Sunday, October 21, 2012
Sermon for 10/21/12
Sermon “Dealing with Difficult Passages” Lord, open my lips to speak your word with courage, truth, and grace. Open our ears and our hearts to receive what you would give us. Open our hands as your instruments, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Our sermon today is entitled “difficult passages.” When you heard that and you were confronted with the Scriptures we read you may have started to construct an idea of what the sermon would be about. I hope some people try to predict it. But what are we talking about here? Is it the fact that these are “passages” of the Bible which are difficult? Maybe I want us to see how to deal with texts which are hard to work with, and these are difficult texts today. Or maybe we’re thinking about the theme in Ecclesiastes of our goods and possessions passing from ourselves to others. That’s a difficult thing to see, and many of us do see that we labor and toil and often don’t recognize or enjoy the gain. There’s always somebody wanting to use the money we earned, always another expense. Maybe we’re thinking about how we pass our time, sometimes in very hard labor, seldom recognizing that our hard work is for our Savior Jesus Christ. Maybe we’re concerned with the passage from Hebrews and the passage to enter into God’s rest. That’s an exciting passage, because it might refer to our release from sin as our Lord brings us forgiveness, it may refer to our release from this earthly life and entrance into heavenly blessing, it may refer to both. That’s a difficult passage in many ways. Maybe you were thinking about the text from Mark and the passage of the rich man into the kingdom of God, the camel through a needle. Yet another difficult passage of Scripture and another difficult life passage as well. So many passages here we could find ourselves in a maze! Here’s where I want to look today, though, considering Hebrews chapter 4. You might want to follow along a little bit, as we jump to vese eight in the text. I’d like to read verses 8-16 again for you so it’s fresh in all of our minds. 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. The difficult passage here in Hebrews is a passage from death to life. It’s a passage from our frenzied attempts to work out our own spiritual lives to the life of rest in the Lord which we are promised by God. The author is comparing it to Israel entering the promised land. The people of Israel didn’t bring themselves into God’s promises. The Lord brought them in. They didn’t make up the plan for conquest of Canaan, God did, All the deliverance, all the protection of the people of Israel was founded on God’s calling and promise. He is the one who told them where to go and what to do, and he is the one who made them able to do his will. There’s an important principle behind the conquest of Canaan that the author of Hebrews talks about. God makes commands but he knows we are not able to keep his commands. Because we are by nature sinful and unclean, just as we confess again and again, we are incapable of doing anything that is truly pleasing to God. We can’t do it ourselves. What we can do is look to the promise of God which is included in his command. For instance, when he commands the people of Israel to take the land he is promising to give them the land. When he commands us to seek his face he promises to give us grace to do so. When he commands us to be holy as he is holy he gives us the means of grace to make us holy. When we are told to enter into God’s rest he promises to bring us into his rest. And how has he done that? Through Jesus living a perfect life, dying a perfect death, and rising again from the dead on our behalf. Jesus, who no longer dies, gives us his life and protects us from eternal death. By his grace, as we believe Jesus is our savior, we can enter into the rest, the deliverance from sin, that he has purchased for us. This entry into life, into holiness, through trusting Jesus is true entry into rest. We no longer have to strive with sin, for Jesus has already done all the striving. We no longer have to do battle with death. Jesus has already won the victory. All we do is trust that he is who he said he is and that he has done what he said he would do. Jesus commands us to enter into his rest, and he gives us the means by which we can do it. How is this passage from death to life informed? By the Word of God. If we are not guided by God’s Word we are lost indeed. In verses 12-13 we see that God’s Word is sharp, it is accurate, it cuts into us with surgical precision, doing what no human hand can do. Have you ever experienced this? I know I’ve had times when I go to church and the pastor has seemed to be looking right through me, taking the Scripture and talking as if he knows exactly what I’m thinking. There are some people who take the Scripture and are able to pin it right to my life. The pastor who was responsible for a lot of my formation as he nurtured me as an elder and leader in the church used to put it this way. He said that some people had a “thin” Bible and others had a “thick” Bible. The people with the thin Bible were the people who looked at the Gospel and didn’t see God accomplishing that much. The Bible speaks to matters of salvation but doesn’t have much to do with how we’ll live our lives, how we’ll decide what kind of candidates to vote for, how we can go about defending those who can’t defend themselves, how we will run our businesses. That’s all left up to secular sources, worldly wisdom. These are people who have a thin Bible. They finally have to trust themselves and the culture around them. Trust your heart! But what does the Bible say about that? Jeremiah 17.9 (NIV 1984) says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” We don’t want to trust our heart. We want to trust our Lord. What about those people with a thick Bible? These are the people who look at the Gospel and see that Jesus has redeemed all our life. They are the people who ask the Lord for their daily bread and see that God graciously provides them with all they need. They are the people who trust that Jesus has delivered them from death in eternity and that he has also rescued them from every evil that can come upon them today, including the sin they are committing. These thick Bible people know that the Lord has given them hope and help through Jesus as revealed on every page of the Bible. They are going to be wearing their Bibles out by reading them, pondering them, learning to discuss what they are reading. As a side comment, that’s exactly why I assign my confirmation students to read five chapters in the Bible each week and to come on Sunday prepared to re-tell something they were reading. How long does it take to read a chapter in the Bible? A few minutes. Would you like to know what’s even better than the confirmation student reading that chapter? It’s if the family reads it together, maybe at the dinner table, maybe at the breakfast table, maybe near bedtime, and if they spend a while letting the Scripture inform their discussion. The Scripture informs all our walk. Through the Word of God we receive what we need to pursue the righteousness of God, to enter into the rest of God. We need those thick Bibles. What is our goal? Our goal is Jesus, the one we look to, the one in whom we hope, the one all of the Bible centers upon. That’s what we read about in the end of our passage in Hebrews. Jesus is the one who is our great high priest. He is the one who comes before the Lord, who makes sacrifice on our behalf, and who becomes our sacrifice. He is the one in whom we can trust. He is the one who knows all our struggles, all our pains, all our suffering, all our weakness. Jesus is the one who became sin for us and died in our place. He is the one who suffered all the wrath of God poured out against all the sin of all humanity. Jesus is the one who can sympathize with us. And Jesus is the one all the Scripture points to. So as we make that difficult passage, the passage from death to life, the passage from striving to rest, we are making a passage from ourselves to Jesus. How do we make that passage? I hope here I don’t mess our accompanist up. You’re familiar with the revivalist hymn from the second half of the 19th century, aren’t you? “Trust and Obey”? The song has some merits, it truly does. But there’s something wrong with the theology. Are we supposed to obey? We sure are. Yet it is not our obedience. It is Jesus’ obedience that gives us rest from sin. How are we happy in Jesus? Just by trusting. He’ll take care of the obedience part. He’ll work it in us. He’ll fulfill his promise, making us able to keep his command. How do we pass from death to life? We trust in the Lord. How do we pass through this life as long as we live? We trust in the Lord. How do we finally pass from this life to the everlasting life of the resurrection? We trust in the Lord. Now may our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ take His Word and add faith to our hearing, that he may work his perfect love and perfect trust in us, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.