Most of us have heard the story of creation; the story of God creating the world in 6 days. If you haven’t, you can read it in Genesis 1. But, after God had finished creating the world, we read in Genesis 2:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”Genesis 2:1-3
Here we see that God, after all that he created, rested. And more than that, by him resting on that 7th day, he made it holy – made it special, made it set apart. In this blog post, we’re looking at this idea of rest, and especially sabbath rest, which we will look at more later on. But as you read, I want you to remember that this is where sabbath rest came from, from the very creation of the world when God himself rested.
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 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 your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”Deuteronomy 5:12-15
So, you’ve had a long tiring day at work, or school, or church, or wherever you have been. Your feet are hurting, you’re tired. When you arrive home, what is the first thing that you want to do? What makes you feel rested? A cup of tea? Watching a film? Going out for a walk?
A lot of these things help us to feel rested because we don’t have to think too much. We don’t have to do too much physically. We can just switch off and do something that we enjoy.
When we think about God resting, as he did in our Genesis reading earlier, how do you imagine he rested? Do you think he would’ve done the same things that we mentioned earlier? Now, we can’t know how God himself rested, and it would probably be completely different to anything we could imagine. But the point here, is that we are commanded to observe sabbath rest, because he also rested, whatever that looked like.
In our Deuteronomy reading, it says: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” In this reading, we see the reason that God gives us for sabbath rest. He wants us to feel rested, but there is a greater reason as to why we are called to rest.
Firstly, because he has commanded it. We are called to be obedient to God’s commands, not because we think they are a good idea, but simply because God has commanded them and we trust that he knows what is best for us. Secondly, he says that the seventh day is a sabbath TO the Lord. We rest on the sabbath day for God; not for ourselves. It is to bring God glory. But what does that look like?
“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”Mark 2:23-28
So, we’ve looked at where sabbath rest came from: from God’s rest at the creation of the world. And we’ve looked at why we are called to rest: to be obedient to God’s commands and to bring him glory.
So, let’s look at how we should observe sabbath rest. Our Deuteronomy reading earlier told us that we are to keep this day holy; and that we are not to do any work. Now, not doing any work sounds quite restful; but what actually counts as work? Can we do housework? Can we volunteer at events or help out a neighbour?
And this is the problem that we see in our gospel reading. The pharisees, those that interpreted and enforced God’s law at the time, had seen the sabbath is a holy day, and they have seen the command to observe the sabbath – to not do any work. And they wanted to keep these commands, so they set rules themselves about what could and could not be done on the Sabbath day. There were some rules that may be helpful to us today, such as the rule that prohibited cooking, meaning that people prepared their meals the night before. But there were also rules that seem very restrictive, such as not being able to sew, ripping two things in half, cutting an object to a certain size, starting a fire, or even extinguishing a fire.
The pharisees had taken the sabbath, and added their own rules and laws. Jesus reminded them: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. We need to remember these words – that sabbath rest is not just a command from God, it is also a gift from God.
We need to remember all of these things as we look at how we can observe the Sabbath. We want to keep the Sabbath holy; we want to keep God’s command not to work on the Sabbath day. But we don’t want to be legalistic about what we can and cannot do – this is a gift from God, an opportunity to rest that he calls us to take.
Earlier this summer I went to New Wine, a big Christian conference – you can read more about it here. And we were serving on the Pebbles team – working with the 3-4 year olds and helping them to learn about, and to encounter God. Now, for many people this would not be counted as rest, but I found this to actually be a great opportunity for rest, as it is so different to what I am usually doing. It was a rest from the work I am usually doing, and it was been a great opportunity to serve God and focus my attention onto him.
What could observing the Sabbath look like for you? How could you take time to rest, to draw closer to God and to bring him glory?