Hebrews 4:9-13 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Over the course of six days, he spoke his almighty and powerful Word and called this world into being from nothing. He created the stars and the planets. He created the oceans and dry ground. He created the plants and animals. And he created mankind.
And not only did he create man—he established a relationship with them. Man was made in the image of God—male and female he created them to have fellowship with him. They knew God face to face. They walked with him and talked with him. They ruled over the rest of creation and their love for one another created new life.
Day after day, God spoke- and what he spoke- came into being. At the end of each of the days of creation, God looked out upon all he created and called it good. And on the seventh day he rested.
God did not rest because he was tired. He did not cease from his creative work which continues to this day as he speaks that ongoing “yes” that sustains the universe.
The seventh day was a day in which he took a step back to admire the perfect world he had brought into existence and the loving relationship he had established with man. Can you picture that scene in your mind where all is right in the world?
If you can, you know what a tragedy it was when man rebelled against God and destroyed the world he created and the relationship he established with man. And yet God promised that he would re-make what man’s sin destroyed and re-establish that right relationship that existed between God and man in the beginning.
From then on, the Sabbath Day was set aside by God for man, not only so that man could rest from his labors, but so that he could feast his eyes of faith on that first, seventh day vision of a perfect creation and a right relationship with God—set aside so that he could worship and praise God for his goodness—set aside to lay hold of God’s promise that he would make things right, just like they were in the beginning.
Every Sabbath day existed for that purpose: to give thanks for what God’s Word accomplished in the beginning and to be renewed in faith and hope at what God’s Word promised was still to come. And yet, the Bible says: There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. In other words, there was still more than those Sabbaths.
For thousands of years God’s people observed the Sabbath—that seventh day of remembrance and promise. But as joyful and hopeful as those celebrations were, there was still a shadow over them. They remembered something that no longer existed because of their sin. They looked forward to a promise that had not yet been fulfilled.
But that shadow disappeared when the Light of the World took on human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible says that the Sabbath days were “a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” What the Sabbaths longed for and hoped for was fulfilled in Jesus.
Jesus Christ re-established the fellowship that existed between God and man in the beginning. He did away with the sins that keep us from God by washing them away in his blood on the cross. And his resurrection was the beginning of a new creation in which death and sin have no part.
Jesus Christ is the true Sabbath-rest of the people of God. He is the certainty that there will be a new heaven and a new earth just like there was in the beginning. He is the guarantee that we will once again dwell in God’s presence.
All of this has been accomplished by the saving work of Jesus and to enter into his Sabbath rest—to take our own place there—it is necessary to rest from our labors and receive in faith what he has done. The Bible says: Whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Let’s go back for a moment to that first, seventh day Sabbath—the one from the beginning. What did God see as he looked out upon his world? He saw a creation that was perfect. He saw a world in which there was only life. He saw mankind as his children. He saw that his work was complete.
To enter God’s Sabbath rest is to look to Jesus Christ and know that the same is true for through faith in him. Once again we are counted as God’s children. There is a life for us that death cannot end. And there is nothing that needs to be added to Jesus’ work-- by our own work.
How foolish and faithless it would have been for Adam and Eve to look at the beauty of the creation around them and regard it as the work of their own hands!
They were the creatures—God was the creator. They were the recipients of his creative work. They had status as children that God simply bestowed upon them of his grace. So it is with us and Jesus!
How foolish and faithless to look at Jesus’ holy life and bloody death and glorious resurrection and count even a part of our salvation the result of what we have done. How sinfully presumptuous to believe that our status as God’s children is anything other than our identity in Christ that the Holy Spirit has bestowed on us in Holy Baptism!
Jesus has done it all and when we gaze upon his re-creating work all that we can do-- is what God did in the beginning when he looked upon his original creation—call it good. The Bible says: Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
That we are to strive to enter the Sabbath-rest of God may seem like a contradiction when we can do nothing but receive what he has done—but it is not.
God speaks these words about striving to enter his rest because throughout salvation history, there have been countless millions who did not enter his rest because they rejected what he had done.
In the verses before our text today, the author reminded his congregation about the people of Israel who came out of slavery in Egypt—how they were delivered and set free—how they saw their enemies die in the waters of the Red Sea—how they were led by God and fed by God and received his Word at Sinai and yet when it came time to believe in what he said and trust in his promise to take them safely into the Promised Land, they refused to go—they would not enter his rest.
They fell in the wilderness because of their lack of faith. Their enemies seemed more powerful than their Savior. They didn’t like the hardships of the journey. They preferred the life they knew as slaves over their freedom as God’s children.
The same thing can happen in our life of faith. The dangers of failing to complete our faith journey are real. The temptations to return to slavery to sin are powerful. To adopt the values of the unbelievers around us is easier than holding fast to God’s ways. The hardships and challenges we face seem much more real than God. We face the same temptation as God’s ancient people to fall back and turn away rather than trusting in God.
That is why the Bible tells us we are to strive to enter the Sabbath-rest God has provided in Jesus Christ by believing the promises of his word and trusting the guidance of his Word to lead us to heaven. The Bible says that:
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
From the very beginning of the Bible we see clearly the power of God’s Word. God said let there be light and there is light. God called this world into being by the power of his Word and where before there was only darkness and emptiness, when he spoke-- there was light and life.
God’s Word has the same power when it comes to spiritual life and light. When Jesus says “Father, forgive them” from the cross we are forgiven. When Jesus says “take, eat this is my body, take drink this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins”—so it is and so we are. When the Bible says that we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ in Holy Baptism—so we have. The Bible says that we have been born again by the living and abiding word of God.
Just as Adam and Eve received their life from God calling them into existence- and just as Lazarus was raised from the dead at Jesus’ word- so we have been given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word.
God’s Word is living and active and has accomplished the saving purpose for which God sent it by bringing us to faith in Jesus who is our Sabbath rest.
But the Word of God has not only brought about our spiritual life, it is the enduring source of that life—the word is means by which God works in our lives to sustain our faith so that not only do we begin in faith but we finish our life in faith.
God speaks to us in his Word as it is read and studied and proclaimed and received in the Sacrament. It speaks into those deep places in our lives where there is sin that needs to be confessed and fears that need to be confronted and a faith that needs to be strengthened so that we can enter into the fullness of what Christ has won for us. It lays bare the truth about our life of faith. The Bible says:
No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
When Adam and Eve sinned, it wrecked their relationship with God. They realized they were naked and experienced guilt and shame for the first time and hid from God in fear. But God sought them out—calling out to them so that they could acknowledge their sin and receive his forgiveness and have their guilt and shame covered by his bloody sacrifice.
So God continues to do. His powerful words of law tell us the truth about ourselves—that we have sinned and fall short of his glory. His powerful words of the Gospel tell us that there is forgiveness for us in Christ. He calls us to himself again and again so that we can acknowledge our sins and have our guilt and shame covered by Christ’s bloody sacrifice on the cross. That is our true Sabbath rest and we enter it by believing in Jesus. Amen.