In the previous lesson we see that he gave them a stringent warning from this Psalm. Now, he continues in a positive manner by encouraging them to realize God calls us to enter a glorious rest.
This is the follow-up to what he has previously said based on Psalm 95. It is still part of his exhortation to these believers to avoid becoming like their fathers who died in the wilderness.
Chapter 4 opens with the word “therefore”, which links it to the previous chapter. Psalm 95 called God’s people to enter his rest, even though a previous generation never entered it. Now, he strongly exhorts them not to fall short of it, since the promise is now extended to us through Messiah’s finished work.
A question naturally arises: “How can God still call us to rest after so many years?” The answer can be found in Psalm 95 which the author now expounds. Centuries after Israel had entered Canaan, David writes this psalm that speaks of a rest that still remains. To grasp that, we should remember that God referred to the land of Canaan as the place of rest. Why did He call it the place of rest? For one, they were now able to unpack their suitcases and remain permanently in the land. That means a lot when you’ve journeyed for forty years with no rest.
But more than that, God referred to it as the place of rest in that they would not have to labor for what they would receive since it was already done for them (‘houses you didn’t build and vineyards you didn’t plant’). That shouldn’t be strange to them since it is exactly what man had in the Garden of Eden. Moses tells us in Genesis that, after six days of creating, God rested from his work. That should not be understood to mean that after working so hard, God was tired and in need of rest. Rather, we should think of it in terms of what an artist does who has been working on a masterpiece. When he has completed his work, he steps back to luxuriate in his completed masterpiece by entering into it. In the same way, God, after creating his masterpiece over six days, entered into the seventh day by giving his presence to that day in a special way.
That God had called human beings to enter his rest may be realized by remembering the fact that they were created on the sixth day. That means that mankind’s first full day was the seventh, the day of rest. By this, we learn that Adam and Eve were created to receive the Father’s finished work. All the work had already been done and now the first couple were invited to enjoy all that God had created.
But sin entered the Garden, disturbing man’s rest. The woman was lured into believing that she could only find fulfillment by breaking her dependency on God. As a result, human life was catapulted into strife and fear, leading to pain and death. We have come a long way from the Garden and its delights.
But that the Garden and Canaan land were not the ultimate place of rest can be seen by the fact that after so many centuries, God offers another rest in this Psalm. He can’t be talking about Israel’s inheritance in Canaan since they were already living in the land. Rather, he speaks of another day called ‘today’. If Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken of another day. But he speaks of another today which offers another rest for the people of God. The author sums it up by saying “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”
So certain there remains such a rest the author clearly defines it: “Everyone who enters God’s rest ceases from his own work, as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:10). Here, God’s rest is defined as ‘ceasing from one’s own works as God did from his.’ This ‘ceasing from our own works’ is a repudiation of our own works as the means of our salvation and believing that another has finished the work for us. Jesus on the cross uttered the words “it is finished.” It means that every aspect of what was needed to accomplish eternal redemption has been completed by Christ.
That is why rest should now characterize our life with God. What does that mean? We should start by first looking at Jesus. His whole life on earth was lived in complete dependence on His Father. Reading the four Gospels, we learn that He did much of his work on the Sabbath. Why? In order to demonstrate what the Sabbath really meant. When criticized for working on the Sabbath He simply stated, “My Father works until now and I work,” (John 5:17). He was at total rest with His Father and now calls us to the same rest. We are to live like the one who said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-30).
We really begin to learn that it is like Adam in the Garden and Israel of old; everything has already been accomplished for us. We simply receive what God has already done on our behalf.
The Christian life is not characterized by the word doing but by the word done. He has already done it all and we must receive it by faith. As a friend of mine says: “When we work, God rests; when God works, we rest.”