The Promise of Rest
Because of unbelief, the Israelites failed to enter the promise land, the land of Canaan which is a type of God’s rest. It is a solemn warning to us Christians so we will not commit the same sin. Moses led the people out of Egypt’s bondage but was unable to lead them into the Promise land. Joshua led them into the land but was unable to give them rest. Only in Christ can we find true rest.
I. The Fear we must have (Heb. 4:1)
A. Fear is not always a bad thing. The fear of the Lord is one of the great duties of man. Solomon said “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man”. (Eccl. 12:13).
1. The Greek word used here is “phobeo” which means to frighten, to be alarmed; to be in awe of, be afraid, reverence.
2. When we see God’s attributes of holiness, righteousness and justice, we will have what we call Fear of God, fear which results in careful obedience of His will.
3. The fear of the Lord is the fear that will keep us from evil. Solomon wrote, “by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. (Prov. 16:6). God’s word is very clear. If we really fear God, then we stay away from sin.
4. The fear of God is mentioned at least 24 times in the New Testament
5. The Fear of the Lord is also described in the Bible as:
a. The beginning of knowledge (Pr. 1:7)
b. To hate evil (Pr. 8:13)
c. Prolongeth days (Pr. 10:27)
d. Is strong confidence (Pr. 14:26);
e. Is a fountain of life (Pr. 14:27);
f. Is riches and honor and life (Pr. 22:4).
g. The root problem with the wicked is that they do not fear God (Ps. 36:1; Rom. 3:18). (D. Cloud)
B. We must have the right kind of fear. We should not fear man more than God. The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe. (Prov. 29:25). Israel failed God at Kadesh Barnea because they feared the people of Canaan rather than God. Had they put their trust in the Lord they would have occupied the Promise Land and enjoyed God’s rest and protection. Paul wants us to look back at Israel’s failure so we won’t commit the same mistake they did.
C. The fearful result of the Israelites disobedience is recorded in Heb. 3:17, “their carcases fell in the wilderness”.
D. God’s promises are conditional. A “rest” is promised, but we must be faithful and obedient so we do not come short of it.
Illustration 1/Application: Fashioned for Faith, not Fear
I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath—these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely—these are my native air.
A John Hopkins University doctor says, “We do not know why it is that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, but that is a fact.” But I, who am simple of mind, think I know; We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against reality. – Dr. E. Stanley Jones
II. Failure we must Avoid (Heb. 4:2-3)
A. The gospel, good news or glad tidings in our text is the offer of rest. “Rest” was promised to them in the land of Canaan. They promised to obey, but did not. “All the people answered, ‘Everything the Lord has said we will do” (Ex. 19:7-8, 24:3). The problem wasn’t with God or His promise, the problem was their unbelief. The promise is only good to those who receive it by faith. Joshua and Caleb profited from the word preached because they had faith in what God promised.
B. The Bible says “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22).
C. Finished from the foundation of the world. The rest which God give is the rest based upon the finished work which God purposed in eternity past.
D. Salvation was finished from the foundation of the world (Heb. 4:3) in the sense that in God’s mind Christ was already slain. (Rev. 13:8 and 1 Pet. 1:20).
Illustration 2/Application: Why No Disciple at Sepulchre
It has always been a mystery to me why every disciple of Jesus Christ who was anywhere near Jerusalem, was not at the sepulcher on the morning of the third day after the crucifixion. Over and over again He told them that he would arise. But there is not one solitary passage that tells us that they had any expectation of His resurrection.
It seems as if His enemies had better memories than His friends. When Jesus’ body was laid away in the tomb, the Jews went to Pilate, and wanted him to make it secure because, they said, “We remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again” (Mat. 27:63).
Encyclopaedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.
III. The Promised Rest (Heb. 4:4-10)
A. Rest is the prominent word in chapter 3 and chapter 4 (Heb. 3:11, 18; 4:1; 4:3; 4:4; 4:5; 4:8; 4:9; 4:10; 4:11). Webster defines rest as cessation of motion or action of any kind, and applicable to anybody or being; as rest from labor; rest from mental exertion; rest of body or mind. A body is at rest, when it ceases to move; the mind is at rest, when it ceases to be disturbed or agitated; It is the rest of faith whereby we live totally dependent upon God. It is a life of total trust and obedience as opposed to the life of unbelief and wavering that characterized the children of Israel at Kadash Barnea and in the wilderness. There are several illustrations of rest listed in these passages.
1. Creation rest. God did not rest because He was tired. He is omnipotent. He does not get tired. God rested because the work is completed and it was good. Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the
Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no
searching of his understanding. (Isa. 40:28, Gen. 2:2)
2. Sabbath Rest – Sabbath means rest. Ex. 31:12-18 says the sabbath was a special sign between God and Israel. This was the seventh day rest, patterned after God’s own rest following the creation – Gen. 2:2. The Sabbath as a day of rest was given only to the nation of Israel. The Sabbath consequently became a distinctive sign of Israel’s covenant relationship to God. The Israelites’ obedience in keeping the Sabbath demonstrated their faith in God. They believed that He would supply their needs and sustain them for seven days even though they only worked six days. Therefore, Israel’s obedience in resting on the Sabbath and keeping it holy was proof that they believed and trusted God.
3. Canaan Rest. Canaan was God’s earthly rest for his people. Canaan was described as a fruitful land flowing with milk and honey. This “rest” was given as God promised (Josh. 21:43-45). Canaan rest could have been a victory rest also. However, Joshua (here called Jesus, the Greek form of Joshua), failed to give the real rest to the Israelites (Heb. 4:8). Truly, they got the land but still they are being harassed by their enemies. “It came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute; but did not utterly drive them out”. (Jos. 17:13). Long after Joshua died, the passage in Ps. 95:7-8 was written. The word “Today if ye hear his voice.”, indicates that the Spirit was warning the Israelites who have been living in Canaan for years. Joshua provided the “Canaan” rest, but there is still “rest” that is future.
4. Heavenly Rest. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. (Heb. 4:9). The phrase there remaineth indicates that the rest spoken of in this verse is yet future. Both, Creation Rest and Canaan Rest were types or pictures of earthly rest. Heavenly rest pictures the eternal rest that is enjoyed by the believer when he finishes his work on earth and enters eternity. The fact that in Ps. 95, God is still offering His rest in the time of David (long after Israel had been in the land) means that the rest being offered is Spiritual. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. (Heb. 4:10). We gain eternal rest by faith in Christ’s finished work on Calvary. When we come to Christ and by faith, trust Him for our salvation He saves us, and He saves us eternally apart from any merit or works of our own. It is by faith and it is eternal (Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 3:5-7). However, we are saved to serve (Eph. 2:10, Titus 3:8). Heaven is a place of rest, not in the sense that there is no labor but in the sense of resting from wearisome toil and the troubles that we have because of our own sin and that of the world in which we live. We are going to serve our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in heaven (Rev. 22:3). So then, salvation is more than just being saved; it is a life of service and commitment. The heavenly rest is characterized by the fulness of heavenly promises (Eph. 1:3) and the absence of any labor to obtain it.
Illustration 3/Application: Christ’s Offer of Rest
In the Philippines I heard a local pastor use the following parable to illustrate Christ’s offer of rest (Matt. ll:28) and the response of people who won’t trust Him completely: The driver of a caribou wagon was on his way to market when he overtook an old man carrying a heavy load. Taking compassion on him, the driver invited the old man to ride in the wagon.
Gratefully the old man accepted. After a few minutes, the driver turned to see how the man was doing. To his surprise, he found him still straining under the heavy weight, for he had not taken the burden off his shoulders. Larry Chell
IV. Let us Labour (Heb. 4: 11)
A. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (Heb. 4:11). Let us understand from the start that the writer is in no way advocating a works salvation. However, while eternal rest is guaranteed in the finished work of Christ, the fullness of satisfaction and enjoyment of that rest is dependent on our earthly faithfulness in trusting and serving Christ. Let not the believer who has wasted his life in defeat and fruitlessness think that he will enjoy Heaven in the same way as one who has faithfully served Christ. We must labour therefore to enter into that rest. The word labour comes from “spoudazo” and means “to labour, to make effort, be prompt or earnest, be diligent.” The idea here is that we serve Christ faithfully in order to enter into the fullness of the rest He purchased for us at Calvary.
Let us fear, obey, and serve the Lord faithfully so we can enter into His rest, the Heavenly rest. Would you like to rest from your earthly labors and experience the rest that only our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ can give? Then repent from your sins and receive Him as your personal Saviour. He is waiting for you with an open hand.