One of the things that is hardest about being a preacher is that you must proclaim truth, and a way of living in response to that truth, though you yourself are, in fact, struggling to live out what you are proclaiming. It feels hypocritical. It feels disqualifying. Yet, I think it is another sign of God's grace that he calls preachers to this glorious task nonetheless. For we preach to ourselves even as we preach to others.
So, this Sunday, I will walk up to stand on the stage at Calvary, behind the pulpit, and proclaim a truth I know, but have trouble living in light of: Jesus came to bring true and complete Sabbath rest for those who believe in him.
I struggle, because I have trouble with the "work beneath the work," with embracing the "power of deep rest" that is available in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Tim Keller writes:
But the relationship between work and rest operates at a deeper level…All of us are haunted by the work under the work---that need to prove and save ourselves, to gain a sense of worth and identity. But if we can experience gospel-rest in our hearts, if we can be free from the need to earn our salvation through our work, we will have a deep reservoir of refreshment that continually rejuvenates us, restores our perspective, and renews our passion. (Every Good Endeavor)
This is God's marvelous act of mercy toward us. God provides deep, soul-satisfying Sabbath rest. Restoration. Wholeness. He brings the gift of shalom for his people.
To understand this, we need to appreciate and study the biblical reality and meaning of Sabbath. Why did God institute it in the first place? What is it for? What does it point to? Should we celebrate it today? How should that celebration look, if we do? Those questions aren't just relevant today, they were relevant when Jesus was ministering on the earth, introducing his New Way.
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples broke off heads of grain, rubbed off the husks in their hands, and ate the grain. 2 But some Pharisees said, “Why are you breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” 3 Jesus replied, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He went into the house of God and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests can eat. He also gave some to his companions.” 5 And Jesus added, “The Son of Man* is Lord, even over the Sabbath.”
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath 6 On another Sabbath day, a man with a deformed right hand was in the synagogue while Jesus was teaching. 7 The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. 8 But Jesus knew their thoughts. He said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” So the man came forward. 9 Then Jesus said to his critics, “I have a question for you. Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” 10 He looked around at them one by one and then said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! 11 At this, the enemies of Jesus were wild with rage and began to discuss what to do with him.
(Holy Bible: New Living Translation,Lk 6:1–11)
There is much to discover in this story, nestled in as it is in a larger narrative (Luke 4:16-6:49) where Jesus describes what kind of life we as his followers are called to, even as he calls those followers.
Listening to my Savior as he interacts with those around him, watching his mercy in action, thrills my soul for what is available to me as his follower. While I still have much to learn (and embrace), I am eager to share it with you this Sunday!
One other thing as I invite you to worship over the Word (either in person, or later when you may view it here online): would you prepare your mind and heart for worship?
I had a friend recently share an observation with me as we were discussing his recent attendance of a Coldplay concert, and after both of us had watched the tour film (recently released on Blu-Ray). He noted how well people were prepared to participate in the concert. They had listened to the music. They had memorized the songs. They arrived early, found their seats, awaited with great anticipation for the concert to begin. And when it did, they sang and engaged with great gusto! All of it lead to great enjoyment of the "service."
Why is it that we draw distinctions between that kind of worship experience, and Sunday morning? For, I know there are people in church prepared that way for events like that. What if we looked at Sunday services similarly, for the glory of a worship-worthy God and the increase of our joy?
So, let us prepare our hearts for Sunday worship, even as early as Saturday evening, through prayer and the reading of the sermon text or looking over the questions (always available early on our website). Rise early Sunday morning so that you are not rushed in coming to church.
Arrive early for the worship service - it begins at 10:30am, so be there at 10:15: spend some time in prayer, settle your heart, read the sermon text again, listen to or participate in the contemplative songs that begin at 10:20am. You'll have plenty of time afterwards to talk with friends, use the time before to prepare for the worship service by talking with God, asking for him to reveal himself to you through his Word, confessing known sin, sharing with him how excited you are for the worship that is about to begin. Be eager and expectant. And then, when the service begins, engage with gusto!
I believe you'll find that God will honor such preparation as you come to hear from and praise a holy and exalted God, and you'll find more joy in the gathered worship of the people of God than ever before.
See you Sunday!