Reader: “Today when you hear his voice,”
Response: “don’t harden your hearts.”
Scripture: Hebrews 4:1-13
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said,
“In my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest,’”
even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”
So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts.”
Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
Reader: This is the word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.
As you read, I’m sure you noticed one particular word recurring again and again, the word “rest.” In fact, it occurs fourteen times in thirteen verses. That must mean it is a central idea in this pericope! This word “rest” has a much more profound meaning than when you or I say, “I’m going to sit down and rest a while.” So, let’s delve into the reason for the author’s interest in this particular word.
Remember, in this part of the book of Hebrews, the writer is attempting to prove Jesus’ superiority to the angels, to Moses and to Joshua. The rebellious Israelites in the desert are the prime examples. The previous section describes their failures to trust what God had said. The wonderful news is that God’s promise to enter his rest still stands, as it does to this very day! Remember where Jesus says to his disciples on Maundy Thursday in the Upper Room, “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also”? That is the place of ultimate rest. Fearing God means experiencing reverence and awe toward God. Jesus’ words about preparing a place for people does absolutely no good if the people do not exercise faith in God.
The wandering Israelites in the desert are a primary example. They did not listen to God and exhibited no faith. The result? Hundreds of thousands of them died off during those forty years. Based on the size of the mass, I figured at least 40-50 people died every day for forty years. (There was one day, for example when 23,000 died as a result of God’s judgment of their sins.) God’s plan was that they would have an eternal rest in his presence. Their lack of faith resulted in God saying, “They will never enter my place of rest.” Those are not words anyone ever wants to hear from God.
I want to deal a bit with the theology of rest and creation. You’ll recall the words of Scripture at the end of the sixth day of creation. “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” This seventh day is the only day of creation pronounced as “holy,” a sacred day set apart from the other six. This idea of a holy day of rest came with creation itself. God has always planned for this unique day. The key to entering this day of rest is obedience and faith in God.
The reference to Joshua is a kind of play on the name of Jesus. For, as you know, they are the same word, Joshua is Hebrew and the Greek name for Joshua is Jesus. Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, but the people fell into unbelief very quickly and eventually were exiled, thus they never attained the “rest” God had in mind. But Jesus changed that. I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. On the sixth day of Holy Week, Jesus’ words from the cross were, “It is finished!” What was finished? The work of redeeming the fallen creation was finished and Jesus “rested” on the Sabbath in the tomb. The unique aspect of the seventh day of creation was that there was no “it was evening and it was morning,” the phrase repeated at the end of each of the first six days of creation. Why? The seventh day of creation has still not ended.
Jesus rose on the eighth day, ushering in the first day of the new creation. As the Scripture says, “there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God.” (That’s us!) So let us do our best to enter that rest. In the meantime as we await our final rest, let our “innermost thoughts and desires” be weighed by the powerful word of God, the two-edged sword for we are accountable to God. I rest my case!
Music: “Saints Bound for Heaven” Missouri State University Chorale
Bonus: “Goin Home” Dvorak Sissel When we all get to Zion!
Prayer: Bring us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end. ―John Donne, 1571-1631