Sabbath is, I think, one of those areas where it is easiest to see this conflict we have between the Old Covenant the New Testament, between what God teaches and what Jesus does. And in a world that's "plugged in" round the clock, it is an area that could not be of more importance.
The Old Covenant tells us to rest every seventh day. To do no work. To shut things down. To turn things off. To let nature run its course and the world take care of itself for a change. To sit back and declare that things are good. And for thousands of years, this is what people did. They took a day off. Some still do this. Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby, for instance, don't open their stores on Sundays. In Indiana, it is illegal to buy alcohol on Sundays. And personally, for about four or five years, I have left my technology firmly in the "off" position on Sundays. I don't even turn it on. If you need me on Sundays, dial my phone number or knock on my door.
And there's something to be said for rest. There's something to be said for working some time into your schedule where nothing depends on you. It's the easiest way to depend on God. When you aren't doing things. When you aren't working for things. When you aren't trying to get this world to go your way, you open up the space for things to go God's way. It is an incredible discipline, and one that has become increasingly important to me over the past few years, especially as I get into ministry.
But then there's Jesus.
Jesus got in trouble rather often for breaking the Sabbath. For "working," as some saw it. He healed. He forgave. He plucked heads off wheat with His disciples. I haven't taken the time to count, but I'm pretty sure "breaking the Sabbath" is the number one complaint the Pharisees had about the Son of Man. And I recently read somewhere that an overwhelming number of Jesus' miracles take place on this day of rest.
Despite this, we never hear Jesus saying that there is no Sabbath. Nor do we hear Him saying that there is no rest. He maintains both ideas, just not dogmatically. When He is attacked for working on the Sabbath, His reply is simple: Tell me. Is it right to do good on the Sabbath? He goes on to give the example of an animal falling into a pit on the Sabbath. Wouldn't any man in his right mind pull the animal out of the pit, even though it is the day of rest? You see, there are some things that you simply do because they are the right thing to do, aside of what the Law commands. The Law doesn't command a man to pull his animal out of the pit; concern does that. Concern is a form of love. So there has always been room in the Law for Love, even when people haven't realized as much. And that's what we see Jesus doing. He doesn't break the Sabbath for the fun of it; He breaks it for Love. Every time. He breaks it for the broken, for the hurting, for the sick, for the hungry. He breaks it for those in need of much more than rest; they need Love. And He gives it to them. Every time.
Yet, He does not ignore rest, either. It may not be the Sabbath, but Jesus often takes time to Himself. He takes time to wander away. To pray. To rest. To get away from the crowds for a little bit and reconnect with His Father. I've talked about this before, particularly in the context of ministry, that when you pour yourself out in love, you better have a way for God to pour back into you or you're going to run empty. You have to make the space. You have to set aside the time. It doesn't just happen in idleness; this rest is intentional. It was for Jesus, and it must be for us.
In this rest, Jesus refuses to be distracted. He walks away from the crowds, knowing, perhaps, that He has left some wanting. He watches the crowds continue to gather even as He walks away from them. He looks down from the mountain, from His quiet place, and sees the people coming together, coming to the disciples, asking about Him. Waiting on Him. But He doesn't hurry.
The Bible never tells us that Jesus hurried. That He saw the crowds gathering and rushed through His prayer time, short-circuited the rest He had set aside for Himself so that He could get back to the work God had created for Him. The Bible doesn't tell us, Just as Jesus was about to retreat and pray, He saw all the work to be done and decided not to go. No. He goes. He prays. He retreats. He rests.
So there is some mandate for rest, even if there is no longer a mandate for Sabbath. What in the world are we supposed to do with that?
How do we decide, for example, when Love is the bigger thing and when rest is? How do we decide, looking into a world that calls out to us, whether this is the lame man in the synagogue or the crowds on the road? How do we discern when we turn and keep walking to a place of quiet rest or when we turn back and extend a hand in Love?
These aren't easy questions. They could be. If the Law was clear letter, it's easy to say there's a Sabbath for a reason. There's a time and a place for work and a time and a place for rest. But the Law is not clear letter; Love is. And Love is quite a bit trickier. Love doesn't say there is a time and a place for rest; it says there must be a time and a place for rest. You have to make it. You have to set it aside. You have to be intentional about it. Intentional about rest, but conscious also of Love.
See how sticky this gets? That's just one example of the difficulty of figuring out the New Testament and the Old Covenant, each in light of the other. And I don't claim to have any concrete answers. I'm still trying to figure out Love and rest. I'm still trying to figure out grace and solitude. I'm still trying to figure out this pouring out and pouring in. Because I think we have to figure this out.
Because Jesus did.