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Sabbath Rest

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 11:22 am    Post subject: Sabbath Rest Reply with quote

Although the biblical Sabbath is a literal day of the week set aside to cease from work, when we think of Sabbath rest, images of a relaxed Sunday afternoon or a quiet personal retreat may also come to mind. The writer of Hebrews describes a Christian's observance of Sabbath to be something less focused on a day or even a kind of place or time. Rather, Sabbath is a spiritual state of faith - a choice to believe - in the context of fear, unbelief and hopelessness.

The line of thought begins in Hebrews 3:7 with a quote from Psalm 95: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert... so I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" The critical moment for expressing unbelief came when the twelve spies gave a report of the land. All agreed that it was a land of giants and great walled cities. Ten spies said it can't be done: It's impossible! In contrast, Joshua and Caleb said we have a God who can give us this land: Let's take it! That whole generation is characterized as unbelieving because they chose not to believe that God could take them into the land of promise. Ironically, they were refusing to move ahead to the place where God would give them rest - the real objective of the Conquest.

Hebrews 4 moves the challenge to every generation: The promise of rest always stands, grounded in God's invitation to enter His Sabbath rest in creation. The "Today" of Psalm 95 is available every moment we are faced with a choice to believe or not to believe. "There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as he did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest."

Although exertion to embrace rest is counter-intuitive, our experience confirms this truth. It's hard to believe. It's hard to trust. Unbelief is a difficult choice we make in the context of our doubt and despair. We become hopeless over realities that are, from all we can tell, insurmountable. All twelve spies agreed that there were walls and giants. Except for the two spies, everyone was unable to muster faith that they could move into the promised territory. Two chose to recall God's word of promise. Hebrews ends this section with the familiar image of God's word as "living and active." God's Word is the basis for choosing to believe or not to believe. It is the source of the very life of faith.

If faith was not something that came supernaturally from God's Word, then we could be blamed for our feelings. After all, hopelessness is an emotion in the face of obstacles like people and structures. Only God can breathe new life into a hopeless heart overcome with despair at things that don't change. How those things will or won't change may not become clear. What is clear is the promise of rest after we move forward by faith when our nature cries out to stall, turn back and give up. The writer of Hebrews coins a term for "Sabbath observance" to make his challenge. Whatever else Sabbath means in Scripture, it is here an active embrace of God's promised power to do the impossible. This is a rest from our own "work" - the work of our own reasoning, our own strategies, our own selves. We resist our emotional inclinations to doubt and "make every effort to enter that rest."

There is a fine line between the emotion of hopelessness and the choice not to believe. The feeling comes naturally. The choice comes supernaturally… but only after some spiritual exertion.
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