Sabbath Rest

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Good Morning everyone. How are you?

That's often how we greet one another these days, isn't it? I wonder what would you say is the most common response? I think it's probably either "fine", which basically means "go away, I don't want to talk to you"; or "busy"; or "tired".

There is always so much to do and never enough time. That's one of the challenges of modern living. Life is busy and it only seems to be getting busier.

I read an article in the Guardian a little while ago entitled Millions of People at the End of Their Tether. It was essentially an interview with a doctor who specialises in treating people suffering from ME-type symptoms. He said, "I see hundreds of patients each year suffering from exhaustion and the medical term I use now is... they're spent."

Now I'm no doctor, but that doesn't sound very medical to me. His observation was, "If you put a human being in a modern city, and add computers, mobile phones, credit cards, neon lights and 24-hour shopping, he says, what do you expect? … Because our modern lifestyle has removed us from nature we've been divorced from its rhythms and cycles."

The interviewer then asks: "What is our modern lifestyle?" His response? "We are slaves." Slaves to what? "Slaves to work and the relentless consumption of media. We are an enslaved culture... and that's why people are spent."

Folks, there are all sorts of modern solutions being proposed to this problem. But you could go back to Exodus 20 and God would say, "Work six days, and then one day a week, don't." It's not rocket science! But it was revolutionary back then. I wonder if properly understood – God's great gift of the Sabbath – might be revolutionary for us today too.

So we're going to look at three things the Sabbath says to us which will lay the theological foundation stones for our understanding of it – and then we're going to look at a handful of applications. So if you're thinking "So what?" all the way through – Don't worry! We will get there. So here's the first thing the Sabbath says to us:

1. Remember Creation

Why don't you grab your Bibles and look up Exodus 20? Have a look at verse 8:

"Remember the Sabbath day…" That word "Sabbath" – it just means rest. It comes from a verb in Hebrew "Shabbat" – meaning to rest, cease, stop. So, in some ways, it would be easier if everywhere the Bible used the word "Sabbath" it just said "Rest Day".

Verse 8 again – remember "…to keep it holy." That just means "set apart" or "different" of course. As the rest day should be distinct, not ordinary.

So remember the rest day, by making it a different day to all the others.

Well how are we to do that?

Well that's what comes next in verse 9 and 10:

"Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates."

So positively the seventh day is to be a Sabbath to the Lord. It was to be a day of celebration. You celebrate God on that day. Negatively – it's quite straightforward – don't work. Stop your labours for 24 hours.

Why? Because the concept of one day rest in seven is woven into the fabric of the world God made. I mean this isn't a new thing God is inventing here! No! Look at verse 11:

"For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

It's interesting that globally all cultures run to a 7-day week – And there's no good reason for it. Where do we get the concept of a day? – Well that's just how long the earth takes to spin, doesn't it? A month – well that's the cycle of the moon. A year – that's how long we take to go round the sun. All those periods of time are kind of fixed by nature. But a week being seven days? There is no scientific, natural reason that we can see. And yet in every culture across the world down through history a week is seven days.

Now some have tried to resist. Like the French with their 10-day week. Or the Russians with their 5-day week. But it didn't take too long before they realised, it just doesn't work. But 7-days does. It works. Why is that? Well I think Exodus 20 would say: "Well that is how God has wired the world. And that is how God has wired us."

And so when he says, "Remember creation and like me don't work the 7th day" – It is partly because the 7th day is meant to be a reality check for us – that makes us say, "I am a creature made by God, with limitations. And so I stop for a day to remember that."

So Remember Creation. Then secondly…

2. Remember Redemption

Flick forward to Deuteronomy 5. It's the Ten Commandments again, but there are two differences here compared to Exodus 20. So let's play a wee game of spot the difference shall we?!

Let me read from verse 12:

"Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do."

There's difference number one – Everyone must rest! You, your family, anyone who works for you, the migrant worker who might get taken advantage of, even your ox and your donkey are to take a break! Now, that's there in Exodus 20 too – but there is a special emphasis on everyone resting here. That's one difference.

And here's the second one, in verse 15:

"Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day."

Do you see? It's not: "Remember that God created six days and rested on the seventh." But "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt." The point being, that if you were an ancient Israelite back in Egypt – the Egyptians didn't give you a day off, because you were their slave. So God is saying, "Now I've rescued you – don't live like slaves. I've rescued you for better than that. Don't enslave yourself to work." "Don't compel others to do so either. Don't demand that others slave away for your profit or satisfaction."

Deuteronomy repeatedly applies this to others: "You've been rescued… so be kind to others."

It's so easy to find yourself enslaved to work in one way or another, isn't it? Either through trying to find our identity and fulfillment in it or from becoming embroiled in a battle to tame it. To deny the Sabbath is to therefore say:

  • Exodus 20: "I don't need God. I'm my own person. I wasn't made by him."
  • Deuteronomy 5: "He hasn't saved me. I can save myself. I can do it all myself."

Here's the third thing:

3. Look Forward to Rest

The Sabbath in the Old Testament was a visual aid – it was always meant to point forward. To what you would gain in Jesus Christ.

If you could flick forward to Hebrews 4 for one last pit stop, we're going to see a really complicated argument, but I'm going to try to simplify it for you.

In the Old Testament rest is

  • a time = the Sabbath – Saturday.
  • a Place = Canaan – The Promised land.

Here in Hebrews 4 the writer says really clearly that rest in the New Testament is still

  • a Place = heaven, but it's now also
  • a Status = belonging to Jesus Christ.

Let me just read verses 8 to 11 again:

"For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience."

You see when you become a Christian you rest from your labours.

Folks, do you ever wake up and think, "Oh no, I've got it all to do today"? I started last week not feeling very well – and gradually went downhill, so that by Thursday morning I tried to get up and get going and never did. I did indeed have it all to do that day – I was like, "AHHHHHH! No! What am I going to do?" Well I had no option but to cast my burdens onto others. And four or five phone calls later the day was sorted and I was back in bed and slept most of the day and woke feeling much better by the evening.

Folks, the Christian is someone who does that, who says, "I despair – I can't do this. I can't just press on thinking my efforts will get me into heaven. I can't obey God's law perfectly. I can't do it! All I can do is cast all my burdens onto Jesus."

I say, "Jesus I've got so much wrong can you pay for that?" And he'll say 'Yeah." I say "I'll never be good enough" And he says, "Take my goodness."

Oh, the release. It's fantastic. That's rest. Jesus says in Matthew 11,

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

That's exactly what the writer is talking about here – verse 10:

"…anyone who enters God's rest also rests from their works…."

Becoming a Christian is coming to rest. You can get that status now.

It is also a place – and so the writer to the Hebrews also says in verse 11,

"Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest..."

Just as in the Old Testament they wandered through the wilderness till they reached the promised land, Christians wander through this life until they reach the promised land of heaven. That is ultimately our place of rest. It's what we're looking forward to. Only in heaven will our labours finally be over and we will perfectly enjoy the Lord. So…

  • Remember Creation
  • Remember Redemption
  • Look forward to Rest

Ok, let me give you four practical things to do in response to this:

1) Become A Christian 

It's quite straightforward. That's how you keep the Fourth Commandment, fundamentally.

Remember in the Old Testament the Sabbath is just a shadow pointing forward to the fulfilment in Jesus Christ. So become a Christian – Say, "I will never get to heaven by my own labours. I have to stop – and trust Jesus." – you will find rest.

In fact, you can take leisure and try to relax, but you cannot truly find rest without resting in Jesus.

2) Stop Working One Day A Week 

Just because it was a shadow, and in Jesus finds its fulfilment, I don't think it removes the creative intention of one day rest in seven. God has woven that into the fabric of this planet.

  • So trust God – yes in Jesus.
  • But trust him also – by downing tools once a week for 24 hours.

Now, there are lots of questions that flow out of that.

"Which day?"

Doesn't matter. Of course in the Old Testament the Sabbath was Saturday. In the New Testament it's probably Sunday. There's certainly lots of evidence that the early Christians moved it to Sunday because that's when Jesus rose from the grave. But the Bible doesn't actually specify.

I have a friend who visits Dubai fairly regularly. Their weekend is Friday and Saturday, and because all the Muslims take Fridays off and most things stop that day, the obvious day for church to gather is then. So church meets on a Friday. That's their Sabbath in that culture.

In this culture it's traditionally been Sunday – Resurrection Day. And most of us can do that. But it's getting harder, what with folks' working shifts – especially for those in the caring professions. It's hard when you work for a church too actually – when you're working Sunday. So my regular Sabbath is Saturday. But it doesn't matter which day it is. Just stop your paid or unpaid work – Stop what you regularly do the other six days of the week for the period of 24 hours.

Sabbath rest is in part physical. When the Old Testament gives examples of Sabbath breaking it is always people doing work – and being distracted from spending time with the Lord and his people and their families because of it.

So every Friday night I turn off my email, leave the office and I don't go and open it up again till I come in again on Sunday morning. Usually my phone will get switched off, or at least put on the docking station in the kitchen so I won't be distracted by work texts and WhatsApp messages.

"Ok, well what about stuff at home? Is cooking work? Is housework work?" Well possibly. Sabbath rest is stopping work. It's not just switching activities. I think it's going to be different for each one of us but I think most of us know what is rest and what is work for us. For some people gardening is a nice thing to do. For others of us it's "Dur, why would I want to do that? Have you not read Genesis 3? The ground is cursed – it produces thistles and thorns. So it's just hard work." But for others, it is a pleasure and is restful. And it's the same with cooking. I love to cook because I actually enjoy it. I'm not musical or artistic so it's in the kitchen that I get to be creative. Whereas for Fiona food is fuel so it's just a job. And because Fiona has done the lion's share of the cooking at home in recent years I try to do the cooking on a Saturday or on our holidays. But you kind of know if something is burdensome or restful for you, I think.

3) Look Forward To Heaven

Of course if you have no concept of God above you – of course you work, and you work and you accumulate and you gain stuff and only break for fancy holidays in the sun or backpacking in the Himalayas because this world is all there is.

But the Christian says, "This world is not all there is. And it cannot fully satisfy us. And so I will look forward to heaven, which fully does." So that is always part of the purpose of a Sabbath day of rest – to look forward and re-orientate your relationship with the Lord and get a little taste of eternal glories.

Which is why (if you can) having church as a non-negotiable part of your Sabbath is so important. Because gathering with other believers to worship the God who is "the resurrection and the life" is a sensible way of looking forward to heaven.

As one Christian writer has put it: "Six days a week we have to tame the world, one day to care for the seed of eternity placed in the soul."

4) Enjoy God's Blessings

What do you do on a Sabbath day? Well ideally you go to church. But in terms of the Old Testament model, it is also a day to celebrate, to enjoy. Enjoy good food, enjoy time with family and friends, breathe fresh air, listen to music, play sport, and maybe even have a little nap. Not for too long though – or you might not sleep at night!

But as part of that I would say – it isn't just our work that exhausts us now. It is our consumption of information and consumption of media. If your media consumption and your social media consumption is high – and for many of us it probably is. Well maybe the Sabbath is a good day to detox from that too? All of the research shows that it will be good for your brain, it will be good for your relationships, it will be good for your physical, as well as mental health to just turn off your phone, or at the very least your notifications on the dozen things that ping you most often, and connect with your friends, or play with your children, or catch up with your spouse, and connect with the Lord without distraction and get real rest.

So if in particular you are feeling "spent" this morning – as the medics are now calling it – fundamentally the answer is to trust Jesus. Trust him for your salvation. Trust him for this life that you can down tools – including the tools of technology – for 24 hours. Trust him and rest in him, now, as a little taste of where he's taking you. To an eternal rest where nothing will weary us ever again.

Why don't I give us an opportunity to respond to the Lord in prayer now. Let's have a moment of quiet to pray before we sing again.

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