“God’s Rest”

THE FOLLOWING IS THE MANUSCRIPT FOR A SERMON I PREACHED IN EMMANUEL REFORMED CHURCH ON SUNDAY, JULY 16, 2017, AS PART OF OUR WORSHIP AND PREACHING SERIES THROUGH THE NEW TESTAMENT LETTER “TO THE HEBREWS.”  THANK YOU FOR READING!

Today’s Reading: Hebrews 3:7-4:11

When Christ speaks, we must listen, and obey.

We’re still only beginning our study through the letter to the Hebrews. This passage is part of the letter’s introduction. To grasp the significance of these words, remember how the letter opens:

In these last days [God] has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.

Hebrews 1:2

If that is true, which we hold it is, then all that follows is also true: first, that Christ is superior to angels, who are God’s divine messengers (Hebrews 1); and second, as we read last week, that Christ is superior to Moses, who was God’s greatest earthly messenger before Christ (Hebrews 3:1-6). Because Christ who became flesh is superior to angels, the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to great confidence because our Great Christ has established us as His earthly family in His name (Hebrews 2). In the same way, because Christ who became flesh is superior to Moses, the writer of Hebrews exhorts us be more faithful to Christ than the Israelites were to Moses. Our charge is clear: if God has spoken to us in these days by His own Son, Jesus Christ, then we must listen.

To that end, the writer of Hebrews gives us a sermon on Psalm 95:7: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” God is speaking to us in Christ. Today. By His Holy Spirit. “Do not harden your hearts.”

The writer of Hebrews, in writing to Jewish Christians, capitalizes on their ethnic-religious history for rhetorical effect, by recounting episodes of their ancestors’ many rebellions: testing God through their grumbling, disobeying him at every turn, and retreating from God’s land of promise, rather than entering it with courage.

The radical distrust and disobedience of Israel had consequences. Namely, Israel wandered 40 years in the wilderness while generations passed away without seeing God’s land of promise, without entering God’s rest.

The writer of Hebrews writes to say that the opposite is just as true. If we live in radical trust and radical obedience, we enter God’s rest.

We enter rest through radical trust, and radical obedience.

Belief and Obedience. These are the key. Belief is familiar to us. Our churches structure themselves for belief. We understand “belief” to mean our ideas about God, what our minds know and hold true. But the “belief” that the writer of Hebrews is writing about, the “belief” that his audience, the Jewish Christians, understood that they were to practice, is more than a matter of the mind. “Belief” as the Bible presents it, “belief” as God calls us to practice, is about surrendering all of who we are, trusting all of who we know God to be. This goes beyond knowing about God’s faithfulness, or His mercy, or His goodness, or His love. This deep, abiding belief is about knowing God’s faithfulness, knowing God’s mercy, knowing God’s goodness, knowing God’s steadfast love, firsthand. That kind of belief gives us the confidence to entrust ourselves to God, and know His rest.

But belief without obedience is not enough (James 1:17). As the writer of Hebrews writes, it was the disobedience of the Jews that excluded them from God’s rest. To enter and experience the same Sabbath rest that God knows as ruler of all things, we must practice radical obedience. That sounds counter-intuitive. Obedience sounds like work. Rest sounds like the opposite of work. So how does obedience bring us rest?

First, we need a greater understanding of obedience. As the writer of Hebrews presents it here, disobedience is the natural outworking of a heart hardened to God’s message of grace, and to God’s messenger, Christ Jesus. With a hard heart, the message and the Messenger are rebuffed, with no gained understanding or acceptance or change. That is why, when we hear Christ speaking God’s grace to us, we are charged repeatedly not to harden our hearts. Obedience, then, is the natural outworking of the new heart that God has put in us by His Holy Spirit. That new heart, soft and ready, hears Christ’s voice and naturally moves to do what He says, bearing the fruit of the Spirit and the harvest of righteousness.

Second, we need a greater understanding of the rest that God enjoys, the rest that God offers us. When God finished creating the heavens and the earth and all that live and move in them, God rested (Genesis 2:2). The record of the seventh day in Genesis 2 does not mention evening or morning, as on the first six days, suggesting that God’s rest persists even still. But we also know that God continues to work: upholding and sustaining all things, governing all things, and working all things for good. Scripture even goes so far as to say that God “neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:4). And yet, the writer of Hebrews writes as the Holy Spirit inspires him: that “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 4:10). God’s rest is the ongoing, abiding peace that He alone knows, because of His completion and enjoyment of what He has created good. Even now, as the world is fallen and bent toward destruction and division, God knows perfect peace and rest because He knows how this all ends: in the redemption, restoration, and reconciliation of all things in Him.

Put together, then, the good news in Christ is that God’s rest is open to us now. Certainly, we will experience the fullness of God’s divine, cosmic rest at the end of all things, when all things are made new, and our renewed selves will enjoy perfect peace with God (Revelation 14:13). But God’s rest – the same rest He enjoyed after completing the task of creation – is ours even now if we cease living our own lives our own ways for our own sakes. When we cease our work, and take up Christ’s work, we find true rest, true peace.

If you long for rest for your spirit this morning; if you find yourself “weary and heavy laden” from living on your own strength; if you feel the burden of a heart hardened by indifference or even rebellion toward God, then Jesus invites you:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30, MSG

True rest is available to you: Listen to Jesus speaking to you by His Holy Spirit each moment; trust God deeply, entrusting yourself fully to His faithful care; and work to follow Christ’s commands and obey His voice. Do not harden your hearts: Hear Christ, Trust Christ, Obey Christ, “and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

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