Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. So then, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs… For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.—Hebrews 4:1-2, 9-11, 15-16 NRSV
I think that each and every one of us seeks rest at the most fundamental level of our experiences. For some of us who are battling illness, what we want more than anything is rest from the hardship, tiredness, and pain of our condition. For others who grieve, we want rest from our heartache. For others still who struggle to hear God’s voice in difficult times, what we want is the rest and comfort found in God’s presence which reassures us by the power of the Spirit.
Rest is good. It is so good, in fact, that after God created all things and saw that they were “very good” (Genesis 1:31), God himself rested from his labors on the Sabbath day. Rest is the comfort of knowing that things are as they should be. Rest is the knowledge that God’s purposes of goodness, flourishing, and peace are alive and well in our lives. In a way, you might say that the trust required by that powerful word “faith” carries with it shades of rest, comfort, home, and confidence in God’s provision for our lives. Taking that a step further, the deliverance, the salvation we all seek is the fully human experience for which were made of resting in God’s caring arms. Jesus himself saw this when he encouraged us to consider the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28).
The writer of Hebrews sees this and then points out that our story as God’s people is a well-worn tale of unfortunate resistance to that lesson as we run from the rest for which we were made. That rest for which we long is open to us through Christ, the writer tells us, but we often fail to reach it and receive its benefit because we, in our weakness, are not “united by faith” (v.2). Like Israel in the wilderness, we fret and worry and plan, sure we have to make provision for ourselves for tomorrow.
Good thing God is faithful despite our hardheadedness. You see, God has provided the rest for which we long. The avenue into the full Sabbath for which we were made has opened up through our great high priest, Jesus the Christ. And you know the wonderful thing about him? He knows our weakness. He knows what it is to be us, and he sympathizes with our all too frequent halfheartedness. He knows us, he suffered as we do, and while we have failed the test time and again, he has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He, and he alone, has made a way by uniting himself with us.
Because he has done this for us, because he longs to be united with us and to give us this rest, he calls to us to “approach the throne of grace with boldness” (v. 16). He wants us to call upon his name in our time of weakness and, by his mercy and grace, to give us his presence so that we might endure our own time of trial. The wonderful news is that this way, his way, is open to us today! What we are called to do is to “make every effort to enter that rest” (v.11).
Your effort need not be grand in scale, or overwhelming in affect. The only effort that is needed is to call upon his name. Thanks be to God!