"Rest is one of the most holy things you can do.”
A friend said this to me once years ago. I heard it and held on to it. I absorbed this idea curiously though, almost as if it felt wrong to agree; so I questioned the sentiment.
We live in a culture that celebrates the hustle and grind. It pats us on the back for our busy schedules and involvement in all the things. We are celebrated for achievement. We are told to scale higher and take life to the limit. These are THE virtues, the ones that identify the "winners" and, subsequently, the "losers."
So we buy in and hustle. We grind. We work and strive and scale. We grit our teeth, climb and push for more. Until…..
Loved ones, God put in place a better way. He established it from the very beginning and establishes us through it. He quite literally told us that “rest is one of the most holy things you can do.” He made it the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:8-10:
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
You have six days each week for your ordinary work,
but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.”
In the book of Genesis we read that God finished the work of creation on the sixth day and then rested on the seventh. It says in Genesis 2:2:
“So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”
He blessed that day and declared it holy.
This is foundational to life in step with our Creator; so much so that the Lord made it the Fourth Commandment. Our lives, especially in today's culture, are so full, hurried and work-filled. Yet He invites us into His peace, and we can enter into His rest through this invitation to observe the Sabbath.
However, like humans do, the Sabbath or Shabbat (the Hebrew word for Sabbath) has been interpreted in legalistic terms throughout time. Rules and ceremonial practices have been instituted in observing it and perhaps displacing God's heart for it with the best of intentions to honor and revere Him.
Traditionally during Jewish Shabbat, those who practice it will refrain from certain activities. These are things like using electricity, driving anything with an engine, cooking, baking, writing, conducting business, handling money, etc. This puts the focus on sharing a meal by candlelight with family and close friends. It continues with a day of rest, reading scripture and attending services.
When I was in Israel several years ago, I experienced the impact of Jewish Shabbat. I remember hearing the phrase “Shabbat Shalom,” which means rest and peace, used as a greeting. By this time we were staying in Jerusalem, and a siren went off at sunset on Friday signaling the beginning of the observance. I recall many of the normal functions of our hotel being shut down. Lights off, elevator not working, no service, etc. We had to work around this and find opportunities to explore areas that were not closed. Many open air sights and landmarks were still available to visit.
While the reverence is admirable, we can look to Jesus to point us in the right direction as it pertains to Sabbath.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees and the keepers of the law for doing things outside of their strict rules and lists of forbidden activities on the Sabbath. They condemned others who operated outside their system. Yet Jesus identifies himself as “the Lord of the Sabbath” in Mark 2:23-28:
One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”
Jesus says it here: The Sabbath was established by God for us and He is Lord over it, not man. How beautiful. God put in place rest as one of the most holy things we can do, not to bind us, but to free us and revive us. It was for us.
Profoundly, we see Jesus become the Lord of the Sabbath through His work on the cross, death, and resurrection. Ultimately He brings all of humanity the opportunity to enter into God’s rest and peace. He brings us the fulfillment of Shabbat.
Jesus, the Messiah, finished the work of salvation on Friday, the sixth day. Just as God the father finished the work of creation on the sixth day, Jesus finished the work of the new creation of man on the sixth day.
Then comes the Shabbat - God rested on the seventh day. Jesus rested in the tomb on the seventh day.
Then, in the most esoteric, magnificent way, Shabbat establishes new life.
Jesus establishes new life.
Loved ones, what greater invitation is there? To observe rest as a holy practice. To take hold of Him and who He is. To be established and restored for the days ahead.
Shabbat Shalom. Peace and Rest.