June 13, 2020

Good news, good Sabbath – much good has come from the “stay at home” orders from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Many of the men I’ve talked to, in the last 4 weeks, have admitted that there have been some real “soul” and relational benefits from their time in this state of societal separation we’ve been forced into.

They’ve mentioned how they’ve met new neighbors (from 6 feet away!) that lived close by but they never saw. Others have mentioned the quality time at home – for example on man told me this is the first time in many years that everyone is at home AND sharing dinner together. He said they have actually been looking forward to each night’s meal and the interesting topics the come up from their children, which range from elementary school to grad school. Still others have mentioned taking their time to help older neighbors with necessary outdoor chores, that the seniors aren’t able to do, but our men now have to time to see the need, and reach out to meet it.

Finally, many men have told me that they have discovered a new richness in their relationship with God, as they’ve have, both, more time and a daily opportunity to meet with our Lord, in prayer, as they read parts of His Word.

That, my friends, is what I’ve meant by a forced Sabbath; the “stop, look and listen” That God stated and the Bible refers to as “Rest”.

I see this ordeal of isolation, lockdowns and quarantines, from the Coronavirus pandemic, as a God blessed intrusion into our busy lives. In the “stop order” He is using the circumstances of a worldwide pandemic, to “give pause” to His people. It seemed to me that this “forced Sabbath” presented an opportunity for the people of God; to draw nearer to Him. And I encouraged you all to take advantage of it.

But, perhaps, that has been confusing. Perhaps you wondered what I meant and why I thought taking a “Sabbath rest” in full submission to God, was good?

Here is my answer.

  1. First, I am not really worried about “cause” – whether God caused the pandemic, or we did doesn’t matter to me. What matters is a certain truth; that “God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Therefore I leapt immediately to the “good” – to use this lonely time to seek Him; His voice, heart, will and way. I wanted to see if He has anything particular, immediate, imperative for me – and so for you.
  2. Secondly, the concept of “Rest”, in scripture, has several significant connotations as well as a progressive nature of importance. I have listed them below and given the biblical references for your convenience; as you pursue your personal devotional study. A have also given you a simple comment line as to the “connotation and progressive nature” of each one. Here goes…

Genesis 2:1-3

Biblical Reference: Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Progressive revelation and Significant Connotation: This is the first mention of “rest” in scripture and is in the context of God’s prima facie function, perfection and authority over all creation. In the context the word “completed” is used to signify both “finished” and “satisfied”. The import for us is to note that there comes a cessation of work for all – from Creator to the created we are not meant to work endlessly. In God, there comes a moment of freedom from effort with a view to appreciating what has been accomplished in a satisfactory way.

Knowing the story of God and the sub story of man, we can already infer that our relationship with Him will not ever be complete nor satisfying by our endless efforts, Instead the human condition finds its “completeness in God and through the rest He provides. Soon we will see this rest will never be accomplished through the works of the Law but by Go and His redemptive grace, alone.

Exodus 20:8-11

Biblical Reference: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the 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.

Progressive revelation and Significant Connotation: As the “progression” of God’s revelation continues we see the need for “rest” to be codified in law – God’s Holy Law. Due to man’s earlier and now inherited and persistent rebellion (sin) God had to provide a means of atonement, if He was to free (emancipate) and keep man (redeem) in a sanctified relationship. There, at My Sinai, through the service of God’s appointed servant, Moses, the Covenant of Salvation was codified by law.

Its 10 tenets begin with the most profound and significant – there was only one true God, and He demanded total allegiance. Then it continues with further depth and development of that first, tenet with this 2nd tenet – He would not allow any shift of worship to “other” so called gods. 3rd, He would not tolerate any idol but indeed would jealously punish the lawbreakers, severely. Furthermore (4th), He would not allow His Name (character and representative attributes) to be lightly spoken of nor maligned.

Then, to substantiate the faith commitment this would take, by mere mortals, He instituted a law that defied the concept of industry and fruitfulness that He established in Genesis 1:28 and 2:7-17. Instead of a singular focus on “fruitfulness” from work though “cultivation” of the garden, God added an obligation; that man was to stop working for a 24 hour period, once a week. He was not only not to work, but to do so with a mindset of devotion and dependence on God, which the Creator/ Redeemer called “holy”. So God made the Sabbath.      

Leviticus 25:1-7 and 2 Chronicles 36:15-21

Biblical Reference: Leviticus 25:1-7: The Lord then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a Sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest’s after growth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year. All of you shall have the Sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you. Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat.    

2 Chronicles 36: 15 The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; 16 but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy. 17 Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or infirm; He gave them all into his hand. 18 All the articles of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought them all to Babylon. 19 Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles. 20 Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept Sabbath until seventy years were complete.

Progressive revelation and Significant Connotation: In addition to the weekly Sabbath obligation, the Lord instituted two other Sabbath’s that Israel was to adhere to. The 2nd codified Sabbath was a seven year Sabbath where no work was done for an entire year. The Israelites were meant to “live off the land”, trusting that the overage of the previous year’s crops, would be sufficient to provide for their nutritional needs, for an entire year. This took great faith, that their Creator/Redeemer God would oversee this economically adverse law, so that they would not lack for any need. Sound familiar like todays man made work stoppage, except for “essential industries”?!

Unfortunately, Israel did a poor job of keeping the weekly Sabbaths and were constantly reminded of such by the prophets and were occasionally rebuked and chastened by their kings, who sought to uphold the Sabbath law, and pause the matters of commerce each 7th day. Furthermore, Israel essentially never kept the Sabbatical Year obligation. And for that, they paid dearly, with a 70 year hiatus, tucked away in captivity, in a foreign country (Babylon), so that they could not work their land! Jeremiah spoke of this period of time (Jeremiah 29:10) and the writer of 2 Chronicles, referred to the reason for such a punishment in his 36th chapter of the historical account of the kings of Judah. Yes God takes a Sabbath commitment seriously. He does so because its dependent act of faith is a reflection of the faith necessary to be in redemptive, covenant relation to Him.

But there is more and it’s all positive. God didn’t institute the Sabbath in order to hold a hammer to our head, to scare us into a sacred dependence. He did so for two significant, positive, man-blessing reasons.

The first is explained next. It’s found in many places in scripture but I shall pick just one, a New Testament passage which summarizes the positive effects of this sacred observance, most succinctly.

Luke 6:1-11

Biblical Reference: Now it happened that He was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath; and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grain. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?” And He was saying to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” 10 After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did so; and his hand was restored. 11 But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Progressive revelation and Significant Connotation: Let me make this simple. Now that we have been fully briefed on the historical, legal, redemptive and sacred basis for this Sabbath, “tenet”, we are ready to appreciate the blessing God intended by the “sanctified day of rest”. God instituted the Sabbath for working man for two essential reasons, for health and healing.

First, as we see in the passages above, Jesus was accosted by the religious authorities, who legalistically accused Him of violated the “no work” clause of the Sabbath tenet (v1-5). But He masterfully explains that food, nutrition; “health” trumps asceticism – which is how the Jews has reinterpreted and thereby, misrepresented the intent of the Sabbath law.

Second, in the same, vein, we see Him explain to the Legalistic religious authorities, that Sabbath law was intended for “healing”, not mere adherence to law (v6-11).

And so it is today. We all need health and healing. Certainly physical rest provides a measure of that. But there is more. We humans are a complex combination of emotions, relationships, material acquisitions, mission responsibilities, life expectations as well as disappointments. We need health and healing on every level, which is exactly what rest provides for us – a time to “stop, look and listen” – so God is allowed time to renew us with health and healing. For when we do, first we get reacquainted with the Creator/Redeemer, who will, secondly, give us what we need, nutritionally and miraculously, to (3rd) attend to our varied responsibilities and to (4th) live in peace with the same; including our own psyche, emotions, wills, desires, dreams, expectation, disappointments and, occasional sense of loneliness.

In rest we find we are not alone. Instead we find we are with God who provides all things, perfectly and sufficiently; “according to His riches, in glory, in Christ Jesus”.

And that brings us to the final blessing; the most positive provision of the Sabbath

Hebrews 4:1-11

Biblical Reference: Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,

“As I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest,”

although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before,

“Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. 11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

Progressive revelation and Significant Connotation:    Well, we’ve come to the end of our search for meaning. What is the meaning of the Sabbath? Its meaning is to find our rest with God through His Son Jesus Christ. This rest is exactly what the Apostle Paul was trying to get across to all the legalists in his day; when he penned the impregnable words of Ephesians 2:8, 9…

for by grace (a free gift) you are saved (redeemed to be kept and free with God) through faith (to believe God will do what you cannot) and it is not of yourselves (because your best effort is ALWAYS insufficient in matters of self-redemption), it is the gift of God (unmerited favor); not a result of works (working at being self- dependently-righteous), that no one should boast”.

YES! We find our redemptive rest in Jesus. And to signify that faith, as an act of thankful worship to God and a bold testimony to our neighbors, we take a Sabbath rest each week. In that rest we allow God to refresh and renew us, spiritually, emotionally, physically, intellectually, relationally and economically; so we can be healed, and be healthy for the days of work, beside our Creator/redeemer, that He has “appointed” for us.

Moses tried and failed to serve God in covenant faithfulness; perfectly. Jesus succeeded! Now it’s our turn to be God’s faithful servant and testimony to Jesus and the New Covenant. We can do this successfully, men, to the degree that we “rest” in Him.