************ Sermon on Hebrews 4:9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 3, 2016
"A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God"
What do you need for a good night's rest? I have a sister-in-law who wears a blindfold to block the light and turns on a recording of ocean waves to cover up all outside sounds. Someone I know swears the best night's rest comes from sleeping in a Lazyboy chair. Some people take sleeping pills to get a good night's rest. If we believe the advertisements, the best night's rest comes from a Beautyrest Recharge 850 Plush Split-King Mattress for $2200; but then the same claim is made for the Tempur-Pedic Flex Elite Hybrid Split-King Mattress for $5400.
Our Bible reading tells us that to find rest we don't look to gadgets or chairs or pills or fancy mattresses. Instead, all we need do is believe in Jesus (Heb 4:3).
I The Rest of God
A Hebrews 4:3 points us to the first time the Bible uses the word rest. The first time we find it is in the creation story:
(Gen 2:2-3) 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.
Do you remember the phrase that Genesis 1 uses to mark the end of each 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, after the days of creation 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 took in His handiwork.
Though sin is present, God enjoys the work He does today as well. 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). 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. 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 How do we enter God's rest? The Hebrew word for rest steers us in the right direction. You all know that word. The Hebrews word for rest is Sabbath. This tells me we cannot talk about rest without talking about the Sabbath day.
As I said, man enjoyed rest with God in the Garden. Man, on account of sin, lost rest with God. So what does God do? He commands His people to have a day of rest and gladness. He commands His people to have a day in which they imitate Him by resting from their labors and rejoicing in the works of God. In the Old Testament community this means they rejoiced in God's redemptive acts in Egypt and at the Red Sea. In the New Testament this mean we rejoice in God's redemptive acts in Christ.
Yet, there is something deficient in our Sabbath-day rest. Unlike God's Sabbath, it is not eternal, it is not without end; it is but a one-day-a-week celebration. Hence, 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) 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 glorifies God and fully enjoys Him for ever.
C 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) 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. The last two times we looked at Hebrews, we learned about Israel at Meribah and Massah. Remember what happened? Israel rebelled against God. Instead of trusting in the Lord, Israel complained against the Lord and Moses. Eleven times she rebelled against the Lord! 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) "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. Or, to use the language of this morning, 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.
But Canaan was not the land of rest it should have been. You know what happened: Israel was sent into exile. 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).
Do you hear the message the book of Hebrews is saying here to the original audience? Many of them were Christians who, because of persecution, were thinking of going back to their Jewish faith. Hebrews is saying to them, "Don't be like Old Testament Israel. Don't harden your heart. Hear the voice of God. Or you, like Israel, will not enter God's rest."
How do we enter God's eternal rest? The negative lesson is that we cannot be like Israel.
D 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) 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, the second Joshua, is the only One Who can bring us into the fullness of God's rest.
Let me emphasize this loud and clear: the Jesus we believe in needs to be the Jesus of the Bible. He can't be the Jesus of the Muslims who is just another prophet. He can't be the Jesus of the Jehovah's Witnesses who is neither God nor man. He can't be the Jesus of the liberals who is only a powerless example. He can't be the Jesus of the Roman Catholics whose body and blood is offered up again every single day in the Mass. The Jesus we believe in needs to be the Jesus of Hebrews 1, 2, and 3. He is the Jesus Who is God's last Word for these last days. He is the Jesus Whom God appointed heir of all things, the Jesus through Whom God made the universe, the Jesus Who is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, the Jesus Who sustains all things by His powerful word. He is the Jesus Who provided purification for sins once for all times and all peoples. He is the Jesus Who sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven. He is the Jesus Who is superior to the angels. He is the Jesus Who is superior to Moses. How great and awesome is this Jesus! Yet, He is also the Jesus Who is made like us His brothers and sisters in every way. This is the Jesus we need to believe in to experience God's rest.
True believers hold to this Christ. True believers hold to this Christ even in the face of persecution and suffering. True believers do not abandon this Christ for false religions and false faiths. And, they enter God's rest.
E Our passage begins and ends with an exhortation. "Let us ..." says Hebrews. Let us what?
(Heb 4:1) 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. The author of Hebrews cares for the flock of God. He wants to warn them not to fall away. He wants to warn us not to fall away. Those who hear the Gospel and do not hold on to it in faith will not enter the rest Christ promises us in the Gospel.
(Heb 4:11) 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. It has been fulfilled in the Land of Canaan. But it has not been fully fulfilled. "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God" (Heb 4:9). So when is the promise fully and finally fulfilled? The fulfilment of the Sabbath-rest is a picture of heaven. The fulfilment of the Sabbath-rest is a picture of the new heaven and new earth.
At that time we who believe will fully imitate God. At that time, like God, we will rest from our labor. 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.
No wonder Hebrews tells us to be careful lest we -- like Israel -- fall short. No wonder Hebrews tells us to make every effort to enter that rest.
For the last couple of weeks I've been holding pictures of this rest before Christine and her family. Christine begged and prayer to die and enter this rest.
In our Old Year's service I read a list of those in our church family who died in 2015: Edythe Adams, Bill Billman, Jan Dias, Jane Jacobi, Bert Van Dyk, John Van Tol, Nellie Voortman. We can already add the name of Christine Fukano to the list for 2016. They all died as believers. So, 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.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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