I’m sitting right now relaxing on my back patio with a cup of diet Dr. Pepper in hand. I’m soaking up the view and smells of my backyard. I’m eying my various fruit trees, some loaded with peaches, apples and plums, taking in the aroma of freshly cut grass, and looking at my recently built shed, a metal shed.
If you have ever put up a metal shed, you know where I am going with this. I had budgeted one day of about 10 hours to get this thing built. Wrong! It ended up taking my father-in-law and me over 17 hours to put it up! Frustrating? Very. I still have more work to do on it – putting up shelves and moving the junk, I mean “stuff” out of my garage and into it. It seems like my work list is never ending.
But you know, I’m at peace right now. I’ve just completed a huge task, got more to do, but here I am sitting on my deck soaking up the view and smells of why I love where I live. This is a perfect example of what the Bible calls a ‘Sabbath Rest’ or what I like to call true peace – being comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
The other day I was going through my emails and ran across the most interesting picture.
The author of the article called this the “cat position”. It is where you throw your legs over your head and place them on the floor. It looks crazy!! First of all, I don’t believe it can be done; it’s got to be a Photoshopped picture. And second, even if it were possible, I can’t imagine it being comfortable at all (someone later emailed a YouTube of a dance group doing this!) . But the author was simply illustrating that the highest success is “not in simply finding comfort, but rather in finding it in the most uncomfortable of positions.”
This got me to thinking about Jesus. Isn’t this what He came to do? He came to give us peace in the midst of challenges and trials, not get rid of them. This thought led me to do two things. One, I changed the author’s phrase to “true peace/rest is being comfortable in uncomfortable situations.” And then I looked up the word “rest” in the Bible. Wow, what an interesting study it proved to be.
The very first time the word “rest” is used is Genesis 2:2, “By the seventh day, God had finished His work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work.” The word Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) is none other than the root of the word for “rest” in Genesis 2:2. It means to cease, desist, rest, to put an end to, to sever, or to stop. Therefore the idea behind the Sabbath day of rest is to stop doing something. What did God stop doing on the Sabbath?
Psalms 74:12 states, “For God is my King of old, working (to do or to make) salvation in the midst of the earth.” This idea of God still working is echoed in the New Testament as well in John 5:17, “My Father is always at his work (to labor for, to toil, a trade) to this very day, and I, too, am working.”Guess what day Jesus makes this statement? The Sabbath day! Jesus was working on the Sabbath. Whoa, wait a second. I thought Jews were not supposed to work on the Sabbath?
Yes, that is right, but this has always been the question, “How do you define work?” What we are going to see is that God didn’t cease all His work on the 7th day, only His work of original creation, not His work of salvation.
We see this truth very clearly in Jesus. During His lifetime, Jesus was seen as a healer, not just a rabbi. Therefore the religious leaders of His day got on His case because He was healing on the Sabbath. And if that were true, Jesus, being Jewish, would be breaking Torah (Ex. 20:8-12) by healing (aka a doctor) on the Sabbath. Furthermore, Jesus would be sinning and thereby could not be God and die for all of humanity’s sins.
But, was Jesus just healing? Or was He doing something else, like His Father’s work? In Matthew 12, Jesus had a conversation with those accusing Him of working on the Sabbath. He tells them, “Haven’t you read in the Torah that on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?” He is more than likely referring to Leviticus 24:8 where the priests were to replace the old Showbread on the Table of Presence with fresh hot bread. This was done on the Sabbath. They were doing the work God asked them to do and it was on the Sabbath. So doing the work of God on a Sabbath was okay to do.
So here we are back at the same question, “What work is allowed on the Sabbath?” I believe John 6:29 gives us the answer. Jesus was asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” His answer, “The work of God (notice the definite article and singular noun) is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” The work of God is salvation, saving lives! In that same conversation Jesus went on to hash out this principle, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
He was not a miracle worker or a healer by trade. He healed people to prove Who He was, “Even though you do not believe Me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (Jn. 10:38). The miracles were to draw people to believe in Who He was – God in the Flesh. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 12 when He said He, as the Son of Man, was Lord of the Sabbath. He was and is the Messiah of Israel. He is the Savior of all mankind – Jew and Gentile.
There is more to this word shabat, however. In Leviticus 16:31, Moses gives us the term “Sabbath of rest.” Guess what day this takes place on? The Day of Atonement. “Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of Israel.” While the High Priest was sacrificing one goat and letting another one go for the sins of the nation, the people themselves were resting. Someone was working for another to be at rest! Someone was providing rest while others were enjoying it. Whom could that be a picture of?
But wait there is more. In Leviticus 23, the day of no work/the day of rest (though the word shabat is not used in this passage) was not on Passover, but the day after the lambs were sacrificed and eaten. Rest comes after the work was done.
Now read Colossians 2:16-17, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Messiah.” The entire Tanach, the Feasts, the sacrifices and the Days all are shadows, not the real thing. The real deal is what causes the shadow. In this case, Paul, a believing Jewish rabbi, tells us that Messiah is the reality, the one that casts the shadow.
So to whom was the high priest pointing when he provided atonement for the nation of Israel while the nation was resting on the Day of Atonement? Jesus. Who provided the forgiveness of sin for the entire planet through His work – Jew and Gentile – so people could rest? The Passover Lamb of God, Jesus Himself.
So what do we learn from this word shabat? It carries the idea of resting while there is still work to be done. God still had a job to do while He was resting in Genesis 2:2. He finished His task of creation, but He still had a work of salvation to do. Jesus was resting while working on the Sabbath – proving Who He was so people would put their faith/trust in Him. Shabat also has the idea of resting while someone else does work on your behalf. Jesus provides for our rest. He gives us the ability to be at peace, while there is work still to be done.
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We love this part, but we forget to keep going. Jesus further said, “Take My Yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (11:29-30).
Rest in the midst of work. Jesus gives us rest, but He tells us to be yoked to Him at the same time. A yoke was a harness put on two oxen so they would work together as a team. When the oxen were at rest, their owners didn’t yoke them! So the yoke tells us that there was work to be done, but with Jesus yoked to us, there can be rest. Notice He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He didn’t say they were not existent.
This is what Philippians 4:4-7 is taking about. In the midst of stressful situations, we are told to rejoice! Why? The Lord is near. And instead of freaking out, we are to rejoice and hand over those stressful situations to the One who is yoked with us. And when we do, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is true peace. Paul never said the stressful situations went away. He simply said you’d have peace in the midst of them. True peace is being comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
This is the essence of a Sabbath’s rest. Work is still to be done, but we are to rest in the midst of it. I finished the shed, but there was work to still to be done. In the midst of that, I could sit on my patio drinking my diet Dr. Pepper while taking in the sights and smells of relaxation.
And our Jewish brothers and sisters get a cool reminder of this every Sabbath day. Come sundown on Friday, when Sabbath begins, they can let the past week go (their shed being done), and rest (sitting and enjoy a cool drink on their patio); yet knowing another week is coming (cleaning out the garage). The Sabbath day, along with many other practices found in the Tanach (aka Old Testament) come alive in Jesus. They make more sense and have a deeper meaning because they all point to Him and His work on our behalf so we can rest.
So let’s take this home. We all have lists of things to do. Can you rest in the midst of that to-do list? Can you hand that daily to-do list over to Jesus and let Him give you peace while it is being whittled down? Peace when it’s not? This is peace that makes one comfortable in the midst of uncomfortable situations.
When new challenges come your way, how do you view them? Do you view them simply as opportunities to rest as you see your God work (creation, Day of Atonement, Passover, etc.)? This is true Sabbath rest – keep walking in peace in the midst of the challenge.
Are you taking a day off to rest and reflect on the fact that you can rest in the midst of work? Think about when the Israelites were given the Sabbath. They were primarily an agricultural society. And they were told to take a day off each week in the midst of the planting and harvesting seasons. This took trust! Could they relax knowing that work was to be done? Would they trust their God and His Word to protect them from invaders while the fields were full of fruit?
We in America hate to slow down. Is it because we lack trust in our great and awesome God? Tithing of money and time is a way to show that you trust God to meet your needs – even with the harvest, the huge debt, or the huge workload staring you in the face. We can learn a lot from our Jewish brothers and sisters on this point. They take a day off to rest. Instead of bashing them for this (“You’re going back to the Law.”), let’s learn from them.
A Sabbath rest carries the idea of being at peace with God because He forgave your sins. Are you resting in faith or still trying to work your way towards a relationship with the living God? True peace comes from the work Jesus did for you so you can rest in the midst of trying times as well as the daily routine. Are you resting as you walk with Him? Oh come to think of it, my glass is empty. It’s time I put a little more Dr. Pepper in it and enjoy the sights.