7th Sunday after Pentecost – July 23, 2017
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. 3Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” 6It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. 7Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Rest is a good thing. That’s not just true for us. It is also true for the land we work. In the Old Testament God wanted his people to understand this. So all the way back at Mount Sinai God prepared his people for living in the Promised Land when he commanded, “For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.”
But that wasn’t the only rest the land was to have. The Lord also commanded his people, “The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.”
There were reasons for these commands. Two of them to be precise. And the first reason is actually the lesser of the two. 1) One reason for giving the land rest was scientific. It allowed the nutrients to return. 2) But it was the second reason was far more important. God was giving his people an opportunity to completely trust in their Lord.
How could they not under such circumstances! They weren’t supposed to sow or reap. Instead, God said to “eat only what is taken directly from the fields.” Talk about an opportunity for God’s people to put their complete trust in him!
But there was a problem. We have absolutely no evidence of God’s people ever carrying this command out. Not one instance is recorded. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t faithful people who did follow the command. But we never hear of this command being followed on a national level.
All the way back in the book of Leviticus God warned them what would happen if they didn’t leave their land fallow every 7 years. “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me…I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate.”
One way or another the land was going to have its rest. If God’s people refused to obey his command, if they didn’t want to trust in him and keep the land fallow every 7 years, then God would do it himself.
And he did. After years and years of idol worship and rejection of God’s Word, God’s people were carried off into captivity. In the end there was no excuse. God had told his people all the way back before they even entered the Promised Land that these would be the consequences if they didn’t obey his command. The book of Hebrews tells us what happened: “But the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” So God declared, “They shall never enter my rest.” They didn’t obey, so they were carried off into captivity.
In a fitting connection to this portion of Leviticus, the very end of the book of 2 Chronicles tells us, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests.” Once again God’s Old Testament people are an example of what happens when God’s Word is rejected.
No such laws for farming are in effect for us in the New Testament. God doesn’t tell us what to plant or when to plant it. He doesn’t command we leave our fields fallow every 7 years or every 50 years.
But the book of Hebrews speaks directly to us this morning. “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did.” And so it warns us, “Let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” But there is a rest God does command of us. It is a rest from our day to day work. It is a rest from our activities. It is a rest with God’s Word. And as we all have to confess, taking time out of our everyday life for God’s Word is easier said than done.
A day that should begin with God’s Word instead starts with us focusing on “the list.” There always seems to be work to do. And if I didn’t take the time to be in God’s Word and prayer at the beginning of the day, I’m probably not going to find time for it during the day. Once the day if finally over I’m ready to fall asleep once my head hits the pillow. And before we know it, we just lived another day of our lives having completely forgotten to spend time with the Lord.
As busy as we think we are, Jesus was busier. He certainly had reason to be busy. The multitudes were coming to him for every reason under the sun. The sick had to be healed. The thousands had to be fed. The Pharisees had to be refuted and the disciples had valuable lessons to learn.
If anyone ever had a valid reason for avoiding time in prayer and the Word, wouldn’t it be the Lord himself? After all, he was constantly accomplishing his Father’s business!
Yet we see countless times in Jesus ministry when he takes time to go to his Father in prayer. There are times when he sends the multitudes, the disciples and the Pharisees away. On one occasion in the Gospel of Mark we read, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
Jesus did what we cannot do. He lived a perfect life. He was faithful in prayer. He continued to preach his word to the people. And then, because we couldn’t do anything perfectly, because we are sinners in need of a Savior, Jesus died.
Then, fittingly, as Jesus had gotten up before the sun to pray throughout his ministry, he once again got up before the sun. This day, however, was far more important than all the rest. It was Easter Sunday, and Jesus had risen back to life.
Now how could we possibly live our thanks to our Savior, Jesus Christ? “Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” Take time in prayer. Set aside time to read God’s Word. Don’t make it the last thing on your daily list. Put it on first. The rest will fall into place. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.”
The rest God gives us is a true, lasting rest. It is a rest in his word. It is a look ahead to the eternal rest we have in heaven through Christ.
“There are the good and blest, Those I love most and best,
And there I, too, shall rest; Heav’n is my home.” Amen.