A Philadelphia Anabaptist Immersion during a Storm

Fighting to obtain peace sounds like an oxymoron. No, I’m not talking about conflicts between nations. I’m talking about conflicts between your head, heart, and soul, and the realities of life.

Fighting—striving for peace—is exactly what the Bible tells us to do.

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:11–13 italics added).1

I’ve snatched this passage out of context, so I need to fill in the gaps. (You can read it in the third and fourth chapters of Hebrews.) The author of Hebrews wrote how Israel failed to enter God’s Sabbath—His rest. Israel fell because of disobedience and faithlessness, and the author refers specifically to the time Israel didn’t trust God when they were in the wilderness: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years” (Hebrews 3:7–9).

The Lord talked like this after the scouting party had gone into the Promised Land and no one except Caleb and Joshua came back with a good and faith-filled report, which made the Lord so angry that He wanted to destroy Israel and start all over again with Moses. They had witnessed the great delivery, wrought by God’s mighty power, from the slavery of Egypt. After that, the Lord had supplied water in the wilderness from a rock. Food on the ground. Yet, when the enemies across the Jordan River seemed unconquerable, the people balked. They rebelled against His promise to enter the land. They didn’t believe that, somehow, this all-powerful God could defeat those adversaries. “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:18–19).

Well, Israel did eventually enter the land, and they did conquer, although all those listed in the census from twenty years of age and older who had grumbled would have to die first. They would never see God’s conquering ability, never enter the land of rest and promise.

However, another rest was to come. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:8–10).

Now, we can look at this in a couple of ways, I think. When we see the word “works,” we immediately think of the biblical contrast of our works of righteousness, which will never be good enough, to Jesus’ work on the cross, which was perfectly adequate.

Granted. And since the author of Hebrews was writing to a people who were experiencing persecution, it may be the case that he was encouraging them to believe that Jesus’ saving work, if they were to die, was sufficient for entrance into the Promised Land.

However, the scriptures the author uses here refer to Israel’s refusal to go into the Promised Land and achieve victory over its adversaries, adversaries that God Himself opposed. Passover had already occurred, as had delivery from slavery, both of which are types of Jesus’ saving work on the cross. It may be that the author is dealing with something else here—those whom God had saved needed to step up and believe in God’s ability to bring victory in life and ministry. Keep in mind that although the Lord promised possession of the land, Israel had to wield sword and shield and sling to take it. No work was necessary when the Lord brought the plagues in Egypt or divided the Red Sea. All that was required of Israel then was the application of the blood of a lamb and walking across dry land.

Well, then, how are we to enter that promised land, and rest from those works? How are we to avoid being disobedient and faithless?

In every case, when we bravely enter the “field of battle,” where souls are at stake and the truth must be told, after we have done what we can do, we believe that He will accomplish His victory—although we may have no clue what that looks like and what future events must transpire in order for that triumph to happen.

“Have I done enough? Did I speak the truth accurately? Did I say too much? I did what I could, but will God bring His victory to bear despite my inadequacies? Maybe I shouldn’t have entered the battle at all.” God’s answer: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

While you were working, He was present and working as well—the One who can pierce to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart—work which you cannot do. You have swung the sword. You have defended with the shield. You have done what you knew. Doubts, pressures, and thoughts swirl around in your head, but fight—strive—to enter the rest, praying, bringing thoughts into captivity in Christ, because God is supremely, perfectly capable although you are not. Believe He is able. God has done very many mighty works of victory in the past.

This is that same God.

And remember Jesus, the ultimate victorious One.

What did His death accomplish? Nothing, as far as the onlookers on that Friday were concerned. Jesus was laid in a tomb, but God was still at work, although those witnesses had no clue that the most important victory in the history of the world was right at hand.

We do the best we can, the best we know how, to overcome the lies of darkness and steadfastly bring truth and life to others. We should not shun that conflict because we fear our inadequacies. Part of that battle is that we must strive to enter the rest that He—not us—is victorious in all things. He always has been and always will be.

1 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society

Artwork compliments of the Smithsonian Art Museum.