I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but post-lockdown traffic seems to be busier than ever. Instead of absorbing the benefits of being still and learning the valuable lessons of quiet meditation before God, we can’t wait to sign up afresh for what my Aussie daughter calls the “post-Covid social madness.”
We are bombarded from all sides with information, noise and endless appointments. Basically, we become over-stimulated and unable to think clearly as our fragile human switchboard gets jammed. What chance have we got when we never stop?
As I pointed out last week, desecrating the Sabbath was part of the disobedience for which the hand of divine judgment came upon ancient Israel. The Temple was destroyed and they were exiled to Babylon, while their own land was left desolate for 70 years, finally able to enjoy its Sabbath (which also applies to the land in Israel), just as the prophet Jeremiah said would happen (2 Chron 36:19-21).
And in Isaiah 56 the importance of keeping the Sabbath seems to apply equally to foreigners who have bound themselves to the Lord (v6). Are we Gentiles not foreigners who have bound ourselves to the God of Israel as we are grafted in to the olive tree (Rom 11:24) representing the chosen people? The context of Isaiah’s words here appears to confirm this as it includes the Scripture Jesus quoted as he drove out the money-changers from the Temple, declaring “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (v7). This surely implies that everyone – Jew and Gentile – seeking to follow the Lord would see keeping the Sabbath as fundamental.
It’s a key command of God, so that makes it important enough. But it’s also essentially practical. We are in dire need of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual rest and recovery to re-charge our batteries and enable us to hear the still, small voice of our heavenly Father above all the other demanding voices clamouring for our attention.
My friend David Hoffbrand, whose excellent teaching on the Sabbath is available on the internet, compares it to Elijah’s experience on the mountain as he sought an audience with God. The place was rocked by a great earthquake, a terrifying wind and a furious fire, but the Lord was not in any of these. He could only be heard in the still, small voice – a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12).
“When we hear the voice of God, everything else seems trivial and unimportant by comparison. God’s whisper in your heart is louder than every wind, earthquake or fire that may be raging in your life.”1
People seem to have ants in their pants these days, forever fiddling with their phones or juggling their hectic schedules. What they desperately need is a quietening of their souls in order to hear the gentle whisper of our loving Saviour, which also happens to be the most productive way to spend the Sabbath.
Consigning the Sabbath to the dustbin of Christian theology was not only antisemitic, as I’ve already suggested, but also an over-reaction to the perceived legalism of some practitioners – i.e. throwing the baby out with the bathwater – along with a gross misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching on the subject.
Our Lord was simply correcting abuse, hypocrisy and heartless ritual, concluding that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). It’s for our benefit, but we discard it at our peril. Without regular rest, our physical, mental and spiritual health will be seriously compromised.
As Rosemary Bamber has put it, the Pharisees who criticised Jesus and his disciples for ‘working’ on God’s day of rest had not understood that keeping the Sabbath is bound into other laws which include loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.2
If someone is sick, or in need, that’s OK, because it is God’s will that we should do good on the Sabbath (Matt 12:12). Notably, the disciples were walking with Jesus on the Sabbath day. And is that where we are to be found?
The idea of working 24/7 suggests that it all depends on us – rather as climate change activists see their campaigning – whereas taking a day off to honour God is a step of faith, like the rest of the Christian life, and demonstrates our trust in the supernatural provision promised to those who walk in obedience to him.
Jesus said: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavily-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) He is the ultimate Sabbath rest (Hebr 4:9) in whom you will find true rest for your souls.
As that great hymn goes, “We rest on Thee, our shield and our defender; we go not forth alone against the foe; strong in thy strength, safe in thy keeping tender; we rest on thee, and in thy name we go.”
Just as God rested from his works on the seventh day of creation, so we ‘rest’ from our works (efforts to find salvation) through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ – of which the Sabbath is a constant reminder. It doesn’t come through our own effort – it’s a gift, after all – but through faith alone. It’s not law, but life.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.