Holy Saturday: Sabbath Rest


Lesson 1 Peter 4:1-11

For six days the Lord God created the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day He rested. Today is the Sabbath day and the One by whom and for whom all things were created now rests from His labors. The Lord God placed the first Adam in a garden. Today the second Adam is in His garden tomb. The parallels are so obvious that they almost demand that we meditate on the significance of this day. Allow me to suggest a few ideas.

First is the concept of the Sabbath rest. It is important enough to God that He would place it among the 10 Commandments and yet it seems to be the odd man out. The others are clearly about morality. No killing, no stealing, no adultery. But what does keeping a Sabbath have to do with morality?

We can see that it has everything to do with morality when we understand that a call to keep the Sabbath is a call to be a holy people, a call to live differently than those of the world. They believe that they are saved by their own efforts. We know that we are saved by faith in Christ. They live by bread alone but we are to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. They trust in kings and chariots but we are to trust in the Lord our God. They live their lives by earthly desires but we are called to walk in the Spirit so that we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. The Sabbath, and keeping it holy, is a call to be a holy nation and a royal priesthood.

But the Sabbath is important for another reason and it is important to keep this in mind so that we do not become legalistic about keeping a certain day. The Sabbath is a foreshadowing of the day when our Lord will rest from His labors after He has fulfilled all righteousness. His Sabbath comes after He cried out “It is finished.” Because Christ rests from His labors on this day, we who are in Christ may rest from our labors, those labors by which we attempt to save ourselves. “For by grace are you saved through faith, it is a gift of God, not as a result of works, lest any man shall boast.” Keeping the Sabbath trains us to cease from our works righteousness and to rest in Him. On this day Jesus invites us to cease from our works righteousness and turn to Him alone for our salvation.

But second, this day is not just about rest. Listen to these words from 1 Peter 3, For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits.” Through the centuries the Church has interpreted these words to mean that during this time Christ descended to the dead and preached to those who were in prison or Hades. So while He rested from His labors, in terms of fulfilling all righteousness, He did not rest from loving and ministering to others.

This model of resting while working is the perfect model for us. There is a difference between rest and retirement. You rest so that you can continue to work. You retire so that you never have to work again. Spiritually speaking, retirement for the Christian comes in the next life, not in this one.

Sadly too many Christians think that once they have faith then that is all they need to do. They do not share their faith. They do not care for the widow and orphan. They do not visit the sick. They think that they own everything rather than understanding that they are merely stewards and that it all belongs to God. They ignore the words we just heard from the Epistle of Peter. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

But why should they do these things? They have their ticket to heaven, what more do they need? But contrast that thinking to what Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” I really like how Peterson highlights the importance of doing good works in his paraphrase The Message. “He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”

Just as Jesus rested from fulfilling all righteousness but continued then, and continues now, to reach out to others with love and mercy, so we are called to do the same. We rest from the exhausting and impossible effort to save ourselves by accept the free gift of God’s salvation through Christ Jesus. But then we use the spiritual energy preserved from no longer trying to gain our salvation by works and use that power to love and serve others. In one of the post communion prayers we pray, “And now Father send us out to do the work that you have given us to do” and we pray that because we truly do believe that God has given us work to do. Otherwise at your baptism we would just hold you under for a few minutes longer and send you on to glory. Okay maybe not but you get the point. Since even in the grave, Jesus was doing the Father’s will, we need to also be about love and good deeds. What is interesting, going back to St. Paul’s words, is that these good deeds are ones that God has already prepared for us in advance. This tells me that we are not called to be generic do gooders but we are to discern what work God has prepared for us to do and then do it.

A third observation about Jesus’ time in His Sabbath rest was that it was a time of preparation. Easter is for most of us the pinnacle of the story but we must also not forget that other important events follow. Namely that Jesus would ascend to the Father as High Priest on our behalf and be given a Name that is above every name. That He would send the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost. That He will return in glory and when He returns His promise is that we will appear with Him in glory. This was a time of preparation for all that lay in store.

As we enter the Sabbath rest with Jesus we need to see it also as our time of preparation. The Bible gives us glimpses into what lay in store for us, but to be honest I don’t really understand many of them. We are told that we will judge the angels. Does that mean that we will get to play Judge Judy with angels? I don’t know. The Bible says that those who are faithful over a little will be given much. Much of what? I don’t know. The Bible speaks of us ruling the nations. Why will we still need nations and what does it mean to rule over them? Again, I don’t know.

But what does become clear when you begin to piece all of these images together is that this life is like boot camp, preparing us for the life to come that is beyond what we can even imagine. Perhaps that is why Jesus gave so many parables warning us about not showing up unprepared. The world’s philosophy is that you only go through life once so you had better grab all of the gusto that you can. But the Scriptures speak of a second life and therefore this life is not about grabbing but preparing. Listen again at St. Peter’s words to see how true that is. “The end is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

The last observation that I would make about Jesus and this day Sabbath rest was that it had to be for Him a time of quiet trust. At the moment of His death He cried out in trust, “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” His body was dead but His spirit was not. He had obeyed His Father and completed the work that He had been given to do. There was nothing left to do. His body lay in death but His spirit trusted in His Father to keep His promise and raise Jesus from the dead and exalt Him on high. Jesus knew the Psalms. He knew the promise of God in Psalm 16. “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”

As an observant Jew He would have prayed Psalm 22 expressing both the pain of Good Friday and the hope of Easter.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the one Israel praises.

In you our ancestors put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

To you they cried out and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Jesus knew the Psalms so well because He not only prayed them but He embodied them. As always He is our perfect model here too. As we join Him in the Sabbath rest, we can follow Him a step further and enter into His quiet trust. A 17th century English cleric put it this way. “Enter into God’s unchangeableness by faith, take up your lodging in this sweet attribute….and shut the door behind you….” (John Flavel, The Righteous Man’s Refuge Vol 1, pg 629).

That is wonderful advice but as you do this you need to realize that there will be a lot of things knocking at the door wanting to get in. There will be a knock from Health, wondering how long you will be able to keep it. There will be a knock from Relationships, hoping that they won’t go sour. There will be a knock from Monies, warning that there are not enough of them to go around. Such cares of the world will be standing in line as far as you can see, knocking on your door. Whatever you do, don’t open it to them because all these things will inevitably let you down. Choose instead to live in quiet trust and keep the door shut behind you. The Psalmist reminds us, if we put our trust in Him, we will never be put to shame.

On this Holy Saturday, our Lord is in His Sabbath rest and He opens the door to each of us and invites us to join Him. He invites us to rest from our labors of works righteousness. He invites us to work as we rest. He invites us to use this time to prepare ourselves for the life to come when we will cease from all of our labors. He invites us to join Him in His quiet trust of the Father. My God give each of the grace to enter His rest with Him and shut the door behind us. Amen.

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