Sabbath Rest is a Gift from God | 01.29.23 | Best Year Ever Pt 4
Drew Williams   -  

Exodus 20:8-11
Pastor Drew Williams

Have you ever walked into a space that FELT special? You walk in, and it’s set up in a way that just takes your breath away and makes you take notice. You know that something is different about this area. You can’t just continue with your chaotic stress and loud thoughts, because this space is ushering you in to a different experience.

I don’t know what came to mind for you as I described that, but two places come to my mind where I experienced that sort of sacred space.

The first is the cathedral St. Chapelle in Paris, France. I went there one summer in college. I had visited lots of different tourist spots, and lots of different cathedrals and museums, but when I stepped foot into this space, it was like I had stepped foot in a different world.

[SLIDE 1]The cathedral St. Chapelle is floor to ceiling stained glass windows, and it includes over 1100 different scenes from Bible stories presented in stained glass. The light that comes in through the windows showers the whole room in this golden, dappled light that even makes the people inside look other-worldly. Even the floor dances with a rainbow of light.

I sat in there for over an hour, but it felt like 2 minutes, and I could have stayed longer. The dazzling colors and lights, and quiet hush that descended over everyone inside invited me into a state of peace and calm and awe.

I left there with my mind swirling AND feeling rested and peaceful.

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The second space that comes to mind is when Megan and I took our church’s youth group to the mountains for winter camp. For this California church group, the environment of tall evergreen trees and rustic campground, and the viewpoints of the valley below all came together to usher us out of the frenzied pace of life we were used to into a space to connect with God through his creation.

I remember taking a walk by myself one morning, and going off the trail a bit until I came to a clearing in the woods. The enormous trunks of the trees drew my eyes upward to the sky-scraping branches and the blue sky beyond. I immediately felt small and insignificant, but also extremely lucky and connected to God, because it seemed like he had created this clearing in the woods on that morning just for me.

I heard the chittering of birds in the distance, the whispering of the branches in the wind. The air was cold enough to tingle my skin and make me feel alive, but the weather was mild enough that my body was able to feel warm as I sat at the foot of a tree.

To this day, it is still one of the most visceral, powerful experiences of feeling God’s presence that I’ve ever had. I left there with my heart full and this feeling of rest and peace.

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Have you ever had an experience like that? How incredible would it be if we could have experiences like that regularly?

For many of us, the constant business of life, the stress we feel at work and at home, the unknown of what’s coming next, leave us feeling like we are barely keeping up in life sometimes. Maybe all the time.

We finish a good day at work, but there is still that pile of to-dos that will come knocking the next day. We try to be present at home with our family, but the nagging thought of chores, or bills, or that project we still need to get done — all of that steals the feeling of calm that we hunger for.

Even with technological advances, where we have told ourselves that if we can just automate certain tasks, if we can just make life more “efficient,” then our life will be easier. Then we can work less. THEN we can enjoy our lives more.

But that hasn’t panned out. We automate factories, we speed up communication, we send emails and do zoom calls, but it hasn’t made it so we work less. If anything, we work MORE now that any previous generation.

Electric lights give us longer working hours. Production is expected to increase year over year. Phones and the internet keep us tethered to things that demand our attention, demand our anxiety, demand our worship.

And we know this is the case because when we get home, we’re still JUST as connected, just as “on-call”, just as hooked in to the endless flow of news, demands, and things to give our money to. And if we don’t have a regular way to decompress, to rest, to find peace and joy, then we begin to feel more and more ragged in life, more and more rushed, more and more worn down.

We aren’t able to give our best to our work. We aren’t able to give our best to our family. We aren’t able to experience the transformation life that we keep hearing about at church and in our life group.

If this resonates with you at all, then there is good news for you today, because God knows how crazy our world makes us, he knows how burnt out we can get, and he knows that we aren’t able to give our all to the things he’s entrusted to us just by running on our own power.

That’s why he’s given us a GIFT, a sacred space that we can enter into regularly to find rest as well as continue to learn how to trust him and be with him more and more.

To find out what it is, we’re going to open our black seat-back Bibles to the book of Exodus chapter 20, which can be found on page 51 of the OT. This will bring us right into the famous section of Scripture known as the Ten Commandments.

And as you’re finding Exodus 20, I want to remind you that the Ten Commandments were given to God’s chosen people, the people of Israel, right after he had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. They had spent 400 years in oppression, being used and abused by Egypt, and being raised in the culture of Egypt, with their rituals, their values, their gods, and their relentless pursuit of power and prestige, even if it meant working people to death on the path to their goals.

So God has just rescued them out of all of that in some incredibly miraculous ways, but the people still are living in the WAY that they had become accustomed to. They are living with the weight of a life that expects the leaders over them to demand them to sacrifice themselves on the altar of production and work, all in the name of worshiping the “gods” that don’t truly care for humans but just use them.

So the one true God needs to teach his people that he’s not like that. He’s way different. And so he sets out the Ten Commandments to show the Israelites his nature so that they can begin to understand what he’s like.

So look with me at Exodus, chapter 20. Verse 2 starts the first set of commandments that declare what God is like, that he’s the only true God. And therefore, his people don’t need to try and worship and appease other gods. That’s not needed, because they aren’t real. And people don’t need to build statues of God to stand in condemning oppression over the people, like they were used to in Egypt. Because God isn’t like that. He’s a rescuer, not a punisher.

And then we get to our passage today, which starts with verse 8:

[SLIDES 6-8] follow along with the verses

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The first few commandments tell us what God is like, and then the rest tell us how we GET to act as the people whom he loves.

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So after telling his people what He is like, the first command God tells his people that involves something to DO is “remember.” The Hebrew word used here can be translated as remember, mention, record, but it also carries with it the sense of creating a “memorial” for something.

“Memorialize the sabbath day, keep it holy.” Holy means to sanctify, to dedicate, to keep SET APART. To honor as sacred.

“Make a memorial for the sabbath, and dedicate it as a sacred space.”

And then God connects his reasoning with creation itself. This is HOW the world is meant to operate: six days of work and labor – the things we are responsible over as representatives of God, because God did that. But the 7th day? That is supposed to be set aside as a sacred memorial for God.

And notice that this isn’t an individual or personal command. This isn’t spoken to YOU as one person to make sure that YOU get some rest every once in a while.

This is spoken to the whole community. It’s spoken to ALL Y’ALL. And it’s not just the people in charge who are supposed to stop their work and worship God by observing the sabbath, it’s EVERYONE.

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YOU don’t work. Your KIDS don’t work. Your slaves don’t work. Your animals don’t work. The foreigners who are barely scraping by shouldn’t be made to work.

Because this day, the sabbath day is HOLY. Sacred. Set apart. And EVERYONE is invited to enter in to that sacred space.

This is a “sabbath TO THE LORD.” It’s God’s day. It’s God’s space. He created it, and we are just entering into it.

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Because the good news is that the Sabbath as a spiritual habit is a GIFT from God to help us learn how to trust him and be with him more and more.

And we can see that this was God’s plan all along if we flip back to the beginning. You can keep a finger in Exodus in your Bible, but you can flip back with me to page 1, which is Genesis chapter 1.

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We go through the creation poem and see that each time God CREATES something, he calls it “good.” Light? Good. The sea? Good. Land with vegetation? Good. The Sun and the moon? Good. Fish in the sea? Good. Land animals? Good. Humanity? Very good.

And then chapter 2 starts and we see that “on the seventh day, God FINISHED the work that he had done.” He didn’t finish on the 6th day and then take the 7th day off. The 7th day is when he FINISHED his work of creation. So what did he create on the seventh day?

He created the Sabbath. He created a space of rest and blessed it and called it holy.

And if you subscribe to a literal 7-day creation, then humans were created on day 6, and THE VERY FIRST THING THAT GOD HAD THEM DO was rest on the sabbath day.

God finished his work of creation by creating the sabbath day as a gift, and that’s the first gift that he gave to humanity after giving them life itself.

If you had popped into existence one day, and then the next day—your first FULL day—God, who created you, says “enter into this sacred space and time of rest and worship.” Well, you might think that THAT is a pretty important part of the reason why you exist.

If you had just been rescued out of a life of slavery by some new God that you had never heard of, and God’s prophet, some guy named Moses, says, “here’s a list of things that will teach you what God is like and how you are to follow him”, and then he reads the list, and the FIRST THING YOU’RE TOLD TO DO is to memorialize a sacred day as a way to enter into God’s presence, receive his rest, and return to our created order, then you MIGHT think that’s a pretty important part of what it means to be human.

And I hope I’ve successfully communicated to you that Sabbath is built into God’s design of all of creation, and it’s absolutely a gift that he gives to us so that we can learn to trust HIM more, rather than trusting in our work, or our money, or our family to be the thing that we build our life on. God gives us the gift of Sabbath so that we can be with him and become like him more and more.

But there’s a problem, isn’t there?

If you were to ask most Christians if they follow the Ten Commandments, most would say, “of course! I don’t murder, I don’t steal, I don’t lie under oath.”

“I mean… I’ve lied before. But it was a little one. And I’m sure I’ve said the Lord’s name as a curse before, but I’m working on getting better at that.”

But I can guarantee you that most won’t even THINK of the sabbath. And when asked if they practice sabbath, many will say a flat, “no.”

Why is it that the 4th commandment, one of God’s top ten, is something we’re totally cool with ignoring?

If we pay attention to Scripture, it’s because we’re still slaves.

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In Deuteronomy (p126), Moses has gathered all of Israel together one final time before they enter the Promised Land. It’s been forty years since they left Egypt, and lots of the people who are there now weren’t even alive back then, so they need a refresher on who they are as God’s people. They need a reminder of what God is like, and how they are to follow him.

So Moses gives a bunch of other teaching, but he also gives them the Ten Commandments again. And it’s pretty much the exact same thing they heard 40 years earlier, but there is ONE difference in the 4th commandment.

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It starts out the same, telling them to observe the sabbath day, keep it set apart as holy. Our work is for 6 days, but the 7th day is for the Lord.

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And then it goes into detail again how this rest and worship is not just for the bosses, not just for the patriarchs, not just for the land owners, but it’s a day of rest and worship for EVERYONE. It even goes into more detail that the Exodus version had.

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And THEN it hits the big difference: “Remember that you were a slave…and the Lord your God rescued you.” “THEREFORE…” keep the sabbath day.

Here, not only is Sabbath communicated as built into the fabric of creation, but it’s a direct tool to keep us out of slavery.

You were a slave! You used to not be in control of your schedule. You used to not be in control of what you did for work or fun. You used to have to answer to someone over you who didn’t want the best for you, but wanted to only get things OUT of you, even if it destroyed you.

This second giving of the command is a plea for God’s people to NOT enter slavery again. You USED to be a slave, don’t willingly enter into that again! Don’t willingly enter into a life that is nonstop work, nonstop striving, nonstop worry, nonstop expectation. Because not only will it ruin your life, but then it causes US to become slavedrivers who demand the same things from the people under our care.

Don’t do that! Don’t enter into that life. Enter instead into MY sacred sabbath. Do it regularly. Like, every single week. It’ll be a respite from the frenzied pace. It’ll be a chance to pause and reconnect with me. It’ll be a space of calm where you can be reminded who you are and whose you are.

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Beloved, Sabbath is a gift from God that not only helps us learn how to trust HIM more and more, but it also allows us to be with him and become more like him.

This isn’t a HAVE-TO. On this side of Jesus’ work on the cross, we don’t have a relationship with God where we HAVE TO keep his commands, OR ELSE! We don’t keep God’s commands in order to earn his love.

God has already rescued us from our slavery, and has already given us his love and grace, and now he continues to invite us to follow him and receive from him so that we can learn how to trust him more and become like him more in our everyday lives.

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The Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel wrote this about the Sabbath: “We enter not simply a day, but an atmosphere… The goal is creating the Sabbath as a foretaste of paradise. It’s a metaphor for paradise and a testimony to God’s presence.”

Sabbath is a gift from God that gives us a taste of eternity in the here and now, and we are invited to enter into it.

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But how? How do we practice this spiritual habit of entering the sacred memorial of sabbath today? How do we manage it in the 21st century, when we are constantly pulled in every direction by all sorts of things that threaten to enslave us again and keep us out of God’s sacred space?

Well, one way to think about Sabbath is that it involves resting, or STOPPING, work, or worry, or distractions that keep us from recognizing God as the true source of life and provision.

But it’s not just about stopping. Entering into Sabbath, remembering the sacred space, stepping foot into the holy presence that God has set apart in Sabbath involves CONNECTING with God. It involves recognizing him. It involves delight in him and in the things he has given to us. So, delighting in creation, or in our family, or in good food — all those are ways to delight in God as we practice entering into sabbath.

If Sabbath is a gift that is given by God to help us learn to trust him more, and to help us be with him more and become like him more and more, then the things we enter into by practicing the habit of Sabbath are meant to help us disconnect from stress and work and CONNECT with God’s goodness and provision and delight.

So what are things that help you CONNECT with God’s goodness and delight? Some of the things for me that feel like this are an early morning cup of coffee as the sun is starting to rise and the whole world is still quiet.

I also love being outdoors. I usually live a fast-paced life, constantly going from thing to thing, listening to a podcast on the way, and checking emails or social media while also trying to be present at home. My multi-tasking has turned into a form of slavery at times.

So when I intentionally get outside and turn off all the noisy distractions, whether I’m by myself, or if I’m playing outside with my kids and actually being present with them and engaging with how they are interacting with the outdoors, I get to enter into a slower, more calm space. I hear the birds. I feel the breeze. I smell the grass.

But I also love to cook, and so, for me, having the space on a Saturday to grill out, or make a new creative meal in the kitchen, smelling the aromas, tasting as I go, anticipating the meal, plating it on the nicer plates, asking Megan if she’d like to open a bottle of wine for the meal, and then sitting down together…that WHOLE process can be a space where I connect with the creativity and delight of God.

But what about you? What are things that help you connect with the goodness of God? What are things that go beyond physical rest to being rejuvenating? What are things that are not only recreational, but actually re-CREATE you as the child of God that you are, experiencing the wonder and delight of our Father’s good creation?

Those are the types of things that should be included in a Sabbath habit. And the types of things that should be avoided while practicing Sabbath are things that disconnect us from God and our families. Things like work stress. Abraham Heschel, again, says that since it’s impossible to actually FINISH ALL our work in 6 days, the idea that the commandment is getting at is that we are to rest even from the THOUGHT of work, trusting that we will have time later to accomplish those things, but THIS TIME, this space of sabbath, is a gift from God for the worship of God and the delight of his creation.

So work stress can be set aside. Worry about bills, deadlines, forecasts, are all things that our enemy is trying to use to steal the joy of sabbath from us. So we set those aside in the able arms of God, trusting that the world will not fall apart while we are entering into a space of rest and worship and delight.

And, of course, the ideal is that this would a full day, or a 24-hour period, but not all of us are there yet. And that’s okay! God meets us where we are in his grace and beckons us to follow him on this journey of apprenticing ourselves to Jesus so that we can grow into the likeness of our savior.

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So here’s what I’d like you to consider this week: How can I enter into the gift of Sabbath this week?

How can I schedule one thing that helps me disconnect from stress and work and worry and CONNECT with God’s goodness and delight? And how can I invite my family and others into that delight?

Maybe you’ll start with scheduling a 2-hour timeframe. Maybe that’s where you need to start for sabbath. Maybe you can get to a half-day of stopping stress and work and worry, and adding joy and delight in restful worship of God. Maybe you’re able to set aside a full day to be open to God and rest in him and receive joy and delight from him with those you’re closest with.

But start with asking yourself how you can schedule something this week to practice this spiritual habit of sabbath.

Because Sabbath is a gift from God to help us grow in trust, to help us spend time with him, and to help us become more like him as we continue our journey of following Jesus in our everyday lives.

And practicing a weekly Sabbath is actually a way that we practice what it’s like to connect with God and receive from him, it’s a way for us to practice what eternity will be like. Abraham Heschel says that the goal of practicing sabbath isn’t just to keep a law or a rule…

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“The goal is creating the Sabbath as a foretaste of paradise. The Sabbath is a metaphor for paradise and a testimony to God’s presence.”

Pastor and author AJ Swoboda puts it this way:

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“The weekly Sabbath day is intended to be an appetizer for the fulfillment of Christ’s work in the world. It points to our liberation, our freedom.” 130

The Sabbath is a gift from God to help us grow in our trust, to help us be with Jesus so that we can become more like him, and to help us proclaim the good news to everyone around us that our God isn’t a slavedriver, but a savior.

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Our God isn’t a demanding father, he’s a gracious father.

Our God isn’t a disappointed dad, he’s loving and patient one.

Our God isn’t a workaholic manager who only cares about production and results, he’s a kind king who cares about wholeness, healing, and relationship…for all people and all of creation.

And THAT’S why we GET to practice the habit of sabbath, so that we can connect with this loving and patient father.

We practice the habit of Sabbath so that we GET to teach our kids and our families about God’s character of grace and healing and provision.

We practice the habit of Sabbath so that we GET to declare to the watching world that Jesus desires relationship over results, he desires justice over productivity, he desires all to come to him for rest and healing, not just certain types of people.

What if we were a church that declared that good news to every man, woman, and child in the Sauk Valley? What if your family was able to share the good news of God’s gift of Sabbath rest by inviting friends and neighbors into a rhythm of receiving delight from God? What if your life starting feeling less stressed and more trusting of God’s ability to provide for your needs because you had built in the habit of a weekly sabbath?

Wouldn’t our witness point to Jesus more? Wouldn’t our words sound more grace-filled? Wouldn’t our patience be increased and our love reach wider because of our practice of receiving love and grace regularly from our loving Father?

Let us commit to practicing this spiritual habit of Sabbath, because it is a gift from God that helps us grow in trust, receive grace, and share that same grace with others as we point to the savior who sets us free from slavery.

Isn’t that good news?