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ENTERING GOD'S REST

ENTERING GOD'S REST

Ted Schroder, February 12, 2006

The fourth commandment, to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, is based on the rhythm of creation: "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:11) This is the completion of God's work of creation. There is a rhythm of work and rest built into the nature of the universe. The Sabbath, the seventh day, was set aside to observe this rhythm.

Genesis chapter two begins with these momentous words: "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating he had done."

God did not rest in order to recover from his work. God rested in order to enjoy what he had created. "God saw what he had made, and it was very good." (Genesis 1:31) The Sabbath was instituted to remind us that all of life is a gift from God, that it is good and to be enjoyed. One day a week is set aside to remember this in worship. God invites us to join him in enjoying his work of creation. To refuse his invitation is to disobey his command and to denigrate his gift.

For the Christian, the Sabbath is observed on the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10). This day celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, who by his death and rising again gave us eternal life (life in all its fullness and completion), to be enjoyed. When Jesus sat down at the right hand of God the Father, he signified that his work of redemption was finished. His message to us is to enter into and enjoy his salvation rest: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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." (Matthew 11:28-30) To refuse his invitation is to reject his gift. Restlessness is the result of disobedience and unbelief.

What does this mean for us today?

Mark Buchanan has recently published "The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath" (W Publishing Group). He writes: "Sabbath is both a day and an attitude to nurture stillness. It is both time on a calendar and a disposition of the heart. It is a day we enter, but just as much a way we see. Sabbath imparts the rest of God - actual physical, mental, spiritual rest, but also the rest of God - the things of God's nature and presence we miss in our busyness." You can access his thinking on his website: www.NeedSomeRest.com.

It is his contention that busyness is killing us. We have to keep busy to avoid being bored. We have to keep busy to feel that we are being useful. We have to keep busy to escape being thought of as lazy or idle. We have to keep busy to justify our existence. We have to keep busy to be productive. We have to keep busy to prevent ourselves from thinking about God, and the meaning and purpose of life. Tim Hansel addressed this syndrome in his book, "When I Relax I Feel Guilty." The title described me. I have had to read it many times.

I was raised by parents, who, every time they saw me sitting down, gave me another job to do. They took over my grandparents' business in the Depression, and worked seven days a week to pay the bills, and to retire comfortably at age sixty. Neither my father nor my mother could sit still for very long. They were always busy. Sports, golf, rugby football, and horse racing were their only relaxation. I thank them for the work ethic they instilled in me, but I also inherited their restlessness.

It is hard to enjoy life, to be restful, when you are programmed to think of the next thing you have to do. It is difficult to receive life as a gift when you feel you have to earn the right to exist. Life can be a constant treadmill of duties to be fulfilled, which never end, until we end. That is why tombstones often have inscribed on them, "Rest in peace." Revelation 14:13 reminds us that it is true that rest will only be completely realized in heaven. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from now on." "Yes, says the Spirit, they will rest from their labor." But in this life, every week, the Sabbath anticipates this promise of restfulness.

We are created to be productive, to work six days a week; but we are also meant to experience now the peace that comes from entering into God's rest. The fourth commandment addresses our need to structure our lives and to train our attitude so that we reflect this aspect of the character of God - restfulness. Jews and Christians who observe the Sabbath in special ways, do so to capture some of this restfulness of God.

Marva Dawn has written extensively of ways to keep the Sabbath holy. She dedicated her book, "Keeping the Sabbath Wholly" to all the people who need the Sabbath –

the busiest, who need to work from a cohesive, unfragmented self;

social activists, who need a cycle of worship and action;

those who chase after fulfillment and need to understand their deepest yearnings and to hear the silence;

those who have lost their passion and need to get into touch with their feelings;

those who are alone and need emotional nourishment;

those who cannot find their life's priorities and need a new perspective;

those who are disgusted with dry, empty, formalistic worship, and want to love and adore God;

those who want to be God's instruments, enabled and empowered by the Spirit to be world changers and Sabbath healers.

She addresses our need to cease work, to cease productivity and accomplishment, to cease anxiety, worry and tension, to cease trying to be God, to cease possessiveness. Instead she advocates resting spiritually, physically, emotionally, intellectually each Sabbath by embracing and celebrating God's gifts and call to us.

In Hebrews, chapter four, the message of Psalm 95, about entering into the Promised Land, is applied to entering into the completion of our salvation. It is called "entering into God's rest." It echoes the words of St. Augustine: "You have formed us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you." There is no fulfillment of our creation until we have entered into God's rest in Christ.

'Rest' must be taken in a spiritual sense; it points to a place of blessing where there is no more striving but only relaxation in the presence of God. When God rested, the creation was complete. There was nothing to add to what God had done. He entered a rest from creating, a rest marked by the knowledge that everything that he had made was good. So we should think of the rest as something like the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment, from the completion of a task.

"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his." (Hebrews 4:9,10) To enter God's rest, means for the believer to cease from one's own work, just as God ceased from his. In order to enjoy the gift of eternal life we have to learn to cease from our work of self-justification, and to rest securely on what Christ has done. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9)

This is easier said than done, for it goes against the grain to accept that God has given to us what we could not do for ourselves. It is hard for us to accept that all life: physical and eternal, is a gift from God, which we do not deserve, and to which we have not contributed. That is why we are told to "make every effort to enter that rest," and that "since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it." (Hebrews 4:11,1)

There are too many people who, like the Israelites of old, are given the Promised Land, and hold back from entering it. Why do they not want the rest that God freely offers? We are told that "the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith." (Hebrews 4:2) They heard the words of the invitation, but they were not willing to trust themselves to God's promise. They rejected the invitation to enter his rest.

Christ invites us to enter his rest, to receive his gift of life in all its fullness, purchased for us on the Cross, that life of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, special, because we are given the opportunity in it, through faith and worship, to join God in enjoying his rest.

Louis Evans comments: "The first time I flew into a rain-drenched overcast sky with my flight instructor, and the rain began to pelt the windscreen like an angry drummer, I was far from a state of rest. Wisps of clouds shrouded the wingtips. A pervasive anxiety clutched at my breathing; my legs became taut and my hands gripped the control horns with a sweaty fear. I jerked and overcompensated in reaction to the instruments, and the plane zigzagged through the sky as though a drunken pilot were is control. As fatigue began to build up, my tension rapidly went from bad to worse. Perspiration cascaded down my face and armpits, while my instructor sat there absolutely unperturbed. When I turned to look at him, he met my eyes with a twinkle in his, firmly took my right hand off the control horn, and put my lower fingers on my right knee, a position of ease he had taught me in my first lesson. I remembered; my thumb and index finger were enough with which to control the plane. 'Relax,' he said, softly. 'Louie, you are only in a normal warm front, you're flying a stable aircraft with the strongest wings of any single engine model; they were made for carrier landings! Trust them! Sit back; turn your head and eyes a bit. Now, nice, slow, smooth corrections; keep your sweep of the instruments going in our normal pattern. Rest and enjoy it.'

"I tried; I concentrated on the relaxation and the slow corrections to the minor variations in altitude and heading. I was amazed first at his relaxed attitude and then at the improvement in mine. True, it was years before I got over the tummy-tightening and the sweaty palms when entering a cloudbank, but that day the rest came when I was still in the clouds, the rain was still pelting the windshield, the flight was continuing, and yet I got my first taste of peace." (The Communicator's Commentary, Hebrews, p.101,102)

You may feel that you are flying blind in the storms of life. You may feel that it is all up to you and, if so, you are scared stiff. The Sabbath reminds us that God has done his work, and invites us to relax and enjoy it. That is called faith. It is expressed in worship, and the life that is lived by grace.

An audio version of this presentation is found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida

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