Hebrews 4:1-10 Rest for the People of God WC McCarter
I’m here to tell you today that there is still a rest for the people of God.
Imagine yourself flashing back to the time of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. Imagine yourself in a dry and barren land with dead bodies scattered all around. One older gentleman shows up, and you have one question for him, what happened to all of these people? His response goes something like this: Take a look around. This marks the disastrous consequences of unbelief. These are the corpses of people who were to be God’s people, who heard His promises, who were offered rest in a Promised Land, but they rebelled against their covenant God. Because of their unbelieving, disobedient hearts, the Lord swore in His holy wrath that they would never enter into that rest which was promised.
That, in essence, is exactly what was recounted to us in Heb 3:16-19. The cry of warning in that chapter was, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” Moreover, chapter four also has a shout of warning, but it is combined with a word of promise.
The Warning: “Let us fear lest any of us seem to have come short of God’s rest.”
The Promise: “A promise remains of entering His rest.”
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Entering the Promised Rest by Faith (1-5)
This passage is clearly divided out by the multiple uses of the word “therefore.” As usual, we need to know why that word is being used. The first “therefore” of verse one clearly summarizes the last paragraph of chapter three which we just recounted. Because the Israelite generation of the Exodus heard the word of promise and fell dead in the wilderness without having received the fulfillment due to their unbelief, we should, therefore, “fear.” We should fear that we may come short of it as well.
What is interesting is that the author begins in verse one by saying that a promise remains of entering into God’s rest. How do we know that? Well, he is going to give us a few reasons through the next few verses. In the first place, though, we are expected to entertain the thought. Ok, Hebrews author, we will hear you out about this rest. You say it still remains, so what should we do in light of this promise?
He says that we should “fear.” We don’t like that kind of language. No one should have to fear anything. If we talk about fear, then we will have to talk about the holiness of God, the sin-problem, our guilt, and the like. We don’t enjoy talking about those kinds of things. After all, the New Testament says that perfect love casts out fear. So, let’s just talk about love. Whoa, now, wait a minute. The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. It is a smart and healthy thing to fear the Lord. Fear means that you understand the Lord and this world. It means that you appropriately respect and appreciate the Lord for who He is and what He has done.
You see, the possibility exists of not entering into God’s rest, even if you have heard the word of the Lord, even if you have heard the promises, even if you have heard the Gospel message. I don’t think many Americans realize that someone may be a church attender, but not a Christian. Someone may call himself a Christian, but not be born again. Someone may taste the heavenly gift, but ultimately be lost. On the last day, many will cry, Lord! Lord! but He will say, Depart from me, I never knew you. If that possibility exists, then you better believe that fear is appropriate, healthy, and necessary.
The difference between the Exodus generation and us today is not the message. Both were messages of promise, of good news, that had to be received by an active faith. The difference is the type of hearing. The Israelites heard the Gospel, but they rebelled and did not obey. You see, hearing is not enough. Intellectual agreement is not enough. We must hear and believe. We must hear and respond in faithful obedience because it is those who believe that enter God’s rest.
The author ties Gen 2:2 with Ps 95:11 to teach about God’s sovereignty and plan of redemption. The works which God had accomplished were done so from the foundation of the world. God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh. Everything that the Lord has willed was willed from the beginning. What we begin to learn from this relation of Gen 2 to Ps 95 is that first, rest is not in the past, and second, rest involves resting from works.
The Promise of Rest is for Today (6-8)
The second “therefore” comes in verse six. The conviction that a rest remains for the people of God was first assumed by the author of this book. Yet, in this paragraph scriptural support is given again from Ps 95:11. The argument for a remaining rest is beginning to take form. In the first place, the original hearers did not receive the promise because of disobedience. Secondly, Joshua’s conquest did not secure rest because the promise was given again later. Thirdly, the Holy Spirit spoke through David to say that the promise is for “today.” Verse eight is the clincher. If the settlement in the Promise Land under Joshua’s leadership was the fulfillment of the promise, then God would not have spoken through David many years later of the promise still remaining. So, it is “today” for which the promise is relevant. It is for you and me. We can enter into God’s rest here and now and experience it ultimately at Christ’s return. This promise is ours to receive and to share with the world. People need to hear the promise and grasp it by faith so that they may enter His rest.
Resting from Our Works (9-10)
Finally, the promise is emphatically stated in verse nine. The rest remains.
The author concludes this discussion by asserting that entering into the rest of God must be a spiritual reality when one rests from his/her own works. This is an ultimate reality that can begin to be experienced now, today. “The essence of entering God’s rest means resting from one’s own work just as God did on the seventh day.” This is what I have come to call “Faith-Rest” as I have learned from my mentor.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) Fear of the Lord is healthy. You should fear the Lord. He is holy, righteous, just, and must judge accordingly. If you continue in sin, He must condemn your sin. If you have a heart of unbelief, you will come short of His rest. Fear the Lord and you will be safe. As the Lord Jesus said, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”
(2) Notice how listening to the Lord’s voice is prominent in this passage. The people of God are to hear and obey the word of God. We are not to depart from the living God, harden our hearts, rebel, sin, disobey, disbelieve, or the rest. We are expected to hear the word of the Lord and do it. Stop looking for reasons to disobey the Lord. You are playing with fire. If you are constantly trying to justify sin or reason for yourself why it would be ok to neglect this or that command of the Lord, you are in trouble. It is simple, hear and obey.
(3) Lastly, there is no doubt strong warnings in this passage, but the overwhelming message that the believer is to hear is this: there remains a rest for the people of God. There is still a rest, and you can enter it. How do you enter it? You enter into God’s rest by faith. Verse three is clear: “we who have believed do enter that rest.”