Labor to Rest, Hebrews 4:1-11
In English folklore a story is told of a child of one of Britain’s noble families who was stolen from his house by a chimney sweep. The parents spared no expense or trouble in their search for him, but in vain. A few years later the lad happened to be sent by the master into whose hands he had then passed to sweep the chimneys in the very house from which he had been stolen while too young to remember it. The little fellow had been sweeping the chimney of one of the bedrooms, and fatigued with the exhausting labor to which so many lads, by the cruel custom of those times were bound, he quite forgot where he was, and flinging himself upon the clean bed dropped off to sleep. The lady of the house happened to enter the room. At first she looked in disgust and anger at the filthy black object that was soiling her counterpane. But all at once something in the expression of the little dirty face, or some familiar pose of the languid limbs, drew her nearer with a sudden inspiration, and in a moment she had clasped once more in her motherly arms her long-lost boy.
In the embrace of our Heavenly Father is found the rest into which we were intended to enter in every situation, every place, and every moment of our lives.
Admittedly, these are difficult times. Our hearts faint as fear mongers tout the latest threat on the horizon. Our minds are cluttered by anxieties and worries of every kind. There is restlessness in our world, in our culture, in our hearts which, like a cancerous tumor, seeks to destroy us with its unrestrained hostility; from within the recesses and caverns of our very hearts, minds, and souls!
What is the greatest epidemic of the modern era and specifically in the modern church? I would suggest that it is not one but many which are all tied the restless spirit of our age. Fear, worry, anxiety, and much more; all of which reflect a lack of understanding of God’s desire for us to enter into His rest.
God has given us His divine presence that we might experience His peace in the midst of all of our circumstances and yet we flee from His peace as we rely on our own strength, our own ability, our own power, meanwhile we are falling apart at the seams. The only labor reserved for us is the labor to enter into His rest!
Here is the problem: You and I have been conditioned by a stoic, can-do, fast paced, adrenaline addicted, and workaholic, bigger is necessarily better, pull yourself up by the bootstrap, self-made society, to believe the lie that everything that occurs in our life is the product of our own good intentions and hard work.
You and I have, to varying extents, believed the lie that the Christian faith is primarily about sin and judgment and that our lives are primarily about the things we collect, what we accomplish, and the things which we do.
Rather than define our worth according to His beautiful love for us, we define ourselves by what we achieve, when the truth is that He who says, “I’m a self-made man,” simply demonstrates the horror of unskilled labor.
Is it any wonder that so many believers fail to enter into the rest of God’s sovereign provision when we live in a Church culture which has elevated the status of man and devalued the status of the sovereign ruler of the universe?
Is it really that shocking that the general consensus with regard to stress, fear, anxiety is only marginally different in the Church than in the mainstream culture when we have plundered the Egyptians to such an extent that even upon close inspection, our lives reflect more of mainstream American culture than they do the radical love and grace found in abundance at the Cross of our redeemer?
I submit to you here in this moment that until and to the extent to which we take the focus in our worship, in our preaching, in our lives off of me and place it squarely and completely upon our sovereign redeemer, we shall not find the peace, the power, the provision fighting the battles of this life, that we seek.
The major themes, conduct, and actions of our lives in the modern era echo the words of the Psalmist in Psalms 55:4-8, where it says, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest – I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” (NIV)
In a world wrought with turmoil, how do we find the peace which we seek?
Here is the solution: In Exodus 33:14 the Lord declares to Moses a declaration which rings down the ages unto us, now, in this very moment, “The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?" And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (NIV)
If we are to find the place of pure rest in the Lord, if we are to move into the place of constant and continued rest in the Lord in the face of whatever confronts us in this life then we must move past the place of religious activity unto the place of a relational identity; we move beyond the worship of a distant God who exists somewhere “out there” to living fully in the recognition that we serve a God who knows us by name; calls us child, and has adopted us by Grace through faith.
And yet seldom do even a few of us experience the reality of God’s sovereign presence in our lives even part of the time. While we can easily affirm this most biblical of principals theoretically, our lives do not declare that affirmation.
We move into a troubling situation in our lives actively pursuing the answer to the problem in our own strength, in our own way, and in our own time. Meanwhile, the God who knows the beginning from the end stands patiently beside us – dwelling within us – offering us His peace which passes all understanding.
The great trouble, I am afraid, is that so many of us have an image of God in our mind which is completely at war with the image of God which is presented in the Bible. We picture God as out there, transcendent, appropriately holy and distinct from His creation, but excessively inaccessible.
We were made to worship God; this is true, but not from afar. Psalms 29:2 says, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.” (NIV) The biblical motif of adoration of God is always intrinsically connected to the idea of knowing and experiencing God.
This is most fully expressed in the life of our Saviour and Lord. Jesus is the full embodiment of the holiness, glory, mercy, and grace of God!
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (Colossians 1:19-22 NIV)
In Christ, the sacred, the divine, the mighty presence of Almighty God became flesh and dwelt among us so that He might reconcile us unto Himself and dwell within us. Here we are scurrying about looking for peace in the very same manner as mice hunt for a scrap of bread; all the while, we are sons and daughters of the most High God of all creation!
How like poppers are we; who know not, who apprehend not their own worth?
It is not we who seek God. It is not we who possess the power to save ourselves. How long will we strive in this life as though our toil is the primary means of achieving those things for which our hearts desire most? How long will we stand at the precipice of God’s provision and for a lack of faith, not plummet into the tremendous abyss of His provision?
The Christian life is first and foremost, primarily, about strapping on our sandals, picking up our walking stick, and following after the Master of Mercy and living fully aware, conscience of the reality of the intimacy which we share with our Redeemer as we travel along the pilgrimage of this life!
Christianity is not the sum total of its dogmas, creeds, ethics, or statements of faith; all of these things flow from and are only and best understood in light of the intimate relationship of which we now speak. Biblical truth divorced from intimate relationship with God is legalism. Relationship with God apart from that which He has revealed in His Word is invalid.
It is not we who pursue God, but He who at this very moment pursues us with His love! When things are going well, what I am talking to you about here today may seem somewhat extravagant. It may even seem a bit unnecessary. Conceptually most believers recognize their need for the peace of God. But it is when the rug is pulled from beneath us that we need the peace of God.
And when we need His peace, when things have fallen apart, it is then that we what we have cultivated up to that point will be available to us. When the difficult times come, and they will come, what will we bring into the pit, into the valley, in the day of despair with us?
God is eternal; if we are to be free of fear we must allow His eternal perspective to reign in all of the circumstances of this life. In trouble we must rest in, dwell in, and reside in the reality that God knows the beginning from the end. That means that the trouble of this situation is temporary and the God who is eternal already knows the beginning from the end.
It is not that we stand by and do nothing; not at all! It is that we bring with us into every situation of this life the abiding comfort and peace of the God who dwells in us. The God who knows the beginning from the end does not need us to strive and fight to solve the problems; He merely desires that we would participate in His plan as He directs; filled with His peace in the situation.
This means that we are free to do whatever God leads us to do in the situation but not anxiously working to fix the situation, but fearlessly doing as we are instructed by God while resting in the reality of His sovereign declaration and provision in the situation.
It is the difference between striving under the arduous burden of self-reliance and working, joyfully filled with surrendered trust and fearless reliance upon God.
The memory of one particular evening when my wife and I lived in Florida remains fresh in my mind. We were invited by some friends to listen to their children’s contemporary Christian band play some of their new songs at the “Coffee Spot” in New Port Ritchie, Florida. It’s a little coffee shop with a stage for live bands and Christian performers. We would later question the wisdom of having brought our then eighteen month old son, Sebastian.
Sebastian has always been an active boy. Before he grew to over twenty four inches, I would often say that he was very much like a 2 foot tall tornado! At first everything was fine. Sebastian was entertained by our friend’s youngest daughter for a while and then he took a few bites of his dinner.
Once the opening act started is when everything fell apart. The opening act was a miming evangelist who garnered an unfavorable amount of attention from my son. The “Coffee Spot” is a fairly intimate place which did not work in our favor. When mime was introduced everyone in the room got quiet – everyone except for Sebastian that is. He spent the first ten minutes of the mimes performance doing everything he could to escape my grasp and place that mime within his grasp!
After I realized that my little boy was gaining ground on getting away from me, I looked for a fast get away. I found relieve in the form of a back entrance way several feet away from the mime. It was at this point that I realized my only recourse was to tickle Sebastian into submission, and that is exactly what I did. His laughter was probably distracting to the audience and it surely it was distracting to the mime but at least this stopped him from attacking the mime!
I wish that I could say that this was the end of this affair and that after the mime finished his act sanity was resumed. Unfortunately that was only to be the beginning. Wrongly assuming that Sebastian would sit in our laps and listen to the music we sat down at a table in front of the stage, I ordered one of my favorite treats in all of the world; a frozen-blended-vanilla-late-frappuccino with whipped cream and a straw. I placed Sebastian on my lap as his mother prepared to feed him from a jar of delicious looking sweet potato baby food.
Eating his dinner was not at all what Sebastian had in mind. The activity of the evening had placed him on sensory overload and he surely did not have time to stop for food! With each spoonful of sweet potato placed to his lips came a firm shut of his mouth and a twist of his head from one side to the other, causing a splash of sweet potatoes to land near, around and very often, on me! By this time in the evening, the mime had left and our friends “Truth Bomb” had begun to play. Sebastian now wanted their guitars and laughed hysterically each time he believed himself to be close to freeing himself from my grasp. This went on for some time with moments of peace while this child regained his strength for the next attempt at freedom from his father’s embrace.
Finally the show was over and I realized that I had yet to take a sip of the wonderful frozen-blended drink I had purchased only an hour ago, though it felt as though much more time than that had actually passed.
As I picked up my cup to take a drink I realized, much to my surprise, that where only whipped cream had once topped my coffee now there was a big splash of sweet potato which had become entangled with the whipped cream. There I sat, Sebastian on my lap looking up at me with his infectious smile, with sweet potatoes in my coffee.
As I sat there in this moment that seemed to last forever, I realized that I had a decision to make as a father. On the one hand, I could have chosen to be upset that Sebastian had caused so much turmoil that evening. Oh, I could have sulked over the sweet potatoes that had found their way into my coffee; I could have even become angry. On the other hand, how could I allow any form of anger to flood my soul when this precious little child was looking at me with a truly rare and beautiful smile which pours from not only his facial expression, but his eyes, and indeed his very soul?
It occurred to me in that moment that God is very much like a loving father with sweet potatoes in His coffee. I make no claims to comparing my love as a father with that of God, nor do I mean to trivialize the reality of God’s love. I mean only to submit to you that the God of the Bible is not a vengeful, wrath-filled God of destruction and judgment, inasmuch as He is a loving Father who cares for His creation and is thoroughly concerned with every one of His children.
It is not we who pursue God but He who pursues us with reckless abandon and the purity of eternal love which says, “No matter where you have been, no matter who you are, no matter, no matter, no matter… it is I who have called you child. It is I who desire to work in and through you and in that working love, my abiding presence, you will find great comfort and rest.”
If we are to experience the joy of our salvation, if we are to move beyond pat answers to the abiding truth of God manifest in our lives, in our churches, in our ministries, we must, we must, move beyond a conception of God as a distant tyrant who demands obedience to the reality of the God who is manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, who at the Cross most fully demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet strangers, Christ died for us!
Divine Father, Abba; Daddy, forgive us for our obsession with outward expressions of piety, the trappings of a Pharisees religion, and fill us with the deep and abiding presence of your truth, your mercy, and love!
Sovereign King, teach us to reside in the fullness of your peace and provision in each moment of our lives even as you have taken up residence in our hearts and in all of the details of our lives!
Indwelling Spirit, empower us with the knowledge of our worth; redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, free in Christ, sons and daughters of the Most High God of all creation!
Be glorified in our lives, even as we submit each moment of our life to you. Amen.