Rest For Your Soul

Our emphasis over the past several posts has been this:  the children of Israel could not enter the promised land on the first try (Numbers 13-14) due to a lack of faith.  Likewise, the book of Hebrews looking back at their example, teaches us that faith is required of us to enter the believer’s rest.  The offer for us to enter a life of rest – walking in the Spirit by faith and experiencing the power of Christ living in us – it is accepted and received and embraced by faith.

Looking back at Israel’s example in the book of Numbers, there is an obscure incident in Israel’s refusal to enter the land that again illuminates our own walk of faith.  Recall that when Israel first arrived on the doorstep of the promised land, ten of the spies who scouted out Canaan came back with a message of doom.  “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants” (Num 13:32)  And by implication … “it will devour us and our children if we go in.”

The children of Israel believed the spies report and turned their back on God’s promise to give them the land.  “And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!  And why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?  Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’  So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt’ ” (Num 14:2-4).

We know what happens next.  As a result of Israel’s refusal to go in, God delivers a curse.  “Say to this evil congregation, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me…Your children, however, whom you said would become prey – I will bring them in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected.  But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness’ ” (Num 14:28-32).

Now comes the less well-known next scene.  Did you know that faced with God’s punishment of a 40 year trek across the wilderness, the children of Israel change course and decide to go into the land after all – right here in Numbers 14?

But it is too late.  Moses warns the children of Israel against this plan.  “But Moses said, ‘Why then are you transgressing the mouth of the Lord, when it will not succeed?  Do not go up, lest you be struck down before your enemies, for the Lord is not among you’ ” (Num 14:41-42)

But they went up anyway against the Canaanites.  “But the children of Israel went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses left the camp.  Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in the hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah” (Num 14:44-45).  The Israelites struck out on their own and the result was disaster and defeat because “the Lord was not among them.”

Here is the application for us in light of all we have been studying in Israel’s example.  God has promised us a rest that comes from abiding in Him (Matt 11, Jn 15, Heb 4, and many New Testament passages).  This rest is characterized by a complete trust in Him.  Trusting Christ to keep His promises of love, acceptance, forgiveness, peace, power, victory, and so much more.  But it only happens if we put our full trust in God’s promise of provision.

When we follow Israel’s example of rejecting God’s plan and seeking to accomplish the same result on their own terms, we are living the Christian life with Christ out of the picture.  We are living the Christian life on our own.  We are following the rules in our own power and putting our trust in our own checklist.  We are engaged in “sin management” through our own self-effort with no regard for His promise to live His life through us.

This is Israel trying to take the land in their own power in Numbers 14.  And this is us, trying to live the life in our own power; trying to work hard enough to gain God’s acceptance and approval.  Israel’s effort ended in disaster and defeat.  Our self-effort will also end in defeat; lost in a cycle of pride when we are doing well and shame when we fail.  A lost peace, lost power, and lost victory.  A lost closeness to the Father, a lost connection with the Son, and a lost power from the Holy Spirit.

The Father is reaching out to you today.  Will you embrace His offer of rest for your soul?

Resting from our Work

So we learned last time that God’s rest is sometimes called a Sabbath rest.  Just as God rested after six days of creation (a rest that provided a basis for observing the Sabbath), so we, upon entering God’s rest of walking in the Spirit by faith, are also to rest from our work.  “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  For the one who has entered His rest has himself rested from his works, as God did from His” (Heb 4:9-10).

What does this “rested from our works” look like for you and me?  Are we just sitting on a cloud reading a magazine?  Or is there work for us to do even as we enter God’s rest?

The short answer is, “Yes, there is much work to do.”  The deeper answer is, “We are in fact resting even as we work because we are not doing the work in our own power.”  Let’s see how the New Testament connects work and rest.

First, we were created for good works.  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).  Even though these good works were created specifically for us to walk in them, we are not the one who is doing them.  What do I mean, “not the one doing them?”

Think for a minute about the yoke of Jesus that we were introduced to in our last post.  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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 shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My load is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

“My yoke is easy and My load is light” has tripped up many a believer who have yet to experience that Jesus’ load is light.  After all, the Christian life can look like a burden; an overwhelming job to keep up with the rules, to keep up with the expectation of always doing the right thing.  It appears to be anything but “easy and light”.

The key to understanding Jesus’ promise of rest in these verses is the yoke.  Yes, bound in the yoke, we are working.  Yes, the load we are pulling behind the yoke is a wagon of good works.  But look who is in the yoke with us; Jesus!  Jesus is doing the heavy lifting.  Jesus is bearing all the weight of us working, of us living a righteous life, on His shoulders.

How do we know this?  Because the promise throughout the New Testament is that Jesus and His Spirit will live their righteous life through you if we embrace their presence.  The rest promised and the yoke shared in Matthew chapter 11 is a beautiful visual image of the promise that Jesus Christ is here to live His resurrection life through you.

When we are resting in Christ, He is doing the work through us.  Our good cheer and diligence at doing good works comes from Him, not our own will-power or self-discipline or genius.  And the absolute beauty of this is we do not have to figure out and over-analyze “Is that Christ or me doing the work?”

Because our separation from the Father ended at our conversion, we can forge ahead doing the things God has asked us to do.  And we can trust that it is Christ Himself doing the work through us.  We are now one with Christ, one with the Spirit, and one with the Father.  And they are living and working in you!  And our beautiful Christian life becomes an ongoing dialogue of dependence on Him.

Entering God’s Rest in the Here and Now

The book of Hebrews in our Bible paints a clear picture of how Israel’s inability to enter the promised land due to a lack of faith is an example for us to learn from today.

“For who provoked Him when they had heard?  Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?  And with whom was He angry for forty years?  Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did He swear, that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?  And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Heb 3:16-19).

This is Israel’s story.  They could not enter God’s rest because of unbelief.  And the rest they failed to enter is a picture of God’s rest offered to us today; the simple rest of walking in God’s Spirit by faith.  This thought is taken up in the next verse.

“Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.  For indeed, we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united with faith in those who heard.  But we who have believed enter that rest” (Heb 4:1-3).

Notice the emphasis on faith for entering God’s rest.  The promise of entering the promised land did not profit Israel because the promise was not accompanied by faith on the part of the hearers; was not “united with faith” as the Scripture says.  Israel’s lack of faith made the promise essentially useless.  Likewise, faith is the key for us to enter God’s rest today.  “But we who have believed, enter that rest” (Heb 4:3).

There is a beautiful rest promised to believers today.  Jesus described it in the gospel of Matthew.  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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 shall find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my load is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

This offer of rest for our souls is resting in God’s grace.  It is resting in Christ doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.  It is resting in Christ living the life we could not live.  Both His sinless life on earth that set the stage for His death in our place that took away the penalty of our sins, and the life He lives inside us now that defeats the power of sin in us.

To emphasize, the sinless life that Christ lived on this earth was a life we could not live.  Likewise, the Christian life that we have been called to live today is a life we cannot live… on our own!  We need the Spirit’s power.  We need Christ living His resurrection life through us.  We need Jesus to live the life.  And His promise is that He is here and ready and willing and able with what is needed for you to enter His rest; to enter the place where Christ is living His life through you.

Hebrews chapter 4 continues, “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.  Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (Heb 4:9-11).

When we enter God’s rest, what works are we resting from?  We will take up that thought next time.