PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
(Illustration) Some years ago, two artists painted their conception of peace. One artist drew a placid ocean with a sailboat wafting along. The sky was blue with a few lazy clouds, while children played along the shore. In contrast, another artist painted dark and stormy skies venting their fury. The sea was heaving its waves against the shore and the wind was bending the trees nearly double. Nobody was outside braving the elements. Only one sign of peace emerged from this picture. It was a bird that sat, undisturbed by it all, in the cleft of a rock.
It’s this second portrait that captures the Biblical meaning of peace. That’s because God wants Christians to demonstrate repose even during chaotic circumstances. While we can’t always control life externally we can control it internally. And that’s what The Believer’s Rest is all about—an internalized repose even when everything is turbulent.
I know a message about “The Believer’s Rest” is important because some people are never at rest. They’re nervous, frazzled, and live at warp speed all the time. Have you ever known someone that gulped down meals in twelve bites, could never stay longer than ten minutes, and turned street corners on two wheels? On the other hand, you have people that handle the visible aspects of life at the opposite end of that spectrum. They are experts at concealing their inward nervousness. That’s why Hebrews 4:11 says, without distinction, that Christians should “make every effort to enter that rest.”
From the beginning of creation, God instituted a day of rest for Man. And it’s no wonder, because God knew the limitations of the human body. Our body wears down after hard work. Rest rejuvenates exhaustion, cures fatigue, and clarifies confusion and we can’t function properly without it.
(Transition) With these facts evident, let’s talk about the divine “rest” God makes available for the body, the spirit, and the soul. Let’s begin with the body:
I. The Believers Rest for the Body
Exodus 23:12 says: “Six days you shall do your work, but the seventh day you shall rest and keep Sabbath.” That Scripture couldn’t be clearer. God ordains work as well as “rest.” In Genesis, God decreed that man would earn his living from “the sweat of his brow” and in Exodus He told us to balance each week with a day to rest. God didn’t create us to operate like a nuclear clock—something that can operate for centuries without stopping. The human body grows weary! And the God that ordained man to work “by the sweat of the brow” also commands man to “rest.” Notice Exodus 20:11. “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day [Saturday]. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Even God participated in a Sabbath rest. But leave it to the Pharisees to implement the “laW oF diStoRtiOn.” The Pharisees completely vexed the one specific day God designed for man’s rejuvenation.
(Example) To show how absurd the Pharisees made it, Luke recounted a Sabbath that Christ and the Apostles violated the tradition of the elders. The Apostles entered a cornfield, plucked its substance, and rubbed away the husk for the kernels (Luke 6:1). Normally, this would have been no problem, but because this occurred on the Sabbath the Apostles had broken rabbinic writings. According to the Talmud, three violations occurred:
The Apostles were guilty of reaping when they plucked the corn.
They were guilty of threshing when they rubbed off the husk to get to the kernel.
And then they were guilty of winnowing when they dusted their hands.
This merely begins to reveal how the Pharisees distorted God’s day of rest. In fact, Jewish tradition even made it unlawful to wipe a wound on the Sabbath.
Do you understand why the book of Revelation warns not to add or take away from Scripture? Adding to Scripture always leads to legalism. It yokes people with burdens and oppression. And this is the fundamental difference between religion and Jesus. Religion, especially cults, weary people by writing complex and burdensome rules. Religion oppresses; Christ liberates!
I want you to consider the major tenets of the Bible: Which of the Ten Commandments is not easily understood? The Sermon on the Mount is without the least theological entanglement. After the resurrection, when the apostles convened to decide whether the Gentiles should abide by the OT Law, they decided the answer was, No! The basic commands of the Bible don’t lay cumbersome burdens on Christians. They aren’t too heavy to handle. There is a liberating simplicity to Christianity. And Jesus summarized the primary objective of keeping the Sabbath when He said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
(Application) So how do we handle the Sabbath Rest? Easily: take one day each week to relax. That’s honoring and benefiting from the Sabbath. Typically, Christians have worshiped and rested on Sunday because it marked Christ’s resurrection but, as Paul taught, any day can function as a Sabbath. He said in Romans 14:5, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced.”
(Participation) How many here would like to take this opportunity to “preach” to your spouse? I mean, right now! Well, here’s the opportunity. I want everyone that is sitting by a workaholic to turn to them and say: “God commands you to honor the Sabbath.” Do it now. If they are burning the candle at both ends and sleeping 5 hours a night, then say to them: “Slow down!” In fact, if they haven’t vacationed recently, then tell them to plan one next week!
Folks, there is no need to feel guilty about “resting” if you work hard all week. God wants you refreshed externally and internally; spiritually and physically; mentally and emotionally. He wants you to maintain an underlying current of composure. “Rest” is the reward God provides the righteous.
(Insight) Did you realize that God uses restlessness to afflict unbelievers? Isaiah 57:20‑21 says: “the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. (21) “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” Agitation, uneasiness, weariness, and exhaustion naturally afflict unbelievers. And the weariness of unbelievers is most vividly illustrated when the Gospels describe the demonized: They are depicted as wild and terrorizing. They leap into fires, roam around naked, and are prevented from securing rest. Remember: Alienation from God always deprives men of rest—spiritually and physically. Do you know Christ? Are you living in the company of Christ that provides peace and rest? You can!
(Transition) Not only is physical repose found by honoring the Sabbath, God also offers a spiritual rest to men.
II. The Believer’s Rest for the Spirit
You can travel to every continent on the globe and discover one common factor. Men of every nation and tongue seek God. They may not have found the God of Scripture, but there is no tribe that does not seek God. But the reason people seek God is not just to worship Him, they want to find peace with Him. People want God to accept them. And that’s because we suffer from a guilty conscience. We instinctively know that sin separates us from God. Thus man has always sought to repair the damage and reclaim peace with God through human works and sacrifices. But none of this has ever satisfied the soul. No quality or quantity of human labor can restore peace with God. The Lord accepts us because of Christ’s work of righteousness; not ours.
We couldn’t live the perfect life. As sinners we couldn’t attract or earn God’s love. Only Jesus could live the perfect life. But what you and I can do is accept Christ’s perfect life and death on the Cross for our sins. We can accept God’s love toward us. And this is where Christianity differs from other religions. Other religions teach that God accepts men as they keep rules or perform in certain ways. But this is not the God of Scripture. The Bible says our Heavenly Father loves us despite our sin and rebellion. And He doesn’t love us because we somehow please Him or “measure up” with our works of righteousness. God loves us from the perfection of His being. As John said: “God is love.”
(Transition) Let examine this from one other angle.
Human Works Cannot Affect our Destiny
(Illustration) For years I thought obedience and works of righteousness could affect our earthly destiny. I understood human works didn’t affect God’s love toward us, but I honestly thought our earthly destiny could be influenced. I thought huge chunks of prayer or prolonged, gut-wrenching fasting could coerce God into expanding my achievements or juicing-up the anointing. But I was so wrong! And I persisted in these failed efforts for years, despite not experiencing the desired results. I figured I didn’t pray fervently enough or fast long enough and so I would start the cycle all over. I didn’t understand that God had a predetermined plan and all He needed from me was to obey Him and pursue that plan. But after a series of events, the Holy Spirit broke in with liberating grace. And it culminated when I read Romans 9:15 where Paul said: “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Did you hear that? Paul said God’s plan for us is totally separated from our “desire or effort.” It is God’s wise, sovereign counsel that chooses, anoints, and positions us. That means no quantity of prayer, fasting, or human effort determines our destiny in life, God’s wisdom does that! I felt so foolish that I hadn’t understood this principle earlier in life. However, I also discovered many people in Scripture also misunderstood this principle:
When Abraham was given the Messianic Covenant he hoped to pass it to Ishmael. Abraham even cried out to God: “Oh, that Ishmael will live in your presence.” But God had other plans. Despite all that Abraham desired God foreordained Isaac to claim the Covenant rights. And later, Isaac misunderstood God’s plan and presumed that his firstborn son, Esau would claim the Covenant of Abraham. But again God’s counsel had determined that Jacob would receive it. When you realize your calling and achievements are anchored directly to Christ’s grace and not your “desire or effort,” you can “cease from your labor,” and rest in God’s predetermined blessing for you. You can “let go and let God!”
I know this principle sounds strange for some people, so I want to pause long enough to explain something: I am not suggesting that God will accomplish His will through your life without your obedience. That’s contrary to Scripture! Jesus said, “Occupy until I return” (Matthew 25).
There will be times God wants you to labor long and hard to accomplish His will.
He awakens intercessors at 2:00 a.m. to pray or leads them to pray deep into the night.
He often asks us to make great sacrifices for His kingdom in order to accomplish His purposes.
What I am saying is this: It’s not your self-conceived desires or human efforts that determine your destiny; it is God’s wise counsel and sovereign grace that determine it!
This is why Paul said in Ephesians 1:11 that you and I were “chosen in him . . . [and] predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
(Example) I have a different perspective than most others concerning Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel at Bethel. I’m not so certain that Jacob wrestled with the angel at Bethel to convince God to bless him. I believe it could be that the angel wrestled with Jacob to make him take God’s blessing! Jacob was minding his own business when he arrived at Bethel. As night drew near he set up camp and fell asleep trying to recover from exhaustion. But then, God opened the Heavens and dispatched an angel to wrestle Jacob. Everything unfolded at God’s initiative. In one respect, the angel appeared to make Jacob take God’s predetermined plan!
(Transition) That leads me to point three. We have talked about rest for the body and rest for the spirit, now let me mention rest for the soul.
III. The Believer’s Rest for the Soul
There are few things as distressing as when our heart or soul is unnerved and without rest. The Psalmist David once said: “My soul within me is troubled” (42:6). Why do you think David expressed his anguish by saying: “My soul within me is troubled”?
I believe he stated it that way because the soul—the heart, mind, and emotions—are the deepest part of our being. The soul is our center of gravity. And there is no place to go when the center of our being is troubled. The pain and anguish remain wherever we go. Our “soul within us” is always present. When our soul is stressed out, it even makes its presence known in our sleep. We toss and turn and even dream distressing thoughts. But God wants our soul to be at rest. And our soul finds rest when we trust God.
(Illustration) When I attended college I became close friends with the New Testament professor. When he prayed he often thanked God for His providence. At nineteen years old I hadn’t determined the significance of providence but I could tell by this professor’s reverence for it that he understood its value. As our friendship grew through the years I realized that for him jockeying for position wasn’t overly important. He had learned spiritual repose from God’s providence. Since that time, I too have learned to take great solace in God’s providence. I know that the God who “calls” is also the God who “guides.” And you can trust His guidance.
(Definition) The word providence combines two Latin words (pro and videre), which mean, “to look ahead and plan in advance.”[i] It’s God’s planning, ordering, and working for our welfare—the best welfare system in the world. And there’s coverage without payment or taxes because God’s grace allows everyone to participate.
(Illustration) Years ago, when I was studying, my son Davi, who was seven years-old, looked over my shoulder into my theology book. I asked him to read a few lines. He was reading pretty well until his eyes fell upon the word “Providence,” and he hesitated. Taking an extended look, he slowly pronounced it: “Pro-vide-dence.” I thought, “What a definition”! Providence is God’s “Provide-dence.” It’s God’s provision for His creation. He’s always planning, ordering, and working for our welfare.
Here’s how the Westminster Confession of Faith defines providence. “God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness and mercy.” Now, I have a question: Which definition do you prefer, the Westminster Confession of Faith or the definition by my seven-year old boy?
Do you know why I love God’s providence? I love it because it means we can never get trapped in a situation without God beside us.
Providence anticipates the unexpected and handles everything.
Providence takes the past, present, and future and somehow work them “together for the good for those that love God.”
Providence takes our choices, whether they were wise or unwise, and lets us know that a “man may plan his way but the Lord directs His steps.”
Providence is unfazed by traps set for us or schemes plotted against us, because God never loses control.
The primary proclamation of providence is this: God never loses control! Providence never let’s you get trapped in a place where God can’t rescue you!
Maybe you feel you have missed the lucky breaks. You may assume that chance hasn’t come your way. But I want you to understand something: providence doesn’t leave room for luck or chance. To believe in chance suggests there’s a venue that even God can’t enter. Proverbs 16:33 says: “The lot is cast into the lap but its every decision is of the Lord.” That’s why chance doesn’t exist.
I admit there are occasions when everything seems totally out of control and no volume of prayer or fasting can change anything. But remember, God always has a plan; and there is nobody in Scripture that illustrates this like Joseph!
(Bible Example) He was misunderstood, maligned, and sold into slavery. Once in Egypt he was slandered, accused of sexual assault, and hauled off to prison where he was forgotten about for years. And God seemed to step back and view it all from the shadows. There was no volume of prayers or tears that could persuade God to change the circumstances. And we’ve all experienced a similar turn of events. But everything was divinely ordered. Eventually Israel and Egypt were on the verge of starvation and Joseph was exactly where God wanted him in order to deliver two nations from famine. And it was all because of God’s Providence! You can trust God’s providential mastery!
(Illustration) Let me close with this illustration. I love the ocean. After spending most of my vacations by the Gulf of Mexico I am aware of the high and low tides. Those tides don’t govern themselves. The oceans’ tides are governed from above. When the earth, moon, and sun are rightly aligned, their tides crest to their fullest. But when these spheres appear in varying angles, the tides sink to their lowest. In other words, the heavenly constellations affect earthly movements. That’s how it is with our human achievements. When man, on earth, submits to God above, wondrous things occur in our lives.
Take heart in God’s love, power, and providence. And find rest in your body, spirit, and soul, in Jesus’ mighty Name. Amen!
[i]. Basic Christian Doctrines, Andrew K. Rule, Pub., Rinehart, Holt, Winston.