“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11, ESV)
So just what is the “rest” of God? What is it we are talking about that is so important that we need “anxiously fear” that we might miss it and that we must strive, putting forth effort as believers, to enter it?
The writer of Hebrews was referring back to the word “rest” from Psalm 95: 11, which he had quoted: “Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Of course, there is a whole story behind those words, a rationale for that harsh statement.
The story is found in Numbers 13 and 14 (worth taking a moment to read). God had made a promise. The Israelite majority, out of fear, rejected God’s offer. They rebelled against the “word,” the promise of God. Their unbelief, fueled by fear, made it impossible for God to give them what he had promised: the land of Canaan. They would not believe him, did not obey him, and therefore they could not receive from him.
God’s pronouncement against them: “They shall not enter my rest,” was the outcome of their unbelief and rebellion against God. God was not being unreasonable. They refused to enter the land, therefore God could not give it to them. When we refuse to believe and act on God’s word, we shut ourselves off from receiving the benefits of his word, his promises.
But God’s promise, his “rest,” is still open and available to whoever will believe it: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95: 8a). Do not harden your hearts “as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways’” (Psalm 95: 8b-10; ref. Numbers 13, 14; my emphases).
“For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4: 2).
Good news? Isn’t that a New Testament concept? What was the good news preached to the ancient Israelites that compares to the good news we have had passed down to us?
In a nutshell: the Kingdom of God; the rule of God in their lives and our lives. The Israelites of Moses’ day were given the Laws of God, mediated by angels, laws for life which were meant to be kept for the good, the welfare of the people. Tremendous blessings in this life would have accrued to them, had they obeyed from the heart those laws of God. One of the first steps of obedience was entering the land of Canaan. God had promised to give it to them. But they dug in their heels and revolted against God.
Those Laws given to Moses were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, who preached, “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is near.” Jesus demonstrated the kingdom and power of God by his actions while here on earth. He was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, after dying on the cross taking on himself the sins of the world (that world is you and me and everyone else).
Now we, two thousand years later, have heard the Gospel, the Good News that is good news indeed, that Jesus Christ has come and is setting up his kingdom in the hearts of those who will trust in and obey him.
But what about this strong admonition to believers to “fear” coming short of, and to “strive to enter,” God’s rest; how do we do this? As a friend of mine expressed, “I humbly and reverently understand (that) to walk in his word is to rest.”
It comes back to hearing God’s word with ears that hear, i.e., ears that obey those words to:
abide in him and in his words (John 15:7),
grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18),
continue in his words (John 8:31),
work out our own salvation with fear and trembling … (Philippians 2:12),
walk in the Light as he is in the light (I John 1:7),
live by the Spirit … walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25),
diligently add to your faith … (2 Peter 2:3-11),
be doers of the word and not hearers only who deceive ourselves … (James 1:22).
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12, 13).
Jesus so succinctly stated it in his grandly simple and simply grand invitation: “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 (Matthew 11:28-29).
Come: Believe. Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me: live in and live out the Word of God.
And our souls will have the Rest of God.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation