Why Did God Rest?
The “To-Do List” of life never ends: Paint the bedroom – check e-mails – return your voice mail messages – pay the bills – make the sale – finish the brochure – repair the gutter – change the oil – drive Sally to her game – coach Billy’s b-ball team – purchase the birthday gift – vacuum – dust – clean the toilets – do the laundry – go food shopping – cook dinner – clean the kitchen – upgrade computer software – make dentist appointment – prepare a lesson – change diapers – repair the garage door opener – research paper on the Internet – grade tests and on and on…..
Life doesn’t stop on its own. God gets this. He is not surprised by how much stuff we jam into our lives. God knows the stress you feel at work. The pressures you feel at home are very much in God’s mind. Because God loves us so much and understands our needs, he has given us a tool to help us connect more with him, to help refresh us, and to help us gain perspective in the torrent of our to-do lists. It’s a spiritual discipline, an incredible tool that each of us must incorporate in our life in order to grow our connection with God. It’s also a command that holds true for all people and all time. It’s what’s called keeping the Sabbath. Author Eugene Peterson writes, “Nothing less than a command has the power to intervene in the vicious, accelerating, self-perpetuating cycle of faithless and graceless busyness.” This command was given to us in Exodus 20.
Observing the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses. It sits as commandment four and is the longest of the ten. The Hebrew word Sabbath literally means “intermission.” When you attend a Broadway show, there is usually an intermission. It stops the show and begins a break to allow you to stretch your legs, go to the restroom, or grab a snack. The Sabbath is an intermission to stop the to-do list of our lives and cause us to turn our attention to something and Someone else. This intermission, unlike at a Broadway show, is for a full day.
Verse eight begins with the powerful word: remember: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The word ‘remember’ in the text encompasses the whole of who we are. If on my wedding anniversary, I told Amy first thing that morning, “Remember when we got married in Racine, at Calvary Memorial Church? Wow! That was a great and very hot day, wasn’t it?” If that’s all that I did to remember our anniversary, do I even need to spell out how unimpressive and insufficient that really is? No! To remember our anniversary is to get a card, make dinner reservations, line up a babysitter, purchase a gift, and enjoy a romantic evening together. This is what is meant by remembering something by keeping it holy. To keep it holy is all about setting it apart as different from the other six days of the week. That is the idea behind remembering from a Jewish perspective and it sets up how we are to incorporate the Sabbath into our lives today. But first, what is to be remembered?
God: We are to remember God on the Sabbath. We remember that everything we have, even the breath for today, is given to us. We are to remember that he is the Creator and Sustainer of all things.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. -Genesis 1:1
Remember His deliverance: There is another version of this command in Deuteronomy.
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 5:15
God gave them the Sabbath to remember where they had come from. They were slaves in Egypt working seven days a week with no rest, and living under the thumb of a foreign nation. Remember that the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt. God delivered you from bondage and oppression, from non-stop work. Never forget how I love you, how I’ve provided for you, how I delivered you. The remembering then is not just about God the Creator, but also God the Savior. As Israel was saved from the Egyptians by God’s hand, so we are saved from sin and death.
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8
Implicit in the command to take the intermission is the command to work. God has created us to work. Even before Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Genesis and everything was infected by sin, it was clear that they had worked in the Garden of Eden. And even before God created man, his creative act is called work. God works and there is no sin in God, so we are to work. Work is one of those things that we will do on the other side in the new heaven and the new earth.
We don’t have to guess at God’s will when it comes to work. He doesn’t call us to sit around and do nothing with our lives, to eat chips and become a couch potato every day; to retire and sit under a coconut tree. We are called to work. It is part of the divine creative order and it is good. It has been infected by sin and so work has pain and trials but at its core, work is good. Followers of Christ should be the best workers because we understand work is a gift. We should be the best employees, and stay-at-home parents, and volunteers. We should give our very best when we work in our ministries at church, when we work at our place of employment and when we work in our homes and community because God has called us and blessed us with work. When we work with excellence, we mirror God in us.
In order to embrace the joy and potential of the Sabbath, we must be obedient with the other six days of our week. If we are lazy the other days, we short-circuit how God has created our lives to be experienced and the Sabbath doesn’t become what God intended it to be. Be more like God, work and then take an intermission.
It would be so easy for the wealthy and powerful to abuse this command by resting and worshipping themselves, while making others work so that they don’t see a decrease in profits. In ancient cultures, there was a strict division of labor and God was making it clear that the Sabbath was for all people. Here we see a new social order in ancient culture, which emphasized not just the landowners, but all people. Even the animals that were commonly used for farming had to stop and observe the Sabbath. God is the ultimate humanitarian. He cares for all people and all of his creation. S. Truett Cathy, founder of the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A, a mostly southern restaurant with over a thousand locations, has all the restaurants closed on Sunday. He closed his restaurant on Sunday for the core reason of modeling God’s command of work six days and rest for one. As an extremely wealthy man, he could have taken his own Sunday off and gotten the mostly young people to work on Sunday, but he gave the day off to every employee of the company. The Sabbath is for all people.
In Genesis 2:1-3 God has just declared everything very good at the end of six days of creating. The word rested can also be translated ceased. God, who is perfect power, chose to cease to create on the seventh day to step back and observe all the wonder of his handiwork. The activity of creation created the finest path for our lives. For six days we create, we work, we fix, we repair, we sell, and on the seventh, like God, we cease even if we don’t feel like we need it. We do it to model our life after the God who created us and his order. The dignity then of our work and rest comes from that fact that God works, and rests, and we are created in the image of God. We have “God-likeness” in us and the journey of connecting with God, and of following Christ, is becoming more like God. So, like God, we work, and we rest. This makes commandment number four part of what we call a “creation ordinance” – it precedes the Law of Moses wired into the fiber of the creative order.
God blessed this day and made it holy. When God blesses something or someone in the Bible, it prospers, thrives, and produces. When God blesses a church, lives are changed, people come into a relationship with Christ, marriages are healed, children grow to follow God, sins are discarded. When God blessed creation itself, it prospered. It re-produced. When God blesses the Sabbath and we follow the Sabbath commandment in our life, we will experience the blessing of that day in our relationship with God, family, and community. We will experience the blessing in the physical, emotional, and mental benefits. This day was a blessed holy day. Other ancient civilizations divided their time into periods of seven days, but they generally associated the seventh day with misfortune. God called out the people of Israel to be distinct from the culture and blessed the seventh day, making it holy.
By the time of Jesus, the Rabbi had created an enormous number of regulations surrounding the Sabbath. The Sabbath had gone from being a blessing from God to being a heavy burden. Jesus is clear in Mark 2:27 that God gave the Sabbath to man as a gift:
Then He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
God is not impressed by our religious rituals. God is concerned about our hearts, about who we really are. When it came to the Sabbath, Jesus was concerned with worship, mercy, and rest. For the religious leaders, the focus was on following the religious rituals even at the cost of someone suffering. The Mathew 12 version of this story has Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. The religious leaders had greater concern for their customs, philosophies, policies, strategies, and preferences than the needs of God’s greatest act of creation, people.
What if my job requires me to work on the Sabbath? Isn’t the seventh day Saturday? What is work and what is not work? Do I need to spend the day in one big church service?
For most of us as followers of Jesus Christ we recognize that Jesus rose from the dead – on Sunday. The church, starting early in the first century, practiced the Sabbath principle as the Lord’s Day, Sunday, and some on Saturday night. These days are usually still the best for us to practice the Sabbath. Sunday provides a time to worship God together in the service, a key part of the Sabbath. Sunday is still (though quickly eroding) a quieter day than the other six. For some, Sunday doesn’t work. Police, fire personnel, ministers, retail workers, and medical professionals are a few examples of people who work on Sundays. In cases such as these, we are reminded of Jesus’ words that the Sabbath was made for man. With the spirit of Jesus’ teaching in Mark and Matthew, let’s remember that the Sabbath is a necessary gift for us, and not some binding, oppressive religious rule. It’s a ray of sunlight on a cloudy day or cool water after a long run. It’s a warm bed after a long day of being on your feet. It’s joyful community after days of isolated work. It’s laughter after a season of tears.
When we approach the Sabbath as a most precious gift from God, our perspective changes. It’s no longer, “Can I paint, do laundry, watch TV, go shopping, check e-mails, cut the lawn, fix the car, clean out the closet, go hiking, eat out, plant flowers, nap, or go to the movies?” Instead, it becomes, “What should I do that will be different from the working rhythm of the other six days of my life, that will be God-honoring, and provide rejuvenation for me holistically? What will be fuel for my body, mind, and soul?” The Sabbath then becomes the time when we can continually discover what this looks like on our journey of following Christ. Let’s commit to STOP, worship in community, and do whatever it takes to be re-energized by the gift of the Sabbath.
 Peterson, Eugene. “The Pastor’s Sabbath.” Leadership, 1985, pp. 55–56.