June 4, 2024

by Pastor Peter Sulzle, St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Redwood Falls, Minnesota

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the foreigner within your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

Summer is finally here. School is out. The weather is getting nicer. Your thoughts may shift at this time of year to slowing down a bit—perhaps taking a vacation from what you normally do. Whether or not you get that rest, at certain times you’re more aware that you need it than you may be at others. We are not built to work around the clock. God created us to need rest. We need time to recharge and rejuvenate. Rest makes us more productive and pleasant. Rest is a good thing. Rest is also a godly thing. Just as God created our bodies to need rest, we also need rest for our weary souls. This life with its daily trials and temptations makes us weary. God wants us to get our rest. He prescribes rest in the Law, and He gives freedom to rest in Jesus.

In Deuteronomy, Moses recounts what the Lord had done for His people by freeing them from slavery in Egypt. At Mt. Sinai, God spoke His laws that governed their daily lives. Some of these laws are very familiar. “Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not steal.” Others may not be so familiar. “Do not wear clothing woven of two different kinds of material. Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”

How do we know which commands were to govern the people of Israel at that time and which commands are for all people of all time? Do you sin by trimming your beard? Is it an abomination to wear shirts with a blend of cotton and polyester? How do we know if “Remember the Sabbath Day” is an expression of God’s moral law for all people or a law written just for His Old Testament people to govern their way of living?

The New Testament is the litmus test. If the New Testament affirms the Old Testament law, then that law still applies. Some of the laws given in the Old Testament set Israel apart from other nations as the nation through whom the Savior would come. These commands also helped to highlight their need for a Savior because they couldn’t keep them perfectly. In the New Testament, we find no commandments about beard shaving or fabric wearing. But we do find commands about observing a day of rest to the Lord, even if we have freedom to choose a certain day to gather. Colossians says, “Let the message of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Colossians 3:16). The writer to the Hebrews encourages, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). Jesus promised, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). God prescribes spiritual rest—time out for Him and His Word.

Why? God knows that we need rest for our souls. Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He is speaking to souls burdened by a load of damning sin and guilt. Jesus is the Lamb of God who took the burden of sin and guilt upon Himself. He made the sacrifice of His life to give you rest from sin and guilt. Jesus wants you to have this rest as you worship with your family of believers.

How well are we living up to that standard God prescribes and “keeping the Sabbath day holy”? Is a weekly worship service (even for those who aren’t able to get to church physically but who can watch or listen) and Bible study one of the things that you just refuse to give up? Can you say with the psalmist, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97)? Does your worship life show those around you how much God is worth to you? We have to admit when our commitment to a fervent prayer life, regular worship, and personal Bible study leave a great deal to be desired. When we look at what God expects in outward actions and inner attitudes, we realize our failure to live up to His demands. We have broken the third commandment. We stand condemned.

We can never keep God’s command perfectly. It is an unbearable burden. If you were always bound by the Law, you would have no spiritual rest. But in His great love, God wants you to have rest. So He gave you someone who kept His commands perfectly. He gives freedom to rest in Jesus.

Jesus obeyed every commandment in your place. Picture yourself about eight years old. You ask your father if you can go outside to play. He says, “You can go outside, but I want you to do one job around the house first. I’ve written all the jobs on slips of paper in this jar. Pick one out. When you do the job, you can go out.” You think it’s fair, so you pick out a slip of paper and read it. “Re-shingle the roof! Dad, I can’t do this!” But Dad says, “That’s the deal. Until you fulfill your obligation, you are not free to play.” The paper has become an unbearable law hanging over your head. Every time you want to go outside, your dad says, “No, you need to do your job.” As long as you are under that law, there is no freedom. You are miserable. But imagine that you have an older brother who happens to be a builder. When he sees your predicament, he has mercy on you. He re-shingles the roof for you! He fulfills your obligation. That piece of paper doesn’t apply anymore. You can throw it away because “It is finished.”

That’s a picture of what Jesus did for you. He took the Law of God which hung over our head as an oppressive burden and He fulfilled it. Paul speaks about this in Colossians: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). Jesus kept the Law perfectly for you. “It is finished.” You are free. You don’t have to keep the Law to be right with God.

The commandment “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” no longer binds and burdens you. Paul wanted the Romans to understand this: “By dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6). You and I are not under the Law, but under grace in Jesus. The demand of the Law doesn’t bring you to church or make you open your Bible. The new way of the Spirit does. The incredible love of God in Jesus compels you to find your spiritual rest in Him.

God’s spiritual rest is as close as His free forgiveness in your Bibles. It’s yours for the taking in every sermon that’s preached, every Bible class taught, and every hymn sung. What in this world would stop us from beating down the doors of God’s house to hear the good news of salvation? What could possibly keep us from sitting on the edge of the pew awaiting every word of God’s love? What would stop us from picking up our Bibles and reading a message of God’s peace to our spouse, to our children? It can’t be that we have too much rest in our lives already. It can’t be that there are no temptations bombarding our faith. It can’t be that we’re free from the everyday concerns of economy, health, and family and don’t need the assurance of God’s love. No, it has to be our sinful nature warring against us and partnering with the devil to destroy our faith.

Do you see how much you need your Savior? Christ defeated the enemies that want to steal your rest. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus has taken all sin on Himself and paid for it with the blood He spilled, the torture of hell, and His death. Be at peace and rest with God. In Christian freedom, gather with your fellow believers. Publicly confess your sins and your faith. Receive God’s forgiveness. Grow up in salvation through the Word. By the grace of God, you have found solid, refreshing, permanent rest.

Take Martin Luther’s encouragement from his comments on the third commandment in the Large Catechism.

“Even if you knew the Word of God through and through and had mastered everything, yet all your days are spent in the devil’s territory, and he rests neither day nor night from stealthily trying to sneak up and kindle in your heart unfaithfulness and evil thoughts against all the commandments. Therefore, you must at all times have the Word of God in your heart, on your lips, and in your ears … when we sincerely ponder, hear, and apply the Word, it has such power that its fruit never fails. The Word always awakens new understandings, new delights, and a new spirit of devotion, and it constantly cleanses our heart and our thinking. For here are not limp and lifeless words, but words that are alive and move to living action.”

We have a glorious privilege to hear God’s Word and worship Him. You know how King David felt when he said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1). God grant us that same heartfelt desire to worship—to find rest in God alone. As you receive some much-needed physical rest this summer, remember the greater spiritual rest that your loving God provides—true rest—now and forever. Amen.