Sunday, October 11, 2015

"The Gift of My Rest" A Fictional Letter of Sabbath Theology

In the Summer of 2000, when I was first preaching through the 10 Commandments, I really struggled to develop both my theology of the 4th commandment and my sermon once I had come to some conclusions. It had gotten to be Saturday at 2:30, and I had a sermon with 29 points that would have lost everyone!
So, I went for a walk (with my lawnmower), and prayed for help to formulate a message that would honor the Scriptures and help my flock. This fictional* letter from God was my answer...

Dear Matt,

I’m glad you asked. Thank you for coming to Me and asking Me what I would like to say to My people through you on Sunday morning. That’s a good question that you should be asking Me each and every week.

Matt, tell My people this: Tell them I love them and tell them to accept the gift of My rest.

Matt, when I created the world: the stars, The Milky Way, your Sun, when I created the Earth, every inch of dirt that you see, and every mountain that you’ll never climb, and every cubic inch of lava inside the Earth, and when I created the sea, every gallon of salty water and every fish and dolphin and algae and whale and shark in it. When I created everything that exists in Creation, I spent 6 days on it. Your ancestors Adam and Eve came on day 6. But on Day 7, I rested.

I didn’t need to rest, Matt. I rested to set aside a special time, a holy, sacred time, to enjoy Myself and all that I had created. I was creating something else by ceasing creating–I was creating the concept of rest. I, who never have to sleep, never grow weary, never have to relax–I’m God! I took a break from creating and rested. That last day I blessed, and made it a special day of enjoyment of Myself and My work.

Why do you think I was doing that, Matt? I was doing it to set out an example, a pattern for My people–to rest. O, I made work, too. And that’s awesome. It’s one of My better creations. My people should all work–put their hands and feet and brains to useful tasks. But I also created REST for them, rest from work and rest for the enjoyment of Me. I’m worth it! And that day that I broke from My creative work stands forever as a testimony of My value–I’m so awesome that I would stop and marvel and enjoy Myself and what I’ve done for a whole day.

Matt, tell My people on Sunday, that I not only created but rested; and therefore consecrated a day as an example of that rest for you to follow. Tell them that this is a gift from the beginning of the world for them to enjoy. (Gen 2:1-3)

Matt, you know that the Hebrew word to cease labor or to rest is “Sabbath.” And because I wanted My people to enjoy My gift of rest, I wrote it into law for the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15) They needed a day that would be a marker for them–a weekly, spiritual reminder of My rest. I told them to remember it. To not forget it. To build it into their weeks, 1-2-3-4-5-6-Sabbath. 1-2-3-4-5-6-Sabbath. I wanted them to burn it into their minds and hearts that they need My rest. Rest from work and rest for Me.

That’s why I called it on that day, “a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” TO the LORD your God. This was to be a God-Day. To rest from labor and work and to spend their precious time worshiping Me.

Matt, I know human-beings. I know how forgetful you are in your fallen-state. You need reminders. I made the Sabbath a law for Israel because they could get to thinking that all that they have comes from their work. You do that, too. You think that because you have food in the fridge, it means that you’ve done something to earn it. But, Matt, who made your hands? Who made your feet? Who gave you energy to work? Who got you your job? Who gives you the beating heart and the breathing lung and the loud voice to do your work? Everything you have comes from Me–not from your work! That’s why I told Israel on the day we made our covenant in the wilderness that they should rest once a week–to remind them who really works in this relationship. If I say so, they will not have any more money or food or success even if they work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They need to recognize that ultimately–I provide. Not you. (cf. the spiritual lessons of Exodus 16.) That’s why they need to accept the gift of My rest.

I know you need reminders, Matt. Since the Fall, you always have. That’s why when I re-wrote the 10 Commandments into Deuteronomy, I stressed that the Sabbath exists to remember that Israel was formerly a slave in Egypt and that I, I alone, brought them out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. (Deut. 5:15) The Sabbath existed for Israel as a reminder that I had saved them–and not themselves. Their work did not rescue them from Egypt. I did. And I had them set aside a day to ponder that reality.

Matt, I saved you, too. You could have worked and worked and worked for your salvation forever and ever and never earned it. Your fallen condition was too far gone to restore by your work. You are totally depraved. But, I chose you. And I killed My Son for you. And I got the gospel to you. And I caused you to believe it. And I am sanctifying you and saving you and making you holy, like Me and like My Son. That’s part of the rest here, Matt. Tell My people, that they can cease striving to gain My approval–it will never work. Tell your congregation, that they must accept My gift of rest. Rest from working for their salvation, and rest for finding it in Me and Me ALONE.

This is important, Matt. It’s very, very important. I established the death-penalty for those who broke the Sabbath in Israel under My Old Covenant. (Ex. 31:14) It’s that important. Tell the congregation at Lanse, that My rest is not to be ignored. They need it. They don’t just need physical rest every night and every 7 days; they need spiritual rest. Rest from work and rest for Me.

Tell them to delight in Me, Matt. That’s a large, often forgotten part of what it means to accept My rest. To Sabbathize. That’s what I told the people in Isaiah’s day. They had ignored My Sabbath Day.  They were doing whatever they pleased, and not just work, but evil on My day! They were prostituting themselves with pagan idols and searching for happiness and joy in everything else but Me. That’s why I said through My prophet, “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight (did you catch that Matt? Resting for Me is a delight!) If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your JOY in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. My mouth has said it!” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

Tell them that accepting My rest means enjoying Me. Finding your joy in Me. Ultimate happiness is available to those who rest on Me. That’s what Sabbath is all about.

O, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law got it all mixed up. They focused on the cessation of work, what is work and what isn’t work–the outside of the commandment and missed the gift of rest that I was giving!

Matt, My Son Jesus had to correct them on that. When he would heal someone on the Sabbath, they got all upset (see for example Matt 12, John 5). Upset about nothing! The Sabbath was a gift for mankind. A gift they must not ignore, but a gift nonetheless. The day was supposed to signify rest, rest from work and rest for Me. But they had it turned around. They had made it work to rest! And Jesus had to tell them that it WAS lawful to heal on the Sabbath and to do good works, works of mercy and love. That out of the overflow of your rest in me should come acts of love. Rest from work and rest for Me and rest resulting in acts of love. And My Son should know. After all, He is Lord of the Sabbath, Ruler of Rest.

It’s not about what you can’t do on the Sabbath Day. It’s about what you can! Rest for Me and rest for your fellow man in acts of love. Rest is a gift. That’s the point. I am giving away blessings to those who will trust in Me. Salvation and provision and joy and the ability to love others. But you have to come and accept the gift. It was made for you, not the other way around.

Matt, tell them that’s why My Son issued that precious invitation: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you (trust Me, become related to Me intimately) and learn from Me (join My school of discipleship) for I am gentle and humble of heart (I won’t hurt you), and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:28-29, see also v.30)

My Son was issuing My invitation to accept My gift of rest. Tell the people of the West Branch Area that that Sabbath gift is still available to whoever will receive and follow Him by faith. Accept the gift of My rest. I hold it out to you. Rest from work and rest for Me.

Tell them that My Son is the total embodiment of the Sabbath principle. Now that He’s come and died for the redeemed and been resurrected for My glory and His, now the Sabbath is no longer commanded as a Day. Now it’s a person! The principle of rest from your work and rest for Me continues forever. But the command to hallow one day in seven is no more. It is subsumed, like the ceremonial sacrifices and the clean and unclean food laws into the New Covenant. As I said through My servant Paul, the Sabbath was a shadow of the Rest to come in Jesus. (Col. 2:16-17, see also Galatians 4:10)

Some of My people will want to celebrate My Son’s Resurrection with a whole day given to rest and worship and meditation and prayer and fasting and enjoying Me. That’s a great idea. My holy apostles started that pattern of Sunday worship. Never let My people forget their continued obligation and privilege to meet to worship, receive instruction, fellowship with other believers, eat My memorial meal, and give of their resources in offering (John 20:1, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). But that is not the Sabbath. Every day in Jesus is now the Sabbath. Every day, I call you to accept the gift of my rest. Rest from thinking that you provide for yourself. Rest from thinking that you can save yourself. Rest from striving after other, lesser things to give you true and lasting joy. And rest in Me. Be still and know that I am God. (Ps. 46:10)

Don’t quibble over days, Matt. And don’t let the congregation do it, either. As I said through Paul to the Roman believers, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind–and do it as to the Lord” (Romans 14:5, see vv.6-8, too)

Don’t get either lazy or legalistic. Lazy in never resting in this way or legalistic in mandating for others how to rest and how not to rest. Tell My people that the point is accepting the gift of my rest and resting in Me.

One more thing, Matt. The fullest enjoyment of My rest is still to come. O, yes, it does get even better–in Me! That’s what I meant when I said in Hebrews, “There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9) I wasn’t talking about a specific Day of 24 hours. I meant the full enjoyment of heaven–final salvation, where all striving against evil and striving with tired muscles at work and striving to figure out life and striving to make a living and striving to find joy anywhere else--where all that striving is over...and My rest and refreshment is all that you experience and enjoy forever. The refreshment of heaven! I make all things NEW and refreshing! (Revelation 21:5)

Many will not enjoy that rest, Matt. Many will be disobedient to My Gospel. Many will do nothing to enter into that rest because of the hardness of their unbelieving hearts. Don’t be like those who fell in the wilderness!

Exhort the people gathered at Lanse on Sunday to enter into My rest by FAITH. To put their full confidence in Me and Me alone. To cease their striving after the wind and rest in Me. Because if they live their lives like that now, they will enjoy My rest forever.

The rest that I began after I put you in the cradle of Eden will continue forever and ever and ever and ever if you trust in Me. Hold firmly to that confidence you had at first and you will have an eternal Sabbath. That’s what I want for My people.

Tell them that, Matt. Tell them I love them and to accept and live by the gift of My rest.

Sincerely and for the Glory of My Name,
The Lord Your God

*I stress that this is a work of fiction not a vision, prophecy, or revelation. It was just my attempt to summarize what God has said in His Word and apply it directly in the form of a letter. Please check out the verses cited to see what God has actually said.

The sermon version was originally preached on July 2, 2000, and the original blog version of this letter was posted on here on May 15, 2005.