Sermon: The Promise of God’s Rest (Hebrews 4:1-13)

Text: Hebrews 4:1-13
Proper 24, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Rest: It can be such a welcome word. To be able to kick back and relax. The pressure is off. The burden is lifted. Take a load off and chill! A little R & R is very welcome after a long week. We can see the need for a day of rest once a week. It matches the pattern God gave us by taking a day of rest at the end of creation. We understand rest, but when it comes to our Epistle reading for today, from Hebrews 4, we find a different kind of rest. It’s about an even greater sort of rest, God’s rest. So this morning, we have an invitation to enter God’s rest and a warning about falling to reach it.

An Invitation to Rest

The main point is that God has a rest we can enter. God’s rest is something for you today, and it is a promise for the future. We can enter God’s rest here and now but we can only experience its fullness at the end of the age. When you’ rest’, you stop working. God himself rested on the seventh day. “On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done” (Gen. 2:2-3). Proper rest is when you stop working, just like as God did at creation. 

The point is that God’s ‘rest’ will always be His gift, not something we can ever construct for ourselves by hard work. We enter God’s rest by faith, not by works. What is faith? Faith is trusting in God’s promises. It’s trust that Christ’s sacrificial death begins our rest by giving us rest from the burden our sins and a guilty conscience. It’s also trusting in who God is. It’s a confidence that Almighty God is a loving Saviour. He’s not against you; he’s for you. God is loving and favourable towards us because of the death of Jesus. He loves us and gives us rest as we place our burdens on him. The good news is that God is merciful and forgives sins and promises rest and joy for those who trust him. That begins here and now. 

God also has a plan for his people to join him in the beautiful restfulness of heaven, where everything that leaves us weary and burdened will be lifted. It’s a promise for the future. The Israelites had been freed from slavery in Egypt but were wandering in the desert. It was Joshua who brought the Israelites into the promised land. It was a land of promised rest. The rest for them was in to the Promised Land. It was about the physical and social rest of getting their own land, a home of one’s own and being given a place where you can hang your hat. A space where we can settle down rather than always having to be on the move. This is the rest Dorothy once spoke of upon her return from Oz: “There’s no place like home.”

Jesus is the new Joshua who defeated our enemies of Satan, sin, and death. He leads God’s people into the land of promised rest. But God’s rest is not quite the same as entering the Promised Land of Canaan. Joshua led them into that land, yet we are told that Joshua did not lead them into God’s rest. The Promised Land was not the ultimate and final rest God had promised. If that were the case, God would not have spoken about entering God’s rest through David. Long after the people were already enjoying the rest of the promised land, David says that God is still extending an offer of rest to his people. The promised land is a picture of God’s ultimate rest. 

The ‘rest’ that Joshua gave the people when he brought them into the promised land is a promise looking into the future. The promise is life with God and all his people in the new creation, enjoying the life of the age to come. We are looking ahead to a new kind of land, a new sort of city, the city and land which are present only in God’s heaven and will be brought to full reality when Jesus returns.

There is a Divine promise of rest that’s only fulfilled through faith in Christ. That is a rest open to you today. God offers rest. The door is not shut and the time is not past. You have not missed your last opportunity. Hear the words of verse 9: “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” The door is open. The time is now. Trust God, and you have rest for your soul now, and the promise of rest in a new heavens and new earth. 

A Warning about Rest

Our text also has a warning. “Let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers.” We need to fear not entering God’s rest. We need to fear unbelief because that’s what will keep you from entering God’s rest — of not entering the age to come and never seeing God’s new creation. Fear unbelief. Fear not trusting God.

Our text compares Israel’s situation in the wilderness to our situation today. They had good news preached to them, and we have had good news preached to us. For Israel, the good news was God’s promise that he would bring them into the land of milk and honey and be with them if they would trust him and not rebel. Israel did not believe this good news, so they did not enter God’s rest, God’s promised land. In other words, they didn’t believe it. These were the grumbling Israelites who, though saved by God from Egypt, ultimately did not enter the Promised Land. They doubted God and distrusted him and disobeyed him. They did not have faith in his promise to give them a better future than they had in Egypt, and so they gave up on God and wanted the old life. The promise was of no value to them. It did not save them. They did not enter God’s rest but instead died in the wilderness. God swore in his wrath that they would never enter his rest — a picture of God’s own people missing heaven. 

Fear unbelief because when the Israelites didn’t trust the good news, they perished in the wilderness. They did nothing but grumble and complain all the way to the Promised Land. And their example serves as a warning to you: fear this happening to you. You can lose your salvation. You can be baptised, have gone to church all your life, and still, end up in hell. Fear hearing the promises of God and not trusting them. Because the same thing can happen to us: if we don’t repent and trust God’s promise, we will not enter into God’s rest — God’s new heavens and new earth. 

To keep this from happening, he says, “strive to enter that rest.” Strive! As the psalmist says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Fear the unbelief that will keep you from your promised rest. Do you see the great lesson here? The Christian life is a life of day-by-day, hour-by-hour trust in the promises of God to help us and guide us and take care of us and forgive us and bring us into a positive future. There is no automatic ticket to heaven. If you put your trust in yourself or in the promises of this world, you have much to fear. If you refuse to repent daily or refuse to drown and kill all your sins and evil desires, you have much to fear.

Christ wants people who live without fear. How? By faith in his promises. If you’re living a life of repentance and faith, you have no reason to fear. So there is only one thing to fear: faithlessness. Fear unbelief in the promises of God. As long as you repent of sin and trust in God’s promises, you can be utterly fearless in the face of anything, even death. 

There is one door to the safe, peaceful, happy rest of God — the door of faith. Anyone who puts faith in God’s promises bought for us by the blood of Jesus, and is diligent not to throw that faith away, is a part of the people of God. So on behalf of God, I call you this morning, put your trust in the promise of God’s rest.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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