The prophet Isaiah reminds us that there is an incessant, persistent restlessness that characterises the wicked of this world. He says that ‘the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt’ (Isaiah 57:20).
What a powerful picture this is! Many of you, like me, have stood on a beach and watched the endless churning and splashing of the ocean as it lashes against the shore. So the hearts of men who do not know God are always seeking something that can fulfil. But the search never ends until a person rests in God’s promises.
Rest, in the Bible, is not at root contrasted with work, for, as the apostle James stresses, where there are no good works, faith is empty and meaningless (James 2:17). Rather rest is contrasted with unbelief, for it is unbelief that produces fear, anxiety and worry.
Of course, true believers are not totally exempt from these emotions that torment the soul. But, so far as God’s children truly believe God’s promises and trust in them, their souls have peace and rest.
In Hebrews 4:3 it says: ‘For we who believe do enter that rest’. There are various interpretations of this ‘rest’ mentioned in Hebrews. Some say it is the weekly sabbath, but arguments for this are very weak. Nor is it the rest of heaven (although there will be eternal rest there), for the author of Hebrews says that believers have already entered it.
The rest is salvation in Christ, a salvation that comes only one way, and that is by believing. Hebrews 3:19 makes clear that it is ‘unbelief’ that prevents a person from entering this blessed rest.
While it is true that all who know the Lord have salvation through Jesus Christ, there is no doubt that the enjoyment of this privilege, from a practical standpoint, depends on how much the believer actually ‘rests’ in God’s promises.
Intellectually, we all believe the Bible is the Word of God, but often when we see problems like mountains rise before us, our faith wavers and we resemble the churning waters described by Isaiah.
Unbelief in any form is sinful. The sin of un-belief will sentence the wicked to an eternity without God. But failure to trust the Lord can cause even the saints to sink into fear, and even despair. Witness how the disciples panicked when the storm came up on the sea of Galilee as they rode in the boat. Jesus rebuked them for their fearfulness (Mark 4:40).
Frankly, I am glad this account of the disciples’ fright during the storm is in the Bible, for it is a reminder of just how frail and weak Christians can be. I see myself there with them, crying out, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ Many saints in a time of sorrow and grief have asked, ‘Does Jesus care?’
Each of us should honestly and frankly ask ourselves, ‘Do we actually, totally trust in God’s promises to care for us?’ Are our souls truly at rest, relying completely on God to fulfil his Word?
When we get our eyes off God and his Word, and start focusing on the dangers, we can begin to fear. Oh how sweet it is to completely trust in God and enjoy the peace of God that comes, as a result of it!
John F. Thornbury