By Paul Koch –
The Word of God has a habit of taking us places we don’t really want to go. It can call for morality when we really want to follow our passions. It can expose sin when we are just starting to believe we are really getting better at living our lives on the narrow way. The Word of God can be a nuisance to the living of our lives. It is easier to set it aside, to use it only as a convenient prop. You know what I mean, we trot it out when it supports things we are already doing, or want to do, or want to get others to do. But when it gets in our way, when it interrupts our goals and desires, why then we let it gather dust in the corner. And rightly so, for that Word can be upsetting and hard to bear. I suppose if it was just any old word we wouldn’t worry so much about it neglecting it, but because it is the revelation of the Almighty God, why then we find ourselves in a difficult spot. For how can we rightly ignore what our Creator has given to be heard?
So, we may be feeling just fine. Everything is going swimmingly in our lives. Sure we have the usual ups and downs, but by and large we think we have everything under control for the moment. And then we open up the revelation from God, that Word of his invades our lives and everything shaken. Hebrews chapter 4 begins like this, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” Wait what? Let us fear lest we should fail to reach eternal life? That will make you rethink your plans for the day. Or at least it ought to. That Word speaks about the possibility of losing your faith. Earlier it said, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” And all of a sudden our lives are shaken by this exhortation to diligently take care each and every day lest we fail to enter God’s eternal rest.
This text awakens in us a holy fear that for many has been buried and dormant. But it is a fear we need to face. It is a fear we cannot hide from no matter how irregularly we hear the Word of God. I know it is a fear that seems to haunt me no matter where I go. As many of you know, Cindy and I just returned from an amazing trip. On that trip I was able to really relax, to unwind and take in the splendors of our God’s creation. On the day that we traveled to the Sea of Galilee we had some time on the hill where tradition says Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount. There are some beautiful gardens there now, and as we had some time to walk in the shade and feel the breeze I couldn’t help but think of the congregation that I am called to serve.
But what came with those thoughts was fear. Fear, I suppose, attached with my own shortcoming. Fear that I wasn’t doing enough, that I was going to lose some of the flock entrusted to my watch. Fear that as many distance themselves from the Word of God so they risk losing His rest. For rest is the one thing we all so desperately need.
Those memories of our need for rest became realities right away when I got back to work. I wasn’t back in the office for very long when several different hurting souls came to the door of my study. One was homeless, all his belonging piled in a shopping cart asking for something to eat. Imagine the need for rest when you can’t stay in one place for very long. Imagine how powerfully he wanted to just stop and not have to worry about where his next meal was going to come from. Not long after he left a woman entered in on the verge of tears she had her disabled father with her and she began to tell a terrible story of abuse and suffering. When I handed her a few gift cards to Vons to get some food she burst into tears and abruptly gave me a big hug. Think of their need for rest. Think of what it is like to go on the move in an old minivan begging for charity. Rest. Rest is what we desire. It’s what we need.
In the body of Christ there is a passionate cry for rest. Rest can be a financial reality. There are those who scrap though every week just to start all over the next week with no relief in sight. Rest, though, can be emotional and mental as well. There are those struggling with depression and anxiety, which long and cry out for the light to shine again for rest to come to their weary heads. There are those who are quite simply overwhelmed by all that life demands of them, they are overworked and stressed and feel like at any moment they are going to collapse. They need the embrace of true and lasting rest.
And if that isn’t enough, there is the constant affliction of the law, a word of condemnation that points out our sins. Even on your best days, even when you are being on your best behavior there are flaws and cracks in your veneer. No matter how hard you work, no matter how diligent you are, you still fall short of the glory of God. You are unable to secure your own salvation. You cannot find rest. Just when you think you’ve got one thing in your life under control, everything else seems to unravel. And so we’re tired, we’re worn out, and we need to rest.
We need more than temporary rest. We need more than the rest that comes when we get a few days away to recoup. Because that rest is only to prepare us to get back to work. No, we need real lasting rest. God’s people have always known of and longed for such rest. Since Adam and Eve were driven from the garden they longed for rest. When God delivered His children from slavery in Egypt and they wandered through the wilderness they longed for rest. Even when they finally made it to the Promised Land they found that their rest was not complete. To this very day there are wars and opposition and hostility, but no rest.
Rest, then, is the hope of our faith. And the very thought that we might lose such rest, that we might fail to reach it, ought to terrify us. To rest from our work, to rest from our worry, to rest from our sinfulness, to rest from our sickness, to rest from death itself – this is what is at stake. What will you do to enter such rest? How far will you go to make sure your neighbor or your children or your friends know such rest?
The thing is, this rest is not earned but given. This rest is not achieved by our effort but delivered by our Lord. The Word of revelation that invades our life, that Word that awakens our fear, is the same Word that delivers rest. Now it promises rest to come, eternal rest in the arms of our Father and rest for all eternity, but it actually delivers rest even now. For this Word of God is a living word. It is sharper than any two-edged sword. It is a living and active thing. And just as it calls forth fear, just as it shows your need for rest, just as it calls for diligence and endurance, so it gives what it demands. The Word of Christ gives all His deeds, all His perfect works and all His glorious victories. They become yours just as your sin became His.
In His Word of forgiveness, He pulls you into His rest. In His gifts of body and blood He hands over a foretaste of the eternal rest you will one day celebrate. You know of true rest where His Word is proclaimed, and that Word fills your ears this day so that you might take it with you to fill the ears of one another.
I declare to you this day in the name of Christ that you are forgiven all yours sins, you are loved, you are my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Today, for a moment, rest rings in your ears. And it promises you a rest without end, a more glorious day to come. In the meantime you are free to be agents of rest, givers of that gift, to your neighbor, your children, your friends and family.