The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Intimacy Part II,’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 11/16/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1qYFhrB
This is the second installment of our 3-week series on intimacy. In Week One, we discussed the importance of intimacy with God: why we need it, and how to pursue it. This week we continue our discussion on intimacy with an examination of the Sabbath. Next week we’ll conclude by exploring intimacy with other people: how do we take the intimacy we enjoy with God and entice others to cultivate a desire for intimacy with Him?
History of the Sabbath
The Sabbath is a tradition that stretches back to the beginning of time. God spoke creation into being, and then He did something very peculiar: He rested.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 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.
- Gen 2:1-3
When God created the heavens and the earth, along with everything in it, He celebrated by resting. Genesis 1:27 says that we are made in His image. The same way God spoke creation into being, we are designed to recite His word over circumstances around us, and watch as things fall into line with His word.
He rested, and so should we. In fact, we were designed to stay in a perpetual state of rest. God formed Adam and Eve out of a desire to walk with them in the cool of the Garden of Eden (see Gen 3:8). Sounds like retirement, doesn’t it? All Adam and Eve had to do was trim bushes and enjoy God’s presence! They didn’t even have to water the plants because God watered them with a mist that came up from the ground (Gen 2:6). God designed us for effortless intimacy with Him.
So what happened? Why do you and I lack the supernatural rest we’re supposed to live out? Why are we missing God’s rest in our lives?
Mankind fell. Satan tempted Adam and Eve, and they succumbed. We were taken out of the state of rest for which we were designed, and thrown into a state of wandering and loneliness. We spend our whole lives looking for rest, and craving an intimacy only God can provide, until the day we meet Him face to face. The fall took us out of a state of shalom – perfect peace – and left us with deficits that we strive and struggle our whole lives to overcome.
Rest Under the Law
Part of our job as New Testament Christians is to discern which elements of Old Testament worship are meant to stop at the Cross, and which are meant to be brought into New Covenant worship. Animal sacrifice, for example, is a ritual we no longer have to entertain. Jesus died once for all (1 Peter 3:8), and his blood fulfills the requirements of the Old Testament sacrificial system.
The tithe, on the other hand, is something that is meant to be celebrated in New Covenant worship. Some Christians are reluctant to practice the tithe because it was practiced under the Old Covenant. However, the truth is that the tithe was enacted long before the Old Covenant was established. Moses did not establish the tithe; Abraham did. In fact, we see Abraham tithe to the Preincarnate Christ (Melchizedek: a High Priest of God with no beginning and no end from; see Genesis 14) four hundred years before Levitical Law was established through Moses. God saw fit to continue the tithe under the Law for our benefit; but the tithe did not originate in the Law.
Sabbath rest is another element that is intended to be celebrated as part of New Covenant worship. Sabbath rest was originally introduced by God after He created the earth (see Gen 2, above). God saw fit to continue Sabbath rest under the Law for our own benefit:
There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord. – Lev 23:3
However, Sabbath rest did not originate in the Law. It is therefore a concept that we are meant to carry over to this side of the Cross and apply to the life of every New Testament Christian. God saw that rest was good, so He commanded Moses to continue honoring the Sabbath under Levitical Law.
The Jewish people practice the Sabbath on Saturday. So how did Christians settle on Sunday? In 321 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Sunday the official day of rest for the entire Roman Empire. Our Sunday tradition was born!
The Sabbath As a Day
We think of the Sabbath as a day off: a time to rest and refocus our thoughts and efforts on honoring God. But did you know that Jesus intends for Sabbath rest to encompass so much more than just one day out of the week? The Israelites enjoyed one day of Sabbath rest; Christians, however, are called into an entire lifestyle of Sabbath rest.
Part of my job as a pastor is to expand on the whole truth of Scripture: not leaving anything out, and not adding anything to the Word of God. I want to explicitly state, therefore, that setting aside a designated day of rest every week is no longer legally required:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. – Col 2:16-17
The Sabbath, as a single day, is only a shadow of what we’re truly after as New Testament Christians. A shadow is an image that represents the true form of an object; the Sabbath, therefore, is one day that represents the type of life we are supposed to lead.
That being said, I take a Sabbath at least one day per week (Hey – if God did it, it’s good enough for me!). I have found taking a designated, 24-hour period of Sabbath rest has improved my quality of life exponentially. It allows me to refocus completely on God. It also seals off time for me to spend with just Him and my family, without allowing all the cares of life to intrude.
A Sabbath day helps me to set proper boundaries. We’re a growing church: in the last year, the number of paid employees we have on staff has more than tripled! It’s so easy to let work creep into your time at home. It’s even easier to let work responsibilities stampede the time you set aside to meditate on God’s word and pray. Setting aside at least one 24-hour period per week where rest is required – no exceptions allowed – is instrumental in making sure I work from a place of rest the other six days out of the week.
The day you choose to enjoy your 24-hour Sabbath rest doesn’t particularly matter:
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord… – Rom 14:5-6
I might choose Monday, and you might prefer Saturday. Whatever day you observe, do it for the Lord. In fact, as we’ve already said, it’s completely legal to skip a formal Sabbath entirely. However, the Sabbath is something that was put in place for our benefit (we’ll fully examine this later). So, why skip it?
Jesus calls us to at least one full day of rest every week, and then some. He calls us to a lifestyle of rest. In Lev 23:3 (above), God doesn’t simply command His people to take a day off; He calls them into Sabbath rest. That implies more than just a temporary adjustment, does it not? Sabbath rest requires a lifestyle choice.
The Old Sabbath and the New
Whenever we see an Old Testament concept in the New Testament, we should immediately check to see how Jesus translates the issue through the Cross. So, let’s take a look at how He interprets the Sabbath for the skeptical teachers of Levitical Law:
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:23-28
Jesus was leading His disciples through the grainfields, and they were snacking on kernels of wheat. The Pharisees were rightfully concerned! After all, it was illegal to even pinch a kernel of wheat between their fingers to get at something edible; and the Pharisees knew that when one of the Israelites intentionally violated the Law, the entire nation suffered!
Yet Jesus does not seem to care. Instead, He emphasizes to the Pharisees something that is worth internalizing: the Sabbath is for man’s benefit. Can you skip it without being hit by a bolt of lightning? Of course. But do you really want to? We see Jesus Christ telling His disciples to do something for their own good. Is that really advice we want to ignore?
Jesus wants us to enjoy a new type of Sabbath. He wants us to enjoy a lifestyle – at least one day per week, but preferably all seven – of Sabbath rest.
There are several distinctions between the Old Testament Sabbath and the New Testament Sabbath:
1) Guilt vs. Freedom
On the Old Testament Sabbath, the Jewish people had to endure guilt. The word “Sabbath” in Hebrew literally means, “Day of atonement” (Strong’ s #7676). Atonement is the process through which we seek to pay for our sins. The Israelites were forced to wonder, was I good enough? Did I do enough to honor God? The Jewish people had to stop for one whole day and wonder how they had fallen short when it came to honoring God.
On the New Testament Sabbath, we get to enjoy freedom. We know the truth that Jesus’ single, perfect work on the Cross saves us for all eternity. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, we get to dream with God for promotion and kingdom expansion!
2) Destination vs. Origin
Under the Old Covenant, God’s people had to work to a place of rest. Rest was a destination. God’s people worked all week for perfection, but still fell short; so He forced them to rest and reflect on their inadequacy. Do you feel like you’re working all week just to get to the weekend? Do you feel like you’re working your whole adult life just to get to retirement? If so, you’re only enjoying Old Testament Sabbath rest.
Under the New Convenant, we get to work from a place of rest. We can’t go out and change the world unless God prepares us to do it. He prepares us by encouraging us to rest in His presence and hear what He has to say: by inviting us into intimate relationship with Him.
So, are you working from a place of rest? Or are you constantly crying out for rest from your place or work? The Old Testament Sabbath was a destination; but our New Testament Sabbath lifestyle is an origin.
3) Obligation vs. Privilege
Under the Old Covenant, rest was an obligation: something God’s people needed to do for recovery. They tried so hard, but still fell short, so He forced them to rest.
Under the New Covenant, rest is a privilege: something we get to do for preparation. Once we’re fully rested from spending time in His presence, we can go out and change the world!
Come to Me
So how do we get to a place where we can enjoy a whole lifestyle of Sabbath rest? Jesus gives us incredibly simple instructions:
Come to Me, all you 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.” – Matt 11:28-30
Jesus says, “Come to Me.” There is no vacation required, and there is no magic formula to achieve rest. The answer is plain and simple: turn to Jesus.
Too often, we try and create rest for ourselves. We try to control our own life, along with our own surroundings. We get more sleep, take a vacation, and we feel great for a time; but then we feel tired again.
The shortfall of creating our own rest is this: when we create it ourselves, we have to maintain it ourselves. So by simply trying to stay rested, we become exhausted. Silly, isn’t it?
Jesus gives us the answer. The fall – sin itself – takes us out of the perfect rest God intended for us; but Jesus Christ restores us. Come to Jesus, and He will give you rest.
- by Pastor Mike White
© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 For a full discussion of ontological defecits as a result of The Fall, please see Craig Ellison’s book, From Stress to Well-Being: Contemporary Christian Counseling