God’s Ministry of Rest

Moses had no small task ahead of him. He had led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, but now he had the overwhelming responsibility of leading them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. God would guide them with a cloud by day and fire by night, and He would supply manna from Heaven for their nourishment. But the desert was stark and there were no modern-day camping accommodations for five million people who would eventually wander the desert for forty years! Realizing the enormity of the task, Moses had two requests of God; “Who is going with me and let me know your ways?” Those may be the two most-important issues concerning every Christian’s journey. “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’” (Exodus 33:14).

Guiding five million complaining people across a barren desert for forty years is not anybody’s idea of a rest. The only way to evaluate the quality of a rest is to determine how one feels at the end. It was said of Moses forty years later when he looked into the Promised Land. “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (Deuteronomy 34:7). God gave Moses rest! Biblical rest is neither a cessation of labor nor the abdication of responsibility. Biblical rest is living God’s way by faith empowered by His presence. The alternative to Biblical rest is living our way in our own strength, which leads to burnout.

Under the Old Covenant, God provided rest for His people by setting aside one day per week. Even the land was to lie dormant every seventh year. This need for rest is still necessary for our bodies, but the Law was a shadow of something far greater to come. In Christ we find rest for our souls. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus is inviting us to come to His presence and learn from Him. We will find rest for our souls, because His ways are not hard and His burden is light (see Matthew 11:29-30).

“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. For we also have had the gospel preached to us . . . Now we who have believed enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:1-3). God’s work is finished and we have the privilege to rest in the finished work of Christ. “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. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11).

Dr. Neil

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