Scripture Exodus 20:8-11, Exodus 31:17

(c) Copyright February 9, 2010  Rev. Bill Versteeg

Exodus 20:8-11 (NIV)
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Keeping the Sabbath is an issue of spiritual posture before it is an issue of spiritual practice. Keeping the Sabbath is an issue of spiritual posture before it is an issue of spiritual practice.  You may remember in school when the teacher reminded someone in your class to sit up strait, have good posture, and they would practice it for a few minutes and then get back into the slump. That is the difference between posture and practice. A posture points to who we are, a practice points to what we do. Keeping the Sabbath has to do with who we are before it has to do with what we do.

In our culture, have you noticed that who we are, our identity, so often focuses on what we do. We come up to a person we don’t know, and usually within the first few minutes of conversation we ask each other: “What do you do for a living?” And we discover by what they do their identity, a carpenter, a teacher, a business man. In our culture, so much of what we are is defined by what we do. At the heart of this command is the truth that there are to be limits around what we do because of who we are.

Six days you will labor and do all your work, the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. We are created in God’s image. We have a likeness to God. And God, he worked hard for six days creating creation, on the seventh day, he rested, he enjoyed his accomplishment. From this text we discover that the Sabbath is celebrated because of who we are, made in God’s image. Keeping the Sabbath has to do with spiritual posture before it has to do with practice.

Now the theme of keeping the Sabbath is a theme that is woven throughout the scriptures. In the next few minutes, as we remember that keeping the Sabbath has more to do with who we are than what we do, let me quickly notice some key passages with you.

Turn to Exodus 31:16-17. (NIV)
16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested."

Notice from this passage two things. First, this posture of rest from labor, of finding identity outside of work is a sign, a marker that the Israelites were God’s people. It was a sign to them and to the nations that they belonged to the Lord.  Rest was evidence of a healthy faith filled relationship with God.

Second, this passage is here translated that on the seventh day the Lord abstained from work and rested. That, in my judgment, is a poor translation. In the original language it literally says that God rested (Sabbathed) and "caught his breath." The word for catching his breath is related to the word Nephesh in Hebrew. You may remember from Genesis 2:7 - God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth, breathed into him the breath of life and he became living being (Nephesh). There is a picture of absolutely needed 'breath catching rest' here. You know this picture if you in exercise have over exerted yourself. Some of you may know this story.  A few years ago, when my wife and I went snorkeling off the shores of Maui with the turtles, we were having a great time.  But in the process of the fun, I did not notice that I was developing an asthma attack, my lungs slowly started filling with fluid.  I ended up clinging to rocks on a cliff in the surf until a boat came and rescued me.  I knew that if I did not catch my breath, I would die.  The issue was no longer snorkeling, the issue was life itself.  It was no longer an issue of doing, it was an issue of being. If I didn't catch my breath, I would die. I would cease to exist. I would disappear. My identity would be finished. 

Here, breath and life itself go hand in hand. Rest and life go hand in hand. God after the exertion of creation caught his breath. Rest has to do with being created in the image of God. Without breath catching rest, we lose who we are, we die.

Next we turn to Deuteronomy 5:12-15
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Notice, in this passage, Sabbath keeping is not tied to doing what God did in creation, this time Sabbath keeping has to do with being rescued from Egypt.

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt is the beginning of the commandments. You remember the story. Israel was in slavery in Egypt. Their master was work. Their identity was "slaves."  We don't say they did "slavery," we say they were slaves. They cried out in their misery. They were dying under the workload. God heard their cries and rescued them from their cruel task master, the Egyptians who drove them to work and work, and work and work. God rescued them from work. A Sabbath was in order because God had rescued them to rest from slavery to their work. They would now have a new identity as the people of God, set free from labor, set free from Egypt. How did that practically work out?

The answer is simply, the Lord provided for them. Deuteronomy 29:5 says it plainly.
5 During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.

The Lord provided. The Lord gave them what they needed everyday. Water poured out of the rock so they would not need fermented drink. Manna poured out to the heavens so that they would not need bread. They had to learn that the Lord would provide. They had to grow in faith trusting that the Lord would provide. That was the lesson of manna.

It came down six days a week. And they gathered on those six days. If however they tried to store extra for themselves, it would quickly grow worms and spoil. However on the 6th day they could gather extra so that they could rest in the Lord’s provision on the seventh day. In this way they learned to trust God to provide for them. They could rest in his provision. It takes faith to obey the command to rest.

You might remember that this trust in the Lord’s provision extended beyond one day in seven. It extended to one year in 7. Throughout an entire year, the seventh year, Israel was to trust God for his provision and let the entire land rest. This would progress for 7 X 7 years, or 49 years. Then on the 50th year, it was another year of rest and trusting the Lord’s provision. In that year, those who had lost their land due to circumstances beyond their control, or bad business deals, those who had become slaves because of the debt, they got everything back. It was called the year of Jubilee. Prisoners who could not pay their debt were set free. Because of the Lord’s provision, all were once again made equal. People who had gained much through hard work were to give it to the poor. The last became first and the first became like the last. All of this trusting that the Lord would provide. It takes faith to rest.  It takes faith to live in a posture of Sabbath.  It takes faith to practice Jubilee.

By the time we come to the New Testament, this theme of the rest that God has intended for us, redeemed us to, the rest that calls us to put our trust in him becomes deep and rich in the ministry of Christ.

Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry came quoting Isaiah
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In short, he came proclaiming the year of Jubilee.  Before that proclamation, there is no recorded time in the history of Israel that they truly celebrated the year of Jubilee. They did not trust God enough. They continued to oppress the poor.  The prophets decried this faithless injustice. Jesus came to declare the year of Jubilee. And in doing so, he invited people to come to him and rest in God’s provision. Develop a posture, an identity of people who trust in God for all of their needs. His words and his invitations repeated the theme again and again.

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Jesus came to bring us rest. And to bring us that rest, he worked so hard that on the cross, he could no longer catch his breath. On the cross he gave up his breath, so that we could rest. John tells us (John 19:30) that Jesus gave us his spirit (literally, his breath, the very word from which we get pneumonia).  Jesus could not catch his breath.  But then after three days he rose again, and after his resurrection, John tells us that Jesus “breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22) This is John’s picture of Pentecost. Even Pentecost has to do with rest. Pentecost was the day when the Spirit, the breath of God came in the form of a mighty wind and it was poured out and the church was able to, so to speak, catch its breath and become a living being. Now the kingdom would be built not first of all on the slavish hard work of God’s people, the kingdom would be built by spiritual gifts poured out.

As the Lord let Zerubbabel know in Zecharia 4:6 ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.’ That is how the kingdom comes, in the Lord’s provision, by the Lord’s Spirit and by the spiritual gifts that God gives. Pentecost has everything to do with Sabbath keeping, resting in the provision of the Lord. Catching our spiritual breath and becoming a living Church and then working hard with the gifts and the energy of the Spirit which the Lord himself provides. Paul would call this energy, the dunamis of the Lord, we get our word dynamite from that word. The Holy Spirit is the Sabbath Spirit, the Lord providing so that his kingdom may be established, his church built up, as we rest in his provision.

And then of course heaven is pictured as a banquet, an eternal rest that still awaits God’s people. We have been saved in Christ to eternal rest.

Wow, what a big theme in scripture, what a lot of theology. Pastor Bill, give me something to go home with.

I have already said that Sabbath keeping is more an issue of posture and identity than practice and doing. So it is pointless for me to start with what we can and cannot do on Sundays.

In this past while, I have had to work on this in myself and so every question I ask you I have already been asking myself.

Let me start by inviting you to ask yourself “Who am I?” What is my identity? What shapes my identity? Do I take pride in I excessive busyness and your hyperactivity? Is work my master, defining who I am, my identity a slave to my Job, my Egypt?

Rest is not only necessary for I am created in the image of God with the need to catch my breath, I have also been redeemed from being enslaved to work so that I might rest in what God provides. The images of scripture teach me plainly: If I don’t get rest, catch my breath, I will die, both physically and spiritually, I will lose my identity as a living being.

At the heart of this command is that work, though it is important must have some absolute boundaries. The danger with work is that it can become our master, our slave driver. And as it enslaves us, it kills both body and spirit.

What are you doing to rest in the provision that God gives?

Maybe it is time to start asking each other, instead of “what do you do for a living?” rather to ask “how do you rest for a living?” because it is catching our breath in the rest that God provides that gives us life in abundance.

Who we are has to do with subtle themes that live in our hearts. As I have been reflecting on this sermon in its preparation, I have noticed some of the following themes in my own heart and maybe you can identify with them.

I was raised with a strong work ethic. We were not allowed to do very much on Sundays. But we were taught that rest was for the purpose of returning to work reinvigorated. That rest had its purpose in work. Wrong! Rest has its purpose in giving us life. It is an end in itself, the destiny that God has for us.

Somehow, in my heart there is a theme that I know is wrong. “Resting is a waste of time.” There is so much to be done and so little time to do it. Resting and guilt for taking a rest in me go hand in hand. Wrong! Resting, trusting that God, who never slumbers nor sleeps will build his kingdom, is never a waste of time, it is an exercise in faith.

Rest has the purpose of keeping what is Holy in focus. There is more to life than work. There is meaning, purpose, fulfillment, joy, abundance, relationships, play, celebration, worship, truth, beauty, justice, goodness, loveliness, purity, there is so much more to life that is to be kept Holy, special sacred to us. The beauty of life in trusting God for all he provides is the sign that we belong to him, this restfulness marks God’s people.

Sabbath is a reminder to me that prayer as an expression of dependence on what God provides lies at the heart of a posture of rest. Prayerlessness is simply evidence that we think we can do the work God calls us to in our own strength. How fitting that I have often used the excuse that I have no time to pray because I have too much work to do!  We think we can wisely raise our children in our own strength. We can teach, we can do business in a Christian way, we can build houses, we can farm Christianly in our own strength.  Get over yourself Bill! Take a rest. Start depending on God through prayer.  Prayer is about resting in God.  Jesus, who brought us rest, regularly secluded himself to prayer.  The apostles appointed deacons so that they could dedicate themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.  Forget all the meetings, and administration, the scheduled appoints. 

And finally this reminds me that it is not by my power, but by the Spirit. The Spirit of Pentecost is the gift of God that enables us to rest in the gifts he gives trusting him to bring the kingdom. I love this poem by Joyce Rupp that describes for us a posture of rest depending on the Spirit, the breath of God to work in and through us.

“A small wooden flute, an empty, hollow reed, rests in her silent hand.
it awaits the breath of one who creates song through its open form.
my often-empty life rests in the hand of God; like the hollowed flute, it yearns for the melody which only Breath can give.
the small, wooden flute and I, we need the one who breathes, we await one who makes melody.
and the one whose touch creates, awaits our empty, ordinary forms, so that the song-starved world may be fed with golden melodies.”


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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