Welcome to the fifth week of our BYOB (Bring your Own Bible) series ""Return to Eden.""
We've been exploring the law of Moses - and how it fits in with the grand storyline of Scripture. Humanity banished from the mountain garden of Eden and God's relentless faithfulness to bring us back.
Today we're going to look at the theme of the Sabbath.
As with every law we're looking at in this series, the sabbath begins in the story of the garden of Eden.
In the creation story of Genesis, it says God created for six days, and then rested from his work of creation on the seventh. He ""sabbathed.""
But before he does that, on the sixth day, God creates Adam.
The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the LORD God warned him, ""You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.""
So here we see the intended vocation of humanity - to ""tend and watch over"" the garden. We're meant to be gardeners - stewards of the beautiful creation God has placed us in the middle of. We make sure everything is in order.
But this isn't meant to be back-breaking labor. Instead, it's meant to be a free, abundant life. When God tells Adam, ""You may freely eat the fruit of every tree,"" the literal Hebrew says, ""from all the trees of the garden, eat eat!"" The word is written twice to emphasize it.
The picture painted here is of humans tending a bountiful garden - pruning a fruit tree here, trimming some bushes there - and eating their fill of seeds and nuts and fruit and plants which are just springing up from the fertile ground. Eat eat!
But of course, there is one tree the humans are not allowed to eat from: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or as I referred to it in the first message of this series, the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.
This tree represents human self-sufficiency. Saying the abundance God has given us is not enough. Choosing to trust in our own definition of reality instead of trusting in God.
And of course, that's exactly the tree Adam and Eve eat from. They make the choice to be their own gods, to define good and bad for themselves, and the consequence of this choice is death.
Although it's not the kind of death we might initially assume. It does include physical, bodily death in the story, but they don't die right away. It goes much deeper than that. The death this choice brought into the world was the death of God's created intentions.
The breakdown of humanity's relationship to each other - the corruption of our relationship to the world.
Listen to how God describes the consequences of humanity's choice for self-sufficiency instead of trust. God tells Adam,
""Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.
It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
though you will eat of its grains.
By the sweat of your brow
will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
and to dust you will return.""
Where once there was abundance, now there is struggle. Where once there was ""eat eat,"" now there is sweat and pain. The very plants which once fed and sustained humanity are now fighting back - thorns and thistles.
Humanity, which was given the job to tend the ground is now at war with it.
We're meant to be connected. Instead, we're in conflict, and humanity is ground back into dust by our work to survive.
""You were made from dust, and to dust you will return.""
Adam and Eve (and humanity writ large) chose self-sufficiency instead of trusting in God's abundance, and death - the breakdown of the created order - was the consequence.
We feel it every day. The grind of getting through another week. The endless slog of work. The anxiety of putting food on the table.
BUT, God is not content to let humanity struggle endlessly like this. He wants to bring us back into his presence - back into the abundance of the garden. It's what we've been talking about through this whole series.
God wants humanity to experience fullness of life. Eat, eat!
So God begins his divine rescue mission by calling a people - the Israelites - and inviting them back into a life of trust.
At the beginning of the book of Exodus, the Israelites are being ground to dust by Egyptian slavery. God rescues them, he takes them safely through the Red Sea, then he meets with them on Mount Sinai and gives them the law of Moses.
The law, as we've said, depicts a new way to live - a vision of a society which looks like Eden again. Holy, just, loving, abundant, and no longer ground to dust by the drive to survive.
And to help accomplish that vision, God introduces a practice called sabbath. Turn to Deuteronomy 5.
We're looking again at one of the 10 Commandments, which we covered in the second week of our series.
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the LORD your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.
So, God ""sabbathed"" after creating the world, and now the Israelites are being invited to do the same thing. To rest one day out of every seven.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel calls the sabbath a ""cathedral in time."" Where the tabernacle was a sacred place, the sabbath was sacred time.
The word Sabbath literally means ""stop."" To cease from doing something.
In Israel, the sabbath day - the ""stop day"" - became one of the core distinctives of the people of God. The way it worked was that every Friday evening to Saturday evening, the entire community would spend 24 hours resting together.
This was a time of community, of celebration, of long, leisurely meals (eat, eat!), of worshipping God together. It was restful.
And look at verse 14. This wasn't a time for the rich to rest while their servants waited on them. No, this was a time for everyone. Sons and daughters, servants, foreigners, even livestock. Your animals got a day to completely rest.
What does this sound like to you? It sounds a bit like Eden, doesn't it?
And that's exactly what it was. The sabbath was a rehearsal of New Creation. It was a day to practice what a return to Eden would be like. Humans and animals and creation in harmony. Life instead of death. A taste of what was to come.
Real talk: Does this sound a little utopian? A little radical and idealistic?
""What, one day a week doing nothing productive? Sitting around a campfire braiding flowers into our hair? Anyone have a guitar? Let's make some tie die shirts.""
It's ridiculous, right? Or maybe it just seems that way in our busy, modern world. But let me assure you, this was just as radical of an idea back then. It was just as weird to the Israelites.
Think about it. You're a farmer. Your family's survival depends on the success of your harvest. If you don't maximize your crop yield your kids could go hungry. You could slide into poverty.
And now God is saying that you have to spend one seventh of your time just sitting around when you could be out there planting and watering and tilling and harvesting and milling flour and pressing olives and GETTING IT DONE.
Oh, but not just that. The law also commands that every seventh year in Israel was to be a sabbath year. One whole year where you are supposed to just let your fields lie fallow and live on what you grew the year before.
The land rests. You're not even allowed to keep the wild animals from getting into your crops. Creation itself gets a sabbath every seven years and you don't get to do any work at all.
Oh, and also all your slaves get released and all your debts get cancelled.
And then after every seventh sabbath year - on the 50th year - it's the ""Year of Jubilee,"" which is also a sabbath year - two in a row - and all land goes back to its ancestral owners.
So if your family had to sell your land because of poverty you get your land back, but if you've acquired land over those years, it's gone.
The sabbath concept was a LOT.
I know I just blew through all of that stuff but I'll talk about it more on the weekly Facebook live stream I've been doing throughout this series on Wednesday nights at 7pm. In fact, this week will be the last one.
If you have specific questions, send them my way.
Also, I made a whole video about the sabbath rest for the land on my YouTube channel. So I'll put a link to that in the app notes if you're interested.
All that to say: the sabbath day, the sabbath year, and the year of Jubilee - it's all a radical idea. I see it as the most radical and challenging idea in the whole law of Moses. Practicing a return to Eden now? Pretending we're back in the garden? It's wild.
How is this supposed to even be possible?
Well, in Leviticus 25 God answers that question. How are you supposed to survive a whole year without harvesting anything? Well, allow God to knock your socks off in the sixth year.
I will send my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a crop large enough for three years.
Trust in God's provision and he will take care of you. Eat, eat from the tree of life, in other words, and not from the tree of self-sufficiency.
This is the operating principle behind the entire sabbath idea: You don't have to be ground to dust in the struggle to survive. God's abundance - fullness of life - is available to you. But you have to trust.
That is what the sabbath is all about. A provocative reminder every single week that God wants humanity to return to the garden. A day of rest where the entire community can experience fullness of life.
Now, in the storyline of the rest of the Bible, the idea of the sabbath goes on a bit of a roller coaster. As you can imagine, the people of Israel often didn't take the sabbath seriously. And there is no record in the Bible of the Israelites actually practicing a full sabbath year at all.
Now, there was period of time where the religious leaders of Israel - the Pharisees - started getting really strict about the sabbath laws, and you'd think, ""Oh, maybe the people are getting back on track,"" but they were kind of missing the point.
You see, the Pharisees had created a ton of additional laws and guidelines to make sure that people didn't break any commands of the Torah. ""You're not allowed to work? Well, let's decide how many feet you're allowed to walk away from your house so it's not considered work.""
They were trying to get Israel back to the letter of the law, but then Jesus came in and turned everything on its head. He wanted people to go back to the spirit of the law.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus keeps going out of his way to heal people of diseases and deformities on the sabbath, which the religious leaders considered work. They were outraged.
But when they challenged him, he said things like this:
The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.
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?
The Pharisees had turned sabbath observance into legalism - yet another way to grind people into dust. Not working had become another kind of work! But Jesus knew that wasn't the point of the sabbath at all.
The sabbath was a gift of life from God, not a time of oppression. It was a chance to experience abundance. To rest together in God's presence and provision.
After one of these instances of healing on the sabbath, Mark tells us this was the moment the Pharisees started plotting to kill Jesus.
Jesus, who embodied a return to Eden - to abundance. Jesus, who turned water into wine, who orchestrated miraculous catches of fish, who fed 5000 people with unlimited breadsticks...
Jesus, who spread fullness of life everywhere he went.
The sabbath day was a taste of Eden. Jesus lived a sabbath life.
A life of complete trust in God's provision. A life of rest from toil and self-sufficiency. A life which stopped the grind.
And it's a life he invited all of his followers - including you and me - to experience.
FULLNESS OF LIFE
How do we do that? What does sabbath look like for us? Are we supposed to just take a day off every week? Well, yes, a day off of work that you protect would actually be a great start.
But I want to go deeper than that. I want to ask some bigger questions. What does it mean for us to try and live a sabbath life like Jesus?
To do that, I want to ask a few a few questions which should help get us thinking. Like this one:
Are you addicted to the grind or are you ok with enough?
I get it. We live in a workaholic culture. We take pride in being busy and we admire hustle and drive. It's the American dream!
And it's why you have crippling anxiety about not getting straight A's.
It's why you stay at your job late night after night even though it's making you sick.
It's why you neglect time with your family because you need that promotion.
You do all this even though you know it is grinding you to dust.
Let me tell you a secret: I know exactly how much money you need to be perfectly happy: MORE. Always more. You're not going to get there.
Living a sabbath life means saying ""ENOUGH! I don't want to be ground to dust just so I can die and take none of it with me.""
The sabbath challenges us to be ok with what God wants to give us. To put a limit on our drive - to stop the grind - and to acknowledge there is something more important.
Rabbi Heschel wrote an incredible book on the sabbath, and here's what he said:
""Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.""
-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath
""But if I don't work 7 days a week I'm not going to get straight A's, I'm not going to get that promotion, I'm not going to make my boss very happy...""
Maybe not. But do you really believe your self-sufficiency is going to ever be enough? Or do you believe that God wants to draw you into a life of abundance? Do you trust him enough to eat from the tree of life? Or is that second tree just too tempting?
Are you addicted to the grind or are you ok with enough?
Question 2 is similar:
Are you trying to make it on your own or are you allowing God to meet your needs?
For some of you, the grind is not about greed; it's about survival. You've got to put food on the table. And you don't feel like you have a choice.
If that's you, I want to encourage you with this: sabbath was for everyone (children, servants, foreigners, livestock). It's a whole community affair.
You're not in this alone. A sabbath life is made possible by a community which cares for one another. And we want to care for you.
If you are being ground to dust by the demands of this life, let us help you so you can find rest. It's why we have life groups.
It's why we have our Care Center - our food pantry, our co-op, our car care ministry. To ease the burden, to walk with you, so you can breathe again.
There's never shame in coming to our Care Center. You will only find love.
Let us care for you so you can experience God's abundance. You don't have to do this alone.
Finally, I'll ask this of everyone:
Is every moment of your life devoted to yourself, or do you make time to spread fullness of life?
If you remember the story, the Sabbath was a way for the Israelites to rehearse the New Creation, to practice being back in Eden.
And what happened in Eden? Well, the humans worked - there's dignity in work. But this work wasn't a grind for survival. This was tending and caring for the garden. Shepherding the animals in a place of abundance. Delighting in one another!
Humanity was meant to spread and protect fullness of life. That was our vocation.
Sabbath is an invitation to go back to that. To make time in our lives to bring life to others. This is why Jesus healed on the sabbath. It's what the whole day was all about!
This could take many forms.
It could mean spreading kindness and joy.
It could mean caring for your neighbors.
Loving the unlovable
Visiting the elderly
Volunteering at church
It could mean standing up against injustice
It could even mean caring for the planet itself.
But you have to make time for it - to carve out a sanctuary in time. The sabbath invites us to do that - to dedicate time in our lives to spread fullness of life and give up the endless obsession with ourselves.
The irony of it all is when we do that, when we look beyond ourselves and start to heal the world in Jesus name, that is when we start to truly come alive.