2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (Gen 2:2-3 KJV)
The seventh day, God rested. Of course, we finite creatures cannot possibly understand what this means for an infinite God, but it was written for our benefit. God rests, and created man to enter into that rest.’
But man fell, and was driven from the Garden. I am one of the few that take the history of Genesis literally. I can’t explain men and women, their desires, their loves, their hates, their unfulfilled longings any other way. Man was created to enter into God’s holy habitation. But man became unholy, defiled and corrupt, with a memory of what was lost.
But God did not cast them into hell. Instead, he provided a way of salvation. He provided a way of restoration. We call this the covenant of grace, and it was first announced after man’s fall in the Garden of Eden.
The bondage that mankind put themselves in was illustrated perfectly in Israel’s hard bondage in Egypt. They were slaves to Pharaoh and there was nothing that they could do about it. Pharaoh was too strong, and Israel was too weak. So also with all mankind. Sin is too strong and we are too weak.
We commit our way to God and tell ourselves that today we are going to live righteously. And if you understand God’s holy law, you realize that your commitment lasted until your feet hit the floor. We sin because we are born corrupt and twisted, serving ourselves and our own lusts continually. We hate our sins and yet continually return to them. We loathe ourselves at night and make more resolutions. And break them again first thing in the morning. Over and over again. Sin is a harsh and undefeatable task-master.
Unless God intervenes.
God intervened with Israel in Egypt. He gave them the Passover lamb. They put the blood of the lamb on the door of their houses, and that night the firstborn of Egypt died and Israel was free.
Think of it – they had their first day off in their whole lives. They were free from their taskmasters. And that day, their first day of freedom, marked the first Sabbath. From them on, every seventh day Israel rested.
God told them why in Exodus 31:
13 Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. (Exo 31:13 KJV)
Israel was given the Sabbath as a sign – that Jehovah is the only one that sanctifies his people. God himself makes us holy and fit for the holy habitation of God. Only then can we enter into God’s rest. Just as God delivered them from Pharaoh, so also God promised that he would deliver them from the bondage of sin. But just as Israel could not deliver themselves from Pharaoh, so also mankind could never deliver themselves from the bondage of sin. But that which is impossible for God is possible for man.
This was also signified in the land of Canaan. Joshua led them around Jericho once for six days and on the seventh, he led them around 7 times. On the seventh time of the seventh day, the walls fell flat and Israel entered their rest.
But those who didn’t believe the promise – the God would give them rest – their bodies fell in the wilderness:
10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:
11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.
(Psa 95:10-96:1 KJV)
By the time Jesus came into the world, the Jews had changed the meaning of the Sabbath. Instead of the Sabbath pointing to Jehovah sanctifying his people and giving them rest, the Sabbath day became a harsh burden of a thousand different things that could or could not be done. They had 39 categories of work, each with 6 sub-categories – all of which were forbidden. And the different Rabbinical traditions had their own interpretations and their own rules. All were inflexible. All were merciless.
To the Pharisee, the Sabbath meant that if you worked really hard, did the right things, and separated from those horrible sinners then you could perhaps convince God to begrudgingly allow you entrance into Abraham’s bosom.
As long as you didn’t miss anything.
The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over the Sabbath wasn’t over which works were allowed and which were not allowed. The point was over the meaning of the Sabbath to begin with. The one promised who would give them rest, who would sanctify his people, who would bring his people into his eternal rest, was standing right in front of them!
How could they have known he was the one promised? Isaiah wrote:
4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: (Isa 35:4-6 KJV)
Israel would know that God had come to their aid when they saw the eyes of the blind opened, the tongue of the dumb loosened, and the lame man walking. And this was exactly what Jesus did. And he did it on the Sabbath day. What was more fitting? The lamb of God sanctifying his people and preparing them for heaven on the very day that was a sign of that reality?
The reason Israel was forbidden to work on that day was so they would always remember the sign. God sanctifies his people. God delivers his people. God saves his people.
We don’t save ourselves; God saves us. What a tremendous promise! To rest on the Sabbath meant that you had to trust God for your daily bread. And if you lifted your eyes upward, you would see that you also were to trust God to fulfill his promise to sanctify his people. God would give us His righteousness if only we accept it with a believing heart.
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,
(Rom 9:30-32 NAS)
The Pharisees of every age, on the other hand, followed the natural religion. If we are good enough, God will bless us. And they worked hard at it. They slaved for God’s approval. And they despised Jesus for being gracious to those who didn’t work near hard enough for that favor.
“We have worked, and slaved, and done hard labor our whole lives for God’s favor, and you are telling us that this beggar, this sinner, this publican, this “loose woman”, this Gentile, can just waltz right in and God will accept them??”
This is a big study, but a worthwhile one. A modern Pharisee won’t see the point, and will probably get irritated. But here is why I am telling you about the Jewish Sabbath and the conflict between Jesus and the Jews: We still have the same conflict today.
We have experts of every stripe telling us how to sanctify ourselves to make ourselves worthy of God’s favor. We have annual conferences on how to be manly husbands, feminine wives. We spend millions of dollars on books on how to pray, how to gain God’s favor, how to act, how to marry, how to live. We have our celebrity preachers who will tell you, for a cost, about their schemes, and their soundbites and their plans and their programs. Here’s how you must raise your kids. Here is how you must homeschool. Here is what to wear, what to eat, what to watch on TV, what not to watch on TV. Here’s is how to be a good wife. Here is how to be a good husband. Here is how short your skirt must be; here is what kind of blouse you must wear and what material it must be made of.
All for money or power. We have made Christianity so complicated and so full of so many rules and regulations. And every church has their own rules and regulations.
God only gave us Ten Commandments, but we have multiplied statutes to ourselves and ignored the law completely. We kill, maim, slander, rape, assault, and give approval to those who do the same. But we make sure the skirt is the right length, the wrong beverages are avoided, the appropriate demeanor is put on the face.
The message is clear. Grace is free and unmerited, as long as you do all of the right things, act the right way, go to the right conferences, and do what you are supposed to do. And I will tell you what those things are, as long as you fill out this registration form and send your check or money order to the registrar on time. Can we not see the contradiction? Is the righteousness of God freely given, or bought with money and works?
What has happened to the gospel of Jesus Christ? I don’t even recognize it anymore.
Aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you tired of self-appointed prophets gaining wealth over the backs of the poor and downtrodden? Aren’t you tired of watching your every step, making sure that you are manly enough, feminine enough, righteous enough, a good enough parent, a good enough citizen? Are you weary of the constant vigilance? Don’t you need a Sabbath rest?
Then here is the message of the Sabbath again:
4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.” (Isa 35:4 NAS)
To you who have been made afraid, you who have been abused and cast away like garbage, know this: God is gathering a people for himself. He is sanctifying those people and preparing them to enter into His rest. And he will come with vengeance. Egypt, Jericho, Babylon and earthly Jerusalem all fall to the ground.
It is the meek, the oppressed, the poor, that inherit the earth. And nothing unclean will enter in.
And you cannot barge your way through the gates. The only way is through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
So don’t be afraid. There aren’t a thousand different rules by a thousand different men. There is only one way to salvation, only one way to sanctification.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Act 16:31 KJV)
20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.
21 “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
(Gal 2:20-21 NAS)
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat 11:28-30 KJV)
If you have not found rest for you souls, you have not yet found Christ. Come to him, I urge you, and rest.