21st Sunday after Pentecost

October 18, 2015

Summary

Rest for Restless Lives

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

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.

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.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:1-16 ESV)

This week we continue the message we heard last week in the book of Hebrews of being called to follow Jesus. The reason for the message is that the first century church quickly found that when you don’t see Jesus, this becomes a hard thing to do. The twenty first century has the same message and 20 centuries of experience that testifies to the truth that we are people that can quickly forget what God has done for us, can live as practical atheists and ignore God, and can get hurt and angry with God when he doesn’t act as we want him to – or when his church annoys us or sins against us and we’re surprised and hurt! Last week the writer to the Hebrews pointed us to faithfulness not in what we see past or present (the good things of life) but instead in Jesus being present today to help us because humanity – Christian and non Christian – is sinful, selfish, self absorbed, self centred and when that focus is dominant than our lives maybe successful (or not), wealthy (or not), healthy (or not) but we will not have God’s peace that passes all understanding and trusts that he is with us each day and nothing can separate us from his love.

This week the writer to the Hebrews in chapter 4 picks up the same message – a call to faithfulness – so that people may enter God’s rest and not fall away or to use the image of the people in the wilderness, die before reaching the promised land. This faithfulness is about hearing God – hearing his Word today – for we live one day at a time – and not hardening our hearts today. The writer to the Hebrews also mentions the rest after the days of creation – what became the Sabbath rest – when God himself rested – which didn’t mean him putting up his feet, wiping his brow, and sipping a beer by the pool but was one of God blessing creation with his presence, making it holy, so that creation could live life to the full (the reason Jesus said for which he came into the world).
For the writer to the Hebrews, all calls to strive to enter this rest – this call to not put God on the shelf of our lives, to not ignore him, to not disobey him – is made not to scare us but because of the spiritual reality that left to ourselves we kill ourselves spiritually either by following false gods which are our own religions or by being deluded that knowledge of God is faith and trust in him or we are plagued by either pride or despair when we try to follow Jesus.

So we are always pointed away from ourselves to Jesus. Jesus is more than an angel who at times were called ‘sons of God’ for he is the Son of God and not an angel at all. He is greater than Moses who talked with God and gave the people God’s Word for he is God’s Word made flesh. Jesus is the second Adam who brings about a new creation through and in him. Jesus is the personification of the temple and the sacrifices and the priesthood all rolled into one. Think how challenging and life changing that statement would be to a religious pious Jew – to supersede the Temple and in its place put a person. Jesus is David’s descendant but also David’s Lord and the fulfilment of the psalms. And just as Joshua led the people into the promised land so this second Joshua – Jesus – gives rest in the promised land to his people – a Sabbath rest where he comes to his people to give them his word – himself! – through words, water, bread and wine.

In Christian worship we rest – we receive – we are cleaned, guided, helped, fed, and blessed – so that we can live with him – follow him – for another week in the world.

Such is the importance of Christian worship – not that we do things for God – but that he comes and does things for us. But now I’m back at the beginning because what happens when our sin, our pride, our despair, our arrogance, our apathy gets in the way of Jesus? What happens when Jesus or God doesn’t play the part we want him to? That’s why we are called ‘to strive to enter that rest’ – which isn’t about trying to be good (though that’s never a bad thing) – but is about striving to not let our sin, pride, despair, arrogance, apathy block us from hearing God’s Word – from hearing God reveal himself to us – and reveal us to ourselves (and frankly, that’s possibly the scariest thing of all).

We understand the power of words – poetry and stirring speech – words spoken by a loved one – and the writer to the Hebrews makes the claim that God’s Word is the only thing that keeps us from falling away from God – not because it presents nice pat answers to the problems of faith and life, snippets to quell doubt, zippy one-liners to sooth hurts – but because this Word cuts through us to expose us to ourselves (!), presents the incomprehensible mystery of human self destruction and wilfulness, and shows us our sins and fears, doubts and worries, wipes away the rationalisations and excuses for all our behaviours and leaves us terribly exposed. That’s why people don’t read the Bible because it shows us ourselves and humanity too well. It challenges us in ways that rock us to the core – which is why people want to edit and change so much of the Bible or claim it is outdated or irrelevant these days (claims, by the way, which have been made for twenty centuries!). But the Bible also presents us with Jesus – our great high priest – who represents us to God and God to us – that’s what’s happening on the cross – the ultimate sacrifice – and in Jesus we have someone who sympathises with our plight, who understands our weaknesses, our temptations, not to excuse us of our sin but rather to give mercy to sinners.

To read God’s word, to come to worship is to change – strictly, to be changed – usually imperceptibly – very occasionally dramatically – to grow in the relationship with Jesus and to increasingly enter God’s rest – ‘blessed to be a blessing’ is another way of putting it. We’re not talking about a slow climb to a higher consciousness, leaving the world so to speak but of an increasing confidence in the leap of faith that God isn’t a mind game, that he isn’t a delusion, that he is faithful, that he is good and that he does bring about good in all circumstances even as we often don’t see it while we very much live in this world – in our day-to-day messy lives with people and circumstances that might uplift us one day or drive us crazy the next. We live with ourselves too and our sins and shames, hopes and dreams and we hear each week – just as we hear echoes each day if we read God’s word – I forgive you – I am with you – I love you – Follow me – Trust me.

Messages that give restless lives rest that the world cannot give.

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Bible References

  • Hebrews 4:1 - 16