In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Think of that very first sabbath. Think of it: the very first seventh day ever in the history of this creation. God had created the heavens and the earth; light and darkness; sky and land and water. He had created the sun, moon, and stars; the plants, and animals, and—the crown of His creation—a man and a woman made in His own image. And His creation was finished, and it was very good. And on the seventh day, God rested from all His work that He had done in creation. He rested, and He brought Adam and Eve into that rest, put them in the Garden, gave them everything as a gift, and spoke His Word to them. Luther imagines that, perhaps, it was about noon on that first sabbath when God was done speaking to Adam and Eve. About noon, when the Divine Service was finished, and Adam and Eve went back to their Garden. About noon, when God finished His conversation with them, and Satan began to speak to Eve. As it is wont to be on this day, Luther says. It is still the same, even on our sabbath day, when we rest from our work so that God can do His. We rest today in the Word of Christ because this is the day that He rose from the dead. Wherever God’s Word is, there the devil also goes about his business of spreading falsehood and false teaching. Because it grieves him that through the Word, we, like Adam in Paradise, should be made citizens of heaven (LW 1:82). Perhaps this is where the quotation, often attributed to Luther, comes from: where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel. Wherever God’s Word is, the devil also makes it his business to spread falsehood and false teaching, contradicting God’s Word, asking whether God really could have said such things.
And Eve and Adam listened to that word, rather than to the word of their Creator. They turned from the true Word to a false word, and they were driven from the Garden. What had been their joy and rest, to work in the Garden which God had given them, now became the toil and labor of a cursed creation. Pain and suffering would come, rather than the beautiful work of God’s finished creation. And from that unbelief came separation, murder, and every other sin and vice. So it goes east of Eden: labor and work and the burden of life’s requirements; so it goes, and the burden of work becomes the burden of slavery in Egypt. So God sends Moses to speak to the people, to promise their deliverance, and to lead them out of slavery to the land of Promise. God brings them right to the very verge of the land, tells them that He is giving them this land, that He will fight for them and bring them in, but they don’t listen to the Word of their savior; they listen to their own words, their own opinions, the doubts of their own minds. And God swears: they will never enter My rest. And during the next 40 years, every one of them who did not believe falls dead in the wilderness. Why could they not enter? Hebrews tells us: because of unbelief. Because they were not united in faith with those who listened and believed.
They continued to be troubled by their enemies in that land; they were troubled by idolatry, and exile, and sin, and complacency. The weight of this world continues, the burden of our work and labor continues. And God sends His Son to speak to us in slavery, to bring us out of our Egypt into the eternal land of promise. Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary, and burdened, and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” I will exchange My yoke, and My burden, for your yoke and your burden. My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Jesus takes the burden of sin and death, the weight of sin that steals our rest, and He suffers and dies. And He says, “It is finished.” And it was very good, and Jesus was laid in an empty tomb. And on the seventh day, He rested from all the work that He had done for the new creation. Fulfilling the Sabbath rest, fulfilling all things from the Garden on. He rested, and on the eighth day, on the first day of that brand new week, He rose from the dead. And on another eighth day, in an eight-sided font, you were raised from your death. Come to Me, He says, and I will give you rest. You entered into His rest, along with all those who believe the promise given there, and now you look for the day when God will finally bring His people into that eternal land of promise. This is the Word by which you are made citizens of a new heaven and a new earth.
But these words in Hebrews are words of endurance and perseverance. They are words reminding us that we are still in the wilderness, and not yet in the land of rest. We should fear, he says, so that we do not fail to enter, as many in Israel did. It is the same warning given to us along with Baptism, that we are not automatically taken out of the realm of the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh. We do not cease to live in the world of Adam and Eve and Israel. Let the one who stands take heed, lest he fall. Wherever the heart is idle and the Word goes unheard, the devil is quick to break in and cause his damage, before we are even aware of it. These three: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, which still clings to us, are with us every day, afflicting us every day, giving us no rest from our labor without or within. So how will we endure? How will we make it to the land of promise? How will we not fall in this wilderness, as so many do, by willful sin, disobedience, or simply apathy that becomes unbelief? Has God really said? Does God really forgive you? Yes. Only the Word has the power to sustain us. Only the Word that comes from outside us, the Word that must always be in our ears, on our lips, in our hearts. Because only the Word of Christ cannot fail to return void and empty. It is not a dead and lifeless word, but a living and active Word, which will not fail to bring fruit where it is heard and believed. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. Today, you have heard His voice. Today is our sabbath rest along the way. What else does it mean to honor the sabbath day by keeping it holy, than to occupy ourselves with holy words, holy works, holy living, as we are exercised in the Word of God? It is that Word that we hear week after week; that Word that we read day after day; that Word that we study together as the people of God in this place, that will sustain us and strengthen us and keep us from the Evil One, and divide us from the world and even from our own sinful flesh. Jesus speaks and we have rest; we have rest and we eat the holy food for our journey, prepared to leave in haste. We are on the way to that eternal land.
Think of it: the very last sabbath day in the history of this old and burdened creation. The last day of rest. And we will wake on the eighth day in that eternal land of promise. Though the first Jesus, whom we call Joshua, could not give Israel rest in the land, our second Joshua, Jesus, has prepared for us a rest that cannot be broken. We will enter that land, and we will have rest from our enemies all around—safe from sin, death, and the devil—and we will have the inheritance prepared for us from before the foundation of the world.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/17/15