Searching for Rest, Part 2
The book of Genesis records the story of a great world-wide flood. God had warned Noah of this flood, and in faith he built a giant ship. When the flood came, he and his family, and the animals God had brought onto the boat, were saved. But the rest of the world’s inhabitants who didn’t believe perished in the waters of the flood.
As the flood waters receded, the ark came to rest on the top of mount Ararat. After 40 days, Noah released two birds from the window of the ark, to see if perhaps the water had subsided enough for the land to be inhabited once more. He released a raven, which was able to soar above the flooded world for some time.
He also sent out from himself a dove, to see if the waters had receded from the face of the ground. But the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, and she returned into the ark to him, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth. Genesis 8:8-9
She “found no resting place.” Last week, we began this mini series, Searching for Rest. Today, I invite you to join me again as we continue through the Word of God and through nature, searching for this rest that God has promised to those who are faithful.
Last week, we talked about how so many people today are searching for rest. In our culture, it seems, we’re addicted to work—and for many, COVID-19 has either increased the workload, or increased the stress, or both!
We talked about the craziness of society—of injustice, of people hurting other people, and people demanding change and justice.
We talked about how rest—true rest—is God’s answer to so much of the turmoil and stress we face today. But what is rest? What exactly does it look like?
Last week, we explored two parallel ideas, both referred to in the Bible as “rest.” I proposed to you that these ideas are both interrelated to this concept of rest.
The first was the idea of a permanent place—the opposite of perpetual motion. We started in the garden of Eden. In the beginning, God created a forever home for Adam and Eve, yet they forfeited their Eden home. God promised to give a permanent home to Abraham’s descendants, and centuries later, He fulfilled his promise by bringing Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land.
The second idea was closely connected to the first. This is the concept of a universal Sabbath—not a physical place but a period of time—a day of rest. This rest would extend to every place in the world and to every believer, connecting each one back to the true rest-giver.
This search for rest looks back to the perfect rest of Eden—when God communed daily with Adam and Eve in the garden. But in Old Testament times, it also looked forward to the coming of One Who would bring rest and peace to God’s people everyone—the One Who would crush the head of the serpent, and ultimately restore God’s people to harmony and oneness with God.
Jacob, in blessing his sons, uttered this prophetic promise found in Genesis 49:10:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.
Isaiah the prophet spoke of this coming Messiah as “the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
In Isaiah 55, we hear the call to accept this wonderful grace and rest, offered to all who will accept it: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.”
The writer of Hebrews makes this powerful application of the promised rest in Hebrews chapter 3 and 4. In fact, if you hadn’t guessed, the outline of this whole message is based on these two chapters in Hebrews, so I’d invite you to get out your Bible and turn to this passage with me. The writer quotes from Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:7-11:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,
8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
In the day of trial in the wilderness,
9 Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me,
And saw My works forty years.
10 Therefore I was angry with that generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they have not known My ways.’
11 So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”
He exhorts his readers to “beware.” Beware of what? “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;” (Hebrews 3:12)
Beware of unbelief. Beware of missing out on the promise! In the same way that an entire generation of the children of Israel missed out on the promised land, so we could miss out on the promise, too—if we fail to have faith!
It’s not often that you find a Bible passage that says “Let us fear.” I don’t like to be told I should be afraid, I much prefer Bible passages that say, “fear not!” But that’s exactly what we find in Hebrews 4:1, “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.”
The writer of Hebrews brings this promise of rest into the heart of New Testament theology, pointing to the person of Jesus Christ—the Prince of Peace—as the ultimate and true fulfillment of the “rest” God had promised to Israel. He warns his hearers: Don’t take this for granted! Don’t miss out on Jesus, like your fathers missed out on the promised land!
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
He says again in John 7:37 “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
But the promises of Jesus don’t come without conditions. He says “come” and “believe.” He doesn’t say, “I will take away every yolk” but that “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
In Christ, we are set free from the bondage of sin. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4
What rest! What joy! The writer of Hebrews weaves together God’s Sabbath rest in creation, and the promised rest in Canaan, spoken of in Psalm 95, and applies them together to the rest of the Christian in Christ:
“There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” Hebrews 4:9-10
Just as God ceased His creative “works” and rested on the Sabbath, so when we come to Christ, we cease trying to save ourselves by our own works. Our restless and troubled souls find peace and rest. No longer do we need to be tortured and tormented by guilt, or by a troubled conscience. We can leave our past behind, and start again, a new life, by faith in Jesus! Praise God!
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Hebrews 4:11 says: “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.”
If it’s so easy, and so wonderful, to enter this rest in Christ, why is this passage so insistent that we work hard?
You see, that’s just the problem! It’s so easy, yet it’s so hard. It’s hard to stop “working.” It’s hard to accept a gift!
In 2018, the United States set a heartbreaking record: A record 768 million vacation days went unused. 768 million days—line those up end-to-end for one person and it’s over 2 million years! Imagine losing a 2-million-year vacation! But we gave it up. Why? In order to work more.
“When I see how many vacation days went unused, I don’t just see a number – I see 768 million missed opportunities to recharge, experience something new and connect with family and friends,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement.
You know, speaking of that, I need to check and see how many vacation days I have. I think it’s time I took a little vacation and went camping with my wife! I’d hate to lose my vacation time!
But imagine missing out on something far greater—imaging missing out on the promise of eternal rest in Christ!
These are strong words in Hebrews 4:1: “since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.”
When we enter this rest in Christ, we enter relationship with Him. He becomes our High Priest, and intercedes for us before God. No longer do we need to fear standing in judgment, for now we have one who stands and pleads our case for us! We don’t have to fear the judgment—the only thing we need to fear, is whether we neglect the promised rest!
Back in the time of Israel, when they entered the promised land, the tabernacle, and later the temple, bacame the center of the true worship of God. In the same way, Hebrews tells us that Jesus in the Heavenly Sanctuary becomes the center of worship for Christians in the New Testament. We aren’t physically present with Him yet, but soon we will be. For a little while longer, we must wander in this world as strangers and pilgrims, but soon we will be united forever in our heavenly Home.
Just to review, we’ve discussed four applications of this term rest: First was the permanent place, first in Eden and later in the land of Canaan. Second, the weekly period of time, the weekly Sabbath rest that began in Eden and continues for all mankind. Third is the rest we find in the person of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. And the fourth takes us back to the first one: a Prophetic Paradise, where we celebrate an eternity of communion with Christ and worship Him together every Sabbath day.
We find this prophetic paradise emphasized again in Hebrews 11, after we read the account of great men and women of faith. We find these words beginning in verse 13:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
My brothers and sisters, today we are still physically wandering in the wilderness of this world. We are weary of this world, and searching for rest. Brothers and sister, we may enter today, right now, into the Spiritual rest of Christ—just as the children of Israel drank water from the rock in the wilderness. We are even now on the borders of that heavenly Canaan: will we have faith to enter in?
Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
Many Christians today have spiritualized away our responsibility to exercise faith in concrete ways in our lives today. Faith in Christ is not a spiritual feeling. It’s not just saying the right words, but acting on that belief and aligning our lives with God’s will. Noah believed, and he built an ark. Joshua believed, and he led the armies around Jericho. Daniel believed, and he opened his window and prayed.
We know that in the very end of time, God’s people will face a trial of faith—a crisis centered on worship, described in Revelation 13 and 14. And I would submit to you that this crisis of worship centers on this very issue—the issue of true rest. In fact, the message of that first angel of Revelation 14 has a direct quotation from the Sabbath commandment of Exodus 20.
You see, the weekly Sabbath is the key that connects together every form f rest we have studied over the past two weeks. God gave the Sabbath in Eden—the time of rest in a place of eternal rest. Though Eden was lost, the Sabbath remained as a constant reminder to mankind of our creator. Noah kept that weekly cycle on the ark, and at the end of the flood, he sent out the dove each week until she returned no more. It was renewed in God’s covenant to the children of Israel, before they entered the promised land of rest. Jesus, in His teachings, honored the Sabbath by showing again the true purpose of the Sabbath rest—in teaching and healing on the Sabbath day.
The writer of Hebrews shows how the Sabbath has even more significance to the Christian, as it points to the believer’s true rest in Christ. But it doesn’t end there. The apostles kept the Sabbath, just as Jesus did, by going to the synagogue, teaching, and healing on this day. And Jesus honored the Sabbath day by giving His special revelation to the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos on the Sabbath day.
Today, my friends, people the world over are searching for rest. But we need not wander aimlessly, for God has given to us His true rest. From Eden lost, to Eden restored, and anchored in the middle in the Cross of Jesus, the Sabbath connects us every week to God and to His purpose for us. For twenty-four hours every week, we can lay aside our daily toil, and enter His presence. Like Mary, we can put aside the busyness and sit at the feet of Jesus.
Why is it that the one commandment out of ten—the only one God said to “Remember” is the one that we’ve forgotten to keep? Do you suppose it’s because God knew it would be the first one we would forget? I think the devil has a special plan to destroy God’s Sabbath, because he knows that if he can get us to stop resting, and to stop that special time of communion with God, he can soon get us to forget God.
Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 6:31 “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Like the dove, coming to Noah in the ark with an olive branch in her beak, the Sabbath comes to us each week as a promise of God’s final joyous and eternal home that He has prepared for those who will enter His rest.
Friend, are you, like Martha, troubled with many cares of this life? Are you searching for rest? Friend, will you commit today to enter this rest? Come to Jesus, “[cast] all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
As you enter His spiritual rest, I want to encourage you to enjoy the physical rest He offers to every believer today. Because the Sabbath here is just a little foretaste of heaven! It is God’s gift of rest, today, that points back to our Eden home. It points us to Christ, and points forward to our heavenly Canaan.
Isaiah 66:23 And it shall come to pass
That from one New Moon to another,
And from one Sabbath to another,
All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the LORD.