Don’t Miss Out on God’s Rest
© C. O. Bishop 3/10/17 THCF 3/12/17
1Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
Perhaps the first thing we need to do is look at the significance of some of the words used, here: It is interesting to me that the writer addresses his audience as “Holy Brethren”. “Holy” means set apart for God’s purpose. We are no longer slaves to sin, but neither are we our own masters: we are not free agents but, rather, we are ambassadors for a Holy God. We have a job to do: we are to be about His business.
What about the word “brethren?” It just means brothers, of course…The writer was a Jew, and he spoke to other Jews, so, it is possible that he used the word “brethren” only in that regard, but it seems doubtful. They were familiar with that use, of course, but this goes a little deeper. All those who have placed their trust in Jesus as their savior have become brothers in Christ. I think that meaning more closely follows the intent of the book. Furthermore, it supports the concept that this book is to all believers, even though the primary audience was the Jewish believers of the first century church (pre-AD 70.)
He says that we have been made partakers of the “Heavenly Calling”. Give that one some thought: in what way are you a partaker of the heavenly calling? Is that a reality in your life? In Romans 8:29, 30 Paul makes it clear that every single believer is called to God’s service…how are you responding to that heavenly call? Perhaps this will require some soul-searching…. In my own case, I have to ask, do I spend more time concerned with the things of God, or am I primarily interested in my own things…my own needs and interests? Something to think about.
“Apostle” means “sent one”. Jesus was sent by God to do a specific job—to offer himself to God as full payment for the sins of humanity. He completely fulfilled all the prophecies concerning himself, some over which he would have zero control if he were not God incarnate, though some people have argued that he artificially engineered the “fulfillments.” Many were utterly outside his control as a human. He was God in the flesh, fulfilling His OWN Word. He could literally pick his place of birth, his parentage, etc. He was sent to do the will of God, the Father and he fed on that reality. He said “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)
The “High Priest” was the only one who could enter the holy of holies, with a sacrifice for the nation, and approach the throne of God. And he could only do so once a year. Jesus is the High Priest upon whom our lives depend. Either his sacrifice, presented before that Holy God, is sufficient, or we are forever lost. The writer is telling us to give this some thought…consider who we are dealing with. Jesus carried out his ministry with absolutely flawless faithfulness. Then the writer compared the person of Christ to Moses, who was also faithful:
Jesus is better than Moses
2 Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.
Moses was also called faithful. But he was part of the creation, while Jesus was the creator, thus worthy of greater honor.
3 For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
4 For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
A further point is made, that, relationally, Moses was still a servant. Jesus is the only begotten Son: the heir of all things, as well as the creator of all things. He is literally “God in the flesh”.
5 And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
6 But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
So, as sons of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus, we are encouraged to not lose sight of who we are in Christ: part of the household of God. And, he exhorts those who are dabblers, still uncommitted, to make a decision before it is too late. For every opportunity, there is a closing date: a “pull-date”—a time after which the offer is no longer valid. And, to all who play games with the Gospel, claiming faith, but never committing themselves, he warns that the result can be eternal loss. He uses Israel as an example, saying that unbelief is why the first generation, who left Egypt with Moses, failed to enter into the land. (Notice, here, that the land was not a picture of salvation. It was a picture of the rest-relationship with God. They had already been under the blood of the Passover, by faith; and they had already been through the Red Sea, again by faith. But when they balked at entering the land, he said, “Fine, then: you can’t go in.” So, in spite of the fact that they were saved by faith, they lost their opportunity to enter into the joy of that relationship, because of unbelief.)
The Second Warning: “Harden Not your Hearts”
7 Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
There seem to be fairly harsh warnings throughout the book of Hebrews…and while some might be simple warnings against failing to enter into the rest relationship, others are clearly warning against eternal perdition…being lost forever. Since that has already been ruled out for the child of God, one must read more carefully, and then we can see that some of those who originally received this epistle had never committed themselves to the sacrifice of Christ, but were simply “along for the ride”, thinking that, “if it doesn’t work out, I can always return to the Mosaic Law, the Levitical priesthood, and the sacrifices thereof.” But, since the real sacrifice now has been made, the earlier ones which were only pictures of the coming Lamb of God, no longer have any validity. There is nothing left, to which they could go back…it is just an empty shell, now.
While we, as believers should take to heart the warnings of this book, we need to see that the sternest warnings, here, are to those who have failed to place their full trust in the blood of Jesus at the Cross. There is no threat of a believer losing his or her salvation. We are secure in Him. But those who pretend faith are not only not secure, they are in special danger as having “neglected so great a salvation”, and having “hardened their hearts” (the first two warnings.)
10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
Notice that is says “they have not known my ways”…not that they once knew them and simply slid back into their old ways. This is a critical difference. To those who are lost at the Judgment of the Living Nations (Matthew 25:31, ff ), Jesus says. “…I never knew you.” It is possible for a believer to continually live in the flesh and never learn the “ways of God”. But it is not possible for God to address a true believer and say, “I never knew you.”
Seven Rests from the Word of God:
(So, what is the “Rest” offered here?)
There are at least seven “rests” mentioned in scripture:
- The rest of God himself after the Creation,
- The rest offered to Israel in the land of Canaan,
- The rest given to the next generation of Israel in the land of Canaan,
- The rest demanded for the Land
- The rest offered to Ruth in the book of Ruth,
- The rest Jesus offered to unbelievers, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,
- The rest Jesus offered to believers, “Ye shall find rest unto your soul…”
- The rest God offers for the believer in Christ’s labor and rest, today.
- Eternal rest in Heaven.
Some of these are very similar, and I will not try to “surgically” separate them, but some are very different, and God says so. Those I will attempt to explain:
- When God rested after completing the creation, it was not because he was tired. The word used is “Shabbat”…from which we get the transliterated word, “Sabbath”. It means to cease from our usual labor, or from labor in general. It means “rest”, in the sense that we mean when we say “give it a rest!” (Stop doing that, now…)
- God offered rest to his people in the land of Canaan: They were already believers, having trusted in the blood of the Passover, and having passed through the Red Sea under the cloud of God’s presence. But they were offered “rest” in Canaan. Rest (in the sense of “relief”) from persecution, rest from poverty, rest from the desert. It was a picture of the Rest in Christ, to which the New Testament believer is invited. As demonstrated in their lives, it is entirely possible for a believer to miss out on that rest. The next generation entered into Canaan, but we see in subsequent passages (Psalm 95) that there still remained a “rest” for believers to embrace—Canaan itself was not the promised rest…it was only a picture of the promised “rest.”
- God demanded “rest” for the land. The land was to be left fallow every seventh year, and allowed time to regenerate. Israel did not follow this command, and, after 490 years of disobedience in this regard, were cast out of the land for 70 years, to make up for the 70 missed “Sabbaths” of the land. Interesting fact.
- Ruth was offered “rest” by Naomi. Ruth was working to support herself and Naomi, by gleaning in the fields. She had no security, as a stranger to Israel, and there were no “social services” offered. A widow, especially a foreign-born widow, did not have much hope in that society. (Their “welfare system” was limited to the gleaner’s rights.) But, she had placed her trust in the God of Israel (Boaz said so, supplementing her own statement of “Thy God shall be my God.”), and Naomi asked whether she might seek “rest” for Ruth, in the form of marriage, so that she had some security. The remainder of that story is as fine a holy romance as one can read. That was “rest,” in the form of security and blessing.
- Jesus offered two “rests”, in Matthew 11:28-30. The first was offered to those who labored and were heavily laden (unbelievers). He said “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This is the rest that is conferred upon us in salvation: it is a free gift.
- The second is different: He said “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. This “rest” is not a free gift; it is a product of an obedient relationship with the Savior. It comes as a result of walking with Jesus. “Ye shall find rest unto your souls.” It is only available to saved people, but not all saved people experience it. This is the primary “rest” discussed in Hebrews 3:7—4:11, although the “rest” involved in salvation is also alluded to. (In similar fashion, peace with God is a reality for all believers (Romans 5:1), but the Peace of God is offered on the conditions of faith and obedience. (Philippians 4:6,7)
- The final rest offered in the eternal state is described in numerous places in scripture, but notably in Revelation 22:1-3. “…no more curse”. We yearn for that final rest, and it is guaranteed to us: but we can experience God’s Rest in this life as well.
Departing from the Living God.
12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
Is it possible for a believer to “depart from the living God?” In the same sense that the Prodigal Son left his father, yes, it is possible. But it is important to remember that all the time the Son was on the road, going or coming, he was a son. All the time he was feeding those pigs, and wishing he could eat their food, he was a son. And had he died there, he would have been a dead son: not a dead pig! His human father did not know where he was, so, from his perspective, he was dead…they were separated. (Death always is a separation of some sort, in scripture.)
But when he woke up and realized his own folly, he headed back to his father’s house. His Father saw him coming, and without hesitation, ran to meet him. He confessed his folly, and fellowship was instantly restored. The consequences of his sin remained…he was penniless. The remainder of the father’s fortune was still going to the elder son.
But his position as a son had never changed. Only his condition had changed. We see similar results in a Church-age believer’s life, in 1st Corinthians 3:10-15. There are those whose life-work will be lost, because it is entirely of a temporal nature (having no eternal value), but who will still be saved, themselves, though as one escaping through flames.
13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
On the other hand, let’s consider the alternative: were there people who lived in Egypt, and saw the plagues, who were impressed enough to obey Moses, and sacrifice a lamb? And who ate of that lamb, and followed Moses out of Egypt? Even followed him through the Red Sea? And, were terrified at Sinai, hearing the trumpets and voices, and seeing the smoke? And ate of the manna, daily, but somehow still never placed their trust in the living God? I have no way to know for sure, but my experience with churches today tells me it is entirely possible that there were people at that time, as well, who went through all the motions, but never knew, nor desired to know the living God as their savior and God. How can we know this?
During the Earthly ministry of Christ, there was one for sure (Judas), and likely others, who saw all the miracles, heard all the teaching, and ate the loaves and fishes, etc., but who never believed. (Definitely true of Judas!) And, during the Church age there have been many who attended church all their lives, sang the songs, prayed the prayers, took communion, listened to the preaching, and in many cases, went into the ministry themselves, but never believed the Gospel. I have met some of them. Peter warned against them (2nd Peter 2).
I have known some believers whose spoken testimony confirmed that for years they “played along”, living like a believer, but knowing, all the time, that they were living a lie. At some point they realized the deadly danger they were in and repented: they changed their mind about the pretense they were maintaining. From that point on, their perspective had changed.
There are others who pressed on with their smug self-will, certain that they were leaders of the blind, and that all these “sheep” were simply misguided fools. I have known pastors who outwardly seemed model Christians, but who eventually confessed that they did not believe the Bible. I cannot explain that, but it is true…and, from testimonies I have heard, it is not even all that uncommon.
The Deceitfulness of Sin:
Notice it says that their hearts were hardened “through the deceitfulness of sin”. Why is the sin called deceitful, rather than the sinner, in this passage? Because the sinner is being deceived by their own sin nature. Jeremiah 17:9 states that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”. The blood-circulating pump that is the physical heart is not the issue. That one either pumps blood or it doesn’t. The deceitful “heart” in Jeremiah is the old sin nature of the New Testament. This is the “evil heart of unbelief” warned against in verse 12.
God seldom uses the word “heart” to refer to the pump—he uses the word to denote the seat of emotions and intellect—the soulish part of the human trichotomy. We are a three-part being: body, soul and spirit. And the human psyche or soul, is contaminated with sin. (The Greek word is “psuche”…that is where we get our word “psyche.”)
Your old nature doesn’t “go away” when you become a believer. In fact, it is frequently referred to as “the flesh”, just as the soul is sometimes referred to as the heart. But you were given a new nature. That is why Jesus called it being “born again”. You have a new nature. That new nature is completely holy, just as this passage suggests, and it is truly “made in the image of God” in righteousness, as well as true holiness. (Ephesians 4:24) That is one reason I can say with assurance, that, if you have been born again, this passage is to you! The book of Hebrews is for you, as a believer. The seven warnings are to a specific group spelled out in the book: those who have not been born again, but who are pretending faith. But, to the believers, he addresses you as “Holy Brethren!”
However, because you are a believer, you need to especially be aware that your old nature is still extremely deceitful. You have had all your life to practice “listening to your heart”, as we are so often told to do. We have to deliberately practice listening to God instead of our hearts. People say “Your heart won’t lead you wrong!” But, in fact, the opposite is true. We have to constantly soak ourselves in God’s Word, so that we are less likely to be drawn away by our old sin nature.
There are four things we should be able to “take away with us,” here:
- If you have been born again, God counts you as holy, and righteous, and as His child.
- If you have been born again, you have a job to do…a heavenly calling: you are God’s ambassador.
- If you have been born again, there is a rest you are invited to enjoy, and warned not to miss out on.
- If you have been born again, you have two natures, and one of them (the old one) is very deceitful. There is a war going on, and the enemy’s best weapon against us is that old sin nature…our deceitful hearts.
So…what do we do about it? We choose daily to walk with God, and saturate ourselves with His Word, so as to minimize the effect of our old nature. We pray, we worship, we fellowship with other believers around the person of Christ. We pray for and look for opportunities to do our jobs as ambassadors of God. We study to equip ourselves for that work, and keep our testimony clean so as not to be disqualified for service. All this we do under God’s Grace and under the guidance of His Holy Spirit, who indwells us and keeps us through all our lives.
Lord Jesus give us the Grace to continually walk with you and not to miss out on your daily blessings through sin and inattention to our jobs. Teach us to live in such a way as to draw others to you, not drive them away. Teach us to rest in you. Amen