Captured And Captivated By Christ – Hebrews 4:1-13 – Rest for the People of God

Grace For The Journey


We are in a series of studies on the Book of Hebrews.  The Book of Hebrews is actually a letter, a letter written to Jewish Christians, to Hebrews, believers who had been raised in the Old Covenantal system.  Because of persecution for their newfound faith, many of them were tempted to go back to the old ways of thinking and abandon their Christianity for the old way of Judaism.  The writer is saying: “Do not do that!  Do not neglect this great salvation found in this great Person, Jesus Christ.” Jesus is better.  In chapters 1 and 2, the writer shows how Jesus is better than the prophets, better than the angels, and better than the law; in chapter 3 he shows how Jesus is better than Moses.

Much of chapters 3 and 4 is a sermon on Psalm 95.  Knowing that is immensely helpful to understanding Hebrews 3 and 4.  The writer of Hebrews is quoting word-for-word the second half of Psalm 95.  In fact, the very last word of Psalm 95 is the word “rest.”  It is like the writer of Hebrews has been meditating on that word “rest” (which is what you do, right, when you read the Word of God?  God gives you a verse, or a phrase, or a word and you begin to mediate upon it and it leads to all kinds of wonderful spiritual benefits). The writer of Hebrews, it seems, has been meditating upon the word “rest” in Psalm 95 and what comes out of this reflection is found in chapters 3 and 4.

The writer is using this illustration of the promised land in Canaan as a foreshadowing of a greater promised land in Christ.  That is helpful to remember throughout this passage. The promised land in Canaan is a foretaste of a greater promised land, a fuller promised land in Christ.

In essence, he is saying, “Look, do not be like the Israelites you read about in the first 5 books of the Old Testament.  Do not be like them when they failed to believe that God would provide for them and care for them and bless them by bringing them across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey – a place of abundance, a place of joy and peace, and rest, rest from all the bad stuff they had encountered and a rest in the provision and promises of God.”  What the writer does is he uses those who failed to enter into that rest of the Promised Land as a bad example to us.  You know we are all setting examples all the time, aren’t we?   We are either a good example for others or a bad example for others.  The disobedient, disbelieving Israelites were a bad example.  The writer is saying, “Do not follow their bad example.”  It cost them entrance into the Promised Land, a place of great rest from turmoil and strife.  They blew it.  They lost their chance.

The writer uses that Exodus event and the wilderness wandering of the Israelites back then as an example of what could happen spiritually to the Hebrews today.  The hearers of this letter, as they heard this letter being read to them 2000 years ago in the context of worship, the hearers were warned not to follow that bad example.  If they did not remain faithful to God and believe that He has provided for them everything they need, and every spiritual blessing through Christ Jesus, the writer says that they are no better than the Israelites of old, in fact, worse off, because the writer is talking about a fuller Promised Land, a fuller and complete rest, a rest in God’s promises; something to be enjoyed both now and in the future in heaven forever.  Failure to enter into this rest has horrible and eternal consequences, separation from God forever, and like dying in a spiritual wilderness.

If we can remember all of this, then our study will be fruitful.  If you could sum up this entire passage into one action phrase to which the writer calls all readers, it is: “Enter that rest.”

The message to the Hebrews is the same message to the all of us: “Enter that rest.”  What is this rest about which he speaks?  We all know something of the word rest.  Most of us know we do not get enough of it.  Most of us know what it is to be “restless.” There is a general restlessness pervasive in our culture.  In the midst of all our running around and rushing around we are a restless people.  We have even diagnosed some people with a peculiar kind of restlessness – I remember some years ago seeing a commercial to address those who have what is called “Restless Leg Syndrome.” You have this? Know anybody with it?  Some people are always moving their leg around in a never-ending motion of restless energy.   

Much of our need for rest arises from a culture that suggests work is the supreme good of all things.  Many people in our day work every day, never taking a day off.  In his book, 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, Dr. Matthew Sleeth argues for the importance of taking one day off – sound familiar?! (Exodus 20:9-10) – noting a link between overworking and depression.  Americans tend to work more hours than any other country in the world; Japan coming in second.  Citing a study of The World Health Organization, Sleeth reports that roughly 1 out of every 10 Americans is being treated for depression.

The writer of Hebrews writes about rest and in this passage he essentially gives us something to know, and something to do. Or, more pointedly . . .

Something to learn


Something to live.

That will be out guide through these verses . . .

I. Learn about God’s Rest – Verses 1-10.

These verses tells what the writer is teaching here about this word “rest.”  Recall that he has just said in the end of Chapter 3 that – because of the unfaithfulness of the Israelites in the Old Testament, because they refused to believe in God’s promises and provision – they died in the wilderness and were not able to enter the Promised Land. The writer, citing Psalm 95, quotes God as saying, “They shall not enter My rest.”  The writer concludes in verse 19, “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”  Verse 1, chapter 4 says, “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.”  This is the writer’s greater concern.  Just as there were those in the Old Testament who failed to enter the rest of the Promised Land because they did not believe, the writer says, “Now do not you be like them!  Do not you fail to go on believing and come short of entering the fuller, richer, Promised Land of God’s rest in Christ.”

Verse 2 states, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it (or not having faith, not believing).”  Did you know the Gospel is in the Old Testament? We usually think of the Gospel as a New Testament term, but the Gospel is in the Old Testament too, because the Bible is a unit – There is continuity from Old to New Testament.

The word Gospel means “Good News.”  And the Good News of the Gospel is largely that man is made right with God – or forgiven and justified – not by something he must do, but by someone he must believe, namely the One True and Living God, and His promises to us.  In the New Testament, we have a fuller revelation of the One True and Living God in the doctrine of the Trinity and especially in the eternal Son of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.  We know that the foundation of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose for us.

The Good News of the Gospel is always that which is received by faith.  Remember when the Apostle Paul was making his case for the doctrine of justification by faith in the letter to the Galatians?  Remember how he did that?  He went back to the Old Testament.  He went back to Father Abraham in Genesis 15.  And the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3 verses 6 and following writes about how “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.  The just shall live by their faith.”  Paul goes on to say in Galatians 3:8, “And the Scripture (from Genesis 15), foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’”

The writer says that the Gospel was preached to us as well as to the Israelites in in the wilderness, but, in verse 2 he says, “but the word which they heard did not profit them (fell on deaf ears).”  Here is a reminder to us that we must have, as our Lord Jesus says, “ears to hear” the proclamation of the Word of God.  Sometimes I pray, “Lord, help me preach or teach as never sure to preach another message or lesson.”  And I pray that those who are listening would hear the word as never sure to hear another message.  Give us spiritual ears, ears to hear.

God open your Word to us

And open us to Your word,

To hear it and receive it.

The word that went out to the Israelites did not profit them becasue they hardened their hearts. They would not believe.

Verse 3 says, “For we who have believed (we Christians) do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘So I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”  Verse 3 is a bit tricky.  To paraphrase, the writer is saying that the Promised Land is a picture, a foreshadowing of a greater rest in Christ.  The unbelieving, hard-hearted Israelites failed to enter into that picture of rest across the Jordan because they did not believe.  But that rest across the Jordan River was part and parcel of a greater rest promised by God – a rest that is available to all who believe in Him, a rest that has been available, and remains available to all who believe.

This greater rest in the Lord has been available since the Lord finished creating the world.  Look at the last part of verse 3, “… the works were finished from the foundation of the world,” and then verse 4, “For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works;’” (that is a quote from Genesis 2 and the 7th day, following the six days of creation, God rested.)

This rest the writer wants us to learn about, to examine, is a rest that has been around for a really long time.  Since the 7th day, following God’s creation.  This rest did not begin in Joshua’s time with the Israelites in the wilderness.

Their failure to enter into the Promised Land

Was a failure to enter into that which is part

Of a greater rest, a fuller rest, a resting

In all the promises, and providences,

And pleasures of the Lord.

The point of the writer is to stress that the geographical sense of the Promised Land is but a part of, a picture of, a greater Promised Land of true rest in Christ.  And that fuller, greater, rest has been available and remains available to all who will believe.

Verses 6 and 7 say, “Since therefore it remains that some must enter it (this rest remains available), and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He (God) designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.’”  The writer is saying, “This rest remains.  This true rest is still available to all who believe.”  God was not merely concerned with the Promised Land of Canaan. He has a greater rest in view.  That is why King David – who was alive some 500 years after Joshua – could speak of this same rest in Psalm 95.  

The writer explains more fully in verse 8, “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.”  The writer is pointing out that Joshua lived a long time before David.  If the rest is understood to be only that rest that the Israelites could receive by entering the Promised Land, then David would not have spoken of another day, some 500 years later; saying “Today,” you can enter this rest. David, the Psalms, were written some 500 years after Joshua.

We see that the writer of Hebrews has a fuller “rest” in view here, a better rest than the rest that awaited the Israelites in the Promised Land of Canaan.  Remember: Jesus is better – better than the prophets, better than the angels, better than the law, better than Moses, and now better than Joshua.  Jesus offers a better rest.

Before we move on, I do want to call attention to something the writer appeals to Psalm 95 again.  In chapter 3 and verse 7, the writer introduces Psalm 95 by writing, “Therefore as the Holy Spirit says,” and we talked about God’s being the ultimate author of Scripture.  Now in chapter 4, introducing Psalm 95 again, the writer this time writes in verse 7 of chapter 4, “again He designates a certain day, saying in David.”  Yesterday I asked the question, “Who wrote Psalm 95?”  Was it the Holy Spirit or David?  And I said the answer is, “Yes!”  Both. This is what is referred to as “the confluent nature of Scripture.”  God the Holy Spirit inspires, breathes His Word into and through human writers.  This is what Peter taught in 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  God moved through men to write His Word.  The Holy Spirit moved them, using their distinct backgrounds, personalities, and literary styles so that, ultimately, what God wanted written down was exactly what was written down.

With that reminder stated, let’s get back to today’s study.  The land of Canaan was a picture of a better rest to come.  The Promised Land across the Jordan was a foretaste, a foreshadow of a brighter land, a better land, a heavenly land found in Christ Jesus! That is why the writer says in verse 9, “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.”  Not a rest found merely in the geographical land of Canaan well over 3,000 years ago, but a fuller rest, a rest that remains, a rest that is eternal, a rest that lasts forever – a rest you can now enter into and begin enjoying something of it before it is more fully known and experienced in the ultimate fullest rest to come.

Verse 10 says, “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”  Those who enter into God’s rest really enjoy that rest!  I think there is also here a suggestion that we do nothing to merit this rest.  We cannot earn it.  We do not work our way into heaven.  We rest in the promises and pleasures and provision of rest in Christ.  We enjoy the rest that God the Father Himself enjoys.

This takes us to the second point. We have said there is something to learn and something to live.  Something to examine, something to enter.  Learn about God’s rest. Secondly . . .

II. Live in God’s Rest – Verses 11-13.

This is the writer’s main concern in verse 11, “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest (that fuller rest), lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.”  Remember the context: the Hebrews were undergoing problems and persecutions. They were tempted to go back to the Old Covenantal system of Levitical priests, the Law, the sacrifices – essentially going back to Judaism.  And the writer of Hebrews is saying: “No!  There’s no ‘rest’ in that!”  Do not be like the unbelieving, hard-hearted Israelites of old!  Do not fail to enter into the greater rest that is found in Christ, a fuller rest, a complete rest.  Do not ‘fall according to the same example of disobedience’ by failing to believe in the promises of God and settle for a world outside the Promised Land.”

Many people mistakenly seek rest in this world alone.  There is no real rest in this fallen, broken world apart from Christ.  Yet. so many people are seeking rest here.  Even the rest we enjoy here as Christians is but a glimpse of the greater rest to come.  What did Paul say in 1 Corinthians 15? “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:9).

Verse 12 declares, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  What is the connection of verse 12 to what precedes it?  When the Israelites heard God’s Word in the wilderness, they hardened their hearts.  They did not allow the Word of God to bring them into the Promised Land.  The writer has said more than once: “Today, if you hear His Word, do not harden your heart.”  The Israelites heard God’s Word and the Word examined the depths of their hearts, revealing what they needed to do – but they chose to ignore God’s Word.  They hardened their hearts to God’s Word.

Here is a reminder that . . .

When God speaks, His Word

Searches the depths of our hearts,

Examining our true thoughts,

Our true motives,

The intentions of our hearts.

And God uses His Word

To get into us, to search us,

To show us our sin.

Verse 13 says, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”  God’s Word exposes our unbelief, our pride, and our inner rebellion.  God’s Word cuts through every veneer of play acting or feigned agreement or tacit acceptance of what God says.  But God knows.  His Word cuts deeply.  His Word exposes our true feelings, our true thoughts, our true actions – in a word, our true sin.  We must hear and heed God’s Word.

This is why it is important . . .

To hear Gods Word, to read God’s Word,

With an attitude of humility and submission.  

The Bible exposes our true condition and

Calls for change for our good and for God’s glory.

It searches our hearts like a two-edged sword.

We may read a lot of books, but the Bible is a book that reads us.  It is God’s Word.  I want to talk more about that tomorrow.  Lord willing, tomorrow, we will look closer at verses 12 and 13, but for now . . .

Enter into God’s rest


Live In God’s Rest.

That really is the main point of the text.  The writer, preaching from Psalm 95, has one main point: Live in God’s rest.  Let us be diligent to enter that rest – the fuller rest found in the promises, pleasures, and provision of God, namely what He has provided us through Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Are you living in God’s rest?  Have you entered into it through faith in Christ?  Are you enjoying a foretaste of that rest now – a forecast of a greater rest to come in our future, final, heavenly rest?

When I read this passage as I began this study, I got to verse 9 and just stopped for a moment and I asked God to allowed His Word to speak to me and for God to allow me to get the full grasp of what verse 9 is saying, “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.”

If I were to memorize just one verse from this passage it would be verse 9, “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.”  There is a rest for God’s people – a rest from sickness, strife, and sin.  A rest for the people of God. Are you facing a difficult week?  There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.  Enter into that rest afresh and anew each and every day of your Christian life this week.  Regularly throughout the day – as it is ‘today.’  The Christian life is a life that is lived today.  There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.  Live in that rest.  Enter into it.

  • Do you have a rebellious child and you’ve been praying for that child day after day, night after night?  There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.  Enter into that rest. 
  • Are you battling a sin, a sin that so easily ensnares you?  There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.  Let go of that sin and take hold of Christ and enter into that rest found in Christ. 
  • Is the devil accusing you, telling you that you are too great a sinner to enjoy the promises, pleasures, and providences of God?  Well, there remains therefore a rest of the people of God.  Sink your sin into the wounded side of Christ and find rest in His work on your behalf.  Rest in what He has provided for you.

After all, it is Jesus who said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Rest in the Lord.

Be captured and

Captivated by Christ!

We have heard from God’s Word this morning.  And we hear the writer say, “Today, if you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your heart.”  One simple question for every one of us: Have you entered into the rest of Jesus Christ?  Are you living in Him and for Him?

If you’re a Christian, are you truly resting in Christ, finding joy and peace and life in Him?  It is awful easy to slip into worldly notions of rest – the worldly rest found in a sinful escape of some kind, worldly rest found in a recreational weekend, aspirations for some kind of worldly retirement where we focus on self.  True rest is found in Christ alone.  Stay with Christ this morning and enter into that true rest.

If you are not a believer, today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.  This rest we are talking about is a rest “for the people of God.”  Not everyone will enter into this rest.  Only believers.  The writer says, “For we who have believed do enter that rest.” That is something all of can and need to do – Believe.  Do not die in the spiritual wilderness.  Come to Christ and be saved.

I run to Christ when chased by fear
  And find a refuge sure.
“Believe in me,” His voice I hear;
  His words and wounds secure.
I run to Christ when torn by grief
  And find abundant peace.
“I too had tears,” He gently speaks;
  Thus joy and sorrow meet.

I run to Christ when worn by life
  And find my soul refreshed.
“Come unto Me,” He calls through strife;
  Fatigue gives way to rest.
I run to Christ when vexed by hell
  And find a mighty arm.
“The Devil flees,” the Scriptures tell;
  He roars, but cannot harm.

I run to Christ when stalked by sin
  And find a sure escape.
“Deliver me,” I cry to Him;
  Temptation yields to grace.
I run to Christ when plagued by shame
  And find my one defense.
“I bore God’s wrath,” He pleads my case—
  My Advocate and Friend.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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