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Resting & Holy Sabbath

The last few weeks we’ve been lead by Pastor Stephen down a path of reflection on the concept of a holy sabbath. Together we were challenged to make places for holy rest and refreshment in our lives. We marveled at how God graciously provides us extra in our lives that we might take the time for prayer and worship. And, we learned of the freedom that comes through our times of rest with the Lord.

During this journey, I think many of us have come to realize we were in a place of all action and no rest. We were not giving God the space he desired to speak to our hearts. Our minds and eyes were too busy for him show us the next steps down the good path. We were being self-centered and only allowing time for God when we wanted or needed something. I know I have been guilty of all of this and pray that God molds my heart to joyful obedience.

Today we close our season of reflection on the holiness of sabbath at the foot of our master. It is fitting that the path of learning around the sabbath started in Genesis chapter two so many weeks ago — “[…]on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day[…]” — and now completes with Christ — “[in me] you will find rest for your souls.” May our lives’ journeys always bring us to him!

Let us pray…

Today’s gospel lesson from Matthew provides us with words said by Jesus in response to the many people who had seen his great labors of love and yet still did not believe. In verses 20-24 Jesus laments the sorrow, misery, and exhaustion the people of these Jewish cities were bringing upon themselves. I’m sure many who saw and heard Jesus in those towns were too tired or busy to take a moment to listen to our think about what Jesus said and did. They, like us, had neglected God’s command for holy sabbath.

In Christ’s words spoken to those around him who were listening I see answers to three major questions around holy resting. First, what kind of rest are we to have, or, how exactly are we to rest? With rest defined the next logical question to ask is, “From what do we rest?” God graciously gives us extra to provide for our rest, but what is it that makes us tired? Finally, our refreshment cannot come from nothing so, “What is the source of our rest?”

I. What kind of rest?

In his first words to those around him in verse 25, Jesus points us toward resting in the “mighty works” of God. These mighty works, Jesus tells us, are hidden from the wise and those of great understanding. Why are they hidden? The mighty works Jesus is referencing are his many miracles performed in the open in the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida. Surely all, wise or not, would have noticed someone healing people from horrible skin diseases and bringing sight to those who could not see. But Jesus tells us that these things are hidden from all but those who are as little children. Could it very well be that the wise of Chorazin could not rest in and accept God’s power manifest in the flesh, but rather needed to explain it away? Could it be that those of great understanding in Bethsaida were too busy debating over the scrolls in the synagog to investigate the man who claimed the power to forgive sins?

No matter how many times a child receives Communion he or she will never ask, “Why bread? or Why grape juice?” The child simply accepts that God gives us the bread and wine because he loves us. He or she does not exhaust his or herself by trying to explain the elements and how exactly Christ is present in them. The child feels God’s love and grace through the Holy Meal and rests in that love. Jesus tells us that it is the Father’s “gracious will” that we rest in the mighty works he has enabled us to see. God performs his works of love amongst us, not to add to our stress, but to relieve and refresh; his mighty works can deliver us to sabbath.

As we continue further into Jesus’ short sermon on rest, Christ declares that the mighty works he performs not only deliver rest, but are a method he chooses to reveal the Father, that great author of sabbath, to us. All things have been handed over by the Father to Jesus, including the sabbath created in Genesis chapter two. Only God the Son truly knows the Father and the complete joyful rest of their perfect tri-union with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath” and by revealing to us God the Father, Jesus is revealing to us the most holy sabbath.

In my great times of stress, when I don’t think I can make it through another contentious meeting at work or that last minute e-mail hits my phone and ruins my day’s plans, I find that taking time to rest in the knowledge of God provides the refreshment and restoration I need to continue forward. “Holy God, holy and mighty, holy immortal one. Have mercy on me.” This prayer of the Eastern church reminds us of the God we know through Christ. He is holy, he is mighty, he is immortal, and he pours his mercy upon us continually. In this knowledge we can all find rest from the ever-changing and unstable foundations built by humans.

Lastly, Jesus approaches his sermon on rest in thankfulness to the Father. It is not enough to receive God’s sabbath through his mighty works and the knowledge of his love and mercy revealed to us through the Son. We must accept these means of grace-filled rest from a position of thankfulness. We are sinners, unworthy of rest. With Daniel we receive our rest from the Lord, “not because of any righteous acts of ours but because of [God’s] great compassion.” Rest is not a right, but a blessing given to God’s children. Glory be to God for the gifts he so freely gives us!

II. From what do we rest?

Having covered a few of the ways we can thankfully receive rest, we now move our attention toward answering the question, “From what do we rest?” Jesus provides us two general categories of tiredness: labor and being heavy laden. Holy sabbath is offered to us as a remedy for both types of exhaustion, but for very different reasons.

Labor is the work we are called to do in God’s vineyard. Helping the poor, tending to widows and orphans, holding the hands of those in prison; these are the things God’s calls us to in our daily lives. Labor is a primary reason for God to give us rest. Of our own we cannot do any good thing. We are fallen and sinful and incapable of sharing God’s love with anyone, especially those in most need. But, our merciful God knows our fallen state and provides us rest that we might have an abundance of his love to share with others. Indeed, Wesley teaches us, we can only labor “after rest in God.” God is the first mover and, just as he provided extra mana on the sixth day to the children of Israel, he provides us an extra measure of his unwarranted love when we come to him in rest.

If rest is made to prepare us for labor, then I think we must ask ourselves if we are being greedy with the abundance God pours into our lives. Each Sunday we gather in this place and are filled with the Holy Spirit. We feast at Christ’s table and are filled with his Holy Word. But, do we take that abundance are share it with those in need? Or, do we store it up for ourselves? Is it evident on Thursday that we were gifted with sabbath time on Sunday? It is said, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” Is that truly so? It is my constant prayer during times of rest that God not only equips me with extra love to share, but also inclines my will to turn away from selfish desires outwards toward those in need of God’s mighty works.

The second category of tiredness Jesus gives us is the exhaustion that comes from being heavy laden with “the guilt and power of sin.” If left alone in the fight, our daily struggles against sin would crush us. Sabbath is a place where we are restored from the scars of sin and refreshed anew for the next battle. Sabbath is a place where we reflect on our confession to God, where we give him our shame and weakness and in return are given joy and strength. The “wise” and those of great “understanding” see weakness as a place for personal edification. They devise their own self-improvement plans and are ever looking inward for rest from their heavy loads. Jesus calls us to look “God-ward” for our edification. Sabbath is a time for a God-designed improvement plan, a place where we step aside from the daily grind and listen for the Word God has prepared from the foundation of the Earth for our improvement and refreshment.

III. What is the source of our rest?

Daily we labor and are heavy laden under the burden of sin. We thankfully seek rest in holy sabbath standing in the knowledge of God and the mighty works he has allowed us to see. What is the source of our rest? The Word, that was in in the beginning with God. “The light [that] shines in the darkness.” “The true light, which gives light to everyone, “ Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to him for rest.

First, Jesus offers us his yoke. Through Christ we are justified, rejecting our will for the will of the Father. In baptism we are united with Christ’s Holy Church and take upon ourselves his yoke of salvation. We are made into a new creation, filled with God’s holy light. Next, Jesus offers to be our teacher. In Christ is the path to sanctification, we can live into the example Jesus set for us and be a holy people before God. Jesus is a gentle teacher and will guide us to the way we were meant to live; he will lead us to unity with God and God’s people.

Christ’s yoke is easy, not because it doesn’t require work, but because Jesus prepares us for his work through sabbath. His burden is light not because he gives us nothing to bear, but because he stands along side us and lightens our load when it is too much for us to bear alone.

Let us pray…

Father God, we hear Jesus’ call to rest in him. We come before you today tired and exhausted from our many labors in your kingdom and especially under the heavy burden of sin. Father we praise you, that in your mercy you sent us your only Son, Jesus. We glorify you that Jesus came to us as a man, lived as we live, labored as we are to labor, and that he bore the full burden of sin that our load might be lightened. We do not understand all the whys or hows, but we testify with all the saints that Jesus is Lord, that he truly rose on the third day, that he sits at your right hand as savior, redeemer, and Lord over the entire world. Father we thank you for sabbath and ask that you lead us toward more time with you. We too often neglect our relationship with you and ask that you forgive us of this and our many sins. It’s in Jesus’s name we pray, who with you and the Holy Sprit reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Jesus’ call to rest is not for the righteous alone, but for everyone. No matter how tired you are. No matter how far you have fallen from the will of God in your life. Jesus offers his love and reconciliation to you. He can make you clean! He can give you rest! He can give you God’s love and grace! Come to Jesus. Accept his gift of salvation, rest, and peace. Allow him to lighten your load and walk beside you through lives valleys. He is gentle and loving. He brings freedom and unspeakable joy. Call out with your heart, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Be my salvation!” Jesus calls you now. You need only answer.