God's Sabbath Rest - Man's Created Destiny
Because God Himself rested on the seventh day of creation week man's first full day of life from all His work of creation, He blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it by enjoining rest for His people, their servants, their cattle, and strangers within their gates (Exodus 20:8-11). This solemn commandment reaffirms the literal truth of the creation account. It also witnesses to the fallen nature of man who needs to be commanded to rest rather than perversely harming himself and his fellow creatures by excessive, continuous labor. On the other hand, Jesus Christ frequently "transgressed" the pharisaical sabbath-keeping rules of His time on earth. These rules also testify to the fallen nature of man who would make a show of godliness while denying the spirit thereof, and who would perversely harm himself and his fellow creatures by forbidding even that action essential to sustaining life. Both excessive labor and lifeless, mechanical, hypocritical "rest" do violence to God's sabbath, dishonoring Him, and disobeying God's creation mandate for man's stewardship under God over the works of God's hands. Because of God's creation mandate "the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" and "the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath" as Christ told the Pharisees (Mark 2:23-281.
Proper, godly sabbath-keeping is decreed by God the Creator as man's normal, originally intended and perpetual state. It is described as follows:
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honor him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasures, nor speaking thine own words:
Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it (Isaiah 58:13-14).
Honoring Him, not doing our own ways, nor finding our own pleasure, nor speaking our own words this is the state, we realize, in which we should be found at all times. This is the permanent sabbath which God's day of rest after the six days of creation was meant to begin, and which man's fall into sin away from God is delaying from full fruition. If we truly have eternal life, knowing Him the true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent (John 17:3), then we know that keeping the sabbath as described above cannot be a one-day-out-of seven affair but is meant to be our whole life, every day and every moment. This is why we are taught in God's word, the Bible, about the keeping of holy days here and now that they may be kept unto the Lord, or not, as a man is fully persuaded in his own mind (Romans 14:5-61. For every day is to be holy unto the Lord It is not Sunday or Sabbath Day now; am I, are you living this week day "honoring the LORD, not doing our own ways, nor finding our own pleasure, nor speaking our own words, delighting ourselves in our Lord?" To do so to cease from our own ways and works is to enter into God's rest (expressly so defined in Hebrews 4:10). Man was made for God's rest, and God's rest was made for man when God rested on the seventh day of creation week, the first and last Sabbath of created time.
Mankind's punishment after the Fall into sin away from God the curse of the ground for man's sake, making his labor hard; painful childbirth and woman's subjection to man; and death, returning of the body to the dust from whence it was taken faithfully reflects the despoiling of God's rest caused by the Fall, No longer can God expect undiluted joy and praise from man as the fruit or harvest of His creation labor. No longer does mankind. intended to be the sinless Bride of God's Son, delight itself and Him by doing His good will from the heart; nay, the goad of the law must be used to restrain us. No longer can God joy as a Father over His children, man made in His image and likeness, but their birth and upbringing is painful and all too often ends in miscarriage.
Finally, God's redemption of His creation, groaning and travailing due to the delayed liberty of His born-again children from among fallen mankind (Romans 8:19-23) requires the death of His only begotten, beloved Son (though His Son, not corrupted or tainted by sin in any way, rose again bodily from the dead). In all our miseries since the Fall we reflect the broken rest of our Creator-Father Who is "afflicted in all our afflictions" (Isaiah 81:9). Thus even in our miseries we still reflect His creation-decreed image and likeness. This is why Jesus Christ, God's perfect and unblemished likeness, Who does nothing but what He sees the Father do, could weep over Jerusalem and agonize at Gethsemane and on the cross, and can "be touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15),
Yet also, because "there remaineth . . . a rest (margin: "the keeping of a sabbath") to the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9), death and hell cannot ultimately overcome or hold down God's sabbath rest crowning creation and creation's redemption and restoration, nor our own rest in the Father by Christ if we have come so to know Him For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it "we who have believed do enter into rest" (Isaiah 58:14; Hebrews 4:3). From the above it follows that godly rest and leisure does not mean enforced total inactivity. It is true that there is such a thing as "sacred idleness, the pursuit of which," as George MacDonald (1824-1901) wrote, "is now fearfully neglected."' This is that sacred idleness in which Mary sat at Jesus' feet while Martha was "cumbered about much serving" (Luke 10:39, 40). Note that Jesus did not comment about Martha's work itself but rather her attitude towards it. George Herbert wrote this beautiful poem about a godly, restful attitude to work:
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see;
And what I do In anything,
To do it as for thee.
All may of thee partake;
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with this tincture, "for thy sake,"
Will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws.
Makes that and the action fine.
This is the famous Stone
Which turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.2
Let us neither avoid nor neglect "divine drudgery" unto our Lord, but remember Mary, the mother of our Lord, who no doubt lovingly tended to all bodily needs of her Holy Child Jesus weekdays and sabbath days alike. When we are fully surrendered to our Lord and determined to keep His creation-ordained sabbath rest at all times as He sees fit, He will faithfully instruct us by His Holy Spirit how to regard each day unto Him. The story is told of God-tearing Russian Orthodox or Catholic nuns who were determined to do no work whatsoever on any day for the communist regime since they were the servants of God and not of Satan. They were put on punishment rations, tortured cruelly, and finally exposed to the arctic Siberian cold and bitter wind to stand immobile, without gloves and caps, eight hours a day for three days. Yet they survived without so much as frostbite. The enemy, awed by this miracle, gave in and the nuns were allowed to spend their prison term in sacred idleness unto the Lord. Their example instilled religious faith in thousands of prisoners and guards.3 In our own super-active, success-oriented, materialistic West a Christian believer's godly, non-pharisaical, gentle and joyful abstinence from non-life-supporting work on Sundays can be a powerful testimony.
God's rest at the end of creation week, and man's simultaneous first full day spent with God in His rest and preceding his exercise of dominion over creation under God, also exemplify the uninterrupted, harmonious peace and fellowship with God the Creator for which man is destined, and which must undergird man's stewardship under God. On that first sabbath day man's fellowship with God was so close that both he and his wife were naked before God and each other, and were not ashamed (Genesis 2.25). In today's fallen world godly men, acknowledging their nakedness before God to Whom nothing is hid, must also confess the shame of their sinfulness and above all praise Christ for washing it away with His blood, thus restoring fellowship with the Father - Creator. To the regenerate there is a continuous sense of the presence of the Living God, and of being kept, or continually recalled by Him into His rest. How much a part of our daily lives this can be is simply told in the seventeenth century classic The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.
Brother Lawrence "was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts."4 He said, "By rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, lam come to a state wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to accustom myself to it." An observer said that "in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen he still preserved his recollection and heavenly mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit. 'The time of business,' said he 'does not with me differ from the time of prayer 6 Even so it could have been with our father Adam and our mother Eve if they had only rested in their Creator and His eternally sure Word Then they would have eagerly and joyfully listened to His footsteps in Eden each evening, each moment, after completing their dominion tasks to His and their own mutual delight. Even so it will be for His good and faithful servants when they rule their "many things" (Matthew 25:21), their "ten cities or five" (Luke 19:17, 19) in His new heaven and earth,
Author's note: I praise our Lord for the dear brothers and Sisters of the Wichita State University Faculty Bible Study Group, whose discussion of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the fall of 1983 planted and watered many of the seeds springing up in this paper.