Curtis Rittenour says that Sabbath is about having a safe place to rest.
The most peaceful experience of my childhood was visiting my grandmother. When I was a young boy, my mother would drive to Grandma’s lake home on the weekend and drop off me or one of my brothers.
Grandma loved having us visit and cared about even the smallest of our problems. She pulled splinters from our feet, helped us catch fireflies and put calamine lotion on our stinging nettle wounds.
However, the memories that stick the deepest were the Sabbath-day walks we took down a sandy dirt road to a nearby graveyard, where many of my relatives are buried. While the summers could be hot and humid, the 10-minute stroll led us to the old cemetery, which was like an oasis. The cool, green grass, tall trees and flowers formed a beautiful garden. It was a quiet and safe setting.
But God has provided all of us a safe place to know His love. It is called Sabbath, and it comes to us on the wings of time every week. We begin learning of this gift by walking into the first book of the Bible and into a garden.
In The Beginning Was Grace
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Before you yawn and settle back to hear the rest of what might be a familiar story, stop and think about Who created our world. When you walk through Creation week day by day, the focal point is the work of the Creator: “God made . . . God saw . . . God said . . .” While the creation of Adam and Eve was the crowning act of God’s work, His final act was to make the Sabbath.
“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” (Genesis 2:1, 2).
The basic sequence was simple: God worked and then God stopped working. The Bible uses words like “completed” and “finished.” Then came holy time, Sabbath, which was a sign of this completed work of creation. The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8–10 reiterate this idea of keeping the Sabbath holy by “stopping work.”
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour 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.”
Why do we not work on the Sabbath? Because we need to stop and remember the work that God did at Creation. The Hebrew word for Sabbath (Shabbat) literally means “rest.” God created the heavens and the earth, and then He rested from His work.
The Work Of Another
But why would Adam and Eve “rest” on that first Sabbath in their new garden home if they hadn’t worked all week? God did all the work. They could only rest in the work of God. Have you ever “rested in the work of another”?
Let’s pretend you’re having friends over for dinner. You’re a young mother with three kids under five years old. Picture yourself running around town, frantically trying to do last-minute shopping. After loading the minivan and starting for home, traffic suddenly backs up. And as if that isn’t bad enough, it’s 38 degrees outside and your van starts to overheat. So you shut off the air conditioner and open all the windows. In the midst of all this, your three children start crying loudly.
All the while you are thinking to yourself, The house is a mess! My dish in the oven must be burnt to a crisp! The table isn’t set! And I have five minutes before the company shows up! But as you walk up to the front door, it swings open. There stands your husband, smiling. He gives you a warm peck on the cheek and says, “Welcome home, Honey! I took off from work early because I thought you might need a little help. Everything is ready. Our friends called and they won’t be here for 30 minutes. Let me take the kids. Go relax.”
As you walk into the house, the place is immaculate. The table is set. Everything is ready. Your husband takes the children while you plop into a chair and let out a sigh of relief. At this moment you are “resting in the work of another.”
It’s a bit like when God finished creating the world, Adam and Eve rested in the work that God had completed.
A Finished Work
If you look carefully at the words in Genesis 1 and 2 that describe what happened on the Friday to introduce the Sabbath, you’ll see verbs like finished, completed and rested. Now ask yourself, “Was there another Friday in history when these same words were used?”
It’s Friday afternoon and Jesus Christ, the Creator of the world, is hanging on a cross. He’s dying for your sins and mine. He’s carrying out the great work of redemption. And as He breathes His last breath, He cries out, “It is finished.” Then He bows His head and dies. The Saviour has finished the work of salvation and as Sabbath steals over Jerusalem, the Saviour is laid to rest in a tomb.
God marked the ceasing of Creation’s work by making holy time. So the Lord Jesus ceased from the work of salvation by also stopping and resting. God’s work of creation and redemption are like sisters holding hands.
Sabbath is God’s way of reminding us every week that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8, 9). True Sabbath-keeping is resting in God’s grace. If we would receive God’s free gift of salvation, if we would truly experience Sabbath rest, we must learn to reach out and take God’s hand.
Resting In The Work Of Another
Here are some suggestions to make the one day in your week special and restful:
- Reading: This could be the Bible or an uplifting book that helps you contemplate the wonders of God’s love and creation.
- Nature: Go for a long, relaxing stroll out in the open. Doing it alone gives you time for meditation and contemplation. Doing it with others gives you an opportunity to connect with those you love.
- Family: Our busy lives mean we often only see family at dinner and a few hours before bedtime. Taking one day a week to talk and spend meaningful time together can enhance our relationships.
- Write: This could be a letter to a loved one who is living far away or even a letter of gratitude to God.
- Sick and needy: Many people are lonely and hurting. Don’t doubt the cliché “it’s better to give.” Helping them will not only brighten their day but provide you with enormous benefits too.
- Don’t worry: Most importantly, the Sabbath is a time to think outside of ourselves. Stop fretting about the clothes that need washing, the dishes that need cleaning, the paperwork that needs organising and simply rest.
A Time To Remember
A few years ago I had a strange yet warm experience. It happened near my grandmother’s home. After she died, my family moved interstate, only occasionally visiting relatives back in my home state.
One weekend I travelled to visit the relatives and along the way, I passed near the place where my grandmother used to live. I hadn’t driven by it for many years, so I turned toward the old farm. As I went slowly past, I remembered the little sandy road that continued on to the cemetery, the place where we used to take Sabbath walks when I was a child.
When I neared the graveyard, I pulled off the road, turned off the engine and opened the car door. What flooded my senses took me totally by surprise. The warm evening was filled with scents and smells that I had not experienced for more than 40 years. I was immediately transported back to the part of my childhood that was filled with the love of my grandmother. The perfume of late summer powerfully reminded me of that long-ago time in my life when this special lady would take my little hand and walk with me to a place of peace.
God longs to reach out and take our hand every week and walk beside us into a garden of grace.
The Lord wants us to remember on the Sabbath that salvation is a free gift that we may receive if we would only stop and rest in the work He has done for us.