God Rested: A Good Friday / Holy Saturday Meditation

Preached on Good Friday 2019 at Hinson Baptist Church, Portland, OR

The timing of the events of Good Friday was not ideal for the religious leaders. Ever since his arrival into Jerusalem earlier in the week, they had been planning and scheming Jesus’ downfall. Initially, they tried sending different experts and teachers to try to trap him in his words, but every time, Jesus responded with wisdom and truth. Finally, they decided, “well, let’s just take him by force.” So working with Judas and a company of Roman soldiers, they grab him, his disciples flee, and under some trumped up charges, they condemn him to death. Of course, the Jewish leaders didn’t have the authority to execute anyone, but they knew they could manipulate Pilate and the people. And that’s what they did. On that Friday, Jesus was condemned for sedition, crucified according to Roman law, and on that cross, he died.

But like I said, the timing wasn’t great. The Mosaic Law did not allow a dead body to be left hanging overnight. But as evening drew near, it was time for these religious leaders to get on with the Day of Preparation. This was the day before the Sabbath, and the Sabbath meant that all work was forbidden. So to keep that law, there were things that needed to be prepared ahead of time. The religious leaders didn’t have time to deal with the body. “We wouldn’t want the body of this guy we just murdered to interrupt our religion!”

Well, conveniently somebody else ends up dealing with it. Joseph of Arimathea asks for and is granted Jesus’ body. So he takes it down, wraps it in linen, and with some of the disciples watching, lays it in an unused tomb, and seals it.

Oh good… now everyone can go on home and enjoy their Sabbath. What are we to make of this? Why this particular timing?

Ever since Peter confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus revealed the shocking news that he was going to Jerusalem and there, he would be killed. In other words, what we read here are not random events, but they were part of God’s plan all along. Because these are events that have been foretold by the prophets of old… And in fact, with this connection to the Sabbath, the death of Christ is connected to the very creation of the world.

When God created the world, God created a paradise for His people to live in! The sun, and the moon, the rivers, and mountains, and meadows filling this world with food and life and beauty and pleasure. Most of all, God made man and woman in his image, to love one another, and to rule over all that he had made. And then we read in Genesis:

Gen. 1:31         God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Gen. 2:1            Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

Gen. 2:2            By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Why would God need to rest? If there’s one thing that Almighty, omnipotent God doesn’t need its rest. And in fact, if God ever stopped sustaining and upholding this universe, we would all cease to exist in an instant. So what does it mean that he rested? Well, it means that His creating work was finished. And it was all very good. As John Calvin puts it:

God ceased from all his work when he desisted from the creation of new kinds of things…. The last touch of God had been put, in order that nothing might be wanting to the perfection of the world.

Everything needed for the glory of God and the joy of man had been created. Nothing was lacking. This was paradise. This was just what God wanted and just what we needed. And so, God rested on the seventh day. When you read the creation account, each day of creation is followed by evening, then morning. But when you come to this seventh day, there’s no mention of an evening. It doesn’t end.

As if to say, God is resting, and now he is inviting humanity to join God in that rest. This seventh day is not so much about a day of the week as it is about a relationship with God. Humanity’s job is to receive all that God has done. It’s not to try to create a world for ourselves. No, it is to live and work and worship and love in the world that God has made for us. To accept God’s gifts, to accept his reign, to accept his love.

The rest that we see in the Garden is one of relationship, work, creativity, purpose… but these are not exhausting or frustrating activities. No, in a right relationship with God, they are restful, satisfying, fulfilling, and joyful. This is the relationship that God calls us to, one where we are loving and enjoying and trusting God, and our souls are at rest.

But then here comes Satan, the serpent, and what does He do? He reframes paradise as an insult! “He said what? God is withholding something from you? You’re going to put up with that?” And so, our first parents became restless. “What if God really doesn’t love me? How could God withhold this from me?”

And that has been humanity’s story ever since.

Rejecting God’s rest, we have sought to make their own rest, and we have turned away from God. As a result, this world has been cursed by futility, by weariness… Our lives are full of disappointments. Nothing works quite as it should. What may at one point be delightful soon becomes wearisome and empty. And it all ends in death. Why? Because that’s what sin deserves! It’s as if God is saying to us, “You want your own rest? Okay, here’s what rest looks like apart from me. Dust you are and to dust you will return.” This is the curse we have brought on ourselves.

But God does not give up on humanity. No, but through the nation of Israel, he enacts his plan of salvation. God rescues this nation of slaves from Egypt and brings them to their own land to live in His presence. And one of the first laws that God establishes is the Sabbath, a day of rest. As slaves, Israel never got a day off! Their slave masters were cruel. But now they have a loving King, the God of the Universe, and under His rule, every seventh day was to be a day of rest and devotion, reminding them that they were not defined by their job, their money, their status, no, they belonged to Him, they were His people, and they were to enter into His rest.

So how did Israel do in keeping the Sabbath? When we look at Israel’s story, they failed in two ways.

First, they failed by idolatry. Rather than trusting in what God had provided for them, just like Adam and Eve, they rejected God and went after the gods of the surrounding nations. Those gods promised illicit pleasures, and wealth, and power. And Israel trusted them and worshiped them, only to be defeated and disappointed and frustrated again and again and again. Even though God called them back repeatedly, Israel refused to repent, until finally they were conquered by their enemies and exiled out of their Land. “You want these idols to give you rest? Then go live among them.”

But once again, God was not done with his plan of salvation. By his mercy, after many years of exile, he brings Israel back to the land. And now, when we fast forward to the time of Christ, Israel is keeping the Sabbath, but they’ve twisted it into something entirely different. Rather than a day of rest, this has become a day of oppression, burdened with rules and regulations. Rather than bringing rest and hope to a weary people, the Sabbath has become a source of religious pride and self-righteousness for those who can keep it, and guilt and shame for those who can’t.

Oh, friends, this is the human story, isn’t it? Whether we go wrong with our idolatry and addictions, or whether we go wrong by our religiosity and self-righteousness, we are those who keep trying to create our own rest.

But here comes Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh. And to the shock of the religious leaders, Jesus does not keep their rules for the Sabbath! He heals the sick on the Sabbath, he lets his poor disciples glean food to eat… and this infuriates the religious leaders. But what does Jesus say? He doesn’t abolish the Sabbath. No, he says something even more profound.

Mark 2:27        he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

All along the point of the Sabbath was not to oppress people but to call people to rest in God. And Jesus now comes for a restless people as the Lord of the Sabbath. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” No mere man could say this. This was a claim to be God Himself.

What would we expect to see from the Lord of the Sabbath? Like His Father, Jesus was creating, not a universe, but a lifetime of perfect love and obedience. This is the work that was needed and had never been done before. We all have rejected God, but here is one who lived out a life of perfect trust and love for God, and perfect love for His neighbor. Speaking the truth in love. Confronting corrupt authority. Defending the cause of the oppressed. Resting in the will of His Heavenly Father.

But at the same time, as Jesus foretold, he had a greater mission: The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Which brings us back to the events of that Friday. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, is put to death, buried. I wonder what the disciples must’ve thought on that Sabbath. Those who denied him. Those who fled from him. What dashed hopes? What unfulfilled expectations?

But on that quiet, Holy Saturday, God was telling them something. From the very Creation of the world, the Sabbath was not first and foremost about our rest. No, remember, on the seventh day God rested. And now the Lord of the Sabbath rests in the tomb! So what does it mean? Two things:

  • It means that Jesus died for us.

He did not deserve to die. But he lay there in death for us. We are the Sabbath-breakers who deserved to die. All who have rejected God’s rest and sought our satisfaction in this world, we are the ones who deserve to lie dead in a grave, empty lungs, cold hearts, decaying bodies, cut off from all of God’s good world. We are the ones who deserve that… and yet, Jesus gave his life, for us.

There, on the cross, the Lord of the Sabbath offered his life in the place of all Sabbath breakers… Jesus took upon himself our sin, our judgment, our death. And there in the tomb, he lay dead for us. Oh friend, if you’re not sure how God feels about your sin, about your rejection of him, then look no further than the death of Christ. This is what our sin justly deserves… and not merely physical death, but ultimately an eternal death, forever separated from all the goodness of God.

Jesus did not deserve to die. But he lay in that tomb on that Sabbath for us. Which means,

  • It means that Jesus finished his work.

That’s the point of the Sabbath! In the beginning, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Nothing was left unfinished! It was perfect, just as he wanted. And then on the seventh day God rested.

And now the Lord of the Sabbath has entered this world on a mission to save sinners. And by his perfect life, by his sacrificial death, he completed his mission! He paid for the sins of His people! Nothing was left unfinished. There is not a drop of God’s wrath that was not satisfied. There is not a single sin that hasn’t been atoned for! The temple veil that once separated man from God’s presence has been torn from top to bottom! Oh, friends, God looked upon all that His Son had done and he saw that it was very good, it was perfect, just as God intended.

And so, on the seventh day, the Lord of the Sabbath rested. He rested, there in that tomb. Nothing more to be done. As he said from the cross, “It is finished!”

And then having completed that work, on that first day of the week, the new creation! Resurrection! And a new chapter in human history begins.

Perhaps you’re here tonight and you are exhausted chasing after the idols of this world which promise you rest. They promise you fulfillment and pleasure and security. Just one more drink. Just one more night. Just one more hit. Oh these idols and addictions are enslaving, aren’t they? They demand everything from you… your family, your body, your heart … just one more, just one more. Friends, it’s always “Just one more.” This is the restless world that we live in. Nothing ever satisfies. So stop lying to yourself. Stop letting yourself be lied to. No, wake up and open your eyes to the weariness of sin. Wake up before it’s too late before you find yourself utterly empty and alone in your grave. And if you’ve awakened to this reality, then friend, we’ve got the best news in the world for you. There is a Savior who went to the grave for you. One who took your sin and your death upon himself, so that you might find true rest in him. He doesn’t demand anything from you. No, He offers you Himself. He offers you rest. Turn away from your cruel sins and turn to Jesus and receive His love and forgiveness. [Talk to me after the service]

And perhaps you’re here tonight and you’ve trusted in Jesus. And yet, there are times you wonder… Have I done enough? Does God still love me even though I continue to mess up? What do I need to do to secure his love?

Christian, remember, Jesus didn’t rest on the Sabbath because he was worn out by your sin. He did not rest on that Sabbath because your sin was greater than his work. No, he rested on that Sabbath, because he took your sin and completely conquered it and his work was finished. “My sin not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord oh, my soul!” And on the seventh day, He rested.

So what does that mean? It means that as far as your salvation, as far as God’s love for you, as far as your eternal security, there is nothing left for you to do! Anything that could ever hinder or lessen or weaken or threaten God’s love has been forever dealt with. God perfectly loves His Son, and you have been united to Him in His finished work, so God perfectly loves you. Oh friend, enter into that rest. Don’t go back to the restlessness of religiosity and rule-keeping. No, enter into the rest of Christ’s finished work.

And know that it’s through that rest, that we enter into new life and then one day, resurrection!

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