Having earned a master’s degree in physical education from East Tennessee State University in the mid 1990s, I learned much about physical fitness. Some of the foundational principles I learned, and actually still remember from that academic exercise, are the three pillars of physical wellness: diet, exercise, and rest.
A healthy diet combined with adequate exercise and proper rest bring about optimum physical well-being.
The last few years I have made a conscious decision to intentionally improve one of those areas, and I hope you’ll be quite proud of my effort! You see, I determined I would consistently get enough sleep! My goal has been, and continues to be, eight hours of sleep each night. And for the most part, this constant of getting adequate rest has paid off.
The fruit of my ‘labor’ has been increased endurance, better mental acuity, and greater emotional stability.
In stark contrast, “fatigue makes cowards of us all,” a quote attributed to both legendary football coach Vince Lombardi and General George Patton, is a reality I would think we all have experienced at points in our lives.
Just as physical rest is critical, so is spiritual rest, for the Lord Himself invites people to find rest, a rest found not in laying one’s body down, but in laying one’s burdens down!
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-30).
The Jewish context of these words is important. The scribes and Pharisees had built a “hedge about the law.” This system of rules and interpretations intended to keep people as far from sin as possible was known as the oral law. It was also called the “tradition of the elders” or “sayings of the wise.” For example, if the written law (the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures) said not to work on the Sabbath day, they would make up additional rules that indicated exactly what actions constituted work. Regarding the Sabbath, the only biblical prohibition was “don’t work.” The Pharisees added 39 stipulations defining work. To illustrate, lighting a match would, and still today, constitute work in Judaism, a no-no on the Sabbath!
This made a huge separation between the so-called righteous and the sinners. It also made following God a burden that Jesus Himself said was too heavy to carry. It also allowed the leaders to appear to be righteous, to approve and disapprove of people, and to control all of the religious affairs within Judaism.
In simple terms, the scribes and Pharisees had reduced a relationship with God to a legalistic list of rules and rituals. This approach to relating to God actually increased the yoke and burden upon the people to do well enough to be accepted by God.
In the starkest contrast, Jesus proclaimed rest, not in the doing, but in the relating. The wonder of the gospel was Jesus’ declaration that true spiritual rest was found in a relationship with Him, not the checking off of religious boxes, of which the Pharisees were notorious!
“There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10).
The word “rest” in verses 28 and 30 of Matthew 11 speaks of salvation rest, the same rest the writer of Hebrews speaks of in these verses. Jesus’ invitation is an invitation to salvation rest. The Lord is calling people to salvation found in Him! “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
In our human pride, we often think we can, and should, take matters into our own hands. Spiritually this is detrimental for believers, because as His children we should only do things in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in the power of our flesh (Galatians 5:16). And our motivation in doing is not to either earn or maintain our salvation or relationship with the Lord, but out of our love for Him (John 14:15). For unbelievers, trusting in human works, religion, or morality to get to God is not only detrimental, it’s deadly! For “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
There is no other Sabbath rest besides Jesus. He alone satisfies the requirements of the Law, and He alone provides the sacrifice that atones for sin. He is God’s plan for us to cease from the labor of our own works.
In our witness we’ll meet people who are trusting in their piety, morality, or church attendance rather than in the finished work of Christ, to get to heaven. Some of these may be weary and heavy laden in trying to be good. To these we can share the grace, peace, and rest of God found in Christ and in His finished work on the cross.
There are other unbelievers who are burdened and heavy-laden due to the guilt and shame of their sin and recognize their hopeless and helpless condition. To these we can share the forgiveness and freedom in Christ, pointing them to the Lord who invites them into HIs rest!
Still others, including both the religious and irreligious, may be indifferent and incognizant of their tenuous position apart from the Lord. To these precious people in our lives, we can demonstrate what it looks like to rest in the Lord, praying He would convict them of their sin and need to trust wholly in Jesus.
Our God is a God who invites us to enter into His rest, which includes abundant and eternal life, a life only He provides, by faith. Yes, our God invites people to rest in Him and His provision:
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:1-3).
May we, as ambassadors of Christ, experience His rest in abundance and express the rest only He provides to those who are weary and heavy-laden, for the glory of God and the building of His church. Amen.
“Look unto Me and be saved all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).