“Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.”
Candle Lighter: “For this good news…”
Response: “…—that God has prepared this rest.”
Scripture: Hebrews 4:1-16
4 God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. 2 For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. 3 For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said,
“In my anger I took an oath:
‘They will never enter my place of rest,’”
even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. 4 We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” 5 But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”
6 So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. 7 So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:
“Today when you hear his voice,
don’t harden your hearts.”
8 Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. 9 So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. 10 For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. 11 So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.
12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.
14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Reader: The word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.
So we’ve come to another year of advent and we walk our way through it again. Are we simply repeating a religious practice that some Christians observe and others don’t? Is there more significance to advent than remembering the various themes leading up to the celebration of the birth of the Savior? If so, how so? The fourth chapter of Hebrews gives us some insight I believe. You must have noticed the ubiquitous presence of the word “rest.” The writer of Hebrews is urging the believers to press on in this life knowing the certainty of the final rest in the presence of God. He uses the wandering, rebellious Israelites in the desert as a negative example of rejecting God’s word. God rested from his labors on the seventh day, a sabbath rest. His plan is the same for his people. An eternal sabbath rest is in store for the faithful. Following the death of Moses, Joshua was appointed leader of the children of those who left Egypt. You’ll recall every adult over the age of twenty on the night of the first Passover, died during the forty years in the desert wilderness, never reaching the Promised Land due to their rebellious hearts against God. Like Moses, Joshua dealt with their rebellious children. The second generation Israelites entered Canaan, but rejected the Scriptures and adapted and adopted the religion of the people they were to drive out of the land. Consequently, they also failed to enter God’s eternal rest. Likewise, if we fail to heed the sharp two-edged sword of the Scriptures, we will suffer the consequences of rejecting God’s word. There is a theme of persistence here in responding to the word of God. Think of advent as a cork screw in that every year we grow deeper and deeper in our pilgrimage journey on earth. We have not come to a place of rest; we press on. I trust you have a greater grasp this year of what it means and takes to follow Christ than you did last advent. The latter part of this chapter draws our attention to the significance of the Scriptures shaping our lives. You may have heard the phrase “gospel surgery.” I think these words are a pretty apropos description of what Scripture can and should do in our lives. Our surgeon is our High Priest who is very familiar with our struggles since he endured them during his time on earth. Press on down the road, pilgrim! Cheer up! There will be more surgeries along the way, each one bringing greater and greater health until we reach the final rest and we are completely healed! Hallelujah! Advent is a reminder to keep going. Watch and wait. He’s coming to take us to that final rest.
Music: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” arr. Dan Forrest Concordia Choirs
O Lord Jesus, may we not think of Thy coming as a distant event that took place once and has never been repeated. May we know that Thou art still here walking among us, by our sides, whispering over our shoulders, tugging at our sleeves, smiling upon us when we need encouragement and help.
― Peter Marshall, Senate Chaplain
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