True Rest Comes From Christ
7th Sunday after Pentecost – July 23, 2017
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” 6It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. 7Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Rest is a good thing. That’s not just true for us. It is also true for the land we work. In the Old Testament God wanted his people to understand this. So all the way back at Mount Sinai God prepared his people for living in the Promised Land when he commanded, “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.”
But that wasn’t the only rest the land was to have. The Lord also commanded his people, “The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.”
There were reasons for these commands. Two of them to be precise. And the first reason is actually the lesser of the two. 1) One reason for giving the land rest was scientific. It allowed the nutrients to return. 2) But it was the second reason was far more important. God was giving his people an opportunity to completely trust in their Lord.
How could they not under such circumstances! They weren’t supposed to sow or reap. Instead, God said to “eat only what is taken directly from the fields.” Talk about an opportunity for God’s people to put their complete trust in him!
But there was a problem. We have absolutely no evidence of God’s people ever carrying this command out. Not one instance is recorded. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t faithful people who did follow the command. But we never hear of this command being followed on a national level.
All the way back in the book of Leviticus God warned them what would happen if they didn’t leave their land fallow every 7 years. “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me…I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate.”
One way or another the land was going to have its rest. If God’s people refused to obey his command, if they didn’t want to trust in him and keep the land fallow every 7 years, then God would do it himself.
And he did. After years and years of idol worship and rejection of God’s Word, God’s people were carried off into captivity. In the end there was no excuse. God had told his people all the way back before they even entered the Promised Land that these would be the consequences if they didn’t obey his command. The book of Hebrews tells us what happened: “But the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” So God declared, “They shall never enter my rest.” They didn’t obey, so they were carried off into captivity.
In a fitting connection to this portion of Leviticus, the very end of the book of 2 Chronicles tells us, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests.” Once again God’s Old Testament people are an example of what happens when God’s Word is rejected.
No such laws for farming are in effect for us in the New Testament. God doesn’t tell us what to plant or when to plant it. He doesn’t command we leave our fields fallow every 7 years or every 50 years.
But the book of Hebrews speaks directly to us this morning. “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did.” And so it warns us, “Let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” But there is a rest God does command of us. It is a rest from our day to day work. It is a rest from our activities. It is a rest with God’s Word. And as we all have to confess, taking time out of our everyday life for God’s Word is easier said than done.
A day that should begin with God’s Word instead starts with us focusing on “the list.” There always seems to be work to do. And if I didn’t take the time to be in God’s Word and prayer at the beginning of the day, I’m probably not going to find time for it during the day. Once the day if finally over I’m ready to fall asleep once my head hits the pillow. And before we know it, we just lived another day of our lives having completely forgotten to spend time with the Lord.
As busy as we think we are, Jesus was busier. He certainly had reason to be busy. The multitudes were coming to him for every reason under the sun. The sick had to be healed. The thousands had to be fed. The Pharisees had to be refuted and the disciples had valuable lessons to learn.
If anyone ever had a valid reason for avoiding time in prayer and the Word, wouldn’t it be the Lord himself? After all, he was constantly accomplishing his Father’s business!
Yet we see countless times in Jesus ministry when he takes time to go to his Father in prayer. There are times when he sends the multitudes, the disciples and the Pharisees away. On one occasion in the Gospel of Mark we read, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
Jesus did what we cannot do. He lived a perfect life. He was faithful in prayer. He continued to preach his word to the people. And then, because we couldn’t do anything perfectly, because we are sinners in need of a Savior, Jesus died.
Then, fittingly, as Jesus had gotten up before the sun to pray throughout his ministry, he once again got up before the sun. This day, however, was far more important than all the rest. It was Easter Sunday, and Jesus had risen back to life.
Now how could we possibly live our thanks to our Savior, Jesus Christ? “Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” Take time in prayer. Set aside time to read God’s Word. Don’t make it the last thing on your daily list. Put it on first. The rest will fall into place. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.”
The rest God gives us is a true, lasting rest. It is a rest in his word. It is a look ahead to the eternal rest we have in heaven through Christ.
“There are the good and blest, Those I love most and best,
And there I, too, shall rest; Heav’n is my home.” Amen.
Life Is Short – So Live For The Lord
6th Sunday after Pentecost – July 16, 2017
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
What makes a good commercial? “Nothing,” you might say. After all, who likes commercials? They seem to get in the way of what you really want to see. Advertisements clutter up your newspaper pages and internet news pages you want to read. They just get in the way.
But they sure can be effective. So what makes commercials and advertisements so effective? Experts in the commercial industry have been asking those questions for over a hundred years. And here is what they have come up with. Make the consumer (you) feel smart. Make the consumer feel special. Make the consumer feel like he or she will be getting something they can’t get anywhere else.
You probably knew that, already. But there is one other selling point that always seems to work. Make the customer think he is getting something he shouldn’t have. Here’s what that looks like: A book about taxes sounds boring, so they advertise it by saying “This is what the government doesn’t want you to know about taxes.” There are other examples: “Get this book to find out what the church doesn’t want you to know.”
Why do those advertisements work so well? Because we like to think we’re smart. We like to think we’re the most special people of all. And because we are drawn to the things we aren’t suppose to have. You can say what you want about commercials and advertising, but the people who put them together certainly understand what sinful people desire.
The devil might be the best advertiser of all. He knows you want to feel smart. He knows you want to feel special. And he is all too happy to give you what you shouldn’t have. The devil’s advertising expertise was on full display in the Garden of Eden when he came up to the perfect couple of Adam and Eve.
In his twisted mind, he had to get them to sin by eating from the tree. So he used a bit of advertising. He made them feel smart: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” No, that wasn’t what God said. And Eve felt smart for correcting the devil: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden…or you will die’”
Then the devil made Eve feel special: “You will not surely die…For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The devil made Eve feel so special that she could be like God by eating from the tree. In essence, the devil was telling Eve and Adam, “Look, you’re smart people. You’re special people. I have something for you that will change your life – it will make you like God. No payments of $19.95. No obligation on your part. Just eat the fruit.”
And above all, the devil lured them in to wanting something they shouldn’t have. And sadly, this first sinful advertising campaign worked. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
Then came something the advertisers might call buyer’s remorse. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened.” God’s perfect family, Adam and Eve, were now sinners doomed to death and destruction.
Everything about that exchange continues today. The devil still advertises sin in these appealing ways. He tells you that you’re smart. He makes you feel special. And then he gives you the desires you shouldn’t have. He gives you the things you hate to love.
John uses strong words to warn us against these sinful ad campaigns of Satan. “Everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” The devil wants you to think that sin is no big deal, that your sin doesn’t hurt anyone, that no one sees your sin anyway. Crave everything, lust after whomever and boast all you want! The world does this, and we have too. But listen to what will happen to all of that: “The world and its desires pass away.”
Jesus is everything that advertising isn’t. The devil advertises false intelligence, and selfishness and dangerous desires. Jesus always preached the opposite. He showed people they are intelligent because they have faith in him. Jesus showed people that they were worthwhile because he loves them. And Jesus reminded everyone to desire what really matters – forgiveness of sins and heaven.
There was never any deception in Jesus’ words. His perfect desire was your salvation. That didn’t win Jesus many friends. In fact, it led to Jesus being rejected by the very world he came to save. Jesus’ honest, life-giving message resulted in his death. He accomplished that to give you life.
One of the most prevalent and successful advertisements says, “Life is short.” Companies want to remind you that life is short – so you should buy their product. The Lord reminds us of the same thing – but for a far different reason. “Life is short” so remember what matters. “Life is short” so don’t waste your life on your sinful desires. “Life is short” so use your actions to bring others to Jesus. “Life is short” so use your words to share God’s message of forgiveness.
“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” There will be a lot of desires pulling you in a lot of directions this week. There will be desires to serve yourself, desires to get away with sin, desires to waste your time and money on yourself. Remember what God desires. Remember that the Holy Spirit will work in you the desire to serve. Remember that you’re smart – because God has given you faith. Remember that you are worthwhile – because Jesus has forgiven your sins. Remember to desire what God wants you to desire – him and his Word. “Life is short” – so live for the Lord. Amen.
Love Is As Strong As Death
4th Sunday after Pentecost – July 2, 2017
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
“Love is as strong as death.” The wise king, Solomon, wrote those words in Song of Songs. As is always the case with what Solomon wrote, there is deep meaning in those words. Death is strong. The death of a loved one can forever change those still living. Death can cause pain and sadness deeper than any other event. The ultimate inevitability of death makes us think that it stalks us. You cannot outrun death. In fact, in a fight between mankind and death, death always seems to win.
But “love is as strong as death.” Love causes emotions that are just as strong, and just as lasting. Yes, death strongly separates soul from body at the end of life; but love powerfully connects individuals. And true love? That shows itself best when death is imminent. In other words, the strength of love and the strength of death can best be seen when love and death collide.
King Solomon once saw that happen. One day, two prostitutes came before him with the saddest of news. They had both given birth to a baby recently, but one of the babies died in the night. The two women came before the king because each both claimed that her baby that was baby that was still alive. One of the women was lying, but which one? How could Solomon possibly find out?
“The king said, ‘Bring me a sword.’ So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: ‘Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.’” What a heartless response! Why would Solomon kill the only living baby? Because he was about to make love and death collide.
“The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, ‘Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!’ But the other said, ‘Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!’” Who do you think was the real mother of this child? After Solomon’s surprising ruling, the responses of the two women speak volumes. The true mother, of course, was the one who would rather see someone else get her child than have her child killed. That may have been the day when Solomon himself learned that “Love is as strong as death.”
But is that always true in our lives? Is our love always as strong as death? Perhaps, like that mother, we would be willing to give a child away if it meant that he would not be killed. Perhaps we would stand in the way of death for the sake of a loved one. Perhaps. But let’s make it personal. Who would you be willing to die for here this morning? You know you are supposed to answer “everyone,” but you also know that you aren’t suppose to lie.
The fact is that you and I probably would be willing to die for our immediate family members, and maybe a few friends – but certainly not anybody and everybody. That is exactly what Paul writes about in our second lesson. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.” When you extrapolate the Greek words Paul uses, the verse sounds even worse. Paul literally says, “It is unlikely you will die for an upright person; but you might be willing to die for someone who helps you out.”
That is a pretty indicting statement! By nature we only want to help those who can help us in return. Who would want to die for anyone less? Interestingly, if love is as strong as death, the possibility of death can starkly show us who we love.
If the possibility of death shows us who we love, we have to admit that we often love ourselves the most. We defend ourselves the most. We take care of ourselves the most. We look out for ourselves more than anyone else. That makes us exactly what Paul describes us as: “ungodly…sinners…enemies.”
There really is only one whose love remained as strong as death, and that is our Savior, Jesus. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” There was nothing lovable about us when Jesus came to be our Savior. How could there be? We were still “ungodly…sinners…and God’s enemies.” In Christ we see love and death collide in a most miraculous way. On the cross, Jesus spoke only words of love. On the cross, Jesus only acted in love. On the cross, Jesus died for you…out of love.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This was the greatest show of love the world has ever seen. It is the greatest show of love you have ever seen. Someone died for you. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
This morning, Paul uses a special word to describe what Jesus did for you and me. He calls what Christ did: “reconciliation.” It means that Jesus brought us back to our Father in heaven. It is the word you use to describe two divided people coming back together and mending their rift in love. “Through [Christ] we have now received reconciliation.”
By defeating death, Jesus epitomized love. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Children, love your parents, even to death. Parents, love your children, even to death. Husbands and wives, selflessly love one another with a love that serves, even to death. Love your neighbor to the point of death. Show love to strangers. Love even your enemies!
Christ showed this type of love for you. He will help you show this type of love to one another. After all, in Christ, “love is as strong as death.” In fact, in Christ, love is even stronger. Amen.