Hebrews 4:1-13
Pastor Chris Tweitmann
The book of Hebrews can be a challenging read.
As we’ve already discovered, it is chock full of quotations from the Old Testament.
It also makes many references to the traditions & practices of the ancient Israelites.
For these reasons – including the fact I just used the word, “ancient” (SLIDE #2)
–it can be easy to write off this book as interesting, perhaps,
but otherwise distant and irrelevant to our lives today.
And yet, last week, the writer directly encouraged those
he was first writing to and by extension, you and me, not to think this way,
not to perceive what he is sharing as having nothing to do with us.
(SLIDE #3) Instead, we were cautioned to learn from the lessons of the past,
from those who’ve gone before us.
In opening this book of the Bible, we are not reading someone else’s mail.
We are not looking from afar into the life of a community
all that different from our own.
No, what is being shared with us through this book remains timely, (SLIDE #4)
timeless we might even say, as we continue to seek to be the Church.
The truth of this really comes home with today’s word for us.
As I believe we’ll soon realize, we live at a time in the world
when we are in need of this message more than ever. (SLIDES #5 – #10)
In the first two and half chapters, (SLIDE #11)
the writer exhorted us to recognize how Jesus is greater than anyone else
– any human prophet, any heavenly angel, and even, better than Moses.
(SLIDE #12) Chapter 3 rounded out with a strong exhortation not to give up
our confidence in Christ and to hold onto to Jesus firmly to the end.
To underscore this point, the writer referenced Psalm 95 (SLIDE #13) which recounts
the tragic story, the cautionary tale of an entire generation of the children
of Israel who wandered in the wilderness up until the day of their deaths.
our ancestors in the faith – the children of Israel. (SLIDE #14)
Newly freed from slavery in Egypt and having passed through the waters of the Red Sea to salvation, the first generation of the Exodus perished in the desert.
Because of their stubborn unwillingness to believe and to trust
in God’s ability to provide for them, to guide them to their new home
– despite all they had witnessed and experienced.
Specifically, we are told they missed entering into God’s rest.
Now, as we dive into chapter four, the writer continues to draw from Psalm 95
as he expands on this notion of God’s rest. (SLIDE #15)
Eight times in these verses, we see the word, “rest.”
In this passage that is admittedly both a bit confusing as well as repetitive,
it all boils down to a single idea or theme: “Enter His rest.” (SLIDE #16)
It all begins with the declaration “the promise of entering his rest still stands,” immediately followed by the encouragement not to fall short of it
– to miss out on this rest the Lord offers to us.
But what exactly is this “rest”?
The author uses the word “rest” in a couple of different ways
throughout this passage – in ways that interrelate to one another.
The first way is talking about the rest of entering the Promised Land. (SLIDE #17)
Verse 3: “I declared an oath in my anger they shall never enter my rest.”
This is the Lord’s caution to the children of Israel that if they keep rebelling,
they’ll always be wandering. They will be forever restless.
It’s hard to rest, we can’t truly settle down,
when we are occupying someone else’s space,
when we constantly have to move from place to place,
when our lives, our sense of community are transitory and not grounded.
The rest spoken of here – of getting to Canaan is
about the physical and social rest of receiving a land, a home of one’s own.
Being given a place where you can hang your hat.
A space where we can settle down rather than always having to be on the move.
This is the rest, Dorothy once spoke of, upon her return from Oz:
“There’s no place like home.
The second way “rest” is used in this passage is to refer to
how God rested from His work at the beginning of creation. (SLIDE #18)
Back in Genesis, chapters 1 & 2,
we are told after God created all life as we know it, God rested from his work.
The rest being evoked in this case is not one of being revitalized or restored
due to finding oneself weary or exhausted.
Our eternal Creator doesn’t ever tire or become depleted like we do.
God doesn’t need to rest. So then, in what sense did God rest from His work?
If we go back and look carefully at the context of Genesis 2,
we discover God rested in the sense that the Lord was satisfied with His work.
The Lord looked upon all His work and said it was good.
In other words, it was finished to our Creator’s satisfaction.
God rested in the sense that He was pleased with what He had done.
The Lord stopped to enjoy His handiwork.
In doing so, by resting in this way,
God creates this possibility of this kind of rest for us.
In fact, the Lord even commands us to rest in this way
– to experience the satisfaction, not of what we try to accomplish
but of what has been accomplished for us by the grace of God.
The Lord carves out a 7th day, something known biblically as the Sabbath,
an intentional & consistent space, for us to physically, emotionally, & mentally stop what we are doing and to recognize the goodness,
to find contentment in all that the Lord has done and continues to do for us.
But there is still a third level of rest
to which these first two ways of resting ultimately point.
This rest, the ultimate rest which the writer of Hebrews has in view,
encompasses being grounded with a home, being settled in a community,
includes the emotional and mental satisfaction of daily being provided for,
but this rest also goes well beyond both.
This is the deeper rest, the cosmic rest, the spiritual rest
which makes all things new. This is the rest borne of the Gospel.
Let us listen carefully here. In verses 2 and 3, the writer tells us, (SLIDE #19)
“For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did;
but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share
the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest.”
THAT rest, the one which all the others anticipated,
THAT rest, the one which we are being invited to enter into,
THAT rest, the one the Lord calls mine is the rest we find in the Lord
– through being in relationship with Christ.
Forgiveness of sins – being at peace with God, with oneself, and with others.
No more fear of death
– be it physical dying or any other form of failure or termination
– knowing that resurrection is not only possible but promised,
The assurance that all that is, is not all that will be,
that there will be an answer for all our troubles,
that every wrong will be righted, that there is hope and a future.
This is the deep, cosmic, everlasting rest Joshua could not provide,
and only Jesus could.
This rest that Jesus extends to us, the writer conveys,
as something both present – a state of being we can enter into NOW – TODAY.
(SLIDE #20) But this rest is also framed in verses 8 – 11,
as something we must strive to enter into the future
– when the work of Christ is fully realized and comes full circle
with the dawn of a new heavens and a new earth.
The rest we find in the Gospel, in Christ, is the rest
we are invited to enter into, that we must value and not fall short of.
How do we enter this rest?
The answer we are given is simple,
but it is an answer to which we must commit ourselves daily.
(SLIDE #21) Believe. By faith.
We’ve heard this answer before and we’re going to keep hearing it
because living by faith is one of the central themes of this entire book.
We have to believe – to take God at His word,
to embrace that word as it is offered to us in the flesh, in Christ,
and then to rest upon that word by following Jesus
– by living in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.
This is the journey of faith.
I’ll unpack the HOW in terms of entering this rest more for us in a few moments.
But first, let’s wrestle with the WHY.
Now, the WHY of this rest may seem obvious to us.
Rest, after all, is fundamental to our human condition
– essential to all life – for fulfillment and joy – let alone survival.
But if we learn anything from this passage and more specifically,
from the example the writer points back to using Psalm 95, it’s this.
Just because we hear the good news, just because we know the Gospel,
does not mean we believe it, we trust it, we live our lives out of it.
Case in point, offers the writer, the Exodus generation, the children of Israel.
(SLIDE #22) They heard the promises of God.
They witnessed what the Lord had done for them.
And they didn’t still believe, weren’t willing to follow where the Lord was leading and ended up floundering so close to the finish line instead of
entering the rest God was offering them.
Let us listen again to these chilling words from verse 2:
“But the message they heard was of no value to them…”
How about us? Are we entering the rest we have been offered in Christ?
Did we notice how the writer associates entering the rest offered
by the Gospel with the practice of the Sabbath? (SLIDE #23)
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone
who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.”
Last year, we did a whole sermon series on the Sabbath
– including an opportunity for a little Q & A at the end.
What I found interesting about our time together exploring that topic is
how many people remained fixated on identifying a specific day,
an exact period of time that was to be considered Sabbath.
A lot of us just wanted to know where the line between
our work and our rest HAD to begin and end.
What’s enough rest? What’s too much work?
What counts as rest? What counts as work?
But here’s the thing. (SLIDE #24)
God created the Sabbath, the space and time to rest, for our benefit.
The Lord made the Sabbath a law with specific parameters
– because we, like all children, need structure, a benchmark
in order to learn and to practice something.
Tell a child to regularly brush their teeth and it’ll never happen.
Designate a specific time, place and ritual for doing so
and then they’ll internalize the practice – brushing and flossing after every meal.
What God outlines as the Sabbath is a starting point, an example for us.
But if we confuse the baseline as being IT, when we get caught up in
where the line is and how far before we cross that line,
we are missing what the Sabbath is all about
we are missing the One to whom the Sabbath always was intended to point.
The rest God invites us to enter into isn’t a transaction
– to stop what we’re doing and just settle down for an hour or a day.
The rest God invites us to enter into is a rhythm, a posture,
an orientation of wholly relying on Him. (SLIDE #25)
The rest God invites us to enter is a relationship with Him,
abiding in the work He has done and continues to do for us in Jesus Christ.
We profess that we believe in this work – the work of the Incarnation,
the work of the Cross and the Resurrection, the work of the Holy Spirit
continuing to shape, to empower, and to transform us.
But are we resting in this work of Christ
– doing and being not out of our own strength or brilliance or will
– but out of what Jesus has done, what Jesus is doing in and through us?
Ask yourself. What defines you? (SLIDE #26)
From where does your identity and value as a person come?
If our answer is, we are defined by any or all of the roles we occupy
– as a son or a daughter, as a spouse or as a parent, as a friend, a neighbor,
or a citizen, then we’ve got it backwards. We’ve got it dangerously all wrong.
Who you are, your value as a human being is NOT defined by what you do.
It cannot be. Because on our own, we can’t do it all.
On our own, we can’t save ourselves.
And whatever we try to do, to better ourselves, to save ourselves,
we always do so at another person’s expense.
By ourselves, we are incapable of loving perfectly and acting justly.
If the good I try to do is so that I can feel good about myself
– so that I can construct or maintain a self-image of being a good person,
then what I am doing is not good. It’s selfish – self-serving.
I’m not really loving you. I am using you to try to love myself.
If I’m always trying to do the right thing so that I can prove myself
– so that I can either earn another’s approval or gain superiority
over someone else, then what I am doing is not righteous.
It is selfish – self-justifying.
I’m not really acting justly for the good of everyone.
I am manipulating the situation to get ahead – for the betterment of me.
When our identity and our value come from our work, it’s never enough.
RETIREMENT: Projects we work on. Hobbies we take up. Trips we plan.
When our identity and our value come from our work, it’s never enough.
No matter how much we buy and spend, we are never ever satisfied.
No matter how many accolades, titles, or any acknowledgements, we receive,
we still need to do better – to work harder to silence
our deep unhappiness with who we are – that nagging feeling that
“I’m only as good as what I can produce.”
We end up captive trying to pursue something can never earn,
can never achieve on our own
– lasting meaning and true purpose, real contentment and deep peace.
When our identity and our value come from our work,
we remain perpetually restless – working so hard for
that next promotion, that next bonus, that next vacation, that next milestone
but in the end, finding ourselves just wandering from one thing to the next.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us a different way to live.
We are more than the jobs we hold. There is more to us than our work.
We don’t have to be haunted by perfectionism.
We don’t have to hide our flaws or deny our tiredness, our exhaustion at times.
There is a Sabbath rest for the people of God and we can enter into it
– into a relationship with the One who is the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus.
(SLIDE #27) Instead of working in order to define ourselves and proof our worth
we are invited to rest in who we are in Christ – beloved, forgiven, and redeemed.
We are invited to rest in what Jesus has done and continues to do for us
– granting us grace, guiding us into truth, empowering us to bring life,
to extend hope to others, and through it all, leading us home.
Just because the fullness, the completion of the rest we have been promised,
in Christ is something future, something we can only look forward to when
Jesus returns doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy, can’t rest in the here and now.
We can and we should consciously receive and gratefully appreciate
the countless blessings the Lord pours out on us in this life, in this world.
To abide and live out of these blessings rather than to exist out of
a constant state of fear and worry is to experience a foretaste of
the ultimate rest that we can look forward to on the other side of the horizon.
This leads us back to the question of “How do we enter this rest?”
As I said before, the answer is simple. We must believe. We must walk by faith.
But as I also said, this is an answer to which we must commit ourselves daily.
(SLIDE #28) The final verses of this passage, which at first may seem out of place,
in fact, clue us in as to how to commit ourselves daily to what we believe
and to walk one step at a time by faith.
(SLIDE #29) Each day, we have to be in the Word.
The writer is talking about more than devotional time. More than Bible study.
The writer is talking about letting the Word and Spirit of God read us
– stripping us down naked spiritually, cutting us to our core,
exposing all the places where we are avoiding, hiding, and compensating,
and revealing those internal disconnects
between what we say we believe and how we are actually living.
We need to be in the Word because the natural condition of the human heart
is to forget the truth of the Gospel and to turn inward
towards self-improvement and self-justification.
We become particularly vulnerable to this temptation
when we experience failure or criticism.
When something goes wrong, our default is not to rely on Jesus
– at least not until we’ve exhausted every other option.
Our default is to become fixers – to make more to-do lists,
to work longer hours, to diagnose and solve whatever the problem by ourselves.
This makes sense when the problem is external
– a system, a process, or a piece of equipment that needs to be mended.
But when the problem is internal – running much deeper than
the surface of our words or our actions, when the breakdown is
what is going on in our heart, our mind, our soul,
all our attempts to fix ourselves by self-motivating, self-critiquing,
self-rewarding, or self-medicating, will make things worse and not better.
Inevitably, we will find ourselves moved either to self-defeat and apathy
or to self-righteousness and protective arrogance.
Both, in their own way, will end up leaving us exhausted rather than energized.
Unless we regularly confront our temptation, our incessant drive to be self-made,
unless we daily lay down all our tireless work at self-help
and surrender every claim to personal achievement,
we will not benefit from the work of Jesus on our behalf.
Until we recognize and confess how radically unfit we are,
to be our own saviors and lords – let alone anyone else’s Messiah,
unless we repeatedly come to grips with our restlessness,
with our desperate and absolute need for Jesus,
we will not fully enter the rest that God in Christ sets before us.
And we cannot see all of this, we will not see it,
unless it is revealed to us again and again by the Word and the Spirit.
We have to keep going back to the Gospel, (SLIDE #30)
returning to the One who says “Come to me and I will give you rest”
in order to believe, in order to gain the power to walk by faith.
Hebrews is written to first century urban people who,
although well-grounded in the faith, have become weary of troubles & difficulties and are being tempted of giving up altogether.
Like them, we too live in a world where there is often “no rest for the weary.”
Too many of us believe we have to work and work and work
and cannot afford to rest.
Too many of us, being drained, tired, and spent is our default posture.
Too many of us find ourselves so worn out and exhausted all the time
that we are starting to believe we can’t go on even though we know
we must keep going.
Now more than ever, we need to hear and receive one of
God’s greatest promises, God’s welcome word of REST
– rest that is ours thanks to Jesus.
Let us start each day finding our self-acceptance
– being absolutely sure about who we are because we know whose we are – standing in Christ and Christ alone, and believing we are gloriously complete.
Let us begin each leg of the journey of faith putting our trust, our delight,
resting our identity & our worth not on whatever works we do or do not accomplish but on the accomplished and still ongoing work of God
– the unconditional love and inexhaustible grace offered to us in Jesus,
the rest assured for us in Christ that will carry us home. Amen.