|The Gift of Sabbath Rest|
|Written by Stuart Bryan|
|Wednesday, 17 March 2010 16:36|
Louis XIV is one of the most notorious of the French kings – for good reason. Coming to the throne when a mere boy of five, constant indulgence by his mother and prime minister produced a conceited, ignorant, and self-indulgent monarch. It is said that at the time of his coronation, Louis and his friends reveled and celebrated daily for three months. Every evening was filled with entertainment, dancing, and drinking – no luxury was wanting, no expense curtailed. Meanwhile, outside the palace gates, thousands upon thousands of Louis’ people lived in squalor, taxed mercilessly to pay for his extravagance.
Louis’ conduct relates to a story told by Mark in the sixth chapter of his Gospel. He tells the story of two very different shepherds, two very different types of kings, Herod and Jesus (cf. 6:14-44). We find both of them at a feast. The first king is holding a birthday party, eating, drinking, reveling – and what is served for supper? The head of John the Baptist on a platter. This king is a cannibal. When he feasts, he does so at the expense of his people. The second King’s feast is quite different, however. For He looks upon the people and sees them as sheep without a shepherd, hungry and in need. And so He serves them a feast. What is served for supper? Bread and fish which this King supplies from His own largesse. This King is no cannibal; He is a Life Giver.
As a king, Louis was a type of Herod rather than a type of Jesus. When Jesus feasts – when He rests from His labor and enjoys the fruit of it – He invites His people to join in the celebration. When Louis feasted, however, it was at the expense of his people. He feasted to the detriment of his countrymen, while Jesus feasts and invites His countrymen to partake of the fare.
Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 parallels the work of the Creator in Genesis 1-2. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth out of His fullness. He was not in any need. He did not create the world because He was deficient in some way but rather because He was super-sufficient, overflowing with bounty and creativity (cf. Acts 17:25). At the conclusion of His creative work, God rested from His labor. He sat back, looked at His creation, and reveled in the work of His hands, enjoying its beauty, harmony, and intricacy.
Then notice what God does. He does not keep the rest to Himself; He does not hoard feasting and cause mankind to labor without ceasing so as to subsidize His feast. Rather, God gives this Sabbath rest to man. He hallows the seventh day and sanctifies it. He sets it apart so that man too, like the Creator, would be able to work and labor and strive, exercising dominion over the earth, and then on the seventh day sit back and rest, enjoying the fruit of his hands and worshiping the Lord who had given him such bounty to enjoy. In other words, God’s rest, God’s feast, was a blessing for all humanity.
What this discussion of feasting should enable us to do is to get our paradigm for the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, all straightened out. Unfortunately, modern Christians have been trained – both by secular culture and by mistaken Christian teachers – to view the Lord’s Day as a burden thrust upon humanity rather than a gift given. The predominant metaphor we have used to understand the Lord’s Day is that of a fast rather than a feast.
However, rather than view rest on Sunday as a restriction, the Word of God counsels us to view this rest as joy, liberation, delight (cf. Is 58:13-14). As glorious as business is, as important as work is, as valuable as labor is – there is something far more glorious: feasting and delighting in the presence of God, enjoying the fruit of our labor so that we might labor all the more fruitfully. The Lord’s Day is a gift not a burden.
What this means is that those who would take the rest of the Lord’s Day away from us are not our friends. They are taskmasters, slave-drivers, tyrants. They are characters like Herod and Louis. And this is why, scripturally, the command to grant rest on the Sabbath is primarily directed to the “movers and shakers” in society rather than the workers. “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. in it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you” (Dt 5:12-14). Kings, nobles, priests, landowners, merchants, businessmen – these are the types of people who stood the most to gain and the least to lose from violating the Sabbath. Consequently, they are regularly exhorted for failing to honor the day of rest (e.g., Is 56:9-12). The Lord’s Day is a gift to all the people of God, to all the nations of the earth, not just a select few.
Yet many, like Louis XIV, continue to feast at others’ expense. One time while Louis was pressing his expansionistic wars, he entered the gates of a city and saw the devastation wrought by his policies. A woman with her three children lay against the wall near the gate – the woman and two skeletal children were dead, the third child, a mere baby, was still latched to the mother’s breast endeavoring to find food. Though moved by the scene, Louis’ policies never changed. He spent his life endeavoring to take from others that he might enjoy his unbridled luxury. He was a cannibalistic king. Thankfully our King is not like Louis. He has entered into His rest and invites us to enter into rest with Him, feasting and celebrating His victory every Lord’s Day. So let us join the feast.
Stuart Bryan is the pastor of Trinity Church in Couer d'Alene, Idaho and is the author of The Taste of Sabbath - How to delight in God's rest, which is now available from Canon Press.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 March 2010 16:47|