Hebrews 4:1-13 The Rest Found in Jesus

Hebrews 4:1-13 The Rest Found in Jesus

Last Wednesday there was a senseless, evil shooting in Kansas City.  Last month there was murder at a high school in Perry, Iowa, just 45 miles from here.  There is war in the Middle East and Ukraine.  In all these things, we wonder, Where is peace?  Where is the rest?  Why is everyone so angry?

But even closer to home, we find ourselves longing for rest in our own little world.   Family disputes. Marriage collapses. Tension in the workplace. 

And then we have turmoil in our own souls.  Sinful habits we can’t seem to break.  Guilt and shame over things we’ve done and cannot undo.  There is physical pain.  Sleepless nights.  Disease.   And worst of all, there is death.

It’s enough to make us hopeless, isn’t it?  And we wonder, where is the rest for my soul?

Turn in your Bibles to Hebrews chapter 4.  The word “REST” is the focus of our text today.  Rest.  Such a beautiful word.

What if we could have never-ending rest?  Peace deep within.  Calm.  Satisfaction.  Joy.  No more turmoil, heartache, anger, bitterness.  No more guilt and shame.  No more stress and fear.  No more physical and emotional exhaustion.

We are in Week 5 of our series on the book of the Bible we call Hebrews.  Although we commonly call it a letter, it’s more like a sermon, exhorting us as the hearers to pay attention to Jesus Christ and the gospel message.

Our passage today—most of chapter 4—continues the theme from chapter 3 that Pastor Matt covered last week.  And it emphasizes this theme of rest. 

We will read all of chapter 4, but we will save commenting on vs. 14-16 for next week, for it serves as a transition from chapter 4 to chapter 5.

To get some context for chapter 4, let’s begin in Chapter 3, vs. 15.

Hebrews 3:15–19 CSB

15  Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.

16 For who heard and rebelled? Wasn’t it all who came out of Egypt under Moses?

17 With whom was God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?

18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who disobeyed?

19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Hebrews 4 CSB

1 Therefore, since the promise to enter his rest remains, let us beware that none of you be found to have fallen short.

2 For we also have received the good news just as they did. But the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith.

3 For we who have believed enter the rest, in keeping with what he has said, So I swore in my anger, “They will not enter my rest,” even though his works have been finished since the foundation of the world.

4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in this way: And on the seventh day God rested from all his works.

5 Again, in that passage he says, They will never enter my rest.

6 Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience,

7 he again specifies a certain day—today. He specified this speaking through David after such a long time: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.

9 Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people.

10 For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his.

11 Let us, then, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.

12 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

13 No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.

16 Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.

First, wherever you see boldface type in the CSB translation, it is quoting an OT passage.  Like vs. 3, 4, and 7.

Hebrews quotes the OT extensively, which shows the unity of the entire Bible, both OT and NT.  It is one book. 

So, what is chapter 4 talking about?

It’s hard to miss the word “rest” here, isn’t it?  Ten times in chapter 4, and twice in chapter 3.  So we have to determine what the author is talking about.   And WHY is it so important? 

I would like to think that when he speaks of “REST,” the author is talking about getting lots of rest, like Sunday afternoon naps.  And Monday afternoon.  And Tuesday afternoon.  Kidding aside, let’s look at what he means by “rest.”

We have to begin by refreshing ourselves on chapter 3 that we looked at last week.  The key theme there is a warning to not harden our hearts like Israel did 3000 years ago in the wilderness after they miraculously escaped from Egypt.  Last Fall here at Stonebrook during our sermon series on Exodus, we read about Israel’s hardness of heart—their rebellion.  And if we would read the Book of Numbers, too, we would read about their hardness even more.

In light of this glorious salvation by God to deliver them from centuries of cruel slavery in Egypt, Israel was remarkably stubborn over the next 40 years.  The Passover deliverance was to them like the Gospel of Christ is to us, although the Gospel is far better.  God made a covenant with Israel, represented by the Ten Commandments and some other promises.  And it was founded upon their deliverance from Egypt:

Exodus 19:4–6 CSB  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.

The short explanation to all this is that Israel had before them the glorious opportunity of rest and peace and joy in the presence of God in the Land of Promise.   But the people simply didn’t keep their end of the covenant.  Remarkably, after the glorious, stunning miracles of the Exodus, Israel largely walked in unbelief and disobedience.  They hardened their hearts…just like Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and so they incurred God’s wrath.  And they missed out on this promised REST in God. 

So the covenant God made with Israel didn’t work, because the people were too stubborn to believe.

But in his foreknowledge, the Lord graciously gave Israel and now us non-Jews (Gentiles) a NEW covenant.  The NEW Testament.  It’s a covenant centered on Jesus Christ, and it’s the backbone of the Book of Hebrews.

So back to chapter 3 of Hebrews, the author warns the people NOT to be stubborn and unbelieving like Israel.  If we are, we, too, will never receive the REST that God desires for us.

So again, we ask, “What is this rest God is talking about?”  Whatever it is, it sounds good.  I like the word “rest.”

Vs. 1-2

First, he warns us, “This promise of rest is still there for you.  So I warn you, don’t miss out on it.  Don’t reject this Good News, the gospel.  Israel had the Good News of the Exodus and the Red Sea and the judgments on Egypt, but they missed out.   They missed out because they were unbelieving. 

Some of the author’s readers here had heard all the good news of the gospel, which is far better news than the Red Sea and the Exodus.  The readers of Hebrews had heard it all, yet some of them were still walking in unbelief.  In rebellion.

In vs. 2, many had already received the good news.  Many had already believed and so entered the eternal rest of God.   Those of us in this room—which I believe is the majority of us—have believed in the Gospel of Christ, and we have found this rest from God…whatever that rest is.  We have it.  But the author also acknowledges that some have not found this rest from God, just like Israel.

Vs. 3-5

Now we’re starting to hone in on what this rest is:  It is GOD’S rest.  “They won’t enter MY rest because of unbelief.”  And he tells us what God’s rest is like:  It’s the rest God took on the seventh day of Creation in Genesis 2.

Genesis 2:2–3 CSB On the seventh day God had completed his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it he rested from all his work of creation.

God rested.  Why?  Well, it’s not because he was tired.  The Lord has inexhaustible strength and power.  He merely spoke a few words, and creation sprang into being.  His name throughout the Scriptures is the Lord “Almighty.”  All-powerful.  Omnipotent.

Why then did he rest?   It seems he rested for two reasons:

  1. The work was done.  The word “rest” can also mean “cease.”  He ceased from his creation work.
  2. But God’s rest also indicates enjoyment and satisfaction. 

At the end of the six days of creation, he looked at what he had done and said, “It is very good.”   He found JOY in what he had done.

So the Lord’s rest on the seventh day is a picture of the rest he wants us to have in the gospel. 

  • Ceasing from our work and toil.
  • Finding a peace with him, joining in the enjoyment of all that He is and all that He has made. 
  • And having all this, not just for this life, but for all eternity. 

Vs. 6-8

In vs. 6, he again refers back to Israel after the Exodus while they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness.  They had good news of this covenant between God and them.  Good news of his presence.  Of a promised land of great bounty.  Of safety from enemies.  Of being his treasured possession.

They did find this rest?  No.  They missed it, for they walked in unbelief.  They hardened their hearts…just like Pharaoh, king of Egypt did.  The author of Hebrews is now saying, “This could be you.  So “TODAY”….today, be humble.  Don’t delay.  Today….have soft hearts.  Find the eternal rest of God and with God.

Vs. 9-10

Then in vs. 9 he speaks of a “Sabbath rest.”  The author is not talking about keeping the Sabbath, the 7th day, holy.  He’s saying, “There is a type of rest for you in the gospel that is like a Sabbath.”   Not just one day a week, but an eternal Sabbath.  An eternal rest where toil and sweat and anguish and pain and guilt and shame are gone.  Eternal joy and forgiveness and satisfaction and happiness.  This is “for God’s people,” he says.  We will rest eternally from our own toil and work. 

Vs. 11

So like in vs. 1, we are urged again:  “Let us be diligent…make every effort… to enter that eternal rest with God.”  He says, “I don’t want you to miss out on God.  I want you to find peace with God.  A place of joy and no condemnation.  A place of harmony and satisfaction and rest in the presence of God.”   And a place of grace and mercy, which we’ll look at next week.

Vs. 12-13

Then in vs. 12 he seems to abruptly switch topics, talking about God’s word.  But it’s not abrupt.

What he is speaking of is the way to find the rest of God and with God.

How do we find it?  It is revealed in the word of God.  In the gospel of the Son of God.

These words God has uttered are sharper than the sharpest sword, and they can penetrate..not into our bodies… Rather, God’s word can penetrate deep within our minds and our souls to uncover and judge even the darkest most inaccessible corners of our hearts.  Often we don’t even understand ourselves.  But God does, and true Word can reveal it all.

For God’s word reveals the Son of God in all his splendor.  And in his humility.

Let’s review for a minute. 

Remember Chapter 1, that the Son is the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact representation of God the Father.  Jesus the Son is the Creator of all things.  And the Sustainer, holding everything together by a mere word, a powerful word.

We learn in Chapter 2 that this Son took on human nature, merging both the divine and the human into one.  It’s a mystery, this Doctrine of the Incarnation, how God became a man yet remained God.

We learn also learn in Chapter 2 that the Son as a true man actually suffered and died, and died in our place as the Substitute Lamb of God.  He was the “PROPITIATION” for our sins, where he took for us the wrath and judgment of God that we deserved…so that we could be free. 

So again, the Word of God reveals the Son of God.  And it calls us to cling to him.  To believe.

And the Word of God also reveals us.  It exposes us.  And it calls us TODAY.  TODAY, don’t harden your hearts.  Don’t think you can run and hide from God.  Don’t trifle with him.  He will find you out.

So our passage today ends on a heavy note:  An alarming warning, a conclusion to our topic that began back in Chapter 3.   “Don’t trifle with the Lord.  TODAY… humble yourself before him.”

That’s where we end our passage this morning.

But there is more.  I don’t want to leave us hanging or despairing, because there is mercy and grace.  Come back next week when we will look at vs. 14-16 and on into Chapter 5.  We can and will find eternal rest…we will find the great love and rich mercy of God through faith in Jesus, our Great High Priest.

What Now?

So from our text today, where do we go from here?  What can we do with this brief word from Hebrews 4?

I offer two words.

The first:


  1. Surely in a group this large, some of us in this room or watching online have never found rest in God, the rest of the gospel.

To you, the Lord’s word clearly speaks to you right now.  Today.  Not tomorrow.

Today.  The word to you is, “Pay attention to this message of Hebrews. Believe.  Cast off your stubbornness.  Don’t harden your heart.  Today is the day of salvation.

The Apostle Paul said something similar:

2 Corinthians 6:1–2 CSB Working together with him, we also appeal to you, “Don’t receive the grace of God in vain.” For he says: At an acceptable time I listened to you, and in the day of salvation I helped you. See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!

During the summer after my freshman year here at Iowa State, I heard this message about Jesus, but I fought against it.  I was double-minded.  I knew eternal life…eternal rest in God was possible only in Jesus the Son of God.  But in my pride and unbelief, I didn’t want to yield.

I fought against it for three months.  I simply didn’t want to admit I was a sinner and that I desperately needed God.  But finally I yielded.  God’s Spirit awakened me and humbled me.  I surrendered my pride and my unbelief.  I submitted myself to Jesus to receive eternal rest.

If you have never truly found eternal rest in Jesus Christ, TODAY…TODAY… is your day.  God himself pleads with you…I plead with you….believe in the Son.  Lay down all your guilt and shame on Jesus, and he will take it gladly.  Then you will have true rest with God.  If you’re in this place, talk to me afterwards.  I would like that.   Or talk to a trusted friend here at Stonebrook.

The first word is TODAY.

The second word is…


  • To the rest of us, those who have believed in the Son and are now experiencing on this earth the beginnings of eternal rest….to you, let us rejoice in all that we have in Christ.  

Give thanks today.  Go home and make a list of all that God has done for you through his Son.

Peace with God.  Genuine joy.  Sustaining hope.  Rich satisfaction.  True forgiveness.  No guilt or shame.  No more condemnation.  Healing for our broken hearts.

True Sabbath rest is yours now.  Give thanks.  We do this even though we recognize that this eternal rest has not come yet in all its fullness.  We’ll experience this Sabbath-rest fully at the Second Coming of Christ.  Until then, though, we can still experience the blessings of this rest.

Here are a few ways the Lord describes himself as giving us a measure of our eternal rest even now, in our broken, frail bodies:

  • The Father of mercies and God of all comfort.  2 Corinthians 1:3  He will comfort you in all your sadness and broken-heartedness.
  • The God of hope.  Romans 15:13  When life around us seems despairing and hopeless, he promises us good in the near future.  So we have, not wishful thinking, but genuine hope.
  • The Lord of peace.  2 Thessalonians 3:16  We have peace with God now through the work of Christ on the cross.  We also can find peace within our souls, even in the midst of a world in turmoil.
  • The Lamb of God who takes away our sin.  John 1:29  If you have trusted in Jesus, your sins are gone.  They are paid in full.  Jesus is your Propitiation, your Atonement.  The wrath of God for your sins was placed on his back 2000 years ago.  You are now at rest with God.
  • The Great High Priest.  Hebrews 4:14-16. Come next week to learn about the grace and mercy that is ours because of Jesus.

This is just a sample of our eternal Sabbath-rest of God through his Son.  Make a list of all this and so much more, and then rejoice and give thanks today.