Thursday, December 13, 2012


“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11)

The author of Hebrews makes reference to another paradoxical Kingdom concept in this passage when he says that we who have received the promise of God and heard the Good News of the Gospel need to work as hard as we can at entering into God’s rest.

At first blush, it seems strange to emphasize the need to work hard, or to “strive” (as some translations render this word), in order to receive God’s promised Sabbath rest. But, from a Kingdom standpoint it really does make sense. Let me try to explain.

This specific verse comes after a series of thoughts that originate in chapter 3 about how the sins of disbelief and disobedience keep us from entering into God’s promised rest. But there are two additional concepts that the author introduces in chapter 4. One is that we need to rest from our own works, (as God rested from His works on the seventh day), and that we should rest in His finished work (which was accomplished by Christ as our Messiah upon the cross). Or, as he says:

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:9-1)

So, there are probably about three kinds of rest being discussed here; the rest of God on the seventh day of creation, the rest from our own works to achieve salvation, and the rest that is accomplished by Christ for those who place their trust in Him. Or, if you will, for those who are resting in His finished work upon the cross.

So, why is it that we are encouraged in verse 11 to “make every effort to enter that rest” if the whole point is to rest from our own works and to enter into the Sabbath rest of God?

Perhaps what the writer is trying to tell us is that it’s hard work to remain in this place of resting on God’s finished work. Most of us are very accustomed to doing stuff for God. It’s very difficult for us not to define our Christianity by all the things we do for God, i.e. - “Didn’t we cast out demons in your name?”, etc.

When Jesus went to the home of Martha and started to teach his disciples, Martha’s sister Mary famously stayed in the living room with the men and sat at the feet of Jesus instead of helping out in the kitchen. When Martha eventually complained about this, Jesus responded by saying that Mary had chosen the best and most necessary thing by sitting at his feet and listening.

Now, taking this passage in Hebrews into consideration we can see that Mary was working very hard to remain at the feet of Jesus. Think about how difficult it was to stay there with Jesus when she knew that a woman’s place (especially in that male dominated Jewish culture) was in the kitchen. Imagine how hard it was to ignore the clash of dishes and the exasperated sighs of frustration coming from her sister in the next room? When you reflect on all of these factors, you can see how hard it was for Mary to strive to remain at rest near the feet of Jesus rather than to get up and go to work in the kitchen with her sister Martha.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

So, while we need to rest in the finished work of Jesus, we also need to strive to resist the temptation to work for things that are already accomplished for us by Christ.

As if that weren’t hard enough, (or perhaps it’s simple, depending on your perspective), the writer of Hebrews ties all of this together with the concepts of being obedient to Christ and how putting our faith into action is part of what qualifies us to receive this promised rest. At the beginning of chapter 4 he begins by saying:

“For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest…” (v.2-3)

And he concludes in verse 6 that:

“…those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience…”

So, to put it all together, we should obey the Lord Jesus (which sounds like working, I know) in order to enter the Sabbath rest of God which is all about giving up on our efforts and work in order to rest in Christ and His finished work.

Got it? Probably not.

See, I believe this is actually a seemingly paradoxical Kingdom principle, one where we obey Jesus by resting in His indwelling presence, and we enter into His rest by resting in Him. Or, to flip it around, we do not make the mistake of working hard to gain something that Jesus has already given to us.

It’s disobedient for us to continue working for God’s approval or favor when He’s already declared it finished. We don’t keep trying to drive nails into a house that’s finished. We don’t keep trying to paint a masterpiece once it’s hanging in the gallery. That’s foolishness, and it’s technically vandalism.

We need to trust that Jesus really does love us, and that He really does live within us, and that we have already received the promised rest because of what was done before we ever even knew His name.

What’s really hard work for most of us is to hang on to that perspective and not allow anyone to take it away from us. We are already loved. We are already filled with God’s presence. We are already the children of God. We are already resting in the finished work of Christ.

Let’s rest in Him and take upon ourselves that easy yoke and that light burden that is offered to those who trust in Him. Let’s remember that without Him we can do nothing.


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