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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Promise of His Rest
Text:Hebrews 3:15-4:11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2016
Added:2022-08-09
Updated:2022-08-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

O Day of Rest and Gladness
My People Give Ear (stanzas 1-4, 10)
Like a River Glorious
Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


02/28/2016
The Promise of His Rest”
Hebrews 3:15-4:11
 
There are many pictures of our world, vividly painted with stunning accuracy by the Holy Spirit in the pages of the Bible. Included among the many pictures is this portrait in Isaiah 57:20: “The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’”
 
We live in a world where people often seek peace, they seek rest and yet they do not find it. But it is in such a world of conflict and trouble, that God offers perfect rest. The rest that God offers is not idleness and inactivity, but the enjoyment of what he has done. We see that in the context of verse 4 which quotes from Genesis 2:1 to describe how God rested on the seventh day.
 
The Lord was not resting the way we think of rest, as though somehow he was tired from the work of creation and needed a time of rest and recuperation. The Lord is always at work; He is never tired; He is not in need of the Sunday afternoon nap that you and I might look forward to on this day that we refer to as the day of rest.
 
Rather, in the context of Genesis 2:1 we see that the Lord rested on the seventh day because His work of creation was finished and he looked back with admiration on “all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31).
 
That is the essence of what “rest” means as it is used in this passage. It is reflecting with praise, admiration and thanksgiving on all the work that God has done in creation, providence, and redemption; it is resting with grateful reflection on all the wondrous works of God.
 
In the Old Testament, Canaan represented God’s rest for Israel. Canaan would be the perfect place for the people of God to reflect back with grateful praise on all that God had done. In Canaan, they could look back to the promises given to Abraham that God would make a great nation from his descendants. They could look back in admiration and praise at how God had spared the sons of Jacob, even though they – like we – were so undeserving. They had sold their brother Joseph into slavery, and yet the Lord had sent him ahead of them into Egypt to spare them all through one of the greatest famines the world had ever known.
 
From the vantage point of Canaan, looking back, resting and reflecting on God's goodness, they could remember the power of the plagues that God sent on the Egyptians. They could remember the way the Red Sea parted. They could remember how God provided bread from heaven and water from the rock in the desert, of how he led them with the pillar of fire and protected them with the pillar of cloud. That’s a small part of what they could have reflected on in Canaan.
 
But unfortunately, that is not what we read in this passage, is it? Instead of reaching the promised land and looking back in praise and adoration as they rested in that land, this passage tells us over and over how the people of Israel died in the desert – a whole generation of them – while only Joshua and Caleb from that generation entered into Canaan.
 
Numbers 14 and 15 describe one of the many times that the Israelites refused to believe in the power and promises of God. Instead of trusting him, they were disobedient to him. In those chapters we read how twelve spies were sent into Canaan to check out the land and bring a report back to Moses and the people.
 
The twelve spies found that the land of Canaan was indeed a land of great plenty, a land in the vernacular of the Old Testament, “flowing with milk and honey.” They brought back a cluster of grapes from Canaan that was so large that two men had to carry the cluster.
 
But instead of giving a wonderful report to Moses they focused on how many obstacles were put before them in acquiring that land of promise. They said, “The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
 
They went on to describe how large and powerful those people in Canaan were. They described how some of them were descendants of giants and were much taller and stronger than the Israelites. They made this descriptive statement: “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33)
 
Ten of the spies said, “We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” Only Joshua and Caleb trusted in the Lord. Caleb said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” He trusted that God would enable and empower them to enter the land he had promised to them.
 
But the people refused to believe in the Lord's promise. They refused to believe that they could find rest in the promised land of Canaan. Instead of trusting God, the people complained and grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They said, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:2-4)
 
It was that expression of unbelief and disobedience that caused the Lord to deny entrance into the promised land to an entire generation of Israelites. Only Joshua and Caleb were granted entrance into Canaan. God brought them into the promised land because they believed in God's promises and sought to live in obedience to those promises.
 
Today the Lord still offers rest through the gospel, but unbelievers and the disobedient cannot enter that rest. Our passage clearly teaches that the Israelites of the Old Testament era were denied God’s rest because of their unbelief and their disobedience. But our passage is equally clear that the promise to enter into God's rest still stands. As chapter 4 begins we read, “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you may be found to have fallen short of it.”
 
The author of Hebrews had a great concern for those who read this letter. He wanted each one of us to realize that the promise of entering the heavenly Canaan still stands. But if we have an unbelieving heart, and disobey the teaching of God's Word, we cannot enter into that eternal promised land of which the earthly Canaan was only a type or shadow.
 
In the first verse of chapter 4 we read of that concern. The author expresses concern that some might fall short of entering God's rest. And in verse 11 we read: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”
 
Making Every Effort to Enter into God’s Rest
 
Reading of the urgency of entering God’s rest, we might ask, “How do we make every effort to enter into the eternal rest of the heavenly Canaan?”
 
First, we must believe the message of the gospel with true saving faith. We see that in verse 2, where we read: “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.”
 
Did you notice there that the gospel was clearly preached to Old Testament Israel? Often people categorize the Old Testament as law and the New Testament as gospel. But the law and the gospel are in both Testaments. The gospel was clearly proclaimed to the people in the Old Testament, through the promise of the Messiah. In John 5:46 Jesus says, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me for he wrote about Me.” 
 
All that was written in the Old Testament was pointing to Christ. All the various sacrifices and feasts pointed Him. Even Noah’s ark is a type of Christ; just as Noah and his family were spared from the flood by the ark, we who have saving faith are spared the flood of God’s righteous and proper wrath because we are in the “ark” of Christ. As J.C. Ryle, a gifted Anglican writer from another era, pointed out: “What the ark was to Noah, Christ is to the soul.”
 
Yet verse 2 tells us that “The message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith.” It wasn’t that the message wasn’t clear enough. It was because the people did not believe the gospel that was preached to them.
 
By contrast, we are to believe in the promises of salvation; we are to believe in the promise that through faith in Christ we can enter into the heavenly Canaan. By faith we are to believe that our sins are forgiven and that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is indeed credited to our lives by faith. We are to believe, as Ephesians 2:8-9 puts it so clearly, that “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
 
That is the message of the gospel in the Old Testament and the New. We see it again in our passage in verse 10, which says, “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.”
 
Horatius Bonar wrote a familiar and beautiful hymn about resting in the work of Christ for salvation and not resting in the work of our own hands. He wrote:
 
Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
 
Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, And set my spirit free.
 
That hymn describes in a nutshell what the author of Hebrews is saying in this passage. Our salvation and our entrance into heaven is by saving faith in Christ alone and not by deeds of self-righteousness; it is not by the works of our hands.
 
Turning from Sin
 
As we strive to make every effort to enter God’s rest, we also need to make a conscience effort to turn from sin. It is crucial that we turn from sin because there is a definite link between unbelief and disobedience.
 
Why were the Old Testament Israelites disobedient to God's commands? It was because of their unbelief. They refused to believe that they could conquer the Canaanites, so they disobeyed God's command to enter into the promised land of Canaan. Just as there is a link between saving faith and good deeds which are done out of gratitude for salvation, so also there is a link between unbelief and disobedience.
 
For all of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and seek to obey Him, the recognition of the link between unbelief and disobedience will cause us to earnestly try to avoid sin. The Heidelberg Catechism addresses that in Q & A 103. As the catechism describes what is involved in the fourth commandment, regarding our celebration of the Lord's Day, it teaches “that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so began already in this life the eternal Sabbath.” As a reference for its answer, it cites Hebrews 4:9-11.
 
Although we enter into God's rest in the heavenly Canaan by faith in Christ alone, there must also be that sincere struggle on our part to avoid sin. As Romans 6:11 says, “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies so that you follow its evil desires.”
 
Or as Philippians 2:12-13 puts it “…Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose.”
 
Heartfelt Gratitude
 
A third application of this passage is that we are to make every effort to enter God's rest by expressing heartfelt gratitude to God.
 
We express gratitude that by his grace we enter his rest now. Did you notice how verse 3 is in the present tense when it says, “Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, ‘So I declared on oath in my anger, They shall never enter my rest...’”?
 
By faith in Christ we rest in his work and not the works of our hands, and we do so with full assurance that we are now saved from sin. We rest in Christ fully assured that our salvation is not 50 percent our work and 50 percent his work, but rather that he has done all that is necessary for us to enter into the glory of heaven. Our salvation is a present reality, not just a future hope.
 
The present reality of our salvation is part of what makes Sunday such a blessed day. Unfortunately, many if not most professing Christians today don't have the joy that the Lord’s Day brings.
 
The principle of the Old Testament Sabbath on the seventh day still resides in the first day of the week, which is often referred to as the New Testament Sabbath. After the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week, Christians began public worship on the first day instead of the seventh. The first day of the week also came to be known as the Lord's Day, as John describes it in Revelation 1:10.
 
But the principle remains the same. Verse 4 describes the principle as it quotes from Genesis 2:2 about how on the seventh day God rested from all this work. And again, he was not taking a nap because he was tired. But he was reflecting back on all of His work, rejoicing to see that it was all “very good.”
 
The word “rest” in that biblical sense is a sweet time of reflection on the greatness and the glory of God. And while we make that the goal of every day of the week – to praise God for his greatness and glory, and for his grace in redeeming us from our sin – Sunday is a day to set aside as a special day to reflect on the wondrous works of our Lord.
 
And when we properly rest on the Lord’s Day, we have a foretaste of heaven. In heaven we will experience perfect rest. In heaven we will see the handiwork of the Lord in all its glory. Consider how beautiful our world is now. We see the majesty of snow-capped mountains. We see the beauty of the ocean in its power and in its tranquility. We see the beauty of woods and meadows. We see fertile fields and all that they produce.
 
But all that we see around us is stained and marred by sin. Yet the curse of sin cannot take the majesty of God away from his creation even on this earth. But the new heavens and the new earth will have no stain of sin. God's glory will be revealed to us beyond what we can ever imagine in this life. And over that new heaven and that new earth we will reign with Christ, filled with praise and adoration for his redeeming grace and for the wonderful privilege of living in the heavenly Canaan forever.
   
And that is why the wages of sin, which is death, is actually turned into blessing for the believer. In Revelation 14:13 John writes, “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’”
 
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
 
The deeds that follow are the good deeds that flow from faith. The greatest work that God requires is taught in John 6: 29 where Jesus says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
 
Have you believed in the One whom he has sent? Have you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your salvation? By God's grace has he transformed your heart from one of unbelief and disobedience to one of joyful reflection on his wondrous works?
 
May you and I be able to answer those questions affirmatively, as we praise God in this life for all his wondrous works, and look forward to the eternal Sabbath rest where we will praise him perfectly – and reign with him over a perfect world, forever! Amen.
 
 
sermon outline:
 
Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be
careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. – Hebrews 4:1
 
                                   “The Promise of His Rest”
                                           Hebrews 3:15-4:11
 
I. In a world of conflict and trouble, God offers perfect rest:
     1) The rest He offers is not idleness and inactivity, but the enjoyment
          of what He has done (4; Genesis 1:31-2:1) and our praise for it
 
 
 
     2) In the Old Testament, Canaan represented God’s rest for Israel, but
          they were denied entrance because of their unbelief (3:19, 4:6) and
          their disobedience (3:18, 4:6, 11)
 
 
 
     3) Today the Lord still offers rest through the gospel (7-10) but
          unbelievers and the disobedient cannot enter that rest
 
 
 
II. Application: We are to make every effort to enter God’s rest (11), by:
     1) Believing the message of the gospel with true saving faith (2),
          recognizing that salvation is by faith in Jesus, not by our works (10)
 
 
 
     2) “Resting” from our sin, recognizing the link between unbelief and
          disobedience (3:18-19, 4:6, 11; Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 103)
 
 
 
     3) Expressing gratitude to God that by His grace we enter His rest now
         (3), have a foretaste of heaven in the earthly Sabbath (4) and will
         experience perfect rest – the enjoyment of all God has done – in the
         glory of heaven (9, Revelation 14:13)
  
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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