Subject: How should we respond to the Sabbath rest that is available to God’s people?
Complement: We should not respond with disobedience as the Israelites in Moses’ day did when they were offered the Promised Land, but with obedient faith so that we may enter God’s rest.
Note on the sermon: This passages is filled with complex logic and obscure references but actually addresses something very relevant for people living today. The author wants his readers to respond to the good news of Jesus with faith. He does not want them to harden their hearts like the Israelites did in the wilderness. To entice them to faithfulness he reminds them that there is an offer of rest for them. He does not explain what the rest is but goes out of his way to prove that it is there. He ties together Psalm 95, Genesis 2 and perhaps Leviticus 16 to offer them the “Sabbath-rest” for the people of God. All this exegesis seems foreign to us, but the need for rest, spiritual rest, emotional rest and intellectual rest could not be more relevant. So in the sermon I wanted to plow through the exegesis without losing people to offer them God’s rest for their souls.
We live in a restless country. America has always been a restless nation because it is a nation of entrepreneurs, always competing and fighting for market share and because we are a nation of immigrants which means the face of the nation is always changing. We have very few stable institution and compared to the rest of the world we are a young nation. Beyond that, this inherent restlessness is exacerbated by the communications explosion, especially the growth of social media.
Social media increases our restlessness in many way but there are three that are pretty identifiable. The first is that in order to sell a product through social media you have to create a movement of people using your product (or the illusion of a movement of people) so dynamic that those who don’t join left out. There is constant social media spam designed to link you to a group, get you to join a party, “like” a product or give your opinion. Above all they want you to think “this that this is where the action is.” They are not selling Coke (or Buicks or Tostitos) they are selling connection and parties. They want you to feel left out unless you join. This creates a deep restlessness in us.
Also we are always connected. Gone are the days when we might “go to our computer” and “check email.” In 1999 that was being connected. But now email, Facebook, Twitter, Pintrist, blogs and more come to our phones. They are talking to us constantly. We almost can’t function without interruptions. We are wired to stay connected. We are never quiet, never thinking, always reacting.
And not only are we interrupted but there is a price to pay for each interruption. Every post, every blog, every Tweet requires some small reaction, some emotional response, no matter how small. Even if the connections we make are not spam (and a lot of them are spam), we are constantly reacting to someone’s trip to Italy or new baby or new job or frustration with the government or product endorsement or sports opinion. It goes on and on and on and it creates even more restlessness in an already restless people.
Transition – I say mention this because the passage we are studying in Hebrews today is talking about rest. Last week we saw how the writer of Hebrews warned the people. Don’t harden your heart to the voice of God. And he said in effect, “it happens, people do that.” An entire generation of people left Egypt with Moses but died in the desert because they would not obey the voice of God. They never entered the Promised Land. God calls the Promised Land “my rest”; the people never entered God’s rest. But amazingly Hebrews tells us that God’s rest is still available – it was lost to that generation but the offer, is still available to us. I know that sounds confusing and it is even when you read it in Hebrews. But what he is saying is profound and important to us.
What kind of rest is he talking about?
Those offered rest in the wilderness did not find it because they did not respond with faith but those who respond with faith will find it even now.
He starts by saying outright, the promise of entering rest still stands and that they are being challenged to enter into it.
The exodus generation heard a message about trusting God, an offer to enter a new life in a land that God ruled. But they would not trust him, rejected the offer and died in the wilderness. They saw the salvation of the Lord, they knew what he had done, they heard the message and they would not enter it. They were so close.
And that challenge hangs over this whole message. Are you one who has heard the message of salvation – for us it is salvation through Jesus and the offer to follow Christ obediently. Maybe others think that you have made that commitment but you haven’t. In your heart you don’t follow Christ . You follow yourself and what other people want for you, demand from you, coerce from you. So you are filled with restlessness and busyness instead of rest.
Notice the author says that we who have believed have the rest – this rest that people in Moses’ day did not have he now has. This anonymous author in the days of the Roman empire has what the exodus generation rejected and he is offering it to us.
Transition – but what does this “rest” mean, if it does not mean entering the land? And it can’t mean entering the land if it is something the author of Hebrews already has.
There remains a Sabbath rest for those who respond to the message of good news.
It is there, and it is more than just entering the land. The Promised Land is a picture of the rest that God wants to give every generation. The author does not define the rest but he says that he has rest now and then points to the creation account. God’s works have been finished since the creation of the world because on the seventh day he “rested from all his works.” But the rebellious generation could never enter his rest. In this way we see that the Promised Land was meant to be an extension of the Sabbath Rest of God. And since the warning in Psalm 95 refers to that exodus account the writer of Hebrews conclude that the offer of rest is still available. He concludes “there remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” and then urges them to make every effort to enter that rest.
So what are we to make of that rest? What does it refer to and what does it look like in our lives?
We know that the rest is a Sabbath rest. In Leviticus the Day of Atonement is also referred to as a ”Sabbath rest.”
29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves[c] and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day, atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of Sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.
The ancient people were offered atonement and while God made atonement for them, they rested. Like them, we are offered rest because God has made atonement for us in Christ. We enter into an on-going Sabbath rest because the atonement that Jesus offers is once for all.
But this atonement rest brings with it another kind of rest, that grows out of the notion of Sabbath. Since we have been accepted and atoned for we can rest in our identity as the children of God. The natural restlessness that comes from life in this culture, the restlessness that is always seeking to conform to whatever is pressuring us, is broken. Our identity is settled in Christ. We always rest in him. All our other work grows out of this
Transition: And this helps us understand work and Sabbath. It can’t mean that we don’t do any work now that we are following Christ. That doesn’t make any sense. Most of us are busy people. Work is part of our lives and that is not going to stop simply because God forgives us in Christ. But there is a big difference between work and restlessness
There is a difference between work and restlessness. Restlessness has to do with keeping up, with pushing to make something happen. It comes from losing yourself and having to prove something. It is work but it is also worry and jealousy and self consciousness. When we enter God’s rest we enter a world that God created. It belongs to him, it is all about him. And we belong to him. Our value has been established through the death of his son. His love is clear in the act of Jesus and in his care for us.
He gives us work but it is as his stewards. We do what he has called us to do. And we work hard because we want to do his work well. If he has called you to be a welder, you want to do it well because it is a craft he has entrusted to you. Work is good. But you are not a welder. You are not. You are his child and he has called you to weld just as he has called you to do many other things.
In the same way you are not a “Mom”. You are a child of God called to be a mom to another person. You serve; you teach, but your identity is not based on what that child is or can do. Don’t do that or you will never be at rest. Your whole identity will rise and fall with the success of your children. That is not rest.
So are your living in stewardship or are you living in restlessness? Rest if offered to those who respond to Christ in trust and belief.
We keep our hearts at rest by committing our lives to Christ, then to worship and interacting with God through his word.
The first step then is to consider if the restlessness of your heart grows from not being committed to Christ. As I said earlier, the warning about committing to Christ and not turning away from the voice of God hangs over this whole passage.
But beyond that, this world works to distort our image of ourselves. We are constantly being pushed and manipulated because whoever forms your identity can control you. We go through the week and we get pushed out of shape. We come to worship, sing about our Lord, see other people worshipping, hear the scriptures read, hear the message and it helps re-center us on Jesus Christ. Our corporate worship reminds us who we are and re-centers us.
But we can also meet God in the pages of scripture.
These last few verses are some of the most familiar words in Hebrews. The word of God is living and active; it is sharper than any two edged sword in that it penetrates deep into our souls. One of the ways that we stay focused on who we are in Christ is to spend time in his word. Because when we read the scriptures, they read us. Just think of what the writer has done in this chapter alone. He has been telling us that the story of the ancient Exodus generation is really our story, that the seventh day of creation is connected to something God wants to do in us, that Psalm 95, the hymn of King David speaks to us. He has demonstrated this and now he says it clearly: the word is living and active.
Allow God to read you through his word and center you on who you are in Christ.
We live in a busy, loud world. There is a constant buzz of things for our attention, our money our approval. People are coercing us, shaming us, manipulating us. There is noise and it creates restlessness. So there is a certain amount of restlessness that we all bring today, and the worship, the message and the element are meant to re-center and re-focus you.
But for a moment assess the restlessness of your heart
Could it be that you are restless because you have refused the message of Christ, you have not found your rest in him – as St Augustine would say. Are you like the people in the days of Moses who were too scared to follow God into the promised land. If so today is the day you need to respond to Christ and enter the life of spiritual rest that he offers you.
Check the restlessness of your own heart. What does it say about your identity in Christ.