THE REST FOR PEOPLE OF GOD
Hebrews 4: 9
Rev. A. Stehouwer
(October 14, 2001)
Psalter: 256: 1, 2, 3, 5
Scripture: Hebrews 4
Text: Hebrews 4: 9
Psalter: 290: 3, 4, 5
Sermon: The Rest For People of God
Points: 1. The Promise and 2. The Exhortation
Psalter: 32: 4
Psalter: 163: 2, 3
Doxology: 290: 1
THE REST FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Beloved congregation, as you can see, the text is taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews. That is not an easy letter. Perhaps most of us will remember, Chapter 11. There you read again and again, “by faith, by faith, by faith.” And you see there that it speaks of faith in its strength and in its endurance. If you look at the people whose names are mentioned there, they are all different people who lived at different times and in different places. And what is now the one thing that they have in common? Very simply, they lived and died IN faith. When God’s spirit renews our hearts, He grants us the gift of faith. Therefore, older people, younger ones, do you by the grace of God live by faith or do you live without faith? We have read from the epistle, “take heed, take heed!” Look at those people who lived without faith. They perished forever.
Now we come to chapter 4 and I don’t know if you have noticed it but in the first 11 verses, the word “rest” is mentioned more than 9 times. Times were rushed and people were restless then, and we all know it is even much more so, today! What do you need? Old and young need “rest.” True rest! The very first verse already speaks of the rest promised by God. The language and the context show us that the same promise is still true, today. It is underlined by the verses 3 and following. The Lord speaks of it as “My rest.” And in the rest, which Christ obtained, God causes us, by His grace, to share in it! But congregation, there is the warning not to fall short and the exhortation of striving, of laboring to enter into the rest!
So, we come to the text. It speaks of “The rest for the people of God.” “Let me behold thy peoples good and in their joy rejoice.” “The rest for the people of God:” (1) The promise and (2) The exhortation. It says very simply, “There remaineth therefore a “rest” unto the people of God.” The text stresses to us that it remains, it endures and makes all that is passing away of no value. When you look at life, does it not often remind you of dry sand slipping through your fingers? And so, the text clearly points to the future. We have in the text a wonderful promise of God to His church. Now the word “rest,” in our translation, is the same as in the other verses. But it is pointed out, in the margin of your Bible, that in the text another word is used in the Greek. Literally it says, “There remaineth therefore “a people of God.” The margin also speaks about keeping the Sabbath. Now in both the margin and the original Greek, there is just the word, the well-known word, “Sabbath,” and not just a Sunday or a Sabbath day, but the eternal and the perfect day of the “Sabbath.” That is the message that awaits and that comes for ALL the people of God. The other word that is used in the Greek, has the meaning of a pause or you can also say a break. You all know, when you work, you have a coffee break and your lunch hour is longer, a longer break…..a pause. And children, at school, when you go to school again tomorrow, you have certain breaks and certain rest periods and after that the work comes again. Now, the Lord also gives us a pause on His day but the real goal is that perfect and eternal Sabbath. God’s work of creation that the apostle speaks of, was VERY good but it was only the BEGINNING. Always remember, “in the beginning GOD……..” And the beginning is just like the blossoms in the spring time. You know how beautiful the blossom time can be. You don’t have a fruit tree because of the blossoms!!! You have fruit tree because of the fruit!!!! And so the line is drawn here, from the beginning to the very end of time.
And now, what remains amidst all that is going away? That is this “rest”…..the “perfect rest” of the Sabbath. The apostle writes these words to the Christian Hebrews (these were Jews and people who from the Gentiles had joined to Judaism), and from the context it is clear……..here are Hebrews that are familiar with the Old Testament and all that took place within the Temple before it was destroyed in the year 70, after Christ. Through the preaching of the Gospel, these people had come to conversion and to faith. Then you can see, congregation, the power and the grace of God, in renewing these people from within and that fact should be stressed!! We do not need a different coat on…….but we must be renewed from within. The Lord says, “I will give you a new heart.” Boys and girls, how do you know you have a new heart? How do you know that? Well you see, the Lord says, “I will give My Spirit within you and I will make you to walk in MY ways and serve ME with gladness.” Therefore, we must also stress that in the preaching.
According to chapter 10, these Hebrew Christians were suffering hardships and persecution for the name and the sake of Christ Jesus. They were bereft and “they were spoiled of their goods.” (Hebrews 10: 34) Their possessions were confiscated!! Under these difficult, external circumstances they showed the signs of spiritual decline. Isn’t that what we see here in this land also? No, the flame has not gone out…but it smolders under the ashes. The apostle encourages these people, he instructs them and he warns them. This letter is often said to be a sermon written in prison. If you look at the end of the chapter, there you see that the man who wrote it was in prison. What is these people’s experience? That experience was foretold by the Lord Jesus! What will you experience in this world? In this world, you will have tribulation! Yes, but you may say, “we are not spoiled of our goods!” No, and thank GOD for it! But how is it when you are a Bible believing Christian? Do people not MOCK and do people not ABUSE the name the GOD and the name of CHRIST? And are not “those things”….., the most precious to the believing heart? Are “those things” not often ridiculed in the world today? You see, tribulation has many forms. Now, central in this letter is Christ Jesus the Son of God. The apostle makes it clear here: “All God’s promises and the entire Old Testament….they all find their fulfillment in Christ Jesus. And so God’s work, in Christ, is complete. And that is now being stressed by the repeated word “rest.”
Then the apostle reminds the Hebrews of the promise God gave to the people of Israel. “The Promised Land was going to be the land of “rest.” And see, the Lord delivered that people out of Egypt, with a mighty hand. He led them to the promised land by means of the hand of Moses and Aaron. That was the purpose of God. His great goal was to bring them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. When you look at chapter 4 and also at Chapter 3, you see that many of the Israelites where not able to enter into the “Promised Rest.” Why was that, congregation? Why did so many at that time, not enter the “promised rest?” In chapter 3 and chapter 4 of Hebrews, two words are mentioned. First, “unbelief.” The second, “disobedience.” These two words characterize Christianity in that 1st century and that is what also characterizes our time. What do you find in the different churches? Disobedience and unbelief and THAT is the reason for not sharing in the promise: the eternal rest of the Sabbath. The Israelites were delivered out of Egypt, were in the wilderness on their way to the “promised land” and then they wanted to go back to Egypt. They said, “there we had enough to eat.” They forgot there was also the slavery and the hardships. They wanted to kill Moses and they wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb. In their bitterness and in their unbelief, they had NO trust in the promise of the Lord.
The apostles warns the Hebrews that the people could not enter into the “promised land,” the land of rest, because of “unbelief.” That same warning applies in connection with the promised “eternal rest.” Canaan, you know, was a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey but it was not the NEW earth. The people of Israel showed again and again, when they were there, that they were a sinful and an unfaithful people. What did they do? Instead of serving the Lord with their whole heart they gave their hearts to the idols! There were conflicts and many wars. The whole Old Testament is full of it. In chapter 4 and also in chapter 3, the apostles recites, Psalm 95: a Psalm of David, we also sang from Psalm 95 at the beginning of this service. Here in chapter 3 it says, “wherefore, as the Holy Ghost says, Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart.” It is not the minister, congregation, but it is the Holy Spirit Himself who spoke so many years ago and who speaks even today. “Today if you will hear it, My voice, harden not your heart!” That is the earnest plea of the Spirit here in these verses. We should LABOR. We should strive with all that is in us to enter into that “rest.”
The apostle speaks in the same spirit. He instructs and he exhorts these Hebrews who are in danger of lagging begin. Then, we read these words, “let us labor.” We know we are saved by grace but at the same time we have our responsibility!! Let us now LABOR that we may enter into that rest. Spiritual decline is evident in every age; also among us it is a very dangerous thing. I visit many people. Some have artificial flowers and real flowers. I always pretend to be a bit ignorant. Then they say, “smell the difference for there is a difference. Oh, they say, “pastor, these need water and these don’t.” Can you see the similarity? A dried out plant thirsts!! And so it is with the Christian. Do you have a thirsting soul? Do you have a hungry soul? Then you would say, “Oh, that I may enter into that rest. Lord, give me the strength to “labor” that I may enter in!” Why does the apostle, in the text, use that word for the “eternal Sabbath? Well, very simply, he is pointing to creation, to the word of the Lord, that he “rested” from all His works. In the Hebrew, there you find the word “Sabbath.” On that day, God rested from the work. He had reached His goal! Then as He was resting and overlooking all that He had made, including man, you hear Him say, “Behold, it is very good.” Like wise on the Sabbath day, the Lord looked at His works and He delighted in them.
Congregation, do we delight in the Sabbath day? Have we ever, old or young, experienced something of the “eternal rest” on Sunday? There was a man in Holland, who is now with the Lord. He use to say to his wife, in the middle of the week, “mother, I smell the Lord’s day again.” You see… that is what his heart yearned for. That is characteristic of the Christian! If that is different in your life, then you must humbly confess it to the Lord. For even Christians need to be exhorted and they need to be aroused from their slumbers….that they would seek the true “rest” of the Lord. What happened when God had finished creating and rested? Then came the restlessness because of sin. Adam and Eve;…., what did they do? They ran away, they tried to hide themselves from God and from one another. Boys and girls, you remember that don’t you? I am glad that you are in church but do you ever do what your parents and God forbid? What happens then? When you do what you are forbidden you become “restless.” And Adam and Eve, after they sinned, they became “restless.” Then you see the development of sin. God came as a judgment with the flood. Everything was covered by water. But Noah and his people found safety and “rest” in the ark. That was not the end. Then God goes on! You see, God goes on! He called Abraham! He formed Israel! And so He is working that people shall come into the “promised rest.” There is the image, I would say, of Canaan as an emblem of the heavenly rest that is waiting for us.
How can we enter into that rest? In the first verse Christ Jesus foretold the whole epistle: He has done the work of God by GIVING HIMSELF as a sacrifice and saving His people from their sin. He has made atonement for their sin by His finished work on the cross and so He had reconciled them to God. Therefore, the apostle can say, “we have peace with God; “rest” in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ!” This wonderful rest that remains is the fruit of Christ’s finished work and the work of His Spirit. He has obtained it and through that work of the Spirit, in us, He causes us to share in it also. Then you begin to look and you begin to long for the true “Sabbath rest.” Sometimes I say, “I am not weary of life but I am weary of sin and all the imperfections.”
You see, the rest of which the text speaks, it is the “eternal rest of the Sabbath.” And so when God rested, on His first Sabbath, the line is drawn unto the “eternal Sabbath.” And one day that will become reality. God prepared, in Christ Jesus, REST, for His restless people (by nature), resting in the Lord. This “rest” is the great goal to which the Lord has been, and is still working. The beginning of it is, by grace already experienced in this life. By the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, we learn to know God and to rest in the finished work of Christ. You see, only in communion with God, is there the true rest. Not apart from God and not apart from Christ in the Spirit but IN God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit. “Rest” in the Lord!! Then conscience no longer accuses and so we begin to experience this “rest” which remains. Do you ever marvel, congregation, when you think of what the Lord has prepared, in and through Christ Jesus, for all His own? And that He will cause you to share in it! The “rest” for the people of God.
And what is now the “rest” in Heaven? The older ones and the younger ones should know! It is delighting in God. That is your own heart delighting in God! Serving God with your whole heart. Giving Him the praise and the glory! Do you know why God created you? Was it to live you own life? He created you to live in communion with Him, to praise and serve Him! And the end will be that God shall be all in all! Think of it, here on earth so many things come in between. But THEN, nothing will come in between anymore. While we are here on earth, the cares and all the things of life so easily come in between God and the soul. At times God’s people may experience it in church. I have preached in different churches and sometimes people would say, “Pastor, we would have liked to stay there.” Here we experience the beginning of that “rest.” You may look forward to the “eternal rest.” Do you ever say at night “Lord, thou art everything for me?” What precious moments they are. You would like to cling onto them but it is not possible. Life goes on and the things of life. Tomorrow you will be standing in the middle of the many things again. So we must confess that we are still in this world and that there is still the brokenness, because of sin, in your heart. “Oh,” you pray, “Lord, unite my heart to the fear of Thy name,” but that heart so often goes in many directions. Then you must say, “Oh, Lord, unite my heart. Make me that I may love Thee and that I may serve Thee with all my heart.”
This past week, my wife and I visited an elderly woman of the congregation. She spends her days in a chair, dependant for everything. When the Lord goes such ways with you, then it is not so easy to say Amen. But then we may, even in the midst of such circumstance, consider what is awaiting us. And therefore, congregation, let us not be influenced by what is still against us. There are the cares and the needs. There are the sufferings for the name, for the sake, and for the cause of Christ! But….there is this rest! You come to church to worship the Lord and you come to church to HEAR and to BELIEVE that which remains, and that which ENDURES, even death and the grave. That is the “eternal rest” of the Sabbath. At the completion of God’s work, think of it beloved people, the devil will gone. For he will be bound and cast into Hell; the place that burneth with fire and brimstone. There will be NO more SINS, NO more sorrow and NO more suffering and God with His fatherly hand shall wipe away ALL tears out of the eyes of His people. There will be no more riddles. But God and Christ…..they shall be all for you.
Perhaps you are saying, “OK pastor, now say Amen.” No! No! I have spoken about the “rest” that remains and will be for the people of God. Who are the people of God? When I studied at Calvin, some years ago, the common view there was; ”the people of God are all the confessing members and baptized members of the covenant.” They say it in a general way. We also have the Evangelicals and they say, “I have accepted Christ and now I belong to the people of God.” And the children, sadly enough, are left out. Then there is, what I will call, the narrow view. These people say, well here in Grand Rapids, there are only a few people of God. They can speak of it. Now, I mentioned what the general views are within the churches today and I don’t agree with them. I agree with old John Owen when he said, “the people of God ARE the people that receive the PROMISE of God! And Owen draws the line, through I Corinthians 10, where Paul also does. All the people there in Egypt (some say over 3 million), they received the promise of God. And ALL have gone out of Egypt and ALL are under the cloud and ALL ate from that heavenly bread and they drank from that WONDERFUL water out of the rock and yet…..many of them could NOT enter in. And it was because of unbelief!
And so, congregation, what keeps you out? If there is anyone among us who will be lost it is NOT the Lord’s fault. It is because your OWN unbelief and disobedience!! God gives us the promises and as I said this morning, to our young people, what do you do with the promises of God? But I ask it also of the older ones! God gives us His promises but WHAT are we DOING with the promises? You say, “Lord, you have promised me a new heart!! Oh, give me that new heart!! Give Thy spirit within me! In and of myself I am unwilling, but make me heartily willing and ready!” You see, it is not enough that you have the promise in your pocket, like an agenda! NO!! The promise must be fulfilled and this promise must be known and experienced in our life AND it is by grace and grace alone. But…. we must ask the Lord….we must plead upon His promises….that He will do as He has promised! This is especially true within the church, notice, we don’t say it in the first place, in the world but we say it within the church as we read it here and also in chapter 3. “Today, if you will hear His voice.” And then the warning, “Many that could not enter, it was because of their unbelief.” And verse 1, “Let us fear.” Let us fear, congregation, that any one of us, old or young, shall fall short of it. We need the fulfillment of God’s promises, by His grace and Spirit.
Now, what do you know when you experience the promised “everlasting rest?” Well, you begin to see your sins and you see, especially, that sin of unbelief. You’ll find it in your heart!!…. ..you too, young people…..and that sin of disobedience to God, to your parents and to others. The restless in your own heart and life is very painful to discover, for God’s people. That in so many ways they do NOT readily seek Him. You see, belonging to the people of God is not on account of any merit in us! What did Jesus say to His disciples? “You have not chosen me but I have chosen you.” And that is the great miracle……in my lostness the Lord came and He saved me. He has begun that good work, congregation, and all these years He has gone on with that work. And in His grace and mercy, He regenerates sinners now also. Boys and girls, ask the Lord, “Lord, give me a new heart and give me a place among thy people.” We sang of it in Psalter 290, “Let me behold Thy people’s good.” The Lord is good for His people and He gives them what is good. “Let me behold Thy people’s good and in their joy rejoice.” So, there is nothing in us….but it is ALL in and through Christ Jesus. And what He has finished on the cross, He finishes also IN them. And so, Christ….and it is Christ alone. God’s promises are precious to every believing heart and that is what you learn. While life slips through your fingers like sand there remains, there abides and there it lasts forever….The “rest for the people of God.”
It is good to see you in church today! What do you seek in church? Older ones and younger ones? Is it the rest of the Sabbath? Oh, do you say, “the pastor spoke and I was moved to tears, but it is going away again?” It is sad to say but your emotions can be touched on Sunday and during the week you again go your own way. Or, when you come to church, do you seek the “rest” that is promised, the “rest” that remains? Then you come to church with your sins, your sorrows, your needs, and your questions. You come with your grief, with your pains and it is here that the Lord brings you to “rest” in principle. And that afterwards you may share in the “eternal rest of the Sabbath.” That is the first promise of God. “The Rest for the people of God.” It is promised to you and it will be something, congregation, if some people here will stand outside, “Lord, Lord, Lord, open unto to me!!!” And He will say, “You cannot enter because of two things…!!.” Wait….do you still remember it? “Your unbelief and your disobedience.”
And then you get the exhortation. The promise points to the future. The exhortation is clearly for the present. Today…….oh, congregation, today if you will HEAR His voice harden not your hearts! God gives you the precious promise of the rest that remains. PRAY and PLEAD with the Lord that He, also in your life, will fulfill His promise! The exhortation is in connection with the “eternal rest.” Let us not sit with our arms together and wait BUT let us LABOR, let us STRIVE to enter into that “rest.” As I said, it is the Holy Spirit who entreats us here. The Spirit of Christ and the living God! My dear people, I PRAY you……I PLEAD with you……DO NOT GREIVE THE SPIRIT…..DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEART… but listen and come to the Lord with all that is in your life. And ALL who hear His voice…….what will they do? They will repent of their unbelief and of their disobedience. That is what the apostle means in II Corinthians 12….about the “Godly sorrow that works repentance, never to be repented of.” Is the sorrow after God’s will…after His intention? If in that sorrow there is the brokenness of heart then you will take it to heart. Then you will say, “no, it was not the minister but it was the Spirit of the living God who said to me…Harden not your heart and that your soul may come to the Lord.”
Oh, congregation, I don’t know if you understand, but when I preach, and I look around in church I say, “it will be something to have been under the preaching and to be lost BECAUSE of your OWN folly! God’s way leads to the everlasting rest of heaven! And our way……you say, “well never mind pastor….I will go my own way and I will do my own thing.” Well, your own way leads to everlasting death. It is most blessed to belong to the people of God but I can tell what it shall be, through your own fault, to be lost forever….in spite of all God’s dealing with you. Therefore, hear His voice today and repent. What we have here in the text, you will find the echo of it in the catechism when it speaks about the fourth commandment……Remember the Sabbath Day….. the catechism states that “all the days of my life I may rest from my evil works, yield myself to the Lord to work, by His Holy Spirit in me, and begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.” Resting from my evil works! Fighting against them and through the work of the Holy Spirit….that the Lord will work in us. You see, then we begin, in this life, the “eternal Sabbath.” Then you understand as you heard this morning about Jacob. All those dealings with him that weren’t right, they had to be put out of the way. You see, for true fellowship, true communion with God there can be nothing in between us! And so the Lord is working with us and He is guiding to lead us to the “rest that remains for the people of God.”
Congregation, do you now understand the importance of the Sunday….of the Sabbath? You expect that the minister comes and is prepared, right? Now a minister should prepare himself but do you as a congregation prepare yourself? Let me ask, “how did you spend last week?” What did you do Saturday? Perhaps visiting (and there is nothing wrong with that) late in the evening and then in the morning you have to rush to get to church on time. Young people, good to see you in church! Where were you last night? You see, the fields of the farmers have to be prepared to receive the seed….but our souls must be prepared too! We learn from the text, every Sabbath should be a prophesy of the coming “eternal Sabbath”….the complete rest of the Lord. Now, do we look for it? Do we long it? Do you ever sing in your heart “when I in righteousness at last, His glorious face shall see. When all the weary night is past and I awake with Thee. To view the glories that abide. Then…., then I shall be satisfied.”
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