For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his. Let us, then, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:8-11 CSB)
In Hebrews 4 the author is encouraging the church to persevere in faith and enter into the promised rest of Christ. He uses the wilderness wandering of ancient Israel as a model of what not to do, and uses the promised land as a symbol, or a type of rest that looked forward to the true rest in Christ. Israel was wandering in the wilderness, looking for a home they hadn’t even been to yet. It was going to take faith and obedience to get to the promised land. But you know the story, they didn’t believe, they mistrusted God, and they “were not united with those who heard God’s word in faith” (Heb 4:2). As a result, they had to make the desert their home and did not “enter the rest”. The author’s call is to enter the true Sabbath rest for God’s people by resting from works (vs 10). He says “we who have believed enter the rest” (vs 2). This is available “today” (vs 7), and yet he says “a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people” (vs 10).
What are we to make of this? It seems like resting from works is the way to restful obedience, but then we’re called to “Make every effort to enter that rest”! Do we work? Do we rest? What’s the deal? I think the key here is to see the author’s twofold use of rest. It is both a current state (vs 2) and a destination (vs 11). Interestingly, “not resting” looks like disobedience, and if we never repent of this disobedience we will not enter the final Sabbath rest of God. In other words, disobedience looks like doing things our own way, striving in our strength, and not resting in the finished work of Christ.
So obedience equals resting, but there’s still work to it isn’t there? Putting off exhausting habits of self reliance is hard, and giving up the things that we purchase at “rest stops” to make us self-reliant is equally as hard. If deep Sabbath rest, or Shalom, is the final destination, then we certainly can get sidetracked by the “rest stops” along the way that invite us to make a home out of temporary shelters. I think this image, similar to Israel traveling in the wilderness to their restful destination, helps us tie these threads together. We have to keep walking the road, but it’s a walk of faith. It takes effort, but faithful traveling has open hands and a sort of relaxed expectancy to be provided for. Faithful resting staves off anxiety that stops at every “rest stop” scrambling for change to buy old peanuts at the vending machine because we don’t know where our next meal will come from. Faithful resting doesn’t lead one to hoard trinkets from a greasy salesman on the side of the road because we reject the narrative of scarcity that gnaws at us as we travel the wilderness paths. Because of faith and hope, we believe we will reach our home even though we’ve never been there. So we don’t give up hope and settle for vacationing at a rest stop. We have an inner peace, a Shalom, a rest that comes from Christ, that will sustain us to our final destination.
May we “strive to enter the rest” by constantly reminding ourselves that the rest stops are simply that. They’re just stops and sign posts pointing to the greater rest. It would be foolish to live under a sign post and say you’ve arrived! So whether it’s the sign post of freedom, family, ambition, intimacy, parenthood, friendships, intelligence, health, or anything else, make an effort to keep going on the road. Know that Christ is the trailblazer of your faith. He has already made a way and a vehicle in the cross that will get you there. From a grounded, restful, peaceful place of faith and trust, we can keep our hearts soft to his call to persevere.