The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

October 24, 2021

Hebrews 4:9-16

There Remains a Sabbath-Rest for the People of God!

 

 

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.  For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

Rest. Rest is something that we not only enjoy, but rest is something that we need, something that we require. After a long day of sitting in a classroom listening and learning and studying, we need a break! We need some rest! After a hard day in the office or a hard day in the factory or a hard day wherever it is we work— we need a break! We need some rest! After working in the garden or working in the yard or working in the garage we need a break! We need some rest!

 

How do you get the rest and relaxation that you need? Some people find their rest and relaxation by playing video games on the computer or by watching television. Some people find their rest and relaxation by going hiking or camping. Some people find their rest and relaxation by attending a sporting event or by going shopping. Since we are all very different from each other our idea of rest and relaxation can easily be very different from someone else’s idea of what it means to rest and relax.

 

Just as our physical bodies need rest and just as our minds need rest so also our souls need rest on a regular basis. Fighting against the temptations that the devil brings against us, dealing with the attacks that the unbelieving world levels against us, struggling with the siren-songs of our old sinful nature— all of it can easily lead us to the point where our soul cries out, “I need a break! I need some rest!”

 

Whenever you find yourself at that point, my friends, you would do well to turn to a portion of Scripture such as our sermon text for today. Whenever we are weak, whenever we are weary, whenever we need some spiritual rest and relaxation for our soul we can turn to this portion of Scripture and hear God the Holy Spirit say to us:  There Remains a Sabbath-Rest for the People of God! As we study this portion of Scripture there are two points we want to highlight. The first point is this:  The rest we need is the rest that God Himself has already freely provided to us. The second point is this:  The rest we need is the rest that God Himself helps us to attain.

 

The rest that we need is the rest that God Himself has already freely provided. Look at how that truth is brought out in the opening verses of our text. The writer to the Hebrews assures us, “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.”

 

For the Jewish Christians who first read this letter these words reminded them that the “rest” which the Lord their God freely provides for His people is not to be equated with the specific piece of geography that God promised to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In fact, in the verse immediately preceding our text, the original readers of this letter were reminded, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.”   These Jewish Christians knew very well that many of the people whom the Lord their God rescued from slavery in the land of Egypt were not allowed to cross the Jordan River and enter into the Promised Land. The original readers of this letter knew that even after God’s people did enter the Promised Land, even after God’s people were firmly established in the Promised Land, the Lord God warned them through His servant great King David, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”  If they did harden their hearts the Lord would say to them exactly what He said to the people in the days of Moses, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest’” (Psalm 95:7, 11;  See also Hebrews 4:6, 7).

 

Since the “rest” that all of God’s people need— including us!— cannot be found in a particular physical location, then where is it? What is it? The answer to questions like that is found in the words, “For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”  These words automatically take us back to the seventh day of Creation. The God who lives in the eternal present, the God who sees all things and knows all things at all times, knew how important it was for Adam and Eve (as well as for all of us) to have “rest”— on a regular basis.  That’s why we read in Genesis chapter two, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2, 3).

 

The Sabbath Day, the “day of rest” that God provided for His people not only served to provide God’s people with the physical rest and the mental rest their bodies required, but the Sabbath Day of “rest” served as a day of “rest” for their soul. This was the day that they were to set aside so that their soul could find the “rest” and the relaxation that only God could provide to them through reading and studying His holy Word on a regular basis. Even more importantly, the Sabbath day of “rest” served as small “taste” of the “rest” their souls would one day enjoy— in God’s heavenly Home! Yes, my friends, the words “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” assure us of the ultimate “rest,” the perfect “rest” that God Himself freely provides to us, the “rest” that our God Himself has waiting for us in heaven above.

 

How do we attain this “rest” that God has freely provided for us? The simple/correct answer is one that we Lutherans know very well. We attain the “rest” that God has provided for us, we enter into the “perfect” rest of heaven purely by grace through faith in what Jesus has done for us! (Pointing to the cross)  Since this simple/correct answer goes against everything our logical minds can comprehend, the writer to the Hebrews gives us a warning. It is a warning that is designed to keep our limited logical minds from preventing us from entering into the “rest” that our God has freely provided to us. Look at verses 11-13 of our text. We read, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

 

“Therefore, make every effort to enter that rest”? Does that mean that we have to do something before we can enter God’s “rest”? Not at all! The Bible assures us that Jesus has already done everything that is necessary for us to enter into the eternal “rest” of heaven. We can, however, forfeit that “rest.”  The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of this reality when he says, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”  While it’s very easy for us to understand that there is no work that we can possibly do to earn our own way into heaven, the devil is very good at trying to convince us that since Jesus has done it all for us, we are now free to do whatever we want and to live however we want. Satan is very good as tempting us to adopt a philosophy which leads us to say, “I don’t have to follow what God has revealed to me in His Word. I don’t have to go to church or read my Bible or receive Holy Communion on a regular basis. Since I am forgiven, I can use my time in better ways— ways that I like, ways that I want.”

 

That care-free cavalier attitude can easily lead us into the “disobedience” that caused God’s people of old to forfeit their entry into the “Sabbath-rest” God had provided for them. It takes “work,” it takes “every effort” to resist and to overcome what we might call “spiritual laziness” when it comes to living our life in a way that openly proclaims that our ultimate goal is to enjoy the eternal perfect “rest” of heaven.

 

To help us overcome that “spiritual laziness” the writer to the Hebrews reminds us of the power of God’s holy Word. Even if we are outwardly living an upright, decent, Christian life, even if other people admire us for our piety and our devotion, God’s Word has the power to “penetrate” any and all hypocrisy. God’s Word has the power to “judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  God’s Word has the power to remind us that one day we will be required to “give account” to the God who sees all and hears all and knows all. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says to us, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”

 

Have you been making “every effort”? Or, have there been times when you have “fallen”? Have there been times when you have been “disobedient”? Since we all know the answers to those questions, we would all do well to take to heart the closing verses of our text. The writer to the Hebrews says to you and to me, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

 

Do we need help to enter the “rest” God has provided to us? Yes, we do! Do we need help as we “make every effort” to avoid falling into “disobedience”? Yes, we do! Do we need help when God’s “living, active, sharp” Word “penetrates” deep into our heart and exposes our hypocrisy? Yes, we do! Will we need help when we are summoned before the Judgment throne of God to “give account” of everything we have said or done or thought? Yes, we most certainly will! Where do we find this kind of help? All the help we need is found— in Him! (Pointing to the cross)

 

Jesus is all the help we need because He is our “great high priest”! As our “great high priest” Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice to completely pay for all of our sins— His holy, precious, innocent blood. As our “great high priest” Jesus is the only One who truly understand exactly what we go through as we journey through this world. How so? Jesus is not only our “great high priest,” but He is also our true Brother! Jesus has not only faced every temptation we could ever possibly face, but He is the only One who has completely defeated each and every one of them. And as our “great high priest” Jesus is the only One who enables us to approach the throne of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth “with confidence” because Jesus is the only One who can and does guarantee that through faith in Him we will “receive mercy and find grace” when we stand before the One “to whom we must give account.”

 

Rest. Rest is something that we enjoy. Rest is something that we need. My prayer then this morning is two-fold. First of all, I pray that you will always remember that just as you need rest for your physical body and just as you need rest for your mind, so also, you need rest for your soul. Secondly, I pray that you will always remember what the writer to the Hebrews assures you of today, “There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.”  It is a rest that God Himself freely provides to you. It is a rest that God Himself graciously helps you to attain.

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen