The Sabbath rest of God

At HCBC we just kicked off a sermon series in the book of Genesis called, “Foundations.” imagesGenesis lays the foundations for so many of the most important doctrines in the Bible.  However, there was one important foundational thing that I did not have time to get to in my message, hence this blog post.

This past Sunday in my sermon, “Echoes of Eden”, our text was Genesis 1:26-2:17.  In my message I broke down the essence of the Kingdom of God as “God’s People, in God’s place, under God’s rule.”  We see the foundational seed bed of this concept in the very first two chapters of Genesis, where Adam and Eve, (the people of God) live in God’s special place, (Eden) under God’s benevolent rule.

imagesEden, which means “delight”, is the perfect land for Adam and Eve.  In my sermon I described why.  Eden is delightful because of it’s beauty, it’s abundant provision, it’s bountiful food, but most significantly, Eden is delightful because God dwells there with Adam and Eve.  Adam is to “work” and “keep” the garden.  “Work” and “Keep” isn’t simply about gardening (as honorable of a job that is), instead, these words in the Bible are associated with worship.  The garden becomes a proto-temple, where man and God meet, commune, and have fellowship.  The most delightful thing about Eden was that man could commune with, and enjoy, and worship God, who is superior to all of the other treasures and pleasures of Eden.

However, there is another aspect to man’s delightful enjoyment of God hinted at in the text that I did not have an opportunity to mention in my sermon, and that is the dimension of rest.  After describing creation week in Genesis 1, Genesis chapter 2 opens with the following statement:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)

What does it mean, that God “rested?”  Surely it does not mean that after a hard week of creating the universe God needed to wipe the sweat from his brow, take a deep breath, and recline in the easy chair for a breather!  God does not get tired, as Isaiah later tells us,

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary… (Isaiah 40:28)

Commentator Allen Ross provides some helpful thoughts on God’s “rest.”

The key word here is the well-known “rest” [sabat, “to rest”‘ sabbat, “the Sabbath”]…It is not a word that refers to remedying exhaustion after a tiring week of work. Rather, it describes the enjoyment of accomplishment, the celebration of completion. 

imagesWhat you have in Genesis 1-2 is God spending six days fashioning the heavens, the earth,
and everything in it, and then, on the 7th day, God stands back, as it were, surveying His completed creation, enjoying and delighting in the work of His hands.  This is a rest of achievement as opposed to a rest of inactivity.  God celebrates and takes pleasure in what He has done. The glory of creation redounds back to God, and God exults in that glory.  Along with enjoyment and refreshment in the work God has done, the state of “rest” in the cosmos suggests peace, order, and stability.

It is noteworthy that the 7th day is the only day in Creation Week that does not conclude with “and there was evening and there was morning.”  This may well suggest that the land of Eden, unspoiled by sin, was in a perpetual, ongoing state of blessed, holy rest.  This was, after all, the goal of the original creation.  Adam and Eve, in entering into Eden, enter into the “rest” of God.  This does not mean that they do not work.  It means that they are constantly enjoying God’s rest with God.  They are in a constant state of worship, enjoying and celebrating what God has done.  Yes, I know, that sounds a lot like heaven.  Let’s remember, Genesis is taking us back to the past to give us glimpses of the glorious future He has planned for His people.

This state of paradisiacal bliss in the garden is rudely interrupted by the fall of man and sin in Genesis chapter 3.  Whereas perfect holiness yields a state of restful contentment, sinfulness results in a state of restlessness.  In Genesis 3:17-19, part of God’s curse on sinful humanity is a curse on creation itself.  The land is no longer at rest but resists man’s attempts to yield sustenance from it.

In Genesis 4 part of Cain’s punishment for his sin is to be a restless wanderer.  In the New Testament, Jesus describes Hell as a place of torment  ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:48)  Elsewhere Hell is described as an eternal restlessness where there is a constant “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28)

If this is what damnation looks like, then we should expect salvation to include a return to the “rest” of God.  In my last sermon, I had mentioned how the Bible is full of “Echoes of Eden”, things that remind us of the Edenic state while pointing us forward to a future return to paradise.  Likewise, throughout the Bible there are “Echoes of Rest” that are reminders of what was lost while also being indications of something better to come.

When Moses delivers Israel out of the perpetual restless toil of slavery in Egypt, he gives them the law, which includes a command to observe the Sabbath Day.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:13-15)

Here God grounds the command to rest based on their prior slavery and redemption from it.  The time that they would normally labor should be spent celebrating and enjoying their redemption.  In Exodus God says,

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day…(Exodus 20:9-11)

Here God grounds Sabbath rest in creation.  God commands these Israelites to, every week, image God.  They work and labor for six days and then on the seventh they celebrate what God has done.

What’s more, the Old Testament promises not just personal rest, but a collective rest of the people of God in a land that God gives to them.  The Old Testament Promised Land is seen as a place whereby God’s people can settle and enjoy God, having rest and safety from their enemies.  Refusal to trust God results in a “barring” from the land and God’s rest.  This is why the first generation of Israelites, after being delivered from Egypt, end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and die without entering the land.  They constantly rebelled against God, Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” (Psalm 95:11)

Once that rebellious generation died out, and the new generation of Israelites were about to enter into the Promised Land, Moses says,

images…when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present…And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants…(Deuteronomy 12:10-12)

“Rest” here is associated with dwelling in God’s place in peace and safety, with worship and rejoicing.  In the book of Joshua, God’s people, under Joshua’s leadership, finally enter into the land and conquer Canaan.  Joshua ends by saying,

the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies… (Joshua 23:1) 

But that rest is short lived.  The book of Judges throws the grim reality of sin back in our faces, and this sin would interrupt God’s people from fully enjoying the “rest” of God.  Even in the best of times, the people experience nothing like the rest that was enjoyed in Eden.  Later on God raises up kings to rule God’s people in Israel.  Through the rule of godly men like David, the people occasionally have glimpses of God’s rest, but would never experience it in it’s fullness.  Still, the Old Testament holds out hopes of a future, perfect, eschatological rest for the people of God.  David himself wrote,

But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. (Psalm 37:11)

Once again, however, sin threatens to obscure any hope of rest and peace in the land as God expels the Jews from the Promised Land because of their sin, and when they finally return, hopes are nearly crushed through Roman oppression.  Will the faithful ever enjoy God’s rest?

thomas_std_tAnd it is at this point where Jesus Christ comes on the scene.  He reaches back to Psalm 37 and not only reiterates the promise, but expands it!  It’s not that the meek will simply inherit the “land” (as in Canaan), instead, he says the meek shall inherit the entire earth! (Matthew 5:5)  What’s more, Jesus Christ comes not only promising a land full of delightful rest in the future, but He comes offering personal rest now.  Jesus came preaching to a people not in slavery to Pharoah in Egypt, but to a people bound in worse chains… slaves to sin and death.  He preached to a guilt-burdened people who labored and toiled to free themselves from sin.  And Jesus turns to them and says,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus reveals Himself to be the ultimate place of rest for His people.  He is our Sabbath rest.  The book of Hebrews says,

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 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. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11)

The author of Hebrews is saying that ultimately what keeps people from experiencing the rest of God is hardness of heart and unbelief in His promises.  Of course, it was unbelief that also got Adam and Eve expelled from God’s “rest” in Eden in the first place.  But Hebrews encourages us in that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”  The opportunity to enjoy His rest is not over.  This rest is found ultimately in Christ.  It is belief in God’s promises to us in the gospel that bring us into that state of rest.  In Christ, the believer can experience peace and joy.  In Christ the believer can celebrate and enjoy God’s works.  In fact, that’s what believers do weekly when they gather corporately for worship.  images

As Old Testament Israel observed the 7th day of the week remembering the completion of the old creation and their redemption from slavery, New Covenant believers observe the 1st day of the week marking the beginning of the New Creation which began when Jesus emerged from the tomb on Sunday, which is a sign of the certainty of His redemption of us from slavery to sin.

Finally, in Christ, the restful “appetizers” we enjoy now through God’s grace, will give way to the main course,  a full and complete rest at the end of the age when you and I inherit the earth, just like Jesus promised.  When we are fully made perfect, sinless, and raised from the dead, creation itself will be restored and redeemed as well.  The Bible says,

that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies…. (Romans 8:21-24)

When man fell, creation fell with him. Not only was man outside of God’s rest, but so was imagesthe earth itself.  But when man is fully redeemed and restored, so will creation be.

In the New Heavens and the New Earth, the restful enjoyment and bliss that Adam experienced in the garden will never again be interrupted and spoiled by sin.  In this New World the Bible says that,

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3-5)

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer