July. Our apartment complex was on the summer tide – a constant ebb and flow of suitcases rolling up and down the concrete as families temporarily vacated for respite from the school years consuming rhythm of life. Nostalgia and expectation rode on the wheels of the worn baggage as parents and children reached for reprieve and retreat in whatever places their transport landed them.
More often than not, these destinations beckon rest from a place beyond their daily routines: a cozy cottage nestled up against a mountainside; a bright, broad beach resort; a lengthened drive across the country roads. It is as if a voice from the created world outside our cities seeps into our hearts and calls us past the gates into the wildness of forests, oceans, deserts, and mountains. We must step away, pack a bag, take a ride, make an effort – for it seems true respite is not within our daily reach.
Why do we go to all this trouble? Because, in so many ways, our lives depend upon it. It is as much a human need as eating and sleeping – to retreat, to revive, to reform. And we have learned that on the other side of the effort it takes to achieve such rest is a source of renewal that sustains us through the next season of daily work and routine. So we work, and we play, and this swing between the two becomes a part of our annual rhythms of life.
On the seventh day of the first week the world existed, God rested.
It is perhaps among the most confusing words in the Bible, if gazed upon from solely a human understanding. How can a God divine, omnipotent, rest? He whose work did not drain Him, rested. What did He rest from?
This ought to move us to recalibrate our understanding of rest. We rest because our work depletes us. He rested because His work was done. We rest because our own bodies demand it. He rested out of choice, a choice that was in and of itself a final act of creation: setting apart as holy an entire day dedicated to rest. Clearly there is something more He intended for us.
Rest is Life
Indeed, Hebrews 4:9 suggests as such: So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. And later, the author of Hebrews says, Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.
What is the rest being spoken of here? A rest we must strive to enter? We must scale back to the bigger picture of the epistle of Hebrews.
If we were to explore the entire context of these verses, we would see that God is not describing a vacation from work. Laden in these verses is the theme of disobedience, disbelief, and hardness of heart towards the promises of God. Listen to these verses from the chapter leading up to Hebrew’s exhortation to enter into God’s rest:
…but the message they heard did not benefit them because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest… (Hebrews 4:2-3)
…Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again He appoints a certain day, saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.’ (Hebrews 4:6-7)
…So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:9-11)
What rest is this author speaking of so mysteriously? It seems centrally related to belief and obedience. Let’s briefly explore this passage more deeply together.
Hebrews 4 Rest
It seems the key to understanding rest according to Hebrews 4 is in gazing upon the rest offered, yet unattained previously by the people of God.
For good news came to us just as to them…
Good news. They heard a message – and then they responded. What was the message? A promise of sustenance.
Hebrews 3:7-19 points us back to this key moment in Israel’s history – when God’s people received a promise that God would preserve their lives during their wilderness wandering: bread from heaven (manna), water from the rock, and the ability to meander through the dry barren desert for 40 years without their shoes wearing thin: sustaining of their lives in every way; rest.
Moses later suggests that this experience of miraculous provision is also imagery for the spiritual soul-sustenance God wants to provide for all His people. Deuteronomy 8:3 says, [God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
The entire point of God’s provision in the wilderness was to teach them that life comes from the mouth of God.
Which is why the author of Hebrews says that God’s people did not enter into God’s rest – because they rebelled against the words of life offered to them. They did not act in faith in what God had promised them.
They heard and yet rebelled (3:16). 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 (4:2).
How is it any different for us today? The author of Hebrews says as much – we too have good news given to us, and we must respond differently than God’s people so long ago. He urges us to strive to enter into that rest that comes from heeding the Words of Life that proceed from the mouth of God.
God’s rest is belief and obedience to His Words of Life.
An Exhortation For Us
Does this seem as foreign to you as it feels to me at times? We can interpret that foreignness in one of two ways: either we assume that the foreign feeling means it really isn’t true for us today. Or we assume that our own sinful selves have in their fallen state lost sight of the reality of God’s intent for us to find true rest and life in His Words.
I invite you to consider that the latter is true. If that is the case, its going to take some time to get past our initial response, and dig deep, to really plant this truth more deeply in our hears. Will you consider continuing to explore with me in this new series of posts, God’s life-shaking reality: that our greatest rest and life-giving sustenance comes from faith-filled heeding of God’s Words, His Words of Life.