Alan Smith offers this -- I heard a story about a young mother with three children. The phone rang one day and a voice on the other end of the phone said, "Honey, it's Mom. I called because I know that you're busy with the kids, and I want to give you some help. I'm going to stop by to clean the house, take care of the baby, and prepare dinner for when the boys get home from school. "I want you to get ready to go to my beautician, I've paid her already, and she's going to give you 'the works,' your appointment is at 1:00. Give George a call at the office and tell him that you'll meet him at Olive Garden for dinner, it's on me..." At that point, the young mother interrupted and said, "George, who is George?" "Your husband." She said, "My husband's name is John." "Oh. Is this 365-3212?" "No this is 365-3213." The caller said, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I've got the wrong number." After a pause, the young mother said, "Does this mean that you're not coming over?" Do you ever feel like you could use a phone call like that? Do you ever find yourself wishing someone would just come along and take care of things for you so that you can have a little rest? I remember back in the 1970's, there was a big concern that computers and technology would radically change how many hours a week people would work. In fact, there was testimony given to a Senate sub-committee forecasting that within 20 years, the average American would be working only 22 hours a week. They said, "The great challenge would be figuring out what to do with all the excess time." Now here we are, 40 years later, after major advances in technology – and how many of us are wondering what to do with all the excess time on our hands? Our world has become the world of the Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland, who said, "It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."
Rest is a theological principle that should lead to a practical principle, but it seems hard to come by. It is interesting to note that this section of Scripture immediately follows Jesus message from Matthew 11:28-29, which says…"Come to me, all you 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." When Jesus says, "I will give you rest", I believe that He is talking about more than just heaven. Keeping the Sabbath was a sacred principle for the Jews under the Old covenant…it was an integral part of the fabric of their culture and religion. As we are probably aware, commandment #4 of the Top Ten was, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8ff) The theological foundation for this principle concerning “rest” is that God created the heavens and earth in six days…and on the seventh, He “rested.” So God’s people were to consider the seventh day, Saturday as it would fall on our calendars, as a rest from their labors. God intended for this to be a “spiritual principle” that would be beneficial to His people so that they could be restored.
Yet, by the time of Christ, a couple of millennia down the road, the Sabbath was no longer the spiritual/practical principle that God intended for His people. It had become representative of the many legal traditions that the Jews were now imposing on themselves and others. They made what was supposed to be a “spiritual principle” a heavy laden burden of rules and regulations that it was never intended to be. So, it is from this perspective that Jesus presents His case concerning not only the Sabbath, but the entire Jewish “legal” system of regulations. In fact, as we see, Jesus deliberately violates the Sabbath “traditions” on several occasions…here, Luke 4, Luke 13, John 5 and John 9. From the time that Jesus spent with the people teaching them from “the Sermon on the Mount” up to now, He was teaching them that mere external laws could never save them or make them holy. True righteousness has to come from the heart!
The Hebrew word – sabat means, “repose” or “rest.” This explains why Matthew introduces these Sabbath conflicts at this point. (12:1-8) To satisfy your hunger from your neighbor’s field was lawful (Deuteronomy 23:24-25), but to do it on the Sabbath was a breach of the Law…according to the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees. This would mean having to do work. Jesus’ response is poignant and powerful. The consecrated bread was to be eaten only by the priests, yet David and his soldiers at it. If David “broke the law” and was not condemned, the Lord would be guiltless for breaking man’s traditions. Surely the Son of David has the right to eat His Father’s grain from the field! The Old Testament priests had to offer a given number of sacrifices on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10), and yet were not condemned. Their service was in obedience to the Law given by God, which suggests that man’s traditions about the Sabbath ran in contradiction even to God’s own law. Finally, the great quote from Hosea 6:6, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice,” reveals Jesus’ heart on this matter. (He also quotes this in Matthew 9:13). Once again, it is all a matter of the heart. Sabbath law was given to Israel as a mark of her relationship to God (Exodus 20, also 31:13-17, Nehemiah 9:12-15). But, it was also an act of mercy for both man and beast, to give them needed rest each week. Any religious law that would be contrary to mercy should be considered with concern and even skepticism – God desires mercy, not sacrifice…love, not strife over traditions and words. We will come back to this later.
Diane Eaton shares this -- As a piano teacher, my job involves training students to work less. It sounds like a contradiction, but it's not. For example, overworking arm muscles interferes with finger development. The student must "make every effort" to train the arms to relax so that the fingers can work freely and expressively. Unchecked tension causes the music to sound forced, weak, and unsteady. It can eventually cause pain, injury, and even the end of a musical career. I see a spiritual parallel. Christians are cautioned to "make every effort to enter [Christ's] rest". This is not a passive affair. It takes "every effort" to cease from fruitless striving and enter into Christ's rest. As we come to rest in Him, then He can make beautiful "music" through us. Concerning the beginning piano student: At his first lesson, he discovers that his fingers are so weak that they may make no sound at all — especially the pinky finger. His reaction is predictable. Instinctively, his arm pushes down on the hand in an attempt to compensate. With such force bearing down on it, it merely collapses on the keys. A little finger cannot develop its potential until the bigger muscles learn to rest. This really does take "every effort" — involving intentional and careful practice. Do you see yourself as an over-functioning muscle? Are you habitually overworking? I'm not referring to physical work. Perhaps you strain your mind with anxiety and doubt. Perhaps you work too hard trying to prove your love-worthiness, or you are habitually working to absolve your sense of guilt. All these besetting habits deplete your energy and squelch God's Spirit. Perhaps you have a habit of overcompensating for weaker "muscles": You do what others should learn to do. Perhaps you do the thinking for them, or the worrying. Such efforts merely hinder them from growing into maturity. In the long run, the entire Body of Christ suffers. Just as for piano students, it takes "every effort" to surrender fruitless habits and to adopt new, effective life habits. Really, it's a joint effort involving support, encouragement, mentoring, faith, prayer, and so forth. This is how we come to function harmoniously — and make beautiful "music" together — displaying God's glory to a fallen humanity.
This is the challenge for each of us…finding ways to rest in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life. Finding ways to work hard at working less from the correct perspective is a challenge, but also a blessing. So, while we may not keep a “literal” Sabbath rest in the religious sense, we can and should do so from a practical and spiritual perspective, because the original principle is still important as it relates to how we live, move and breathe.