New Testament Rest
Introduction: Why a Series on Rest?
Last week we opened our annual Advent series. I gave a few reasons for why we chose the theme of “REST” for Advent. First, our Advent series is not some pretentious hipster thing or an attempt to be different just to be different. We are spending this Christmas season deeply exploring one phrase in Luke 2.14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Second, we are the people with whom God is pleased, so we need to consider what it means for us to be a people of rest in the present age. Third, in our western American culture we are surrounded by people who have no idea how to rest before God. We have systems, structures, employers, spouses, and so much more that are asking us to forsake God’s helpful mandate to take time to enjoy the rest He is offering us. And we believe them. We believe we don’t need rest, so we just keep going and going. We adopt the worldview of our taskmasters.
We are breaking the series into 2 parts. First, what does the Bible say about rest and why it is important? Second, what does it look like to rest? Last week looked at OT rest, so this week we want to look at NT REST. I think we can summarize what the NT says about REST in this way…
Theme: NT rest is about maintaining the relationship between belief & behavior.
1. The Warning Against Unbelief—Hebrews 3.7-19
In order to understand our passage today we need to understand some larger dynamics related to the book of Hebrews. The writer is anonymous, but the audience is not. The author is writing to a group of Hebrew Christians. The purpose is to help them “to put the whole thing together.” The author wants the readers to able to connect the OT and NT. We can see this in the opening statements of this letter—READ Hebrews 1.1-2. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is fulfillment of what Israel was supposed to be. Therefore, the goal of the author is to demonstrate to his readers how Jesus fulfills all the promises, concepts, ideas, leaders, and anything else in the OT. The particular section we are examining today is seeking to demonstrate Jesus is the better Moses and fulfillment of the Promised Land. In Hebrews 3.3 he tells us Jesus is “worthy of more glory than Moses.” Jesus accomplished something Moses (or any other OT prophet) could not. In order to show us this he quotes Psalm 95.7-11—READ Hebrews 3.7-11.
Our author comments on the Psalm to help us understand how it relates to us. But to understand his train of thought we need to get a bit about Psalm 95. Psalms serves as one author puts it, “a literary Temple.” The Temple is an OT symbol of God’s presence—a place where God dwells among His people. That image should remind an OT reader of the Tabernacle, which was a tent that traveled where the Hebrews traveled during he wilderness wanderings. The image also reminds us of the Garden of Eden where our first parents lived in a land with God. Psalms is broken up into 5 books like the Torah. The first 2 books show us the complicated history David and his royal line. Book 3 focuses on the tragedy of the Exile and loss of the Temple, which meant it feels like God’s presence is not among His people. Books 4 & 5 rekindle the reader’s hope for a future Davidic Messiah King and the New Temple, which in turns means God’s people are experiencing a closeness to God. Psalm 95 is in book 4, so the purpose this passage is to rekindle its readers desire for the Davidic Messiah King and His New Temple.
The way the author of Psalms does that is through reminding his audience about what took place in the wilderness wanderings during the time of Moses. Psalm 95 is particularly talking about what took place in Numbers 13-14. What happened there was the 12 spies were sent into the scout the Promised Land, and 10 spies claiming there is no way we can take the Promised Land. These 10 men came back proclaiming UNBELIEF, and the people embrace their unbelief. Only a few BELIEVED. But those who embraced unbelief wanted to go back to Egypt. They were rejecting God’s rest, and would rather go back to a life of torment and cruel taskmasters. The Promised Land was a symbol of God’s rest (Deut 12.9-10). The Promised Land was supposed to be place where God’s people could rest could REST—a place where God’s presence could dwell among them. But right when they were about to enter they rebelled.
Therefore, this quotation serves a warning to readers in Hebrews—READ Hebrews 3.12-19. The author wants to warn us UNBELIEF is the cause of our rebellious ways. Unbelief is the root of the fruits of disobedience. Martin Luther once said, “under every behavioral sin is the sin of idolatry, and under every act of idolatry is a disbelief in the gospel.” The writer of Hebrews, Martin Luther, and many others all know the source of many of our problems is dew to our habit of unbelief. The primary problem preventing us from entering God’s rest is unbelief.
2. Encouragement to Enter God’s Rest—Hebrews 4.1-13.
Now the author takes all this and brings it to bear on his present audience—READ Hebrews 4.1-2. He says we share the same “message” with the Hebrews who were wandering around in the wilderness. What is that message? God is still encouraging His people to enter His rest. But with that encouragement the writer is warning us our obedience reveals what they truly believe.
The writer of Hebrews builds this argument way. He reminds us that God’s REST was accomplished at Creation—READ Hebrews 4.4. God has been offering humanity “rest” from the beginning. The reason this is important is because the Hebrews were tempted to believe their rest was tied to the Promised Land or the Temple. But look what he says in verse 8—READ Hebrews 4.8. This is a way of saying if this was about Hebrews entering the Promised Land, then why did God says this was still coming after Joshua and the Israelites entered the Promised Land? The encouragement to enter God’s rest is not about a place, a time, a temple, or anything else. No rest is about God offering us Himself. And God is offering us Himself through His Son. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 11.28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” One chapter later in Matthew 12.8 he says, “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Sabbath rest is about a person—not a day, not a land, not a building.
3. What Now?
Just as we asked last week, “what do we do with all this?” I will give the same warning I did last week, the next 3 sermons will explore that in much more detail. But for now, we must not forget the author is reminding us of this story of Israel’s wilderness wanderings because he wants us to find our story in theirs. The message that was given to the Hebrews in the wilderness functions the same with us. And that message is, belief is always accompanied by behavior. We cannot forget the people in the OT professed BELIEF in God. But when push came to shove their professed beliefs were empty. The Hebrews were in the wilderness attached their “rest” to their circumstances—their food, their comfort, their success, and etc. We can attach our “rest” to the money in our bank account, our marital status, our career success, where we live, and so much more. These pursuits do not give us rest, but put us in a constant cycle of anxiety and stress.
When our belief and behavior do not match it bothers God. If we are honest it bothers us too. When someone says one thing, but then lives a different way we think they are fake. This is not merely an “OTHERS” problem. The view we have ourselves is TERRIBLY unreliable. If you want to know what you really “believe” then look at your behavior not your “stated beliefs.” Read the new covenant promises of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. Those promises tell us God will WRITE his law on our hearts, which means we should be living out His law. Rights belief should accompany right behavior.
Here is the irony of God’s rest—IT IS HARD WORK—READ Hebrews 4.11-13. There is a “striving” or “hard-work” in our pursuit of God’s rest. This is the resistance part friends. We will face pressure to conform to the sinful desires in us, and the sinful pressure around us. As God’s people we must resist those temptations and STRIVE to pursue God. We work with the Spirit of God we will experience glimpse of rest as move toward our heavenly eternal rest. Anyone who flourishes in their pursuits will tell you it is HARD WORK. Ask the person who is fit, the successful person in their career, the talent artist, or any other discipline and they will tell you it takes hard work. When we are striving toward God’s rest will face challenges. God allows those challenges to EXPOSE our true beliefs. Far too many people try to run from these things, ignore them, or medicate it with some mindless pursuit. When we face these challenges our behavior will tell us what we truly believe. Instead we should resist these temptations through faithful obedience. Dear friends, God is inviting us our trials to enter eternal rest through belief in Jesus Christ and faithful obedience. May we embrace Jesus Christ as the source of our eternal rest, and live in such a way that reflects that truth.