TEN WORDS – THE FOURTH WORD
JESUS CHRIST IS OUR SABBATH REST.
In the name + of Jesus.
For as much as we enjoy vacation days and dream about retirement, God has given us work as a blessing. Work might be draining or drudgery, but it is not a curse. Even before sin entered into the world, “the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) The work which God gave Adam to do was a blessing, both for himself and for the family whom the Lord would eventually give him.
Although work in a sinful world has its challenges and frustrations, work itself is a gift of God. It is one of the most practical ways you carry out God's will to love your neighbor as yourself. Whether it is a career, tending to household chores, a weekend project, or volunteering, it is through work that you get to serve your neighbor in his need. If you view work only as a means to your income, your labors will not be fulfilling. If you recognize work is how you love and serve your neighbor in his need, you will find your work is a noble task even when it is toil and sweat and drudgery.
But our Lord did not put us on earth to do nothing but work. In the 3rd Commandment, the Lord declares a day of rest. Through Moses, the Lord proclaimed to Israel: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. … For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. ” (Exodus 20:9-11) This was more than just a divinely ordained weekend or a day off to relax. While the Israelites certainly benefited from that, this was not the reason for the day of rest.
The Lord linked the Sabbath day to the week of creation. For six days, the Lord labored, but on the seventh day he rested from his creating activity. This was the same pattern God had prescribed for his people. For six days, they were to labor—providing for their families and serving their neighbor with their various occupations. But the seventh day was set apart as holy to the Lord.
The Lord gave particular instructions about what that rest was for. He said, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.” (Leviticus 23:3) So, the point was not a day for oneself. The Sabbath was to be a day set aside to hear God's word and meditate upon it, to pray, praise, and give thanks. For six days, the Israelites would love their neighbor through their jobs and serve their families in their homes, but on the Sabbath they would rest and the Lord would serve them. The Lord, through his word, would bestow on them blessing and comfort, consolation and encouragement, forgiveness and peace. And that is still the point of the 3rd Commandment.
Seventh Day Adventists will accuse us of willfully violating this commandment because we do not adhere to a Saturday worship day. But God's concern is not really about Saturday. God's concern is about the peace and rest he desires to give us through his word. Every Sabbath which was set apart as holy to the Lord was to keep Israel focused on the Savior who would come to them and secure rest for their souls. But now that the Savior has come, we do not need to keep on preparing for him. So, St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 3:16-17) The peace and rest that our Lord gives are not delivered by a day of the week, but by Jesus.
Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest. We heard it in our Gospel lesson where Jesus summons us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mathew 11:28-30) What is the Sabbath rest that Jesus gives us? It is that he takes away from you all the demands that need to be met to know that God is pleased with you.
That does not mean the works don't have to be done. God's Law is always in force. His will is eternal, and it is not optional. No one is ever excused from loving his neighbor. There is no day off from observing God's word. If we can't do it, the problem is not with God's Commandments. The Commandments show the problem lies within us. No matter how hard we try to follow God's Law—that is, to do good to all people at all times—we can't. We become weary and worn out from trying to fulfill this never-ending task of honoring God with good and godly lives. It is a burden that never gets lighter. We can't shed the burden because we can't shed our sinfulness.
But Jesus Christ is your Sabbath rest, and that means that Jesus removes from you the burden of sin and the curse of the Law. Jesus has done this by doing the work for you. Jesus loved God's word and upheld every passage in it. He did not make excuses why something in the Scriptures doesn't matter, isn't important, or could be ignored. He upheld every word in his manners and in his message. But he did not throw the Commandments in people's faces to watch them cower in fear and guilt. Jesus loved the people with whom he came into contact, even the unlovable. While Jesus loved the passages of Scripture above all, he also loved the people to whom they applied. This is how he could deal compassionately with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other flagrant sinners but still not give approval to their wicked choices. He did not engage people according to their faults, but according to their needs. Rather than hold their iniquities against them, he took them away. He covered their shame with his innocence. He exchanged his perfect obedience for their sins, and he died in their place so that they could have life.
He has done this for you, too. Jesus Christ is your Sabbath rest. Jesus not only upheld the Law, he fulfilled it. If Jesus only upholds the Law, he must condemn you for sinning against it. But by fulfilling the Law, Jesus has done the work and alleviates you of the burden of having to be perfect. In baptism, Jesus cloaked you with the righteousness God demands of you. He covers your guilt with his innocence. Jesus cleanses you of every spot and every blemish by his holy, precious blood. Jesus has cleansed you through your baptism, and he sustains you by his body and blood in holy communion.
Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest. Therefore, we make it a priority to gather in sacred assembly to hear God's Word and to partake in the heavenly banquet. All week long, we labor and serve and toil for the benefit of our family, for the good of our neighbor, and for the glory of God. But here, we get to rest. Here, God serves us. Here, the Lord bestows blessing and comfort, consolation and encouragement, forgiveness and peace. Here, the Lord supplies what we need to live in peace and joy in this life and what we need to enter into glory in the life to come. Jesus did the work to save us, and here he administers the benefits of it to us. Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest.
Once you depart from God's house, Jesus continues to bless who you are and what you do. As I had mentioned, the Commandments are not optional. They express God's will for your life, and God's will is eternal. Since you have been set apart as God's people and for God's glory, you strive to live what God has decreed to be a good and godly life. Even if you regard this as a burden because you are fighting your sinful nature to do this, the yoke is easy and the burden is light. For Jesus remains your Sabbath rest, which means you get to live in the peace of knowing that God is always pleased with you and your life. For, that is not based on your life, but Christ's.
You have been set apart as God's people. This is not a fickle status. Since you have been covered by Christ, you remain in God's grace. If you are grieved because you confess with St. Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19), then heed Jesus' summons to find rest in his gracious words and to feast at this altar where his body and blood strengthen and keep you in the true faith until life everlasting. In this way, God's favor remains upon you. His words of grace continue to sanctify your life, your work, and your eternal destiny. Apart from that word, nothing is holy. Therefore, we cling to his word and promises. We devote ourselves to hearing, learning, studying, and meditating upon his word. For, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. Jesus Christ alone is our Sabbath rest. Jesus Christ alone will deliver us from our struggles and labors and bring us to a rest that will have no interruption and no end.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Remember Jesus Christ who removes your burdens and covers you with his innocence. And find your peace in this, that Jesus Christ remembers you and gives you rest for your souls.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.