Choosing Faith means choosing Rest with Jesus
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue our sermon series – Choose Faith. So far we’ve considered the importance of Christians choosing BIBLE READING AND PRAYER. Last week – we considered Christians choosing to SHOW CHARITY to those in need and today we think about the choice of Sabbath rest.
Prayer: Well as we begin, let me say that in the Old Testament Israel had Saturday as their day of Sabbath rest and in the New Testament Christians have traditionally kept Sunday as their day of Sabbath rest. But with the introduction of a 7-day trading week in NSW in 2008 – reverence or respect for the Sabbath has diminished. This problem has now been further exacerbated by Covid-19 and two years of watching church from home – rather than meeting with God’s people. All this has changed our attitude and thinking about the Sabbath – more than many Christians realise. So let me tell you some bizarre stories.
Many of you will know the story of ERIC LIDDEL the famous Christian athletic runner who boycotted certain races in the 1924 Olympics – because they were run on a Sunday. Even though he was slated to win the races, he refused to run on a Sunday, because Sunday was the Lords Days. Now by modern, evangelical standards many Christians would call this ill-informed theology or overzealous legalism.
As I got ready to go to Kenya last year, I met a man who made the same choice. Tom Treseder, is the founder of Mega-Voice digital Bibles and I took some with me to Kenya. But as a younger man he started as an OLYMPIC ROWER chosen for the 1956 Olympics. His rowing team practiced 6 days a week on Parramatta River. But some months before the 1956 Olympics the manager decided he wanted the team to train on Sundays as well. Tom had commitments at Gladesville Anglican and so he refused to row on Sundays. Consequently, he was dropped from the Olympic team because he put God before Olympics. I know that many Christians today, do not have this sort of regard for the Sabbath.
Soon afterwards a Christian businessman heard about Tom’s sacrifice and bought him a professional single scull. The business man did this so that A) instead of rowing in a team of 8, Tom could now train on his own and set his own training hours. Sadly, Tom never won an Olympics, but he did win multiple gold medals over many years in the World Masters (ENTER). This week I asked Tom (a faithful member of Gladesville Anglican) if his theology of the Sabbath was still the same and in a heartbeat he said; “Absolutely. I believe God honours those who honour him.”
Today such stories almost seem quaint and old fashioned to modern Christians. So as we begin let me say I’m not going to preach some sort of legalistic observance of a Sabbath day whether Saturday. or Sunday. But I am going to suggest that when Christians say the Sabbath is not that important or that every day is a Sabbath to God, it’s often coming from an over-realised eschatology rather than good biblical theology…
Point 1: Christian Faith chooses Rest – because it is part of Creation
Show: Gen.2:1-3 (READ)
Explain: Well this is the first reference in the Bible to Sabbath rest. The word “REST” in verse 2 is literally “SHABAT” in the original Hebrew. And the word “Shabat” or Sabbath simply means to stop work or to rest. After 6 days of creating the world, GOD SABBATHED or GOD RESTED from his work on the seventh day and declared it to be holy.
Now in the Old Testament the Sabbath is SATURDAY and in verse 3 we see God blesses Saturday. Now God blessing something means that God extends a special favour or special approval to that thing. In the creation account GOD BLESSES 1) the animals, 2) then God blesses Adam and Eve and 3) finally God blesses the Sabbath. Interestingly, (later in the Bible) God extend Sabbath rest to both human beings and animals. Everything that is blessed by God in creation is to enjoy the blessing of Sabbath rest.
Now the second word we hear is HOLY. In Hebrew its QODESH. The word “Qodesh” or “HOLY” simply means SET APART from the ordinary. But throughout the Bible the word HOLY always means set apart for sacred purposes. A holy thing belongs to God. So the Saturday Sabbath is part of creation and it is blessed by God and is holy to God.
Now it is sometimes argued that in the creation account – Adam & Eve ENTER into Gods rest on the seventh day and kind of remain in Gods rest on the 8th day and 9th day and 10th day etc. Its like every day is a Sabbath in Eden. Its only after Adam and Eve sin that God has to start working again. Not the work of creation, but now the work of redemption. And instead of Adam and Eve enjoying Sabbath rest in Eden, we discover Adam’s work and Eve’s work is now going to involve painful labour and painful toil.
Now I think this idea of perpetual Sabbath in Eden is probably correct. It is a picture of the heavenly Sabbath that we one day enjoy forever.
But I don’t think this should be OVERPLAYED. Some people suggest that in the NOW of Jesus’ new Kingdom every day is also a Sabbath for God, like in Eden. But there is still a “NOT YET” aspect to Sabbath rest. There is still the reality that in the NOW God blesses a CERTAIN day and calls the SEVENTH day holy.
Apply: Now in application – this means God made us for periods of rest. It is part of our HUMANITY. If we think we can work and work and work – it is just stupid. If we do not observe the periods of rest – where God intends us to rest we are likely to become weak and sick. At one level physical rest and spiritual rest is simply part of WISDOM. As humans we need rest. And if our world is becoming MORE HOSTILE towards Christians Sabbath rest may become an even more important part of remaining strong in the Lord. At this level Sabbath rest is a means of grace. Rest (at the ratio of 1 in 7) brings us some sort of refreshment from the Lord. Denying this truth is close to denying our humanity.
Now our God is so good – He was the original designer of holidays and travel. I hope you realise – the word holidays – comes from the word holy days. Apart from giving humanity A) 1 day off in every 7; God also built about 4 weeks of holy days (or holidays) into every Jewish year. God gave the Jews a week off each March for Passover and nearly 3 weeks off each September for Trumpets and Tabernacles. All up it was about 4-5 weeks per year for holidays and travel. My point is simply that our God-given humanity needs a certain amount of rest each week and probably each year to do life well. A) Recognizing this truth in Scripture is wisdom. B) Neglecting this truth in Scripture is foolishness. So Christians should not feel guilty for taking periods of rest. This is especially important in evangelical churches where we are renowned for our Protestant work ethic, that all too often ends in BURN-OUT. Burn-out is not consistent with being A LIVING SACRIFICE holy and pleasing to God. No! Man needs rest (as they say) simply to stop and 1) smell the beautiful flowers and 2) pat the amazing animals of God’s creation. To rest is to be wise in Gods world.
Point 2: Christian Faith chooses Rest – because it is part of Redemption
Show: Deut.5:12-15 (READ)
Explain: Well did you notice the different reason given for observing the Sabbath? In Exodus the Jews are told to observe the Sabbath because of creation. But in Deuteronomy the Jews are told to observe the Sabbath because of redemption. There is a twofold reason for observing the Sabbath; both CREATION and REDEMPTION.
Now in Exodus – we find two types of WORK. A) There is work that is hard labour rendered unto Pharoah. That’s unpleasant. B) But there is also work rendered unto God which is called worship. EXACT SAME HEBREW WORD. Throughout Exodus God keeps saying to Pharoah; “Let my people go, so they may worship me.” The word “work” or “worship” is ebed or abad in the Hebrew. God is saying to Pharaoh let me people go so that they can work for me, instead of working for you. Let my people go so that they can worship me, instead of worshipping you. When work is rendered to man or false gods it is labour and slavery, when work is rendered to God it is worship or service.
So we then get to the TEN COMMANDMENTS (and in the context of not working for Pharoah, but working for God) – God says 6 days you will work for others or work for yourself, but the seventh day is a day of rest, given over to God; for Gods work. The Sabbath is a day where we stop ordinary work, to dedicate ourselves to sacred or holy work. Let me show you what it says throughout Exodus to Deuteronomy.
Show: Slides 8 & 9. Now of course, in response to God being their Creator and Redeemer – Israel should serve God every day of the week. But in the overlap of the ages – God knows that’s not really going to happen. Much of our work is not really dedicated to God. Its dedicated to surviving. Or it is dedicated to a boss who tells us what to do – much of the time with little regard for God or His purposes…
So God instructs the Jews to consecrate one day each week to focus on worship and service of God. It would be nonsensical to say the Jews were to work, serve and worship God Sunday to Friday, but then stop this work on Saturday. No! The Sabbath is not about cessation from all work. The Sabbath is about cessation from normal work, so that we can focus one day a week on sacred work for God.
Now on this day the Jews were also meant to come together in a SACRED ASSEMBLY. (Slide 10 – Lev.23:3). So on the Sabbath, the Jews were to stop normal work and come together in some sort of sacred assembly to serve and worship God as both Creator and Redeemer. As such THE SABBATH then also became a sign of the Covenant (SLIDE 11; Exodus 31:13). Just as the rainbow is a sign that God will never punish the world with a flood again, so the Sabbath was a sign of the covenant God had with Israel.
Illustrate: Now with so many people waving the RAINBOW in Gods face and taunting him this weekend, (thinking we can do whatever we want. God promised He will never destroy us again); let me remind you what the fine print says. God promised he would never destroy the world again with water. PLEASE NOTE – he didn’t say anything about earthquakes, or meteors, or plagues, or fire. The rainbow is simply a SIGN that God will not destroy the world with water again.
But the Sabbath day (and the keeping of the Sabbath day) was A SIGN that a special relationship existed between God and these people. God covenanted with His people that if they kept His Sabbaths (with real faith, and not just legalism) – God would make them holy. As you can see in Exodus 31 – the Sabbath was about making the people holy. And to make something holy is to SANCTIFY IT. So not only was the Saturday Sabbath a pause in time to acknowledge God as CREATOR and REDEEMER. It was also a pause in time to acknowledge God as SANCTIFIER. The Sabbath was a pause in time to acknowledge God is the God who creates, redeems and sanctifies.
Point 3: Christian Faith chooses Rest – because Jesus fulfills the Sabbath
Show: Matt.11:28-29 (READ)
Explain: Now in the Greek New Testament the word REST is actually a Greek word “anapauso”. It means rest or cessation of work, like Shabbat. But if Jesus was speaking in Hebrew he would have said SHABBAT and if Aramaic he would have said SABTA, which both mean Sabbath rest. But even if Jesus said “anapauso” – his Jewish listeners would still have heard Jesus speak in terms of SABBATH REST. For Jewish listeners rest, meant Sabbath rest.
So Jesus is saying COME TO ME and I will give you Sabbath rest. In coming to Jesus he makes us part of his new creation. Jesus redeems us from the law and Jesus sanctifies us. Now are you feeling weary? Are you feeling tired and not really sure how to get to heaven? Well Jesus is saying come to him.
When you come to Jesus he takes out the heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh. Just as God breathed life into the first Adam, so Jesus breathes into us new life – through the Spirit – so that we are fit for heaven. Jesus is making all things new (Rev.21:5). So as we come to Jesus we stop being a part of the old creation (with an old Sabbath), instead we become a part of the new creation with a new Sabbath.
(GOSPEL) But in coming to Jesus we also find a new redemption. When we come to Jesus – he says give me your heavy burden of sin and troubles that lay on your shoulders. There is a penalty for sin. It is death and banishment from God’s presence forever. And this GUILT AND SHAME weighs down our spirit. We feel it as a heavy, oppressive burden that shapes our life. But in his love for us – Jesus takes that burden off our shoulders and pays that debt for us as he dies on the cross. Just as God redeemed Israel from Pharoah with a Passover lamb, so Jesus redeems us from Satan by being our Passover lamb. And as we believe in Jesus and accept him as our Saviour and Lord – he puts A NEW YOKE upon us.
(Slide 13) You’ve all seen a yoke placed on cattle before. They have to put their head through the middle so that they can be steered in the right direction.
Now prior to becoming Christians we all have on SATAN’S YOKE and he is PULLING THE STRINGS turning us left or right – working us seven days a week and flogging us to death (like Pharoah did with the Jews). BUT AS WE ARE REDEEMED by Jesus – he A) takes off Satan’s yoke and B) puts on a new lighter, more comfortable yoke. So we leave behind work for Satan, work for the flesh and work for man, to do work for Jesus. We leave behind the meaningless toil of Ecclesiastes for the meaningful work of worship. And we do this work for Jesus A) not in order to get to heaven, but B) because Jesus has already given us heaven.
And as we serve Jesus in faith he promises to SANCTIFY US and MAKE US HOLY. Basically, Jesus is saying that as we love and serve him he will prepare us for heaven. And of course, Jesus does this through the gift of the Holy Spirit who makes us holy. So Jesus takes us into a new creation, a new redemption and new sanctification with a new kind of Sabbath.
Apply: Now remember we are no longer under the Old Covenant of Moses, we are under the New Covenant of Jesus. And it is true that in the New Testament there is no specific Sabbath command. Look at what the New Testament says about the Sabbath and holy days. (Slide 11 – Col.2:16-17). We have to realise that the Old Testament Sabbath was simply pointing to TRUE REST – found in Christ.
But that does not mean the WISDOM or PRINCIPLE of the Sabbath is gone altogether. Just as circumcision of the flesh points to circumcision of the heart. Just as the Passover Lamb points to Christs death for us on the cross. So the Saturday Sabbath – points to something in the New Covenant for Christians.
Now in the New Covenant – Paul sees that there are TWO VALID CONCLUSIONS Christians could reach (Slide 12 Rom.14:5). First, Christians under the New Covenant could conclude that one day is still more sacred than all other days. Traditionally, Gentile Christians have identified THIS MORE HOLY DAY as Sunday because Sunday marks the day of the new creation, the day of redemption and the day of sanctification. On Sunday Jesus rose from the dead as the firstfruits of the new creation (1Cor.15:20). On Sunday Jesus rose from the dead – marking the day our redemption was secured in victory. And 49 days later on Pentecost Sunday – Jesus also poured out the Holy Spirit showing himself to also be Sanctifier.
So just as the Old Testament Saturday pointed to God as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, so the New Testament Sunday pointed to Jesus as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. So in the early church (and in many Christian denominations today), SUNDAY is known as the Lord’s Day or the Christian Sabbath. It is regarded as a day of rest for Christians.
But Paul also acknowledges that another Christian conclusion in Romans 14, some Christians regard every day is now alike. Every day should be holy to Jesus. Now there is a truth here. As followers of Jesus we shouldn’t worship Jesus just one day a week on Sunday. We should worship Jesus every day of the week. And of course, when we get to heaven – every day will be given over to the service and worship of Jesus forever. Every day will be Sabbath.
Apply: But truth is we live in the OVERLAP OF THE AGES. If we make too big a deal of a Sunday Sabbath – the danger is we become legalistic and we serve Jesus only on Sunday. Then we neglect our service of him the rest of the week. At the other end of the spectrum – where we treat every day alike – it is kind of an OVER-REALISED ESCHATOLOGY because we are not yet in heaven.
Those who say; “I don’t recognize a Christian Sabbath at all – I just worship and work for Jesus every day” – often fail to worship Jesus properly on any day. They so fill their weekends with work and sports and leisure – that they don’t really devote any day 1) to rest or 2) worship of Jesus or 3) sacred assembly with God’s people. They work all week for man and then they work all weekend for the flesh. Those who tend to treat every day alike – need to remember we are not yet in heaven.
Until then our HUMANITY still needs regular days of rest and GOD’S PEOPLE still tend to meet in sacred assembly on a Sunday in recognition of what Jesus did on this day. Now Hebrews the one book in the New Testament that exhorts Christians to heed Gods voice, so that we might eventually enter into Gods eternal Sabbath rest – finishes with this exhortation (Slide 16 – Heb.10:25). The reality is that (in this time of NOW AND NOT YET) Christians don’t usually meet in sacred assembly every day of the week. They usually meet on Sundays. And God doesn’t usually speak publicly through his chosen pastors every day of the week. He usually does it on Sundays. And Gods people don’t usually join together in sacred assembly every day of the week. They usually do it on Sundays.
Friends, this is simply an acknowledgement that in the craziest and busyness of life (in the now and not yet) – God has given the Christian church a kind of Sabbath (on Sunday) – that 1) honours the work of Jesus, 2) gives us opportunity to worship in sacred assembly and 3)gives us opportunity to rest with God and his people, in anticipation of the eternal Sabbath of heaven. To deny this is to deny a Christian reality. Our weekly Sunday worship is a sign of the new covenant we have with Jesus. Now in the New Covenant a Sunday Sabbath may not be a legal requirement. But I assure you – not having a Sunday Sabbath would be a huge loss for Gods people. So given the reality of the fallen world we still live in – WHO DO YOU THINK is the more mature Christian in Romans 14 – the one who regards and honors Sunday as sacred or the one who regards every day alike?