(Prepared for a sermon on Matthew 11:28-30)
One of the themes found throughout the Scriptures is that of rest. It’s the concept that after we’ve finished a task, we get to relax. One of the interesting things about rest is that the quality of rest depends to a large extent on how well we did the job. The better our work, the more we put of ourselves into it, the more we enjoy the relaxation afterward. There is great satisfaction in being able to look back on a job well done. On the other hand, if we goofed off or didn’t really put much effort into the work, our rest isn’t very sweet. I suppose our conscience keeps nagging us and tells us that we don’t deserve to rest.
The first example we have in the Bible of someone resting is God, Himself. God spent six days creating the universe and all that is in it. Then in Genesis chapter 1, starting in verse 31 we read, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 1:31-2:3 NIV)
The Scriptures use God’s rest on the seventh day as an ideal for us. His rest is the goal we should be striving toward. For example, it’s the idea behind keeping the Sabbath Day, which is one of the “Ten Commandments” in the Law of Moses. No work was supposed to be done on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a metaphor for God’s rest. God gave the Israelites the land of Canaan as another metaphor of entering His rest. It was a rest from the slavery they experienced in Egypt.
If you will allow me to read something into all this which the Scriptures do not say, is it possible that the reason God’s rest is so perfect, is that the work He did in creating the universe was “very good”?!
In any case, God invites us to enter His rest. But the hitch is that, as we all know, our work – unlike God’s is not “very good.” In fact, it’s not good at all. Scripture compares our good or righteousness to filthy rags. That being the case, we don’t deserve to enter God’s rest. Why should we get to relax and enjoy ourselves when we’ve goofed off and botched the job God wanted us to do?
Fortunately, God gives us an out. He sent Jesus to complete the job we couldn’t or wouldn’t do. People’s testimony about Jesus was, “He has done everything well.” (Mark 7:37 NIV) Not only was Jesus’ work “done well,” from the cross He could proclaim, “It is finished.” (John 19:30 NIV) God allows us to appropriate or share in Jesus’ completed work. The writer of Hebrews talks about the failure of the Israelites to accept God’s invitation to participate in His rest. Then, in chapter 4, starting in verse 1 he writes, “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. For 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. Now 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. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” It 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. Therefore 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.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrew 4:1-11 NIV)
Notice from this passage that there are two things which will prevent us from entering God’s rest. The first is unbelief or a lack of faith. The second is disobedience. To put it the other way around, we must believe what God has promised us and we must obey what He’s told us to do.
Unfortunately, we’re not very good at either of those things. We need to be reminded. And that is one of the reasons Christ has asked us to go through a little ritual to jog our memories. He asked us to eat some bread which reminds us of His sacrifice on our behalf. In other words, the bread is a reminder that Jesus completed our work.
He also asked us to drink some juice to remind us of His blood – the blood which allows us to enter into a covenant relationship with God. Included in that covenant is the promise of entering God’s rest.
Today as we eat and drink, let’s renew our faith in God’s promises to us and let’s renew our commitment to obey what He’s asked us to do.