Enter That Rest
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A lot of churches have clocks at the back. When I was a kid my family used to travel down to the Gaspé peninsula. There was a church in a town called New Richmond that my father would preach at for a month. These were good days and certain things stick with you. One of the things that sticks with me to this day was being in a service – I must have been around 7 or 8 at the time. My father was preaching and he talked about having hardness of heart and how this led people to do things like check the clock during the service. I was sitting there thinking “Wait I do that!” because I mean I’m a kid and during the service kids are reading through the Sunday school bulletin and eating Mints and looking at the maps in the Bibles and checking the clock occasionally. You’re a kid right? I asked my dad afterward because I was worried and he told me I was alright.
Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs. These are some words of exhortation! What are we to make of them today? What word does God want us to hear today? Let’s come before God and ask him to help us.
We’ve looked so far in Hebrews at the preacher’s vision of the ineffable God and Christ who was there in creation and is the heir of all things. We’ve looked at Christ made flesh and what this means for us. We’ve looked at what it means to be the church. How Moses was a piece in the house of salvation and Jesus built and builds the house and we’re the house! Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” There’s always an immediacy to this stuff isn’t there? Today, if you hear his voice. Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. I must go to your house today.
So what is God saying today? The preacher is addressing a congregation that’s tired. The congregation has begun to drift. People are leaving church. Not to go to other churches they’re just not going to church. Maybe they’re not praying. The whole God thing has ceased to hold a lot of meaning for them, or any meaning. The preacher’s not talking to them, they’re not there to listen. He’s talking to the ones who remain. The ones who are saying “I want Christ to be the foundation of my life and I want to be filled with the Spirit and I want to sit at Jesus feet and listen and be changed by this and I want my story to be caught up in God’s story.”
Again I’m going to assume because you’re here that you have an interest in this. At least a desire to find out what this Christ following thing is about. What’s it not about is hardening hearts. Sometimes we learn by example. It’s good to learn by example. Sometimes we also learn by not doing what others have done. This is the case here. Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you have an evil, unbelieving heart. The words translated evil hear can mean diseased. If you wish to be a partner in Christ, if you wish to be a disciple, a student, a learner, this whole thing is about holding on to the very hand. Who did not do this? The answer is in the quote above which is from Psalm 95 – “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test…”
One of the most challenging things about Hebrews is all these references to the Old Testament. What is all this about the day God was put to the test? The story is found in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. The people of Israel had no water to drink. They asked Moses “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our livestock and our children with thirst?” They were ready to kill Moses. To go back to Egypt. They forgot what story they were in. They forgot the promise. It was never just about deliverance from Egypt for them. The promise had been given like this “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.” (Ex 6:7-8) We’ve said that when the New Testament speaks of the Passover of Exodus it should bring to mind Christ – it should bring to mind deliverance. Following Christ does not end there though. Following Christ or taking hold of God’s promises means being in it for the long term. A lifetime in fact. Believing the good news is believing all parts of the good news. One writer puts it like this: “We should not give people the impression that the gospel is solely concerned with offering us forgiveness of sins; and that after that there are some optional courses such as progress in holiness, and eventual conformity to Christ and entrance into our great heavenly inheritance.” These are all parts of the good news of God in Christ and what God’s Spirit works in and through us. It’s like a bundle deal!
The warning is to not harden our hearts. How do hearts get hardened? They start to believe lies. Someone has said “Sin is a liar”. That’s why we call Satan Satan. The deceiver. There are lots of other competing voices out there. Voices that tell us this story that we’re in is a fool’s game. Voices that say what counts in life is what you look like, what you own. Look after your own sure, but don’t worry about anyone beyond that. Look out for the other. Fear and hate what you don’t know or understand. The voices that say things were better in Egypt. They can turn our hearts hard. Stubborn. We start to believe our own way is best. It’s our show and we should be the star of it. Sin is a liar and these Israelites believed the lies. God can’t take care of you. Look you have no water. We’re in this life for the long haul, from deliverance through wandering in the wilderness together called and claimed by God as God’s own people until that day we enter the land of promise.
This is a message for followers of Christ. Don’t stop believing. Hold fast. Press on. Don’t listen to the lies. Listen to the truth. How do we do that? How do we keep our hearts soft? Exhort one another every day, as long as it’s called “today.” This is one of my favourite verses in Hebrews. As long as it’s called today. In other words all the time. Encourage. Support. Console. Call for God to draw near us. Remind each other about the story that we’re living in. God’s great redemption plan for the world in which we are caught up. Do this all the time. Walking away from this means not entering the rest. That’s what it meant for the Israelites. Exhort one another every day. Later on the preacher will describe what this looks like – “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”
I said that we can learn from bad examples and we learn from good examples too. Joshua saw the land of promise. Caleb saw the land of promise. In the middle of rebellion and the people of Israel saying “We’ll die in this land let us choose a captain and go back to Egypt” these two got down on their faces and said “If the Lord is pleased with us he’ll bring us into this land and give it to us…the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” Sometimes it takes a long time to see a promise fulfilled. Forty-five years later Caleb tells Joshua “I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me” and he says “Give me the hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day” and never mind the giants and the fortified cities because Caleb was in it for the long haul.
I’m talking about how this message if for people who are following Christ. How it’s encouragement to hold firm. You may be asking “What about people we know who’ve drifted?” Family members. Friends. People we love deeply. It makes us wonder. People who have in one way or another stopped listening. Who seem to have bought into the lies. Sometimes we say things like “Maybe they were never saved in the first place.” We wonder about the state of their souls. “What happens to them?” I always say it’s not up to us who God has mercy on. We don’t make the call. We know God is merciful though. God told Moses “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” It’s why we should always err on the side of mercy I think. I know that after the scene I was describing with Joshua and Caleb Moses intercedes for the people of Israel. He stands in the breach for them. For whom are we being called to stand in the breach? Get down on our knees or on our faces for them. God tells Moses – “I do forgive, just as you asked…” Who knows what might happen when we stand in the breach for people? We do know that God is merciful, and patient.
We also know that the promise of rest is still open. Today. Isn’t that good news? The immediacy of “today”. The promise of rest is still open. “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” The concept of rest in the land of promise is, like the exodus, something that points to something else. There was literal rest in that land for the people of Israel but we know that it didn’t last. The concept of God’s rest is something that points back to creation – on the 7th day God rested. It’s the only day of creation that God blesses and hallows and there is no evening and morning on that day. Surely this is because the 7th day of God’s Sabbath rest points forward to the day when everything will be complete and they will hunger no more, and thirst no more, the sun will not strike them nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Even so come Lord Jesus.
The thing is, this promise of rest is not just for the beginning and the end. It’s for right now. Today. For we who have believed enter that rest. This is the promise. What would it look like if we claimed that promise? I’m talking about “Name it and claim it” theology. Name it and claim it. Have you heard of this? It’s a theology that takes a promise like God will supply and our needs and interprets it to mean that God wants us to be rich. Or if we need that new car we can claim God’s promise of abundant life and it will be ours. I’ve said that “tired” is like the new “fine” right? Here is a promise we can claim. “Come to me all, you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
What if we were to claim that promise and make it our own? What might God do in and through us? What if we were to ignore the lying voices that said it’s all down to us and our striving and we trusted God?
God would be 100% with that promise. That is the truth. We’d experience shalom. The concept of shalom is more than peace – it’s completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest… The day that’s coming is described in Micah like this – “but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid;” Zechariah says “On that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.” Doesn’t that sound good? A pastor friend of mine said recently that for him this means sitting on the patio under an umbrella with a bowl of guacamole and corn chips!
Because this promise of rest is from the beginning, it’s for the end, and it’s for today friends. This is our story. This is the rest which the preacher to the Hebrews is saying “be careful to enter into it.” Watch out for each other. Encourage each other in it. Taking time to listen as God gives us a foretaste of this rest. Resting in Jesus in all the many ways we do that individually and together. This is something we do every Sunday morning. It’s a time to turn our eyes to Jesus and welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit and rehearse for that day when we will join the many angels that surround the throne and the elders and those who have gone ahead of us and that great cloud of witnesses that surround us and they number myriads and thousands of thousands and they are singing with full voice “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!”
My father was right. It’s not about looking at the clock wondering how much longer is this thing going to go. May God make our hearts soft. May God make our times of worship together, our times of communion with him alone, our entire lives – foretastes of the rest that is ours in God and the rest that one day will come. May this be true for us all.