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The gift of a holy day

Genesis 2:2-2:2
Key Verse: 2:2

“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

We have come to the climax of our series on the rest of God. Today we want to meditate on the art of Sabbath-keeping. To me, Sabbath-keeping is like going to the health club. You go regularly and thereby enjoy all the benefits, but somedays if you don’t go, then you lose the benefit of the day. No one is forcing us to exercise, we do it by ourselves. In the same way, Sabbath-keeping is not a rule, but voluntarily if we keep it, then we are blessed. Practically speaking, this means to set aside a specific time and make a commitment to keep it. In popular culture they make leisure as rest. But after having vacation, people long for another vacation. We cannot find true rest in leisure time. What is Sabbath-keeping? How can we keep our Sabbath? What are some of the obstacles for us to keep Sabbath? What is the secret of Sabbath keeping? Together, we will answer these questions.

First, the blessing of rest (set apart): “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (2:3). In our reading from Genesis 1-2, we find that God blessed the animals to “be fruitful and increase in number…” (1: 22) It also says, God blessed the humans and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number…” (1: 28). These two verses indicate that God intended the blessing to be continued. The same idea is repeated in 2:3. Let’s unpack this verse. Firstly, the seventh day is not an ordinary day. It is a special day for us; a special day because on it we can meet him personally one on one. Think about a day in your life that you happened to meet a VIP? What was the moment like? I can imagine you were more to yourself and became very small. (We will come back to this point later in third the section.) We are happy to meet a VIP. As we know it, God is much more than a VIP. Imagine he invites us to his office every day to eat lunch together? This is really a cool idea , it’s an invitation (Rev. 3:20). Secondly, the word “holy” means, “set apart” or “set aside” from other days unto God. The NKJV translated the word “holy” as “sanctified.” This would mean we have to set apart a specific, undisturbed moment purely for God. We are talking about our heavy work load that we are required to finish day after day. Our modern day life is best described by running between deadlines. We have to meet deadlines for assignments or homework or projects at work or presentations or publications. It is hard to keep even one deadline, but how many of them are coming up in the next 3 weeks? Thirdly, he rested: Look at the reason why we should set aside a specific time to be with God? “…because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (3b). The reason he rested was not because God needed rest, but he was setting up an example for us to follow. Notice there is no evening-followed-by-morning for that seventh day, prompting many scholars to conclude that the seventh day still continues, which seems to underlie John 5:17. Jesus healed an invalid who had been sick for 38 years and it happened to be on a Sabbath. It didn’t matter to Jesus, God continued to work, and Jesus too was working.

Second, a heavenly rest: Jesus promised heavenly rest to all who believe in him and this promise stands today by faith. In Hebrews 4:1-11, the author speaks of a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. The promise of entering heavenly rest was conveyed to us in the gospel. Our situation is so like that of the Israelites in the wilderness that the writer can say “we also have the gospel preached to us, just as they did.” They received the promise of entering the promise land and were called to live by faith in that word of God. Therefore, as long as the promise remains, “let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it” (1). There is always a possibility that some member of the group might fail to attain the promised rest for the same reason that the majority of the Israelites under Moses fell short of entering Canaan. The message they heard has no value because those who heard the message did not combine it with faith (2). “Now we who have believed enter the rest” which Psalm 95:11 speaks of. Since David wrote this Psalm after the Israelites already were established in Canaan, obviously the rest he talks about refers to something beyond material possessions. The fact that the writer quoted from Genesis 2:2 was to unlock the meaning of that rest. In his mind, the writer considers that God’s rest is equivalent to heavenly rest. In this sense, that rest already exists for us in the heavenlies and can be “entered” now by faith.

The rest that the Israelites experienced in the time of Joshua was the shadow of the ultimate heavenly rest through Jesus Christ our Lord. A century later, David designated another day (“today”) to listen to “his voice” proves that he had in mind a rest beyond the enjoyment of life in the land of Israel. The hope of God’s people is heavenly rest, not the establishment of the Jews in the land of Israel.

What does it mean that God intends his people to share in his own Sabbath-rest? (9-11). This involves resting from the work that is committed to us at present, just as God did from his. God’s rest does not mean the rest of inactivity. Scripture makes it clear that he continues to uphold, direct, and maintain his creation. The image is rather one of freedom from toil and struggle, to enjoy with God the satisfaction of his work in creating us and redeeming us. How can we find rest in the midst of this fuming activity of everyday life? The New Age and ancient Eastern transcendental people have an answer for that. They say empty your mind by getting rid of all the junk. You have too much junk in your mind. It is true that we especially in North America have too much junk in our mind. Last month when we moved, I had a chance to throw away a lot of junk, and felt good about it. One of the movers we hired admitted that we Americans live with junk. But just emptying our mind does not address our work issue. Eastern transcendental meditation is idealistic, at best. Moreover, if we get rid of junk from our mind, we should find something better to replace them to fill our minds, because as some have said, an idle mind becomes the devil’s workshop. The better thing for us is to enjoy God’s blessing for us. Find satisfaction in his love. Worship him in the beauty of holiness. How excellent is his loving kindness! Let me put in another way. When we turn by “renewing our mind” (Rom 12:2b), and focus in the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will be liberated from all the trials and pressures of our present existence to serve God without hindrance and live with him forever. The writer is encouraging us to “make every effort to enter that rest.” Since faith is the way to enter God’s rest (3), the writer is also warning about hardening our heart in unbelief.

Third, the art of Sabbath-keeping: What makes Sabbath-keeping, whether a day or a year, an afternoon or a week, a month or a moment different from all other times? Simply, a shift in our thinking; an altering of attitude. Before we keep a Sabbath day, we cultivate a Sabbath heart; a quiet place in our heart. Everything that God does to form us humans is done in a place. A Sabbath heart is a sanctified time. It’s not ritualistic observance. It’s a perspective. Tomorrow you will go to work and do the same job, you will have in-laws sick in your home, you will have the same teacher you don’t like, but you look at it from a different angle, from a redeemed perspective.

The word “sanctified” means “betrothed” or “engagement” in our context, meaning a marriage commitment. Sanctified time works the same way. You set aside or pledge a certain time and stick to it, whether it’s convenient or not. Peter Scazzero called it “Daily Office.” Sabbath is time sanctified, time betrothed or pledged, time to perceive and receive and approach differently from any other time. It is intimacy with the Creator, more ourselves in the presence of Sabbath, more vulnerable, less afraid. More ready to confess, to be silent, to be small. There is no day in all creation that can banish our aloneness, even when meeting us in it, like this day.

One of the obstacles to true Sabbath is leisure (or pleasure). Leisure is what Sabbath becomes when we no longer know how to sanctify our time. At best we have a “weekend mentality,” longing for Friday. Ancient Greeks had two faces of time, Chronos and Kairos. The English word chronology, chronicle, chronic comes from chronos. It is the time of a clock and calendar, a time of forced march. The word derives from one of the gods in the Greek pantheon. Chronos was a glutton and a cannibal, ever eating but never satisfied. In his insatiable desire for food he even devoured his own children. Chronos is the father of all pleasure in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Kairos is a time as a gift, as season. It is time pregnant with purpose. Kairos is the servant of holy purpose. There is a time for everything under the sun (Eccl 3-1-3). What time is it? It’s time for worship.

I want to conclude this message by reading Psalm 139:23-24. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Like the Psalmist, do you like to be alone with God and tell him your “anxious” or “offensive” thoughts? Believe it or not, literally, it will take only 30 second.

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