Rest is a gift God gave His children. In last weekend’s sermon, Pastor Wu Yuzhuang explored the importance of adhering to God’s commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.
Matthew 11:28-30 reads, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
These verses are by now familiar to the members in City Harvest Church, being central to a series of sermons on “The Easy Yoke” preached by their senior pastor Kong Hee. On the weekend of 8 and 9 Oct, Pastor Wu Yuzhuang elaborated on the concept in his sermon, “Rest Day”.
He started by noting that the word “rest” appears twice in Matthew 11:28-30. Having recently gone through a very busy season, the pastor shared, “The Lord started to speak to me about the need to rest. And I know that God is not just speaking to me alone. God is instructing some of you, and reminding all of us, of the need to rest.”
This reminder is especially important now that normalcy is returning after two years of the pandemic and the busyness of life will soon kick in. “So, before we become overworked or burnt out, God wants to speak to us on the need to rest,” the pastor noted.
This, however, does not mean that believers should forsake diligence. “There is virtue in hard work,” he stated. In fact, Proverbs 14:23 and 1 Timothy 5:8 both speak of the importance of hard work. Quoting Hebrews 6:10, Pastor Zhuang pointed out that God always remembers His children’s labour of love for His kingdom.
At this point, the pastor took the opportunity to thank all the staff, leaders and volunteers who have been serving tirelessly in the house of God.
Pastor Zhuang then read Genesis 2:2-3, where the concept of rest day was introduced when God rested on the seventh day after creating and filling the earth. “Not only did God practise it, but God also blessed the rest day,” he highlighted. The rest day, also known as the “Sabbath”, appears in the Bible more than 110 times. “It is a very important concept in the Bible,” he added, going on to explain three things that the Sabbath is about.
1. SABBATH IS ABOUT OBEDIENCE
Keeping the Sabbath holy is the fourth of the Ten Commandments (Exo 20:8-10).
“God didn’t just introduce the concept of a rest day at creation,” Pastor Zhuang said, “He formalised it when the Ten Commandments were given.” The pastor emphasised that keeping the Sabbath holy should bear the same importance as the rest of the commandments. While Christians usually take “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery” seriously, they seem to demonstrate less conviction when it comes to keeping the Sabbath and taking a rest day.
To illustrate how serious God is about Sabbath, the pastor shared a story of a man being stoned because he went out to gather wood on Sabbath (Num 15:32-36).
Clarifying that while Christians live by grace and are no longer under the law, Pastor Zhuang said, “I still believe that the Ten Commandments are valid for us today, but they are fulfilled and completed in Christ Jesus. But this is not about law and grace, because God started gave instructions for Sabbath in Genesis 2 before the law was given.”
While Christians will no longer be stoned to death for failing to keep the Sabbath, there are still consequences to ignoring God’s instruction to rest. “Are you killing yourself for working too hard? Are you losing those years of your life because you’re not doing things God’s way?” Pastor Zhuang questioned.
2. SABBATH IS ABOUT REST
The word “Sabbath” is translated from the Hebrew word “shabbat” which means “to cease” or “to choose to refrain from”. As such, to keep the Sabbath is to cease or refrain from work.
In Mark 2:23-27, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath law when He healed the sick. In response, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
Explaining this verse, Pastor Zhuang said, “Sabbath was not meant to be a burden for the people. It was meant to be enjoyed, but the Pharisees turned Sabbath into an unbearable day of burden.” In fact, according to the Talmud, which is the tradition of the Jewish elders, 24 chapters of laws dedicated to the Sabbath were given, causing a God-given rest day to be filled with rigid rules.
“Sabbath was created for the benefit of mankind,” the pastor said, explaining that it was instituted so that God’s people can take a day to stop working, worrying, striving and struggling. “God knows our capacity. We are not machines. He wants us to live a long and productive life.”
When a person fails to take care of his body, he will experience stress. While pressure from life keeps a person’s life exciting and fun, prolonged stress can be damaging to a person’s health, causing serious conditions such as heart disease, asthma, even depression.
Moreover, the Bible records the grave consequences of not observing the Sabbath. According to 2 Chronicles 36, Israel did not heed God’s instruction of giving the land rest once every seven years, so “for 70 years, God allowed the Babylonians to exile the Jews so that He could give the land a break,” noted Pastor Zhuang. Similarly, in the New Testament, Epaphroditus was forced to take a break when he “came close to death” from serving the Lord (Phil 2:27-30).
The pastor listed men of God who worked so hard that their bodies eventually broke down and they lost their lives at a young age. “Even if you are strong and healthy, it doesn’t give you the right to abuse your body,” Pastor Zhuang told the congregation. “God led by example—He worked six days and rested on the seventh.”
He also reminded them that rest is also needed so that the soul and spirit can recharge. “That’s why it’s important to worship God,” he reminded the church. “When you’re worshipping, you are unloading your worries to God.”
He encouraged the church to intentionally make time for rest and relaxation, whether it’s spending time with their loved ones over a meal or at the beach, cycling, reading or watching dramas.
3. SABBATH IS ABOUT TRUST
Sabbath is about giving God the opportunity to provide for His people supernaturally.
In Exo 16:23-25, God provided enough manna on the sixth day, so that the children of Israel could rest on the Sabbath. This is significant because God gave them manna daily and if they were to keep the manna for the next day, it would rot—except for the sixth and seventh days. “That meant that if you observe Sabbath on the seventh day, God would provide double for you on the sixth day,” Pastor Zhuang explained. However, that also meant that if one chose to work on the Sabbath, there would be no provision for them.
“All the emails you sent out, the house viewings, the trades that you made, all the buying and selling on Sunday—God says ‘I’m not working with you if you violate this principle’,” said Pastor Zhuang. “You must realise that Sabbath is God’s gift to you!”
Reading Genesis 2:21, the pastor shared that God created Eve while Adam was resting. “When you trust God by resting on your Sabbath, God will start working in your life,” he encouraged the church.
He gave the example of a fast-food chain Chick-fil-A. It is the only fast-food chain in the US that is open only six days a week. When Truett Cathy started the restaurant in 1946, he mandated that his staff would only work for six days because Sunday is a day of rest and worship. Against all human wisdom, Chick-fil-A has been able to consistently make more every year than the average fast food chain that opens seven days a week.
Returning to Matthew 11:28-30, Pastor Zhuang revealed how Christians can experience working with a light burden and easy yoke. The answer can be found in Genesis 3:17-19, where Adam had disobeyed God and his punishment was that he would have to toil for his survival.
“God’s original intention was for all of us to enjoy fellowship with Him,” Pastor Zhuang said. “In God’s original design, we didn’t have to sweat to satisfy our appetites, because God would satisfy us.”
The pastor refers to this as the “divine rhythm”. However, when Adam sinned against God, he broke the rhythm and chose to do things his own way. Similarly, most people live an unsustainable life that is overcommitted and over-engaged today.
“That is why in the world, there is strife and people spend their whole life chasing things. But in God’s kingdom, we chase Him. And when we chase Him, Matthew 6:33 says God will make sure things chase us,” the pastor pointed out to the church.
When a person works too hard, he starts to be constantly irritable and the ones who bear the brunt of this are his loved ones. He may also become hypersensitive and begin to shut down emotionally. Pastor Zhuang encouraged those experiencing these warning signs to make an effort to attain good sleep and reconnect with God.
He urged, “Allow God to restore this divine rhythm in your life.” He ended the service by praying for members of the congregation to be able to find rest in God, and for members with insomnia to be able to get a good night’s sleep.