************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 11, 2021
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#15)
"An Eternal Sabbath-Rest"
What do you need to get a good rest? Someone I know can only rest in her La-Z-Boy chair. Some people need a glass of wine or a sleeping pill. Others need a special mattress and pillow.
Did you know that rest is one of the Bible's pictures of our future life in the new heaven and new earth? Listen to what Hebrews says:
(Heb 4:9; NIV84) — 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;
I The Rest of God
A As you know or should know, rest shows up at the very beginning of the Bible:
(Gen 2:2-3; NIV84) By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. (3) And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.Rest is something God does after He created the universe. He rested on the seventh day from the work He had done.
Rest is not the only thing that is unusual or different about the seventh day of creation. Do you remember the phrase that Genesis 1 uses to mark the end of every other day? "And there was evening, and there was morning" (Gen 1:5,8,13,19,23, 31). This phrase is used for the first six days of creation. But it is not used for the seventh day. Why not? Telling us what? Telling us that the seventh day, the day of rest, has not ended. Telling us that the day of rest is an eternal day. Telling us that God's rest has no end. Telling us God continues to rest to this day.
B What does it mean that God rested? Certainly it does not mean that God was tired and needed to relax after six days of hard work. God is not a man and does not grow tired physically (Is 40:28). Nor does it mean that God ceased all activity. By His providence God continues to uphold and rule heaven and earth and all creatures; if He did not do this everything would cease to exist (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3). And, of course, God also does His work of redeeming His people.
So what does it mean that God rested? First, when Genesis 2:2 tells us that God rested, it is simply telling us that God ceased the kind of work He did on the six days of creation. God ceased His creation of all things. God ceased laying down the foundational laws of the universe. This was all done once in the beginning and does not need to be done again.
Second, do you remember what God pronounced at the start of His rest? God saw all that He had made and pronounced it to be very good. When God rested, He gloried in the good works of His hands. God's rest is the enjoyment and pleasure God takes in His handiwork.
Though sin is present today, God continues to enjoy the work He does. He rejoices in His providence. Especially, though, He exults in His work of redemption because -- in Christ -- His people are very good (just like He said about creation in the beginning). That is, God's rest continues to be His enjoyment and pleasure in the works of His hands.
II Participating in God's Rest
A The message of the Bible is that God wants His people to enjoy His rest. Meaning what? Meaning that God wants us to be like Him. Meaning that God wants us to rejoice in the works of His hands. So the question I want to answer tonight is: "How do we enter God's rest?"
Originally, the rest man experienced was something natural, something that God built into man and all of creation. So, when we look at Adam in the Garden of Eden, we see that Adam enjoyed God and rejoiced in God's work. He walked and talked with the Lord (Gen 3;8). He delighted in the woman God made for him (Gen 2:22-23). He enjoyed his God-given work of looking after the Garden. In Eden, Adam enjoyed God's Sabbath-rest.
You all know what happened next. The fall into sin brought man's enjoyment of rest to an end. Instead of rejoicing in God and the works of God, man feared God and went into hiding. As man dealt with weeds and other consequences of sin, work became drudgery. We usually don't think of it this way, but we can say the remainder of the Bible is God's story of how God, in Christ, again brings man into His rest.
B The Hebrew word for rest is "Sabbath." This tells us we cannot talk about rest without talking about the Sabbath day.
As I said, man enjoyed rest with God in the Garden. But man, on account of sin, lost rest with God. So what does God do? He commands His people to have a Sabbath day of rest and gladness (Ex 20:8-10). Not only did God command a Sabbath day, but He also commanded a Sabbath year to be observed every seventh year (Ex 23:10-11). And, get this, every seventh Sabbath year (which is forty nine years), God commanded a special Sabbath year called the Year of Jubilee (Lev 25:8-12).
C So what does this tells us about life in heaven? Tell me if this sounds familiar: someone with wings and a halo seated on a fleecy cloud, strumming a harp. We have all seen such pictures, haven’t we? Is this what heaven is like? Is heaven a place where we resign ourselves to endless ages of nothingness and boredom? Are we forced to look forward to a life with nothing to do? Is our Paradise a life of inactive nothingness? Is heaven nothing more than harp playing and singing?
Though the Hebrew word for Sabbath means rest this does mean the Sabbath day or year is to be one of inactivity or sleeping. The Sabbath laws do not forbid activity; rather, they require rest from the activities that are done the rest of the week or the other years -- activities like work, sowing, and reaping -- so that time can be spent on God and His Kingdom.
What does this tell us about the eternal Sabbath-rest that awaits the people of God? This tells us that the eternal Sabbath-rest is a time that is devoted to God and the things of God. At that time God is our all in all. At that time God is our heart’s desire. At that time all of life and all of our being and every aspect of our personality is focused on God. At that time there is nothing to distract us from God and His presence and His glory and His being and His splendor.
We are told in Revelation that those who enjoy the eternal Sabbath-rest serve God day and night (Rev 7:15, 22:3). There are two words for "serve" in the Greek language. The first word for "serve" is the word used for the work of a slave in the Roman empire. The second word for "serve" -- and this is the word used by John -- is a word often translated as worship. The eternal Sabbath-rest means we don't serve God as unwilling slaves; rather, in all of life, in our work and in our play -- like Adam in the Garden -- we serve and worship God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength.
Not just then but all of life today is to be lived for God and His glory. But too often, I am afraid, life keeps intruding. There is so much today that distracts us from God and the things of God: sickness, death, work, responsibilities, concerns, plans, our possessions and property, sports, vacations, family, and so on. And, look what happens during those times we do set aside for God. How many of you don’t find your mind drifting during the congregational prayer? How many times don’t you find your mind wandering during the sermon? How many times don’t you find thoughts of other activities intruding upon worship and prayers and Bible reading and family devotions? In this life and on this earth it is hard to concentrate all of our thoughts and all of our being upon God -- even during worship and prayer time. But this will not be the case in the eternal Sabbath-rest. Our minds, our thoughts, our bodies, our beings will be focused totally and completely and exclusively upon God. It is a time for man to enjoy God and His gifts.
I hope you realize this means there is something deficient in our Sabbath day rest today. Furthermore, unlike God's Sabbath, it is not eternal, it is not without end; it is but a one-day-a-week celebration. And, too often in our past we have turned rest into a list of legalistic do's and don't's. Knowing this, Hebrews tells us the rest we enjoy on the Sabbath day points forward to a better and a greater rest for the people of God:
(Heb 4:9; NIV84) There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God ...This is a rest that is eternal. A rest that never ends. A rest that truly glorifies God and fully enjoys Him for ever.
So far, five of our saints have died this year. Do you know what they are experiencing right now? They are experiencing God's perfect's rest. They are resting from their labors and they are glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.
D So how do we enter God's eternal rest? How are we able, like God, to rest from our labors? How is it that we can glorify God and fully enjoy Him forever? That questioned is answered in a negative way and in a positive way.
First, the negative way. Three times the book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95:11:
(Ps 95:11; NIV84) So I declared on oath in my anger, "They shall never enter my rest."God is talking about Israel. He is saying you can't enter His rest if you are like Israel. More specifically, you can't enter God's rest if you are like Israel at Meribah and Massah. Remember what happened there? Israel rebelled against God. Instead of trusting in the Lord, Israel complained against the Lord and Moses. The result is that Israel was not allowed to enter God's rest. You know what God did. God forced them to wander the wilderness until everyone of that generation who was 20 years or older died.
(Cf Heb 3:11; 4:3,5)
The lesson for us today? Three times Hebrews warns us not to be like Israel:
(Heb 4:7; NIV84) "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."You can't enter God's rest if you are like Israel. You can't enter God's rest if you do not listen to the voice of God. You can't enter God's rest if yours is a stubborn and rebellious heart. You can't enter God's rest if you do not repent.
(Heb 3:7-8,15; 4:7).
I want you to notice that the Promised Land is a picture of rest. In that land, God was going to protect His people and they were going to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. But even Canaan was deficient, says Hebrews. "For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day" (Heb 4:8). Joshua, as you know, led the people of Israel into Canaan and commanded the armies that conquered the land and its cities and brought rest to the land (Josh 14:15).
But Canaan was not the land of rest it should have been. You know what happened: Israel was sent into exile so the land could have rest. Israel was sent into exile because she repeated the sins of Massah and Meribah. Israel was sent into exile because she hardened her hearts. Israel was sent into exile because again she failed to listen to the Lord. "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God" (Heb 4:9).
How do we enter God's eternal rest? The negative lesson is that we cannot be like Israel.
The positive lesson is found in verse 3. It is very short and very simple: "Now we who have believed enter that rest" (Heb 4:3). How do we enter God's rest? How do we get a rest that glorifies God and fully enjoys Him for ever? All you have to do is believe. As Jesus put it in Matthew 11:
(Mt 11:28-29; NIV84) Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (29) Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.Come to Jesus and you will find rest. Believe in Jesus. Accept Jesus. Because Jesus is the only One Who can bring us into the fullness of God's rest.
E Our passage begins and ends with an exhortation. "Let us ..." says Hebrews. Let us what?
(Heb 4:1; NIV84) Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.Do you hear the two exhortations? Let us be careful. Let us make every effort.
(Heb 4:11; NIV84) Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Do you want to be like Israel? Do you want to miss out on God's rest? Of course NOT! Well, then, be careful. Well, then, make every effort. We must diligently believe in Christ or we will fall away as the Israelites did.
God's promise of rest has been fulfilled in the Garden of Eden. It has been fulfilled in the Sabbath day and Sabbath year. It has been fulfilled in the Land of Canaan. But it has not yet been fully fulfilled. "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God" (Heb 4:9).
When it happens we who believe will fully imitate God. At that time, like God, we will rejoice in the works of His hands. At that time we who believe will glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
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