“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” (Heb. 4:1-2).
After a fitful night of sleep last night, I decided that I might revisit yesterday’s sermon topic of rest. As I groggily opened my eyes this morning long before the sun peaked its face above the horizon, several things came flooding into my mind. The most significant was that I can take certain steps to ensure a better night’s sleep, though I may still endure the occasional restless night. For example, I could have eaten dinner earlier last night (which I did not), or even just had a light meal. Wendy and I are often in the habit of eating dinner around 8 p.m., usually due to the busyness of the day.
When I am startled awake by a bad dream or a churning mind, I often recall the Dicken’s character who I too often resemble. “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” (Ebenezer Scrooge).
Even our vacations take on an air of churching and unrelenting pursuit. Alistair Begg notes this in commenting about the verses above: “Too often Christians are terrific at leisure but lousy at resting. Why? One reason may be because Western culture places a high premium on the relentless pursuit of higher and higher levels of success and prosperity. Even our leisure is full of “pursuits” and a desire to improve and achieve. And underneath this lies the affliction of every culture: our alienation from the God who created us and made us both to work and to rest.”
When sin entered the world when Adam and Eve fell, restlessness entered the human vocabulary as well. Work became hard, beaded sweat the banner of a day’s labor. But it was much more than that. Gone, too, were the quiet afternoon strolls through the garden with the Creator. I can only imagine the rest that this afforded Adam each day as he communed with God face to face.
Etched into the very fabric of creation was this idea of rest. It was God himself, “he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psa. 121:4), who rested on the seventh day. So, though our bodies need sleep each night to recharge and recoup from the day’s troubles, the rest that God provides goes far deeper than a good night’s sleep.
There is one prerequisite to enjoying this eternal rest, “…for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Heb. 4:10). We see this stated in the negative in our verse. Those who failed to enter God’s rest “were not united by faith…” They did not believe that God could actually provide them rest, and would rather seek it in other places. But that pursuit is “a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17). It is foolishness to languish “under the sun” without a thought of the God who has promised rest.
Each day we must fan the flame of faith given us by the Holy Spirit. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…” (2 Cor. 5:17-19).
That means we must daily ponder the Gospel of Christ anew in our lives, and “forget not all his benefits” (Psa. 103:2). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we have the wondrous privilege of walking again in the cool of the day with our God. We must believe the promise of the Gospel that has come to us by the working of the Spirit. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psa. 121:1). For us, that hill is a knoll outside the city gates of Jerusalem, where, on a bleak Friday, the Lord Jesus Christ bore the awful wrath of God for our sake, that he might bring many sons to glory. So, while it is called “today,” let us “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”