“Our Great High Priest Gives Us Rest”

(Hebrews 4:9-16 – Pentecost 22 – October 24, 2021)

Hebrews 4:9-16 – 9There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. 14Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus,

What everyone is really looking for in life is rest – true and lasting rest. Is this not the goal in much of our daily labor and striving? From early on, when a baby feels restless with hunger, discomfort, or tiredness, he cries until his mother gives him rest from his needs. Throughout life, we continue to labor and seek rest from our needs. Rather than face hunger and discomfort, we work day after day to secure rest for ourselves in what we can gain. Many people work year after year saving up money with the goal of securing rest for themselves in retirement years. To the very end of life, people are still looking for true and lasting rest.

Yet, even if one could have every need or want of body completely satisfied, one would still not be at rest in his soul. As the early church father Augustine considered our life in this world, he said of God in his Confessions: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” Apart from God, our souls find no rest; but in the God of our salvation and eternal life, our souls find true and lasting rest. How could it be any other way? The God who formed us is the only one who can create for us the rest we need for our souls.

This is what our text tells us: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (vs. 9-10). Genesis 2:2 tells us that, after God spent six days creating a perfect Paradise, where Adam and Eve could rest happily ever after with Him, on the seventh day He rested or ceased from His work. Even after the fall into sin, God gave His people a Sabbath, or “rest,” for their souls. After all their labor and striving during the week, they could bring their sins and burdens before the Lord and find rest in His salvation. In Israel, the high priest would sacrifice and intercede for the people for God. Then he would assure them of God’s forgiveness and loving care, to ease their burdens, to give their souls much needed rest. They would hear God’s good news of the Messiah who was coming to save them from sin and at last give them His heavenly rest.

Now that Christ has come as our great High Priest, to sacrifice Himself once and for all for our sins, we have our true Sabbath as we rest our souls in Him every day of the week. Since our great High Priest has passed through the heavens and intercedes for us directly with His Father, we rejoice to gather for worship before His throne of grace. As God’s people, we are privileged to cease our daily labor and striving and hear the good news that “Our Great High Priest Gives Us Rest.” This will always be our greatest need, for 1) Sin leaves the soul restless before God; but 2) Jesus gives us rest in His forgiveness; and at last, He will give us rest in His heavenly Kingdom.

1) Sin leaves our souls restless before God

For this reason, our text exhorts us: “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience” (vs. 11). The writer to the Hebrews has been speaking of the disobedience in Israel when Moses was leading the people through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Even though they had the Word of God before them, and they had the priesthood and all the sacrifices for sin and all the promises of God about the coming Savior of sinners, yet it did not benefit many of them because they did not combine it with faith. They hardened their hearts and rebelled against God and His Word. They sought rest for their souls in serving the idols of men and indulging the lusts of the flesh. Therefore, their example of disobedience may be summarized by unrepented sin and unbelief. Because of this, many of them fell in the wilderness and did not enter the rest God gave His people in the Promised Land.

How many today are still falling in the wilderness of this world, dying in sin and unbelief! Many feel they are resting their souls in all this world has to offer, serving the god of Mammon, content with the rest they have labored to gain here and now, without a care for heavenly things. Yet, they do not feel the restlessness of their sin-laden and guilty soul before God. They have no care about finding rest for their souls in His Word, and in the blood bought forgiveness and peace He wants to give them in Christ who was sacrificed on the cross for them. Therefore, they do not enter that Promised Land of heavenly rest to which the Lord is bringing His people.

How can we be diligent to enter that rest? It begins with a holy fear before the Lord, as we confess our sins and cast them on Christ who has borne them all away from us. We enter that rest as we cling in faith to our great High Priest, who gives us forgiveness and peace with God.

Such confession and faith begins with rightly analyzing our lives under the Word of God, as it says: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (vs. 12).

Even the sharpest sword can only cut through flesh and bone. But God’s Word penetrates the heart and exposes sin for what it is. Even though a person may live the most outwardly decent life and do the greatest works in the sight of man, yet in Mark 7:21-23 Jesus describes what God can see: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.” Even if we appear to keep all the commandments of God by outward behavior, His Law reveals that we have broken them in our hearts – if even just by the hidden lusts, hatred, dishonesty, pride, envy, and every evil that proceeds from the sinful nature.

A person may feel he has worked to earn a place of rest for himself in the presence of God; he may feel he can stand before God in judgment based on his own good life and works. But it only means that he does not rightly see the sinfulness of his heart the way God does. As it says: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (vs. 13).

Consider what that phrase means as it says we are “naked and open” to God’s eyes. It takes us back to the scene of sacrifice at the temple, as the priest is about to slaughter a sacrificial victim. The head of the animal is bent back exposing the bare neck, and the sharp knife is ready to sever that life. So also as God’s eyes examine our lives, if it depended on our own good works and merit, our necks would be on the line. The sword of His Law cuts like no other, dividing even our soul and spirit, our emotions and motives, and our every thought and desire. When that sword uncovers a single sin against His commandments, it severs and kills and cuts the sinner off from God’s heavenly rest.

2) Jesus gives us rest in His forgiveness

Sin leaves our souls restless before the all-seeing eye of God. But God, who has formed us for Himself, wants nothing more than for us to find rest in Him. After God’s Law has done its necessary work, severing all hope in our goodness and strength to save us, God’s Gospel proclaims the good news that He has done everything to save us. His living and powerful Word now performs a healing surgery on our hearts. As we confess our sin and lay our burden of guilt at the cross of Christ, He shows Himself to be our great High Priest who gives us His blood-bought forgiveness and true rest and peace with God.

This is where our text leads us to focus our eyes of faith, as it points us to Christ: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (vs. 14-15).

There we were with our necks on the line, restless and burdened by guilt, unable to give a good account before God. And who should step into our lives but the eternal Son of God. He understood our predicament. He understood our weakness under temptation, for He took our human flesh and blood and our human need to Himself. In His humiliation, He let himself be subjected to temptations of Satan and the world. As the Savior who carried the burden of the world’s salvation on His shoulders, He felt temptation more severely than we ever have. Unlike us, He never once permitted Himself any kind of release in sinful pleasures and self-serving paths. He strictly did His Father’s will, every moment of every day. When the all-seeing eyes of His Father examined His life under the microscope of the Law, absolutely no sin was found.

Then as our High Priest, Jesus stepped into our place and put His neck on the line. As the Lamb of God who came to take away our sins, He made Himself “naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (vs. 13). The sharp blade of God’s Law was placed to Jesus’ neck. All our sins in thought, word, and deed were read over Him. On the cross, He was pierced and His blood ran for our sins. His life was severed and sacrificed in the presence of God in highest heaven, to take away all our sins. As Isaiah says in today’s Old Testament lesson: “He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

And as our great High Priest, Jesus still makes intercession for us. The eternal Son of God has risen from death; and now, also according to His human nature, He has passed through the heavens. As our God and our Brother in the flesh, He is pleading for us at His Father’s right hand (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1-2). And as the Father listens to His Son and turns His all-seeing eyes to you and me, what does He see? He sees the pure and holy blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin. He sees the righteousness of Jesus that covers every part of our lives.

As our great High Priest, having spoken on our behalf at heaven’s throne, He now turns and speaks on His Father’s behalf to us. And what does He say? Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). In His Gospel, He does not speak a word of condemnation or further requirements we must fulfill to be saved. He simply says: “Rest your soul in My holy blood that cleanses away all your sins. Rest your soul in My perfect life that counts for your righteousness. Rest your soul in My unfailing promise that I will bring you home at last to heaven’s eternal joys.” His Gospel Word is living and powerful, working faith and life in our hearts, giving us true rest and peace with God.

Our text concludes: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (vs. 16). Since we have such a great High Priest, who rules all things by His divine power, and yet can sympathize with us as our dear Brother, let us cast all the burdens of our hearts on Him in prayer. Let us lay before Him all our trials and temptations, weaknesses and fears; and let us simply rest in His forgiveness that frees us, and rest in His strength that is working all things together for our good, and rest in His grace that helps us in every need. And soon, as the sum answer to all our prayers, He will bring us to that final rest we are all looking for – that heavenly rest He is preparing for us.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.