Here’s an all expense paid vacation to the Bahamas. In this envelope is your plane ticket, your hotel and dinner reservations, as well as spa reservations, fishing and scuba diving expeditions, and parasailing trips. Everything you need is right here. Take the envelope, travel to the right airport, hotel, restaurant, and activity center, claim your reservation, and enjoy the trip!
After all, it’s a vacation… And vacations allow a break from the everyday busy-ness of life. No pressing deadlines to haunt you. No exhausting trips to doctor appointments. No stressful child-sitting. No nerve-wracking phone-calls. Just let your mind wander. Let someone else care for you. Do what you want whenever you want. Daydream. Nap. Relax!
Now, you could take this envelope jam-packed with tickets and reservations. You could spend thousands (of your own dollars) on a plane. You could spend hours scouring the internet for the best hotel rooms. You could spend all week calling restaurants and charter boats and day spas. Even though I arranged the entire trip for you, you could try to make all the arrangements for yourself. Then you would be quite stressed, anxious, and exhausted during your entire vacation. In fact, it would not be much of a vacation at all, would it? You would be working to obtain a ‘rest’ that has already been given to you.
It would be foolish to work instead of rest. It is just as foolish to work when you could be Receiving Your Sabbath Rest from God. The time you spend with God— hearing his Word, reading devotions, gathering in worship— is a time where God gives you rest and God comes to you.
In the Old Testament God set aside a special day of rest called the ‘Sabbath Day. Remember, ‘Sabbath’ is a Hebrew word meaning: ‘rest’ or ‘cease from work.’ God instructs: Six days you shall labor and do all your work-- your field work, your construction jobs, running your restaurant, sitting at your work desk, doing tedious household chores and errands— but the seventh day is a Sabbath, a ‘day of rest’ (Deuteronomy 5:13-14). On the seventh day you stop your busy-ness. Why? So that you may have a clear, stress-free mind to recall, remember, and reflect on what God has done for you.
So, ancient Israel stopped working, and the clear mind (that comes from resting) allowed them to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). They could recall the sweat and heat, the aches and pains, the twenty-hour-a-day/seven-days-a-week-labor, the lack of personal freedom. Then they remembered how God pried them out of Egypt with ten plagues and led them into an entirely brand new way of life. As the nation remembered what God did, they could reflect how God did all this out of mercy. This recalling, remembering, and reflecting motivates thanks to their awesome God.
The Pharisees knew God commanded them to Remember Sabbath by keeping it holy (Deuteronomy 5:12). The way to demonstrate respect for the day is to not work.
Jesus’ disciples are walking through a grainfield on a Sabbath day. They’re snagging handfuls of wheat kernels, rubbing them together in their hands, cracking open the chewy husks, and snacking the soft grain. The Pharisees are watching this. In their book, plucking is the same as reaping— as though the disciples are swinging harvest sickles (or jumping into the John Deere to harvest wheat).
They rush up to Jesus, chiding, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” This plucking is not forbidden by God. In fact, God allowed people to walk through grainfields and take just enough to fill the stomach (Deuteronomy 23:25). It was the Pharisees who called this action ‘illegal.’ In fact, the Pharisees added extra layers to God’s commandments. When it came to the Sabbath Day, they added 39 classifications of forbidden work.
There’s a reason they did this. The Pharisees recognized their own sinfulness; they are not perfect. So, they add regulations that they could keep. Yes, they might not love God with all their heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37), but they could obey their 39 different rules of approved work. They could sit in the synagogue for hours. They could put an end to their excessive laboring. They could stay out of the grainfields. Because they could keep their own manmade rules, they felt proud.
That pride soared even higher when they caught others breaking their rules. The Pharisees could not only (1) obey manmade rules, but (2) did something the majority could not. So, they point a finger at the disciples, calling them worse sinners than they. The Pharisees even imply that Jesus failed to be God’s approved Savior because he did not call the disciples’ actions wrong.
You see, the purpose for spending time with God is for God to give you rest. Stop to recall, remember, and reflect on the Savior who brings peace with God. Yet, the Pharisees did not want this spiritual rest. They wanted to work for God’s favor.
Inside each of us is that same workaholic heart. It can take something so beneficial like worship or personal devotions and twist it into something great you do to earn favor with God. It happens when you slip into bed Saturday night and wake up Sunday morning feeling as though worship is some enslaving command.“Well, I gotta go to church. It’s expected. I must do it. I can’t wait until it’s all over then I can get on with my day.” Instead of finding spiritual refreshment, worship becomes a chore.
Fingers points at those neglecting worship. “Well, Dan was baptized and confirmed here, but he hasn’t been to church after confirmation!” What’s the purpose behind that statement? Do you sincerely desire to call back someone neglecting the Word? Or, do you feel that God is happier with you because you came to ‘church’ and you showed up more often than Christmas and Easter service only? Has your worship attendance become some sort of track record you want God to reward?
Do you, like the Pharisees, create and follow manmade rules for worship? Like, kids must be quiet— and if your child is quieter, then you are a better parent. You must wear a suit & tie, a dress or slacks; you must wear a certain standard of clothing— and if you do, you are a more sincere Christian than others. You must sit still and follow along— and if you are actively engaged the entire time, then you had a good day. Do you brag about your Sunday School attendance as though you love God more than those who do not come? Are you holding up Bible class attendance and your daily devotions as badges of honor before God?
You see, you may not condemn people for crushing grain in their hands on the wrong day. Yet, inside each of us beats a heart which wants you to measure and compare yourself to others according to your own manmade rules so that you look morally superior
Do you want to know what Jesus says about that? The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. If you believe you are doing God some great service by worshipping, reading your Bible, and learning God’s Word, you are fooling yourself! The ‘rest’ you get with God is not some meritorious work. It never was (and is) meant for that purpose. To believe it is will rob you of ‘rest’ forever.
You are created first. Then, so that you enjoy peace with God, God gives you opportunities to find physical and spiritual rest. Receive Your Sabbath Rest. Did you catch it? Receive. Not something you earn. Rather, God gives you rest.
You receive rest as you spend time in God’s Word. God does not command you, living after the time of Jesus, to worship only on Saturday. You are free to set aside a specific day for worship (Colossians 2:16-17). You are allowed to work, if needed, on your worship day. Why? Because The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.
The point of the Old Testament Sabbath Day is to spend time with God— and not just for one day, but daily time with God. As your Substitute he does what you (and I) have not.
Jesus is a Son born to the man, Joseph. Jesus has flesh and blood; he is a real, living human being! Since he is born of a woman, he is born under God’s law (Galatians 4:4). That means the Third Commandment is laid on Jesus. Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).
He makes worship his custom. Never does he skip worship because he’d rather be fishing. Never does he groan and gripe that time with God is some chore. Rather, Jesus delights spending time in the Word! He not only listens to God speak, the Word of God is on his lips He preaches to crowds. He teaches. He encourages with the Word. The Lord of the Sabbath dies for your (and my) abuse of the Sabbath. His blameless life satisfies God’s anger forever.
God keeps coming to you with that precious message: “Forgiven!” On Easter Sunday (Sunday!—the day on which you worship!) Jesus hands you eternal rest! Recall how he comes to set you free from guilt. Remember he paid the price with his life. Reflect that now you are set free from sin, set free from work, set free to live in peace! As you recall, remember, and reflect, praise and thanks will gush out.
That is the purpose for diving into God’s Word. It’s all about what God has done for you! As you better grasp how God has, in Jesus, truly forgiven you all your sins, you live a new kind of life. No longer is worship about you doing something for God. No longer are you fighting to look morally superior than others. Rather, you heart lives at rest knowing God has done all the work need to save you!... and to make you his!
Love for worship motivates you to call others to faithful worship. So, look around. Do you recall those who worshipped with you once, but have now grown a little slow? A brother? ...sister? A son? ...daughter? …grandchild? A friend? A neighbor? Why does it hurt you when people stay away from God’s house? Because they see no need to thank God for setting them free from death in hell. They ignore the only One who will give real joy and peace in life. You have experienced real rest in the forgiveness Jesus brings. That makes you qualified to share your experience with others. You may be related to those slow to worship. You may be a friend. You may be an acquaintance. So, pick up the phone and call them. Shoot a text message. Drive to their house. Hold up the real rest given in worship. Your love for the day of rest compels you to do so.
Love for God compels you to spend time with him. So, you carve out time to spend with God. You make daily devotions a priority. Either you read a page in the Meditations booklet. Or you find strength in a chapter of the Bible. Or you grow in Bible Class as you see what God is capable of doing for you. You Receive Your Sabbath Rest because God comes to you.
You could try to earn God’s favor by behaving a certain way. You could measure yourself to a little child. You could make sure to stand up first and speak the loudest. You could stare at your watch so that you do not miss out on devotion-time or Bible Class. You can live quite stressed, anxious, and exhausted trying to be good enough for God. But you would be foolish to work instead of rest.
God hands you his Word so that you may Receive Your Sabbath Rest. The time you spend with God— hearing his Word, reading devotions, gathering in worship— is a time where God gives you rest and God comes to you.