The command to rest on the Sabbath was given by God to Israel as one of the Ten Commandments. Evidently, God wanted His people to be known as “The People Who Rest.” Sabbath was built into the weekly fabric of Israel, a crucial part of their identity as the people of God – in fact, failure to honor it led to severe consequences. Have you ever wondered why?
I see the Old Testament Sabbath as an early indicator of God’s determination to undo the results of the Fall. Adam was told in Genesis 3 that toil and sweat would be among the consequences of his sin. When God chose “a people for his own possession,” Israel was told that they were to be unique among the nations, and the command to rest was part of that unique identity. Their ability to rest was a direct result of the faithfulness of their all-powerful God whom they trusted to watch over them, provide for them, and protect them. In the same way that a lamb’s ability “to lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2) reflected well on the work of its shepherd, Israel’s ability to rest reflected well on the care of their God, and brought Him glory.
Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), decisively rolling back the effects of the Fall, and He also called His followers to rest. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). While the command to observe a 24-hour Sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament, the provision of rest is clearly important to Christ. This means that God wants His people, in all ages, to be known for their ability to rest! Read that last sentence again – it matters.
Now we get to the obvious question: Are we known for our restfulness? Sadly, I don’t think so. In fact, I find that Christ’s command to come and find rest is one of the few that Christians are proud of breaking. I’m not proud of my anger, or my lust, or my self-centeredness. I’ve never gloated about my lack of discipline. But I have taken subtle pride in my busy-ness, and inability (refusal?) to rest. Sure, I would complain about it – but I’ve also worn it as a badge of honor.
What a shame to love and serve a Savior who says “I will give you rest,” and refuse to accept it. How much better would it be to relax, and to rest in a God who makes rest possible, who loves me not because I’m busy or productive, but just because He delights to love me?
Sabbath is a regular reminder that I don’t have to impress Him, and instead can rest in Him. It calls me to be more Mary and less Martha, sitting contentedly at His feet even when work is clamoring for my attention. It calls me back to a simple, relaxed walk with a God who delights to walk with me, and is best glorified when I delight in Him and His gifts.
I want to be known for my ability to find God-given rest for my soul in Christ, because that brings honor to the One who makes it possible. That is why Sabbath rest matters.