Misericordias Domini, The Second Sunday After Easter May 7, 2000
There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Here ends our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who has promised rest to all who come to Him, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Our text for this morning discusses a subject that seems rather familiar at first glance: the subject of rest. But the longer I thought about this Word of God, and compared it with our world as we near the millenium, the more I realized that rest is something we’re becoming less familiar with all the time. We’re living in an age not of rest, but of unrest! Isn’t it true? Military unrest in the Yugoslavia, political unrest in the Middle East, economic unrest in Russia.
And closer to home? Our lives are anything but restful! Husbands and wives both working, sometimes two or three jobs apiece, often six or seven days a week. If you’ve got kids, they’re probably in a dozen different activities, in school and out. Then there are your community groups, clubs, boards and committees. There’s no time to slow down. You’re constantly behind. It’s to the point where you actually feel guilty if you’re not doing something. Wouldn’t it be nice to just STOP and REST? Our text for today offers us the comforting reminder that we will one day do just that. And it admonishes us, in the meantime, to keep first things first in our lives. Our theme today is:
“Rest” can mean different things to different people. To a marathon runner it may mean the opportunity to slow down and walk after he reaches the finish line. To a laborer, it may mean the softness of his easy chair at the end of a hard day. “Rest” can also mean different things in the Bible. For instance, we often speak of the rest for our souls that is available in Jesus Christ. We don’t have to wait for that rest—our Lord gives it to us every time we bring our sins to Him for forgiveness.
But the Bible also promises us a different kind of rest, a kind of rest that we don’t yet enjoy here on this earth. It’s the eternal rest of heaven. If you go home and look up chapters three and four of Hebrews, you’ll see that the writer talks a lot about this rest. He’s addressing Jews, so naturally he quotes the Old Testament quite a bit, and he focuses especially on the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. God had promised them rest, but what did they do? They repeatedly disobeyed His Word and rebelled against the Lord. So they didn’t get it. God says, “For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”—Psa 95:10-11. So what happened to the rest God had prepared? The rebellious Jews didn’t get to enter it, so who does? The people of God, that’s who! All of us New Testament believers who do not harden our hearts against God’s Word. Our text says, “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”
When did God Himself rest? You remember. After the six days of creation, God rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath. And the Lord promises that there’s a Sabbath-rest waiting for us, too. Think of how much you look forward to your day off from work. Or better yet, think of the day your annual vacation begins. Don’t you look forward to it and plan for it, don’t you find yourself counting the months and weeks before it arrives? God wants us to look forward even more to Judgment Day, the Day on which our eternal “vacation” begins! On that Day, all of our work will be over. All the struggling and striving will be at an end. You heard our Scripture readings describe how our Good Shepherd guides us through the dangers and sorrows of this life. But in heaven there will be no more dangers or sorrows. Then, as John says, “…they shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”—Rev 7:16-18.
This is the eternal rest, a rest that beats any paid vacation you can imagine. It’s a rest that makes “Runaway With the Rich and Famous” look like a trip to the corner store. Read through the Bible passages that describe what heaven will be like, and I think you’ll agree with the writer to the Hebrews: It’s a rest that’s worth making every effort to reach!
Our text says, “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.” The Greek word for “diligent” means zealous, eager. We should be constantly fired up about our heavenly destination, and we should take great pains—make every effort—to get there. Now that’s kind of funny, because there are a lot of so-called Christians who seem unwilling to make any effort to get there! For example, our text says, look at those Jews in the Wilderness. They were the people of God, all right, specially chosen by the Lord Himself. And it’s not that they didn’t have the Gospel preached to them. The Apostle Paul says, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers …ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.”—1 Cor 10:1-5.
You see, it’s not that they didn’t have the Gospel. It’s that they neglected it and disobeyed it and took it for granted—until gradually they lost it! The parallel for our own lives is clear and frightening. If you neglect God’s Word, if you shove it off on the back burner long enough, your faith too will eventually grow cold and die. You do have that power, you know: you can choose to skip church services, forego prayer and Bible reading in your home, and neglect the Christian education of your children. But just don’t kid yourself about it—if you continually choose to despise the Word and Sacraments, you’re ultimately choosing to give up the eternal rest God promises His people. Like Israel in the Wilderness, you will “fall after the same example of disobedience.” Two chapters earlier, the writer to the Hebrews directed a soul-searching question to his fellow Christians: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”—2:3.
This rest is well worth reaching, so let’s not slack off! Let’s make every effort to reach it! Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”—Luke 13:24. The door of heaven is often pictured in Scripture as a “narrow gate” or a “narrow path.” Do you know why? It’s not because the way to heaven is mysterious and hard to find. And it’s not because only a few people have the opportunity to go there. Ever since man fell into sin the way to heaven has been clearly proclaimed, and proclaimed to everybody. No, the way to heaven is narrow because faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to get there. And the only way to find out about Jesus Christ is in God’s Word, the Bible. There remains a rest for the people of God—and that rest is only reached through the Word of God.
Our text says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
I’m afraid we sometimes think of the Bible as a dusty old book that hasn’t got a lot to do with life in our modern day and age. But that’s not true. Our text says that God’s Word is alive and full of energy—an active instrument that cuts to the very heart of a person’s thoughts and intentions. My brother once had a huge broadsword custom made out of stainless steel. It was wide and cold and heavy, and sharp enough to shave hair with. Just hefting it in my hands made me shiver to think what a powerful weapon it would be in the hands of someone who knew how to use it. God’s Word is like a sword. It cuts right to the heart of a person. Our deepest thoughts and our most secret actions—not even these can be hidden from the penetrating judgment of God’s Word. Those who turn away from Jesus in unbelief will be condemned by that very Word on Judgment Day, as Jesus says, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him; the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.”—John 12:47-48.
But God’s Word is a sword that cuts both ways. It condemns those who reject it, but it saves those who hear it and believe it. The Psalmist says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” God’s Law has shone a bright light on our sins and shortcomings. We need to repent of those sins every day, and turn away from them. But the Gospel is a light that shines in a different direction. It illuminates our Savior Jesus Christ, and shows us clearly everything that he has done to save us. He kept all the commandments in our place, in order to give us perfect righteousness. He suffered and died in our place, in order to pay the price of our sin. As our text says, there is only one Person to whom we must give an account, and it’s not your boss, and it’s not the IRS. We all must present our account books to the Almighty God on Judgment Day. If you believe the Good News that Jesus died for you on Good Friday, and that He rose to give you life on Easter Sunday, then your accounts are settled! The righteousness of Christ Himself is written down to your credit, and your entire debt of sin has been written off by the blood of your Savior!
But what about that rest—the “rest that remains for the people of God”? In Jesus Christ, it’s for you and me. For us Christians, heaven is more than just a fond dream, or a hope that we tentatively cherish. It’s a reality, as sure and certain as the promise of our Savior, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.