Pentecost 2

Preached: June 7, 2015

Rest in Christ
Deuteronomy 5:12 and Mark 2:28

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit sanctifies us is Deuteronomy 5 and Mark 2, the first verse of the First Lesson and the last verse of the Gospel:

Observe the Sabbath day be keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you (Deuteronomy 5:12 NIV11).

So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28 NIV11).

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

During the forty years that the people of Israel spent in the wilderness, Numbers 15 tells us of a time that a man was gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him brought him to Moses. The Lord told Moses that the man must die. The whole assembly was to stone him outside of the camp. God is serious about his commandments.

With that background, should we be surprised then that the Pharisees found it so serious when they thought that Jesus' disciples were breaking the Sabbath? The Pharisees problem was not that they took the Sabbath to seriously and needed to lighten up. No, the problem was that the Pharisees failed to see what the Sabbath was all about. Yes, the word “Sabbath” means “rest.” But the Sabbath was not all about outward rules and regulation to enforce physical rest. No, the Sabbath was a shadow, a picture, of the rest that the Messiah was bringing. Christ Jesus alone brings the rest, the true Sabbath, that you and I desperately need. He alone is the one who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest … rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29 NIV84). Rest in Christ. That’s the theme today.

A. Rest in Christ’s wounds

What is it that burdens our souls? In a word: guilt. You can put on a good show, but your conscience knows. It knows your words that sound OK but come from an angry heart that wants to tear others down. It knows how often pursuing earthly happiness pushes God and his word to the side of your heart. It knows how often thankfulness is drowned out by coveting what you don’t have or worrying about what you do have. And your conscience knows that God knows all this better than you know. What a burden guilt is!

We could try to bury that burden, pretending that our sin is really all that bad. We could try to lighten the burden by imagining we can do good to make up for our wrongs. We could suppose that if we are sorry enough that will somehow ease that burden.

But dear friends, all of that fails. We confess with the hymn writer, “Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill the law’s demands. Could my zeal not respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save and thou alone” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 389:2 “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”).

Only Jesus. Only Jesus lifts that burden off of you. Only Jesus carries it to the cross in your place. For only Jesus takes away the sin of the world. That means all of your sins, all of your guilt. He nailed them to the cross in his body. Rest in his wounds, for he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for you. Rest in his wounds, for his blood pays the full price to set you free from guilt. Rest in his wounds, for with Thomas we touch his nail marks and confess, “My Lord and my God.” Our risen Savior brings us true rest. He brings you peace with God. Peace through the forgiveness of your sins, the removal of guilt.

The Lord commanded his Old Testament people of Israel to rest on the Sabbath to show that the labors of our hands cannot remove the burden of our guilt. Only the coming Messiah could do that. Christ Jesus has done it. He has done it for you. Rest in his wounds.

B. Rest in Christ’s works

Now dear friends, you know well that we cannot earn our forgiveness. What I’ve said so far is no surprise. You know the right answers to give. But have you applied it to your life? Maybe the question to ask ourselves is this: What drives me to do good in my life?

Are you driven hoping to make God happy? This thought can be nurtured in us from little on up. Maybe when we did something wrong in our youth, those who corrected said, “Do you think Jesus is happy with the way you’re behaving!” They probably had good intentions to improve our behavior. But do you see how those word change Jesus into a frowning god who, rather than taking our burden on himself, puts a burden on us, the burden of making God happy?

To the contrary, all that Jesus did—all his works—he did for you. Was God happy with what Jesus did? Twice from heaven, the Father himself said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5 NIV84). All of Jesus’ works were well-pleasing to the Father, and all his works count as yours. Rest in Christ’s works. Don’t be driven by the thought of trying to make God happy; rather, rejoice that in Christ you already have God’s good pleasure and favor. Rest in Christ’s works.

So then what drives us to do good? Are we driven by goals or purpose? Are we driven by the idea of paying it forward? Are we driven by the hope of reward that one good turn deserve another? Are we driven by the fear of losing salvation or suffering in this life if we mess up? None of that rests in Christ’s works.

On the other hand, resting in Christ’s works must not be confused with spiritual laziness, indifference, or lukewarmness. Resting in Christ’s works doesn’t mean saying, “Christ did it all for me, so now I can live life for myself.”

To the contrary, resting in Christ’s works means drowning our old self day after day, putting off its evil desires, denying our inborn self. As you rest in Christ’s works, marvel at what he has done to free you from the tyranny of your old self. Why would we want to return to its domination? Now the old self, which lives in us till death, cannot do what is truly good in God’s sight, no matter how hard it is driven. All that the old self does is displeasing to God. Only God’s law with its threat of punishment can curb the old self, beating it into check. So drown your old self day after day.

But what about the new self in you, dear Christian? What about the new self that the Holy Spirit created in you through Baptism, not your inborn, natural self but your reborn, new self? The new self does not need to be driven. The new self freely does what is good. Rather as we rest in Christ’s works, your new self rejoices at the Lord God’s great love for you. Look at what he did for you! The Father lavished his love on you by giving you his Son who sacrificed himself for you to free you from the law and its punishment.

When we rest in Christ’s works, his love for us fills us with love for him and for one another. That love moves us to do good. It doesn’t drive us like a task master. It moves us, empowers us, motivates us, fills us with that energy, that eagerness, that delight, that joy, that thankfulness that cannot help but obey our God. So rest in Christ’s works. And as you do so, love one another, and do what is right and good. For you know and believe what Christ’s love has done for you, as you rest in his works.

C. Rest in Christ's word

That’s why we need to rest in his word. His word, both in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments, bring his love to us. His word is powerful and effective. His word lifts the burden of guilt from your back. His word says, “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you. Take and drink. This is my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of you sins. Rest in my wounds.”

Rest in his word. For your new self delights in his word, both in the Scriptures and the Sacraments. You delight in his word for it brings you the strength to do what is good, the strength to bear up with others in love, the strength to go forward following Jesus no matter what the cost. For his word says, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed, free to live for me who died for you. Rest in my works.”

In fact, the Lord commanded physical rest for his Old Testament people on the Sabbath day so they could devote a full day to listening to the Lord’s word, gladly hearing and learning it, remembering his promises. His word makes a day holy. Resting or relaxing doesn’t make it holy. Only his word does. So make his word the cornerstone of every day, so that all your days are holy to the Lord.

Rest in his word, dear Christian friends, rest in his word until he brings you into the eternal Sabbath rest, your heavenly promised land. Until then the journey through this wilderness is bleak and dreary. We are hard pressed on every side. How much we need Jesus! So rest in Christ. Rest in his wounds, his works, his word. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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