Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 2 2013 - Hebrews 4:1-16 – Rest for our souls

God brought the children of Israel out of the oppression and slavery of Egypt that he might give them rest in the land he had promised them, rest with him (see Exodus 33:14). But, because they refused to trust God and believe the promises he had spoken to them, they failed to enter into his rest. And, says the writer of this letter, even those who did enter the Promised Land, did not enjoy God's promised rest; for if Joshua had given rest to the children of Israel, God would not have later spoken through Psalm 95 of the need to listen afresh to his word that they might find their rest in him. The promise of entering into God's rest – the rest which God himself enjoyed when he had completed his work of creation; the rest symbolised in the weekly Sabbath – remained unfulfilled.

The author of Hebrews indulges here in a bit of word-play. The name Joshua is, in the Greek, the name Jesus. It is Jesus, our greater Joshua, who gives rest to those who come to him: "Come to me," he says, "all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29). Surely this is a word that addresses us Today. In all the restlessness and frantic activity of our lives, Jesus calls us to find rest in him, rest for our souls.

Jesus promises rest to those who come to him; but it's a paradoxical and puzzling promise. The rest he calls us into involves taking up his yoke and learning from him. This is a call to uncomfortable and demanding discipleship; his yoke became a cross which he shouldered to the place of his execution. It is no comfortable matter to shoulder the yoke of Christ. And yet he calls us to shoulder this yoke that we might find rest for our souls.

This same paradox is apparent in the words of Hebrews 4. Just as God completed his work of creation and rested on the seventh day, so Jesus has completed his work of salvation and has entered into his rest – he also enjoys the rest that is consequent upon a finished work well done. And we who believe in him have set aside our own work so that we might enjoy with him the rest of his finished work (4:10). He calls us to enter into that rest Today, and every day; to find in him rest for our souls. "We who have believed enter that rest" (Hebrews 4:3).

But there is another sense in which this rest remains a future promise. Today we are to "make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience" (4:11). Today we are called to follow Jesus, doing the work he calls us to do;

Go, labour on: spend, and be spent,
Thy joy to do the Father's will:
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?

The day is coming when this paradox will be dissolved and we will enter into the fullness of God's promised rest. One day Jesus shall return and God's great work of new creation will be complete. Then there will be a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness. Then we shall enter the Promised Land; we will enter fully into the rest of God's finished work – of Christ's finished work. In that day, Today will become Forever. What a day that will be.

In the meantime we live in this intersection of the ages. Today we find our rest in Jesus; he provides rest for the weary soul. And yet our restless hearts still ache for the rest which is still to come.

Lord Jesus, teach me both to rest in the perfection of your finished work of salvation and also to work tirelessly for the coming of your kingdom. Help me to follow you and labour for you in the sure and certain hope of the day when you will return and all things shall be made new.

Peter Misselbrook