) A change of condition--from slavery to freedom. (2) A change of environment from Egypt to Canaan. (3) A change in their future--from a gloomy future to a bright one--fertile soil, genial climate, and abundant fruitfulness. (4) A change of government--from the tyranny of Pharaoh to the protection of God. (5) A change of status--from building dwellings for others to have dwellings of their own.
Besides these temporal blessings, they were given the hope of a coming Prophet Who would bring them a message of spiritual liberation (Deut 18:15-18). As wonderful as the word to them was, it brought no profit to them--no blessing, no advantage! They did not believe it! That is why they did not act upon it! It is no different with people today. When they do not act upon God's Word--particularly His Gospel--it is because they do not believe it! It makes no difference what people say. If they are not acting upon the Word of God, it is because they do not believe it. We Have Heard!
The point of our text, however, is not that Israel heard the Gospel, but that we have heard it! We have heard the message elaborated and expounded. Israel had it in embryo. If we are tempted to set the message aside, failing to act upon it, we must remember Israel. They could have had fellowship with God in the anticipation of the coming Redeemer and the expectation of the completion of His purpose. During the waiting period, they could have enjoyed an elevation of status, and the experience of Divine benefits and blessings. Instead, they chose to listen to doubters. Thus they did not act upon the promise, but allowed "an evil heart of unbelief" to enter them. No heavenly mandate could offset their unbelief. Therefore, they were excluded from thepromise.
We cannot over-emphasize the importance of mixing faith with hearing today. God has promised marvelous things in the Gospel. Unless it is believed, however, there is no way to experience those benefits. Remission of sins, Divine direction, wonderful adequacy, our names written in heaven, and a reign with Jesus, are all forfeited by unbelief. What an enormous penalty is paid when men are diverted from the Gospel--when they are so distracted they do not believe the Word and move out upon it. To hear the truth is not enough! That hearing must be mixed with faith in those that hear it. It is not enough to espouse a correct position, although that must be done.
DEFINING THE TIME
It is essential that we know the time--that we comprehend the period in which we are living. The Spirit admonishes us, "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." This is taken from Psalm 95:11, and is a Kingdom principle in place today. There is a Divine time-frame within which the blessing can be appropriated. Outside of that window or season, it is not possible to obtain the blessing. The Spirit reasons with us on this matter. By using the word "Today," God has "set a certain day." For Israel, the window of opportunity closed at the borders of the promised land. They assumed they had time to return to Egypt, and even determined to appoint a captain to lead in that presumptuous endeavor (Num 14:4). They did not see the time as their time! The promise was not related to "Today!" What an enormous penalty they paid!
Men are not to assume God will always call to them! The promises of God are not to be spurned. Men may not go on their way, choosing to disbelieve God, without forfeiting the blessing. As simplistic as that may appear, it is highly unfashionable in our Western world for the Gospel to be taken seriously. Somehow, men approach life in this world as though it were not going end--particularly when it comes to the things of God. The urgency of faith is not generally perceived. There is a spirit of casualness that grips even our present area. It is a cause for great alarm, for it is backing people away from the promises of God.
Much of contemporary theology presumes longevity. It allows for too much time in this world. One of the many banes of institutionalism is that is reckons on the duration of this world. When it comes to the promises and work of the Lord, it thinks more in terms of tomorrow than "today." Its approach to Kingdom work over-emphasizes preparation and under-emphasizes the appropriating the promises TODAY! It is much like the "fool" that tore down his barns in order to build bigger ones (Luke 21:16-20). He thought he had a lot of time to remain in this world. How wrong he was! The very night he made his retirement plans, his soul was required of him. Mind you, we have nothing against plans when they are made with God in mind--but they must be so made. James, the brother of our Lord, said, "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that" (James 4:13-15). Beware of a posture of life that assumes longevity in this world!
The Promise Contains Adequacy
Faith sees adequacy as part of the promise of God. If we embrace the Gospel, God will make us adequate. That is what Israel did not see, and it is what myriads of our peers fail to see. I do not mean to be critical, but the "TODAY" mentality must once again grip the heart of the church. Strategy is fine in its place, but it must not be allowed to supplant "today" and "now!" "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2). When the church allows strategy to replace faith, its demise is sure, and its candlestick is about to be removed. Much of the church- growth and planning movement that is all about us ignores "today," forgetting that "Now is the accepted time, behold, Now is the day of salvation!" This Is the Time! In regard to the book of Hebrews, "now" is the time to enter the "holiest place"--to fellowship with God and avail ourselves of His grace. "Now" is the time to have God's Law written upon our hearts and put into our minds! "Now" is the time to be enlightened, taste of the heavenly gift, share in the Holy Spirit, and taste the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age (Heb 6:4-5). This is not a goal to set for yourself! This is the time when, by the grace of God, it can be done! Hallelujah! O, for a return of this spiritual frame! To be persuaded that we can come to the Lord NOW to "obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need" (Heb 4:15-16). This is the time when God will work in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13).
I am not so foolish as to affirm men should not plan, purpose, and set goals. That must, however, be done within the framework of God's "Today!" The first and preeminent thing to do is appropriate what God is offering NOW. That is His way of preparing us for the "ages to come." If we do not taste of the Lord now, we shall not live with Him then! If we do not possess what the Lord has provided now, we will not inherit the world to come. Those that balk at His "unspeakable gift" now, will never be able to dwell forever in the courts of the Lord, to behold His beauty, and inquire in His temple! The Father and the Son offer to make Their abode with us NOW (John 14:23). Today you can be "filled with all joy and peace in believing" (Rom 15:13). The "joy of the Lord" can be your strength right now (Neh 8:10)! Now- -today--it is time to draw near to God with a true heart, availing ourselves of abundance of grace He offers!
A Sense of Urgency
There is a sense of urgency in faith that forbids slothfulness and indolence. Before a person can be slothful, he must be unbelieving. Before one can fail to enter into what God has promised, he must choose to ignore His promise and disbelieve His Gospel. That is why people make little or no progress in the faith. It is not because they are not adequate. It is because they have not believed the promises of God! THEY DO NOT KNOW THE TIME! How appropriate are the words of the Spirit. "And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light" (Rom 13:11-12, NIV). I find a near-total absence of this perspective in the average religious institution. Men are taught that planning is godly and wise, when the Spirit declares this is the time to believe, press forward, and obtain the promises!
A REST REMAINS
Faith is the Appointed Means
There is something to be obtained--something that has not yet been fully experienced. "For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all His work. And again in the passage above He says, "They shall never enter My rest. 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" (v. 4-6, NIV). The "disobedience" of this text (i.e., "because of their disobedience"), is a disobedience that results from unbelief. The KJV captures the sense of the text, using the word "unbelief" instead of "disobedience." Technically, both are correct. But faith and obedience are NOT synonymous! Romans 1:5 reminds us that obedience (upakohn) "comes from faith" (pistewj). Unbelief was the cause, and disobedience was the effect. Romans 16:26 speaks of believing (pistewj) AND obeying (upakohn). Remember, "the just shall live by faith" (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38), not by obedience! We do not despise obedience, for to obey is "better than to sacrifice" (1 Sam 15:22).
The Lord gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). Jesus is the Author of "eternal salvation" to those that obey Him (Heb 5:9). Our text is showing the root of disobedience, which is unbelief. Likewise, the root of obedience is faith.
The True Sabbath
Israel did not enter into the rest of God the true Sabbath. This contradicts the doctrine of the Sabbatarians that affirm the seventh day is the proper day of worship. (Many of them affirm that honoring the first day of the week is a Satanic innovation.) If this were the case, Israel would have entered into the sabbath-rest of God. Though imperfectly, they did honor the Sabbath day.
However, it is here declared they did not enter the "rest" God associated with the seventh day! If the cessation of creative labor on the seventh day is the "rest" to which our text refers, we cast upon the horns of a dilemma. The Lord said Israel did not enter His rest, yet they did keep the Sabbath day holy, as He commanded (though with much inconsistency). God declared, "They (the unbelievers) shall never enter My rest!" The point is not merely that they did not enter, but that they "could not" enter! It was no longer offered to them! It was Not accessible to them. However, the seventh day was offered to them--yea, it was commanded they keep it, and do so in a holy manner. The most diligent Sabbath keepers in Israel, however, did not enter into God's Sabbath rest! That is a matter of revelation. The Lord is not speaking of a ritual, but of a condition. He is not referring to a procedure, but to a culmination. It is more than interesting that in Hebrews 3:11,18, and 4:1,3,5,10, and 11, the word "rest" is translated from the Greek word katapausin, which means ceasing from ones work or activity . . . rest. However, in the ninth verse, another word is used. "There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (NASB, NIV, NRSV). The word used here is sabbatismoj, which means a spiritual rest, a rest. This is a use of the word from which the word "Sabbath" comes, and is the only place in the New Covenant writings that it is found. Notice, it is yet to be inhabited, not observed! It is something into which we "enter," not something we keep.
Two Kinds of Rest
Here, there are at least two kinds of "rest" to be considered. First, a rest from toil and exertion. In this case, "rest" for the weary. This was foreshadowed by the seventh day Sabbath. In that day, there was to be a cessation of normal activity, and provision made for rest and contemplation. This cannot, of course, be applied to God Almighty. There as no need for God to "rest," in this sense of the word. Creating the world did not fatigue the Lord! The other kind of rest is a conclusion--a "rest" because something is completed. This is the "rest" God is said to have had. Both rests pertain to man, but only the latter applies to the Lord. For God, the Sabbath-rest marked the conclusion of the creation of the heavens and the earth. For Israel, the Sabbath-rest marked the conclusion of a week, and the preparation for further toil.
For those in Christ, the Sabbath-rest marks the conclusion of their orientation for glory, when they shall be "conformed to the Image of God's Son" (Rom 8:29), glorified and ready to embark on an eternal reign with the Son of God. That rest "remains" to be enjoyed by the people of God. Now, they enjoy a "rest" from their own labors as a basis for entrance into glory. They now savor
Divine acceptance upon the basis of their unreserved reception of Christ (John 1:12). Those that have tasted of this "rest" know how appropriately it is named "REST!" To attempt to serve God with a defiled conscience is labor of the worst sort. It is fatiguing, discouraging, and hopeless!
To serve Him with a cleansed conscience is liberty and rest of unspeakable magnitude! O, that it were known by more! God prepared a "rest" from the beginning--a "rest" into which men could effectively and satisfactorily enter. From this perspective we have been saved in accordance with "His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time" (2 Tim 1:9, NASB). In a word, this rest is "eternal life, which God, Who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time" (Tit 1:2, NASB). It is as though the Lord reserved a place by Himself where mankind could reside, fellowship, and participate with Him. Israel chose not to avail themselves of that blessing. The work of salvation is not complete until that "rest" is realized by the saved ones.
The unbelief of the Israelites provoked God to wrath. When He was angry, He swore they would never enter His rest--and they did not! Would God respond by removing the "rest," as He did with the angels that fell? Indeed, He did not! The "rest" is still there--to be inhabited by those willing to believe! There is still joyous satisfaction, rewarding fellowship, and a large inheritance! The unbelief that surrounds can be effectively resisted by the grace of God! We can believe God whether any one else does or not! In fact, we MUST believe God, whether any one else does or not!
We are dealing with a high and lofty truth! We are not speaking of procedures or disciplines, as were mirrored in the Law. We are speaking of Divine fellowship, participation in the "eternal purpose of God," and a joint reign with Christ. Here, we address the matter of complete absorption--willing absorption--in the will of the Lord. It is complete extrication from the quagmire created by transgression. The "rest" of God is not God providing a remedy for sin, but the enjoyment of a purpose for which the remedy prepares us. To put it another way, God's "rest" is the realization of the participation for which remission, intercession, and the gift of the Holy Spirit prepare us. Though this must be carefully stated, the contemporary church has exalted the means above the end. The result is that institutional constituents are not stretching forward to obtain the prize!
God Is Relying Upon the Son
It is important to emphasize this "rest" involves the Father's complete reliance upon the Son. Everything has been turned over to Him--the Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus said, "The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands" (John 3:35; 13:3, NIV). One of the more familiar statements of Jesus is found in Matthew 28:18. "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." In order to fulfill His mission, the Father granted the Son "authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those . . . given Him" (John 17:2, NIV). Again, Jesus says, "All things have been committed to Me by My Father" (Matt 11:27, NIV). Of the Son, the Spirit affirms, "For He (the Father) has put everything under His feet" (1 Cor 15:27, NIV). To the Ephesians Paul wrote, "God placed all things under His feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church" (Eph 1:22, NIV). Peter declared Jesus has "gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him" (1 Pet 3:22, NIV). God is RESTING with complete confidence in His Son! Glory be to God!
The point of our text is that we can enter that rest with Him. We can rely completely on the Son to accomplish in us the good and acceptable, and perfect will of God. Do you wonder why the Apostle prays, "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb 13:20-21). Holy men have always known it is God Himself that "works in us, both to will and to do of His own good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). The Rest Remains At least two things are implied by saying the rest "remains." First, the culmination of God's purpose has not yet been realized. The understanding of this will dissuade us from placing an emphasis on this world and our present attainment. Second, we have not yet reached the fulness of what can be experienced NOW. There is a largeness to salvation that can keep us pressing toward the mark. In both cases, we have not yet "apprehended that for which we have been apprehended" (Phil 3:12-13). If there is one glaring deficiency in contemporary religion it is this: men are blissfully unaware of the greatness of salvation. We must join the saints of past ages in praying they may "may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God" (Eph 3:15-18). Until measurable progress is made in this area, there is little hope of entering into God's rest!
WE DO ENTER INTO REST
The genius of our salvation is found in the experience of its first fruits now. The affirmation of our text is wonderful. "For we which have believed do enter into rest . . . " (v. 3). Faith brings us into the vestibule of glory. By it, we "have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come" (Heb 6:5). Later in this fourth chapter, the Spirit briefly elaborates on this facet of redemption. "For those who enter God's rest also cease from their labors as God did from His" (Heb 4:10, NRSV). By this, He means the grief is removed from our efforts. Mind you, grief was not associated with God's creation, nor was His "rest" a condition where He was relieved. God's "rest" speaks of satisfaction and good pleasure. It also speaks of finality or completion. His "eternal purpose," so to speak, was cast in stone. It only remained for it to be completed--for the children to all be brought home.
Those that labor under a system of Law suffer spiritual fatigue and frustration. They are never sure they have been received by God. They are never confident their names are written in heaven. They do not have the "full assurance of hope," the "full assurance of understanding," "full assurance of faith," or a "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (Col 2:2; Heb 6:11; 10:22). The reason for this bankruptcy is not owing to their personality or lack of effort. Often, such people are engaged in profuse efforts for an institution, or some other cause. Yet, for all of their effort, they have not entered into God's rest. They do not think in terms of "fellowship" with God's Son, Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:9). Subjects like justification, sanctification, and the coming of Christ are rarely matters of contemplation or communication. Generally, they are more enamored of this world than the one to come. They are nice people, but they are not confident people! Why so? They have been robbed by their religion! Scarcely do they hear that "the Lord has done great things for them" (Psa 126:2-3). Like Israel, they labor under a system of Law, which cannot bring the individual into God's rest!
Faith brings you into the "rest" because it alone can appropriate what God has wrought. As a means to justification, "work" is wholly insufficient. It cannot bring ultimate satisfaction, arduous though it may be. No wonder the Spirit witnesses, "So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin" (Rom 4:6-7, NIV). Faith can grasp that word, appropriating "rest" for the soul! You already know the necessity of such "rest" if you are going to successfully navigate through this world. Is it not refreshing to know you can enter it now by faith? All the while you are personally dissatisfied with your attainments, you are gloriously satisfied with the work of Christ. Never forget, it is your view of the Son that enables you to join God in satisfying rest.
THE WORKS WERE FINISHED
Because of the reluctance of those under Law to believe the "rest" has been completed, the Spirit elaborates. The promised words of Jesus are a comfort to those who live by faith. "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt 25:34, NRSV). That is equivalent to, "The works were finished from the foundation of the world." In consideration of our text, this is the status and environment to which we have been called. By "status," I mean we will enter into an eternal realm for which we have been duly qualified by virtue of our faith in Christ. By "environment," I mean an habitation devoid of any element of dissatisfaction, exhaustion, trial, or opposition.
The "works" have already been finished! You have probably heard men say Jesus has been working on our mansion for nearly two thousand years. That may sound nice to the unlearned, but it is not! "The works were finished from the foundation of the world." With a strong appeal to our faith, Peter speaks to our hearts. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5). Can you, child of God, enter into that rest by faith NOW! The anticipation of it, coupled with your assurance, will bring the first fruits to you now. The inheritance is completed! It is "reserved in heaven FOR YOU!" The Lord wants you to "enter" into it, and will provide all of the resources necessary for you to do so. "Be not faithless, but believing!" (John 20:27).
ENTERING INTO HIS REST
The wording of the Spirit is precise. The "rest" of which we speak is not a human accomplishment. It is something that already exists--a rest into which we enter. As it is written, "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" (NIV). The word "enter" comes from the Greek word eivseleu,sontai, which means to come into, enter, take possession of, begin to enjoy, or begin to experience. It involves more than simply making a transition to another place, like entering a room. Rather, it speaks of possessing an inheritance, realizing what faith has brought to the soul, and beginning a full participation in things preferred. The rest was created by God, man but enters into it. It is not developed by man in any sense whatsoever. If the rest were likened to a large brick house, there is not a single brick placed there by us. If it were considered a large tapestry, not a single stitch has been woven by man. This "rest" is wholly created by God. It is His, and His alone. By His grace, and because of Jesus Christ, we are allowed to enter into it. Praise be to His holy Name!
This represents a manner of thought that conflicts with both natural and legalistic ways of thinking. It vividly paints for us the nature of salvation. In our redemption, God prepares something for us--something into which we enter. It is provided for us, and faith enables us to appropriate it. It is complete in all of its facets, and is neither increased or made more stable by our persons or effort. It has been "finished," and we "enter into" it. Just as Israel did not create Canaan, so we do not construct the "rest" into which we enter by faith. It is "prepared" for us, and we come into it!
This condition puts the accent on faith, for faith appropriates what has already been prepared. It substantizes spiritual realities to our spirits, provided by God in Christ Jesus. By comparison, "works" (as a means of gaining God's approval) do not recognize anything "PREPARED for those who love Him" (1 Cor 2:9). Those under the bludgeon of Law acknowledge that God has prepared a Kingdom, but they cannot conceive of it being "for them." In the glory, we will enter fully into a Christ-centered awareness. That is, then the magnificence of His vicarious death and our consequent salvation will burst upon us like the dawning of the noon-day sun. The prophet Isaiah depicted this "rest" in words of comparison. How marvelous they are. "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isa 2:4, NIV). Micah writes precisely the same words, adding "Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken" (Micah 4:3-4). That is the appointed "rest" which awaits the people of God. It will be intensely personal, satisfying, and productive. Mind you, it is not their rest, but God's rest! The purpose of God was initiated by God's identity with us. It shall culminate in our identity with Him!
I have briefly and lightly touched a massive subject. Yet, even though this presentation has been but introductory, it will have a sanctifying effect upon your heart and mind. It speaks of something God has done something He has prepared for YOU! He has given indication of His great satisfaction with the Son. Jesus is His "well beloved Son," held in high regard and given power over everything in heaven and earth. There is no aspect of our salvation the Father does not trust in the hands of the Son. He is resting, so to speak, in the anticipation of the fulfillment of His "eternal purpose." The Son will complete the work, bringing many sons to glory. He will present them before the Throne, faultless and with great joy! He will shepherd them, protect them, and feed them. When they need heavenly resources, He will provide them. He will dispatch angelic hosts to camp around them, delivering them from fear of evil! The Father knows this, and rests the entirety of our salvation in Christ's hands.
Now, God invites us to join Him in this confident and satisfying "rest." We can enter into it with Him, enjoy its joys, and look forward to its culmination. The point of our text is for us to do it. Do not allow an "evil heart of unbelief" to keep you from entering into what has been prepared for you! Instead, take hold of the promises! Clutch them firmly, and refuse to let them go. Ponder them and speak of them! It will not be long, and you will be with the Lord, realizing the fulness of the "rest" HIS REST into which you can enter!