· Enter in Gods rest
· God among the Israelites
· Just the beginning…
Enter in Gods rest
I’m a family guy. I love to be at home with my wife and kids around me. Actually when I met my wife and got to know her, I knew I just wanted to be with her. From that moment I knew I would love to marry her. That could be a very worthwhile test: if you have a girl- or boyfriend and you are tired: where do you want to come to rest? Alone in your room, or with your beloved?
I’m a family guy and every day I gladly come home after a day’s work to come to rest with my family. My kids are exhausting, to be honest and I’m exhausted every day after dinner, but I don’t want to be anywhere else to rest and relax. And still, there are times that I don’t want to be disturbed, not even by my wife, let alone by my children.
Now, if I where God. Where would I want to come to rest? With whom would I relax and enjoy everything I did or made? Let’s take a look on what God did after 6 days of work:
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
It is very interesting to see what God himself did when He created the world. He rested. Not that He was tired. But still He rested, He came to rest on the seventh day and he blessed that day. And God watched everything he made on a day and he enjoyed it: He said to himself: wow, wonderful, beautiful! Also on the sixth day when he created men, he saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good!
And I imagine that on the seventh day He took the time to look again at his work, thinking: wow indeed it is very, very good! And God cherished the man He made, and created a beautiful garden for Him, with fruits, nice animals, some rivers and a spring.
And God enjoyed his creation by walking in the garden with the man and woman he made. This is how God came to rest: he dwelled among his people.
One thing catches my eye reading this passage: at the end of every day it says: and there was evening and there was morning, the first day, the second day etc. But this doesn’t say after the seventh day. It is as if the day of rest, the day of enjoying the creation, the day of enjoying and coming to rest with his people has no end for God. In a certain way you could say that the holy day of rest and enjoyment still continues today.
But this changes after the fall, after Adam and Eve sinned: they needed to get to work seriously. ..
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
Now the six days of working for men started. An era of work, sorrows and misery. And this is very recognizable to us, it still continuous today. And if you’d focus on the work we are doing, the sorrows that we have, we would easily forget that God didn’t leave his creation, that he is nót a distant God but a God who cares.
But it is not as if God left his creation, he is faithful and loyal; He won’t forsake the work of his hands. But God gave the law to his people in which he introduced the seventh day for people to rest and enjoy the presence of God! It is like a taste of what will come when Jesus returns, a taste of eternity, a taste of being with God forever and enjoying his presence for eternity.
In the book of Hebrews it says something about the Sabbat, the day of rest. It calls to us to ‘strive to enter his rest’. God created the seventh day for us to enjoy and rest. He even calls it ‘his rest’. We can come to rest and lay down at the heart of God the father. The Sabbat, the day of rest, is made for us, we’re not made for the Sabbat, Jesus tells us.
Now let’s clarify one thing: I’m not preaching over how to deal with the seventh day, the sabbat and I’m not giving any guidelines on what to and what not to do on a Sunday. What I’m saying is that God created a day, a period to enjoy His creation with us! He created the world to enjoy everything and enjoy it with and among us, human beings! Even now He invites us to enter his rest, be in his presence and enjoy this wonderful God!
God among the Israelites
Let’s think of what is going on here. God created mankind, he created men. But why does he want to be with us humans? What makes us so special to Him that he wants to spend his seventh day with us, his special day of enjoyment? Are we that joyful to be with? Are we that beautiful to keep that close? Well let me say one thing to that: the fact that God enjoys being with us doesn’t say anything of us, it says everything of God. This is perfectly illustrated throughout the Old testament of the bible. So, let’s take a look.
God chose Abram, a guy from Iraq, to be a father of many nations. God promised Abram that he would give him a great offspring and a people that he would regard as his own people, the people of God. Now, why did he choose Abram? Did he deserve it? Did he already acted greatly in the eyes of the almighty? It doesn’t say! It’s just Gods plan. And the Jewish people, the people of Israel; did God choose this people because of it greatness, it’s righteousness, it’s loyalty or holiness?
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers…’
The whole old testament testifies of the people of Israel going astray, betraying and hurting God. Israel was disloyal, called a whore or prostitute several times because of its disloyalty and its going after other gods. They didn’t keep any of the laws and commandments and when they did, for example bring offerings, God shouts he doesn’t want their offerings, but he wants their being good to each other.
So if this people is the example of the people God wants to dwell amongst, be with, spend his time with, enjoy the creation with and have with him for eternity; what does this then say of this people? Nothing! The fact that God chose this people doesn’t say anything of this people. The old testament is one big, long story of God as the righteous, loyal and faithful God no matter how disloyal and unfaithful his people is. He never left his people, he never chose a new people whom he would rather be with; he even worked towards a final solution. He did that himself. It’s a big and great story of a great and loving God. No wonder people call this God a God of unconditional love.
Throughout history, God joined his people and wanted to be with them. Although this changed after men started to sin and went astray, He never neglected to be among his rebellious people.
And after God saved his people out of slavery in Egypt, he had the idea of living among his people in the holy tent, the tabernacle. Solomon built the temple and this was the housing of the God who wanted to show that he really wanted to be with his people and protect them in wondrous ways. And the tabernacle and temple actually was a place of wonders and miracles. God protected his people himself. This is showed, for example, by the fact that the Israelites took the arch, the symbolic presence of God, with them on the battle field.
God decided that he wanted to be with his people, and as they screwed up he decided to fix that himself. To bring the people of Israel together again, to cleanse their sins and make them holy, sanctify them.
Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”
God tells the Israelites that he will sanctify his people again, cleanse them and make them to obey God. God did this himself, not relying on the efforts of the Israelites. God will set his sanctuary in their midst forevermore. Do we need more evidence that God wants to be with his people Israel and that this is a sole action and decision of God himself, despite the ways of the people?
Just the beginning…part 1, eternity
The old testament described the presence of God in Israel and his faithfulness and love to his people despite their wicked ways. This is a story, not primary about the people of Israel, but a story of God, it shows how wonderful he is. But this is just the beginning. And through the prophets God showed that he wanted to relate to the Israelites, that he wanted to help them, comfort them, support them and guide them. The prophets were the means of which God communicated with his people and of which the Israelites were guided by God. And by these very prophets God promised that their relationship would endure forever, that they would find eternal peace. The presence of God through the tabernacle, temple and by means of the prophets was just the beginning, it was just a taste of what God had in mind from the beginning, an eternal relationship, him being with his people forever.
We just read it in Ezekiel:
I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.
Just the beginning…part 2, all the nations
And also it was never meant to be for the Israelites only. Already by means of the prophet Isiah, chapter 49:5-6 God says:
And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
It is too light a thing that Isiah should gather the tribes of Israel and bring them back to God, he will; be made a light for the nations, that the salvation would reach to the end of the earth! Even the temple had a large area that was built to welcome people from other nations to honor God! ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’, God said.
God used this period and his relation with the Jewish people to show his plan with all nations, with all peoples, with all tribes and tongues, with the whole world! He already told this from the beginning; he promised Abraham that he would be a father of a great nation and that through him all nations would be blessed.
How is this possible? Why would God want to extend his covenant and why would he engage with other nations, nations that never honored him as God and creator? Well, we already saw that he didn’t choose the people of Israel because they deserved or because they were that wonderful to be with, no: it was a sovereign choice of God, although the people of Israel were disgraceful; God loved them anyway! In the same way God chooses to engage with nations to the end of the earth, despise their ungodliness! We don’t make God to love us, God just loves the work of his hands and we are the work of his hands! He even put something of himself in humans when he created us: he made men after his image and he blew his spirit of life in us!
Well, how did this work out, the Israelites were not really outgoing at that time! That’s true, but it exactly worked out as God had planned. The promised descendent of king David, the king that would rule forever, for eternity; He broke the wall between the people of Israel and all the other nations. With the presenting of baby Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem, an old man Simeon was there as well.
And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Now this man Jesus, as is foresaid and is prophesied of as the light of the wórld was born as an Israelite, a Jew and a descendent of king David. And the beauty of this is: he was not just a baby, he was sent by God! And even more: he ís God! Bible writer John says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God himself, the light of the world, came to earth and became a human being: and it says clearly: he dwelt among us. It looks like this is the ultimate way of God dwelling among us, being with us and enjoying our presence. Not just with the people he chose in the first place, but as the light of all nations, including us. That is why he sent his students, his followers to go and make disciples of all nations, to go witness of Jesus, God among men, to Israel, Samaria and to the end of the earth.
Just the beginning…part 3, total renewal
But again: this is just the beginning, it continues. Jesus, God among men, sent his followers and students into the world to proclaim that the kingdom of heavens has come. That the rule and reign of God has come to earth and had become accessible for all nations. That was the primary message of grace of Jesus and his students, that’s the gospel: through the work of Jesus (God as man) all nations can be with God again, all peoples would be united again with their creator. Not because anyone deserved it, but by the ultimate grace of God. Even preparing this sermon I was thinking that God would hate the people who ignored and opposed the holy God, but we should never forget that God loved us while we were still sinners; that God sent his son to die for sinners, for people that opposed God! It is therefore so much more than the love for a selected people, a selected group of faithful ones. It is accessible to anyone, to anyone he promised that there is salvation for anyone who believes in Jesus, for all who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved! How then do we see our neighbours, the people around us? Whether they are ungodly, evil or opposing you; how would you look at your colleagues if you’d imagine that Jesus died for sinners, that you were a sinner ones that Jesus died for?
To spread the salvation to all people and to live among all peoples, Jesus left the earth for in his human body he couldn’t be with all peoples at the same time. Therefore he made room for the holy spirit to come and fill people with life again, just as He did in the beginning in Genesis with the creation of men. He gave life again. This is where Jesus spoke about to Nicodemus, a Jewish theologian. Let’s read that passage.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
And again, we’ve seen that God is merciful and faithful to the people he choose, He wanted to be with them although their works were evil and that this was just the beginning. It was too light a thing that this would only be for 1 people, God wanted to live among all peoples and nations, he realized this and he made this possible through the man Jesus Christ: God he became man among men, human among the humans: he became one of us. Do you still think God is a distant God not interested in us, human beings? Do you still think this is not meant to be for all men, but just for a selected group that God pleases; a people that serves God better than other peoples? You still think that? Let’s take a look at Romans chapter 5:6.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
And let me be clear: Jesus Christ didn’t die for the sinners so that we could live with him as we were. The unconditional love of God goes further than that, He wants to change us radically. His grace is greater and more comprehensive than we can imagine: he gives us the opportunity to be born again, to be whole, to be free of the slavery of sin. And you know why? Because he wants to be with his creation again and enjoy his creation with people of all nations, peoples and tribes. Peoples that are whole again, free of sin and praising God for eternity.