This concept has been stirring so deeply in my heart lately. We have spent a lot of time on the road this past year, and have seen a much wider cross-section of society than ever. People are so tired and weary, so anxious and worried - our society needs the hope, peace and rest of Jesus like never before. Rather than just thinking about it for a moment and then rushing on to something else, let's continue to look at what God says about rest...
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 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: 8-11
Last time, I mentioned how interesting it is that we, as Christian people in a society intentionally and experimentally founded totally upon Judeo-Christian principles, have come to a point that we actually ignore this particular commandment - one of only 10 commandments that God has given us. Thankfully, we still observe most of the other commandments as Christians in our society, for now. But we must admit that we have let this one go. (It really makes me wonder…if we let one commandment slide so easily, how are we going to fiercely protect the others?)
My introduction to the concept of an observed Sabbath came as a child, reading the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the book Farmer Boy, which was about her husband Almanzo’s childhood on a farm in upstate New York in the 1860’s, the Wilder family is depicted as strictly observing the Sabbath all year long. The food they would eat on Sunday was carefully prepared and set aside on Saturday so that no work would be done in the kitchen on the Sabbath. All of the work on their large property was done on the six days, then only care of the animals happened on Sunday. The entire family would rest quietly inside all day after attending worship services at church, doing nothing but reading. As a child, I felt Almanzo’s frustration at wanting to play outside, yet having to be quiet and inside for an entire day each week. Nontheless, a strict observation of the Sabbath was an integral part of their life just 150 years ago.
How society has changed! Admittedly, it all too easy for us to become very legalistic in our Christianity, and to become almost obsessed with the letter of the law, forgetting the beautiful spirit behind it. Many of us have seen some pretty ridiculous rules made in the name of religion. And then our rugged American individualism kicks in, fueling the drive against constraint even further. This is why so many movies and television shows often depict Christians as creepy, irrational weirdos. They often characterize us as people who feel strongly against enjoying life at all, and who are determined that no one else should have any fun, either.
Sadly, this Hollywood sterotype is there for a reason. We really do have a terrible propensity to think that the law is the Thing. This is nothing new - some of the things the religious rulers in Jesus’ day got so angry at Jesus for seem kind of ridiculous to us. How could they possibly get mad at Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath, or for His disciples eating a few kernels of grain they picked on the Sabbath? But they were mad at Him - mad enough to kill HIm for messing with their carefully cultivated religious system. They were so in love with the law that they entirely missed the Person behind it.
The law is not the thing - Jesus is the Thing! He said it so beautifully in response to the religious people and their irrational anger, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2: 27-28) We must be careful not to elevate the practice of what we believe above the Person in whom we believe.
However, we can take living in freedom too far - we can become so “free” that we remove the barriers and structures that keep us safe and healthy. Jesus said that He did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. In fact, look at the whole passage here in Matthew 7: 18-20 , “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I point this out to come back around to the thought for today - isn’t it interesting that we, as a whole, have just decided to stop counting one of God’s ten commandments as important? We are ignoring a truth that is foundational to life.
Our friend Winkie Pratney explains this so well. The law is not a random set of rules imposed by a cruel taskmaster, just to make sure no one ever has any fun; rather, the law of God is simply a description of reality from His infinite perspective. The law is real and true, and tells the truth about consequences attached to actions. You shall not murder, because taking a life comes with crushing implications for you and for everyone involved, not just for a moment, but for eternity. You shall not commit adultery because it is devastating to your own soul and to your family and community for generations to come. The law is a description of the right and healthy way to live in community and relationship, with God and with each other.
All of this to say, perhaps we should revisit the law of the Sabbath. I am not a lettered theologian - my degree is in Elementary Education with an English specialization, after all. But I have been a practicing minister for almost thirty years, and have seen enough to really make me wonder. Is it just a coincidence that in the time since 24/7 work, shopping, television, internet, gyms, and so forth have made a society that never rests, the rates of depression, anxiety, self-loathing, auto-immune diseases and so many other maladies have skyrocketed? Look up the statistics - it is alarming.
We spend millions every year trying to eat the right foods, read the right books and take the right medicines to help us and fix what is wrong with us, but what if the answer is as simple as just observing this fundamental law of planned and purposeful rest?
The Creator of the Universe worked six days and then rested. Jesus, the very Lord of the Sabbath, observed this law. It might be time for His people not to treat this truth so flippantly. Next time, we will look at some practical thoughts for incorporating Sabbath rest into our lives and communities.
Coming This Summer!
I have always loved to write, and I want to thank my greatest cheerleader - my beautiful mother! She has been encouraging me in this passion of mine for many years. This summer, my first book will be published, and I would love for you to preorder your copy today...
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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