Download or listen to the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, “Rest” (Hebrews 4:1-13)
O Day of rest and gladness! O day of joy and light! Therefore, if the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us fear lest any of us should be judged not to have entered it. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. If you have hardened your heart, if you have turned away from the word of Jesus because you’re listening to the voices of the culture around you; if you have been drawn away from the promises of God by money, or things, or people; if you have trusted yourself rather than in Christ, repent. And today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts like the Israelites, to whom God gave the promise of the Land across the Jordan. God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, baptized them in the Red Sea, and brought them to the edge of the Jordan. There, twelve spies went into the land and brought back a report that the land was good, but they said the people were greater than Israel, and Israel was afraid to go in. They refused to believe the promise of God: I will bring you into that land and give you safety from your enemies all around; I will fight for you and clear the land of your enemies. But, as Psalm 106 says, “They despised that pleasant land, not believing [God's] promise” (v. 24). They rejected the word of God for the word of people, and so they had to wander in the wilderness one year for each day the spies were in the wilderness. And God said, none of those who came out of Egypt, except Joshua and Caleb, will enter My rest in that land.
But even forty years later, when they finally did enter the Land of Promise, they never had the eternal rest. Their enemies remained, primarily because of disobedience, and eventually they were exiled and scattered among the nations. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it, Joshua could not rest them, could not give them rest there in that land. That threw me when I first read it, because in Greek it says that Iesous did not give them rest. It took me a second to remember that Joshua and Jesus are the same name: Yahshua in Hebrew and Iesous in Greek. That Yahshua, that Iesous, could not give them rest in the Land of Promise, but there is another Yahshua, another Iesous who would come later, the fulfillment of all the promises to Israel. The first Joshua brought them into the land, but they never had eternal rest. The second Joshua did not point to a land or a place; He said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary, burdened, heavy-laden, and I will rest you, I will give you rest.”
They say that if you have to use an alarm clock, you’re not getting enough rest. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t need an alarm clock. But I need more than just rest for my body. Our bodies do need rest; it is built into creation that we cannot simply work and work and work without rest. But no matter how much rest our bodies get, eventually our bodies will wear out. We call it death. And that is proof that we need more than just physical rest in this creation. We need an eternal rest that cannot be interrupted or destroyed by death. We need the rest promised to Israel, promised to David, promised to the whole creation. The rest God entered on the seventh day. All the other days of creation had an evening and a morning, but the seventh day is open-ended; it is, in fact, eternal. That is the rest Adam and Eve shared with God in the garden, even while they went about their work within His creation. But sin interrupted that rest and death destroyed it. They were—we are—cut off from that rest; now we work and labor and are burdened by our toil, as Solomon so clearly saw in Ecclesiastes. We work under the curse of sin and death, under the curse of dust returning to dust. So Jesus comes to restore that rest, the rest God had created at the end of those seven days. He completed His work then, from the foundation of the world. From the foundation of the world, God chose you in Jesus Christ for His own. In the love of the Father for the Son that, from the foundation of the world, overflows for their creation. And Jesus says, “Come to Me and I will rest you.” This is the Jesus who went about the work of God in this creation, and then He said from the cross, “It is finished.” And when all His work of new creation was finished, He rested in the tomb on the seventh day. And the next day, the eighth day, the eternal rest of God opened up before Him in resurrection. And because you have been joined to Him in that eight-sided font, eternal rest opens up before you in His resurrection.
And just as we have in the Sacrament of the Altar a taste of the wedding feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end, so we also have a glimpse, a hint of the eternal rest in our rest here. Now maybe this doesn’t look like heaven to you. Maybe this gathering of the saints of God every Lord’s Day is not how you imagine the new creation. That’s okay, because we still have our rest in God by faith, and not by sight. But we still have it. Hebrews says, we who believe the Word which Jesus gives us today are entering His rest. Now. Even as Jesus says, Come to Me and I will rest you. Rest here. Rest in My word of forgiveness. Rest, Jesus says, knowing that nothing can separate you from My love. Rest here and eat and drink. Rest here a while, and then go back out there. You still have to live in the seven days of this creation, but the fact is your real life is in the eighth day. This is why Luther suggests you make the sign of the cross every morning and evening, and say, In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Because what you are really saying is, I rest in that Name. I am baptized into Christ. No matter what will or what happened today. No matter whether things go well or badly. No matter what I gain or what I lose. I am baptized into Christ. His promise cannot be shaken, even if I am shaken. Even if I sin, even if I stumble and fall, even if death comes for me, death has already come for me in Jesus, and He cannot stumble, He cannot lie, He cannot fail me. Rest. Rest in this day of rest and gladness by faith, until you see with your own eyes, in your own body, the eternal day of rest and gladness opening up before you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/20/12