Is there anyone alive today who is not looking for a place of rest, peace, tranquility and freedom from undo anxiety and stress. I think it is safe to say that we long for such a place; in the Old Testament this idea was represented as the Promised land for the chosen people. But let me ask, is there a promised land for the church of Jesus Christ – his body? Before we answer that question let us look at the template for our faith. I am referring to Abraham whom Paul calls the “father of our faith”. I like to think of the patriarch’s fatherhood as an early example of the way in which our lives should be animated with the same spirit by which he lived or simply stated we are infused by the same spirit which governed his life.
Two key things happened early in Abram’s interactions with Yahweh. First, he was declared righteous by believing God’s promise in the stars and secondly, he was given an inheritance of land for he and his descendants.
As Christians, we tend to think, “I’ve received Christ as my savior so I’m all set”. The problem with this thinking should be obvious. While it is true that we have been delivered from Egypt (world system) we often fail to enter that place of rest. We are content wandering through life in the wilderness and end up dying out there having never entered our Canaan.
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
I am not referring to rest as a break from work, a vacation in the mountains, nor is it getting out of debt, a better job or a night to binge on Netflix. What I am thinking of is a deep contentment of the soul, an inner peace, tranquility, a confidence that is rooted and solid in spite of the swirling chaos and confusion the world offers. But you ask, is that even possible in the 21st century and if so, how do I get there?
Yes, I believe it is, but it takes work to get there. One might ask, Work? I thought the New Testament was all about grace through faith – everything was already done at the cross? And while that is true regarding our salvation, we have been saved and delivered from the tyranny of Egypt and this world system but are we living in the promised land of rest? For they are related, but they are not the same!
Hebrews three and four as well as the opening chapters of Joshua point us to the availability of God’s rest. The two models of rest provided in Hebrews are the creation story and then Joshua leading the Jews to possess Canaanite territory. The creation story was six days of God’s creative handiwork followed by a sabbath. The model pictured in Joshua was to drive out the Canaanites and possess their territory, thus inheriting a homeland which they neither built nor planted.
So, as we discover, the concept of rest is the completion of a task. God created and then rested. The Jews were to take possession of the land and then enjoy rest. The rest came after the task not as a replacement for the task. That is what God had in mind for the ancient Hebrews and it remains available for us as well, but there were some obstacles which prevented the attainment of these goals.
I think we can agree that the people were rebellious, hard-hearted, disobedient as well as grumbling complainers even though God demonstrated his miraculous power and glory for forty years.
A Life of Wandering
Why could the people not enter the Lord’s provision? We might respond it was their lack of faith, rebellion, disobedience…yes those are all true, but I think it goes a bit deeper. Where do faith, rebellion and hardness of heart come from? Do they not originate within our souls? The voice of the Lord is heard in our spirit, but the soul of man is not automatically sanctified and made holy when we are “delivered from Egypt”. In other words, the path to spiritual adulthood is a partnership with the Spirit of God. Our spirits are indeed born again when we are saved, but the sanctifying work of the soul is a lifelong pursuit in cooperation with the spirit of grace and the ministry of our high priest.
We now come to that pivotal verse which provides the glue connecting Israel as our example to Jesus as our high priest.
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
When I hear the word of God it cuts, divides or separates between my soul and spirit. The word of God as a sword is an offensive weapon, but the target of that weapon is not those around me nor people who grate on my nerves. The one needing to be driven out of the land is my own nature, my “old man”, my habitual patterns of behavior. Is that not what needs to die, for only then can I experience the rest which he has promised. The word of God, if I allow, will expose my motives, my hidden agendas and the dark places in my soul.
The final verse of Hebrews 4 sums up our exposed condition beautifully. It is a blessed place to find ourselves emotionally naked and exposed by the word of God because this is where our high priest can do his best and lasting work, because he is our Joshua, our commander of the armies of heaven.
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testing’s we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being my high priest, for understanding all the broken pieces of my life and graciously leading me on toward inner wholeness and spiritual maturity. Please lead me on and give me the courage and strength to follow you into that place of rest and wholeness.