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Finding True Rest

Last December the women in our family had a special day of pulling aside to slow down before Christmas to relax and enjoy time together. We exchanged small gifts with one another. Included were cozy socks, blankets, candles, and mugs – all symbols of rest and relaxation. The mug I received simply said “Find Rest.” I love it, but it has been a constant challenge for me to understand what that really means.

Recently our pastor preached on Matthew 12 where the Pharisees were accusing Jesus and His followers of not obeying the Sabbath which was a commanded day of rest. Observing the Sabbath meant keeping the 7th day of the week holy (set apart for God) as a day of rest. The infraction for which Jesus was accused of was unlawfully healing a man of his deformed hand in the temple on the Sabbath day. His disciples were accused of unlawfully working as they walked through a field of grain, harvesting some wheat kernels to eat because they were hungry.

Just prior to this accusation against Jesus, He had stated, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 12:1-14). In this passage Jesus taught many lessons that were aimed at the Pharisees, the religious leaders who hated Him and tried to find any possible fault with Him rather than receiving Him as their promised Messiah. Jesus said, referring to Himself, “one greater than the temple is here.” Then He said, “if you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ (a reference to Hosea 6:6), you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Those words were spoken to the Pharisees, who deemed themselves to be the supreme authority on all topics regarding Jewish law. In Exodus 20:8-11, the 4th commandment states, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Since that time, the Pharisees had added many layers of rules to the law, making it burdensome to the people. The Pharisees felt they had ownership of the law as if they were the lawmakers, not God. However, Jesus declared HE is the authority over the Sabbath as the “Lord of the Sabbath.”

To borrow from a famous saying, the religious Pharisees “couldn’t handle the truth!” They were supposedly waiting for the Messiah, but when He came they didn’t like the changes He brought. They didn’t understand or accept His power, His love and mercy, and what justice looked like in His spiritual economy. They wanted their power within the Jewish religious system to go on forever, regardless of the miraculous power Jesus displayed over and over, that confirmed His deity, as well as His authority over them.

It is interesting to note that the only commandment not repeated in the New Testament is the commandment about the Sabbath. This law is actually a symbolic shadow of hope. In Colossians 2:16-17 it says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” A shadow is not a tangible object that can be grasped but is often a reflection of something else that is. Now that Christ has come in the flesh and dwelt among us, making the ultimate atonement for our sins, we no longer need the “shadow” of the Sabbath day in a strict and rigid sense because we find our deepest “Sabbath” in Him.

So, finding rest in a spiritual sense is all about finding Jesus, understanding who He is, how He gives rest to the weary when they come to Him, and how He desires mercy rather than sacrifice. I’m not suggesting that we don’t need to go to church to worship anymore. That’s not it at all. We need to be feeding on the Word of God, worshipping together in Spirit and in Truth, and fellowshipping with one another.

BUT there is freedom given and a burden lifted, by Jesus declaring His authority over the Sabbath and encouraging us to let mercy be our guide in observing the practice that God Himself started on the very first Sabbath when everything was in perfect relationship with Him and with each other. Because Jesus has restored that right relationship for eternity, we as believers can enter into that same rest of experiencing wellness in our souls even though all may not be well in our earthly lives. We no longer have to earn our salvation by doing good works but can rest in the promise of Salvation that comes through faith. In the New Testament Sabbath rest is not a day of the week, but rather the concept of salvation.

The mug I received that day with my family was not ultimately the lasting gift. Rather it was time spent with those I love that was the true and meaningful gift. The mug just represents it. In the same way, it is not the day we go to church that brings us rest. We find our true rest in Jesus Himself – in His grace and mercy and in the salvation He freely gives to those who come to Him. As He promised, if we come to Him we will find rest for our souls. He is the New Sabbath and our Truest Rest.

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