Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Can you believe that it is May already? And am I the only one who thinks that surely it was only 2 or 3 days since we were last here, but not seven? Where did those hours go? Life flies by at a hectic pace that is quite tiring, isn’t it.
And while there is much that is beautiful in this world, there is clearly much that is wrong in creation:
We pull out weeds and a few days later, there they are again.
We cannot build prison rooms fast enough to accommodate criminals.
Mental health services are over-stretched.
We probably all know someone with a disease like cancer or dementia.
Each day, people hurt each other deeply.
Marriage can become daily torture.
Parenting can mean many hours of weeping about children.
Getting on with work colleagues can seem almost impossible; that is if you have permanent employment. And if you do, you secure a contract or complete a job or solve a problem, and then you have to move on to the next one…
o And the list could go on…
The Preacher’s description of life that we read earlier is surely quite honest: “All his days are full of sorrow and his work is a vexation.”
And all of this is why we like rest so much. Right? A nap or a good night’s sleep or a few days of holiday are so enjoyable. But of course, on the other side of the nap or sleep or holiday is more work and sorrow. And of course, all this assumes that we are able to sleep well, which isn’t always the case. As the Preacher also said, “Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.”
Well, elsewhere in Ecclesiastes, we read that the Lord has “put eternity in the hearts of man.” This world and this existence is not all that there is; we all know that there is an existence beyond this life. And it is this eternity that we want to consider this afternoon.
You see, Jesus said, in MATTHEW 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” And the rest He was speaking of was not a 5-minute nap or a solid night’s sleep or a few weeks of holiday. It is something we can begin to enjoy already in this life but something we will only fully enjoy in eternity. And it is something explained in our passage in Hebrews, and something that has an intimate connection with the command to observe the Lord’s Day, as we shall see.
So let’s look at our text and see the LORD’S DAY LESSON IN THE HEAVENLY HOPE GIVEN TO WEARY BELIEVERS. And we will spend the major part of our time looking at the heavenly hope described in this passage. And then we will briefly consider fourth commandment CONNECTION with this heavenly hope, and then the fourth commandment LESSON from this heavenly hope.
I. So we begin with the heavenly hope described in this passage. It is stated in 4:9 where we read, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” But we have to go back and review 3:7-4:8 to see what is meant by this statement:
A. The Book of Hebrews, as the name suggests, was written to JEWISH CHRISTIANS. And they most likely lived in Italy and probably Rome. They faced severe persecution from their Jewish families and from the Roman authorities. So they were considering abandoning Christianity. So the author writes to encourage them to persevere.
B. And his major point is that Christ is greater so Christ is worth it. And he makes this point by working through all of the major people and parts of the Jewish faith and demonstrating the superiority of Jesus Christ. Angels? Moses? The High Priest? Sacrifices? Melchizedek? The Temple? Jesus Christ is greater by far!
C. And he makes this point with teaching and encouragement, but also with WARNING. He will not let these Jewish Christians get away with thinking that Jesus Christ is someone you can just take or leave; no, if you reject Christ, there will be eternal consequences.
D. And it as he is doing this in relation to Moses that we come to our passage. So 3:7 is warning language that begins with a quotation from PSALM 95 that reminds readers about the people of Israel and their time in the wilderness.
1. You boys and girls will remember that the people of Israel were once slaves in Egypt. But God had promised Abraham, over 400 years before, that his descendants would one day dwell in the land of Canaan. So that place came to be known as the Promised Land. And we see from v11 that it would be a place of ‘rest.’ It was place that they could enjoy rest from slavery.
a. Well, we know the rest of the story. God brought the people out of Egypt and they began their journey to the place of ‘rest,’ the Promised Land.
b. But that generation, apart from Joshua and Caleb didn’t make it to the PL, did they. And this is because of their continuing grumbling and complaining and unbelief. We see that described in vv8-10 and v19. So they were made to turn around and go back and wander in the desert for 40 years until that generation had died.
2. So using them and their unbelief as an example, from 4:1, the writer of Hebrews continues, “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.” In other words, the promise of rest was held before the people of Israel, but they fell short of enjoying it, and the promise of rest is held also before you, today, so take care that you do not fall short of enjoying it.
E. So the first thing that is plain from this history lesson is that THE ‘REST’ SPOKEN OF HERE IN HEBREWS IS SOMETHING MUCH MORE THAN A PIECE OF DIRT IN THE MIDDLE EAST. And this is spelled out in vv1-5.
1. For the people of Israel, ‘rest’ was entrance into Canaan where they would experience relief from slavery, turmoil, and the oppression of enemies. They would have a place that was their own in which they could enjoy the protection of the Lord from their enemies.
2. But we know that life in Canaan was not a place of perfect rest. There were still weeds in the ground, people still got sick and died, and eventually enemy armies did come in and carried the people away into exile.
3. Ultimately, you see, the chief problem of the people of Israel and our chief problem also is not slavery in Egypt or sweaty toil or invading armies; our chief problem is the problem of sin, which makes us deserving of eternal damnation. Romans 3:23, “For we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” So even for the people of Israel, the PL was really just a symbol of a much greater rest that we sinful human beings need.
4. And indeed, this greater rest is described in Hebrews 4:1 as “the promise of His eternal rest.”
F. But to give us more of an idea about this greater or eternal rest is, the author continues in 4:3-4 to speak about GOD’S REST from the work of creation. V3 speaks about His own rest as when 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.”
1. One commentator explains it this way, “The rest God offers to us in salvation is nothing less than the very rest He Himself has enjoyed since the completion of His creation work.” Isn’t that staggering to think about!?
a. After the six days of speaking things into existence out of nothing, and shaping and forming the universe and the earth and its inhabitants, the seventh day arrives and God rests. “After having made and ordered and subdued the creation according to His desired plan, His control was so absolute, His sovereignty so unquestioned, that God enthroned Himself without effective opposition … His reign is one of rest – that is, of absolute supremacy and unassailable sovereignty – so much so that He exerts His rule from the position of rest.”
i. Like king who has defeated all his enemies and who can now rule without having to go out to war.
ii. So when we thing of God’s Sabbath rest, we should immediately think of His utter, uncontested sovereign rule.
2. To enter into God’s eternal Sabbath rest, therefore, means to enter into saving relationship with God. When God becomes our Saviour, it means we become part of the kingdom He rules with absolute sovereignty and uncontested rule. It means that the work of salvation that He begins in us will definitely be completed. It means you do not need to fret about what you have to do to earn or maintain your salvation. It means you need not fear what the world can do to you. It means you need not fear death or the separation that death brings. And it means that one day you will join Him in the eternity of heaven and be totally free of everything that hinders and holds back and frustrates and wounds and grieves us here.
3. As we see in v8 then, Joshua could not offer rest like this, even to those who did make it to the Promised Land. That’s why it says in v9, “There remains then a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” It is only the Greater Joshua, the Lord Jesus, who could offer this rest. And this is He did when He said, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” You see, when we confess our sins and repent of our sins and believe that He did on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, we let go of any efforts of self to earn God’s salvation and simply rest in the finished work of Christ. This is what v10 describes when it says, “For whoever entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did.”
II. And this brings us, then, to our second point: THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT CONNECTION with this Heavenly Hope.
A. And this matter is raised by the use of the word “Sabbath” in v9.
1. You see, from chapter 3 right through to 4:11, the word ‘rest’ is mentioned many times. It translates various forms of a Greek word that means ‘to cease’ or ‘to refrain’ or ‘to rest from.’ And it is used in connection with the Promised Land.
2. But when we get to 4:4, in connection with God’s rest from the work of creation, the Greek word translated as ‘rest’ is different; it is ‘Sabbatismos.’ And this is the only place it is used in the whole Bible.
3. And very clearly, you can hear that it has to do with the Sabbath, or the Day of rest commanded in the OT, which is why translators render it as ‘Sabbath-rest.’
B. And this word forces us to consider what is being said here in connection with the 4th Commandment. And you will know the 4th Commandment, which calls on God’s people to “remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work … For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” And so, the 4th Commandment was very plain: Because God rested on the seventh day, you should also. The QUESTION Hebrews 4:9 forces us to answer is what is the relationship of the OT Sabbath to the Christian Church?
1. You see, there are many, and they include preachers and theologians whom we hold in high regard as devoted servants of Christ, who believe that this verse, in part, reveals that the Sabbath command no longer exists and the fourth commandment is no longer applicable for NT believers.
2. In their view, just as the rest of Canaan pointed forward to something greater, so the Sabbath command pointed to something greater. And that rest, that Sabbath, has come in Jesus Christ. Thus, for them, Sabbath-keeping is no longer about observing a special day, but only about resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
3. But there are significant problems with this idea, people of God. And the first is this: The 4th Commandment is ONE OF THE 10 COMMANDMENTS. Nowhere, in the whole NT, are any of the 10 Commandments explicitly set aside as finished because of Christ. Indeed, as an example, children must still obey their parents according to Ephesians 6, just as the fifth commandment requires. So the Bible gives us no warrant, then, to say that the 4th Commandment no longer functions for believers.
4. Secondly, one of the points being made here in ch. 4 is that this Sabbath rest “REMAINS.” It is something we must “strive to enter.” The Book of Hebrews speaks about many ceremonial things that have ceased with the coming of Jesus. Sacrifices, the priesthood, the temple, all of these are explicitly discussed as no longer necessary because the Lamb of God, who is what all of these things pointed forward to, has come to take away the sins of the world. But the eternal Sabbath is not here yet.
5. And so, rather than having ended the Sabbath Command, the coming of Jesus has ENHANCED the Sabbath Command. Because Jesus has completed His victory over sin and the devil, and has gained for us the ‘rest’ of salvation by rising, victoriously, on Sunday, NT believers have a day where they may celebrate His victory and rehearse for or practice for or prepare for the eternal rest that awaits us. While Sunday has its origins in God’s creation rest, through Christ, we look forward to the greater rest of the new creation! As a gift of grace, God gives to His people one day as a foretaste of our heavenly rest.
III. And this brings us lastly, and briefly, to the FOURTH COMMANDMENT LESSON in this heavenly hope.
A. V11 says, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”
1. I have called this sermon, “the Lord’s Day as Rest-Rehearsal.” If you have even been a part of a school play or a production or a concert, like some of us were two Christmases ago, you will know how important it is to rehearse. This is necessary because we need to memorise words or lyrics and we can easily forget our cues and positions and lines, etc. But it also builds up the anticipation of the actual event! Well, God has given us the Lord’s Day as a weekly rehearsal of heaven.
2. The Lord’s Day creates space so that we can be reminded that we rest in the finished work of Christ. We can gather together with the Lord’s people to hear His law and confess our sins together and receive the assurance that our sins are forgiven in Christ and to hear the Gospel preached to us again and again and again.
3. And as we put down the tools and pencils and aprons and computers and balance sheets and sporting equipment of our daily work and entertainments, our focus is turned away from our work and our recreation to God’s eternal, uncontested sovereign rule.
4. And we are reminded that one day our work and our worship will be free of the struggle against sin and toil and wearisome effort.
May God keep us, then, from ever seeing this day as a burden. Instead, paraphrasing the words of Isaiah 58, As we keep our feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as we please on the Lord’s holy day, and if we call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honourable, and if we honour it by not going our own way and not doing as we please or speaking idle words, we will find our joy in the LORD, and He will cause us to ride on the heights of heaven and to feast on the salvation rest that is ours in Jesus Christ. Amen.