We learn very early on in Scripture God’s design for rest. It was God himself who practiced rest, after spending six days creating the universe. In addition, with Israel, God instituted a pattern that he had initiated at the beginning—work six days, rest the seventh. The Sabbath rest for Israel not only was a command, but a sign displaying God’s covenant relationship with Israel (Exod 31:12-18). In the Gospels, Jesus declares that he is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-8), and that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath [was made] for man (Mk 2:27). Furthermore, the author of Hebrews makes a point to believes that the promise of rest still stands (Heb 4:1). The author of Hebrews continues, “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 him (Heb 4:9-10).
Many have disagreed as to the nature of the Sabbath rest, founded in the Old Testament, and the implications for believers in the New Testament. So, in this brief blog post how can we reconcile what the Sabbath rest means for believers under the New Covenant. We must remember why God initiated it at the very beginning—prior to establishing it with Israel. God established it after a pattern of working. Connecting the Sabbath rest to work in the New Testament, must be connected not to man’s work, but Christ’s work. Therefore, under the New Covenant and Christ’s finished work on the cross, there are three particular ways (not exhaustive) Sabbath rest applies to believers.
First, we must rest in Christ. Christ is our Sabbath, not us. We cannot work our way to God, because of the severity and consequences of sin. However, through Christ, God worked his way to us, and we can rest in His work through Christ and the Holy Spirit. By resting in his work, we submit and surrender daily to him, allowing him to work his plan in our life for his glory and mission. Second, rest also corresponds to worship. God on the seventh day, rested in his work, observing and admiring the great work he did. Israel on the seventh day, was to take the day to observe, mediate, and worship God for his provision, who he was, what he has done, and for the covenant relationship they enjoyed with God. For us, there must be a day we set aside, to exclusively worship God—who he is, what he has done, and his provision. Third, no matter what happens in life (the good and the bad), we must rest in God’s sovereignty and providence. As the author of Hebrews alludes to, there is an eternal rest that proceeds this life. Resting in this eschatological (or future) truth should comfort us and lead us to rest in the present as God works his redemptive plan of redeeming and restoring his creation to a state of shalom.
So, the question for us this morning remains—who are we resting in? We all like a good rest, don’t we? Good rest, for a believer, is he or she resting in the goodness, the sovereignty, providence, and the work of God. Let us choose to rest in him. If you are seeking God’s direction and are praying that he will move—my encouragement would be, rest. If there is chaos in your life, rest. If you are seeking to try and please God, rest; rest in the finished work of Christ and who he is definitively claimed you to be as a result of what he has done. Resting in that will lead you to have a more gospel-centered, Christocentric approach to [progressive] sanctification. Afraid of the future, rest. As Jesus preached, who, by worrying, can add a single day to their life?