This past Sunday I was blessed to preach on the fourth commandment, which is remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy. Part of my study was going back to the very beginning, to when God first established a day of rest. As I read, I noticed something I hadn’t caught before.
The first chapter ends with the sixth day, the creation of mankind. We’re quite content to stop there. God sees everything, especially the pinnacle of His creativity – Us, of course! – and calls it very good. Everything is laid out in its proper order. The end.
So, what’s the problem? I would argue that by stopping there, we miss out on the most amazing thing in the story! By ending at the sixth day, it’s as if we spend all this time preparing for the party, and then skip the actual festivities!
Don’t get me wrong. The first chapter of Genesis is incredible. Out of the void and nothingness the Triune God speaks the universe into being. It is moving and beautiful. The progression of the days, each building upon the other, adds anticipation to the story. But then, just as we are about to get to the best part, we stop.
What happens in chapter two that’s even better than all of the things God creates? “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. 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.” Genesis 2:2-3
Did you catch that? God has just created everything, and yet, the thing He sets apart and calls holy is time. Time to rest and enjoy. Obviously, God didn’t need to take a break in the way we do! But, He chose to stop and rest. Why? Notice, this is before the Fall in chapter 3. So, this also wasn’t in concession to our sin which causes us to need time to regain our strength. Why set it apart then?
The word ‘Sabbath’ means to cease or to interrupt. After declaring His creation good, God ceases His creative efforts, not because He is tired, but because His work is complete. Think about it. The infinite, creative, almighty God has looked out over all He has made, and there is not one single flower or animal more needed.
The work is done, but, God has one crowning thing to add. One final day. A day He blesses and calls holy. And this day comes as a bit of a surprise! Up until now, God has blessed creation to be fruitful and multiply. But He sets apart this seventh day for ceasing. It is marked and blessed by its lack of activity.
Could it be, then, that the pinnacle of creation is, not, in fact, any created thing? Not even us? Could it instead be that the pinnacle is this sacred time when God rested? When He enjoyed Himself and His creativity, both complete and perfect? It is humbling to think this way. We are ‘very good’, but the Sabbath is ‘holy’, which means it shares in His perfection. We can bless God by what we do, yes, but our true worship is acknowledging in all things His complete perfection.
And so, God invites us to spend time doing this. No, that’s wrong. He does not simply invite us, as if it’s an option! We are commanded to do so. The holy One, the only Triune God is worthy of our praise. By honoring the Sabbath we join in declaring that in God alone we have our all. The blessing is in the very inactivity of the day. There is nothing we can add to God’s provision.
When we dishonor the Sabbath by ignoring it, using it as another day for our own purposes, we are treating as unholy something God, the Holy One, has called holy. God takes this day of rest very seriously. Any reading of the Old Testament shows just how seriously!
But we are New Testament believers, so things have changed, haven’t they? I would have to argue no. Jesus didn’t negate this command. Instead, He intensified it by pointing us back to its original purpose. Going through the rigid, legalistic motions as the Pharisees did was not just oppressive to the people, but a stench to God. Instead of taking time to cease striving and to reflect on God’s provision, they set up a bunch of rules so man could control his own dealings with God. No wonder Jesus was disgusted!
Jesus said that acceptable worship was done in spirit and in truth. A day spent in this way, no matter the particulars, declares once more that God alone is our all in all.
Oh, Creator God, forgive me for dismissing this command so lightly. Refresh me and help me to seek Your rest. May I cease striving, and in that surrender, may I know You! You alone are perfect and holy. You alone are able to provide all things. You alone are worthy of praise. May I reflect the true pinnacle of creation, Your Sabbath day of rest, by glorifying You and enjoying You now and forever.