October 20, 2013

Sermon, Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Christians Rest
Psalm 91, Exodus 33:7-17, Hebrews 4:1-16
Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
October 20, 2013

“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”  This, the ninth verse of Hebrews 4 is the focal verse of the sermon today, which is titled, “Christians Rest.”  That may sound odd, since I have been preaching about what Christians do, and the sermons have often been about activity, about actions.  I said, on the Third Sunday after Trinity, that Christians pray.  That’s an action.  Yes, there is an attitude of prayer that should characterize all of us every day, but there must also be times when we put other things aside and consciously and intentionally pray to God.  So prayer, in this sense, is an action, an activity.  I have also talked about such things as following Christ, love, and repentance, each of which, like prayer, is an attitude or frame of mind, and an activity.  So how do we do these activities and rest too?  How can we do all these things and still find “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God?”

First, we must understand that the great rest of the people of God happens in the New Heaven and Earth at the end of time.  The day is coming when this fallen world will end.  And all the troubles and trials of life in this world will end with it.  When I call the world “fallen,” I mean it is influenced by sin, for that is the condition of people and the world today.  The word “influence” means to exert control or have an effect.  It comes from a Latin word, influentia, meaning, to flow into and cause changes.  “Influence” is similar to another word, “influenza,” which comes from the same Latin word, influentia, and we all know influenza causes changes.  So I am saying the world, its people, and its institutions all have sin influenza.  Sin has flowed into them and caused changes.  Sin exerts control and has an effect on everything and everyone.  Every person, every nation, every institution from Church to state is in some way heavily influenced by sin and sinners.  That’s why Christians argue about the Bible.  That’s why the Church is divided into denominations and factions.  That’s why governments are corrupt, and charities spend more on their directors’ salaries than on helping the poor and needy.  But that will all end one day.  One day everything will be openly gathered together in Christ, as Ephesians 1:10 states.  Sin will be put away.  So will sickness and death and ignorance and sorrow and selfishness and strife.  All will live under the perfect rule of Christ, and all who are in Christ will have rest from the sorrows that plaque us now.

Second, we must understand that the great rest for God’s people is the rest from trying to earn a place in God’s Kingdom by our own efforts.  This rest is resting in what God has done in Christ to give us a place in His Kingdom.  Please understand this; you cannot earn Heaven by your good works, because in God’s eyes, your works aren’t good.  There is a pollution that exists in you.  You have sin influenza and it taints everything you do.  So, not only are your good deeds unable to make up for your sins, your good deeds aren’t even good, not when compared to the absolute perfection of God.  Nothing you can do will ever measure up to God’s perfection and perfect standards.  But God wants to give you a place in Heaven anyway.  He wants you to have it as a free gift from Him.  Jesus died on the cross to purchase that place for you.  But He also died to give His righteousness, His Godly perfection to you.  Because of that, God no longer “sees” your sins when He looks at you.  He sees only Christ’s holiness.  Therefore, the door of Heaven is open for you.  All you have to do is step in.  Of course this is only true for you if you honestly trust Jesus’ death to make you right with God.  Trust Him to be who He says He is, and to do what He says He does, make your peace with God by the blood of His cross.

Third, the great rest for the people of God is rest for your spirit, even though you live in this sin-troubled world.  We often call this rest, “peace of mind.”  Like many of you, I believe these United States are doing many things that are counter productive to the peace and security of this country, and of other nations around the world.  I believe this has been happening for generations, and I don’t see any signs of it stopping soon.  But I am not in despair about it.  My hope is in God, not government, not even the people.  I know God can pull us out of our self-dug pit any time.  He has done it before, and things have been this bad before.  For example, on Sunday, February 24th 1811 a young man was ordained a deacon in Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.  The religious and moral decay of that time parallels our own.  Hear what that young man wrote of it.

On our way to the old church the Bishop and myself met a number of students with guns on their shoulders and dogs at their sides, attracted by the frosty morning, which was favourable to the chase; and at the same time one of the citizens was filling his ice house.  On arriving at the church we found it in a wretched condition, with broken windows and a gloomy, comfortless aspect.  The congregation which assembled consisted of two ladies and about fifteen gentlemen, nearly all of whom were relatives or acquaintances.  The morning service being over, the ordination and communion were administered, and then I was put into the pulpit to preach, there being no ordination sermon.  The religious condition of the College [William and Mary], and of the place may easily and justly be inferred from the above.  I was informed that not long before this two questions were discussed in a literary society of the College:- First, Whether there be a God? Secondly, Whether the Christian religion had been injurious or beneficial to mankind?  Infidelity was rife in the state… and for some years after, in every educated young man of Virginia whom I met, I expected to find a skeptic, if not an avowed unbeliever.”
These words were written by William Meade, who later became bishop of Virginia. In later years he wrote of a great change in Virginia.  Daily family prayer and Bible reading had become common.  Church attendance was normal, and Gospel preaching ministers filled the pulpits of many of the leading churches in the Commonwealth.  Vice had decreased and godliness had increased.  The duties of church, family, and community, rather than vice and amusements occupied the time and energy of the people.

I read accounts like this, and I read of revivals in Israel in the Old Testament, and I am encouraged about the future.  For God still lives, and can do today what He did then.  Believing this, I can be at peace about my country and my world.  And even if God allows America to decline away, my spirit can be at rest.

In other words, the Christian’s rest is based on the knowledge that God is, and that He is in control.  He has not forsaken us, nor has he been overcome by evil.  Instead He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”  This same God loves me and gave Himself for me.  He promises that all things work together for my good.  He promised me a place in His Mansion of Mansions.  One day I will see Him face to face in that land where sorrow and death are but dim memories.  That knowledge gives me rest here and now.  I think King David expressed this whole idea of rest for the people of God very well in the Twenty-third Psalm; “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. X  

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