It is in the nature of man to struggle. We work and work to try and find rest but it never seems to come. We are consumed with getting to that next goal because things will just be better if we can get _____________. Fill in the blank with anything in life… a diploma, a spouse, a car, a job, a promotion, retirement, etc. But no matter where we are there’s just more life and no rest.
This is part of our fallen nature. It just doesn’t affect us physically, it also affects us spiritually. All religions in the world focus on what you have to do to obtain God’s favor. More work. More unrest. But Christianity is the only religion in the world which is more about what God did to come to you than what you must do to get to Him. This is a study on how we can find rest.In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days. Then he rested on the 7th. This is the first model God uses to signify rest. Think about this. How tired do you think God was on the 7th day? He’s God. He spoke those things into existence. It didn’t exhaust all His energy to do so. He chose to rest to make a point.
The numbers here are important. 6 is constantly used in scripture to indicate incompleteness, imperfection, and unrest. 7 however represents completeness, perfection, comfort, and rest. Although all of creation was declared “good” when God made it, we fouled it up when we chose to lean on our own understanding. When Adam fell, so did creation. God then declares the earth cursed and we have been struggling to find rest ever since. But God left that symbol of the 7th day there. Rest will one day available…
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
-Romans 8:19-23, ESV
To symbolize this God commanded us to rest. Just like all law, this command is there for our benefit as humans, to show us our inadequacy in our capabilities to serve, and to bring us unto faith in Jesus. When the law was brought down it had to include everything man needed to reach God. God’s comfort and rest for our souls was coming, but needed to be symbolized in a physical way for man to understand. So God makes man rest with Him one day a week.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and 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.
-Exodus 20:8-11, ESV
This is not unlike how we treat our children. “It’s nap time! Come lay down and go to sleep.” Kindergarten classes do this as well. They set aside a time to force rest because the child is too stubborn to rest on his own. Otherwise the kids would wear themselves out and fall asleep at inopportune times. This is what God is doing. He’s exampling rest with Him and forcing the time table so man will do it. But like everything else, man was more focused on the physical requirements than the reason. Therefore in their hearts they still didn’t rest because they were constantly worrying and arguing about what constituted “work” on the Sabbath.
Why Rest on the Sabbath? Reason 1
Because God rested. That’s what it says in Exodus 20. This implies that he wants to rest with man. Man has separated himself from God and cannot be reconciled through his own righteousness and the Sabbath was the closest way available to share rest and comfort man at the time. Look at how Jesus responds to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. He’s so upset with them for heartless service, for their hypocrisy, for their focus on form over function. But at the end of this conversation, look what he says. I can hear the pain in our savior’s voice as he declares:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” -Matthew 23:37 ESV
He wants to take them from their legal service and hold them as children, but their stubbornness prevents it. Like the child shouting, “I’m not sleepy! I don’t wanna nap!”
Why Rest on the Sabbath? Reason 2
When the children of Israel are finally about to enter into the promised land, this command to rest on the Sabbath is restated, but with a little bit of a twist. The reason for it seems just a little different now.
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor 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, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
-Deuteronomy 5:12-15, ESV
Notice the end there says the reason is because God delivered them from Egypt. The meaning shifts slightly from just resting with God to resting in His deliverance. Deliverance is rest. As a slave there was work and oppression but when God delivered them from it, that liberty brought about a peace… rest. Even though things were tough in the wilderness, they weren’t slaves. God pulled them out of that bondage by grace and grace alone. They did nothing to earn that rest. This is partly why they didn’t get it. Rest is perceived by us as something we strive for in order to obtain, not something given to us.
The reason they are being reminded of how rest is deliverance at this point is because it is about to happen again. They are being delivered out of the bondage of the wilderness into God’s rest of the Promised Land. This equivalence is related to us in the Psalms:
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” - Psalms 95:7-11 ESV
This is talking about the spies who had a chance a generation ago to enter the Promised Land but because they did not see the “rest” there, they rebelled. Again like children complaining about nap time. God was so angry at their refusal to rest with Him, he made them wander until almost all of them were dead. Only their children entered the rest.
The writer of Hebrews examines this Psalm and begins to equate unrest with unbelief. It could’ve been had if only they would’ve had faith that rest was already in their grasp, but all they saw was more work and struggles.
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. -Hebrews 3:16-19 ESV
Why Rest on the Sabbath? Reason 3
There is yet another statement in the Torah about why rest is required on the Sabbath, it is in this statement where symbol becomes reality.
“You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.’” -Exodus 31:13 ESV
This time it is said the reason is so we may know that the Lord sanctifies us… makes us holy… sets us apart. In reality this is the culmination of the previous two reasons. God wants to rest with us. God delivers us. When we are delivered from bondage and come into rest with Him, we are made holy. We don’t make ourselves holy. That would require work beyond our ability to maintain and hence we would be unable to ever rest. Instead someone else did all the work to be holy and took all of our punishment for our uncleanness. THIS made us holy. This sanctifies us. Finally, we can really rest!
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. -Romans 5:19, ESV
Listen to Jesus when He explains rest to us:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
-Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
Let’s not confuse rest with an easy life. This is rest for our souls. No matter what earthly hardships we have, we are no longer in bondage therefore the struggles mean nothing. We can rest because we are finally with Him. The curtain in the Temple is removed and we are with him NOW. Not just some day in heaven. Heaven is not the goal, but just another place where we can rest with Him better.
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest… -Hebrews 4:1-3a ESV
Remember, the recipients of this letter are primarily Hebrew Christians. So they should have rest. But he says there is a fear that they haven’t reached it yet. This becomes more apparently later in the Hebrew letter when we see these people are slipping back into legalism. They did not have rest because they were enslaving themselves again into bondage just like the Galatians (Galatians 5:1).
Then the writer of Hebrews makes a startling connection as he brings the symbol of Sabbath into the fullness of Christ. Remember Jesus said he didn’t come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. This includes Sabbath. He fulfilled it because he is now our rest. We don’t have to use the model of rest anymore because we have the real thing!
, 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 somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience .”
-Hebrews 4:3b-11 ESV
He says that just like before when God set aside a day to rest, He now sets aside another day… TODAY. Not Saturday or Sunday… today… everyday is a Sabbath rest in Jesus. He says let us rest from our works as God did His.
Over and over the New Testament calls us to feel secure in our salvation. Words like peace, joy, happiness, blessed, rejoice, and rest abound for the Christian. A couple of chapters later, the writer of Hebrews tells us, “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” (Hebrews 6:17-19)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 ESV)
Are you resting in today’s ultimate Sabbath? Are you resting in Jesus Christ? Or are you struggling in bondage and striving in unrest for a goal you will never obtain? We sing an old hymn called Blessed Assurance. Have you ever thought about the powerful joy and comfort found in those lyrics?
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Savior am happy and blessed,
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with his goodness, lost in his love.
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.
Come find rest for your souls…