A story of integration.
For those who have seen Chariots of Fire, it is a beloved movie with profound meaning. Made on a shoe-string budget, the movie took Hollywood by surprise when it garnered four Academy Awards, including Best Picture for 1982. The movie has a sort of Downton Abbey feel before the time and contains the classic ingredients that makes for a compelling story: pride and honor, conscience, victory, self-denial, and prejudice. Eric Liddell has a dual calling: he is to become a missionary to China and he is a fast Olympic-level runner. In his conversation with his sister Jennie, he explains it very well. Eric learned not to compartmentalize his life. He could run for God and he could be a missionary all at once (tragically, he would later die in China during WWII).
But this conviction was tested by his calendar. At the Paris Olympics in 1924, Eric couldn’t bring himself to run a heat on the Sabbath (Sunday) so he decided, against enormous pressure from the British Olympic Committee -and the Prince of Wales, no less- to forgo his strongest distance (100-meter dash). However, through the self-sacrifice of one of his team members who gave up his place in 400-meter final, Eric was able to win his gold medal after all. We may question his strict attitude toward sports on the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10); in fact, even John Calvin felt it could be ok to play some sports on Sunday. However, no one will ever question his admirable stance to let God be Lord of his calendar of events.
The Fourth Commandment – Rest!
The Fourth Commandment is the most elaborate in the series (Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Each of the 10 carry equal weight in its own way, and the Fourth is the one that regulates our daily and weekly schedule. Embedded in the Deuteronomy version (see Exodus 20 for the other complete version) is actually a total of four commandments:
- Keep the day of Sabbath.
You shall labor and work the other 6 days
You Shall not work on the Sabbath
You Shall Remember your redemption from slavery in Egypt.
So the Sabbath regulated the cycle of life (along with yearly feasts) in Ancient Israel. It was meant to give purpose to their week of work (what David Gill in his book Doing Right calls “creation work”). The commandment puts the focus on the day of rest as an integral part of the week. In contrast, the work in Egypt was “slave work.” To keep the Sabbath was a way to say, ‘we’re done with slave work, now we do creation work unto the Lord.’ No room for false dichotomies between that which is sacred and that which is secular. It all belongs to God.
Scripture talks about the Sabbath as rest. It involves actual physical rest (who can function 24/7? This seems like a good idea to disconnect for one day on a weekly basis). It also takes on a spiritual sense. Whenever Israel returned to the Lord in repentance, the land would have “rest” (e.g. Judges 3:11). Nehemiah 9:28 speaks of people resting from doing evil.
So when Jesus sends his universal call to find rest for our souls in Him (Matthew 11:28-30), he is telling us to enter into His perpetual ongoing Sabbath rest (see Hebrews 4:8-10). We no longer work so that we can rest (a sort of TGIF mentality of ‘work hard and play hard’). Instead we rest in Jesus so that we can work. To enter the Sabbath rest of the Lord also has a focal point of one day, when we re-calibrate our lives and remind ourselves why we’re here. In God, we’re not machines in need of a pause on the assembly line of life. We have a far greater purpose. Some are made to be missionaries to China and athletes, others are made for the purpose of working at CVS and being a good mother, husband, etc. We all have our calling and the Sabbath rest that Jesus is calling us into is the weekly reminder of that. Thus, the Sabbath will look differently for all of us but it achieves the same outcome from compartmentalization to integration in our lives.
The call to Sabbath rest in Matthew 11:28-30 contrasts the yoke and burden of slave work with the yoke and burden that is the gentleness of Jesus Himself (John 15:5). We shed the burden of our unrealistic expectations and the tyranny of the busyness of our lives and we embrace His rest with a light burden and an ‘easy’ yoke (actually the word is kind/good cf. Romans 2:4; 1 Peter 2:3). Paul puts it in starker terms in Galatians 5:1, “it is for freedom Christ has set us free, stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (see Matthew 23:4). We may not struggle with the legalism of Paul’s day and our attitude to Old Testament law, as is the context of Galatians, but we have our own brand of heavy yoke and burden. We get tangled up with the same root problem: the restlessness of self-achievement and performance; how our calendars (social, professional, exercise, etc.) just rule our lives like a total tyrant. We’re doing slave work ‘in Egypt’ more often than we care to admit!
But as we choose to rest and abide in Him, an extraordinary (and counter-intuitive) thing happen: our productivity goes way up (John 15:5). It’s rooted in Him that we will bear much fruit (and we will let Him define as to what that fruitfulness means for each of us). This is precisely what happened to Eric Liddell. He gave up the almost-certain victory for the 100-meter dash and instead a ran a distance he wasn’t supposed to win. But as his American rival Jackson Scholz wrote on a note for Eric: “It says in the old Book: He who honors me, I will honor.” This will be true for us as well.
Reflections for the week
How Satisfied are we with our schedules?
Take an inventory of your calendar(s) and make sure all these activities are flowing out of our Sabbath rest in Christ. The real litmus test is the test of attitude. How content and satisfied are we with our schedules? Too busy, overwhelmed and not feeling in control of the week? It may be time to shift our emphasis to the day of rest (from work-then-rest to rest-then-work). Maybe it’s time to switch off the electronics for a day; or doing something fun (yes, like playing sports or cooking a nice meal; anything that creates a separation from the work week).
Maybe it’s time to spend more time with family, perhaps share a meal together (something some of our congregants already do). Maybe it’s time to plan the day of rest to make sure it is actually a time of rest, without anything ‘to do.’
The point is: this week, spend time with the Lord to allow Him to show you ways you can find rest for your soul. In His presence and His Word and in prayer.
The Law Fulfilled
Finding True Rest in Jesus.
So when Jesus announces His new Sabbath rest in the New Covenant, he uncovers the true meaning of the original Sabbath: He fulfills the Law by obeying the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5-6) and to love His neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). Which is why he will heal people on the Sabbath and declare Himself “Lord of the Sabbath.” Paul will follow in Jesus’ footsteps when he says the fulfillment of the Law is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Galatians 5:14). Of course, this doesn’t mean Paul unhitches himself from the Law (in contrast to some popular teaching today). Paul in Romans will be careful to say “we uphold the Law” but now the fulfillment of it is in Christ. The punishment of disobedience to the Law has now been taken up by Jesus on the Cross. He died for our sins so that we might live by faith in Him. Nevertheless, the ethics of the Kingdom of God are grounded in God’s Law, as fulfilled in Christ, not apart from it (again, to counter the false teaching among others of Andy Stanley in his book Irresistible).
*David Gill is no stranger to TCC. When he was our interim pastor, his series on the 10 commandments became a weekly routine since he asked the congregation to memorize the 10 “words” (draw from his book Doing Right).