God and rest – Hebrews 4:1-16

We are thinking about “God every day in our work rest and play.” We have thought about God and work, about Christian witness in the workplace and how we can offer every aspect of work as expressions of worship to God as we serve God and not men. It is no surprise to find the word “work” more than 500 times in the Bible. But you may be interested to learn that the Bible speaks of rest and resting more than 370 times. And the very first mention of resting is of God Himself resting!
Genesis 2: 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Seeing the title “God and Rest” you may have wondered what I was going to talk about. Perhaps you just planned to spend 20 minutes or so in practical “rest” yourself. In fact we are going to think about “Sabbath Rest”. Nearly fifty of the places in the Bible which talk about rest are talking about the Sabbath. The root of the word Sabbath means to cease or desist, and therefore to rest. For the people of God “resting” is particularly expressed in keeping one day in seven special and different as a way of honouring God. It is a part of God’s plan for the whole of humanity. We are created and designed to work for six days and rest on the seventh. But keeping that seventh day special is also something we can do as Christians to honour God and keep our lives centred on Him. And that is vital if we want to glorify God seven days out of seven. So in thinking about God and Rest we are going to consider that pattern of rest which God invites us to enjoy by making one day a week different and special. Firstly, the Sabbath Day is a way of
In a world which is trying so hard to forget God, God gave the Sabbath as a way for us to remember our Creator. God gave it to Moses and to the Israelites as the fourth of the ten commandments.
Exodus 20 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 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. 11 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.
A day of rest
A day not spent in the usual activities of the week. Not doing a job to earn money. Not doing housework or chores. It is unusual to find that kind of different day even among Christians today. But a hundred years ago, even fifty years ago, most Christians would not have worked on Sunday. Many wouldn’t have played games, some wouldn’t have even cooked their meal on a Sunday. They wouldn’t have travelled by car or bus except to go to church. So much of our patterns of life changed when Sunday trading laws were changed. So much of what Sunday as a day of rest used to be has been lost, for the whole nation and especially for Christians.
A day for the family
So many people are too busy for family and neighbours and community today. God’s plan is for us to have one day a week when we give priority to relationships – to people. To Jews the Sabbath is very much a family day. As Christians we need to demonstrate the importance of family and friendships and community to a world which is becoming ever more isolated, individualistic, impersonal and self-centred.
Part of God’s plan for all creation
Making one day in seven a day of rest is God’s pattern for health and well-being for all human beings. It is God’s pattern for healthy family life and healthy communities for all people everywhere – whether they choose to worship God or not. And it really works. When I was a student, and when I was working as a teacher, and then when I went to Bible College, I made it a point of principle never to do any work on Sundays. That often meant rearranging work and missing out on fun things I would have liked to do on Friday evenings and Saturdays to fit everything in. But I never worked on Sundays – and that pattern was a real blessing to me!
The Day of Rest has a special meaning for believers, God’s redeemed people. In Deuteronomy the Ten Commandments are listed a second time. They are all the same, except the fourth, where the reason given for keeping the Sabbath Day special is different.
Deuteronomy 5 12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 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 ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 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 the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
This time the commandment is not in order to remember God the Creator, but to remember the God the Redeemer. To celebrate the Exodus. For the Jews that mean giving priority to Temple or synagogue, to worship and prayers and teaching. So they had their laws restricting the kinds of work you were allowed to do on the Sabbath. “Works of necessity” and “works of mercy” – but nothing else. By making space for God in their busy lives, by what they did and what they would not do, God’s chosen people would honour God and recognise His importance.
As Christians we are not bound by the dos and don’ts of the Jewish Law. But the principle is the same. We can show that God is the most important part of our lives by making Him our number one priority. And if God isn’t the most important part of our Sunday for even one day a week, we can’t pretend that He is Lord of our the rest of our lives.
Many things changed when Christ died and rose again from the dead, and those included the significance of the one day in seven. Because one day in sever which had been set apart to celebrate Creation and to celebrate the Exodus became one day in seven when Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus.
Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people
1 Corinthians 16 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
From these and other places we learn that well before the end of the first century Christians had stopped celebrating the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week and had begun celebrating the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. But don’t forget that until the fourth century the first day of the week was the first working day. So Christians would meet for worship early in the morning or late in the evening of a working day and still do a full day’s work. Church was a priority for those early Christians even when they had jobs to go to. They made time for worship and prayer and teaching. Between keeping the Lord’s day as a day of rest and keeping it as a day for drawing close to God, the first Christians’ priority was spending time with God and with each other.
So the Sabbath Day became the Lord’s Day celebrating Creation and Salvation. But it is also a way of
We read in Hebrews about the promised “Sabbath Rest” of the people of God.
Hebrews 4 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
God’s rest on the seventh day of creation and our resting one day in seven are symbols of the eternal rest promised to every believer.
Exodus 33 14 The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Time and again God promises His people rest in His presence. The rest which comes when we draw close to God. It was Augustine of Hippo who said, “Our hearts find no rest until they find their rest in you.”
Revelation 14 13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
Here is the happy certainty of heaven for all who believe in Jesus. However hard life may be, whatever trials and persecution we may face, God has promised a day of rest.
Revelation 20: 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
God promises his people His rest. And our day of rest each week, our one day in seven with all the joys of worship and fellowship and family life, is meant to give us a glimpse and a foretaste of heaven. If our day of rest doesn’t give us a picture of heaven, we’re doing it wrong!
So how can we “Keep Sunday Special” in practice?
Try to make one day a week special: no work earning money, no housework, no homework;
Keep one day for relaxation: time to unwind, to enjoy hobbies;
Keep one day for the family: hospitality, visiting relatives;
Above all, make worship and fellowship a priority. Make some time for prayer and reading. I know some Christians don’t have a choice about going to work on Sunday, but some have more choice than they think! And if for Christians who do have to do their jobs on Sundays, remember those early Christians who gathered for worship and fellowship before or after their full day’s work because they wanted to celebrate “the Lord’s Day”.
The fourth commandment is the only one of the ten not specifically repeated in the New Testament. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still apply. But we wouldn’t be keeping Sunday special just to obey a commandment anyway. Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day to show God how much we love Him.
Ezekiel 20 10 Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the desert. 11 I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. 12 Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy.
18 I said to their children in the desert, “Do not follow the statutes of your fathers or keep their laws or defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the LORD your God; follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 20 Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.”

God invites His children to make one day in seven special as a sign between Him and us. By keeping The Lord’s Day we celebrate creation, we celebrate salvation and we celebrate heaven. We show God that we love Him. And when we do that, the blessings that follow are enormous!

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