Hebrews 12, after lifting up numerous examples of enduring faith in chapter 11, speaks of Jesus as the captain on our faith, using a term seldom used in the Bible. Joshua, Saul, David, and Hezekiah were referred to as captain in parts of their reigns, and the Hebrew writer impresses on us that Jesus is a better ruler than even these. This same author quotes from the Psalms of David, and invokes more Old Testament imagery, in chapter 4:1-11, speaking of the rest into which we may enter.
Despite having some great leaders, the people of the Old Testament never found true rest in the Lord. He speaks of their disobedience, of their disbelief – not in God’s existence or His power, but rather in His all-sufficiency and His ability to provide something better than they already knew. Time and again in their history, the children of Israel demonstrate they long for and are content with the things of this world. They do not trust in God’s all-sufficiency and always keep God’s promises at arm’s length. Whether it’s coming out of Egypt, leaving the wilderness, living amidst the idolatry of Canaan, or returning from Babylonian captivity, they demonstrate a willingness to just stay where they are.
Are we like this spiritually? Are we content stagnating in our spiritual growth? Simply arriving into God’s deliverance is not the rest in itself (Hebrews 4:8-10), and we have a rest promised to us if we are diligent to remain faithful. Like ancient Israel, however, we fall short when we grow content in stagnation, when we grow resistant to facing the challenges of discipleship. Remember how often the children of Israel affirmed their faith in God and promised their obedience, falling short time and again because their actions did not support their words. Hebrews 3:16-19 reminds us this lack of faith and trust kept Israel from ever finding true rest in the Lord.
God has an eternal plan to save us and give us rest (Hebrews 1, Ephesians 3:11). We may not follow that plan, however, and be content with something that approximates that plan but cannot provide the ultimate peace of Hebrews 4:9-10, this cessation of all labor to live in God’s glory for all time. Think of the imagery in Revelation 21-22, where death, tears, suffering will be forever erased. All the trials we face in this life will be behind us, and we will find our peace in Him.
We cannot be content with where we are spiritually. We cannot become sedentary. We cannot keep looking back at the comforts we left behind to follow God. Our path is not the easy path. Instead, we must strive forward to be like and with Christ. God has promised us something better, but it takes obedience, faith, and growth to reach that promised rest.
We have to listen to those good tidings of Hebrews 4:2-7. We have to then be obedient to that word like the Hebrew writer admonishes us in chapter 4:6 and 11. Then we can never become complacent with our progress. Our actions and our attitudes convey our faith in God’s all-sufficiency, in His ability to provide something better. We cannot consider ourselves to have arrived until we hear Him say, “Enter in, good and faithful servant.”
lesson by Tim Smelser