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God's Gift of Rest

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     What would you think of someone who continually refused to accept a gift of a substantial sum of money, even though he lived in continual debt and never seemed to have enough funds to make ends meet? You would undoubtedly assume that he was either very foolish and/or very prideful. That must be God’s perspective when He looks at the constant refusal of so many Christians to accept His gift of a Sabbath’s day of rest every week. We constantly moan about being too stressed out and emotionally, spiritually, and physically spent, and never having enough time to spend in prayer, worship, Bible study, and fellowship with God’s people. Yet, while the Lord offers to freely supply that deepest need on the first day of every week, we stubbornly refuse to accept His gift. Surely it must appear both prideful and foolish to our loving Father in heaven.

     The word “sabbath” in Hebrew means to “pause.” After the Lord created the heavens and the earth, Scripture tells us that He “ceased” or “paused” from all His work, proclaiming it all “very good,” and celebrating the work of His hands. The Lord made that day of the week “holy,” which means it was to be set apart to Him from the other days of our week, different in focus and character from the other days of the week, a day of rest and celebration. In the Garden of Eden, while life was still perfect, untainted by sin, three essential elements of life were established: work, marriage, and the Sabbath. When the command to keep the Sabbath was included as one of the Ten Commandments summarizing God’s will in Exodus 20, this reason is given: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath Day and made it holy.” Both before and after the Fall, man was commanded to spend one day in seven resting and celebrating the Lord’s creation and provision.

     After man’s sin and expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Sabbath continued to be an essential part of life in the fallen world, but now with an added importance and focus. When the Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy 5, a new reason is added: “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 commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” Now the Sabbath day was a weekly time to pause and celebrate both God’s works of creation and His works of redemption. We have a holy time to focus on our deliverance from bondage to sin and death. “Rest” in Scripture is a picture of salvation, and chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews show how the Sabbath is a picture of our eternal, spiritual rest in Christ. When Jesus came He didn’t abolish God’s commands to keep the Sabbath; instead, He taught His disciples the true meaning of the Sabbath as God intended it. Notice what He said in Luke 13:16 to his critics when He healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath, “…should not this woman…whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” The Lord’s Day is a day to focus upon and celebrate our freedom from bondage!

     The Sabbath is a gift to us from the Lord! Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man…” Our greatest need and deepest joy as Christians is fellowship with God and His people…i.e. “rest”. So if we are so desperately in need of physical, emotional, and spiritual rest, why do we consistently trample and ignore the beautiful gift of the Sabbath day given to us by God Himself? We fill the day with all the common activities that should belong to the other six days of the week – working at our vocation, working on our lawn or car, shopping, catching up on the bills, etc. And then we wonder why the Lord seems so distant and our hearts are so weary and heavy-laden. “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honorable…then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.” As with a beggar who would refuse a million dollars, our refusal to accept the Lord’s gift of rest begs the question – is it foolishness or is it pride?

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with