The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2021
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 NIV
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 male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember 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.
Rest in Jesus
Pastor Jon Zabell
Rest is a wonderful thing. Some days seem longer than others. Think of a day where all kinds of work was added to what you had already planned. Think of a day that seemed to test your patience from start to finish. Now think of that wonderful moment at the end of that long day, when your head finally hit the pillow. Your work was done. The things that tested your patience were out of the picture. Now you could finally close your eyes and sleep. Rest. Whether it’s the end of a day, the end of a week, or a long-awaited vacation, rest is a wonderful thing.
The Third Commandment is about rest. God said, “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (v.12). Sabbath means rest. He explained this rest further by saying, “... The seventh day is a sabbath (a rest) to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do” (v.13-14).
The people needed rest. They needed rest for their bodies. Sore muscles needed time for healing and strengthening. If the animals rested, then the people could rest, too. But the people also needed rest for their souls. So do we!
Ever since the fall into sin, work isn’t what it used to be. Work is supposed to bring us pure, uninterrupted joy. That’s how God made us. But even though there are things people may love about the work they do, work isn’t the joyful thing it was before sin entered the world. Work is supposed to be purely about serving our neighbor. But people find ways to make it about themselves instead. They say it’s not about the recognition, the pay, the honor. But look what happens when they don’t get those things. Anger and resentment begin to brew. When they do receive honor and pay, they aren’t satisfied. So they work harder; still nothing. They stress themselves out. They hurt their relationships. They ruin their health. If they don’t end up actually giving up on what they’re doing, they sure feel like it. This is not how it’s supposed to be.
So also, since the fall into sin, rest isn’t what it’s supposed to be. Rest is supposed to refresh us so that we can go back to serving our neighbor. But people turn it around. They make rest an end in itself, as if the whole purpose of life in this world is that we get some free time. Rest is supposed to be a time to leave things in God’s hands and trust him to take care of them. But they’d rather have things in their own hands. So they skip the rest they desperately need. They become like an overtired two-year-old at the end of the day. He cries and squirms and everybody knows he just needs to go to bed, but he won’t.
We all need rest, real rest, God’s kind of rest. Observe the Sabbath, he says. God is commanding all people to find our rest in him. God is pointing us to our Savior. In the Old Testament they were to take a day, and it was to be the seventh day, Saturday. They were to cease all physical work. Those aspects of the commandment were a shadow of the coming Savior. Now the Savior has come, and the shadow is no longer needed. But the heart of the commandment for them and for us still stands. Sabbath! Rest in Christ!
God is revealing his heart to us. He loves us! He sees how we are consumed even now by our sinful approach to work and to rest. He knows it’s only a symptom of a deeper problem, the sinful nature we inherit ever since the fall into sin. He sees the eternal danger that lies ahead if we stay on this path. He sees the stubborn sinful pride in us that won’t let go of our grab for honor, even when it’s killing us. “Stop!” he says. “Rest in me!” His heart aches to have us sinners back with him.
And still we struggle in our eagerness to rest in him. We struggle to be excited about our devotion time or going to church - meanwhile, it’s easy for us to be excited about the rest we find in other places: the day off, the free time, the vacation. What’s wrong with us? The most common excuse we give for not loving God’s Word with all our heart is that we’re too busy. Are we listening? That’s exactly what God is telling us not to do. Too busy isn’t an excuse. Too busy is the problem. God gives us this invitation, this gift, again and again, and again and again, we throw it away. What would you do with someone who keeps throwing away good gifts you give them?
Here’s what God did. God promised an even bigger gift. He promised a Savior. He said to his people, “Remember 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” (v.15). They could hear the promise of the Savior in that. Remembering this rescue from the past helped them remember why he rescued them. The nation of Israel was his nation. From them, a Savior would come.
Friends, that Savior has come. He is God’s antidote to your sin and mine.
The sinful, selfish way we approach our work, Jesus has it covered for us. Jesus worked the way we are all supposed to work. He honored his parents, he helped those in need, he served all who were in need. He never missed an opportunity to do what his neighbor needed him to do. And every last piece of work Jesus did was driven purely by love: love for his Father, love for his neighbor. This record of perfect, godly, selfless work that Jesus did is God’s gift to you, and it is yours. Because of Jesus, everything you do is now holy in God’s sight. Jesus has sanctified all of your work.
Jesus also rested the way we are all supposed to rest. He had to be in his Father’s house. He went off alone and prayed. He regularly stopped and remembered God’s good and gracious plan for him and for all people. If anyone deserved to rest on his laurels, it was Jesus. But Jesus rested so that he could become the servant of all. And now his holy rest is God’s gift to you and it is yours. Because of Jesus all the time you ever spend listening to God's word, remembering his grace, receiving his sacrament, attending worship: it is all a holy thing in God’s eyes. Jesus has sanctified all of your rest.
Jesus kept the Sabbath for you. Jesus is your Sabbath. Who does that make you? The people of Israel had been slaves in Egypt. But even then, that wasn’t really who they were. Even while they were still in Egypt, by his own grace and mercy, God had already declared them to be his own people, for the sake of the Savior who was to come. Now they were on the way to the Promised Land, the place that belongs to all of God’s people. So it is with you and me. Our work does not define who we are. Our standing with God and in this world does not depend even remotely on the work we do or even on the reasons why we do it. Jesus is our Sabbath. He lived for us. He died for us. He rose again for us. God has rescued us from sin with a mighty hand and his outstretched arm. We are not slaves. We are God’s people. We belong to him.
Think about what this means! Apart from our Savior, we have to worry about whether our work is ever enough, and we have to live with the crushing reality that it never is. Jesus is your Sabbath. His perfect work, his perfect rest, covers you. Now there is no more worrying, no desperate anxiety about whether you’ve done enough, whether you’ve done it well enough, whether you’ve done it with the right motives. It's already acceptable to God. You don't have to work to earn your rest. You already have it.
So rest! Rest in the Sabbath Jesus has already won for you. Grab hold of the forgiveness by which God has already grabbed hold of you. At your baptism God declared you his own. By his own saving name he awakened faith in you and wrapped it around all of his promises. He covered you in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. You don’t have to spend your days fighting to keep your head above water. Your baptism is just as pure, just as refreshing as it was the day it happened. Take a bath in it every day, and enjoy the cleansing forgiveness God has given you through faith in Jesus. Remember who you were without him. Remember who you are now.
And in that rest, take a fresh look at the people around you. Your family, your friends, the people you serve at work, at home, at school. God put them there, and the same God who has taken away your sin is calling you to serve them. Apart from your Savior, they seem to demand our time, our energy, our service, and we feel constrained to give it. That’s not who they are. That’s not who you are. Forgiven in Christ and headed for heaven, you have all that you need and plenty to share. The God who calls you to serve equips you to do it. You can serve them with joy, because of the rest you already have in Christ.
Jesus flipped everything upside down. It used to be all about us, all about trying to satisfy desires in our sinful nature that can never be satisfied. Jesus has saved us from our empty way of life. He has covered us in his righteousness. Now the riches of heaven are ours. It used to be that we needed to work in our own name so that we could rest on our laurels. Now we rest in Christ’s name so that we can work for his glory.
Look to the promised land that lies ahead. Sin and death will be gone. Stress and worry will disappear. We will find eternal rest. But it’s not as though we will have nothing to do. God loves us too much for that! He gives us a glimpse of heaven in John’s Revelation, and it’s a picture of perfect rest and perfect work. “They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence” (Revelation 7:15).
In heaven, you will experience it fully. Brothers and sisters, God has declared it to be so already now, through Jesus your Savior, your Sabbath, your rest.