We gather together on Sunday mornings in church for worship… so really we shouldn’t start by thinking of us and what we want or need from church. We start all this with the goal of worshiping God… of expressing our thanks and devotion to Him.
But with that said, I do want people to receive something at my church each Sunday morning.
- Hope for those who can’t see a way out of their present troubles
- Answers for those who are struggling with life’s biggest questions
- Peace for those who are tormented
- Encouragement for those who are getting beat up by life’s blows
- Joy for those who are low
- Safety for those who don’t know where to turn
- Rest for those who are striving to make life better
We come to worship God, and when we meet Him in times and places like these, we are not left the same.
I have colleagues, pastors like me, who think primarily in terms of what a sermon will mean to those in the congregation… that the main way anybody gets anything out of a Sunday morning is through the preaching. They structure the service in such a way that everything leads up to the focal point, which is the message they’ve prepared. I’ve even heard them speak of everything else as ancillary or preliminary to main event… the preaching.
I don’t really have any big problems with that line of thinking. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that preaching is a vital part of church life as we proclaim the Gospel and build up believers. We take preaching seriously.
But my experience teaches me that there are all sorts of ways that our needs are met on any given Sunday morning. Many from my congregation tell me from time to time how important the sermon was, but there are other times when other parts of the service pack the punch. On a given Sunday, the sermon may have been just fine for any of us, but what really made the difference was something else (singing, words shared by others, choir, something that someone said over coffee and treats after the service). Sometimes we just sort of endure one part of our service because another part is just that good.
For me, what is often the most meaningful isn’t any one thing, but the confluence of several things. I love it when a plan comes together. Sometimes it is the result of our careful planning; we are intentional about how the various elements of our worship services focus on a theme. Other times the confluence is outside of our plans and appears to be the Holy Spirit’s work as God moves people and ideas and events and circumstances into place in powerfully meaningful ways.
I think we may have experienced one of those wonderful confluences on 1/7/07 at my church, with the confluence of:
- Christian Lindbeck’s sermon last week
- Hebrews 4 – This passage scheduled in our series
- Communion – Remembering Christ’s work on our behalf
- Epiphany – The historical celebration of the revelation of Jesus
o To the Magi or Wise Men
o Through His miracles
o Up through His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. That moment when Jesus commenced His ministry, submitting Himself to baptism, where the Trinity was revealed as the Son was identified by the Father in an audible voice, and the Holy Spirit came down, as a dove according to the Gospels, and remained on Him.
Even though I was there the previous Sunday, and paying attention, I went back and listened to Christian’s sermon again. It was one of those that I knew would be good to review. As I listened again I was able to deepen my understanding of the solid Truth Christian delivered. He spoke to the ever present and frustrating problem of sin. He reminded us that we are broken and that we face real, spiritual opposition. And He also reminded us that God knows us, cares for us, Has provided for us, and that we can continue on. Although this is one of those that we didn’t intentionally plan, I think Christian’s sermon provides a great lead in to this passage that comes to us via our series in Hebrews.
Let’s run through this passage.
We can recall that the main theme of Hebrews is that Christ is superior. Reading the three chapters that have gone before reminds us that Christ is superior to angels and Moses, and that Christ offers superior salvation and superior atonement.
Since the Book of Hebrews was written first for the benefit of Jewish believers in Jesus, it is natural that the writer of Hebrews would differentiate Christianity with the ways of the Old Covenant. And not just the ways or beliefs of the Old Covenant, but the Book of Hebrews also calls to mind the history of the Hebrew people, calling these Jewish believers to proceed differently than there own ancestors. In this case, we are specifically called to remember that wilderness generation… our own ancestors in the faith that were called by God out of slavery, delivered from their enemies… yet would not move in to the fullness of God’s promises and the rest He prepared for them in Canaan, the land of promise.
So in the beginning of chapter 4, the Book of Hebrews is saying to us simply this: that just as there was promise waiting for that wilderness generation, there is promise waiting for us. We are called to enter into that promise, rather than allow our fears to keep us out of the promise, resulting in our continued wandering in the wilderness.
We ought to think a moment about this word rest that we see in the passage and contrast it with the story of that wilderness generation. After God had performed extraordinary miracles, they made their way out of slavery in Egypt. God again saved them from Egypt’s armies by providing escape through the Red Sea. He met with His people, making them His covenant people at Sinai, all the while leading them to the edge of His promise. Moses dispatched spies into the land and their reports came back so very positive that God had brought them to a wonderful place… but, the majority report was that they could not conquer those who inhabited the land that God had promised. Instead of faith, there was fear. They believed they would be beaten in war… that they, coming from one captivity, would find themselves in another captivity. They couldn’t do the work, so they turned their backs on God’s promises and choose the wilderness instead.
The problem here is that they understood the next step into God’s promise as work, not rest. Even though God had led and provided every step of the way, they viewed this next step as their step, their work, and they rightly surmised that they couldn’t do it. They were right; they couldn’t do it. They were wrong in not moving forward, don’t misunderstand, but they were right in understanding that they could not prevail. Where they were wrong was in misunderstanding that God was not calling them into work, but rest.
The point is this: If God, the Creator of heaven and earth everything seen and unseen, comes to a point where He speaks that things are finished and rests… AND He calls us into that rest, what more can we do than obey?
The wilderness generation disobeyed, and did not enter that rest. Even though they eventually entered the land, under Joshua’s leadership, they did not enter rest, but continually faced fierce opposition. That opposition continues even today.
But there remains rest for the people of God, a Sabbath-rest, a rest that is God’s rest, a rest that is a result of God’s promise (Hebrews 4:9-11). It is a rest that is more than merely a day that we honor and keep holy as a Sabbath. We can start there; it isn’t that this passage isn’t about a Sabbath day, but it is about so much more
The point here is that God has provided rest for His people and He is calling His people into that rest… superior rest. This superior rest is provided for by the work of the Son. It isn’t merely about ceasing the work we perform for our livelihoods for a day; it is about ceasing our work for salvation for an eternity. The point is that God is calling us to be His and that He has done the work. He is calling us to hear His voice and obey; He is calling us to believe in the power of Christ to be our work for salvation.
There is a really peculiar turn of a phrase here in verse 11. Do you see it?
Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest
Every effort to enter rest? It seems like an oxymoron doesn’t it… work to rest?
I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with a friend this week who has a family vacation in Hawaii scheduled to begin next week. He was complaining, yes complaining, about how much stress he was under to get all his work done before vacation… saying he wasn’t even sure if it was worth it. Of course it didn’t take him long to shake that off; of course it is worth it. Now we don’t have to feel sorry for poor Jim who is heading off to Hawaii, but we can understand what he was getting at. It usually takes some work to rest and relax.
The point in the passage is that it does take effort to discipline ourselves to obey God and receive the rest that He promises.
The rest of this portion of Scripture reminds us that when we are on God’s side, we are on the right side. We’re reminded that we have God’s Word to guide us in His ways. Furthermore, His guidance through His word is more than just superficial, more than surfacy sort of trappings, but it is penetrating guidance. We have more than just a map to guide our steps, but guidance that that penetrates to our thoughts and attitudes.
God guides us fully and knows us fully. I suppose this could be a scary thing, that we can’t hide from God. But really we should, rather, take great encouragement! Our God, who knows us better than we know ourselves still bears with us, still guides us, still loves us, and provides salvation so that we can live these lives in worship to Him, and enjoy His presence forever.
We would do well to apply this passage to opportunities that could be part of our worship together this: Communion and Epiphany. These observances can help us seal the point of this passage.
Communion should always be a reminder of God’s work on our behalf. The bread and the cup of Communion remind us of the price that was paid for our salvation. Work is required to provide for our salvation… but it is work that we are unable to perform. Strive as we may, we are not equipped to secure our place in heaven. Work as we might, we cannot please God in this life.
Communion reminds us that we were purchased, that God sent His Son, Jesus, to be our way. Jesus gave did the work on our behalf so that we may enter into God’s rest. And not just so we can enter His rest on Sundays in church, but His rest is for us each and every day. We may start our workweeks again tomorrow, but the work that brings us peace with God is never ours to pickup again. Jesus paid it all and we are called into God’s rest.
Epiphany gives us opportunity to reflect on the revelation of Jesus. Epiphany gives us opportunity to commit ourselves to both seeking deeper revelations of Jesus, to see Him and experience Him more fully, and also to reveal Him to others through testimony and good work.
You see… the more we realize that Jesus has indeed accomplished eternity’s most important work on our behalf, then our work is turned to honoring, serving, and revealing Him. And this is a work of the Holy Spirit.
As we reflect on Epiphany, we think of the revelation of Jesus at the time of His baptism. Mark 1:
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. 
Specifically, we recall the Father’s identification of Jesus by a great voice from heaven, identifying Jesus as God’s Son in whom He is well pleased. And we recall that the Holy Spirit rested upon Jesus as He came out of the waters of Baptism.
Later in His ministry, Jesus would breathe that same Holy Spirit into the lives of His followers, and throughout this present age of the Church the Holy Spirit works in us and through us.
So on Epiphany, we ought to look to God for anointing and filling and leading by His Holy Spirit.
The audio version of this post is available on the 1/7/07 entry at http://www.cedarpark.org/thechapel/services
 The Holy Bible : New International Version. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Heb 4:11
 The Holy Bible : New International Version. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Mk 1:9