(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
This morning we are continuing our summer series on the biblical theme of rest. You will remember from last week that the word "rest" is theologically more important than the word "work" in scripture. To hear scripture encouraging, even demanding rest might sound jarring to us in our work - performance - production driven culture, but the truth is not "If you snooze, you lose!", the truth is "If you don't snooze, you lose!" Rest and salvation are closely intertwined words. One of the places in scripture where this truth arises is in Hebrews 4.
A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God
1. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
"So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.'"
And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work." 5 And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest."
6 It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. 7 Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Scripture tells us that the Christian faith has a lot to do with rest - Jesus promises us rest, God promises to give his servants rest. The question we want to ask is "What is this rest that God offers us and how does it apply to our lives?"
To understand the scriptures teaching about rest, we must first understand a very basic principle: God rested! God rests! Maybe you have never asked this question (but its an important question to ask): Why would God rest?
In our driven culture, we usually rest because we are tired, exhausted, and stressed out. But God is almighty! Work doesn't tire him or stress him out. Work could never make him exhausted. Work could never overwhelm God. Why would God choose to rest?
Scripture tells us. In the poetry of Genesis 1 and 2, it teaches us that God worked for six days making the universe, the stars, the planets, the earth, then making seas and land, the plants and the animals, and finally man and then God rested. He rested because his project was completed!
"2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 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)
He looked at all that he had made, he saw that it was very good - he finished the work he had been doing so God rested! Everything was done! Nothing had to be completed! It was perfect! That's what Adam and Eve entered into. Their first day was God's day of rest. When they came into being, everything was provided for them. If they had a need, God had already made sure that it was fulfilled. The ground produced fruits and vegetables for them. The weather was suitable for them. They had companionship. Their whole existence was enjoying the riches of the love and provision that God had perfectly provided for them. They rested in the fulness of God's love! Their first day was living in God's rest. Their first day was living in God's completed work! Even their work was a joy, a blessing because in and through it all God provided for them.
But if you know the story of scripture, you know that that did not last terribly long. Adam and Eve took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In doing that they united themselves with Satan, they broke their relationship with the living God. And all that they had because of their relationship with God was taken away. They were sent out of the garden. Separated from God, they developed an acute awareness that God was no longer watching out for them, they had to watch out for themselves, take care of number one. Now they had to work just to live. The ground seemed to fight against them, children came with pain and trouble. The curse was on them. The result was that they died - died in their relationship with God (spiritually), and eventually, physically. And ever since Adam and Eve, all of humanity, all of us have had to work if we are going to get anywhere, we have to take care of number one, only hard toil will solve our problems. We have adopted Satan's ergology (theory of work and in this context, theory of salvation by work) that the only way we will regain the blessings of paradise is by hard work!
This is what our world teaches us:
If you are not loved - then work, at least you will get peoples appreciation.
If you are hungry - then work, you have to take care of yourself, we have learned in life nobody else will.
If you are lonely - well the answer in this world is be a good friend, after all, you can't expect other people just to be your friend for you.
If we lack meaning in our lives - the answer is to find an organization, a group to which you can give yourself wholeheartedly, that will give you purpose and lots of work to.
You see, the world teaches us that you have to take care of things yourself, nobody else will take care of them for you. And so the way under out of the effects of the curse, the way out of our problems, the way back to paradise is by hard work. That's Satan's ergology! But the frustration we discover is that hard work doesn't solve our problems. For each day brings new needs, new worries, new emergencies. Work hard to defeat one disease and a totally new one like S.A.R.S. arises. Work hard and use all your power to bring peace and security in one country like Iraq, and Iran and North Korea are waiting in the wings to take Iraq's place. Hard work cannot bring us back into the rest of God. That paradise rest where he provided everything including their security and health and humanity, and the experience of the riches of his love, cannot be attained by work!
"There remains then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rest from his own work just as God did from his."
How do we come into that rest where God provides for our lives, where God has completed everything already, where security is sure, where we live in the enjoyment of his blessings?
The answer is this: By faith in Jesus Christ! You see our biggest problems are not the economy, not broken marriages or dysfunctional families, our biggest problem is not poverty, or malnutrition, our biggest problem is that we have been cut off from God and to be cut off from God is to be separate from his love, his care, his protection, his blessing. The only way back to God is by Jesus Christ . When we place our trust in Jesus Christ, the scripture tell us that we are reconciled with God, and if God is for us, who can be against us. And when we are reconciled to God, God becomes for us our Father, with all the riches and nuances that the word "Daddy" or "Abba" means. He watches over us, grants to us those things that we need and blesses us with the Holy Spirit by which we come to know, foretaste the paradise regained that we will receive freely when Christ returns to restore a new heaven and a new earth. When Jesus died on the cross, do you remember his second last words, the words he spoke just before "Father into your hands I commit my Spirit." He said in Greek "tetelestai" which is the perfect tense for "It is finished!" The tense of the Greek verb is very important here. The tense has to do with perfection, completion, in the past. There is nothing left to do! He finished the work for us, we by faith enter his rest, his completed and totally finished work!
You see, we only enter the rest of God by our relationship with Jesus Christ. As we live consciously in his presence, we are at rest, and he provides our needs.
This becomes very practical to our experience in a busy, hectic world which relentlessly throws at us the lie, the ergology, that the only way for us out of our problems is by hard, hard work.
For me, it goes something like this. Yes I have given my life to Jesus Christ. As a child I was trained in the scriptures, at the age of 18, I knew he was my Lord and my life belonged to him hook, line and sinker. As I grew to know him, a sense of peace and rest came over my life like never before. I would say things like "nothing really matters, Jesus loves me." But then the reality of day to day living came back to me. Now for all of my life, the approach to life that I learned was: If you have a problem, then get work hard to solve it! I drove myself to work. The more problems that arose, the harder I worked. It seems to be a repeating cycle in my life, it happens again and again. I get so overwhelmed with problems and so busy with work that I forget about Jesus and drift from his presence in my life. I forget about his promises. I forget about his provision, his protection and until God clubs me over the head, I think I have to do it on my own.
God never designed us to be workaholics. God never designed us to solve all our problems, the worlds problems, the devil and our old sinful nature, all at the same time by ourselves. We can't. If we try we break. We wear out, we fall flat on our face. There is one fundamental truth to all theology and that is that "There is one God and you are not him!" Until we learn that lesson, we will not enter into rest.
The strength to face each day comes from rest - resting in what God freely provides - and he provides for us through Jesus. And so our first concern should always be to keep my life in fellowship with Jesus because he has finished everything for us. This passage tells us that we should make every effort, we should make it our first work to enter his rest. And then from that position of being in the promised blessings of God where all his work is finished, we should face life, seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness, knowing that all these things have already been added to us (Matthew 6:33).
You see what God wants from us is not first of all our hard work. He wants us, you, me. He wants us as persons to come to know him, his love, his care. He wants us to grow in faith so that we can see how incredible his love and provision for us really is. He wants us to bring our problems to him, our difficulties, our needs so that he can surprise us with his solutions. He wants us to rest in his provision for our lives. God's first desire is NOT our work, it is our hearts!
"There remains then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for anyone who enters God's rest also rest from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us therefore, make every effort to enter that rest."
Garth and Susan, today you have made a commitment to trust in God to provide for you. Robin, you with them have made a commitment to trust in God, knowing that he promises to work his perfect work even in your children. Make every effort then to enter into God's provision, what God has accomplished, his rest. Jesus said for you - "It is finished!"
As we together partake of the Lord's Supper this morning, we come in faith, recognizing that Jesus work was complete, is complete for us. There is nothing further we need to do to secure his blessing, nothing we must accomplish to be forgiven, set free from our sin, we no longer have to watch out for number one, we can seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to us.
It is finished!
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.