The Third Sunday of Easter April 10, 2005
204, 421, 414, 201
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus who leads us to our Promised Land:
What do you find restful? Many may answer: “A good night’s sleep.” Others would say, “A day of fishing or a round of golf.”
On weekends many leave the city to go camping in a quiet mountain valley.
What would God say, if you asked Him what He finds “restful”? We know that He looks at the bigger picture. We are told that He rested on the seventh day when He had finished creating the heavens and the earth. God finished His creative work, surveyed all that He had made, and He declared that it was all very good. All was as it should be. The whole earth was working in harmony and His chief creation—man—was in charge, cultivating and tending the earth on God’s behalf. True rest, in the end, is everything moving together in harmony to the glory of God—the Creator.
That restful picture does not last long in the Bible. You know how Satan threw a monkey wrench into the works and caused man to sin. Death immediately spread into the world and sin became the curse of all man.
But the rest of this story is found in Jesus Christ. As we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior and see Him as our Good Shepherd, we are reminded today of this wonderful truth: There remains a Rest for the people of God. I. It’s the eternal rest of heaven. II. It’s a rest worth making every effort to reach. III. It’s a rest only reached through the Word of God.
May God the Holy Spirit bring rest to our hearts, and finally bring us into this rest by the hearing of God’s Word and the treasuring of it.
What would Jesus say is restful? It would be that “It is finished” proclaimed from the cross. It would be to let His Father receive His Spirit after completing the work of our redemption.
There remains a rest for the people of God, and it is the eternal rest of heaven, gained for us through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus looked out on this world and saw weary, gloomy, restless people—“sheep without a shepherd” He called them (Matthew 9:36). Jesus endured the cross for these sheep without a shepherd wherever they may be found Jesus understood the problem. It is a problem aptly described in the Old Testament, when God told even the Israelites “your sins have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2).
“There remains, therefore, a rest for the people of God, for he who has entered His—that is, Christ’s—rest, has ceased from his works.” [vv.9-10] Jesus has a goal for us. It is that we be reconciled to God forever, that we be relieved of the curse of sin completely, that we live with an abundance of life eternally. Jesus came to give us the eternal rest of living in the presence of God where there is “fullness of joy forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
In the Old Testament, Moses led God’s people, the Israelites, out of Egypt and slavery to the Promised Land. This was a land God had promised to give to the fathers of the Israelites—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was a rich and productive land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8, et.al.). where they could live in communion with their God, satisfy their material needs, and be safe under His protective hand.
Jesus is our Moses. He has led us out of the slavery of sin. He is guiding us through the wilderness of this harsh life with the promise of eternal rest. This is not an eternal sleep, but a conscious, uninterrupted life in God’s presence while serving Him with continual praises and joy.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He gathers, guides, guards, and satisfies His flock on its way to the Promised Land of Heaven.
There remains a rest for the people of God, and it is a rest worth making every effort to reach. The writer to the Hebrews intends to make a strong point to his readers about this rest. This sort of rest is not something that will lull you to sleep with sappy sentiments. Much the opposite, the writer intends to awaken us to the dangers that lie close at hand, we are warned: “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.” [v.11]
At this point in the epistle, the writer to the Hebrews has made a sobering point about that vast nation of Israelites who left Egypt bound for the Promised Land: Most of them didn’t make it. The great majority, and virtually all of those who had reached adulthood before they left Egypt, died along the way, and never reached their goal.
Those people started out under a faithful and capable leader, had God’s promise, were nourished and provided for along the way, and had God fighting for them time and again against their enemies, but most of them died not really believing that God would fulfill His promise. So also, there is the danger that not all of us, not all who have stood before the altar to confess their Lord, not all who have sung in church choirs or served on the Church Council, or who have driven nails into a new building project for the church—not all of these will reach the promised goal of eternal life in Heaven.
This is true, in spite of the fact that God has redeemed us from the Evil One through Jesus’ own precious blood. This is possible even though we have God’s promise that our heavenly home is waiting and ready. It can happen even though God made His promise with you in baptism. People can die to God and fall into the clutches of this world even though we have the very Bread of Life to nourish us.
The Israelites were guaranteed a place in the Promised Land. But many didn’t receive God’s blessings by faith. Their unbelief showed itself in many ways. Sometimes the way looked too long and hard and they turned back in their hearts to the cooking pots in Egypt—suddenly slavery didn’t look that difficult or miserable. Sometimes they lost faith in God’s promises and looked to other gods for help and confidence. Thus, even while Moses was bringing the tablets of the Law, the people were worshiping the golden calf. There were times where they rejected God’s appointed leader, resented Moses’ place, and wanted to choose their own path, rather than to follow the word of a faithful leader.
The way to the Promised Land was a long one, but it was made only longer, and even impossible, when people rejected God’s Word and refused to believe that God’s promise applied to them.
The promise does apply. There remains a rest for the people of God, but it is a rest that is reached only through the Word of God.
The Good Shepherd is said to lead His flock into green pastures and still waters (cf. Psalm 23). The meaning of this can only be that our Lord nourishes and refreshes us through His Word. The Bible alone can sustain the souls of God’s flock.
This is not to say that the Bible is always the most comfortable book to read and study. We went to a seminar, recently, where the presenter expressed the hope that the audience would leave “disturbed,” that is, awakened to the fragile state (in this case) of each one’s financial condition. We were to be disturbed enough to look hard at whether things are the way they should be.
In an even greater way the Word of God rouses us and “disturbs” us to see how things truly are. “It 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.” [v.12]
What that means, first of all, is that your acquaintance with God’s Word, whether reading it on your own, or studying it with a teacher, or hearing it preached from the pulpit, should not be particularly bland and comfortable. This Word is to show you God in all His majesty. It is to show up God’s Law in all its holiness. It is to show you God’s holy wrath in all of its fury over any and every disobedience to His Law. The Psalmist says that God is angry with the sinner every day (Psalm 7:11). What a horrible situation to be in. The sword of the Word should cut through all the fat and callous of our self-righteous notions—of our illusions about how good we are—and expose us to the wretched state that sin has brought upon us in this life. The letter of the Law kills.
But the Word of God is a two-edged sword. It has another side: the Gospel—the truth of what God has done for this world lost in sin. The Word is there to show you what no other religion, no human notion, could show you. The Gospel shows you the great value God has put on your deliverance from eternal death. It shows you the infinite price that was paid for the redemption of your body and soul. It shows you the boundless love that we discover in God when we see what has become ours through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
The sword of the Word of God is a surgeon’s scalpel that cuts only to bring healing. The sword of God’s Word seeks to save by separating the hearer from the sin that brings death.
Through His Word, our Good Shepherd speaks, as once He did to the people of Galilee: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28)
A good night’s sleep is a blessing you value more as you get older, but even the best rest is swallowed up by the next day’s activities. But when you lay down your head casting all your cares upon your loving Savior, you will rest better, knowing that there is peace between yourself and your God.
A job well done is a restful thing, but what can we accomplish in this life that is not soon taken away by human greed or the passing of time? Yet, we who hear God’s Word are assured of one “Job Well Done” which benefits us all. In Christ we have hope and will finish our lives with the blessed hope that the Master will summon us and say: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
A little recreation is good for the soul. A few days living closer to nature may be rejuvenating. But if those are the breaks we live for, we may be drawn aside from the true rest that God gives through His Word and Sacrament. Those who live in this rest will find themselves sustained through all the trials and burdens that are unavoidable in this life. In this rest, we have access to the Good Shepherd. By His word we are bound to Him now and for eternity. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.