Sermon Snippets’ is an occasional series, taking bitesize chunks from our Sunday sermons. The following excerpt is adapted from a sermon on Hebrews 12:4-13, preached by Nathan Burley last Sunday. You can listen to the whole sermon here.
“The Lord disciplines the one He loves!”
Hard times are training. If we’re Christians, then they aren’t punishment, but they are teaching us something.
The Lord might be teaching us to trust Him, to lean on Him more, day by day.
It might be to remind us that this life isn’t the be all and end all, and our hopes should be set on heaven, the better country.
It might be to show us how the things we say hurt other people.
Or to make us better able to help others who are struggling, because we know what it’s like.
Or to sharpen our priorities so we decide again, “Yes, I do want to follow Jesus, rather than do my own thing and sin.”
Whatever it is, God is a fantastic dad. He knows us inside out and He knows the best way for us to learn is sometimes through a rough patch.
Often to get somewhere great, the journey is hard work…
Rather than asking, “What have I done to deserve this?”, why not ask, “What does my loving heavenly Father want to teach me through this?”
The Christian believer is like Abraham in Hebrews 11. We don’t think here-and-now is home.
However much of ‘the good life’ we get to enjoy in this world, this is not ‘it’. We’re just making do.
It’s just like going on holiday in a tent. Even if you’re glamping, you still have to ‘make do’.
Every morning, you go and collect the water. You fill up a massive water carrier at the tap across the field. You get sprayed with water from the tap, and then have to lug back the ridiculously heavy water Gerry can, soaking wet. It doesn’t take long before you’re thinking: if I was living here, I’d sort this out! I’d get proper plumbing, with running water and a tap in my tent.
It’s just the same with cooking: you have to make do with baked beans and sausages.
It’s the same with your clothes … they’re either strewn all over the tent, or squidged into a crumpled, tangled mess in your holdall.
But you make do in a tent, because you know it’s not forever.
God has promised us a better country, a heavenly one: it’s ‘the city that’s got foundations’.
And one day, Christians will pack up the temporary ‘tent’ that we live in in this world. And we’ll go to our permanent house with foundations and bricks and double-glazing and running hot water and a bath and a washing machine and an electric blanket and carpets and a sofa and on and on.
That’s the picture in Hebrews 11 of being a believer: you dream of going home to the homeland we’ve been promised.
A place where there is no fighting, no fear, no farewells, no funerals. No hankies, no cancer. No credit crunch, no banks, no locks or keys. No broken homes. And no broken hearts.
And all of that is permanent.
My hopes are not in this world at all. Because God has prepared a heavenly country and that’s where I really belong.
Imagine getting home from church one day to find your windows smashed in, your TV and laptop gone, and your stuff strewn all over the road.
And just as you’re trying to work out what’s happened, you see the graffiti down the side of your house. Big letters:
How would you react to that? To what Christians face all over the world today.
In Laos a month ago, 13 Christians were told that if they didn’t drink the sacred water and return to their old animist religion, they would be evicted and the authorities would tear down their homes.
What would you do?
Here’s what they did. Middle of v34 – this is mind-blowing. “you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property”
“since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”
Now that is holding fast without wavering.
Joyfully accepting it?! When they slash your tyres or steal your phone because you invited them to church?
When bad things happen to us, especially when it’s because we’re Christians, it’s so much easier to follow the crowd. Or to doubt God’s goodness.
But remember the lengths He’s gone to! On the basis of everything we’ve learnt about Jesus, stick with it. Remember how He bled for us. Remember how He’s there now, pleading our case before God. And how He’s coming back soon.
God is faithful. He will come good on every single promise He’s made.
So they can take our stuff! We’ve got better stuff coming!
Smash my house up. I’ve got a better house waiting for me! One that will last. Where moth & rust don’t destroy, and thieves can’t break in and steal.
So break in and steal all you want. Knock yourself out! Because ultimately you can’t hurt me.
That’s how confident we can be.
Let’s hold fast. Let’s not waver. Because God is faithful.
Jesus is our Great High Priest. The thing is: why do I need one?!
If we travel back to the Old Testament and to Leviticus 16 we know that that on the Day of Atonement, after an animal was sacrificed, it was the job of the High Priest to carry some of its blood into the Most Holy Place where the Lord was said to be. This was a moment of supreme danger, for God in his burning holiness is dangerous. That blood of sacrifice was the one thing between the holy and the unclean.
What would happen? What would God make of it?
Imagine the huge relief when the High Priest came back out again. His reappearance said that God had found a way to reconcile unholy people to his own holy self.
We may feel squeamish at all this. We might think that it sounds primitive to try to ‘bribe’ a deity with animal blood! But what do we know about it? What makes us think we’re the experts on how to approach God!
Of course sinful people like us can’t just draw near to a holy God. The system of Old Testament priests makes that very clear. Without a go-between, we could never get within a million miles of God.
We’ve become used to hearing about the terrible ‘improvised explosive devices’ placed all over Afghanistan. Because there are so many, and because they have had such devastating effects on our troops, the bomb disposal expert is a vital resource in modern warfare. He is the one sent in to defuse an explosive situation. Old Testament priests were like that – sent into God’s presence to clear a path through the minefield of God’s condemnation of sin. Their work made it possible for God and sinners to meet … safely.
All of that happened at God’s direction because he was looking forward to the cross where the very last sacrifice would be made: a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. The Son of God bore the wrath of God.
And then just like the Old Testament High Priest, Jesus took up that blood from his own sacrificial death, ascended into heaven, walked into the presence of God and sat down at his right hand. He could sit because his work of being a sacrifice was completely finished.
But there’s still much for Jesus to do in heaven. Even now, he is being our high priest.
Every time we try to approach God, it’s as if God asks, ‘And who do you think you are?’ And Jesus takes his Father’s finger to feel the scars in his hand where nails went in. Those are the reminder of his sacrifice. Jesus doesn’t need to say anything. He just needs to sit there, presenting the blood from his sacrificial death. That is how he intercedes for us.
And Jesus is still doing that right now. For example, when we come to pray, Jesus is sitting next to his father, being our high priest, presenting evidence of his finished work for us so we can draw near to the throne of grace.
Through Jesus, our great High priest, the minefield has been cleared. The explosive situation defused. And it is now safe to ‘enter’.
God stopped working (Heb 4:3) “from the foundation of the world.” God made the world and then clocked off. He punched his timecard and has been resting ever since. Yes, He’s active in sustaining the world and engaged with the people in it. But in a very real sense, His creating job was finished a long time ago, and it’s been a long weekend ever since.
God made the world on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then on Saturday, “God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” So what did God do on day 8? Well He didn’t go back to work did He?! Build another universe. No, the job was finished. Day seven onwards, God rested.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this as you’ve read the first couple of chapters of Genesis, but a pattern emerges. God makes stuff, says it’s good, there’s evening, there’s morning, that’s it. But when you get to day 7 it changes. Not only is there no making stuff, but there’s no mention at the end of, “And there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” It’s almost like the seventh day doesn’t have an end. Now I’m not saying it didn’t, but for God this day of rest didn’t finish with a mug of Horlicks before bed time. And neither was it a lovely day off, shame there’s work in the morning. God rested on the seventh day and has been resting ever since.
Rest is the goal of creation.
In our busy culture, rest can end up just being fuel for work. “Have some sleep, you’ve got a busy day ahead of you.” We rest to work. But biblically we should work to rest, cos that’s what God did. Work is good thing in and of itself, but it’s also there in order to provide for rest. Why grow crops? To enjoy eating them! You don’t eat them just so you’ve got the energy to grow more! Resting is the goal of creation. It’s more than just inactivity, it’s celebrating and enjoying the fruit of our labours. Like God did, making things, stepping back to see that it’s good, and then moving on from making them into enjoying them with us.
Resting is the goal of creation. It’s what God has been doing for centuries. After all in v5 he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Not their rest, but my rest. It’s not that the Israelites were naughty so they weren’t allowed to go on their holidays, but they cut off their relationship with God so He wouldn’t let them join Him on His holiday.
I know I’m making a big thing of this. Why? It changes how we think about God. He isn’t a frantic ‘work, work, work’ kind of God. He isn’t rushed off His feet. Or constantly in the office keeping on top of things. God is a resting God. He’s ruling over the universe, but that is a joyful thing.
The Bible talks a lot about heaven and the new creation, and how wonderful it will be. And this bit of the Bible tells us that this wonderful future will be our opportunity to finally enjoy the rest which God is enjoying right now.
That tells us something about God doesn’t it! He delights in the finished world that He’s made. He isn’t anxious or stressed or over-worked or tired, despite having a LOT more responsibilities than any of us! He rests. And He invites us to join Him. Isn’t that wonderful! God the Father, Son and Spirit, eternally enjoying one another, making a world for us to live in and then calling us to enjoy it with Him…
If we’re Christians, we know something of this rest already. Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” People who trust in Jesus can rest from the non-stop treadmill of trying to earn our way into God’s favour. But the complete rest is in the future… God promises real, never-ending rest. We should look forward to this! It will be everything we’ve ever dreamed of.