The Promise of Rest | Hebrews 4:1-13
Brian Hedges | November 12, 2023
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 4. I’m going to read Hebrews 4:1-13 in just a moment.
While you’re turning there, let’s think for a moment about motivation. Motivation is one of the crucial elements in our lives. Everything we do, we do because of certain motives. We really can’t do our work, we can’t pursue education, we cannot pursue personal growth or develop healthy relationships without motivation. Motivation is the fuel that drives us. Without motivation, we would just sit down, do nothing, and eventually we would die. All of us are driven by motives.
But motives are complex. We have different kinds of motives. Understanding human motivation requires some skill. It takes some self-awareness for us to understand our own motivations in the various things we do. Sometimes we’re motivated by fear, say the fear of loss or the desire to avoid something we are afraid of. Sometimes we are motivated by hope, the hope of reward, the hope of something better. We’re often motivated in our lives by love, maybe love for God or love for others. Sometimes we’re even motivated by self-love. We could be motivated by desire, the desire to obtain something that we do not yet have.
All of these are appropriate motives in some way or another, depending on the situation, and all of us are driven by a number of these different motives in the different areas of our lives.
Motivation is important to the spiritual life. It’s crucial to our life with God. You will not pursue God in any kind of meaningful way unless you’re motivated to do so in some way or another. It’s important for us to understand that the Bible appeals to all of these different motivations as reasons for us to follow the Lord and to trust him and believe in him. Sometimes we can be reductionistic about our thinking about motivation in Scripture, as if there’s only one motive that’s ever given. But that’s not the case. There are actually many different motives that the Scriptures hold out for us as valid motives for seeking the Lord, and we’re going to see some of those motivations this morning. It will help us to understand this letter to the Hebrews if we understand these complex motivations in our lives.
We’re going to be looking today at Hebrews 4:1-13. We’re continuing in this series called “Jesus Is Better,” and essentially what we’re seeing in Hebrews is that this letter gives us the key to interpreting and understanding and applying the Old Testament Scriptures, it holds out for us the supremacy of Jesus Christ, showing us again and again that Jesus is better, Jesus is superior to anything he can be compared to. And this letter is a call to faith, a call to persevering faith, to continuing in the faith. Thus it presents for us a warning about falling away from the Lord, a warning about deconstructing or turning away from our faith. We see these themes over and over again in this letter; we’ll see them again this morning.
Hebrews 4:1-13; I’m going to read the first thirteen verses of this chapter, and then we’re going to look at three things together. Hebrews 4, beginning in verse 1:
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
‘As I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest,”’
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ And again in this passage he said,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’
“Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
‘Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.’
“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
This is God’s word.
I want you to notice three things in this passage. There is:
1. A Warning
2. A Promise
3. An Exhortation
The warning is given especially in verse 1: “Let us fear.” Then the promise is the promise of entering into God’s rest, mentioned in verse 1 and then developed through verse 10. Then the exhortation is in verse 11: “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest,” with some further motivations for why we should do so in verses 11-13. So, a warning, a promise, and an exhortation.
1. A Warning
First of all, the warning. The warning is, “Let us fear.” Verse 1: “Let us fear lest any…should seem to have failed to reach” or enter into this promised rest. It’s a warning that carries the idea of being watchful or being careful in our lives. In fact, the NIV reads like this: “Let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” Or, in one other version, the New Living Translation, “we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it.”
Of course, what the author is doing here is continuing with the warning that began in Hebrews 3. We saw this last week, if you were here last week. Hebrews 3:7 begins the second of five major warnings that are found in this letter to the Hebrews, and it’s a warning that recalls the generation of Israelites who were delivered out of bondage in Egypt, they were led right to the border of the promised land, the land where God had promised to give them rest from their enemies, but seeing the obstacles before them they failed to enter into the land because of their unbelief, because of their disobedience. The author to the Hebrews is using this story as it is recounted in Psalm 95 as a warning to his audience, an audience of believers who are being tempted to pull away from Jesus. He’s calling upon them not to do what those Israelites had done; not to harden their hearts, not to be deceived by sin, not to fall away from the living God, not to follow that example of disobedience and of rebellion, but instead to continue in faith and to press on and to hold fast to their confession. In verse 1 he’s really just continuing that warning, the warning that began in Hebrews 3.
This teaches us something important. This is the main application for this first point: that fear is an appropriate motive in the Christian life. It’s not the only motive. There are other motives that the Scriptures certainly hold out to us. But fear is nevertheless an appropriate motive in living the Christian life. Sometimes we get the idea that the fear of the Lord is an Old Testament concept, not a New Testament concept. But it’s actually in both Testaments. Both the Old and the New call us to fear the Lord.
In Psalm 2:11 we read these words: “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” That shows us that this fear is not the kind of fear that cancels out joy; it’s rather a trembling, rejoicing kind of fear. This isn’t terror in the sight of the Lord, but it is a trembling before the Lord.
Isaiah 66:2: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” That’s the idea. It’s this idea of trembling before the holy word of God, taking God’s word seriously, knowing that we have to do with the true and the living God.
There are many passages we could go to in the New Testament. The apostle Paul in Philippians 2 says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Or take 2 Corinthians 7:1. He says, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
Then in our letter, the letter to the Hebrews, we read in Hebrews 12 these words: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire.”
The fear of the Lord is an important and appropriate motive in living the Christian life. Now, we do have to distinguish this from an unhealthy kind of fear, and I appreciate the words of the Puritan author John Owen. In his massive commentary on Hebrews he says this is not a fear of dread, terror, or doubting that would weaken or discourage our dishearten us, but it is rather a reverential respect to the promises and the threatenings of God that quicken us—that is, they enliven us, they stir us up—to make us diligent in our seeking that which God promises.
That’s the idea. It’s not terror before God, but it is taking God seriously. That’s the idea. This kind of fear, the fear of the Lord.
I love those words of Charles Wesley in one of his old hymns, when he said,
“I want a principle within
Of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin,
A pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel
Of pride or wrong desire;
To catch the wandering of my will,
And quench the kindling fire.”
That’s a good prayer to pray. “Lord, give me a principle within of watchful, godly fear.” The author to the Hebrews says, “Let us fear lest any should seem to have failed to reach this rest.”
That’s the first motive we have here. It’s a warning, a warning that appeals to fear.
2. A Promise
But that’s not all we have in this text. There’s also a promise, and it’s the promise of entering into God’s rest. Again, we see this in verse 1: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”
So there’s a promise of entering into God’s rest, and as you read through this passage you see that this word “rest” appears again and again and again as the author here develops this concept of rest. He gives us actually something like a biblical theology of rest in this passage.
I think there are a number of things that we can say about this rest.
(1) The first is simply this, that this rest is the future rest for which we were created. You were created to know this, to enjoy this, to experience this.
I quote him often, St. Augustine, from the very first page of his Confessions, when he said, “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Deep in your heart, you know this. You know this deep in the quiet places of your soul, that you were made for something more than what this world can offer you. The greatest and best experiences that this world can ever give to us fall short of filling our hearts with the kind of rest and satisfaction and joy that we were made for, because we were made for God. We were made to know him, we were made to experience rest in the Lord.
In the Jewish mind, this was understood as being a part of the very fabric of creation. In fact, what the author here is doing in Hebrews is constructing for us something like a biblical theology of rest, where he ties together four different things, including Genesis 2.
Remember that when God created the world, he created the world in six days, and then on the seventh day he rested. We have that in Genesis 2:1-3. Genesis 2:2 is quoted for us here in Hebrews 4:4, and it’s a reminder that in the Jewish mind they saw all of time constructed according to this original week of creation. There were the six days of creation, and then the seventh day was the day in which God entered into his eternal Sabbath rest, and the understanding is that human beings were created to enter into and participate in that rest with God. Because of the fall, because of sin and rebellion against God, they failed to enter into that rest.
But then, when God chose a people for himself, the people of Israel, the children of Israel, he set before them a kind of rest. It was symbolized for them in the promised land. If you read the book of Joshua you’ll see again and again and again in Joshua that God is promising to the people of God rest from their enemies if they will by faith go into the promised land and take what God has promised to them.
Of course, the generation before had failed to do it. There’s a partial fulfillment of that in the lifetime of Joshua.
These events get recalled again by David in the Psalms, in Psalm 95, as we saw last week and again as it’s mentioned here in this passage, where there still remains a rest for the people of God to enter into. Even though they’re now in the promised land, there remains a rest. There’s a rest they have not experienced yet because the promised land was really just a symbol of something else, something greater, so there is this call to enter into that rest, and it points forward to this eternal Sabbath rest, the rest that remains for the people of God today that the author of Hebrews is holding out to them.
This is the future rest for which we were created, God’s eternal Sabbath rest that he invites us into.
(2) The second thing we can say about this rest is that it has both future and present dimensions. Sometimes we use this language of the “already” and the “not yet.” There are aspects of our salvation which are already here, that we already enjoy, and yet there are other aspects that we have not yet experienced.
You can see this in a number of different things in Scripture. We can think of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God has come, it has dawned in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There’s a sense in which you and I are now citizens of the kingdom, as we live under the sovereign, saving rule of our God.
But we don’t see the kingdom present in its greatest fulfillment. It hasn’t been consummated yet. There’s coming a day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and King, and we haven’t seen that yet. We haven’t seen everything under the sun here on planet Earth brought directly under the direct and immediate reign of Jesus Christ. We wait for the future age for that.
Think of eternal life. Eternal life literally means life in the age to come; it’s the life that we have with God in the age to come, in the new heavens and the new earth. But that eternal life is something we receive now. We begin to experience a quality of life, a kind of life, as we believe in Jesus Christ and we are given eternal life in the present.
We can think about this in terms of transformation. Scriptures speak of our future transformation, when we will be glorified, transformed, and made like Jesus Christ in both mind and in body. Our very bodies will be made like his glorious body, and we will be conformed to the glorious image of Jesus Christ, our elder brother. But we’re already being transformed into that image one degree at a time now by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Or we might think of the city of God, which is a theme that pops up often in Hebrews. You remember how Hebrews 11 says that Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God; how he desired a better country, a heavenly one. Hebrews 11:16 says, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 13 says “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Yet if you read Hebrews 12:22, it says that “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” You’ve already come! And yet we’re waiting for that city. It’s future, but the future reality has invaded the present.
The same thing can be said about this rest. It is a future rest. It’s the rest that we are hoping for, waiting for, that we have not yet experienced in its fullness. There’s coming a day when we will cease from our labors, when faith will give way to sight. There’s coming a day when labor becomes rest and when perseverance in the journey is no longer needed because we will have arrived. We’re not there yet, and yet there is a sense in which we can find rest for our souls in and through Jesus Christ in the here and now. It’s both a present and a future reality.
(3) We gain this rest—here’s the third thing—through faith in Jesus, who is the true and better Joshua. In this passage, in Hebrews 4:8, the author says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.”
Joshua, of course, is the name Yeshua. It’s the very name of Jesus. It’s spelled exactly the same way in Greek, the name of Jesus in the New Testament. The author here is subtly showing us that there is a true and better Joshua, that Jesus Christ has come and has brought us this promise of rest that Joshua was never fully able to deliver. What he did was symbolic, it was programmatic, it was looking forward to what Jesus Christ himself would fulfill. We gain this rest through faith in him.
(4) Finally, here’s the fourth thing: this rest is more desirable than anything you could ever desire this side of heaven. You have to grasp this. I think this is where we have to do some heart work and we have to work with our imaginations.
Have you ever experienced this? Sometimes you hear about heaven and there’s very little stirring in your heart. Sometimes you think about the life that is to come and if you feel anything maybe you just feel afraid. You’re afraid of the unknown. You don’t know what’s coming next. It’s hard for us to set our minds and our hearts on heaven and on the new heavens and the new earth and to even imagine what that will be like.
What I want you to know is that this promised rest is better than anything you could ever desire here. It’s far superior to the greatest earthly pleasures and delights that we ever experience. These are just foretastes of the glory that is to come.
I want to read something to you. This is from Sam Storms’ wonderful book written about twenty years ago, a book called One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God. He wrote this wonderful chapter about the glories of heaven, where he just used every word at his disposal to describe what heaven will be like. He describes it both negatively—the things that will not be there—and he describes it positively, what will be present. He does this drawing from Revelation 21 that describes the city of God as being this place where there are no tears and no death or sorrow or pain and nothing unclean will be admitted there. I just want to read an excerpt. This isn’t nearly everything Storms says, but it gives you a taste of the rest and of the glory and of the life that we are hoping for. Storms says,
“Think of the implications of what is being said. When we get to heaven there will be nothing that is abrasive, irritating, agitating, or hurtful; nothing harmful, hateful, upsetting, or unkind; nothing sad, bad, or mad; nothing harsh, impatient, ungrateful, or unworthy; nothing weak or sick or broken or foolish; nothing deformed, degenerate, depraved, or disgusting; nothing polluted, pathetic, poor, or putrid; nothing dark, dismal, dismaying, or degrading; nothing blameworthy, blemished, blasphemous, or blighted; nothing faulty, faithless, frail, or fading; nothing grotesque or grievous, hideous or insidious; nothing illicit or illegal, lascivious or lustful; nothing marred or mutilated, misaligned or misinformed.”
He just carries on through all the letters of the alphabet, and then he begins to describe positively what we will experience. He says,
“Wherever you turn your eyes, you will see nothing but glory and grandeur, beauty and brightness. Everything will be delightful, delicious, delectable, and dazzling, elegant and exciting, fascinating and fruitful, glorious and grand, gracious and good, happy and holy, healthy and whole.”
We could summarize all of this and just say there will be nothing there to displease and every good that we could desire will be present. That’s the rest that we’re waiting for. That’s the rest that God promises.
It appeals to a deep motivation in our heart, doesn’t it, the motivation of hope, as we long for something better than this world.
3. An Exhortation
So there is a warning—let us fear—there is a promise, the promise of God’s eternal rest, and then finally there is an exhortation. We see this in Hebrews 4:11. “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Let us strive to enter the rest.
This is where I want to get practical. I want to ask what, why, and how? What does this mean? Why do we need to do this? How do we do it?
(1) What does it mean, “Let us strive to enter the rest”? The other translations give us an idea.
The NIV says, “Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.”
The New King James uses the word “diligent.” “Let us be diligent to enter that rest.”
It’s the same word that’s used in 2 Peter 1:10-11. Do you remember these words? He says,
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort [that’s the word] to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Don’t mistake this. This is a biblical call to holy, sanctified effort in the Christian life. Make every effort to enter into that rest. That’s what he’s calling for.
For us to understand what this is, I want you to think for a minute about the difference between something that you dabble in and something that you really apply yourself to with effort and with diligence. Where my mind goes is to golf. I know there are some eye rolls now, but bear with me.
When I think about golf in my life, there are two eras. There were the many years where I was something like the weekend golfer, the hacker who would just go out and play occasionally. I was playing for fun, sometimes wasn’t even keeping my score. When I did, I was usually frustrated. I tee off the ball; it goes right every time. Then I get out there and I’m trying to get it to the green, and often I’m just hitting it thirty or fifty yards. We called them a warm burner. They’re just rolling along the ground. When I finally get up to the green, I’m chipping it over to one side, then chipping over to the other side. When I finally get it on, I’m missing the putts. So I’m keeping score and I’m getting a seven or an eight on a hole. It’s a very frustrating way to play golf.
A few years ago I decided, “I love this sport, I would like to be good at it, so I’m going to put something into it.” You know what I did? I started making effort. I took golf lessons. I bought some better golf clubs. I started reading books on golf, I started listening to podcasts on golf, I started talking about golf so much that my family got completely sick of hearing me talk about golf, and probably some of you are as well. But it changed my game. Even though I’m not a great golfer, I still dropped about twenty strokes, and I was able to start breaking a hundred regularly, and then eventually broke ninety. I’ve gotten to where I can really enjoy playing golf.
The whole difference was that before I was just dabbling in golf. I wasn’t really making any effort. But now I’ve actually put some effort into golf, I understand the game, and I’m playing it better.
There are some of you who are just dabbling in Christianity. You’re just dabbling. You’re dipping your toe in, you show up for some religious services, but you’re not really applying any effort to living the Christian life. You’re not characterized by diligence. It’s not like you are laboring to enter into that rest. There’s not that kind of seriousness, that kind of intensity, that kind of intentionality. You’re just dabbling in religion.
What this passage is calling us to is a whole-hearted giving of ourselves to the pursuit of God, so that we make every effort to enter into this rest.
We have to ask ourselves, are we living with the kind of seriousness that this passage calls us to? That’s what this passage means. This is what it means to make every effort, to strive to enter into the rest.
(2) Why should we do this? There are a couple of reasons. One is the reason stated in verse 11, “Lest any of you should fall by the same sort of disobedience.” So again he’s applying the example of the children of Israel, who failed to enter into the promised land. They heard the message, but they didn’t enter in because of their unbelief. So the author is saying, “Strive to enter into this rest so that you don’t fall into the same sort of disobedience.”
There’s a huge loss for us if we lose this promise of rest and fail to enter in. So that’s a motivation.
Then, verses 12-13 give another motivation, as he compares the word of God to a sword. You may remember that there were many of the children of Israel who died by a sword because of their failure and their disobedience and their lack of faith. But now the author is saying there’s a sharper sword, there’s a different sword, and it’s the sword of the living and active, discerning, judging word of God. He says,
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.”
I think what he simply means is that God knows us so thoroughly that there’s no fooling him. His discerning eye is inescapable, and his word will pronounce the final verdict. So once again it should provoke a kind of trembling and fear that will just make us take it seriously to be sure that we are genuine and sincere, not hypocritical in our religion.
(3) How, then, do we do this? How do we make this effort? I want to end by giving you three things. Each of these are going to begin with a C; three C words. This is where I think the rubber meets the road. This is the practical application. This is what I want you to take home and work through this week.
Number one, conversion. Just ask yourself this question: “Do I genuinely believe the gospel? Have I genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ?” That’s what the passage is calling us to. This is not a passage about salvation by works. Don’t misunderstand! It’s all about salvation by faith. The crucial element is faith, as we saw last week.
You see it again in this passage. You see it in Hebrews 4:2-3. In verse 2 he says, “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” There was no faith. And then in verse 3, “For we who have believed enter into that rest.”
Here’s the deal: if you hear good news but don’t respond to it with faith, it does you no good. The gospel will do you no good unless you respond to it with faith. It’s not salvation by works, but it is salvation by grace through faith. But you have to be sure that you have a genuine faith.
So just ask yourself, do you believe? Do you truly trust in Jesus Christ? Have you experienced God’s grace working in your heart and in your life in such a way as to lead you from independence and a self-centered reliance upon yourself and lead you instead to a genuine and earnest dependence on Jesus Christ, trusting in him? Conversion.
Number two, confirmation. By confirmation I simply mean are you strengthening your faith? Are you growing in your faith?
Sometimes we hear the word confirmation and we think about children who are maybe baptized when they’re infants and then they go through a period of confirmation when they get a little bit older. But what I have in mind is something even more than that. This is something for every single Christian. Your faith has to be confirmed and developed, and that happens as you grow. It’s the strengthening of your faith.
Here’s how Spurgeon, the great 19th-century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, put it. He said,
“The first business of a Christian should be to see that all his own graces are in a vigorous condition, that repentance always weeps for sin, that faith always looks to the cross, that patience becomes stronger to bear her cross, that hope’s eyes are clear to behold the coming glory, that to faith we add courage and to courage patience and to patience brotherly kindness and to brother kindness charity. We are never to sit down and fold our arms and say, ‘My life work is over. I am saved; I have no pilgrimage to make to the Celestial City. I wage no war for driving out the Canaanites.’ O beloved! The time of rest will come on the hither side of Jordan, but as yet it is for you to press forward like the racer whose prize is not yet won and to watch like a warrior whose conflict is not ended.”
Those are stirring words, calling us to a kind of earnestness in our faith that we see to it that we are growing.
The best way to know that you have a genuine faith is to have a growing faith. If your faith is growing, you know it’s alive, and you know it’s developing. We talk a lot at Redeemer about how we do that. How do we grow our faith? We do it through spiritual practices. We do it through the word and through prayer. Every single one of us needs those spaces of solitude where we seek the Lord earnestly by ourselves as well as the spaces together, like this one, where we seek the Lord together. It’s as we do that with our eyes on the Lord that we really grow.
So ask yourself this morning, is your faith growing? Have you confirmed your faith by developing it, strengthening it? Are your graces in vigorous condition? Graces like repentance and faith and hope and love and courage and so on. Stay in the battle, friends. Be quick to repent and continue to seek the Lord. Confirmation.
Then number three, contemplation. I want to tie this into the concept of rest.
This wonderful passage on rest in Hebrews 4 provoked a man many, many years ago to write an extended series of meditations on rest and on heaven, really. It was a book that he called The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. He was one of these Puritan authors and pastors in the 17th century; his name was Richard Baxter. I’m drawing somewhat on J.I. Packer, who did his doctoral work on Baxter. Packer wrote a wonderful little essay on Richard Baxter, called “Heaven, Hope, and Holiness,” and he talked about Baxter, as a young man, began to set his heart and his mind on the Lord.
When he was twenty-one years old he became very ill, and he had tuberculosis for the rest of his life, which meant during that time he rarely went more than a couple of hours without pain. For the rest of his life. And yet, he set his mind and his heart so much on eternal realities that he ended up writing something like ten million words of devotional literature—over 150 books—and he zealously gave himself to evangelism and discipleship and to building up the little congregation he pastored in Kidderminster.
Packer says that “as a man living at death’s door, Baxter practiced assiduously these two habits.” These are the two things he did; this is how he set his mind and his heart on eternal things. Number one, the first habit, was to estimate everything—values, priorities, possessions, relationships, claims, tasks—“as these things will appear when one actually comes to die.”
Here was somebody that didn’t know if he would die the next day. None of us really know; we might die the next day. But he lived with this sentence of death upon him, so he constantly was evaluating his life and his priorities against what he would want his life to be like when he came to his dying day.
Secondly, his second habit was to “dwell on the glory of the heavenly life to which one is going.” As he was sick and secluded away from his congregation for a period of time, he began to write out for his own benefit these meditations on heaven that eventually became something like an 800-page book on the glories of heaven called The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. Let me just give you one excerpt from Baxter. He said,
“If you would have light and heat, why are you no more in the sunshine? For want of this recourse to heaven your soul is as a lamp not lighted and your duties as a sacrifice without fire. Fetch one coal daily from this altar, and see if your offering will not burn. Light your lamp at this flame and feed it daily with this oil, and see if it will not gloriously shine. Keep close to this reviving fire and see if your affections will not be warmed.”
It was a life of contemplation, where he set his mind and his heart on the saints’ everlasting rest, the rest that God promises to his people.
Is that characteristic of your life? Do you have your mind set not on temporal things but on eternal things? Not these things that are fading, that are going to be over before you know it, but on the eternal reality of everlasting joy in the presence of your Savior? If you do that, it will help you to press on and to make every effort to enter into the rest of God.
Let me ask you, in conclusion this morning, as you look at your spiritual life, how are your motivations? What are the motives that are driving you on in pursuit of God? For some of you, it may be that you’ve not been very motivated. You’ve kind of been dabbling, but not really earnest. It may be that you’ve had one or two of these motivations at work.
But what Hebrews 4 is calling us to is all of these complex motivations coming together with this one single aim: that the fear of the Lord and the promise of rest in eternal glory in this earnest exhortation that is to stir us up to make every effort to set our minds and our hearts on this one thing, that all of these things come together to build up our faith so that we earnestly pursue the Lord.
If you’re a Christian this morning, let me encourage you to hear the word of God and apply it to your heart and your life so that there’s more earnestness in your pursuit this week. If you’re not a believer this morning, if you’ve never become a Christian, let me encourage you that God promises through his Son, Jesus Christ, the rest that your soul is longing for. He gives it freely by his grace to all who will embrace his promise by faith. I hope you’ll embrace that promise today. Let’s pray.
Gracious God and Father, we thank you this morning for your word, which searches our hearts, provokes self-examination, and yet holds forth for us all that you promise to us in Jesus. Lord, we want today to respond with a sincere and earnest faith, faith that will drive us to faith-fueled effort as we diligently pursue that for which you have called us. We ask you, Lord, to do that for us this morning, to work within us both to will and to work for your good pleasure, to work within us what is pleasing in your sight, to work through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, applying the word to our hearts, so that we will respond to your word as we should.
Lord, as we come to the Lord’s table this morning, we come to meet with you, and we ask you, Lord, to draw near to us by your grace. We pray, Lord, that as we come we would have our eyes set on Jesus and on what he has accomplished for us, and that just as Jesus gave himself so fully to do your will and gave himself fully for our sakes to deliver us from sin, that we would respond in kind by giving ourselves fully to Jesus Christ this morning. So Lord, draw near to us in these moments. I pray that you would be honored and glorified in them. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.