As we said in the beginning of the bulletin, we’re into the second half of the church’s year now as we make our way into the summer. And, whether you think about it often or not, it’s something that’s always going on. Some seasons it’s easy to see – filled with excitement and story. In Advent, the King is coming, at Christmas and at the End; Christmas, the Savior is born! Epiphany, the Light of the World, Jesus, shines out in glorious ministry on earth; Lent, Jesus faithfully makes his way to the cross; Easter, he’s risen from death and promises us the same; Pentecost, he sends his disciples powerfully into the world. The life of Christ and what he’s done for us, that’s the first half of the Church’s year.
The second half, where we are, is really about being those disciples. It’s called “the non-festival half of the church year” or, among us, “the Sundays after Pentecost”. And these “Sundays after Pentecost” are actually a good way to think about life – everything that comes in human history after Jesus sent his disciples out at Pentecost. In these Sundays, we think together about being disciples or, more generally, about the life of the Christian and what it entails. And, if you were starting to talk about the Christian life, I bet you’d start right here, wouldn’t you? There’s nothing more “Christian life” than the idea of worship, is there?
That’s what you get in Deuteronomy this morning. Deuteronomy is Moses’ last reminders to the people of Israel before he died and they went on into the land God has promised them. Moses was reminding them to keep God’s commands / be God’s people. At the beginning of ch.5 he said, “Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them.” (5:1) And then, essentially, he shared with them God’s 10 Commandments again; God’s moral will. And, for our purposes this morning, the 3rd Commandment: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.” (5:12)
There’s the command – to keep holy the Sabbath, or the rest the Lord had given. And for Israel of old it was actually to be rest, as you heard – a day on which they did not work. As Moses said, they could work on the six other days, but this one, the Sabbath, was a rest day. It was a day for servants and master, foreigners and natives, men/women/children and animals too to take a needed rest from working. In Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus that rest is detailed a bit: no gathering food, plowing or reaping, kindling a fire, or chopping wood; no walking more than such and such distance, no treading grain with your cattle, etc. No work – rest. But also a rest for spiritual reasons because it was a Sabbath “to the LORD [their] God” – as in, it belonged to him. So there would also be visits to the temple or to see the prophet to consider the Word of the Lord, sacrifices made, or the singing of psalms (just like ours) and worship. Israel was to observe rest’s requirements – do specific things – and thus, Keep the Lord’s Rest Holy or set apart from every other ordinary day.
How do you and I keep the Lord’s rest holy? We have to ask that question because we’re ages away from and governmentally and genealogically not Israelites. St. Paul said, “[D]o not let anyone judge you…with regard to a religious festival…or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Co 2:16-17) It turns out, the commands God gave to Israel don’t apply to us specifically and strictly as Moses spoke them. You actually don’t have a “sabbath” to keep in the same way, or regulations about what foods you eat, or a restriction on getting tattoos or nose piercings. Those Old Testament Israelite regulations marked them out as the people of God, different from the world. But they aren’t for us. Jesus fulfilled them.
And yet, God is concerned about our spiritual rest with him. In his Word he reminds us of what he does require of us in our worship life in the New Testament. Observe rest’s requirements – see them again:
- Take Hebrews 10:24-25 – “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (or, Christian life), (how?) not giving up meeting together…but encouraging one another.” God exhorts us to gather together – to attend a worship service with other believers in a regular way for the purpose of being encouraged and giving encouragement.
- He commands that we hear his Word (Lk 11:28) and that we eagerly study the Scriptures (Ac 17:11). We naturally find self-help books and business manuals – 10 ways to be a better office manager, etc. God calls us to the same with his Word – a Savior-help book – to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ and in his teachings and know them and be influenced and shaped by them in order to live them.
- And finally, that we share the message of the life-giving Word (Mk 16:16) that we have heard with the people of the world around us.
Do you see? Of course, when your Bible says, “observe”, it’s really a word that means “keep” or “protect” or “guard”. Like when you buy a new car – and you spend the first six months gingerly getting in and out of it, strictly telling the children that while they must be belted in, they also must somehow float and keep their natural child-dirtiness from seeping into the fabric; and you wash it and polish it and you say little prayers that that new car smell will stay for many days… And later, you just sort of use it and it gets messy and dirty and scratched and you kind of take it for granted as one among many other things.
We’re intended to observe rest’s requirements like that – to keep the Lord’s rest holy and set apart far more than our new cars. But we don’t always. Perhaps over the last year we’ve become comfortable at home – neglecting to strive for getting back to getting together. Perhaps we approach the Sabbath only as a day where I should be fed (and you should – and you should demand it), but forget that we are gathered to encourage one another in that Christian life. Maybe among all the other “media” this classic old media of God’s written Word grows a little dusty, is the “app” we access least. And, at a global time when everything is just weird and off, do we forget that we the best product ever?!?! in this good news of salvation…and quiet it away? And, of course, we might otherwise actually seek to do all the right ways – and end up focusing on ourselves in strange ways – my worship must look like this, holiness has to have this (thing I’ve designed or like or experienced)… If God’s rest has been so neglected or mundane or mine among us, then we ought to observe it so, and repent lest we be separated from the beautiful message he speaks here and lose the encouragement that allows us to truly live for him.
You know, Jesus, in the Gospel this morning dealt with the unholy Sabbath. It was in those Pharisees who were so upset that his disciples were casually walking and picking grain-leavings to snack on – an obvious violation of the no-work-on-Sabbath law! And he said an interesting thing: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) That is, the Lord’s rest was meant to be just that – not a day for rules, not a day for you to “do”, not a day just like all the other days where you produce and pursue. It’s meant to be rest for you.
You and I actually then keep the Lord’s rest holy – mark it as godly and good and special – when we remember rest’s blessings. Do you see how he did it in v.15? He called Israel – while calling them to keep God’s requirements – he called them to remember what God had done. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore…observe the Sabbath.” Observe it, keep it, do it, love it – because God has saved you, Israel!
It works, practically, just like it did for Israel of old. Just like Israel of old, we look back on a land of slavery to sin, where we thought things were just fine but we really needed rescue and God supplied it. Jesus Christ says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28) Because he’s achieved it and won it. After observing all of God’s laws perfectly, he died for all, the people who have not observed that way, who were stuck in slavery to sin. And so that we would not fret about achieving any kind of “observance” before God, he won with God peace, forgiveness for our sins so that there is rest for us. In fact, the Spirit of God, just as he did long ago at Pentecost, works in fiery ways through the Word that tells us of Jesus’ works for us. He gives Jesus’ rest to us by faith so that we can be at rest in spirit now and at rest in eternal life later. And what a daily joy it is to know that we have been so set free – from our own sins, even from neglecting this rest, from this world’s regulations about what is “pleasing” and “socially acceptable” and “achievement”. That we’ve received instead the achievement of Jesus Christ and being acceptable to God and pleasing to him.
A day that would tell us those things… A day on which we could hear and encourage others with those things… that would be a holy day. One we’d observe and keep because we’d know of what we’d be reminded each time. Such a Sabbath day, such a rest, you have here… Observe rest’s requirements as you gather around this Word in worship to grow in it and to share it. But remember the blessings God’s Word gives in Jesus, who provides the rest this world cannot give. And, with a fiery joy, enables us to keep the Lord’s rest holy.