The other day, I was having a conversation with a co-worker about a vacation she and her husband had taken. They had gone on an all-inclusive cruise. And her acclaim of the cruise was ringing. "It was remarkable," she said. "We didn't have to do a thing. All we did was relax. You know how sometimes you come back from a vacation tired, feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation? I didn't feel that way at all. I came back truly rested."
I know the feeling of needing a vacation from my vacation. I once went on a so-called "vacation" with some buddies to do some hiking in Big Bend National Park. We hiked all day and slept for maybe five hours at night. By the time I returned home, I was so sore and tired, I slept for fifteen hours straight.
The Israelites too knew the feeling a needing a vacation from their vacation. In our reading for today from Hebrews 4, the author recounts how the Israelites were led to a veritable resort when they were led into the Promised Land. After all, this was the "land flowing with milk and honey." (Joshua 5:6). Thus, it should have been a place of tranquil respite. But instead, it became a place where the Israelites continually rebelled against God and his commandments. As great as God's Promised Land might have been, it did not offer the Israelites true rest because the Israelites belligerently toiled in their sin. This is why the author of Hebrews writes, "If Joshua had given the Israelites rest, God would not have spoken later about another day" (verse 8). Joshua could not lead the Israelites into true rest. Thus, God had to promise rest for another day in another way. What is this "other rest" that God promises? The author describes it "a Sabbath-rest for the people of God" (verse 9). The Mishnah, an ancient compendium of Jewish rabbinical teaching, explains this Sabbath-rest thusly: "[There is a] time to come... that shall be all Sabbath and rest in the life everlasting" (Tamid 7:4). The rest that is promised is life everlasting, when we, as God's people, will enjoy unfettered fellowship with him. In this world, we slog and sweat, but on the Last Day, we will rest from our work and with our God. In the mean time, however, we are to "strive to enter that rest" (verse 11, ESV).
Although I enjoy going on vacation, I do not particularly enjoy preparing for vacation. For there are always so many things to prepare before I leave the office. Bible studies have to be drafted. Guest speakers and teachers have to be scheduled. Writings have to readied. Work is always especially intense before I take time away. I have to strive in order to go on vacation. So it is with our salvation. There is an eternal rest coming, but in the mean time, there is plenty to do. There are our families to support and people to serve and lost people to evangelize. And sometimes, it can all seem a little overwhelming. But the author of Hebrews reminds us: Do not fear such striving. For such striving is fine preparation for the eternal rest you will enjoy with God.
Does your life involve some particularly severe strife right now? If so, remember that your striving in the midst of stress is only temporary. For on the other side of such strife, there lies rest. And so strive away. For your rest is coming. And it will be the best rest you have ever gotten in your life. Because it will be the rest that is eternal life.