27 May Hebrews 06 – Strive to enter God’s rest
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 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. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
Have you ever sleep and wake up tired? Anyone? Research has shown us that what restores the body is not the length of your sleep but the depth of your sleep. It is not how many hours you sleep but whether your sleep is deep or not. They call it REM, rapid eye movement sleep. So, it is very possible for you to sleep for 12 hours and wake up feeling tired. Because there is a difference between sleeping and resting. Just because you sleep does not mean you are resting. It used to happen to me quite a lot. It usually happened if I was preaching the next day. In fact it just happened to me last week. I was scheduled to preach in the Sunday Morning Indonesian service so that Saturday night I went to bed at 12 AM and woke up at 2:15 AM to watch the F.A. Cup final. So I only slept for about 2 hours. As most of you know, Manchester United lost the game. So I went back to sleep around 4 in the morning. I could not sleep for the first 30 minutes because of my frustration but I eventually fell asleep. I set my alarm at 6:30 in the morning. And in those less than 2 hours of sleep, I had a very unique experience. I had 3 consecutive nightmares. The first nightmare I had was I stood up to preach and I totally forgot my sermon. Then I woke up and realized that it was just a dream. Then I went back to sleep again and had another nightmare. This time, I lost my sermon notes. I woke up again and realized that it was just a dream. Then I went to sleep again and had another nightmare. This time my microphone was not working and no one could hear me preach. And then my alarm rang. I woke up. And do you know what I realized? I just experienced an “inception” moment. Dream within a dream. So I was dreaming that I was dreaming. And in that dream within a dream, I had 3 consecutive nightmares. I blame it all on Manchester United losing the F.A. Cup. I woke up feeling even more tired than before going to bed. And for those 2 hours of sleep, I was restless. I was sleeping but restless. There is a difference between sleeping and resting.
This is the idea that the Bible introduces to us in our passage today. The author of Hebrews is giving us invitation to enter God’s rest. In terms of structure, this passage is very complicated. But the meaning of this passage is very clear. You can only find true rest in Christ. Let me repeat that. You can only find true rest in Christ. And what I mean by rest is not taking a nap. What I mean by rest is sleeping and waking up refreshed. What I mean by rest is being able to sleep and wake up the next morning with joy and gladness even though you are in the midst of chaos. This is true rest.
Do you know that we live in the day and age where this kind of rest is almost impossible? Two reasons for it. First reason is technology. There used to be a time that when you clock-off from work at 5PM, your work is done and you don’t touch it until the next day. But that day is long gone. Today you and I have access to our work all the time. Some of us carry laptop everywhere we go because of our work. Even if we don’t, we carry our smartphones with us. Your boss and your work-colleagues is only one WhatsApp away. And not only that, today we have access to what everyone else in our profession around the world is doing. If before you only have to compete with Bill in the next office, now you have to compete with the rest of the world. When you see me preaching, your mind automatically goes, “Ha, I know that hand gesture and why he keeps saying, “are you tracking with me.” Yosi you CWB – Chandler Wanna Be.” Right? Don’t lie to me. I can read your mind.
The second reason is because we live in a culture driven by achievements. In our culture today, your identity and your worth is tied up to how well you perform. It is something that you must earn through your sweat and hard work. Your identity is tied up to your personal achievement. That is why many of us feels like a failure if we don’t get High Distinction. Okay, maybe it’s just me. But all of us by default tied our identity to our personal achievement. That achievement looks different to different people. For some of us it is achievement in our study. Or maybe achievement in our work, our relationship, or our family. Most of my friends are already married and have kids. And sometime when I talk to them, they already have the best of plan for their children. They told me that they will send their kid to this high school and that university and all the private lessons that their kid is taking right now. Mandarin lesson, Maths, English, Swimming etc. And I asked them, “How old is your child?” “Four years old.” This is over-parenting. Some of you like, “Welcome to the story of my life.” I feel you. We live in a culture driven by achievements. We are a very busy people. Even if we are not, we try to give impression that we are. “How are you?” “I’m busy.” No wonder we are weary and tired.
But there is a rest available for all of you who are weary. And this rest is more than just physical rest. It is a deep rest that our soul needs. It is the kind of rest that allow you to sleep and be refreshed in the midst of chaos. It is God’s rest. So, three things that we can learn from this passage. The invitation to rest; why we do not enter God’s rest; how do we enter God’s rest.
The invitation to rest
Hebrews 4:3-10 – 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
I’m not going to explain this paragraph verse by verse because the structure of this paragraph is very complicated. But the meaning is very clear. Try to follow me. I’ll split this point into two parts. The original rest and the stages of rest. First, the original rest. The author of Hebrews tells us the idea of rest begins at the beginning of creation. So, this is what happened. The book of Genesis tells us that God created the world in seven days. You can take these 7 days literally or figuratively. Conversations for another time. So there is a rhythm that is established in Genesis 1 and 2 and it goes like this, “God created day and night and it was good; God created the land and the seas and it was good; God created plants and animals and it was good; God created the sun and the moon and all the stars in the galaxies and it was good; God created man and woman and it was very good.” All of creation was good and creation is at perfect peace (shalom). Then you find this verse that the author of Hebrews quotes from. Genesis 2:3 – So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
We need to understand something about this verse. God did not rest because he was tired. God did not say, “Fiuh, that was one heck of a work. Especially after creating Adam with small sexy eyes. That takes a lot of precision and concentration. I need some rest. I need to take a day off and have a nap.” This is not what God is saying. That’s what you and I would say but God is never weary. He is never exhausted. He never grew tired. The kind of rest that God experiences is rest that is filled with enjoyment, delight, satisfaction, joy and gladness for the work that he had accomplished. It is the kind of rest that Mozart and Beethoven experienced once they are done writing and performing their symphony. Before Mozart can enjoy his symphony, he had to work hard to make sure that all the musical instrument fits together. He had to write different part for violin, cello, piano, double bass, flute, percussion. And when he finished putting all different parts together, he would pick up chopsticks and begin to move his hand. Cello starts playing. Then enters violin, double bass, flute and eventually all the instruments combine together to make a perfect harmony. And as all the instruments play their part perfectly as Mozart directs it, Mozart is resting in his masterpiece. He finds enjoyment, delight, and satisfaction in his works. This is the kind of rest that God experienced.
And not only that, you and I are invited to experience God’s rest. Do you know what is the first thing that Adam and Eve had to do? Think about it. Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day. And they were given the mandate to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion. It was the commandment to work. But the very next day, as Adam and Eve wake up and ready to work, God says, “It’s time to rest. I want you to enjoy My rest. I want you to experience the perfect symphony of creation that I have put together. I want you to experience the joy, gladness, satisfaction that I experienced. I want you to rest.” So instead of working, the first thing that Adam and Eve did was resting in God’s rest. This is the original rest. This is what we were designed to experience. Before they went out and work, they were to find rest in God’s perfect work. However, because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, sin entered the world and we lost God’s rest. We lost the original rest. We become restless. St. Augustine famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O LORD, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” And this is what God did. God in his mercy works out a plan to bring us back to him and give us the rest that we desperately need. And he is sending us the invitation to enter his rest. This invitation is shown through different stages of Israel’s history. Which lead me to second part of this point.
The stages of rest. God’s plan of restoring his rest to us begin with bringing the Israel to the Promised Land. The Promised Land is a land filled with milk and honey. With another word, it is a shadow of God’s rest. It is a land filled with joy and gladness. God promised to give the land to them. This is the good news that they received. God is going to bring them to a place of rest. But if you remember our last sermon on Hebrews, despite experiencing God’s supernatural power and guidance, Israel disobeyed God and refused to enter the Promised Land. They saw the people in the Promised Land were so much taller than them and they were scared. And God cannot believe it. After experiencing how God sent the 10 plagues and witnessing how God split the Red Sea for them to cross, they think God cannot handle a tall people? Is 2.5 meters too much for God? And because of it, God swore that they would not enter God’s rest. A whole generation of Israelites failed to enter the rest that God has provided for them.
40 years later, God raised Joshua to lead the next generation of Israelites into the land of rest. This time the Israelites learned from the mistakes the previous generation made. They were ready to enter the Promised Land. “So, Joshua, what’s the plan?” “I am not sure. Let me ask God.” So Joshua asked the LORD and he revealed his plan to Joshua. “Josh, I want you guys to circle around Jericho once a day for 6 days and then on the seventh day I want you to circle around Jericho for 7 times.” Then Joshua met with his general and explained the strategy he received from the LORD. And all the generals say, “What?” But they knew better than to second guess God. They went ahead with the plan and the wall of Jericho crumbled. Israel entered and conquered the Promised Land. They entered the land of rest. But the Bible told us that even though they have entered the Promised Land, they have yet to enter God’s rest. Because the Promised Land was only a shadow of God’s rest. It is not the true rest. Despite the milk and honey that they tasted in the Promised Land, their life was still in chaos. They were still restless.
Many years later, King David entered the scene. David was the greatest King in Israel’s history. Under David’s kingship, Israel prospered and conquered over all their enemies. Yet despite all that prosperity and success, David writes in Psalm 95 that God is still inviting his people to enter his rest. With another word, even though the Israelites had experience some degree of rest, they have yet to enter the fullness of God’s rest. They were still restless. Why? Because they were not able to conquer the problem of sin. And sin is what caused all of us to be restless. Sin is what caused human to lost God’s original rest in the first place. That’s why even though the Israelites were already in the Promised Land, God still speaks of another day of rest that is coming. A Sabbath rest for the people of God. And today God is inviting all of us to enter a Sabbath rest. This invitation is not only for the Israelites and for the audience of the book of Hebrews. The same invitation is given to us. Will you enter God’s Sabbath rest?
What is a Sabbath rest? Good question. Let me explain. There are two purposes for Sabbath. First, it is a day of rest. It is a day where you take some time off to remind yourself that you are not a robot. You are a human. You are not infinite but you are a finite being. You do not have endless supply of energy and you need rest. At the bottom of it all, Sabbath reminds you that you are not God. It is a day where you remind yourself that God is God and you are not. The world does not revolve around you and the world will continue to run without you. So, breathe. Relax. Take a nap. Not now though. I can see some of you are very eager to apply the Sabbath rest right now. But that is not all there is to the purpose of Sabbath. There is another purpose for Sabbath. Deuteronomy 5:15 – You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. Did you get that? The second purpose of Sabbath is to remind Israel that they were once slaves of Egypt but God set them free by his power alone. Israel did nothing to contribute to their savings from Egypt. It is God’s work alone. He alone saves Israel from Egypt. God is way stronger than Pharaoh. God is mighty to save. So these are the purpose of Sabbath. For them to remember that they are not God and for them to remember that their God has saved them. Sabbath reminds the people of God that they can trust God.
Today, this Sabbath rest is available for all of us. There is an invitation from God for us to enter his rest. The Sabbath day in the Old Testament is only a shadow of the true Sabbath that our soul needs. The author of Hebrews is saying that this true Sabbath rest is available for you today. God is giving you the invitation to enter his Sabbath rest. We do not need to be freed from the slavery of Egypt. But we need to be freed from the slavery of sin. And the LORD of the Sabbath has come to set us free from the slavery of sin. Jesus destroyed the curse of sin on his own and he made Sabbath rest available for us. Jesus completed the works of salvation on his own and he is inviting us to trust him and find rest in him. He wants us to enter his rest and experience the joy, gladness, satisfaction and delight in his perfect work. Rest from your own works and delight in Christ’s complete work. Jesus did not save you 99%. He saves you 100% and he finished his work. Jesus is right now resting from his works and he is inviting you to enter his rest. Stop relying on your own works and trust him fully for your salvation. This is the true Sabbath rest for the people of God. Jesus is our Sabbath rest.
Why we do not enter God’s rest
Hebrews 4:1-2 – Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 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.
Even though the invitation was given to the people of Israel, many failed to enter God’s rest. Why? Hebrews 3:19 – So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Unbelief is what caused them to miss out on God’s rest. And the author of Hebrews is giving his audience and us a stern warning. He is essentially saying, “Be very careful. Be very afraid that you might not enter God’s rest because of your unbelief.” I have said it and I will say it again. Do not take this warning lightly. It is very possible for you to come to church every Sunday, listen to the gospel preached to you weekly, see the power of God working in our midst and how it changes life, yet you do not trust the good news of the Gospel for yourself. It is not your participation in church that saves you but your faith in Christ’s perfect work for you. The people of Israel witnessed the hand of God in their midst yet they failed to trust God and enter his rest unlike Joshua and Caleb. Unbelief is like a cancer that can easily spread and kill us. We should fear unbelief. I do not mean that we should live our lives constantly worrying about our salvation. That’s not what I am saying. When Christ saves, Christ saves completely. He will not fail to keep those who are his. But again and again, the book of Hebrews give us warning that we must heed. The Bible gives us assurance for our salvation and one of the way it does so is through a healthy fear. Healthy fear is the kind of fear that makes you feel afraid when you are not where you are supposed to be and the kind of fear that makes you feel safe when you are where you are supposed to be. Let me illustrate it for you.
When I first learned how to ride a bike, all I wanted to do every day was to ride my bike and wander around the area with my friend. My dad already warned me that he had no problem with me biking after school but he specifically told me not to wander too far. But there was this one afternoon, where my friend said we should ride our bike to the lake nearby. I agreed. So we went to the lake and when I got there I was surprised. Now I grew up in Bali. Bali is very different from Sydney. At that time, the lake near my house was clean and nice. And there were many ladies who took bath there. I was shocked and surprised. It was my first time being exposed to the dark side. We started with taking a peek at them from far. And before too long, we were playing in the lake with the ladies taking a bath in close proximity. I thought it was all fine. My dad wouldn’t find out about this. So when I get back, I acted as if nothing happen. But I forgot one thing, my clothes was not fully dry yet and eventually my parents found out that I was playing in the lake. My dad was upset. Back when I was a kid, we do not have “time-out” and “stand in the corner.” My dad expressed his unpleasantness toward me by belting my leg. It was painful. Then after my dad finished his belting, my mom would take me aside and put some oil on my leg. Then she would tell me, “You know that your dad loves you very much right? He did not belt you because he hates you. He did it because he loves you. The lake is very dangerous and something really bad can happen to you. We do not want to lose you and that is why dad belted you.” Now, can you see what happen? Is that mean I cannot enjoy riding my bike again? Of course not. I would continue riding my bike day after day. I would have no fear to do so. But when I get near to the lake, a healthy fear would rise. I would remember “belt” and changed my course. This is what I mean by healthy fear. The kind of fear that gives me freedom to bike but at the same time makes me fear my dad’s belt when I am near the lake. We should fear unbelief.
How do we enter God’s rest
Few things that we are told to do. First, we have to believe the Gospel. Hebrews 4:3 – For we who have believed enter that rest. To believe the Gospel does not only mean you agree with the Gospel intellectually. To believe the Gospel is to bank everything you have on Jesus. To believe the Gospel is to trust Christ’s every word and work. He is enough. Full stop. If he says to fight the giants in the Promised Land then you go and fight those giants. “But they are stronger than me!” Yes, but Christ is stronger than them. To believe the Gospel is trust God’s crazy plan to circle around Jericho. If you only understand the Gospel intellectually, that knowledge does nothing for you. You have yet to believe the Gospel. The Gospel is good news of declaration that Jesus has won. Jesus saves you completely from the curse of sin. All you have to do to receive his forgiveness is to believe in his perfect work. But you have to receive it and believe it by faith. To know and to understand the Gospel is not enough. You must believe in the Gospel. And believing the Gospel will result in continuous trust in Christ. It is only when you trust in Christ that you enter his rest. And it is important to note that the word “enter” is in present tense. It means that you are in the process of entering rest. You have not reach the place of God’s perfect rest yet. But if you believe the Gospel, you will experience more and more of God’s rest.
Second, we need to rest from our works. Hebrews 4:10 – for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. What does it mean to rest from our works? It means to stop looking at your own works and start looking at Christ’s perfect works. Do you know what is the greatest hindrance to trust the Gospel? It is not our sins. It is our good deeds. The greatest hindrance to trust the good news of the Gospel is our good works. As long as we still think that there is something that we can contribute to our salvation, there is something else that we need beside Christ, we have yet to trust Christ’s perfect work. The reason many of us are restless is because we think our salvation is partially up to us. That’s why we attend church, we pray, we read the Bible etc. We are trying to earn enough merit point so that God would take pity on us and saves us. But that’s not the Gospel. The Gospel is that you are dead in your sins and your only hope is the grace of God. Christ is the only one who can save you so rest from your works and trusts in his works. What keeps you from entering God’s rest is your trust in your works rather than trusting the promise of the Gospel. Yes we need to repent from our sins but the Gospel also demand that we repent from our good works. If you rely on those works to give you good standing before God, to get things from God, you will be weary. You will be exhausted. Because God’s standard is perfection. That’s why Jesus had to die for you. Jesus is the only one who is perfect. And his perfection is yours if you trust in him. So, rest from your works and trust in his works. Rest in knowing that God accepts you because of Jesus’s perfect work for you. Jesus is enough.
Third, we need to strive to enter God’s rest. Hebrews 4:11 – Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. This is very important. When we believe the Gospel, we enter God’s rest. But we have yet to experience the fullness of God’s rest. We have yet to taste the full joy, delight, beauty and glory of God’s rest. That day is coming. It is called the New Jerusalem. A place where there is no tear and sadness. A place where everything broken will be made whole. A place of continuous joy and gladness. The perfect Sabbath rest. We are not there yet. We must strive to enter that rest. The word strive means we need to be diligent, we need to make every effort, to be zealous. This does not contradict the command to rest from our works. To strive to enter God’s rest is to do everything we can to continue to trust in Christ’s perfect work. We can only find our true rest in Christ. The audience of the book of Hebrews were facing many challenges and trials that made them falter in their faith. And the author of Hebrews is telling them, “Strive to enter God’s rest. Continue to look to the Gospel. Continue to look to Christ’s perfect work. Stop relying on your own strength and works. Rest from your works. Continue to trust in God’s promises day by day, hour by hour, second by second. Continue to trust his forgiveness and his power to bring you to perfect rest. He has paid all the price for your perfect rest at the cross. Strive to enter that rest.”
I think this is very important reminder for us. Because trust in God’s promises is not automatic. We need to strive for it. The world that we lived in has its own gravity. And its gravity does not propel us toward God’s rest but it pulls us away from the promise of the Gospel. The world tells us that it is all about your personal achievement and your ability to perform. The world tells you that you need a, b, c, in order to have rest. That’s why we need to remind ourselves of the Gospel constantly. It does not come automatically. We need to strive to enter God’s rest. That is why it is extremely crucial for you to be committed to a local church and small groups who preach the Gospel. You and I need healthy dose of the Gospel regularly. It’s like a fire in a very cold house. When you are close to the fire, you feel warm. But when you walk away from the fire, you feel cold. That’s the picture of condition of my heart. There are many areas that are cold. The default mode of my heart is to rely on my own works. To rely on my personal achievement. I am self-righteous by default. That’s why I need to keep coming back to the Gospel to warm my heart. When my sin begins to overwhelm me, I return to the fire of the Gospel. When I begin to rely on my good works, I return to the fire of the Gospel. I go back to the fire of the Gospel and remind myself of Christ’s perfect work for me. We need to strive to enter God’s rest.
Tonight, there is an invitation for you to enter God’s rest. The author of Hebrews keeps using the word “Today” because today is all we have. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. But today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Listen to the voice of God calling you to enter his rest. Tonight, many of you are tired. You are weary. You are exhausted. Your walk with Christ is filed with burden. You are anxious. I want you to hear the invitation of Jesus. Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me, all who labour 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
There is another thing that this passage teaches us. Yes it teaches us to rest from our works and trust in Christ’s finish work. Jesus is the true fulfilment of Sabbath. In Jesus we find our true rest. However, it does not mean that we do not need physical Sabbath. God created the universe through a system where he worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th day. Now, I do not want to be legalistic about it. I am not saying that if you do not rest one day a week then you are living in sin. Please do not hear me saying that. Jesus already fulfilled the requirement to keep the Sabbath and as we have learnt, Sabbath rest is ultimately about the rest that only he can gives. But I do want to say that we should not dismiss the idea of physical Sabbath rest too easily. After all, Sabbath rest is about putting your faith and trust in Christ. That Jesus has completed all the works and you are depending on him fully not just for salvation but for every area of life. But here is a food for thought. How can you say that you trust and depend on him fully if in fact you are always busy seven days a week and you don’t have a day where you can rest and thank God and delight in God’s work for you? If I were to examine your weekly schedule, will it reflect your trust and dependence on God or your trust in your own power to make thing happen? If you cannot set aside one day a week to rest and worship God, then I am not sure if you are fully resting and depending on him. I know that sometime unexpected things happen and because of it we might have to work non-stop to pay the bill. I get it. But that should be an exception, not the norm. You and I are created to function best with Sabbath as part of our routine. A day will come where we will experience an eternal Sabbath but that day is not here yet. And until that day come, you and I need to constantly experience partial Sabbath. There are few things more beneficial for Christians than to set apart one day a week to rest, thank and worship the Lord of the Sabbath. Again, I do not want to be legalistic about it but I do think that we should consider the importance of having a physical Sabbath.
- What is the difference between sleeping and resting?
- What is original rest?
- Many unbelieving Israelites entered the physical land of Canaan but still failed to enter into God’s rest. What does that tell us about the heart of these Israelites? What does it suggest about the importance of the heart in regards to salvation?
- What is Sabbath rest and why is it important?
- What is healthy fear? How does God uses healthy fear to sustain our salvation?
- Why is it important for us to rest from our works and why we struggle to do it?
- What does it mean to strive to enter God’s rest? How can we help one another to do so?
- Do you think physical Sabbath is still important to us today? Discuss why and why not.