Wrestling with Rest (Part 1)

I’m bad at rest.  Not at sleeping.  I can sleep like no one’s business.  I can sleep in a bed, on a plane, on the ground, and on a train (which is really a great way to sleep if you’ve never experienced it.)

Sleep I can handle.  Rest, not so much.

The issue of Sabbath is possibly one of the most misunderstood by Christians in general and or even when understood, is difficult to practice.  I plan on writing on this topic over the next few weeks and exploring what Rest/Sabbath is all about, the difficulties in practicing whatever “Sabbath” is, and some personal reflections on my own “wrestling with rest.”

Sabbath ironically is one of those great Biblical themes that is woven into the grand narrative of Scripture from beginning to end. We find in Genesis 1 God the creator resting from his works.  It shows up in the Law, the prophets call for Sabbath observance (often confronting misunderstandings about the nature of Sabbath), Jesus and the Pharisees find a weekly point of conflict it seems on the sabbath, the author of Hebrews warns of the danger of not entering the promised Rest, and Revelation ends with a new Creation, a heaven-earth marriage in which there is no night, which must have some implication in the issue of rest as well.

What is Sabbath? What is its purpose? Has Sabbath changed under the New Covenant?  If so, how much?  the day? the strictness?

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Rest Reflects Relationship

Continuing through Matthew 12, I encountered yet another Sabbath controversy for Jesus.  He’s just claimed that he is Lord of the Sabbath, and yet the people still want to test him to see what he’ll do–this time providing a man with a withered hand to be their case study.

I was reminded today that Matthew 12 occurs directly after Matthew 11.  Have you read the end of that?  Jesus boldly declares that those who are weary, who are burdened (maybe even by overzealous Sabbath enforcement?) are invited to come to him and find rest for their souls.  The Sabbath observance had ceased to become restful in chapter 12.  Why?  Because it became divorced from the God who created Sabbath and who alone provides rest.

If true rest can only be found in relationship to the Lord of the Sabbath Himself, what does that say about us without rest?  If the stress has overwhelmed us, if the grind won’t stop, if we are burning ourselves out at both ends, the problem isn’t primarily a rest problem.  It’s a relationship problem.  Our rest reflects our relationship with God.

“Come to me; I am the Lord of true rest.”