Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 27:00 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ask people on Friday what they’re looking forward to, and I would guess that many of them would say they were looking forward to the weekend. And for most people, they’re looking forward to resting. After a week of work, the weekend is when most people rest; if you have different days off or you no longer work scheduled days like you used to, there are certain days you look forward to, on which you can rest. In fact, most of the time, instead of resting so we can work, we work so that we can rest, or some approximation of it.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews knows people are longing for rest. There has been a promise of rest from the very beginning, even before the Fall into sin. After finishing His work of creation in six days, and when it was very good, God rested on the seventh day from all His work of creating. Of course, God did not get tired and for that reason need a rest. He had finished establishing the creation. Everything was there: the ground brought forth all kinds of plants, and God had blessed both the animals and the people to be fruitful and multiply. He finished all that, and He rested from that.
But the people were supposed to take that seventh day of God’s rest and share in it. Especially after the Fall, it became a necessity so that people did not abuse their created bodies, or the created bodies of their servants, workers, or animals. Everyone needs rest. No one can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They needed to rest not only for their bodies and for the bodies of others, but because they were not in control of creation. The Sabbath rest means that the people have to rest and acknowledge that it is God who upholds all things. The people rest from their work and God does His work of making them holy.
But you know that one day of rest doesn’t necessarily relieve you of all the burdens of living life in this world. There is enough trouble, enough sin, enough death, that even if you had one day of rest each week, and if you observed it, that probably wouldn’t be enough. The things from the week still pile up. The week still intrudes on our rest. And sometimes we think we can’t rest at all because of our responsibilities.
The promise of God expanded from that one day each week to all the days of living in the land, to which God had promised to bring the people. So He brought them out of Egypt to the land, promising that He would give them rest from their enemies all around. He tells them in Deuteronomy 12 that they have not yet entered into the rest to which He is bringing them. But when He brings them there, they will have rest from their enemies all around. Because the enemy was not only around them but within them, they were still tempted to idolatry and to rebellion, to harden their hearts as they did at Massah and Meribah, when they questioned whether God was actually among them.
So when they go after those other gods and worship them and reject Yahweh, He brings other nations to oppress them, and then they cry out for mercy, and God raises up judges to free them from their enemies. And the land had temporary rest from warfare, for 20 years or 40 years or 80 years. And then, when Solomon becomes king, he recalls the promise of God in Deuteronomy 12 that they would be given a particular place to worship. At the dedication of Solomon’s temple, he says, Blessed is Yahweh our God who has given rest to His people. Not a single word has failed of all His good promise.
Even then, Solomon was later turned from God by his wives who worshiped other gods. The nation was split into Israel and Judah, and more enemies came, Assyria and Babylon. The people had temporary rest, but never the fullness of rest. Don’t you ever long for good, lasting rest? Do you ever feel like you barely have time to catch your breath before you have to go back to work, whether that’s in a particular job, or for the sake of your family, or for anyone else who might require your labor?
Joshua, even when he led the people into the land, could not give them rest. If he had, then God would not have spoken of another day that would come after those days. There still remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God; not a temporary one, carved out halfway within the work of Sunday through Saturday, but an eternal rest. This is not a rest like taking a nap, or sleeping. It is relief of all burdens; it is rest from all enemies; it is the full joy of God’s rest after finishing all His good creation.
Since the first Joshua could not give the people rest, there remained a need for another Joshua. In Hebrew the name Yah-shua is both the name of the man who led Israel after Moses, as well as the name of the firstborn Son of Mary. It was not the first Joshua who could give Israel or us rest; but the second Joshua can and does. He worked and accomplished and finished His salvation work on the sixth day of the week, and then, when He had finished all His work of salvation, He rested on the seventh day in the tomb.
On the eighth day, the new creation day, Jesus rose from the dead and expanded the Sabbath rest of God beyond one day, beyond a year, beyond a few years of peace in the land, into the eternity that God has prepared for His people, to enter into His rest. The Sabbath as a single day has been fulfilled in Jesus’ resting, just as circumcision as the sign of the covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus’ own body. This is why Paul says in Colossians 2 that festivals and new moons and Sabbaths are a shadow of what is to come, and that Christ is the substance. The light of God is focused on Christ and His shadow is cast on the Sabbath, on circumcision, on sacrifice, on the priesthood, on the tabernacle and the temple, on all of it.
Do you need rest? Are you weary? Are you exhausted by the labor of life and the burden of living from Sunday through Saturday? Jesus says to you, today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. Do not question whether God is among us. He told Moses that He would stand on the rock and Moses was to strike the rock and water would flow out for the people to drink. Today, your God stands before you, the one who was struck and blood and water flowed out, for your cleansing and forgiveness and rest. Today is the eighth day, and all days are holy. Today and all days you are made holy by the Word of God, by the body and blood of Jesus. You can’t become holy by working—or by resting, for that matter. You can’t become holy within the seven days of this creation. It is only in the eighth day, the baptismal day, that God does His work while you rest from yours. Today, if you hear His voice, He says: Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, heavy-laden, and I will give you rest for your souls.
We still have work to do, of course. Our labor is not over, our love is still needed, our work is still ongoing. The people of God don’t work so we can rest; we rest so that we can do the work He has given to us. But that is only temporary, until the eternal day dawns. From the resurrection flows the blessing of God: as John heard the voice from the throne: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. And the Spirit of God says, Indeed, blessed are they, for they have rest from their labors, and their good works follow them.
Because you have been baptized into the eighth day of Jesus’ resurrection, we live now in two times: the seven days of this world, where we work and rest and work; but we also live in the eighth day, knowing that our true and eternal rest is in Jesus, who will raise us up and give us rest from all our enemies all around. On that day, no more sin, no more weariness, no more crying, no more death, no more funerals; on that day, we will finally know the full truth of Solomon’s words. Blessed is Yahweh, who has given rest to His people. Not one single word has failed of all His promise. Not one single word.
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, 10/16/21