1 Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.
2 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
When an artist has finished a work of art - a painting, a sculpture, a musical composition - his or her final step is inevitably to put his or her name on it. It is the artist's mark, his or her signature, that signals the completion of the project at hand. Once the work is signed, then the artist can sit back to look at what he or she has done. Hopefully, the artist will smile and quietly acknowledge that his or her work is very good, and then the artist will rest for a time before tackling another project.
That down time is very important for any worker, but for an artist it is especially significant, because at that point the artist sets aside all control and ownership over the completed work and turns it over to the world. Also, as any artist will tell you, art is hard work both physically and spiritually, and so, some vacation time is necessary in order to release the energy he or she has been using, and to recharge, rejuvenate, renew the spirit and the body. Author and speaker Stephen Covey called that down time "Sharpening the Saw," because it is when the serious worker takes the time to resharpen his or her tools - the saw of wit, the power of spirit.
In so many ways, God sets the example for how we should live. He is our role model for how we should love and forgive, how we should show mercy and give grace, how we should put the welfare of others above our own. And He has also set the example for how we should rest from our labors.
Certainly, as yet, Adam and Eve had no labors from which to rest. They wanted for nothing, and if they had need of any thing, they need merely ask for it. They knew no sickness and not even bad weather. But our all-seeing and all-knowing God knew that one day they WOULD wish for rest from their struggles to stay alive, and so He gave them the Sabbath. By the simple act of resting, God gave us all permission to rest, to recharge our spirits, to renew our commitment to life.
God blessed that seventh day in order to distinguish it from all the other things He had created. He sanctified it not just to set it apart from the labors of the first six days, but also to make it holy and to show that even the absence of labor is part of His work. Rest is as much a part of God's Creation as are the stars, the birds, and the earth where we make our beds. All of time belongs to God, both the work time and the rest time.
When our Savior spoke about the spiritual weight of life, He said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) On one level, He was talking about the burdens of living under the rules of the Pharisees, and on another level He was speaking of the burden of death that weighs upon us because of our sins. But He also spoke in a very practical sense about not allowing the labors of everyday life to become the be-all and end-all of our existence. Christ Jesus calls to us to cease laboring for treasures that rust and that moths and time will eat away, and instead labor for His kingdom, carrying our cross and yet bearing it lightly because of the love of God which strengthens us.
We cannot be strengthened by the Lord God unless we take a break from the mundanities of this world. We cannot know peace - not just the absence of war and chaos, but also the calmness and warmth of our loving Father - unless we lay down our worldly labors and allow God's Holy Spirit to reign in our lives. By turning our focus away from the plow and the sickle by which we feed ourselves, we will find nourishment in time spent with our Lord. Instead of being worn down by the struggles of everyday life, we can be uplifted and emboldened by resting in the gentle arms of our Almighty God and Father.
When God told the Israelites, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8), He wasn't just doing that so they would keep their focus on Him, but so that they would break their focus off the world. The Lord blessed the Sabbath day to make it something different than all the Creation, to sign it as His handiwork just as surely as He had "signed" all the fishes and planets and people as His works.
There is one thing the Lord did not do with the Sabbath: He did not give it to humanity for their dominion. Where He had specifically given Adam and Eve stewardship over all the creatures and the plants, God did NOT give them that which He sanctified on that seventh day. The time of rest belonged wholly and exclusively to God. And so when we take that time off and rest, we should know that as much as any treasure or power is a gift from God, so, too, is the Sabbath a thing that belongs to Him.
However, the day of rest is not something He gives us but which we must seek. We must first seek Him, come to Him, and THEN we shall know rest. The Sabbath is the time when we are to stop worrying about the labors of everyday life and focus only on God. It is no mere euphemism that Christians have for centuries referred to the Sabbath as "the Lord's Day." It truly does belong to Him.
And yet when we do not take time off from our labors and seek God, we are robbing Him of that which is rightly His. I won't get into a debate here over when we are to honor God with His Sabbath time - calendars are, after all, a human invention - but I will go so far as to say we must set aside at least one day of our work week as belonging to the Lord. If all we do is attend a church service on a Sunday morning and then run off to more worldly labors for the remaining six-and-a-half days, then we are cheating God of that which is His.
13 "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the LORD honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
14 "Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken."
The Sabbath is more than just a tradition and much more than just a simple day of rest. It is a day to honor the Lord our God for what He has created. It is a time to reflect upon Creation, to see that it is good, and to acknowledge our own place as beings created in the image of a holy and loving God. The seventh day was a day when God's presence remained in the world even though He wasn't doing a thing. When we cease our labors and our pleasures on that day, we will find His presence and know His joy. But if we continue to focus on the Sabbath as a time for OUR rest, then we shall never truly know the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.
As you read this, it may be a weekday or a workday of some sort. It may be a time when you need to spend time earning bread for your table. All God asks is that you set aside time to rest in Him, time to separate yourself from the world, to sanctify yourself for His work once again. Of all the things God created, the only thing He specifically sanctified and set aside as holy and as truly His was the seventh day, the Sabbath day. Too often, we have taken that away from Him and used it as our own. Shouldn't we now return the Sabbath to Him and seek His rest?
Gracious heavenly Father, thank You for Your Creation, for the wonders of nature and the bounty of Your providence. Thank You, too, for setting aside a time when Your presence should be known, when You Yourself cease from labor to rest in the love of Your own Trinity. Lord God, teach me how to rest as You did, to set aside the works of my past and seek Your peace, to spend time focused wholly upon You. If there is any labor at all I must do, let it be only for You and Your kingdom. Amen.