June 6, 2016

Confirmation Sunday - June 5, 2016

Theme: Dear Confirmands and Christians: A better rest is coming
1) One worth fighting for
2) One worth confessing with boldness

Every Sunday is a good time to think about your faith and why you believe what you do. In fact, every day is a good time to do that. But today is also significant in that regard because it is Confirmation Sunday. Today marks the completion of years of study and training in the word of God for Martin and Fiona, and it’s a good reminder for those of us who also made the same vows to the Lord in the past.

Anyone who’s familiar with Confirmation has heard the same statements that go along with it. Things like: this is only the beginning of your faith. This is not graduation from the church, and so on. Those are important things to think about on Confirmation Sunday and they’re certainly true. Our confirmands today can attest that I have said those things in the past many times. But anytime we examine our faith we are called to dig deeper. Are those warnings really the lasting message and impression we want to give through Confirmation? I think not.

If we had to simplify all Biblical study and knowledge down to one thing, it would certainly be Jesus Christ as our Savior. That’s the most important fact to know, understand, and believe. But, yet again, an examination of our hearts digs deeper. We don’t just share bare facts without reason. We don’t just learn information without also asking why, as certainly every good Lutheran asks, “What does this mean?” Every part of Catechism instruction asks that question, which essentially points to the application of these truths. But we don’t typically ask this about Confirmation. So, what does this all mean? What is the proper practice of all of these facts of God’s Word that we learn as young people?

This is asking a lot more than just a basic summation of the most important Bible teachings. And I think that sometimes in our attempt to understand the purpose and application of instruction we offer reasons like: This is only the beginning and this is not a graduation from the faith. Again, those things are true, but they don’t fully explain the reason we’re here today. And they’re not going to leave a good impression in the minds of confirmands because they imply further work and obligation.

The simplest way to answer, “What does Confirmation mean?” is that it’s a transition. The goal is to for our young members to understand their transition from an education of obligation to education of enjoyment. That is what confirmation is about. All of the facts about your faith are the same today as they were when you were baptized. The teachings have not changed. The truth is the same. This is not graduation. But your relationship to those truths has changed. This is transition from and for the gospel. It is about rest, not obligation.

Heed the Words of God before you today:  

Hebrews 4:11-16 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 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. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Now it might surprise us that in a section that speaks about many of the themes of Confirmation, such as: power of the word, boldness, staying strong in confession, we also see the topic of rest talked about. But, didn’t we just say that we shouldn’t “rest” on our faith? We should always grow stronger and dig deeper in all phases of life. So, why rest? Well, we need to remember what kind of rest is being spoken about here. The writer very clearly says in v. 11 “be diligent to enter that rest.” He has something very specific in mind, and it’s not the rest of laziness or complacency.

We can track the meaning of this “rest” since it’s used throughout the book of Hebrews. So far, up to this point in our text, the word rest has been used 7 times already. And v.11 of our section mark the last time it’s used in the entire book. Clearly, whatever this rest is, it has been a major theme developing in the beginning chapters of Hebrews. And in each verse it speaks about the same thing. The type of rest referred to here is defined in the verses immediately before our text: There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His (Hebrews 4:9-10)

This “rest” is the kingdom of heaven. When Jesus finished His work of redemption, He entered this rest. Christians, although members of the kingdom today, look forward to that ultimate, eternal rest where no sin or sorrow exists. In fact, although the word rest isn’t used after v.11, the remainder of our text really describes the same thing. We look to what Jesus, our High Priest, has done for us for our assurance of rest, both in our hearts now and in our bodies for eternity in heaven. It is through God’s grace and mercy that we have confidence in this fact.

And so, we use that blessing today to strengthen and encourage one another. So, in a way, confirmation is indeed all about rest, and not about rest at all. It just depends on which kind of rest you’re thinking about. We are not to give up, to become indifferent, or to stop strengthening one another in God’s grace. From a human perspective it seems that the Christian faith is anything but rest. We’re persecuted. We have our own baggage to carry around. We are called to live a more difficult lifestyle than others, shunning sin and temptation. And yet, it’s all about rest. True, spiritual rest in the heart of one who has been forgiven and one who lives with the hope of heaven. 

Part 1

Therefore, the Holy Spirit reminds us that since our rest is in heaven, we are still under attack today. That’s why we tell one another that this is not our graduation day from the faith. This is only the beginning because we are transitioning to the frontlines of the fight. And to build upon that analogy, the Spirit tells us what we use for the fight. 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.

We have a faith worth fighting for, therefore God gives us a weapon that is up to the challenge. The double-edged sword of Law and Gospel in the Bible is the only weapon the Christian needs. We’re familiar with the famous chapter of Ephesians 6, where Paul lists other pieces of armor God gives us such as: truth, salvation, righteousness, and faith. Though we have these additional gifts, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is the only weapon we have. It can cut to the immaterial parts of who we are just as a normal blade could cut through flesh.

The Word of God is an awesome tool to wield. It is more powerful than any other force in the world. That is why our confirmands have spent the better part of 3 years to learn about God’s teachings. That is why we implore them, as we do ourselves, to continue learning from it. But with great power also comes the potential for great harm. Like all weapons, the Word of God can also be used incorrectly. This is where we make that leap from basic instruction to mature application. This is the transition we want our confirmands to come to. Paul instructed young Timothy similarly: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

Continuing on, he said, Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

Here we have the same instruction in Hebrews. “Be diligent…” Be diligent to pursue your heavenly rest but do so in the appropriate way. Use the Word of God correctly. Divide properly between Law and Gospel. The battle is worth fighting, but we must also strive for victory according to God’s will.

Part 2

Our second aspect of our heavenly rest comes in here too. Our faith is worth confessing with boldness. Paul told Timothy to “preach the word.” The battle is not waged in secret or behind the scenes. The times of church and fellowship are for strengthening and training. The battle itself is during the week and at home, work, and school. Let us take the time to train appropriately in using the Word of God but let us not also neglect to take that precious truth out into world. Learning about God’s Word and sharing it with one another means very little if we are not also ready to confess it in our lives – both by what we say and the manner in which we live.

The urgent need to boldly confess God’s Word is clear. Hebrews tells us that “no creature is hidden from the power of the Word,” eventually all must give an account of their lives before God. Paul told Timothy that the time was approaching when people would choose to ignore God’s Word and listen only to themselves. We can well attest that we are living in the fulfillment of that prediction. The time is upon us now. God calls us to wage battle against the foes of our faith. We cannot do that if we shrink back from confessing the truth.

It’s often been asked, when someone looks at your life; what you say and how you say it; what you do and how you do it, can they tell you’re a Christian? What a striking thought. Each time we measure ourselves in its balance we are left wanting. None of us can stand before God on our own merits, let alone stand before Him confident of our witness of His grace and truth. We are failures in every sense of the word. Given that thought the idea of confirmation, literally “making firm” seems futile. As soon as we make our vows before God it’s only a matter of time before we put those promises to the test and we fail in upholding them. Asking ourselves if others can see our faith is revealing and discouraging. But that’s why it only part of the solution.

Instead of pointing others only to their works of service to God and how ashamed we should be at the results, we can point them to someone else. 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. 15 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. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

That’s the key. Let us fix our eyes of Jesus and what He has done for us. Let that be our boast and our guide. Let that be our strength for service. Let that be the basis of our bold confession. Let us ask, when people look at me, do they see Jesus? Not just the results. The fruits. But the source; the Vine. Do they see their Savior, not just another disciple?

You all, confirmand and Christian alike, have the necessary tools to make that happen. You have the most powerful weapon to wield in the most important battle. You have the ability to speak the truth in love as you fight with the gospel in your heart. Don’t let the true purpose of this day and the end goal of your faith get obscured in all the details that got you to this point. After today, not much will seem different. You’ll still learn the same Bible and worship in the same church. Today is your transition from doing it because you were told to and doing it because you were bought at a price. Don’t forget that, and that goes for those of you in the healthier years of your confirmation.

And when the battle seems too fierce and when you are tired of the fight; remember that a better rest is coming. “That rest” of verse 11. The rest of heaven. The rest your Savior bled and died for. The rest that the world so desperately seeks. The rest that can only come through knowing and believing you are forgiven. Today is not graduation. It is heavenly rest as the rest of your days will be. Amen.

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