During our “Game Day” sermon series, we’ve been talking about spiritual disciplines. Like athletes who benefit from practicing discipline in training for the big game, we as the people of God are blessed by spiritual disciplines in our daily lives.
Among those spiritual disciplines is keeping of the Sabbath. God said to the people of Israel, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work … for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth … but he rested on the seventh day.” (Exodus 20:8-11) By resting on the seventh day, God had set a pattern for his people, a day for them to rest from their labor and to remember the great things he had done for them.
The importance of rest for athletes has long been recognized. Vince Lombardi, who led the Green Bay Packers to five championships in the 1960s, is known as one of the greatest coaches in football history. He emphasized the discipline of getting enough rest before playing the rigorous game of football. During training camp, held on a college campus before each season, Lombardi made sure his players were in bed by 11 p.m. Those who weren’t were subject to fines.
On every team, there’s a player who has to challenge the rules. On Lombardi’s Packers, that player was receiver Max McGee. He snuck out of the dorm after 11, enjoyed some time in a Green Bay drinking establishment, and snuck back into his dorm room. Lombardi, who had instructed Green Bay residents to report to him any Packer who was out after curfew, found out about it. He fined McGee $125, a significant sum at a time when players made an average of $25,000 a year. But McGee was not to be deterred. He snuck out again. Lombardi caught him again and fined him $250, warning him that the next time, it would cost him $500. But McGee was a slow learner. After he made another late-night excursion, the coach was livid. “MAX!” he shouted in a team meeting. “That’ll be $500! If you go again, that’ll be $1,000.” The players got quiet, knowing their coach was really upset this time. Then Lombardi managed a slight grin. “Max,” he said quietly, “If you can find something worth sneaking out for, for $1,000, heck, call me and I’ll go with you.”
Lombardi was a stickler about curfew because he knew that rest was important for athletes. God knows that it’s important for his people to get their Sabbath rest. We were not made to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But we live in “24/7” culture that increasingly demands that we be available via phone and email at all hours. Even our children are pushed to work long hours, whether it’s homework or a time-consuming youth activities culture. More and more, that culture respects no Sabbath day in regard to games, performances and practices.
So what can we do? We can prioritize a time for rest and for worship. For most Christians, that’s been Sunday – the first day of the week, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead -- since the early days of the church. Christians are no longer bound by the Old Testament law that set aside the seventh day of the week – Saturday – as the Sabbath. As St. Paul writes, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath Day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:17)
In Christ, we have one who came to give us rest. Rest from the burden of our sin under God’s law, which we sinners are unable to keep. Rest from the burden of expectations that we must always be working, always be striving. There is a time for work. And there is a time for rest. And worship.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
So how can Christians best observe the Sabbath?
1. Rest. Your body needs it. Recharge. Take time to enjoy some relaxation with your family. You’ll be ready for the challenges of the week ahead.
2. Remember and repeat. We come to church weekly to remember that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, and that we have a Savior who died on the cross to pay for our sins. We need to set aside time to hear his Word, to remember that we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and to receive his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for our forgiveness and strengthening.
3. Rely. Rely on God. It doesn’t all depend on you. While you rest, God will be at work. Take a rest and trust Him! For he is faithful and true. Christ has done everything needed for your salvation. In Him you can rest.