The Promise of Rest – Part 2

Intro: Are you working too hard, or hardly working? Sometimes we recognize we need a rest. Life can become overwhelming and burdensome. The tension between work and rest is a natural element of our existence. We must work to survive, but if we do not rest we will not survive. Thus through the experience of life God teaches us the value of both labor and rest. Our study this month focuses on God’s promise of rest. Let’s review a little. Last Sunday we considered the promise of rest from the perspective of OT scriptures. We noticed four images of rest: Creation; the Nation of Israel; OT worship; and the promised land of Canaan.

1. Beginning in the Genesis account of creation we noticed that the first picture of rest is found in God’s resting on the 7th day. His rest was the culmination of a perfect creation and a perfect fellowship between man and His Creator. God rested because it was very good; Man was in perfect union with God. But sin entered the picture and that rest was lost.

2. God’s desire to restore the rest can be viewed in His later promises to Abraham and His descendants, particularly His own nation, Israel. As He led the Israelites out of Egypt, He spoke to them about rest. He called on them to trust Him for their provisions, as seen in the command to gather the divinely given manna on the first six days of the week, but to not gather on the 7th day because it was a “Sabbath rest , a holy Sabbath to the Lord” (Ex. 16:23) They gathered twice as much on the 6th day, but rested on the 7th, trusting in God. To rest meant more than not working. It involved trusting God’s provision.

3. Later, this view of resting was incorporated into the law of Moses in the Sabbath regulations. The 7th day was to be a day of rest, given to worship.

a. Lev. 25 – The Sabbath year was every seventh year, and on these occasions no crops were to be planted. They were to trust in God’s blessing in the former 6 years to sustain them through the period of rest.

b. Lev. 25:10 – The Jubilee came after every seventh Sabbath year (or every fifty years). All debts were cancelled (year of release); Land that had been forfeited through debt was returned to the original clan that owned it, and people who had become slaves because of debt were freed from service.

c. We should also note that the Jubilee cycle was observed on a smaller scale in the Feast of Weeks. The fiftieth day (that is, the day after seven Sabbath days) after the harvest of the first fruits was a special day of worship on which no work was allowed and special sacrifices were offered (Lev. 23:10-21). All of this emphasized the character of resting. It was not doing nothing. It was living in trust of God’s provision. It was a time of peace and security and fellowship.

4. The land of Canaan was typified to God’s people as a land of rest. If they were faithful to Jehovah, He would give them victory over their enemies, cause the land to well support them (milk & honey) and provide true security. However they abandoned God and failed to obey His law. They were taken off the land, and received no rest.

Rest, then, involves the ideas of

  1. God’s provision of one’s needs,
  2. a resulting freedom from constant attention to one’s physical needs
  3. which produces both a condition of peace and time for fellowship with God
  4. expressed especially in worship,
  5. and enjoyment of these conditions over one’s lifetime.

But what becomes evident is that this condition of rest is not realized in the O.T. history of God’s people. This is the background from which the writer of Hebrews makes a passionate plea to the Christians of the 1st century, and to us, “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:11)

I. Rest Unrealized – Hebrews 4:1-11 4 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them,* not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. 3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,'”* although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5 and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, 7 again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

A. The author of Hebrews understood that the Old Testament was not a story of a rest achieved, but of a rest unrealized. He makes his case from Psalm 95, which ends with a warning based on Israel’s failure to enter into God’s rest in Canaan.

1. In the 95th Psalm (quoted here in Hebrews 4) King David had urged God’s people to succeed where former generations of God’s people had failed. “Today… do not harden your hearts” This implies that in David’s day God’s rest was yet unrealized. The Israelites failed, not because they did not hear the good news about God’s promised rest, but because that hearing was not “mixed with faith” (4:2); it did not produce obedience. Notice in vs. 11 that he defines this faithless hearing as an example of disobedience. True, saving faith always includes obedience to the words of God. But their disobedience

a. Although it clearly says that God rested after creation in Genesis 2:2, a rest yet remained.

b. Although Joshua 21:44, describing Israel in the land, stated “The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand”, the rest God promised Israel yet remained unrealized. He says in Heb. 4:8“for if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that”. Thus the author can say “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). That is, since the seventh day of the creation week, God had not entered into the lasting fellowship with man He has desired.

c. So when and where can this rest be achieved? The point the writer is making is that God’s longing for an ongoing relationship with man is now being fulfilled in the new system of things in Jesus. The goal of creation is achieved through Jesus who brings us into God’s rest through His blood.

II. Rest Realized: Jesus is the Sabbath Rest: – The Sabbath rest between God and man was perfected in the ministry of Jesus. To the attentive reader, many things in the gospel narratives proclaim this fact.

A. When Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee Luke tells us He read from Isaiah 61. Luke 4:16-216 He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written: 18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Meg to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 20 He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him.21 He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.” (HCSB)

1. the year of the Lord’s favor – “It is plain that the language is that of the announcement of the Jubilee” (Lincoln 201). When Jesus said “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” He meant that the fellowship (rest) between God and man, that was symbolized in the Jubilee, was now being fulfilled in Himself and His work. It was through Jesus that debts would be cancelled, and prisoners would be set free. The rest was God’s rest, and he invites us to share in it by placing our trust in Jesus.

B. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [provisions — from the context] will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). In those familiar words Jesus was describing the kingdom of God as a relationship with God like the Sabbath of old. God provided them with food for that day so they could turn their attention to God, having been given assurance that they could trust in God.

C. One of the most obvious things about Jesus to His contemporaries was that He often worked His miracles specifically on Sabbath days. These healings appeared to the Pharisees to violate the Sabbath day, and they were so perturbed by this that they did not see that Jesus was in fact demonstrating that in Himself the Sabbath — a freedom from physical concerns to enjoy lasting fellowship with God — was being fulfilled.

1. Luke 13 – Perhaps this is best illustrated in the story Luke preserves about the healing of the woman who was bent over with illness. When the Pharisees objected to this cure being worked on the Sabbath, Jesus responded “this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16). What more appropriate day was there to set someone free from physical hardship than the Sabbath? Setting the woman free from physical ailment was an illustration of Jesus’ power to free people from slavery to sin and the flesh and make their fellowship with God possible.

III. The Sabbath Rest Today – Sometimes we hear it asserted that the Lord’s day (Sunday) has replaced the Sabbath day now that Christianity has come. This, however, fails to see the true significance of both the old Sabbath and Christianity.

A. The O.T. Sabbath came at the end of the week. The days of labor led up to the Sabbath, making the Sabbath a day of completion or, in the Biblical sense, perfection (Robinson 39). Thus that old institution by its nature pointed forward.

B. Also, by having only an occasional (even if regular) day that was devoted to the Lord, the old Mosaic system was showing its imperfection. God’s rest is achieved not when man gives God one day each week, but when man spends his entire life living in faithful, trusting fellowship with God. Thus the messianic age is God’s Sabbath rest realized. After Jesus, every day is a Sabbath day, every year is a Sabbath year, and the messianic age is a spiritual Jubilee to God.

1. Jesus rose from the dead (and we worship) on the first day of the week, proclaiming that the time of looking forward to completion had ended. The time when God enters into a lasting fellowship with man has arrived, and those who enter into that fellowship begin each week in the very thing that old Sabbath emphasized: worship.

2. But it would surely be a mistake to think that the formal worship of God on the first day of the week fulfills the old Sabbath. All of life in the messianic age is to be devoted first to the worship and fellowship of God with the promise that God will take care of the other aspects of our existence.

Conclusion: The Old Testament’s perspective on rest was summed up by God when He said through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will come to give rest to Israel” (31:2 NIV).

1. The Psalmist anticipated the outcome of the story when he testified, “My soul finds rest in God alone” (61:2 NIV).

2. Although God’s desire to share His rest with men was repeatedly rejected, in Jesus, however, that rest has begun. In Jesus God has made a new Israel with whom His rest is realized. But the story is not yet over, for although the rest has begun, it remains to find its perfect fulfillment in heaven. 14:13Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” We have witnessed many among us leave this world through death. Although we sorrow over their leaving, we recognize where they are headed. We can find comfort in the promise of a rest that remains for the Christian. No more pain, no more longing, no more disappointment, no more laboring. Jesus promised: Matthew 11:28-29 – 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 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. This is where we will begin next week.

3. “Let us be diligent to enter that rest.”