Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Old Testament Book of Genesis, Part 18

I neglected to post the YouTube video of part eighteen of our study of Genesis from this past Tuesday night. Here it is.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Jesus is Our Sabbath Rest

[Here's the message from this past Sunday's worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Have a good week!]

Hebrews 4:1-16
Today, the preacher speaking in our second lesson, Hebrews 4:1-13, pleads with Christians not to miss out on the Sabbath rest God has in mind for us

When he talks about Sabbath rest, he’s not referring to a particular day of the week. The early Church realized that Jesus’ death and resurrection meant that every day is meant to be a day of sabbath rest for those who believe in Jesus. Not a day without work perhaps, but a day of Sabbath rest.

The apostle Paul lamented over Christians who thought they had to keep the Jewish calendar to be saved from sin and death. “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!” Paul tells them. “I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” The Christians to whom Paul wrote missed the whole point of Sabbath rest. 

The Small Catechism tells us what this Sabbath rest is about when it explains the Third Commandment--”Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”--like this: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise His Word and the preaching of it, but acknowledge it as holy, and gladly hear and learn it.” 

For the Christian, Sabbath rest isn’t about a day; it’s about a relationship of trust in Jesus, God the Son, created by God’s Word under which we daily stand. It’s the rest in which we can live, whether we're working or resting, in hard times or easy, in sickness or in health, because we live under the lordship of Jesus and the authority of His Word.

Now, all of this should be obvious to we disciples of Jesus. It’s the Word of God, after all, that proclaims the truth about our need for a Savior and about Jesus being that Savior that brings us salvation from sin, death, and futile living. 

The Law in this Word convicts us for our sin and the Gospel in this Word convinces us that even we, sinners though we all are, are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. 

More than that, it’s this Word and not we or our decisions or our good works, but this Word alone, that creates just such faith in Jesus. As the Bible says, “...​​faith comes from hearing the message [that is, the Gospel message about Jesus, crucified and risen], and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

When speaking of Sabbath rest, we might as well use the words like peace or calm, rather than rest. It's to be ours all the time. 

So, why is it that our days can seem like disconnected chains of chaos and demands, uncertainty and questions and deadline? 

Why do we often feel far from God? 

And what difference does it make if we live in God’s Sabbath rest anyway?

The New Testament book of Hebrews is a sermon by an unknown preacher, given to Jewish Christians in about 70 AD. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection about forty years earlier, the Gospel message had been proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire. Christian faith, with its proclamation of Jesus as “the Lord” and “the Son of God,” among other names, was seen by some Roman authorities as treason. That’s because the ways Christians described Jesus were the ways that Romans described their emperors. 

The Roman government hoped to divide the early Church by promising Jewish Christians that if they renounced faith in Christ, their persecution would end. Remember that in this very year, 70 AD, the Romans overran the Jewish rebellion in the holy land, destroying the temple in Jerusalem and ending the nation of Israel forever. To the Jewish Christians, the Roman offer had to be tempting. But the preacher in Hebrews pleads with his fellow Jews not to turn away from Christ. To turn from Christ is to turn from Yahweh, from God Who has entered our world in human flesh and become the perfect once-and-for-all-sacrifice for sin that renders the old Jewish rites of Sabbath and sacrifice null and void and sets us free, through faith in Christ, to live in God’s sabbath rest now and in eternity!

In our lesson, the preacher asks his fellow Jewish Christians not to make the same mistake their ancestors made in the wilderness between Egypt and the promised land some 1600-years earlier. He says that the promise God made to the ancestors of sabbath rest in the land God would give them still existed for them...and it exists for us today, not in a faraway land, but in our everyday lives. He writes: “...since the promise of entering [God’s] rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.” (Hebrews 4:1-2) 

The “good news” for those ancient Hebrews had been rest in God’s kingdom in Palestine. 

The good news that comes to us in Jesus is vastly superior: peace and oneness with God, rest in His grace, His acceptance of us despite our sins and imperfections, the assurance that, no matter what, as we live in the faith Jesus, we will live in His peace, His rest.

Jesus told the first disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) This sabbath rest, this constant peace even amid chaos, is ours when standing under God’s Word, we believe in Jesus

A troubled woman approached me. Her marriage was difficult. Nothing seemed to go right. I asked her if she’d tried reading some of God’s Word and praying a bit each day. “I don’t think I have the faith to do that,” she told me. “Try it anyway,” I suggested. A few weeks later, she told me, “I took your suggestion. Things haven’t changed that much. But I’m more at peace.” You see what happened. First, she stood under God’s Word and, through it, He helped her believe in Jesus, Who then poured Himself and His peace into her life. That is sabbath rest.

When the first generation of Israelites to be freed from slavery in Egypt turned their back on God and His promises, it took the form, first of idolatry and syncretism--that’s the mixing of faith in God with belief in other deities, including our favorite god, us. It also displayed itself in an unwillingness to hear God’s Word, trust in His promises, or follow the leadership of Moses. Moses’ faith even fell short. Moses and the first generation didn’t believe at critical times during the wilderness wanderings and so, didn’t enter the promised rest. As Psalm 95, which the preacher in our second lesson cites, says, God decided, “[t]hey shall never enter my rest…” (Hebrews 4:3)

But, the preacher reminds us that “Now we who have believed enter that rest…” Hebrews 4:3) This is our good news. Jesus has slipped the bonds of death so that He can fill us with life, eternal life when we trust in Him. He gives us Sabbath rest.

What chaos and temptations are you facing today? 

Is something pushing you away from God at work or at school? 

Are you being tempted by some sin, some violation of the ten commandments, in your personal life? 

Are you accosted by demands and challenges in your family life--a sick loved one, a disagreement, worry over money, concern for a child? 

We have all faced and often daily face such chaos. But there is good news for us! In Hebrews 4:15, the preacher says of Jesus: “...we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” 

Jesus has already conquered our chaos and promises sabbath rest to those who stand under His Word and trust in Him not only in eternity but today. “Today,” our second lesson tells us, “if you hear his voice [in His Word], do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:15) 

Be open to Jesus and His Word. 

Let Jesus and His Word give you the peace of God that passes all understanding. 

Jesus is your Sabbath rest. Rest in Him. Even now. Amen