Entering into GOD's Rest
A Call to Obedience
HEBREWS 5:8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.
It seems quite amazing that the Son of Almighty GOD learned obedience. Yeshua [Jesus] wasn't born obedient, He had to learn to be. He was born like each one of us was, and needed to learn the lessons of life. He had to learn to crawl, He had to learn to walk and talk and be quiet. He had to learn to read and reason and remember. He was born a helpless infant wanting only to be comforted in His mother's arms. He needed the years to teach Him the necessary lessons of life. Yeshua had to learn who He was. He had to learn what was His calling and purpose. He had to learn obedience.
Scripture gives us no indication that He ever set out to save the world. Yeshua didn't decide that one day He was going to feed the starving masses. He didn't imagine Himself leading to victory the armies of Israel as King David had done ten centuries before. Instead, He confined Himself to do just one thing, the will of GOD (HEBREWS 10:7). Saving the world, feeding the hungry masses and throwing off the intolerable Roman yoke from His people's necks would have actually been an easy task for the Son of GOD, but what was hard and next to impossible was restraining Himself. He had to learn obedience. He had to learn to be completely subjective unto GOD. He had to learn to be still. He had to learn to allow Himself to be abused, tortured, and crucified even when He had more than twelve legions of angels at His disposal. He had to learn to endure the cross. That is what made Him great! That is how He found GOD's rest. He learned the great secret of life, which is to cease from our own works. Not all works, but only from our own works. This is the narrow way that leads into GOD's rest.
The temptation is always to go our own way (ISAIAH 53:6). Howbeit, GOD's rest is found when we give up our own way for HIS. No man in all of history was so able to set aside His own will for that of the Father's as was Yeshua. "Not my will, but thine, be done" (LUKE 22:42) was His agonizing prayer just a few moments before His tortures began. He had learned total obedience to the will of GOD regardless of the personal consequences. He had learned total subservience to the will of GOD. He had learned to enter into GOD's rest.
And this is the lesson He would teach us, if we would learn it, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (MATTHEW 11:29). Probably the hardest thing in life for us to learn, is to set aside our own will for HIS. Entering GOD's rest is not a place where we kick back and enjoy the easy life, so to speak. It is not a Lazy-Boy recliner and a fine glass of wine. Entering into GOD's rest is giving up our fight with GOD. It is to finally be at peace with GOD. Have you ever watched an infant wrestle in his mother's arms, fighting not to go to sleep, or pushing away the bottle? That is what this is. It is to give up our fight against GOD. To finally let HIM have HIS will in our lives. To cease from sin. To be at peace with HIM. To enter HIS rest.
HEBREWS 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works....
The epistle of HEBREWS was written to Jewish Christians most likely just before the start of the great conflict with Rome which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Though not written specifically to us today, HEBREWS has volumes to teach us about faith, discipline, sin, repentance and entering into GOD's rest. Let us begin in chapter three.
HEBREWS 3:7 Wherefore as the Holy Ghost [Spirit] saith, To day if ye will hear his voice.
It was as the Holy Spirit had said. Many will try to tell us that it was David or Paul or some other ancient writer who first spoke these words, but scripture assures us that it was indeed the Holy Spirit. Man may write, man may speak, but it is GOD who originates. Thus we have here the words of GOD, the very instruction from the Creator of the Universe, and we are called upon to set up and listen, to clean out our ears, to pay attention, to consider and ponder.
HEBREWS 3:8-13 (Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
These Jewish Christians of the first Century were being warned of the subtle danger of becoming hard-hearted, as had happened to their forefathers in the wilderness journey many centuries before. For forty years many of Moses' followers had grieved GOD with their unbelief, and thus were denied entrance into the Promised Land. Now, the writer of HEBREWS is warning his readers that they also are likewise in danger of not being allowed to enter into another Promised Land. Like the forty years in the wilderness fifteen Centuries earlier, another forty years (between ACTS 1 and ACTS 28) was fast slipping away. As their forefathers had rejected GOD's servant Moses, they were now in danger of rejecting GOD's very Son, Yeshua. "Take heed" he wrote them, "lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God".
Having a hard-heart is when someone thinks that he is right while he is dead wrong. He is stiff-necked, hard-headed and refuses to take an honest inventory of his beliefs so as to consider whether or not he is thinking rightly. He may attend the weekly Service, he may even tithe and pray, but if he is not actively measuring what he preserves in his head with what GOD has preserved on the holy page, he is in danger of drifting away from the truth (HEBREWS 2:1, where "let them slip" could be better rendered as "drift away from them"). We need, indeed we require the scriptures of truth to teach, reprove and correct us in our journey through life. We must be willing, even eager to change our way of thinking when we see truth in a clearer light. Attempting to preserve the old traditions when we learn they are wrong is like the parable of putting new wine into the old wine skins. All is then lost, nothing is saved.
HEBREWS 3:17-19 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.... 4:1-2 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
"Unto us [Yeshua's followers] was the gospel preached, as well as unto them [Moses' followers]", but their hearing lacked faith. Therefore, the writer of HEBREWS warns his readers to be sure that their hearing is mixed with faith. We today also have had the gospel preached unto us. Let us make sure our hearing is mixed with faith, otherwise all the hearing is of no profit. We must get up from the hearing and apply what we have heard into our daily lives. When we hear that we are to love others as ourselves, that is what we do. When we hear that we are not to steal, or lie or covet, then we don't. Otherwise, if we refuse to change our lifestyle to shadow the instruction of scripture, then we are grieving GOD. All our religion is in vain if our hearing doesn't transform our doing. In other words, we must cease from sinning. Totally and unreservedly. Unbelief is nothing other than disobedience. If we fail to believe we are simply failing to obey (ROMANS 10:16). Unbelief and disobedience is sin. Howbeit, faith is obedience. Having our hearing mixed with faith, is simply believing that which we have heard, obeying what we have heard.
HEBREWS 4:9-12 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
There is a rest for the people of GOD, but it is a rest that is entered into only with labor. That almost seems like an oxymoron. How does one labor to enter into rest? This rest is not a rest of the body, but it is a rest of the soul. The soul is that part of man that works to accomplish his desires (see the study Body, Soul and Spirit). Our soul drives us to obtain either the desires of the flesh or the desires of the spirit. To cease from our own works is to quit spending every waking hour striving to obtain what the world is selling. To enter into GOD's rest is to pursue what the spirit offers. As we work at that, and cease from trying to accomplish all of our own goals and desires, we find GOD's rest. Thus, as the verse above reveals, the word of GOD divides between soul and spirit, which are the thoughts and intents of the heart. The spirit gives us the thoughts of the heart while the soul brings to pass the intents of the heart.
HEBREWS 4:15-16 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
This passage has been poorly translated to say something which the Holy Spirit never intended. A major thrust so far, and will continue to be throughout HEBREWS, is that they were not to sin, that they should cease from sinning. But then we come to this verse and read that because Yeshua was without sin, they could then come to the throne of grace, even with boldness. This is surely not the case. The only way they could come boldly to the throne of GOD is if they themselves were without sin. Most likely, the passage actually and accurately reads, that because Yeshua was in all points tempted like as they were, He could empathize with their situation, therefore, without sin let them come boldly to the throne of grace that they may obtain mercy and find grace to help. In the original Greek the passage reads without any punctuation, as we have rendered it below.
HEBREWS 4:15-16 For not have we a high priest not able to sympathize with our infirmities but has been tempted in all things according to [our] likeness apart from sin we should come therefore with boldness to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and grace may find for opportune help.
The question for us to consider is, what is the cause for their boldness? Why were they able to come boldly unto the throne of GOD? Is it because Yeshua was without sin, or is it because they themselves had quit sinning? Does the whole context of HEBREWS envelope us with the idea that they could sin but still be bold as they approached GOD's throne, or does this epistle repeatedly illustrate to us the devastating effects of sin and the requirement of GOD that they "sin no more"? Only by removing this verse from its context can we presume to think that they could lie, steal and cheat their brothers but still approach GOD's throne with boldness. Rather, the thrust of the epistle is leading up to the revelation that they were to be without sin if they were to boldly approach the throne of GOD. As we shall see below, in nearly every chapter of this epistle we read of the critical importance that they were to live without sin.
Already, in the second chapter we find a stiff warning.
HEBREWS 2:2-3 For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
Just as every transgression and disobedience received its due in the times of the Hebrew Bible, so those who reject what Yeshua commanded during the time of the Gospels and ACTS shall be held accountable. And what was it that He commanded? What was it He demanded of His followers? Repent! and sin no more. Yeshua never intimated that because He was Himself without sin, that therefore GOD would allow them to continue sinning. There is nothing in His teaching about His followers being allowed to continue in sin. He of course preached to and accepted sinners, but then He instructed them to "sin no more". This same principal is written here in HEBREWS; none shall escape accountability.
HEBREWS 3:12-13 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Again, there is nothing here about coming boldly to the throne of GOD as sinners. The thrust is that they were to take heed to avoid sin, because sin often caused their hearts to become hard. Sin grieves GOD because sin hardens the heart. A sinner can repent, be forgiven and return to GOD, but one with a hard heart won't repent and therefore is out of the reach of GOD. His sin is the unforgivable sin, because he won't hear or consider what GOD is trying to teach him (for more on this topic, see the study, The Unforgivable Sin).
All through this epistle we are told of the consequences of sin. If there were no consequences for sins, if they could just get saved but then still routinely sin without it meaning much, why are we given all these examples of others who paid dearly because of there sins? The answer is all too obvious, there were serious consequences for their sins.
HEBREWS 3:17-18 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
We are told that those who sinned are the very ones who believed not. Unbelief is sin, sin is disobedience, therefore disobedience is unbelief. Never is disobedience or unbelief excused, nor is sin. Sure, Yeshua died for their sins, but it was with the expectation that once saved they should quit sinning.
HEBREWS 5:9 And being made perfect, he [Yeshua] became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.
Yeshua is the Savior, but He is the Savior to those who obey Him. That is the clear truth written here. Salvation may be offered to sinners and unbelievers, but it is only obtained by the obedient (ACTS 5:32). Once a sinner repented of his unbelief and became a believer, he was expected to sin no more. There is nothing of the like where they could indiscriminately sin after they were saved with little or no consequence. That would be like crucifying Yeshua all over again, which is exactly what scripture teaches.
ESV HEBREWS 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God....4-6 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit....and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
The unavoidable truth put forth throughout this epistle is that they were to learn to obey GOD, that they were to sin no more, that they were to believe GOD. They were to rise above the inclination to sin and instead pursue maturity, perfection and righteousness. Indeed, we are told that it is impossible for these Hebrew believers to be again restored, if they fall away. This is a long way from the idea that they could come boldly to the throne of GOD as sinners. Indeed, the very next chapter tells us that Yeshua, as the High Priest, is separate from sinners.
HEBREWS 7:26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.
Thus, they could be sinners and then be saved, but after they were saved GOD expected them to be obedient. As believers they were to believe. This whole idea that they could get saved but were still enslaved by their sin and held captive by their old nature was foreign to scripture. Some readers may be recalling that the apostle Paul wrote in ROMANS 7 about his own personal struggle to quit sinning. Howbeit, Paul was writing something entirely different, practically the opposite of what we have been taught (see the study called No Condemnation!). When saved they were set free from their sin and needed never sin again. Sin no more was Yeshua's repeated command to those He healed and saved (JOHN 5:14; 8:11). If that command was not reasonable, He would not have made it.
ESV HEBREWS 10:22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water....26-27 for if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries....29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?...36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised....38-39 "but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
This is so far removed from the idea that GOD expected them to sin after they were saved, and therefore excused or tolerated it. Rather than approach HIS throne as sinners, they were to draw near with true hearts. How could they ever think to boldly approach HIM as casual sinners and unbelievers, as disobedient children. Rather, HE expected them not to sin. A deliberate sinner who approached HIS throne should expect judgment and fiery indignation, for he was worthy of punishment, not grace. As the above verse reminds us, those who were to receive the promises were not sinners who boldly approach HIS throne, but rather the ones who had done the will of GOD. It is the believers who obtained salvation, not the unbelievers and disobedient.
Chapter eleven gives us a whole slue individuals who when faced with temptation and adversity believed GOD for deliverance. We are given no examples of sinners believing, but instead believers suffering affliction rather than sinning.
HEBREWS 11:24-25 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
Moses didn't come boldly to the throne of grace with his sin. Nor did Abraham, nor Abel nor any of the examples given here for their faith. These men and women of chapter eleven are inspiring testimonies (martureo) scripture gave for their examples of faith (see 11:2, 4, 5 & 39). These are the kind of believers the readers of this epistle were to emulate, if they would enter into GOD's rest.
HEBREWS 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses [martus], let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.
It should be noted that this great cloud of witnesses, martus, are not the examples of faith listed in the previous chapter. The writer changed from the passive martureo in chapter eleven to the active martus in chapter twelve, no doubt reflecting back to its only other usage in this epistle with the witnesses of 10:28. This cloud of witnesses were to give their testimony at the great day of judgment concerning how these first century believers were living their lives, whether beset by sin or running with patience the race before them.
For these first century believers, the primary sin which they were being warned about, which is referred to throughout the epistle and specifically dealt with in chapter twelve, is the sin of forsaking the Christian community and returning to their Jewish roots. The great crises of the ages was at hand and Jews everywhere were being recruited and coerced into joining the hopeless revolt against Rome. They were being torn between their fierce national pride and duty to help protect and defend their city and temple and nation in the fast approaching war, or else they were to obey Yeshua's warning to flee into the mountains and patiently wait for that heavenly city, that better country, that tabernacle not made with hands. HEBREWS was written to hopefully dissuade them from shrinking back from the faith.
After chapter eleven gave them all those inspiring examples of faith, chapter twelve showed them GOD's loving way in which HE teaches HIS sons obedience. HIS chastening and discipline was for their perfecting.
ESV HEBREWS 12:6-11 "For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
They were being trained, but to what end? They were being disciplined that they might share in HIS holiness, that they might enjoy the peaceable fruit of righteousness. These are quite magnificent ends. Holiness and righteousness! That is why they were to learn obedience. That is why they were to cease from their own works. That is what it means to enter into HIS rest. But the choice was theirs, either to endure chastening as sons or return to the traditions of the old religion of their fathers.
HEBREWS 12:16-17 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
Esau is the example they were then given to show the consequence of a hard-heart. He deliberately gave up his inheritance, but then later thought that he would repent and get right with GOD. Howbeit, the door had closed and there was no repentance available, though he "sought it carefully with tears". The epistle was warning them that they could just not sin then repent, then sin then repent, then sin again and repent again as if they were on some endless carnival ride. Scripture assures us that repentance is available to everyone once, after that they were playing spiritual Russian Roulette.
HEBREWS 12:25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.
To "refuse him that speaketh" is to reject His words, His teaching. That too often is the result of a hard-heart, caused by the deceitfulness of sin. This is the exact message Paul writes of in EPHESIANS.
ESV EPHESIANS 4:17-24 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul reminded his readers here that Yeshua taught His followers to put off the old life of sin and then to put on the new life of righteousness and holiness. Why? Because a hard-heart from continual sin would keep them separate from the life of GOD.
John wrote, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (JOHN 2:1). The expectation is that they were not to sin! If they occasionally stumbled then the parakletos was there to help them. But if they took His help for granted, they might someday wonder where it went.
Noah is called in scripture the "Preacher of Righteousness" so we can be assured that all the while that he was building that ark, he was trying to reach his generation, hoping they would repent of their sins. But when at last the door of the great ark was closed, that was all she wrote. No matter how they cried and begged, their opportunity to repent had passed and the water continued to rise.
PROVERBS 1:28 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:
Then! GOD will reach out only for so long, then the door closes. Yeshua warned, "And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down" (LUKE 13:9). They could not continue to sin and think it mattered little to GOD, for too many times and on too many occasions Yeshua instructed His followers about the consequences of sin.
MATTHEW 25:11-12 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Why would Yeshua teach such a parable if it meant nothing? Many assume that in this so called age of grace, we can sin with little or no consequence, but that is clearly not what scripture teaches us (see the study, The True Meaning of the Grace of GOD). Indeed, some sins can be excused, but presumptuous sins, deliberate sins, sins which cause a hard-heart and separate us from the life of GOD, are not as likely to be forgiven.
Entering into GOD's rest is to simply learn to be obedient to GOD. When we are anxious about things which are beyond our control, we have not entered into GOD's rest. When we take upon ourselves a ministry which GOD has not called us to, then we have not entered into GOD's rest. When we become impatient with the growth of the ministry which GOD has called us to, then we have not entered into GOD's rest. We need to learn how to cease from all these extraneous activities and simply become obedient to GOD, as did our Lord.
"Be still and know that I am GOD" (PSALM 46:10).