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The Rest that Remains

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Mar 17, 2013

Hebrews 4:1-13

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The Lord's Day Morning

March 17, 2013

Better

“The Rest That Remains”

Hebrews 4:1-13

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 4 as we continue our way through this great book. You may remember the last time as we looked at Hebrews chapter 3 verses 7 to 19 we said that that section of Hebrews, running all the way through the passage that we're going to be studying today, is in, one sense, a sermon on Psalm 95 verses 7 to 11. He quotes Psalm 95 verses 7 to 11 in Hebrews chapter 3 and then he begins to expound on it. He preaches us a message from Psalm 95 and that message continues today. In fact, it's something that occurs in the last verse of Psalm 95 that gets him going on the theme of “rest.” You will notice the word, rest, appearing repeatedly in Hebrews chapter 4 and he's gotten that word from Psalm 95 verse 11. And he meditates on what that means. There's a sense in which the message you’re going to hear today is going to be a one-point message: “Enter the rest.”

But you have to understand three things in order to pay heed to that message. You have to understand what the rest is, and he spends much of these verses, from Hebrews 4:1-13 explaining what he means by the rest. He's not asking you to do something that you can't understand. He's wanting to explain to you the charge that he's brining to you. He also wants to make sure that you understand why you need to enter the rest. You need to understand your own heart, your own need, whether you are in fact desiring or hoping for this rest that he's going to explain. And he wants you to understand how you enter the rest. All three of those things he's going to explain in this passage. Now as we work through it together, I'm actually going to show you six parts of his argument, just to show the flow of his argument. But bear in mind, it's a one-point sermon; there are just six parts to his argument.

Look at this part. Before we even read, I want you to be able to follow along. Look at verse 1. There's the first thing that he says. He wants to make sure that you do not fail to enter into the rest, which immediately raises in your mind the question, “Okay, what rest? What rest are you talking about?” He then says in verse 2 that there were some that had the Gospel preached to them that didn't enter into this rest. So he still hasn't told you what the rest is. In verses 3 to 7 he begins to explain what the rest is. He says that there is a “rest that remains” for Christians. That's the third part of his argument. In verses 8 to 10 he explains that this rest that he's talking about is not something that we fully experience in this world. We have a foretaste of it but it is something that God doesn't fully gives us until Jesus comes again. Then, this ultimate rest will be given to His people. Then in verse 11, fifthly, he gives that exhortation to you to enter into that rest. You embrace this rest that he's been talking about. Then in verses 12 and 13 he says you need to search your hearts, you need to search your hearts to see whether your heart is really hoping for this rest or whether you’re hoping for a rest in this world, because that difference is of eternal consequence. That's the six part flow of his argument. But again, the one-point message is simply this — enter the rest.

Now let's pray before we hear God's Word.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and it is true. It is the truth by which You are sanctifying Your people and it is the truth by which You are saving sinners. So save us by Your Word and sanctify us by Your Word, O Lord, and we’ll give You all the praise and glory. In Jesus' name, amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it in Hebrews chapter 4 beginning in verse 1:

“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. 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.’

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. 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. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

All of us know that we need rest. Sometimes we're more aware of that than at others. But the question is, “What is the rest that we are aiming for?” Are we banking on that rest being supplied to us by this world and enjoyed in this world, or are we looking for a rest that remains, a rest that is yet to come? That's the issue that the author of Hebrews wants us to wrestle with today. And the one-point sermon that he wants to bring home to you is to enter into that rest. He wants you to understand what the rest is that you need to enter. He wants you to know why you need to enter it. He wants you to know how you enter that rest. So let's follow along his argument together as we explore this one-point message from the author of Hebrews.

DON’T FAIL TO REACH THE REST THAT REMAINS

The first point of his argument you’ll see in verse 1. “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should have seemed to have failed to reach it.” His point is simply this — don't fail to reach the rest that remains. Now why is that on his mind? Well if you look at the very last words of Hebrews chapter 3, he has quoted Psalm 95 verse 11 in verse 11 of Hebrews chapter 3, “I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” and then he has said in verse 19, “They were unable to enter” — enter what? Enter the rest, “because of unbelief.” And so he's got this rest on his mind. He's got a picture of the children of Israel in the wilderness, redeemed by God through mighty acts out of Egypt, brought across the Red Sea on dry ground, brought through the wilderness through mighty miracles, poised to enter the Promised Land, but hundreds of thousands of them end up dying in the wilderness. Why? They did not enter the rest. And he's got that on his mind. And he's not preaching this message to you and to me and he's saying, “I don't want you to fail to enter the rest of God the way that they failed to enter the rest of God.”

You know, very often we look at Old Testament characters like David or Daniel or Joseph and we say to people, “Be like David,” or “Dare to be a Daniel,” or “Flee from sin like Joseph,” and we commend them as positive examples. And that's appropriate to do from time to time, but very often the New Testament looks back to the Old Testament and its message to you is, “Don't do what they did” You remember the moving testimony that Gene McRoberts gave us during the Missions Conference when — here was his fundamental message to us: “Don't be like me.” That was his message. “Don't be like me and have a narrow view of missions. Have a big view of what God is doing in missions and your involvement and commitment in that.” Well that's kind of what the author of Hebrews is doing here. He's pointing us back to the children of Israel and saying, “See how they did? See what they did? Don't do that. Don't be like them. Don't fail to enter the rest.”

THE GOSPEL DOES NOT BENEFIT APART FROM FAITH

Then he says, look at verse 2, “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.” Now this is a chilling passage. What he is saying, and this is the second part of his argument, is that the Gospel didn't benefit those in the wilderness who didn't believe. Did you catch that he said that “the good news came to them”? Look at what he says in the first words of verse 2. “For good news came to us just as to them.” In other words, the Gospel was preached to them just like it's been preached to us. Have you ever wondered whether the Gospel is in the Old Testament? Well the author of Hebrews has just told you that it is. Sometimes we say, “Well we know we have the Gospel; did they have the Gospel?” The New Testament writers asked that question the other way around. “We know they have the Gospel; do we still have the same Gospel?” “Yes,” is the answer. So when the apostle Paul wants to explain the Gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, where does he go to prove that? Genesis chapter 15, the very first book of the Bible, and he takes us to Genesis 15:6 where Abraham believed and the Lord credited it to him as righteousness. The just shall live by faith. And so he goes right to the Old Testament to preach justification by grace to us. Why? Because that message is the old, old story; it's the Gospel that's been proclaimed since Genesis 3:15. The Old Testament saints heard the Gospel.

That's the point of Hebrews 4 verse 2, and yet listen to these chilling words. “But the message they heard did not benefit them.” The good news came to them, God has redeemed them out of Egypt, He has made promises to them, He promised His providence over them, and yet His promises, His good news, His redemption did not benefit them. That ought to move your heart, that people would have seen the mighty redeeming acts of God and heard His voice — remember, He spoke Himself the Ten Commandments to them! He made promises to them, He gave commands to them, and they did not listen, they did not benefit. Why? Well the end of the verse tells you. Look again at the end of verse 2 — “Because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” They didn't benefit from the good news which was proclaimed to them by God Himself and by Moses and Aaron because they didn't believe. That was their fundamental failure. Their fundamental disobedience was that they did not believe. That's the second point of his argument.

CHOOSE WHETHER YOU WILL ENTER THE REST

Third, if you’ll look at verses 3 to 7, he goes on to say, “It still remains for some to enter into this rest that I'm talking about.” Now you keep saying, “You haven't told me what the rest is!” Well hold on! He’ll tell you that in a minute. He’ll get back to that. But right now what he wants you to understand is, this is not just an issue of ancient history — you know, you’re going back and learning stories from the Hebrew Bible that are interesting but don't really have to do anything with you today. No, he is saying this is an issue that is very timely; it's an issue for us today, because the issue for us is, “Are we going to enter into that rest?” They didn't because they didn't believe, and hundreds of thousands of them died in the wilderness and never entered the Promised Land. And so he says here in verses 3 to 7, “It remains for some to enter this rest.”

Look at verse 6. “Therefore it remains for some to enter it and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, so 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.’” Now he's applying Psalm 95 verse 11 to you and me. And he's saying, “I'm not just giving you a Bible lesson about the children of Israel in the wilderness, I'm giving you a message, a call, a charge, an exhortation for you today. Don't disobey in the wilderness of life like they did. Don't fail to believe, because today there is an issue before you — choose you this day whom you will serve. Choose you whether you will enter into the rest. It remains for some to enter into the rest that remains. That's the third part of his argument.

A HEAVENLY REST

The fourth part you’ll see in verses 8 to 10. Finally he's going to begin to tell you what the rest is. “If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.” Ah-ha, now he's saying, “The rest that I'm talking about is not the land of Canaan.” So you might think, “Okay, the children of Israel didn't believe God in the wilderness so they've died in the wilderness and therefore they didn't enter into the rest of the land of Canaan.” Well that's true, and the land of Canaan he's about to say is going to be a picture of the ultimate rest, but it's not the ultimate rest. And he explains that in the very next verses. “If Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.” In other words, if Joshua, when he did bring the children of Israel into the Promised Land forty years later, was giving them the ultimate rest, God wouldn't still be speaking about a rest that is still to come.

So he says this, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” In other words, the rest that He wants you to enter is not a rest from three and a half thousand years ago in the land of Canaan; it is a rest that remains. It is a rest that is yet to come. It is a heavenly rest that is given by God to those who trust in Him. He's asking you not to put all your hope in this life. He's asking you not to put your faith in this world. He's asking you to put your faith in God and put your hope on something more than this world, not because He doesn't want you to care about this world, not because He doesn't want you to appreciate the millions of blessings God pours out on us in this world, not because He wants to deny that we have a little bit of a foretaste of even that ultimate rest and blessing even here and now.

Do you realize that Sundays, in light of verses 8 to 10, what we do together on Sundays is meant to be a little taste of that rest to come? And when we're converted and saved, united to Christ, we get a little taste of the peace and the blessing to come, because what is the rest that God is offering His people? It is harmony with Himself, and you can't have harmony with Himself unless your heart has been changed, you've been regenerated, unless your faith is on Him. You can't have peace with God until He has, by the work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, given you peace with Him. But when you do experience that in this life, what are you experiencing? A little foretaste of the ultimate peace to come. But his point is this. He's saying, “Christian, this world is not your home. This isn't where your rest is. Your home, your rest, is yet to come, so don't have all your hope in this life. Don't seek your ultimate rest in this life.” Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “The only ultimate tragedy is that we make this earth our home.” The only ultimate tragedy is that we make this earth our home. In other words, we put all our eggs in this basket. All of our hope, all of our longing for satisfaction, all our desires for rest and joy and peace, we pour into this life and we don't set our hearts on the rest to come.

SET YOUR HEART ON ENTERING THE REST

And so what's he saying to us here? He just comes out and says it in verse 11, doesn't he? And this is the fifth part of his argument. “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” In other words, he's saying, “Christian, set your heart on entering that rest. Seek your ultimate peace and joy and favor and satisfaction and fulfillment not here but in God and in the rest that only He can give and that He will only ultimately give not in this life. Do you remember what Paul will say? If we have believed what we believe for this life only, then we are, of all men, most miserable. In 1 Corinthians 15 he says the Christian faith is not worth it unless there is a resurrection that awaits for us and a rest that we will enter. You know, some people might say, “Even if there is not an afterlife, you know, the Christian life is a noble, moral life to live.” Paul says, “If I didn't believe in the resurrection, if I didn't believe in the rest to come, I would eat and drink because tomorrow I die and it's done.” It's because of the resurrection, it's because of the rest to come, that we are enabled to live this life as believers. And so he says, “Set your hearts on the rest to come.”

ASK THE WORD TO TEST YOUR HEART

And the sixth part of his argument you’ll see in verses 12 and 13. He says you need to set your heart on entering the rest in light of what God Himself says to your heart in His Word and in light of what God sees in your heart, for “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit of joints and marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” What's he saying? He's saying, “You know, it's entirely possible for a person to be a part of a Christian congregation and along with everybody else, hear the good news every Sunday and not believe it. And of course his case and point are the children of Israel in the wilderness. They heard the Gospel, they heard the promises of God, and they didn't believe. So this is a matter of the heart. Do you believe or not? What helps discern your heart? The Word of God. It can divide things that are indivisible and it can pierce down to the depths of your soul. And so he's saying, “Go to the Word and ask the Word to test your heart. What do I believe and where is my hope?”

And then he reminds you of this in verse 13. “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” In other words, he's saying, “The Lord sees your heart.” It's possible for us to fool one another. You know, we can wear the same church clothes and wear the same church smile and show up every Sunday, morning and evening, and fool everybody around us, but it will not fool God. He knows the heart. He knows whether we believe and where our hope is. So here's the one-point sermon — enter the rest. This is not your home. This world won't give you the rest. You’ll get sweet foretastes of that rest, but this is not the final rest. Don't put all your hope in this life. Strive to enter the rest to come. How? By faith. The whole Christian life is lived by faith. That's one of the great themes of this book, from the first chapter to the last, that you live by faith. You believe God's Word, you embrace Christ as He is offered in the Gospel, you trust Christ, you believe the Word, you enter into the rest by faith. Have you done that?

Then, in the very words of the author of Hebrews, I want to say to you, “Today, today, if you have heard God's voice, do not harden your heart.” Enter the rest. Believe on Jesus Christ as He is offered in the Gospel and set your hope on the things that are above, the things that are still to come. It won't make you less caring and concerned about the world around you; it will make you more caring and concerned about the world around you. But you won't put all your hope here, because if you put all your hope here it's the greatest tragedy that you could ever possibly encounter, because you were made for eternity, and what you do now counts for eternity. And if you do not, by faith, set your hearts on the rest that is to come and believe in Jesus Christ, you will have lost the usefulness and the fruitfulness that you could have had in this world and you will have lost the rest that you could have had for eternity. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. Enter the rest. Believe on Jesus. Embrace the Gospel. Hope for the life to come. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Word and we ask that You would make it effectual in our hearts by the work of Your Holy Spirit so that it would not be said of anyone in this room like it was said of the children of Israel in the wilderness that the Word did not profit them because they did not believe. Lord God, by Your Spirit, grant us to believe, in Jesus' name, amen.

Would you take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to number 393 and we're going to sing about this rest to come.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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