Hebrews 4:11-16, The Paradox of Rest.

[11]Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.  [12]For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  [13]And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
[14]Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  [15]For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  [16]Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (NKJV)

In this portion, the writer continues his exhortation to his readers not to turn away from Christ.  At the same time, he introduces a new aspect of our relationship with the Lord:  He is our High Priest.  Since a good part of the rest of the book deals with this subject, we’ll not look at it here, but finish up with what the writer says about our responsibility to “enter His rest.”

As we’ve seen in earlier post, ch. 3:1-3 cautions us against the possibility of missing this rest.  Vs. 4-10 define this rest, not as a matter of apathy or indifference, but of “ceasing from our own works.”  Vs. 11-13 challenge us to enter that rest.

The verses before us reinforce the  idea that our “rest” isn’t  the same as inactivity, thus, the “paradox” of requiring “diligence” and “labor” to enter that rest.

Many OT references to “rest” teach the same thing.

For example, Leviticus 16:29-31 gives Israel some instruction about the Day of Atonement, one of the most important days in the Jewish calendar.  This is the day when “atonement” was made for the children of Israel.  This day was called a sabbath of solemn rest, v. 31.  However, the important phrase in those instructions is found in v. 29, where the people were to do not work at all.  These verses aren’t just about “keeping” a certain day of the week.  To so teach is to miss the point of the verses.  Besides, the Day of Atonement could happen on any day of the week, not just on Saturday.

What was being taught by type was the “atonement” (“reconciliation”) is not accomplished by our works.  Further, the OT “sabbath” was only temporary, not “permanent” (six days you shall labor…).  This is because the OT knows nothing of a “permanent” forgiveness of sins.  The numerous sacrifices for sin, and there were thousands of sacrifices offered every year, could only “cover” sins; they could never take them away.  They could never “purge” them, or get rid of them.

If all this seems contradictory, then remember that the forgiveness of sins isn’t something brought about by what we can do to “pay” for them.  It’s brought about by the fact that the Lord Jesus paid for them.

The book of Ruth has something to say about “rest,” as well.  The book isn’t just a charming story of an OT romance, but forms an important link in the lineage of king David.  In addition, though there were provisions for the poor in Israel, there was no “government” program of taking from the “wealthy” to give to the poor; they were required to do what they could in order to provide for themselves.  Such is the case of Ruth.  Instead of applying at the local welfare office, she went out during wheat harvest to glean, that is, to pick up what she could, from what was left over.  Cf. Leviticus 19:9, 10, where landowners were instructed not to completely harvest everything, but were to leave something for the poor and the stranger.

In the providence of God, she came to the field of Boaz, a well-to-do farmer.  He instructed his laborers to leave some extra for her, and not to bother her.  When Naomi, her mother-in-law, heard of this, she said to Ruth, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee?” 3:1 (KJV).  It turns out the Boaz held a particular relationship to Naomi and Ruth.  He could be Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer.

According to the Old Testament, a “kinsman-redeemer” was a member of the family of someone who was in debt, who could pay that debt and “redeem” the debtor.  Cf. Leviticus 25.

We’ve already seen in Hebrews 2:14 the truth that Jesus came into this world to be our “kinsman,” in order that He could also become our Redeemer.

Further, Ruth wasn’t to find “rest” in Naomi or in herself, but in Boaz.  In the same way, the only place we can find true rest is in the Lord Jesus.  There is no real rest in “religion,” or in some preacher, because there is no salvation in those things.  Only in the Lord Jesus, who He was and what He did, can there be “rest”.

At the same time, as we’ve noted, we have a responsibility before God toward this rest.  In the fourth chapter of Hebrews, the phrase, “let us – something” occurs four times.  It’s also in 6:1.

4:1, let us fear.
4:ll, let us labor.
4:14, let us hold fast.
4:16, let us come.
6:1, let us go on.

These references show us the practical nature of God’s Word:  it wasn’t given merely to inform us, that is, to make us “scholars,” but to transform us, that is, to make us “saints.”  The Bible isn’t just the “yellow pages,” the “search engine,” of the universe, that is, merely to give us information.  It is, if you will, the owner’s manual, telling us how this life works and how we’re to live in it.  The owner, by the way, is God, not us.  Cf. the last part of Daniel 5:23.

At least three of these occurrences counteract the warnings earlier in the book.

1. “Let us labor,” 4:11.  This in view of the requirements of God’s Word.  This is to counteract our tendency to “drift”, 2:1, or to minimize the importance of the things of God.  For example, my wife and I used to belong to a small church.  Normally, there would be about 25 people in attendance.  On those occasions when we would have, say, a spaghetti dinner, there would be 75 in attendance.  Now, I do not have anything against church suppers.  I just think we ought to be at least as concerned about feeding our souls as we are about feeding our bodies.

2. “Let us come,” 4:16.  This in view of the reality of our own helplessness and sinfulness.  This is to counteract our tendency to “depart,” 3:12.

3. “Let us go on,” 6:1.  This in view of the revelation of God’s promises, 6:12-18.  We’ll have more to say about this later, Lord willing.  This is to counteract our tendency to “go back,” 5:12; 10:38.

In vs. 11-13, we see our responsibility.  In vs. 14, 15, we find our resource.

1. the origin of this resource, “the throne of grace.”  We can never come to this throne on the basis of our merit.  It’s not something we can earn or deserve.  It is and must be a throne of grace because we do drift, we do depart, we do go back, we do all of these things and more.  As we recognize this, repenting not only of our sins, but of ourselves, and coming to the throne only on the basis of the shed blood and imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus, it is a throne of grace, and we are received because it is a throne of grace.

2. the objective of this resource, “help in time of need,” literally, “in the nick of time.”  “The time of need.”  We’ve become tremendously “need”-oriented, even in the church.  We look to various people and relationships to fulfill our “needs,” and judge everything on how well those needs are fulfilled.  But only in Christ is there true fulfillment.

“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Hebrews 3:18-4:11, “His Rest”

[18]And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?  [19]So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.  [1]Therefore, since a promise of rest 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 in 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. (NKJV)

My wife and I just completed a three-week vacation in which we logged over 3,000 miles and traveled through or visited 10 states in order to see family who don’t live close to us.  Several times, we welcomed the sight of the signs which told us that “rest areas” were ahead.

The writer of Hebrews has something to say about the subject of “rest,” as well.  He introduced the subject back in v. 11, an OT verse he quotes again in ch. 4:3, 5.

What does it mean, to “enter His rest”?  What is His rest?

For Israel, it meant possession of the land, something which, even when they finally entered the land, didn’t turn out well because they refused to do what God told them to do with it.  Some folks are very upset with what they consider the genocide of the Canaanites, but they fail to realize or don’t care that the Canaanites were not an innocent, childlike people.  Even archaeology has confirmed the moral depths to which they sank.  Leviticus 18 lists a bunch of the things they did, cf. v. 2, things which Israel was forbidden to do.  What Israel did to the Canaanites was a judgment on their sins.  And when Israel turned around and did those things, the same judgment happened to them, but nobody worries about the “poor Jews”.

What does “rest” mean for the Christian?  We have no promise of a land like Israel did.  But our Lord does speak of “rest.”  For example, in Matthew 11:28, 29, He said, “Come unto Me, all you 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.” 

Twice there He used the word “rest.”  But there are two different words in the original language.  The first word speaks of being refreshed.  The second word basically means an intermission.  In each case, they fit nicely into what our Lord said.

To those who carry heavy loads or are worn out, He promises refreshment.  To such, He says, “Stop for a minute.  Catch your breath.”

With the second word, He says to those who are burdened by this world, “Come aside with Me.  Take a break.”

There are so many ways this could be applied.  We live in a world which is increasingly and openly hostile to Biblical Christianity.  And in some parts of the world, to be labelled as a Christian is to invite persecution, even death.  We haven’t gotten quite that far in this country, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we do.  All it would take is the stroke of a pen or the “findings” of our highest court to make it so.

Apart from that, though, there are still many things which burden and oppress us.  Many are plagued by health issues.  I’ve written elsewhere of the sister who suffered from lupus her whole life.  There’s a brother who writes a blog who has suffered from ALS for 19 years.  The disease has progressed to the point where he is only able to write because he has a computer which responds to the movement of his eyes.  I can’t imagine living like that.  Yet his blog is filled with hope and praise.  There’s no complaint or disappointment.  Perhaps you know of Joni Eareckson Tada, who has spent most of her life as a quadriplegic in a wheel chair, and yet has a productive ministry in spite of it, and in spite of those who hate her message.

And the news here has been filled with the murder of a pastor’s wife.  What is not so commonly reported, or at all, is the faith and the hope which he and his family have met this grief.  They have found the “rest” of which the Lord spoke.

Money issues, family issues, on and on the list goes.  All of us are likely on that list somewhere.  If not, we still struggle with our humanity, with its innate failings and faults.

Yet our Lord say to come to Him for “rest.”  At the same time, He also says, “Take.” “Learn.” “Find.”  A common saying in Christian circles is, “Let go and let God.”  But Paul wrote to Timothy, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called…, 1 Timothy 6:12.  Though it’s translated various ways, the word translated “lay hold” basically means “to seize.”

This is in line with what the writer to the Hebrews said in 4:11, Let us…be diligent…. It’s not a matter of laying back in the recliner and taking it easy.  In the same verse we quoted above about Timothy, Paul also wrote, Fight the good fight of faith….

There are many things which keep us from entering that rest Hebrews speaks of.  Even in “church,” some people minimize faith.  They say that you have to have something besides faith.  You have to be baptized, or take communion.  You have to come to church on Saturday.  You have to belong to a certain church because there is no salvation anywhere else.  You have to follow the OT law.  You have to do this or that or the other in addition to believing.

This beside the increasing opposition of the world.

But what is it we’re supposed to learn, and where do we find it?

As to “where,” that’s easy.  Only in the Scripture can we learn of God and the Lord Jesus.  It amazes me, and saddens me, how little professing Christians know of the Scripture.  Only a fraction of them bother to read the Bible.  So, for example, when someone knocks on their door professing to be a witness for Jehovah, they have no answer.

In John 5:39, 40, our Lord rebuked the Pharisees:  “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think that you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to me that you may have life.”

The purpose of Scripture isn’t simply to make us “learned,” to make it so we can have a string of letters after our names.  That, in effect, was the mistake of the Pharisees.  The purpose of Scripture is to show us our desperate need of a Savior and Who and where that Savior is.  It’s to show us how life is to be lived, indeed, where life itself is.

The Scripture shows us a faithful Savior, One Who came to this earth, lived the life we could never live and died the death we could never die.  His life was perfect.  His death was perfect, if we can put it like that, because His death actually satisfied the claims of God’s justice against us.

The Scripture shows us a finished salvation.  On the Cross, our Lord cried out, “It is finished.”  “Tetelestai!” – “It has been finished.”  This wasn’t the cry of a defeated victim.  It was the triumphant cry of a victor.

This gives us the significance of the writer’s reference to “rest” in v. 9, There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.  The word translated “rest” in this verse isn’t the same word used in the other seven times “rest” occurs in chs. 3 and 4.  This word is used only here in the NT, and means “a Sabbath rest.”

V. 10 completes the though of v. 9, For he has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. When God “rested” on the seventh day, He didn’t do it because He was tired, or needed further materials with which to work, or to figure out something which had gone wrong, as we often have to do.  No, no.  He “rested” because He was finished; there was nothing left to do.  It was all very good, Genesis 1:31.

The application is in that verse:  “he…has ceased from his works.”   In other words, we quit trying to make it to heaven on our own, whatever we think that takes.  We quit trying to make the polluted rags of our own righteousness, Isaiah 64:6, acceptable in the sight of God.  We quit trying to add to what the Lord Jesus did on the Cross.

We simply rest in Him.  We find and have in Him what this world can never provide:

rest for our souls.