SABBATH: LEARNING TO REST

SABBATH: LEARNING TO REST

Rest matters. You can get in some pretty funny and embarrassing situations if you don’t have rest. Every single person has probably had their picture taken at least once while asleep in the car or in a classroom with drool rolling down their cheek. I could tell story after story of hilarious instances where lack of rest has caused people to be embarrassed.

– Sara seeing man fall asleep at Christmas Eve service and put money in communion

– Pictures of recent vacation (me driving and me sleeping)

The commandment and principle we are looking at this morning has to do with rest.

I want to see a show of hands…Who in here kills people? Who is a kleptomaniac (steals things)? Who is an adulterer? Does anybody have an alter in their house full of idols they worship? Who in here regularly practices the Sabbath and holds the Sabbath as important a command as the others we just mentioned? It’s the 4th commandment in our ten commandments, and its origins go all the way back to the beginning—to creation. Let’s read it first as we know it best, from our ten commandments, then let’s dig in.

Read Exodus 20:8-11

You could make the case that the Israelites would have understood the 4th commandment to be the most important of the ten. It is the longest and most detailed commandment of all that God gave. It is mentioned more often than any of the other Ten Commandments—over 100 times in the Old Testament. God also gave this command to them before they reached Mt. Sinai (Ex. 16).

We see from the 4th commandment that we are to honor God with our time. J. I. Packer says, “God’s claim on our Sabbaths reminds us that all our time is his gift, to be given back to him and used for him.” This is what Sabbath reminds us. Our time belongs to Him.

Eugene Peterson, one of my favorite authors and pastors of the last century, had an article in Christianity Today in 1988 titled, “Confessions of a Former Sabbath Breaker.” I should just read his article for this message, say amen, and walk away. Hear what he says about time:

“One day a week I stand before you and call you to worship God. The conviction behind the act is that time is holy. But how often do you hear anyone say so? More likely you hear, ‘Time is money.’ And, as with money, you mostly feel that you don’t have enough of it, ever. On occasion, when you have time for which nothing is scheduled you will ‘kill time.’ “Odd, isn’t it? We have more leisure hours per person per year as a country than anyone could have guessed a hundred years ago. But we are not leisurely. We are not relaxed. We are anxious. We are in a hurry. The anxiety and the hurry ruin intimacy and sabotage our best intentions in faith, hope, and love-the three actions in which most of us set out to do our best. “That is why I as your pastor want you to keep a Sabbath. I want you to live well. I want you to live whole and mature, with appreciation and pleasure, experiencing the heights and depths of God’s glory in your bodies and your work, your friends and your gardens, your minds and your emotions, at the ocean and in the mountains. You can’t do that if you are’ on the run.’ You can’t do that if you are watching the clock. Sabbath is the biblical tool for protecting time against desecration. It is the rhythmic setting apart of one day each week for praying and playing-the two activities for which we don’t get paid, but which are necessary for a blessed life.”

Sabbath is important and so often neglected. This is why we must study it together this morning.

Sabbath means rest or cease.

Shabbat (שַׁבָּת) is the original Hebrew word for our English word Sabbath. It means “to cease, to end, to rest.”[1] What was it rest from? Work. On the seventh day of the week, God’s people would rest from work. They would go out of their way to rest from work. It’s taken so seriously that you see, at the time of Jesus, Pharisees, who were the keepers of the law, get upset that Jesus’ disciples picked wheat for themselves to eat. Now, they took it overboard, as we will see later, but it shows you how important this commandment was to them. And maybe we’ve gone too far the other direction and underemphasize its importance.

Why? Why does this matter for them and for us? For one, it’s a type of trust.

Sabbath requires faith in God. A lack of Sabbath is often a lack of faith.

Take, for example, manna in the wilderness. This is part of the context of the fourth commandment, and this would have been fresh in the minds of the people receiving this commandment.

Read Exodus 16:4-5; 13-26

God would provide food for them every single day, but the next day it would be rotten. He provided exactly what they needed each day, just like He does for you and me. But, on the Sabbath, He wouldn’t send down manna. What He did was made the day’s manna from before last one more day. Kind of like a holy refrigeration. Think about it, though. That had to be hard for them to trust God. Every single day that manna would rot. They saw it day after day after day after day. Yet, that one day God would provide by making it last. They were to rest from gathering manna.

It’s the same with us. God wants us to rest in Him. I’ve seen some pastors and Christians who live the mindset of, “If I’m not working, God’s not working.” The Sabbath command flies in the face of that.

When we’re not working, God is still working. It was him who sent manna. It was him who preserved the manna when they were to not gather it on the Sabbath.God is at work when we can’t see it and in ways that are greater than us. So, when He tells us to rest and rest in Him, we can trust that He is still working, in our lives and in the world.

Jackie Hill Perry just this week posted a thread on social media about rest that I think you need to hear. Listen with your head and with your heart.

“Why is rest so hard? It could be that rest imposes certain limitations on us, putting us in the position to find purpose independent of our work. It feels validating to cultivate a thing. To till the soil, plant the seed, water the root and watch it grow. We find joy in being able to step back and call the thing we’ve created from nothing “good.” We were indeed called to this. This calling however is in submission to an ultimate one which is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, and soul. And truth be told, work has a way of disordering our affections and meddling with our mind, so much so that we begin to think we made the soil that we tilled, found the seed we planted, created the water we used and therefore the growth we called good is to our glory. The rest we resist is for our good. It’s a way to steward our entire selves. How else will we remember that man doesn’t live by bread alone? How else will we recall that the manna came without Israel’s help? How else will we discover that God’s provision isn’t dependent on our hustle but on His goodness? Rest is worship.”

So, we see the Sabbath forces us to trust God. Where did it come from? Exodus 20 with the fourth commandment? Exodus 16 with the manna?

The Sabbath began at creation.

Read Genesis 2:1-3

We are to model our rest, or Sabbath, after God’s. God wasn’t tired and didn’t need rest, but he rested as a model for us, because we do need it. And part of his purpose in creating us, even before the Fall, is to work. Work isn’t a byproduct of the Fall…work that is more difficult than it should have been is a product of the Fall, but work is a part of God’s good creation. And so is rest. God did all the work, as we are called to work, and he rested on the seventh, as we need to rest.

So, it began at the beginning. But, how do we live it out? The commandment spells it out for us.

We are to remember the Sabbath.

When you read of God’s resting on the seventh day, it says, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Gen. 2:3). God made the Sabbath holy. In the 4th commandment, it says we are to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex 20:8). God already made it holy, and we keep it so by practicing it, by remembering it.

What does this mean, to remember the Sabbath? I think it’s more than just to remember to rest. Like, “Don’t forget to take a nap!” (Some of you are doing a good job at that right now!) I think it has more to do with this: We are to remember God’s provision. We are to remember that it is God who does the work. Sabbath serves as a weekly recognition of human limitations and God’s generosity. It’s good to remember our limitations. It’s even better to remember God’s generosity.

We are to keep the Sabbath holy.

There are three dangers we can face. We can overindulge in rest, which is what the Bible refers to as sloth, we can work but not for what matters, which the Bible refers to as a busybody, or we can ignore the Sabbath and overwork. The Bible forbids all of these.

1) The Bible forbids sloth.[2] Rest comes after six days of working. It’s not resting every day. Sabbath isn’t living in your parents’ basement and eating Cheetos while playing Xbox all day. Sabbath requires work. You may say, “I work! I always give 100% at work! 12% on Monday, 26% on Tuesday, 32% on Wednesday, 24% on Thursday, and 6% on Friday!” Sabbath means we must first have worked.

They still had to pick manna six days a week, working for the food that God provided, but they rested on the Sabbath, trusting God’s provision. We are called to make disciples and to glorify God in any work that we do, working at it with all our heart (Col 3:23). Jesus tells us that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few (Matt 9:37). We aren’t seeing a harvest because often we are being slothful. Many of the Proverbs have a lot to say about being slothful in the fields. For example, Proverbs 20:4, “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” We don’t see souls saved because we aren’t doing the work in the fields. We chalk it up to, “Well it is God that does the saving.” But it is us who are to do the proclaiming for him to do the saving! God sent the manna, but they still had to go get it or they wouldn’t eat!

Rest doesn’t mean you don’t work to receive outcomes. It’s trusting God to bring the outcomes from your work. Sabbath is a rest from work, not a rest from resting.

2) The Bible forbids being a busybody. You need to make the work you do count. The Bible talks about busybodies in the same way it talks about sloths. For example, Paul in

2 Thessalonians 3:11 says, “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” You can still walk in idleness while not being idle. Both the sluggard and the busybody are not making their work count. Both come to the end of their day not doing the work God has set before them. Both come to the end of their day with more work still to do. One is exhausted from doing, but still not working. The other is seeking to rest from their resting.

One example would be a father who works hard to earn income for his family then comes home to neglect the very family he is working for. He doesn’t play with his kids. He doesn’t disciple his children. He doesn’t help his wife with things in the house. But he comes home exhausted, sits in his chair, and watches tv because he needs to rest, while neglecting the very thing he is working for. Both the sluggard and the busybody need to repent and do the work God has placed before them.

3) The Bible forbids overwork. The simplest way we know this fourth commandment to be broken is when it is ignored…when it is not practiced. This often happens for at least two reasons. One is a lack of faith, as we saw earlier. Even if you don’t say it, you live as if God’s not working if you’re not working. That is the farthest thing from the truth. If that is you, you need to repent and trust in the God who never slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).

Secondly, this command is broken when work becomes an idol…something you pursue above God or for your own glory. Here’s one way you can tell if work has become an idol to you: If work is an idol, rest will feel like a sin. Is that you? Do you feel guilty when you rest? When you take some time off? If that is you, you need to repent, remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. You are soiling the Sabbath with idolatry. Have you broken the Sabbath command by failing to rest…by worshiping your work rather than your God?

Some people say that Jesus broke this commandment, that he didn’t keep the Sabbath holy (Matthew 12:1-8). This isn’t true, though. We never see Jesus break the 4th commandment or any commandment. He has no problem breaking the traditions built upon the Sabbath, but His conflicts with the scribes and Pharisees weren’t over the legitimacy of the Sabbath command itself. He didn’t break the 4th commandment…He is the fulfillment of it. He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8).

Here’s where the deeper meaning for us starts to come in. Following Jesus, the Sabbath day seemingly changed. These long-time Jews who held this commandment as sacred doctrine, all of a sudden changed from resting and worshiping on the last day of the week to doing it on the first day of the week. You see it referred to in the New Testament as the Lord’s Day. B. B. Warfield said, “Christ took the Sabbath into the grave with Him and brought the Lord’s Day out of the grave with Him on the resurrection morn.” What we find in the Bible is that the Lord’s day is, 1) a day to gather for worship, 2) a day to rest from our work, and 3) to find spiritual rest in Christ. Perhaps this third one is most important and most neglected. We often can rest from our labors without ever learning to rest in Christ.

We are to rest in Christ’s completed work. I think this is the most important point about Sabbath. It points to Christ’s completed work. Go home and read Hebrews 4.

We don’t have to work for our salvation. Jesus did all the work. We receive and rest in what he has done. In John 19:30, on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” He breathed his last, having completed the work the Father laid before him. And they quickly took him down…why so quickly? Because the Sabbath was fast approaching. Jesus died on a Friday and rose on a Sunday. What did he do in between? He had finished his work and he rested on the Sabbath.

Andrew Peterson, in his song “God Rested,” says it perfectly and beautifully wraps all of this up for us. Just hearing the words I’m about to read, it sounds like he’s talking about creation, but this song comes from an Easter album, “Resurrection Letters.” What I’m about to read is about Jesus’ work on the cross.

Six days shall you labor // The seventh is the Lord’s // In six He made the earth and all the heavens // But He rested on the seventh // God rested // He worked ’til it was finished // In the seventh day, He blessed it // He said that it was good // And the seventh day, He blessed it // God rested

Our rest imitates and looks forward to our forever rest in the finished work of Jesus. And as we wait to enter into his rest in eternity, we can rest in him now. We are called to work and labor in his fields so that others can also experience his rest.

What striving do you need to rest from? Lay it at the feet of the Jesus who said, “It is finished.”

What slothfulness do you need to repent of? Lay it at the feet of the Jesus who sweat drops of blood before he rested in his completed work for you. Let’s remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Let’s start right now.


[1] https://www.gotquestions.org/shabbat.html

[2] Prov. 6:6-8; 10:4, 26; 12:11, 24, 27; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15, 24; 20:4, 13; 21:25-26; 22:13; 24:30-34; 26:13-16; 31:27; Eccl 10:18; 2 Thess. 3:10


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