biblemike wonders

There isn't anything new in what I have to say, but I do see life from an unique perspective. As my body is shutting down, my soul is opening up to a greater and greater relationship with Christ. I am sharing the things I learn as I go through my trials so that those who read what I write will be encouraged in their own walks by how gracious God has been to me in mine. Ask me questiions, dispute my views and most of all pray for me. www.ucfm.net
UCFM Evangelistic Association

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

 

Finding The Rest God Has For Us

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Please accept my regrets for not posting in so long. I have been distracted by other things that I should not have let distract me. Isn’t that the most common problem we all have in following Christ? Why is it that despite all God has done for us individually, as revealed through our personal experience as well as Scripture leading us to salvation, that we are so resistant to accepting and enjoying the benefits of our relationship with Him now in our daily existence? A primary example of that is in the hurried way we approach our lives in both the physical and spiritual aspects. Jesus made numerous references to His rest and His peace, but we Christians, for the most part, live our lives as if those are promises for some future time rather than guarantees of the life we can now have in Jesus Christ. Do we not believe what Jesus said? Perhaps it is just too hard to believe something we can’t see, touch or hear?

“Come to me, all you 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

First notice Jesus says we must come to Him. He is the source of all comfort and rest. “I am the door,” Jesus said, “if any man enters through me, he will be saved.” (John 10:9 NIV) Jesus is the door through which God’s rest is obtained. So often we seek rest from the rush and difficulties of daily living through means other than Christ. Some seek release in exercise which can be helpful physically and mentally, but spiritual rest must come through spiritual means only available in Jesus Christ. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 NIV) Some Christians even make the mistake of substituting church for Christ as the source of peace. Therein lies a path that leads to idolatry.

The second characteristic of this rest is that it is offered to everyone without regard to race, gender, social status or any other manmade criteria. Jesus offers this rest to all who are weighted down by the burdens of life. Jewish life in the time of Jesus’ physical ministry on Earth was a thing of burdens. There were endless rules to which they were supposed to adhere. Rules not made by God, but nit picking extrapolations derived from God’s law but whose purpose was more a matter of control for one group over others.

For the orthodox Jews religion was a thing of burdens and second guessing of every act, every gesture, every thought. Thus Jesus said of the scribes and Pharisees: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders.” (Matthew 23:4 NIV) For the Jews with whom Jesus spoke rules were endless. A man lived his life in a forest of regulations which dictated every minute action of his life. He listened constantly to a voice that never stopped whispering, “Thou shalt not.” How grateful they must have been for the mere promise of rest!

The third aspect of this promise is easier for the people of Jesus’ time or agricultural people to understand. A yoke was a device attached to an animal’s shoulders to which could be connected the means of pulling a cart, a sled, a plow or some other load. The construction of the yoke was very important. A poorly made yoke or one that did not fit properly would cause sores o the animals back and shoulders. The animal would pull improperly and off balance damaging muscles and ligaments. No farmer wanted to destroy a valuable animal! In Palestine, for instance, the oxen yokes were made out of wood and made to fit the specific ox, although a poor farmer may be forced to use a yoke designed for oxen in general. The better the fit, the more amenable the animal was to doing its work. Obviously, the ox would struggle against a poor fitting and uncomfortable yoke. Jesus says His yoke is easy, but make no mistake – it is designed like all yokes for one purpose – work. He has work for us to do, work that He comes along side of us to help and share with us. It is the work of His love.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, or he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8 NIV)

“This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.” (Galatians 5:3 NIV)

In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words, “walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (Peterson, Eugene H., The Message: New Testament In Contemporary English, Colorado Springs, CO, Nav Press 1993 p. 31.)

Jesus borrows the phrase, “you will find rest for your souls” from a passage in the sixth chapter of the book of Jeremiah.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But you said we will not walk in it.” Jeremiah 6:16

Our rest in Jeremiah’s words comes from returning to God and faithfulness to the will of God – which in Jesus’ words is the same as taking His yoke and learning to be gentle and humble like Him. How is it that Jesus gives us God’s rest? Certainly His divinity gives Him the power, but specifically what does scripture tell us about the means and qualifications of Jesus to provide this peace and rest to us? We find the best explanation in the prayer Christ offers just before offering this invitation to rest:

“I praise You, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well pleasing in your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Matthew 11:25-27 NIV

The Father has handed all things over to the Son – the knowledge of the Father, His eternal plans and the empowerment to reveal that knowledge in any amount Jesus wants to whomever Jesus wants. Jesus knows and discloses to us the entire truth about the Father’s redeeming love. From the God of love through the Son comes all knowledge including the knowledge of rest. Jesus’ closing words in the passage parallel His gentleness and humility: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The Greek word for easy is chrestos, meaning good or kind and points to the divine kindness inherent in God’s merciful and patient Grace. Combining this sense of kindness with the image of the yoke and we get the idea of a kindness that is “well fitting,” or which comes spontaneously and naturally. Jesus’ yoke is not ill fitting, but rather it is well made and pleasant to work in. Likewise, His burden is not something that drags us down or saps our strength, but it is something that is easy to bear, easy to perform when wearing the right equipment, the right yoke. Jesus is telling us that that our participation in His life should be a joy and not a chore. We find rest for our souls because we are using the right tools: Jesus’ yoke, not one we have made ourselves or have obtained on the basis of church membership, but rather one made specifically for us by the master carpenter. We find rest because the chores we perform are those for which we have been designed and trained by the master teacher, not tasks we have taken upon ourselves to “do for God” or tasks assigned to us by religious tradition or legalism.

When we first came to Christ, we knew all this. Yet, as time passes, we begin to lose that sense of peace and rest. What has happened to us and how can we fix it? The answer to that can be found in learning from the missteps of the ancient Israelites. On the brink of the promised land, the grumbling, doubting people of Israel grumbled and doubted one time too many for God. Standing on the very brink of the Jordan river, their toes actually touching that flowing stream which is all that barred them from entering this glorious land, the became filled with fear. They lost all confidence in the God who had divided the Red Sea, provide food to eat, clothing that did not wear out and made His physical presence known to them. They did this all because of a few giants, who they certainly could not have beaten on their own, but with God they could conquer anything and anyone. As a result their unbelief and fear kept them from crossing the river and doomed them to become part of the very desert in which they had wandered. The letter to the Hebrews summarizes this sad chapter in the history of Israel.

“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” Hebrews 6: 12-14

“Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses had led out of Egypt? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not those who had sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter His rest if not those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter because of their unbelief.” Hebrews 6: 16-19

“So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and so they have not chosen my ways.’ So I declared on oath in My anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” Hebrews 6:7-11

“Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter My rest.’” Psalm 95:7b-11

With this graphic picture of Israel’s foolishness in mind, the author of Hebrews (who I believe to be Paul as the majority of conservative commentators do) issues a stern warning: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” (Hebrews 4:1 NIV) Just as the golden land of promise stretched across the horizon in front the camps of Israel, so God’s rest stretches before us as a golden opportunity, but our entering in to that rest is not automatic.

Before we go any further, I should define what I am referring to when I use the term rest in this context. The Greek word is katapausis and it refers “to the rest or resting place that God gives His people.” (Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, editors, Theological Dictionary o the New Testament, translated and abridged by Geoffrey Bromiley, 1985). Rather than a physical place like the Promised Land, the rest offered to us is spiritual and will be fully realized when Christ puts things right at the end of all time, but we certainly can taste of it now in significant proportions as promised by Christ in Matthew chapter eleven.

An explanation of this specially provided resting place can be found in Hebrews 4:2-8. The explanation breaks down to three main points. First, entering God’s rest takes the right recipe.

“For we also have had the Gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God said, ‘So I declared an oath in my anger, they shall never enter my rest.’ And yet His work has been finished since the beginning of the world.” Hebrews 4:2-3 NIV

Contained in these two verses is the simple recipe: mix one part hearing with one part believing and you will have rest. If we ignore that formula, we’ll have no rest. Preaching the Word is essential to obtaining rest, but unless faith in Jesus Christ follows the hearing or it, there will be no rest here or hereafter. Merely attending a church that preaches the Bible isn’t enough. Relying on tradition or the Nicene Creed isn’t enough. The hearts must be fertile and receptive to the seed that is sown, just as Jesus explained to His disciples in Matthew 13:1-23, particularly verse 23: “But the one who received the seed that felon good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Second, we must recognize that entering God’s rest takes the right attitude.

“For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.’ And again in the passage above he says, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience.” Hebrews 4:4-6

In this section, Paul (remember I am assuming Paul is the author) goes all the way back to Creation quoting from chapter 2, verse 2 of Genesis. God Himself established the pattern of rest when He worked six days and rested on the seventh. (Keep reading this isn’t going where you think.) The first six days of Creation are marked by the phrase “and there was evening and there was morning” (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). However, when we come to the seventh day, there are no time boundaries.

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” Genesis 2:1-2

You will note there is no mention of evening and morning. There is not mention of the eighth day. There is no mention of subsequent days at all. Meaning what? Meaning for the purposes of His Sabbath rest that rest continues on through today. And God never intended to enjoy the repast of those special green pastures and quiet fields of rest for Himself alone. He opened the gate for all who would soften their hearts and believe.

The Israelites of Moses’ generation failed to enter God’s physical rest in the Promised Land because of disobedience. Their history after that time into future generations shows that many continued to miss out in His spiritual rest because of disobedience and faithlessness. The lesson to us is to take God at His word and to trust Him, because when we do we live in the foretaste of that great heavenly banquet to He Himself has invited us.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! Or the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

Finally, entering into God’s rest takes the right time.

“Therefore, God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.” Hebrews 4:7-8 NIV

Twice Paul emphasizes the urgency of entering in to God’s rest today. The time is now and he urges us not to put God off or delay our opportunity to enjoy God’s rest. Every day, as morning light begins to chase away the shadow of night; our feet should hit the floor with our hearts already overflowing with the presence of God!

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:9-10 NIV

The same rest that God entered into after creation remains for us to enter in and partake of. Paul coins an entirely new word in Greek to express the concept of this rest, sabbatismos, “Sabbath-rest.” Thus is it true here and now for those who put their trust in Jesus and His finished work do get to rest from their own work. For those there is no striving to achieve salvation through their own efforts, that work is over. There is now and always will be only the resting in what God has done. And it is also true o the future, for in the world to come, the New Heaven and the New Earth, all who are in Christ have eternal rest from the strivings of this world and a rest from all their work. In both cases, it is correct to say that we are resting from our work just as God has from His.

Verse eleven gives direct counsel to those who have a difficult time entering into a lifestyle of rest. (Raise your hands everybody! Come on, come on. Get those hands up!)

“Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall to following their example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11 NIV

At first glance the command to be diligent to rest sounds like he is saying work hard at sleeping, but that is not the case at all. The effort here referred to is the effort of faith. It is hard to believe the promises of God. Why? Because they appear to be too good to be true. For instance, it is hard for us to forgive ourselves, much less accept the fact that a perfect God would forgive us of our sins and do so by sacrificing His own Son! God says we are to seek His kingdom and he will take care of the rest of our needs. (Matthew 6:33) It is hard for us to believe that God will meet our daily needs, that those needs don’t have to be our number one priority. We have to work at believing God.

This is exactly what the Israelites did not do. Through their disobedience and doubt they lost out on God’s rest, although they remained His chosen people. We also can miss out on that taste of God’s eternal rest He has for us, though we still belong to Jesus. Let us learn from the Israelites and cultivate our faith and full enter into the joyful rest God has for us.

There are three primary barriers to rest. They are presumption, panic and pride. We become presumptuous when we think we have it all figured out, when we think we can second guess God and how He should solve our problems. When we take upon ourselves to institute that solution on behalf of God instead of waiting on Him to do it His way. We become panicked when we begin to see ourselves as grasshoppers and our problems as giants. (“And the spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘the land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there [the descendents of Anak come from the Nephilim]. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Numbers 13:31-33) We become prideful when we feel we can life’s problems without Jesus’ or anyone else’s help and try to pull ourselves up instead of reaching up to God’s ever present hand.

What can we do to overcome these common, constant, ever present barriers to our rest? Very little, because it takes very little. Just because it is hard for us to believe things are simple, doesn’t mean they aren’t. Here is some very simple, easy to follow advice that comes from the Scriptures, not from me.

Resist presumption by making David’s prayer your own, “Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins.” (Psalm 19:13) Constantly turn to God and recognize you will never get it right without Him. You will be tempted to think so as you learn more and more about the Bible and struggle successfully with sins in your life. It is that very success that Satan will use to cause to think you have God all figured out and you know just what He wants so why bother to ask. Think for a few minutes about where that takes you.

Refuse to panic. Panic is a choice we make. Take a minute. Take a deep breath and then turn to God and ask Him to give you His eyes or seeing the problem as it is. If for reasons He chooses not to share with you at this time, He doesn’t do so, then look to the past. Has He ever failed to keep His promises to you? Has He ever deserted you? Is there any problem too big for God? There you go. Simple isn’t it? “Nothing is impossible for God.” Luke 1:37 NIV

Get rid of your pride. God does not help those who help themselves. Those folks get to fall flat on their faces just like alcoholic Benjamin Franklin, who made that saying up. God helps those who cry out to Him.

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying ‘Destroy him!’” Deuteronomy 33:27 NIV

“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them – the Lord, who remains faithful forever.” Psalm 146:5-6

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

It is time to surrender to God, not just for your salvation, but for your daily peace and rest as well. Let go and let God the bumper sticker says. Sometime bumper stickers are right on point.



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