The Lord of the Sabbath (The REST of Your Life, Part 2)
Jesus once explained, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” What does this tells us about Jesus, and what does it refer back to in the Old Testament? To me, I see that it connects with so much, it’s hard to know where to begin. I guess I’ll start with just discussing the word Sabbath itself.
“Look busy” never made it to the top ten commandments that God had for us. Most of the commandments, in fact, are about NOT doing something. Don’t worship idol, don’t murder, avoid using God’s name in vain, stop coveting, do not cheat on your wife, and so on. The three positive commands (positive = adding something) were the instructions to love God, to honor the Sabbath and rest (along with everyone under your jurisdiction), and to honor one’s parents. In the Old Testament, God made it clear first of all that we are echoing Him when we rest on the Sabbath, and spells out that we do what He did when He worked for six days to create the world, and then sat back to rest and enjoy His handiwork on the seventh day. Creation is the first time that we get to see this relationship between work and rest. And in putting that as part of the ten commandments for us, God explicitly spells out that He wants us to practice that same work/rest relationship. This was so important, in fact, that we read this in His Word: “For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death” (Exodus 31:15). For us in the American culture, it seems CRAZY for God to set working too much as a death penalty sort of sin. Doesn’t He understand the importance of being productive?
Similarly, God spelled out that He wanted His people to give the land itself a Sabbath. We read in Leviticus 25: “When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the Lord… In the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.” Now, you know how people are. They view this more as “guidelines” than actual rules, and therefore got carried off into captivity. And this, interestingly enough, was a blessing to their land: “Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths.” They were gone in captivity that time for 70 years, the exact number of Sabbath years that they had not allowed their land. “The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah” (2 Chronicles 36:21). Why on earth was it such a big deal? What’s so special about rest? Well first of all, we know that God loves it and loves it enough to INSIST that we and our land practice it. But God wants us to understand it even more than that. Solomon put it this way: “Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease!” And what understanding would help us to know the difference between work and overwork? I think that the difference is that “overwork” forgets it’s purpose. If we work so that we gain enjoyable results, then working to the exclusion of enjoyment is nonsense. If we labor so that we can enter rest, then laboring to the exclusion of rest is a lack of understanding.
“There is one alone, without companion:
He has neither son nor brother.
Yet there is no end to all his labors,
Nor is his eye satisfied with riches.
But he never asks,
“For whom do I toil and deprive myself of good?”
This also is vanity and a grave misfortune.”
Here in Ecclesiastes, we read about the sorry case of the man who never asks himself about the purpose of labor. And therefore he has labor, but he has no rest/enjoyment and no relationships. He embraces work to the exclusion of the rightful end/purpose of work. Looking at the Bible as whole, it’s clear that God wants us to work, like He works, and He wants us to rest as well. 6 parts work to 1 part rest – it’s like a receipt which calls for 6 cups of muffin mix and 1 cup of milk (and then bake). If you just have muffin mix without milk, it’s dry, like work without rest. But if you have rest without work (laziness) then it’s like just baking milk. Neither way will produce the correct end result. Earlier we asked, “Doesn’t He understand the importance of being productive?” And the answer is – Yes, He understands. He understands better than we understand, and the way He tells us to live, rest is the end goal, the importance, of being productive. Now, isn’t it interesting, though, that the man who rejects rest/enjoyment is the one who is alone and without relationships. Is there some connection between those two things?
If the goal of work is rest, and the reason for production is enjoyment of what has been produced, then to work without ever reaching rest is as pointless and tragic as the situation of the couple in the following story – A man a woman, both reasonably poor, get married and love each other a lot. However, there is no money to take a honeymoon together. So the man gets a second job, and he says to his wife, “I love you! I will work and save money so that we can finally take that honeymoon trip and enjoy each other.” But then he gets enough money and spends it on more cars and a bigger house (yet is usually in the office and not home), and he continues to work long hours and make more and more money. He forgets that the goal was to spend time enjoying his wife, and spends all his time at his first and second jobs, and then sleeping at night. The honeymoon, the original goal, is forgotten and does not occur; neither does the man quit his second job to go back to spending a decent amount of time with his wife. A sad ending, but also the logical result of beginning a worthwhile task and then losing track of the end goal of that task.
Are we, as God’s people, intended to have Sabbaths? To rest? To enjoy our work? Are we intended to spent time reading, meditating, relating to God and others, and just talking? “It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late… For He gives His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). But it’s a journey to that promised land. “As yet, you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 12:9). Rest is part of our inheritance that the Lord gives us for free, as His children. It’s what He wants for us. David is called the man after God’s own heart. What school did he go to, to learn to enjoy the things of God? Well, he grew up as a shepherd, just spending time with his sheep and with his God, caring for his sheep and being cared for by God. David learned to invite his own soul to rest – “Be still, and know that I am God.”
“The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
My cup runs over.”
Now David actually accepted and enjoyed the rest of the Lord. But not everyone of God’s people did. We hear about this in Isaiah (28, 30):
“To whom He said, ‘This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,’ And, ‘This is the refreshing’; Yet they would not hear.”
“For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’ But you would not”
Finally, God sent His own Son to earth, the one who can bring us true rest, for we will rest in His work on the cross to bring us salvation. But He came to His people, and they did not know Him. The pharisees did not want rest because they wanted to work for their salvation and get the credit, and they didn’t want Him giving rest to the others because it would take away their own authority (which, in the words of Christ, they were using to “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers”). He preached a revolutionary message.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Now, this is counter-intuitive even to us! Aren’t we supposed to be dying to ourselves and bearing crosses? Well of course. But when we die to self, we actually find true rest in Christ. We don’t need to haul around our own burdens and lies and troubles – we are called to be “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Now, just as the Son of God was sentenced to death for blasphemy, He also “got in trouble” for His views about the Sabbath. Jesus was not afraid to marry the concepts of healing and sabbath rest, and the pharisees were really angry. In response, He clarified that HE was the Lord of the Sabbath – He was the ruler over the Sabbath and could choose how it gets implemented, and He was the one who invented the Sabbath to begin with and knows it’s purpose. After Jesus walked the earth, it became clear what the end goal of labor is: “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest” (Hebrews 4:11).
Sabbath is the blessing of God. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Look at the difference between this blessing and this curse, from the Old Testament:
“Give her of the fruit of her hands” – Blessing for the Prov. 31 woman
“So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’” – Curse from God, listed in Hebrews
In Sabbath, we get to enjoy the fruits of labor. Without Sabbath, we do not enter God’s rest (for we keep on working, and working, and and working, and going and going, just like the energizer bunny!” Yet we are called to be like God and not like the bunny – “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” If we are blessed, we will get to enjoy that rest, and it we are cursed God swears we will have no rest. Which should we be shooting for?