Rest is a complicated idea in 2020. There has been so much turmoil, with both solitude and crisis at every corner, that the idea of rest almost seems impossible. And yet, as we celebrate Advent, I cannot imagine a better passage to dive into today. If you haven’t read the passages on Sabbath yet, let me encourage you to take a few moments before reading this devotional to read or reread the Scripture for today (Exodus 31:12-17; Mark 2:23-3:6).
John Ortberg says this about modern day Christians, “For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”
When I read the passages today, I see how God’s good design for holiness and rest directly combat this idea that Ortberg explains is so prevalent in our society. Scripture pleads with us to keep the Sabbath because it is holy for us, and yet most people I know really struggle with true, life-giving rest.
I’m not sure what you think of when you read or hear the word “Sabbath” but during Jesus’s day, practicing Shabat – the Hebrew word for Sabbath – wasn’t just highly recommended, it was a part of their laws and customs. One day a week, God’s people practiced Sabbath and intentionally chose rest. They didn’t work. They didn’t cook. They obeyed a surplus of rules and laws that defined what they could and couldn’t do.
As you would imagine, the Pharisees we read about in the Gospel of Mark (the rule-following religious leaders of the day) were really good at knowing the laws, and following them, but that knowledge and obedience didn’t translate to a changed heart. When Jesus and the disciples weren’t quite living up to the Pharisee’s expectations, they jumped at the chance to catch them and prove they weren’t properly following the Law.
But Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (as we read in our passage this week), didn’t come to destroy the Law, but fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” And just a few verses later in chapter 12 it says, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (sounds a lot like our passage in Mark doesn’t it?!).
You see, the Sabbath isn’t some list of dogmatic do’s and don’ts. It’s not an old-timey ritual that church-going people perform. As the passage says in Mark, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” It is a posture that pursues true, life-giving rest that we can only find in Christ. It is the recognition and confession that we are finite creatures who rely on an infinite and holy God – a holy God who made Himself small, in the form of a tiny infant, to come and redeem all of humanity.
The passages we read today show us our ultimate rest, our true and better Sabbath, is found in Christ alone. What does that mean for us during this Advent season?
St. Augustine of Hippo famously said it this way, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Eugene Peterson says it this way in The Message that we must “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
Sisters, like I mentioned above, 2020 has been quite the year. As we await the celebration of the birth of our Savior, let us posture our hearts to find rest in that baby in a manger. Let us learn the unforced rhythms of grace and rest in a sovereign and good God, because we know that the baby in the manger grew into a man who willingly laid down His life for the restoration of all humanity.
When the world feels too heavy and when suffering draws near, we draw near to the true and better Sabbath. When crisis and heartache and brokenness surround us, the people of God expectantly look for His return. We celebrate Advent and we hope in spite of hardship, because we know we serve and unchanging God in the midst of an ever-changing world. During this Christmas season, let us remember that Christ, the foretold Messiah, came to redeem a broken world. In the God-child laying in a manger we find not only our salvation, but we find our Sabbath, our true rest.
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 John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p. 38-39
 Saint Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, (New York: Doubleday, 1960), p. 43
 Eugene Peterson, The Message, Matthew 11:28-30