Searching for Rest, Part 1
We have been raised in a society that is more hurried than ever before. Fifty years ago, experts predicted that rising technology would reduce and eventually eliminate our need to work. But it seems that, at least for many of us, we’ve only found more work to do. A fascinating article in The Atlantic, published in February 2019, describes American’s obsession with this “Workism.” The rich, particularly, who could most afford to take leisure, are working more than ever before. It’s as if we’ve made a religion out of work—and the end result of all this extra work? It’s making us miserable!
Enter COVID-19 over the past few months. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs. What of those who haven’t lost their jobs? A recent article I read showed that, for workers who are able to continue working from home, the workday has increased by almost 40%. That’s right—all that time saved from commuting? It’s not free time. It’s time spent working!
And for those who’ve lost their jobs, it’s not just a stress-free vacation. A large share of those who are unemployed are those who can least afford it. Thankfully in this country, there has been a lot of assistance through government stimulus and unemployment, but even that can’t make up for the many livelihoods that may be lost for good. Hard times are almost certain to come, and it’s hard to find rest in impending trouble!
That’s not to mention the very real threat from the virus itself. It’s not hard to imagine how all this stress has exacerbated the racial and political tensions that have already divided our nation.
Suffice it to say, we as humans are desperately in need of something. We’re searching for something we aren’t finding—we’re searching for rest! We’re searching for permanence, for security, for meaning in life. Searching for relief from the constant merry-go-round of work and deadlines and Zoom meetings and emails and social media. We’re searching for rest. But where will we find it?
Well, I thought this would be a good place to start—in a beautiful, secluded spot, away from the busyness of life. Come with me as we open our Bibles, and let’s see what God has to say about rest.
According to Genesis, God created this world as a perfect paradise in only six days. On that sixth day, he created Adam and Eve, and placed them in the garden of Eden. There wasn’t a merry-go-round of toil. Adam and Eve didn’t have any student loans, no mortgage on their garden plot. In fact, Adam’s first job was more like a fun activity—to name the animals, and then lay down for a quick surgical operation, which resulted in the creation of his wife, Eve. Together, they could enjoy Eden as their permanent and forever home.
But then, God did something very special. As a sign of His completed work of creation, Genesis 2:2-3 records:
Gen 2:2 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
Gen 2:3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
So God created the world, he created mankind and gave him a work and purpose in life. But then, as the crowning act of creation, in His love, he created the Sabbath rest. The pair were perfectly happy—perfectly content and secure in their forever home. Jesus says in Mark 2:27-28:
“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
He created the Sabbath, not for Himself, but as a special gift to humankind. A time set apart from daily toil—a special time of communion and fellowship between mankind and his Creator. A symbol of the completed work of creation.
Sadly, Adam and Eve choose to sin, and as a result, sin and misery came into the world. To this day, we still face the consequences of their sad choice. Violence, disease, and death are all the result of sin. Every day, we are reminded again that we have lost the rest and peace that was in our Eden home.
So, Adam and Eve had to leave their forever home in the garden of Eden, and through sweat and pain they had to toil for their daily bread. But every week, they still had a beautiful reminder—a sweet memory of their forfeited home. Every seventh day, as the shades of afternoon gave way to evening, and the Sabbath hours opened, they would bow in worship and remember the rest of Eden. They would bring their offerings and present them to the Lord at the gate of Eden, and remember the rest that they had lost, and the promise that one day, the Seed of the woman would crush the head of that serpent, and again restore the rest of Eden to the human race.
At the flood, God took the garden of Eden away from the earth, to a special place in heaven to be preserved until it could be restored to mankind. But Eden wasn’t entirely gone—God still had a plan, and he still had a rest for his people in the meantime. Eventually, God called Abraham to come out from his family, and promised to give his descendants a permanent inheritance—a home—in the land of Canaan. Many years passed, and Abraham’s offspring found themselves enslaved in the land of Egypt. But although His people had forgotten His promises, His mercy, and His rest, God had not forgotten. God, like a loving father, determined to give people rest, so he sent Moses to Pharaoh with the message in Exodus 5:1: “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.”
Pharaoh retorts, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? … Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people from their work? Get back to your labor.” And Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are many now, and you make them rest from their labor!”
Yes, God would restore the weekly rest that He had given to mankind since the garden of Eden. He would also deliver the Israelites forever from their slavery in Egypt, and bring them to their permanent home—to the rest He had promised to Abraham so many years before. But first, they had some lessons to learn. Only the wilderness wanderings would eventually bring them to this land of rest.
One of the themes that emerges early on in the wilderness wanderings is the restoration of the weekly Sabbath. When the food supplies run out, God miraculously provides manna to the children of Israel. But the manna falls only on six days of the week, and on the Sabbath day, none falls. During the six days, if any manna is saved over, it rots, but manna that’s saved from the sixth day until the Sabbath stays fresh.
In the Ten Commandments, spoken from Mt. Sinai, God restores the Sabbath at the center of His moral law. It’s not a new institution, as we have seen, and He even prefaces the command not as a new injunction, but as a reminder. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…”
In fact, let’s turn there and read it now:
Exod 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Exod 20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
Exod 20:10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
Exod 20:11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
So God restores this day of rest—a weekly reminder of God’s creation and claim upon each of His followers. A reminder of the perfect rest that Adam and Eve had forfeited in creation.
I think verse 10, especially, gets overlooked. Yes, Jesus says “the Sabbath was made for man,” but that doesn’t mean the Sabbath was made just for me. You see, it’s not enough for me to just sit down and take the day off. The Sabbath is a day for everyone—and for me to truly keep it, I have to allow everyone that I have authority over, everyone who may be serving me in some way, to also rest at the same time. Son or daughter, servant, the strangers, and even the non-human animals. The Sabbath is for them, as well. When the commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy 5, the reason is given explicitly: “that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.”
And the commandment in Deuteronomy points back, not just to creation, but to the deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery and bondage. The Sabbath is a celebration of deliverance—yes deliverance for Israel, but as will see, it’s also a celebration of an even greater deliverance for all mankind.
I’m recording this message today, Friday, June 19th. Today our country is celebrating the oldest national holiday to commemorate the ending of slavery. The Israelites didn’t celebrate “Juneteenth,” but a yearly passover. And the weekly Sabbath came to symbolize, not just God’s rest from creation, but the rest and deliverance from slavery and oppression as well.
It is often the case that in a revolution, the oppressed become the oppressors. But as the children of Israel kept the Sabbath, all those whom they might have opportunity to oppress would, at least once a week, be given relief. Six days they might carry the heavy burdens, but on the seventh, the servant was as his master—at rest. It reminded all that we are created in God’s image, and that it is our God-given duty to respect and honor the dignity of our fellow humankind, regardless of their gender, race or position in this life.
What’s interesting is how this principle of Sabbath keeping becomes the foundation of an economy built to foster and insure social justice, not just for Israel, but for all who should come into contact with the Israelites. The Sabbath command includes family, servants, strangers, and even animals. This same principle was extended in the ceremonial law. Every seven years, the land was given a rest, and anything that grew in the land went to the support of the poor. And after 49 years (seven times seven), the fiftieth year was to be the year of Jubilee.
In the year of Jubilee, every piece of land that was sold (or more technically leased) would revert back to its original family owner, and every slave would go free. It was like a great economic “reset.” And it was based on a pattern similar to the weekly Sabbath, going back all the way to the garden of Eden. I have to wonder how many economic troubles would be solved in our world today, if we followed a similar plan!
So God restored the weekly rest to the children of Israel, but there was more. Remember, God had promised Abraham that his descendants would have a permanent dwelling—a place of rest—to call their own. But as yet, they were still wandering in the wilderness. They had come to the borders of the promised land, but they had rebelled and turned back to the wilderness, so God had allowed them to wander for forty years. They could not enter, but the promised still remained, and soon Joshua would lead this next generation of Israel into the promised land.
Moses tells how God himself will give Israel a place of rest, and will choose a place to dwell in the midst of His people. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 12:
9 “for as yet you have not come to the rest5 and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. 10 “But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, 11 “then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide.
The children of Israel did enter that land of promise. God worked mightily on their behalf, and in fact the rest of the Old Testament tells this history of God’s deal with Israel—of good times and bad times, faithfulness and rebellion. But through it all, God’s faithful people continued to look, by faith, to God’s rest. Now there were two great symbols of this rest—the Sabbath which descended from creation, and the temple in Jerusalem—the place where God had chosen to place His name. In that temple was the ark of the covenant—the symbol of the promise God had made with His people, and in that ark were the Ten Commandments—the transcription of God’s law and character.
It’s fascinating to see how this thread of “rest” flows through the narrative of the Bible: both as a rest in time—a pause from work, and a rest in space—a place to call home. Both came from God, and together provide the unique opportunity for communion with our creator.
Sadly, this “rest” that was the home of Israel and the dwelling place of God, was soon interrupted because of the unfaithfulness of Israel. Israel forgot got, they failed to honor the Sabbath, and worshiped idols on every hill, instead of worshiping God in Jerusalem.
Eventually, Israel and Judah were led into captivity, in a land far away. Yet for the faithful few—those who would honor God’s rest—God revealed Himself in a powerful way. Among those were the prophet Daniel and his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. We know the story of how Daniel and his friends stood faithful in their youth, refusing even to eat the king’s meat. We see the three worthies standing tall on the plain of Dura, while all around bowed down to the heathen idol. And in his old age, we see Daniel still faithfully praying—opening his window toward Jerusalem, in honor of the place where the God of Heaven had promised Israel true rest. As a result of his faithfulness, Daniel had to face the lions den, but still God preserved him. Whether in his royal apartment, or in the lions den, He could look to God’s promise and turn his face in faith toward God’s promise—even though the temple lay in ruins far beyond the horizon.
In my study this week, this is one fact that really jumped out at me—how honoring the place where God had chosen for His name, for Daniel, was connected to the rest that God promised to Israel through Moses.
In answer to Daniel’s prayer, God not only saved him from the den of lions, but also revealed to him the One who would come and fulfill yet another promise of rest. In that beautiful prophecy of Daniel 9, the angel revealed that within 70 weeks, or 490 years, the promised Messiah would come to bring rest, not just to Israel, but to all who should believe on His name.
And, in the fullness of time, Jesus came. In him comes the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Moses and Daniel. Next week, we will look into this even deeper. We’ll see how the writer of Hebrews draws out this narrative of rest, bringing God’s true Sabbath into the heart of the New Testament teaching of Christ.
In closing, I would submit to you, my friends, that this is the answer that you and I need, more than anything else. The world and yes, even the church today, is troubled on every side. Longing, yes searching, for rest. In a world where everyone is grasping for something solid to cling to, Christ says, “I am the rock.” In a world where we are increasingly isolated from everyone else, Jesus says, “I will abide with you.” And in a world that is busier than ever before, Jesus says:
Matt 11:28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Matt 11:29 “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.
My friend, I want to encourage you: I don’t know what all trials you might be facing. No doubt, the coronavirus has impacted your life, as it has impacted the lives of nearly everyone around the world. It’s tempting to worry, to stress. Like me, you may be trying to “burn the candle at both ends.” You may be concerned as we see this world spinning out of control. But let’s not focus on that. Take some time apart. Take some time to stop, to listen, to read God’s word, and to rest.
Modern research has confirmed that, if we don’t take time to rest, we soon burn out. Those who take time off—who take a break from regular work to focus on something else, take a vacation, or spend time with family, then come back to work refreshed and more productive than before.
It makes me think, friends, that the gift God gave mankind in the very beginning, is still a gift for us today. No, we can’t have the garden of Eden, at least not yet, but we can have a little taste of it—in the special time of rest God set aside for you and for me. What if we made the commitment, no matter how busy we are, to set aside that time for Him? Not just to say that we’re Christians, or to talk about abiding in Christ. Not just an hour to tune into church on the TV or the Internet, but a whole day to set aside, for rest from our weekly toil, and for communion with God.
If we did this, my friends, I believe we just might find the answer that millions are searching for, but few have yet found. I believe that in this Sabbath rest lies the key to a deeper relationship with God, and finding peace and assurance as we face the last days of this earth’s history!
There’s so much more we could study on this subject, but well have to save the rest for next week. In the meantime, I want to encourage you to get out your Bible and read the promises of God’s rest. Pray, and ask God for peace and assurance in this world of chaos. And commit to searching for and experiencing God’s true rest.