Hebrews 4:1-14: Let’s Take a Break

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Hebrews 4:1-14
January 23, 2021

Sermon recorded on January 22 at Bluemont Church

Thoughts at the Beginning of Worship

Earlier this week, Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, posted a photo of his vaccine record on Twitter. Keller, who I think is around 70, recently retired to battle cancer. He has a compromised immune system. 

I was shocked by many of the comments to his tweet. One woman questioned his faith, telling him (and the world) that only Jesus can save. She went on to say she can’t believe so many so-called Christians are putting their trust in a vaccine. Jesus never told us to be vaccinated. I was tempted to respond with sarcasm, noting that Jesus never told us to use Twitter or the internet, either. I refrained, but her comment bothered me.[1] As Christians, we need to show grace to others, even those with whom we disagree.

If someone doesn’t want to get vaccinated, it’s their decision. But they also have to bear the consequences, as we do for all our actions. It will mean there are places they’ll be excluded. At some point, we need to learn to trust others as well as God. We have been endowed in God’s image and we share with God the ability to build and to create, including things that help us overcome illness and disease. We’re called to live in community, to share the earth we inhabit, which means we must not only look out for ourselves, but for one another.

Is COVID a time to learn rest? 

Having said that, I wonder if COVID is a time we should use to learn how to rest. I will not assign this as a reason why God allowed COVID to run amuck in the world.  I believe, with Abraham Lincoln, that the “Almighty has his own purposes.”[2] Often, God’s purposes are a mystery to us.

The sin of wanting to be like God

To attempt to describe God’s reasons is to commit the first sin all over again. Remember why Eve took that bite out of the fruit? It was because the serpent told her she could know as God knows. Wanting to be like God led to Adam and Eve’s fall and expulsion from the garden.[3]

That expulsion came with a curse. From then on, we had to work and struggle and sweat.[4] But God is faithful and provides us with rest.[5]

Perhaps we, as humans, who are unable to do all we use to do before during the pandemic, should give thanks for the break we’re given. Sometimes it’s a manner of looking at things from a new perspective. 

I saw a meme this week with lobsters. The text pointed out that the lobsters in the kitchen on the Titanic experienced the ship’s sinking as a blessing. Ever thought of that? Perhaps this is a time for the church and for us as individuals to catch our breath and learn to trust God. Such trust is not shown by avoiding vaccines, but by knowing we’re in God’s hands. 

4th Chapter of Hebrews: Rest

Today, we’re moving into the 4th chapter of Hebrews. Throughout this letter, we have a sense that its original recipients were exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. In the 3rd chapter, the preacher of this letter/sermon reminds them that they are a part of God’s household. In the 4th chapter, we learn of one benefit of being a part of God’s house is a time of rest. That’s our theme for today, “rest.” 

After Scripture Reading

Those who first heard this letter/sermon are exhausted. And that’s often true for those of us who make up God’s church on earth. We’re tried. Yet we place heavy burdens on ourselves, believing that it will help bring about God’s kingdom. But will it? 

You know, this sense of burden we bear leads us to be testy when others don’t carry their weight. It also causes us to challenge those who are not on the same page as us. Much of this comes from us rushing around thinking it’s all up to us to do stuff. We think it’s up to us to save the world.

C. S. Lewis: The distractions of church  

I highly recommend, if you haven’t already read it, C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. It’s a fictional book of letters from an older and wiser demon named Screwtape, who is mentoring Wormwood. In one of the letters, Screwtape suggests that the church on earth can be an ally. We might think that’s nonsense. Why would the devil want anyone in church? But the old demon is on to something. He writes:

I do not mean the church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners… But fortunately, it is invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is a half-finished sham…

Screwtape goes on to encourage the younger demon to have his patient reflect on lofty words like “the body of Christ,” and then spend time considering his neighbors. He’s to think especially hard on those who sing out of tune, have squeaky boots, a double chin, or odd clothes. In other words, anything that helps distract Wormwood’s patient from God is useful to the enemy![6] Think about it! When we’re tired, it is easy for us to be distracted by trivia.

God’s cure for our exhaustion 

But God has a cure for such exhausted feelings: Rest. We were first introduced to rest in the last chapter where we learn that the Hebrews who revolted in the wilderness were not able to enter it. We may think that this is only about heaven or paradise or what happens at the end of our lives. But this rest that is promised is more than that. In the fourth chapter, we learn it’s also about the Sabbath, which should serve as a foretaste of paradise. 

This should be a reminder that we’re not waiting for heaven’s benefits at the end of life. We can begin to enjoy them, to experience the kingdom, here and now. 

Rest and the Sabbath

Let’s talk about rest and the Sabbath. There is a classic book titled The Sabbath by the late Abraham Joshua Heschel, an American rabbi. Heschel notes the different understanding of rest between the Bible and Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. Aristotle saw rest as something good for it allows us to work harder. If you’re an athletic, you know this. But the Biblical concept of rest is that it’s the climax of life that’s blessed and hallowed by God.[7] We don’t rest just so we can work harder. 

Jewish evening prayers during the week include a petition that God will “guard our coming out and our coming in.” In other words, protect our busyness. But on the Sabbath, the prayer is for God to “embrace us with a tent of God’s peace.”[8] Do you sense the promise of the Sabbath? The first prayer is a necessity, the latter seeks a taste of paradise. 

Rest and judgment 

While rest is the subject of our text this morning, there is also a considerable amount of discussion about judgment and failure to do what God expects from us. But it’s not just doing good God is after, it’s living a life by faith. It’s trusting that God is also working things out, which means that we, as Christians, don’t have to bear the burden for the world’s salvation on our shoulders. The failure of those in the wilderness, those who were led first by Moses and later by Joshua was a lack of faith. They failed to trust God.

Hebrews is a book on faith

Hebrews is a book that builds on the idea of faith. As the author comes to the pinnacle of his case for the superiority of Christ, he’ll return to the idea of faith, as has been seen in the past starting with Abel.[9] But here, he encourages us to live by faith, which means that we can find rest, not just at the end of our lives, but now, in the present. For God has things under control, even when it doesn’t appear that way to us. 

This passage ends with a warning that God’s word exposes our sin and there is no way we can avoid God knowing of our misdeeds. Again, we got to live by faith. If we think we can work ourselves out of the mess we’re in, we’ve got it all wrong. Only by faith, can we live and trust and find rest in God. 

The World is Not Ours to Save

As I was thinking about the sermon, I pulled out a book I read back in 2014 titled The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good. Listen to this quote: 

“There is nothing God needs us to do so badly that it warrants neglecting some aspect of Christlikeness in our lives. It is in and through Jesus Christ, and him alone, that God has saved and is saving the world.”[10]

As with those who first heard the message of Hebrews, we need to learn to rest and to trust God. We need to experience the Sabbath in this way, as a time created for us to foretaste paradise. Doing so, we honor and show our faith in God. But if we don’t think we have time to take a break, we show our lack of faith, for God is alive and well even when we rest and sleep. 

So, don’t work too hard. Have faith. Enjoy life, creation, and God. It’s all a part of the Almighty’s intention. Amen. 

[1] See https://twitter.com/timkellernyc/status/1350893493783322625  This was posted on Jan 17 and I saw the comment later that day. When I went back and looked, it appears the comment has been taken down, but there were still plenty of others that suggested this as the mark of the beast, etc. There were also plenty of comments defending Keller and probably a dozen that had been removed. 

[2] From Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address given on March 20, 1865. 

[3] Genesis 3:1-6.

[4] Genesis 3:17-19.

[5] Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

[6] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (New York: MacMillan, 1982 edition), 12-14.

[7] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (1951, reprinted 1998), 14. 

[8] Hershel, 23. 

[9] See Hebrews 11. 

[10] Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2013), 40. 

Pastoral Prayer   (Psalm 92:1-5)

As the Psalmist proclaims, it is good for us to give thanks to our Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night. For you, O Lord, have made us glad by the works of your hands. We sing with joy, recalling how great are your works, O Lord. Your thoughts are deep, and we cannot fully comprehend them. You, O Lord, are upright. You are our rock, and our hope is in you. 

Continue, O God, to hold us close and to give us the energy we need to do your work, the knowledge to see good and evil and the wisdom to choose the right path. As we live in faith, may we be a beacon for others. Use our witness, along with the prodding of the heart by your Holy Spirit, to reach those who do not know you. Help us to be gracious in our lives as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. 

We give you thanks for our world, as troubled as it may be. We pray for our new president and his administration, asking that his leadership might help us get a hold on the COVID virus that is killing so many people around the world. We long for a time when we can meet and be close to one another, but until then, help us use this time as a Sabbath, as a period of time when we can rest and be restored as we trust what we cannot do to you. We pray for the members of Congress and the awesome task before them, asking that you might guide their conscience so they can rule in a just manner that will benefit all people, not just the elite or the members of their party. 

We pray this weekend for the people of Russia who seek relief from the heavy-handed repression of their government, and we lift up people everywhere who long to be free. Yet, we know true freedom can only be found in Jesus Christ. Help us to trust in him and not in our own abilities. 

Remember those who are struggling in life. The poor, the sick, those in jails and prisons. Help us to be compassionate to all, and to love people with the love of Jesus Christ. This we pray in his name as we say together the prayer he taught: OUR FATHER…. 

6 Replies to “Hebrews 4:1-14: Let’s Take a Break”

  1. Timely sermon, Jeff. I agree with you. I don’t mind anyone who believes God’s will is greater than any vaccine. I do mind the growing number of people who think I need their direction on everything. I’ll stop there because I’m getting angry!

    God’s grace–I asked my sister what to do if God didn’t answer my prayers on a recent important issue. She said he might not give me what I asked for but he would give me the grace to accept what I did get. Maybe I don’t know what ‘grace’ is. Hmmm..

    Always, you are thought-provoking, Jeff.

  2. I knew about his pancreatic cancer, but had not heard about the vaccine tweet. While I abhor all the vile comments, my opinion is that public figures should get off of social media. It does more harm than good.
    Would you believe that I couldn’t get through The Screwtape Letters? I guess it was too dark for me? But I know that most everyone who reads it, loves it!
    Thanks for the Good News today.

    1. The tweet caught my attention because of the response of the woman. While I am not sure the answer is getting off social media, I agree that it has a lot of problems

  3. This is the second time in recent weeks that I’ve seen a reference to Heschel’s The Sabbath. Perhaps I need to read it.

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