Real Rest – Ceasing and Resting – Find Your Rhythm of Rest
Listen to this sermon online here.
Today we continue our series on Sabbath…Finding Rest in 24/7-ness and as pastor Michael mentioned last Sunday, today I’ll be focusing on ceasing and resting. I have been really excited about this sermon series. Last Sunday, my wife pastor Benita was worship leader and because it seems like with the start of school there was a lot of sick kid stuff going around, I was able to really focus on Sabbath resting last Sunday, some of which I’ll share with you throughout the sermon. But really, last Sunday wasn’t were the research on rest began, in fact I think I’ve spent a good portion of my life on research for this sermon on ceasing and resting. For your sake, I’ve deeply explored sleeping. There have been times in my life where I’ve slept over 9-10 hours a night during the week and then over 12 hours a night on the weekend. Once in college I did an experiment a couple of weekends in a row to see exactly how long I could possibly sleep and discovered “second sleep”, for those of you novices in rest this is when you should wake up but instead you use the bathroom, put on an eye mask, maybe even quickly eat a breakfast bar, and then return to sleep. I’ve looked for rest in video games, playing until the wee hours of the morning until my eyes were bloodshot. I’ve looked for rest in various recreational substances, for rest in extensive reading, burning through thousand page books in a couple of days.
I’ve carried this desire of rest over into my Christian life with meditation, quiet times, and I was really excited reading the Marva Dawn book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: ceasing, resting, embracing, feasting, that pastor Michael mentioned last week when she wrote that early Christians often celebrated both a day of physical rest or Sabbath on Saturday and then had a more worship, Christ centered day on the Lord’s day because I’ve tinkered with that. In fact that’s a good division how today we’ll be focusing on physical aspects of Sabbath and then the deeper more spiritual aspects and so let’s look together at our Scripture for today which is Hebrews 4:8-11.
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 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. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Now we’ve jumped right into the middle of it, so if you want to dig deeper, I encourage you to either look back on your notes from the Hebrews class you took with me a year ago, or read the whole section Hebrews 3:7-4:13. This part of Hebrews gives us a key understanding into the reality of Sabbath and the deeper dimensions of the Sabbath that are revealed through Jesus Christ. So real quick to catch everyone up to speed, there are what biblical scholars call shadows in the Old Testament. We saw this verse briefly last Sunday and it’s printed in your bulletin again, Colossians 2:17:
These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
A shadow, as we all know, is the image or the shade that is cast by an object from a light source. The shadow has characteristics like size, shape, contours, and maybe even movement. We can’t go to the beach like normal families because our daughter Sophia is so enamored with her shadow and how it moves like she does, that she’ll run after it down the beach and cries when we walk in a way that she can’t see her shadow. If you see a shadow you can often get a good idea of what the real item is that’s casting the shadow, but clearly the shadow is inferior to the real deal and you only gain the depth and real character of something when you look at it directly. So in the Old Testament, we have shadows, but rather than being in space, like at the beach, they are in time, so that you have events and moments in Old Testament history that are shadows or foretastes of deeper realities. Typically the Old Testament shadows tend to focus on the material and physical, while the New Testament realities are more focused on the spiritual and the unseen coming to light. For example, in the Old Testament during the Exodus, the last plague is the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt, but the houses of the Hebrews are passed over, hence the name Passover, because why? Because the blood of the lamb is put on the door and those houses are passed over. Well this is a shadow of a more full reality, which is that Jesus Christ, the firstborn of God, the lamb of God, dies in our place and by his blood we are forgiven escaping not just a physical death, but receiving eternal life. The Old Testament people pass through the Red Sea and become a new people no longer in physical slavery and this is a shadow of a deeper reality in the New Testament where we pass through the waters of baptism and experience a new life free of slavery to sin. So in our passage today, what the author of Hebrews points out is that, Joshua, who led the people into the promised land, into the land of milk and honey, into a place of physical prosperity and rest, was but a shadow of the real rest, the Sabbath-rest that remains for God’s people. Real rest, isn’t just a physical rest, it’s a spiritual rest. The same way the people followed Joshua, Jeshua, into the physical promised land, we follow Jesus, Jeshua, into a deeper spiritual reality, which is full fellowship with God. Now we don’t experience all of that now, we’ll have full eternal fellowship with God when Jesus comes to take us home, but we do have a foretaste of that now, namely in Sabbath. You see our Sabbath days ultimately are glimpses of heaven. They are moments where we throw away our watches, and practice being rather than doing, and join God in rest, in peace, in Shalom. Now this is clearly the heart of Sabbath and once we understand that our real rest is in experiencing God we have a great aid in how to celebrate the Sabbath. Now there is still a connection between the physical and the spiritual. The physical aspect of rest isn’t annihlitated in the New Testament. We are organic beings of both spirit and body, they are connected. We recognize this all the time especially in the sacraments where we preform physical activities like baptism and the Lord’s supper, that have a deeper spiritual connection. So while there is an emphasis on the spiritual, we have to realize that often times we can’t find a spiritual rest without being rested physically, and we certainly can’t find a physical rest, a real rest, if we aren’t being rested spiritually and that ultimately we are both physical and spiritual beings. So today, we’ll look at both aspects, ceasing from physical activity and resting more deeply spiritually in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So let’s first focuses on the more physical aspect of Sabbath in the area of ceasing. That’s literally, by the way what the Hebrew word “Shabbat” means, to cease or desist. So there are a lot of the things that we can cease from and we could spend this entire day together going through example of ceasing. There’s no way we’ll cover everything so please email me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can’t come to an answer to your question about the Sabbath after understanding the heart of the Sabbath. I don’t think that holding you in here that long would be a good example of real rest, so I’ve summarized ceasing into three categories. The first is cease physically. We are physically designed, whether you admit or not, to need rest. We, like so much of creation, are designed with rhythms of rest. We’re all aware of the circadian rhythm that much of creation, including us, run in roughly 24 hour cycles, but there is also a deeper, not as apparent physical rhythm based on creation of 6 days of work and 1 day of rest. You might not be as aware of it as the day night cycle, but this pattern of 6 and 1, is ingrained into creation and into our very being and when you hit that rhythm of rest, I can tell you that you will notice it. It’s like when clapping along with the songs. I’m always challenged by this and when I’m not in rhythm with the clapping, I can’t fully engage in worship. Often times I’m even distracting people next to me because my rhythm is off, but on some rare occasions I am nailing the rhythm and I’m in such conjuction with the song that an experience is taking place. We are designed to be in a physical rhythm of rest. When we are out of that rhythm we experience it in physical ways, like stress and anxiety, and when we are in rhythm, things fall into place, we function physically as we were designed to function and there’s great peace and rest in that. Now, I have two asides. First, it has been my experience that many aspects of technology like video games and movies, don’t actually give us rest. That the bombardment of emotions and stimulation actually leaves us more drained than rested. As a second aside, this physical rest might be different for different people. You may be a marathon runner who has a strict work-out regiment that you follow during the week, then Sabbath should be a physical rest from that. You may, however, live, like me, a very sedentary lifestyle where you don’t get to exercise much then for you might find more physical rest in actually getting some exercise, going on a walk, playing some tennis, or taking a swim as long as the heart focus is physical rest, a ceasing or pause from the regular routine and not an effort to gain muscles, status through a competitive spirit, etc..
The Sabbath isn’t a day for personal gain or production. It is a ceasing from producing. Foundationally, Sabbath is a great reminder that we enter into God’s presence not by producing, or by our works but by resting on the work of our Savior, but physically speaking when we enter into the physical rest rhythm of 6-1, we actually find that we produce more when we rest. Marva Dawn, in her book retells a story of a “wagon train on its way from St. Louis to Oregon. Its members were devout Christians, so the whole group observed the habit of stopping for the Sabbath day. Winter was approaching quickly, however, and some among the group began to panic in fear that they wouldn’t reach their destination before the heavy snows. Consequently, several members proposed to the rest of the group that they should quit their practice of stopping for the Sabbath and continue driving onward seven days a week. This proposal triggered a lot of contention in the community, so finally it was suggested that the wagon train should split into two groups—those who wanted to observe the Sabbath and those who preferred to travel on that day. The proposal was accepted, and both groups set out and traveled together until the next Sabbath day, when one group continued while the other remained at rest. Guess which group got to Oregon first. You’re right. The ones who kept the Sabbath reached their destination first. Both the people and the horses were so rested by their Sabbath observance that they could travel much more vigorously and effectively the other six days of the week.” This has been true for me. I’ve found that when I don’t have a Sabbath coming, I try to grab rest wherever I can and end up being lazy, but when I know a full day of Sabbath is on the way, I can work harder knowing that rest is on it’s way!
Finally as we rest physically, as we cease, in order to find real rest we have to cease planning. Have you ever laid down to go to sleep at night, but then found that you cannot get any rest because your mind won’t rest as you go through lists, plans, and all the things you need to get done? Neither can we really have a physical, emotional, and mental rest on our Sabbath, which we desperately need and are designed for, if we don’t cease planning. Now I hope you understand the heart of what’s being conveyed here and don’t garner a legalistic, strict idea of what I’m saying about the Sabbath. Last Sunday I didn’t plan well, and we didn’t have anything for dinner. I went to the grocery store to pick up some dinner, I really like to grill and find refreshment in that, so I picked up something to grill. Now ideally I would have planned this out. But also, we shouldn’t feel so constricted and bound that we can’t make a mistake or not be able to get some food! These points about physical rest are meant to help you find rest, not to provide more worry and unrest. If Sabbath feels like a chore and not a joy of rest, you might need to reexamine how you are Sabbathing. I did run into a few church members, one of whom said “It’s ok to shop right!?” I replied “I guess, it depends on your heart motivation.” Ideally the Sabbath is not a day that we get stuff done for the next week, where we buy all our groceries, where we check things off the list that didn’t fit into our week. It’s not a spillover day. It is a day of rest from that mentality, a ceasing of our planning, our worry, and our anxiety so that physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually we can find rest.
This brings us to the deeper reality of Sabbath. We not only find a physical rest through our ceasing, but we also, more deeply, get a real rest spiritually by finding our rest in God. First we rest with the Father. Our Father in heaven desires that we be in fellowship with him, and this is ultimately what our Sabbath rests are a foretaste of. This is why, the primary activity of Sabbath, is worship. As we spoke about a few weeks ago, worship is a joyful expression, and it is a foretaste of what being in God’s presence is all about. When we experience God, we respond joyfully and with thanks. When we leave worship, we should feel revived and have a deeper spiritual refreshment from being in God’s presence. This is intimately connected with how our Sabbath rest is a foretaste of entering that heavenly rest with God the Father. When you get a moment look at Psalm 92:1-5,a song for the Sabbath day, and notice the connection to joy and worship.
A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day. It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. How great are your works, O LORD, how profound your thoughts!
We find real spiritual rest in our heavenly Father’s presence, through prayer, through worship, through reading his Word, through hearing the proclamation of His word in sermons as we are “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds” (Romans 12:2).
Secondly, we find real spiritual rest with the Spirit of God. We find real spiritual refreshment when find we find this connection with the Spirit in times of aloneness, in silent spaces and times of reflection and meditation. By the way, as an aside, connecting with creation, mountains, rivers, the ocean, are traditionally a source of spiritual refreshment, which makes sense due to the close tie between Sabbath and Creation. But we find spiritual rest with the Spirit of God, not only when we are alone, but also when we connect with God’s Spirit in others, not just our blood family, but the family of God. I almost universally always feel exhausted when I need to go to a small group or a life group and rebel against it, but also I universally always feel refreshed after interacting with my brothers and sisters in Christ as the Spirit of God interacts within each of us.
Finally, we find real spiritual rest with the Son of God. When we serve as he served, when we feed the hungry, when we heal the broken, when we encounter Jesus Christ out in the world, we experience a depth of spiritual rest, that can be found in no other way. Jesus Christ is, after all, the way to true spiritual rest. He says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…you will find rest for your souls.” As our passage for today says “if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 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. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” We enter that ultimate rest, that final rest, by and through Jesus Christ, thus Christians traditionally celebrate Sabbath today, on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. It is through Him, through Jeshua, that we are brought into the promised land, full rest and fellowship with God. When we Sabbath, we find not only our physical rhythm of rest that we were designed for but also a deeper foretaste of the spiritual rest that comes only through Jesus Christ our Lord.