The Promise of Eternal Rest
You will remember that in the Old Testament the children of Israel were headed to the Promised Land, the land that had been promised to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Lord brought them up out of Egypt to fulfill that promise. After they left Egypt, they journeyed south to Mount Sinai where God gave them His law, the Ten Commandments. Then they began their trek northeastward and came to Kadesh-Barnea where it was decision time; that is, time to either obey God and enter the land for which He had delivered them from Egypt, or … not. The people of Israel chose not, and for their disobedience, that generation wandered forty years and died in the wilderness. They missed the great reward that could have been theirs; they missed the rest they could have enjoyed from their many labors and slavery in Egypt.
Hebrews speaks of the rest that still awaits, a rest far greater than the earthly rest that the Israelites sought and missed. It is, of course, that eternal rest, that heavenly rest of which the Letter speaks, a rest we do not want to miss. Hebrews borrows from Psalm 95 to prove that this rest is still promised to God’s people. After all, although that first generation of Israelites did not enter the Promised Land, the next generation did. But it was not enough. Later generations failed to retain it. They were carried away into captivity for the same reason the first generation failed to even enter: They lacked faith and so were disobedient to God’s commands.
But a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God; that is, for those who have received the good news by faith. Still, we are warned, “Let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it,” and “Let us strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” We must not presume upon God’s grace like they did, but remain faithful in all things, for He who calls us is faithful. In this task, the word of God is our incomparable aid, for it “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The word of God keeps us honest as we apply it to our lives. It convicts us of our sins, and calls us to repentance. It shines its penetrating light upon us, strips us of our defenses, and leaves us with no recourse but to run to Christ, confess our sins, plead forgiveness, and strive with his help to amend our lives. And striving with the Holy Spirit, we shall enter that rest, and know the joy that only comes when we behold our gracious Lord.