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Apr 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 26, 2020


Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. Hebrews 4:1-2

Intro: Hebrews chapter 4 is like a mixed-green salad

It has four different types of lettuce:
Let us fear (v. 1)
Let us strive (v. 11)
Let us hold fast (v. 14)
Let us draw near (v. 16)
– this is one way to read this chapter
• the first Let us presents us with a problem
• the other three offer solutions
– also, notice the number of times “enter” pops up
• this is a key word in Hebrews – and related key phrase, draw near
• both suggest the idea of movement, of approach
◦ Hebrews reveals a potential experience of God
◦ we are urged to come close to God and step into that experience

“Let us fear”–the writer warns us of a legitimate concern

He began this train of thought with a quotation from Psalm 95
– what he found there was a promise that he says still stands
• sometimes retailers advertise, “We will still honor your coupons”
◦ in a similar way, God’s promise has not expired
◦ the promise is an invitation for us to enter God’s rest
• the danger is some believers will seem to have failed to reach it
◦ there are two ways that we could interpret this concern:
otherwise you will miss your opportunity, or
otherwise it will seem as though you missed your opportunity
◦ if it seems like the promise has not been fulfilled in our lives, we may give up the quest before we reach the destination
– why should we be concerned about this?
• because we are not the first to be presented with this opportunity
◦ the good news came to Israel in the wilderness
◦ but it didn’t do them any good (did not benefit them)
• now the message comes to us – will it benefit us?

The last part of verse 2 is not easy to translate, but this much is clear,
– something that needed to happen, did not happen
• the way I read this is the message did not unite with faith in them
◦ the promise was not integrated into their hearts and minds
William Barclay translates it this way, “But the word which they heard was no good to them, because it did not become woven into the very fibre of their being”
◦ this is a reminder that knowing is not the same as having or being
• how does the promise become integrated into lived experience?
by faith
– faith activates the promise–faith owns everything God says
• of course, hearing the message is necessary
How then will they call on him in who they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Ro. 10:14)
• but to own the message, to experience its fullness requires faith
So faith comes from hearing through the word of Christ (Ro. 10:17)

A description of the ideal Christian community

For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’ “

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Hebrews 4:3-5

This is what the Christian life looks like when everything goes as it should
– if we follow the personal pronouns we find there are:
• those of us who with all believers need to be concerned (fear)
you who seem to have failed
us, to whom the good news came
• and we who have believed
◦ the we would include the writer and apostles,
◦ other Christian communities, and at least some of the readers
• they entered that rest, and were seeing the promise fulfilled
– why does he repeat the quotation here?
• the connection swings on the word “enter”
◦ the quotation is a negative example of what had become the positive experience of others
• everything that needed to be done had already been done
from the foundation of the world
◦ God’s rest was waiting for them–it was there, but they weren’t
◦ until now, God’s rest referred to the promised land
but now it refers to something more

This would be a good point to pause and take a deep breath
– many of us have a tendency to create unnecessary obstacles
“I’ll have a stronger faith once I’ve read through the Bible”
“I’ll be closer to God once I’ve overcome my worst temptations”
“I’ll spend more time in prayer when I’m not so busy”
• whatever work you feel has to be done for you to be close to God
◦ has already been done – from the foundation of the world
• what we need is faith — we need to trust God
◦ trust his love for us, and trust his grace
◦ trust that he meets us right here, right now, and accepts us
– here are two reminders from Paul:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ep. 2:8-10)
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Php. 1:6)

The writer now takes us to another quotation, Genesis 2:1-3
– God rested on seventh day, and he made it holy
• the writer then returns to the Psalm quotation
shall not enter my rest
◦ in the psalm passage, Israel’s rest was the promised land
◦ in Genesis, God’s rest was his repose after completing the six days of creation
• moving between these two passages,
◦ the writer has developed and deepened the meaning of rest
– God is inviting us to rest with him – and to rest in him
Timothy L. Johnson, “. . . the promise offered to God’s people now is no longer that of a material possession, but of a participation in the divine life.”

A conclusion we can draw from this

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.
Hebrews 4:6-8

I’ll try to simplify this:
– the door to God’s rest remains open
• those who were first invited failed to enter that door
◦ they failed only because they disobeyed God
• since they failed, God decided on another day – “Today”
◦ that is the point made from the quotation in Psalm 95
– the writer attributes this psalm to David
• he points out that it was written so long after Moses and Joshua
◦ and that God spoke of another day later on
◦ hundreds of years later on!
• the point is, if the promised land was identified as God’s rest,
◦ then four centuries later he wouldn’t be saying, “Today”
◦ Israel could have experienced God’s rest in the land, but they didn’t

God’s rest is not found in any particular place
– not even in Jerusalem, or in the temple
Thus says the LORD:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?”
(Isa. 66:1)
• it is not like going to a park or finding the perfect hammock
– so if 400 years after Israel entered the land, God says, “Today,”
• then his rest means something else and the offer is still open

Listen, if you and I hear God say “today,” then this word is spoken to us, and the moment we hear the word is precisely the time for us to respond. Today coincides with hearing and responding. If we do not immediately respond to God, in the present moment, we run the risk of our hearts growing hard
[God says] “In a favorable time I listened to you,
in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
. . . Behold, now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation
(2 Cor. 6:1-2)

Another conclusion that we can draw from this

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. Hebrews 4:9-11

This is the second time we find the word “remains” – and it’s his whole point
– a “Sabbath rest” – not Saturday, as a day off work
• but a state in which our soul is at rest
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength
(Isa. 30:15)
• again, our rest is with God and in God
St. Augustine, toward the beginning of his Confessions, prayed these famous words, “You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”
– so what do we do today? Let us strive to enter that rest

Conclusion: What is presented to us here is obviously not a familiar concept of rest

This rest is not what comes after chaos, conflict and confusion die down
– it is, instead, an inner peace that carries us through the chaos, conflict and confusion
And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith (1 Jn. 5:4)
• we overcome the world, not be conquering it,
◦ but by not letting it get to us
• God’s rest is an inner peace that we enjoy even while we work
◦ it is not like fall asleep,
◦ but more like being awake for the best moment of our life
– we do not rest in our accomplishments or even in our faith
• we rest in God himself
I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me
(Ps. 131:2-3)

Do you realize that “today” is right now?
It is so difficult to keep our minds in the here and now
If we are haunted by our past or obsessed with the future,
we will never experience life in present moment
It takes the discipline of trust to fix our attention on today

I suggest that when you sit in prayer,
and you make yourself aware of God’s presence,
that you consider using the words of this Psalm 116
to enter his rest:
Return to your rest, O my soul; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
I will walk before the LORD
in the land of the living
(Ps 116:7-8)

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