Heather and I were away last week getting some needed rest and doing some study regarding rest. We read, prayed together, walked in a beautiful area of Wisconsin. We got involved in some good discussions with other pastoral couples who were there with as well. If you are a pastor, I recommend the Pastor’s Retreat Network to you for some R&R.
The following is something I wrote about Sabbath rest in my journal while I was away.
Matthew 12:9-13 (ESV)
He went on from there and entered their synagogue.  And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”— so that they might accuse him.  He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.
Jesus healed people on the Sabbath. They were resting while He was working on them. We have come to the place in our particular tradition of Christianity when we have relegated the Sabbath to an Old Covenant requirement that is no longer applicable to us. There is truth in this but we need to study and see that the Sabbath is not just about legalistically following a set of rules regarding what can or cannot be done on a particular day. It is about resting from our labours.
Jesus is the perfect Sabbath. We are saved by His work and we rest in Him. We rest from the labour of works righteousness. We rest from the lifelong pursuit of trying to be good enough to be accepted by God. We stop working and find that we are accepted and welcomed and forgiven and restored – because we rest in Him by faith. We rest from our work in order to meditate and contemplate the work that Jesus has done. We rest and meditate on the truth that God can be known and we can put aside all our duties for one day a week and fellowship with God, unhindered, unencumbered with the tasks that are our normal lot. We rest so that we can enjoy Him.
The fact that the Sabbath is no longer celebrated as a legal requirement does not mean that it cannot be enjoyed as a creation ordinance that was designed to help us be whole and healed and closer friends with God. The Sabbath is part of what God uses so that we can glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath. He healed on the Sabbath on purpose. He healed on the Sabbath to tell us what the Sabbath is for. He healed on the Sabbath to correct the Pharisees. He healed on the Sabbath so that we could see that He is our rest.
But if we do not observe Sabbath in some form, and not as a legal requirement, we are not available for Him to come and heal us. We will not be healed of our besetting sins, our anxieties, our self righteousness, our sense of importance, if we do not observe Sabbath rest. Jesus did good on the Sabbath because not to do so would have been to do evil.
He will heal us and help us when we rest. He will not if we insist on frenetic activity that keeps us running and prevents us from thinking and meditating and enjoying the presence of God. To call out for Jesus to heal us and help us and get to know Him better and then never stop to have Him do the things we have just asked of Him is hypocrisy. It is self righteousness. It is confusing commitment with busyness.
The lack of Sabbath hurts us. It prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are. It gets in the way of true repentance. It contributes to our burnout, and fruitless endeavours. We need to rest. God has provided a means for us to do that. We sin by not availing ourselves of it. We need to discover its powers and teach it to others. It is a gift of grace and it is very good.
There are those who destroy real Sabbath through their legalistic and unbiblical laws of Sabbath observance. There are others who destroy Sabbath through completely jettisoning it out of Christian practise altogether. They are both wrong and they are both destructive to the soul that needs to find its rest in Christ.
I will use Sabbath rest for the purposes for which it is given. I will repent when I do not. I will pray that I not destroy Sabbath through either the sin of legalism or neglect. And I will come to know Him better, more deeply, more intimately and more joyfully. And I will be whole.