“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:8-9
“God’s people witness to their participation in the covenant by ceasing their labors and joining the believing community in the celebration of the LORD’s Sabbath rest.” Allen Ross, Holiness to the Lord
When you hear the word rest, what immediately comes to mind? Maybe you think of rest in terms of sleep, watching TV, being silent or just doing nothing. All these are terms associated with not doing work. We see this idea of rest involving ceasing from normal work activities in Scripture, like in Genesis chapter 2 where God rested from His work of creating. Then in the giving of the law, God commanded His people to cease work. Old Testament scholar Allen Ross wrote in his book on Leviticus that the word “refers to a person’s occupation, what one was assigned to do as the daily task.”
But the Bible doesn’t stop there. For those called by God and in covenant with Him there is a more nuanced meaning of the word rest. For “to rest” is not only to cease from physical labor but also is to celebrate and worship the Lord. Rest is not only intended for the body but for the spirit as well. This is a gift from the Lord.
Sabbath belongs to the Lord: “It shall be a Sabbath to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:3c) Ross says that the preposition “to” connotes possession, meaning it is His. “Because the day was his, he graciously invited his people to share his Sabbath rest,” wrote Ross.
And how is it that we enter God’s rest? Through Jesus Christ. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) It is only because Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity, that he can offer and actually give Sabbath rest.
I wrote an article for The Alabama Baptist in 2011 about the idea of Sabbath rest. You can read that article: here.
This is what Ken Mathews, Old Testament scholar and professor at Beeson Divinity School, said for the article, “Even though we may be resting from our activities in worship or in recreation, ultimately we will only have a satisfying rest when we place our faith and trust in God.”
Also for the article, Dale Younce, professor of Christian studies at the University of Mobile, said, “[Rest] is a spiritual reality in which a believer rests in confidence in what God has done in salvation.”
Like so many Old Testament laws, they were abolished and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Sabbath is not Sunday. The Sabbath, although it had a wonderful, practical, literal place in the life of a believing Jew, also served as a sign of something greater – a future rest. When Jesus Christ came, He inaugurated this futuristic rest. How? True rest with God means that you are at peace with God. Jesus Christ was the peace offering so that through faith in Him, crucified and resurrected, we enter into the presence of God, at peace with Him. And once one is at peace with God, one rests with God.
But what does this rest look like for us Christians today?
1. In the article you will read that scholars are in agreement that it definitely involves corporate and private worship (praise, prayer, reading of Scripture). Although the Sabbath is not Sunday, we set Sunday apart as a reminder of the inauguration of the new covenant, the forever rest through Jesus Christ. But we don’t stop there. “Christians are not merely to give one day in seven to God, but all seven. Since they have entered the rest of God, every day should be sanctified,” Ross says.
2. Rest from work. In our fast paced society that values work, it is more difficult for us to stop working. But ceasing from physical work goes hand in hand with worship of God. Think about it. Intentional prayer, reading of Scripture, reflecting on His creation involves undivided attention. Work divides our attention. Social media, family, friends, TV, Internet divides our attention. God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10).
3. When praying and thinking about this topic, church ministers came to the forefront of my mind. Ministers will always be busy and underpaid for all their work (with the exception of those like Joel Osteen). They have dedicated their lives to serving the Lord. But I often feel (having been a pastor’s daughter, seminary student and church member) that ministers are overworked to the point that it is unhealthy. Sundays for many ministers are not just days of worship but business meetings, visitations and events (fellowships, concerts, etc). Many times this is caused by demands of church members, of traditions (this is how it’s always been done), or of ministers themselves. Your church will only be as healthy as your ministers.
What are some ways you incorporate biblical rest in your life? Thoughts?