Sabbath, The Holy Rest
Dr. Kris A. Jackson
There is a bed in the midst of the current bedlam, a cradle in crisis, Jesus, our Savior and Sabbath. With outstretched nail-scarred hands, He invites, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus offers a life of rest for the rest of life, but His invitation is not rest from labor, rather the endowing of quiet resources and special energy in labor. The biblical word is shabbath in Hebrew and sabbaton in Greek, an “intermission”, the seventh day of the work-week, given to man as a special gift from a compassionate God. Without this much needed “break” the body, mind and will would eventually break, so Sabbath, the holy rest was a grace and blessing introduced for the sake of fallen man. With the fall of Adam came a curse on the ground and the burden of “toil” and grueling labor “in the sweat of your face” (Genesis 2:17,19). Technological advances from the first iron plow blade to modern automation and robotics have not alleviated the effects of the fall. Paul didn’t soften his words when reinforcingthat truth – “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Though we have epidemic idleness today, on one hand with those desiring to work battling high unemployment rates, and on the other, social deadbeats,unwilling, even refusing to work, draining government welfare funds,the fact is, there is an inherent human desire and need for simple, honest employment.
In life there is no true enjoy- ment without employment. We can cite plenty of cases of people who didn’t survive long after retiring from work because they no longer had a sustaining life purpose. J.O.B. may stand for “Just Over Broke” but a job at least offers self-respect. This article is not written for those who refuse or shirk employment but for those who like Adam do earn a living in the sweat of their face. Is there a healthy balance? When can I finally slow down a little? Should I play sick and take a couple days off? Lord, can you help me meet this deadline – and the next one? Some of the overburdening results from being short-staffed or needing to work a second or third job to make ends meet, but many of our burdens are a matter of choice, the worker, department head or boss has an ego to satisfy, an agenda to cover or a spiritual stronghold that has been labeled workaholism, every bit as enslaving as alcoholism. The body and soul both need an intermission, a Sabbath.
1. SABBATH : A HEOLOGIC PRINCIPLE
Creator-God labored six days in Creation Week then “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work…” (Genesis 2:3) We haven’t space in a short article to study observance of the Sabbath as one of the Ten Commandments, instead let us look at the principle intended. Seventh day, sabbatical rest, Saturday for the Jew, Sunday for most of Christianity, Friday in the Middle-East, whatever day believers set aside, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).There has been endless debate between Moses’ command to not lift so much as a tool on Saturday and Paul’s defense that we aren’t to permit others to judges us regarding observance of “a festival or new moon or sabbaths” (Colossians 2:16). Some set apart a full 24-hours and think every store’s doors should be closed on the Sabbath while others feel they have satisfied the statute by simply showing up for a Sunday morning sermon. Rather than viewing Sabbath as a binding law, it should first be seen as a liberating gift.
The Lord understands the limits of our fallen natures and tiring bodies. A preacher that cracks the whip demanding that his people “labor for the Kingdom” may be guilty of the same error as the taskmasters who exacted the Hebrew children’s daily toll of bricks. Paul said, “I labored more abundantly than” all other apostles, yet he qualified his words, saying, “yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Kingdom needs workers but it needsrested and refreshed workers. Under Law men work but under Grace they worship. Work is perhaps the most practical form of worship, but remember that no amount of work can justify men with God. We live in an urgent hour requiring diligence and at times toil and sweat but Sabbath suggests that God is still in charge and that we don’t have to get everything done this week. Balanced leisure is not a sin. We obey the Lord regarding Sabbath to recharge run down physical, emotional and spiritual batteries and as a testimony that the Lord is first in our lives. Jesus gave wise advice –“Come apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31). In other words, if we don’t come apart we may well fall apart.
2. SABBATH: A THERAPEUTIC PRACTICE
The Sabbath was instituted as physical, emotional and spiritual therapy. Sanctifying a special worship day does not mean cramming it full of church activity, music rehearsals, sermon preparation and religious works. Sabbath is a well of living waters, a time for soaking in His presence. For most religious workers the day of rest is the biggest day of rigor. They work all week at a secular job, then double the load on Sunday. Every pastor needs a day off. If we don’t take more days off we will inevitably have more “off days”. Comedian Dennis Miller said the average American's day planner has fewer holes in it than Ray Charles' dart board (Ray Charles was blind!). Now the average Indian’s calendar is similarly over-scheduled.
This is not to say we should be any less diligent in Gospel work but we certainly must re-prioritize unessential work. The biological clock runs in heptads. Science is well aware that heart-rate and biorhythms slow every seven days. The Jews gave their farmlands rest every seven years. They say the show must go on, but not without a cost.There must be a weekly intermission. A weekly Sabbath breaks up an otherwise severely long month into manageable segments of time. We can manage a week one day at a time and manage a year one week at a time and similarly the soul needs periodic rest breaks throughout the day. Each intermission is given to redirect our thoughts heavenward. In celebrating a worship day we are afforded time to regroup, rearm and reenergize for the battle that lies ahead in the coming week. Playing recklessly with this special day can lead to disastrous ends, loss of energy and motivation, burn-out and in some cases depression and complete systems collapse.
Are we wiser than our Example? After glittering the heavens with billions of stars at the mere flick of His hand, the Creator paused to rest. He didn’t need to but He put everything on hold to illustrate that we need rest. Though we may argue with reality, none of us are omnipotent, we weary over tasks as small as piled up laundry or the prospect of preparing another meal. How then can we effectively deal with tasks as huge as world evangelism without tapping into the fresh Sabbath resources? God took the day off as an example for lesser beings.
3. SABBATH: A THEOCRATIC PROPHECY
Nine generations following Adam, Lamech named his son Noah which means “rest” or “relief” (TLB) – “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD has cursed”
(Genesis 5:29). Lamech’s hope was unique among the many generations listed in Genesis chapter five because all the other references say that so and so begat so and so who begat so and so, but when it comes to Lamech the cadence changes stating that Lamech “begat a son” (vs 28), which of course prophesied the birth of the greater Son, Jesus, who would offer lasting rest and relief. “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
Both Peter and David insinuate that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years (Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8). We stand six days or six-thousand years this side of our first parent Adam. The long-awaited Sabbath must be very near! Every Sunday or seventh day when people of faith gather is a microcosm and prophecy of the final day, the Sabbath, the thousand-year kingdom of Christ. In celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day we declare the Lord’s Coming, proclaimingChrist’s death “till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:29). The momentary refreshing we receive through worship in preparation of the coming week reminds of the eternal rest which we are soon to enjoy. In 1894 James Kirk wrote a favorite hymnal line –“Then the sin and sorrow, pain and death, of this dark world shall cease, in a glorious reign with Jesus of a thousand years of peace. Oh, my soul is groaning, crying for that day of sweet release, when our Jesus shall come back to earth again”.The final Sabbath is nigh; I wonder how many Sundays we have left until the temporal becomes the eternal?