We saw yesterday how God rested, and set out a rhythm for work and rest. Here we see God giving some of the reasons why it’s important for us to rest, and how it’s still God’s gift for all creation even though many years have passed.
“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 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, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ESV)
He wants the Israelites to practice it, and to share it with those in their employ. Even their animals are included. But it’s more than that. It has to do with showing who their God is. God reminds them they were once slaves. The day of rest, the Sabbath, is a weekly emancipation from slavery.
They were being reminded by God, weekly, that they were created human beings, not pyramid building resources. Sabbath was part of their freedom – they belong to God, not pharaoh.
This is so important today. We can live in self-imposed slavery to career, money. Or fear. Or a form of slavery to work can be imposed by an exploitative company, a sex trafficker, a manipulative boss, etc.
Sabbath is a way for people who spend all week working to announce they are not just money making machines, they are God’s beloved children, and so they are free.
Yes, this is a limitation on work – it limits profits and production. And it wasn’t just weekly, the idea of Sabbath rest also applies to every seven years – when no fields could be worked. Imagine the statement of a nation that planned ahead like that, and took a year of rest to focus on other kinds of work. It would be very risky, but it was a way to show their trust in God, not themselves or their own risk management efforts. They may have been less productive, but they were free.
Question: How do you break free from the sense you are a slave to work? How can you show colleagues that there are more dimensions to your life than work?
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We have talked a lot about the need for rest...the main way we see that spoken of in the Bible is Sabbath rest - one day in seven, one year in seven.
In Judaism, this was very structured and supported by cultural and societal norms. Jesus' approach seemed to be to peel away the layers of societal and cultural norms, all the rules that had been developed over the years, and simply return to the God-given command to rest on the seventh day.
This was his usual routine - where humans focus on actions, in hopes that it will change hearts, Jesus wants to focus in on the heart. Jesus wants to mold hearts to want to know and follow him, and where that then transforms their actions.
This makes taking Sabbath rest both easier and harder.
It’s harder, because just blindly following rules isn't all that hard, especially when everyone else in society follows them as well.
It’s easier because of the freedom we explored last week...freedom from slavery to rules, replaced by a new kind of obedience, to a person rather than a code. Jesus gives rest from enforced rest – he gives true rest.
We can see it in how Jesus handled the crushing demands of his own work: Mark 6:30-32 ESV
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.”
He took rest when he needed it, we have several examples of unstructured rest that he took "regularly". When I found I’d been sitting too long at an office job, I used to go for a walk around the block from my office. I called it my sanity walk. Or at other times, I would just get up and do something different. Working from home, I might empty the dishwasher, then get back to my computer refreshed from the change of pace.
We also see Jesus taking weekly rest. “He went to synagogue to worship on the seventh day. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.”
It was Jesus’ “custom” to take weekly Sabbath rest according to the rules of his father in heaven, and not according to the rules of the Pharisees.
We also see Jesus living with an annual rhythm. He celebrated the annual feasts – we see him attending Passover in Jerusalem, for example. As he travelled to and from various religious festivals, there are ebbs and flows in his energy and work – the big moments in his ministry regularly coincide with major festivals. Sometimes he is in small towns, sometimes in the city. There were intense times and places and low times and places in his culture...and his ministry needed both.
The Bible also commands a year of rest after six years of work - not to lay around, but let the land lie fallow and improve, and let slaves and debts go free. There was also a command that every 50 years, a complete reset and leveling of the playing field should occur. Unfortunately there is no evidence they ever listened to and observed these.
Let’s not let the same thing happen to us!
Question: What rest can you plan for today? This week? This year? Now dream a little bit - what could a "reset" year look like this decade? What about for the whole of your life?
Just in time for summer's blend of work and rest, Redeem the Commute is starting a new series of daily challenges to help busy people restore life to the commuting lifestyle. This seven week series will look at the meaning and purpose of work, rest, and ancient practices that have helped followers of Jesus to keep the two in perspective and balance for centuries.