Epistle: Hebrews 4:1-13 (14-16) (Pentecost 21: Series B )
No work need be done to enter this Sabbath rest, for Christ has done all that is necessary.
Hebrews is a sermon. Much like we pastors do every Sunday, the author of this message draws from the Scripture to awaken them to their sins, drive them to repent, and deliver Jesus to their ears and hearts. It is a marvelous example of what sermons looked like in the early Church and gives us a model for our own preaching. Every pastor who is called into the pulpit is to locate their hearers in the narrative of God’s redemptive work in this world. The Holy Spirit will use such biblical preaching to produce repentance and forgiveness of sins. Hebrews is the model of what the risen Christ bids His apostles and preachers to do in Luke 24:44-49.
This week we find the preacher of Hebrews delivering a sermon with Psalm 95:7-8 as his text. John Kleinig says, “Here in this sermon the teacher speaks to his congregation assembled for the Divine Service as if he himself were present with them, addressing them as a pastor.” This is a marvelous Psalm which invites the people of God to worship. If you are familiar with the Order of Matins, the first seven verses of this Psalm form give us the Venite which will ring joyfully in your ears (see the Lutheran Service Book, pages 220-221). However, the invitation to worship quickly turns to a warning. “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the day of rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15). The Psalm itself specifies which rebellion. In Exodus 17, we read how the people grumbled against Moses and God at Meribah and Massa. God told Moses to strike the stone and give the grumbling Israelites water. These were the grumbling Israelites who, though saved by God from Egypt, ultimately did not enter the Promised Land.
The author of Hebrews draws from this Psalm to invite them to worship and warn the hearers against rebelling against this God who has saved them and drawn them to His Sabbath rest. The Psalm was used by the Israelites as a processional hymn while they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, “...the Sabbatical feast at the end of the agricultural year when they celebrated their entry into the Promised Land and acknowledged the Lord as the cosmic King.” He contrasts those baptized into Christ Jesus, who have “believed” and thus entered His “rest” (4:2) with those of whom God said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’” (4:3). The people of God are invited to God’s Sabbath rest and blessings. But they are also warned against rebelling against the gifts and promises of God given in the Divine Service now, though not yet fully realized until Christ comes again.
If you are following the series I laid out when we began the Hebrew readings, this week you would be preaching Jesus is greater than Joshua. Verse 8 mentions that, though Joshua had led the people to the Promised Land, it was not the ultimate and final rest God had promised. If that were the case, then God would not have spoken through David of this latter day in which His people are not to harden their hearts. That latter day is “today” because of the coming of Christ (4:7). “Today” is the day to come and enter the promised rest given in Christ Jesus in His Word and Sacraments. The preacher’s promise to the tempted hearers is to announce the promise that Jesus invites you into His rest today! Let nothing stop you from entering this rest now and for eternity! The rest won by Jesus is greater than anything Joshua led the people to in the Promised Land.
The preacher’s promise to the tempted hearers is to announce the promise that Jesus invites you into His rest today!
Everything in the world seems to be working against you entering God’s rest on Sunday. The comfortable bed, fear of COVID, the kid’s sports games, the empty highway leading to the beach, you name it, the Devil employs it to keep you from worship. For these reasons, it would be a great Sunday to preach the Divine Service itself. That is, to proclaim what it is God is doing in giving His rest and how HE does it through the liturgical elements. Worship is no mere formality we must do to keep the Law, a ritual we check off our legalistic list of obedience to keep God happy. Rather, Heaven invades earth in the Divine Service. God shows up to speak to you through His preaching and Sacraments. Again, Kleinig is our teacher here: “[In the Divine Service] the Church stands between earth and Heaven, time and eternity, this world and the world to come. There, in God’s ‘Today’ (4:7), Heaven overlaps with earth as eternity intersects with time.”
So, show your church how. Preach how you come to church to receive the gifts of Christ which He purchased for them on the cross. As they come in, they hear God’s triune name invoked and are reminded first of their baptismal identity followed by the realization they are in the presence of the holy God! Like Isaiah, they realize their sinfulness and confess with the rest of the Church, only to have the pastor proclaim the absolution, which descends upon their ears and hearts like the Cherubim with God’s purifying coal on Isaiah’s lips (see Isaiah 6). Then, God gives His scriptures. He gives us songs of praise to sing. He gives us His Word in the sermon. He gives us a faith to confess in the Creed. He gives us the very body and blood of Christ in the Supper. And He gives us His blessing and favor in the Benediction. God serves us with these gifts, and we are found responding in prayer and praise! Preach these parts of the service so your congregation knows what it is to enter God’s rest, to receive His blessings. You might consider stopping at each point of the liturgy and preaching what God is doing in that moment, just be careful not to be too disruptive.
Heaven invades earth in the Divine Service. God shows up to speak to you through His preaching and Sacraments.
Christ in the Text
God used Joshua to lead His people into the Promised Land. “I gave you land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of the vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13). But a quick turn of the page to Judges proves Israel found no rest in the land. They constantly sinned against their God, and God would send enemies to punish them until they repented, and He would send a judge to save them. David, the great king of Israel, later recognized how in this tumultuous world, God’s people need a better rest.
Jesus brings just that. He has won a greater position for His people, one in which they rest from their labors. A Sabbath rest where they enter God’s favorable presence with no more fear of sin or danger of enemies. Christ’s death has forgiven all sins that would keep the Church away from God. He has defeated Satan and every enemy who would attack and tempt the Church. No work need be done to enter this Sabbath rest, for Christ has done all that is necessary.
All of this is true now and experienced when we are gathered in the Divine Service where the Holy Spirit delivers Christ and distributes all His gifts to us. At the same time, we still live in a “not yet” reality every day. Temptations and trials, sins and struggles would seek to draw us away from the promised rest in Christ. But they do not prevent Christ from coming and serving His beloved bride. This Sunday, encourage your congregation not to harden their hearts, not to submit to the siren song of the culture, and to come to church where they will find rest for their souls and Jesus and all His mercy for them.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Hebrews 4:1-13 (14-16).
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Hebrews 4:1-13 (14-16).