For many years in a seventh-day, Sabbath-keeping group, I faithfully kept the commandment given to ancient Israel to rest from my work on this day. And through it all I heard countless explanations for why God created the Sabbath, and how it was a blessing in so many ways to those who honored it. Naturally, these explanations missed the mark entirely.
Like practically everything given to Israel under the terms of the Old Covenant, the Sabbath pointed to and hinted at something better, something real, and something actual (meaning spiritual). It was merely a shadow and a type, yet its meaning and ultimate spiritual fulfillment touch the Christian life at its very core, as we shall see.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
My friends, we work so desperately hard trying to get to God, don’t we? We have devised such clever religious systems that rely almost exclusively on Adam’s toil and effort. Like the Pharisees of old, we pile rule upon rule, method upon method, system upon system – laboring tirelessly to improve ourselves, and to return even the hint of a smile to the Father’s face. And all we have become is all we ever were - heavy laden, worn down, frustrated – and ultimately perplexed as to why our religion isn't getting any deeper into our souls.
Today we see that we are now putting our best minds and talents to work. The greatest teachers among us are highly doctored individuals with impressive credentials. They are able to package and communicate heavy labor in ways that make it seem wondrously desirable; so much so that we want to reach out a grab it. To these, we add the most gifted musicians and performers to fill in all of the emotional space caused by our lifeless regimen of empty practice. Whole crowds who have never actually seen the Lord of Life, nor touched Him (nor even a scrap of His garment) can at least hear songs about Him.
Still, a profound and nagging question lies before us, and it is this – why have not 2000 years of religious "effort" - movements, revivals, structure, methods, systems, denominations, books, hymns, seminars, organizations, rituals, budgets, schemes, practices, fundamentalism, sensationalism, mysticism, emotionalism… (the list of 'isms and 'ologies is almost endless) not even come close to approaching the spiritual reality and life (for either the individual or the church) we read about in the Book of Acts and offered freely by our Great Shepherd?
My friends and brethren, the answer is clear. That ancient and holy Sabbath - marking mere moments in time - pointed ultimately to a timeless spiritual reality that we must ultimately affirm if ever we are to touch the life of Jesus Christ, and realize all of His provision and rest for us.
Yes, dear people, He alone is our Spiritual Rest. He is our Sabbath day! When the Creator God rested on that seventh day, it was Christ alone that was in view! His alone is the life through which all peace, provision and power flow to the created world below.
In order to bear this out, I would like here to include an excerpted passage from Watchman Nee's little book called “Christ The Sum of All Spiritual Things” Like much of what this man was blessed to see from behind the veil, this message is profoundly deep, venturing further into Christ and the Spirit than most of us will ever go. Yet it conveys our rest in Christ at a level so much truer than I have ever seen expressed. My prayer is that the Spirit will reveal this to us, for here is the answer to so many questions rooted in Adam.
Christ Is the Life
(Excerpted from “Christ The Sum of All Spiritual Things” – Watchman Nee)
Following the words “I am the way and the truth”, the Lord continues with “and the life.” We are mindful of the fact that life issues forth spontaneously in work, but work cannot be a substitute for life. We ought to be crystal clear here that work is not life—for life is effortless, life is Christ himself. How people toil to be Christians. How we are wearied through daily exertion. Most severe are these doctrines, for they demand of us to be humble, gentle, forgiving, and long-suffering. They literally wear us out. Many concede that to be a Christian is a difficult task. This is especially true with young believers. The more they try, the more difficult it becomes. Upon having tried for a length of time, they still bear no resemblance to a Christian. Brothers and sisters, if Christ is not life, we have to do the work; but if He is life, then we do not need to struggle. Repeatedly we say that life is Christ himself, and work can never substitute life.
There is a grave mistake pervasive among God’s children. Many regard life as something which they must do in their own strength, or else there is no life. What all of us should realize is, that if there is life there will not be the slightest need for our own doing, but that life will naturally flow. Consider for a moment how our eyes see and our ears hear. Our eyes see most naturally and our ears hear spontaneously because there is life in them. We must be clear on this point: life flows naturally into work, but work is never a substitute for life. Sometimes work proves instead the absence of life or the weakness of life. Life will issue in good morals, but good morals are no stand-in for life. For example, a brother may be very gentle, moderate and reserved. Someone will praise him, saying, “This brother’s life is not bad.” No, he has used the wrong terminology. For the Lord says, “I am the life.” However gentle, moderate and reserved this brother may be, if these do not come from Christ they are not reckoned as life. It is perfectly true to say this man has a good temper or he rarely causes any trouble or he always treats people kindly and never quarrels; but it cannot be said of him that he has a rich spiritual life. If these things are natural to him they are not life, for they do not come from Christ.
Other people cherish another thought. They conclude that life is power. To have the Lord as our life means to be given power by Him to do good. Nevertheless, God shows us that our power is not a thing; it is simply Christ. Our power is not the strength to do things; rather, it is a Person. Life to us is not only power but also a Person. It is Christ who manifests himself in us, instead of our using Christ to display our good works.
Once a brother attended a meeting at a certain place. He was asked by an elderly Christian, “Why do you go there to meet?” “Because there is life,” he answered. The elderly man said, “True, as regards enthusiasm, our meetings are not comparable to that place.” “You do not understand,” replied this brother. “That place does not have a frenzied atmosphere at all.” “What do you mean?” asked the elderly brother. “How can there be life if it is not fervid?” Answered the younger brother, “There is nothing at all noisy about it, and yet there is life. For life does not necessarily have to be emotionally exciting or enthusiastic or fervid or loud.” Then the elderly man philosophized, “Perhaps young people like fervor, but I prefer thoughtful words. When I hear profound words, I meet life. I think this indeed is life.” But the young brother said in return, “I have many times heard the deep words which you refer to, but I have not met any life.” Dear people, from the conversation of these two men, we may see that life is neither emotional excitement nor thoughtful words. Words of wisdom, clever sayings, logical arguments and thoughtful dissertations are not necessarily life.
Not surprisingly, some will inquire, “How strange that life is neither fervor nor elevating thought. Where, then, can we find life? What is life after all?” We confess we do not have a better way to express this matter of holding forth life. All we can say is that it is something deeper than emotion and more profound than thought. And once one meets it, he will instantly be quickened within. This something is called life.
What is life? Life is more profound than thought; thought never surpasses life. It also is deeper than emotion; emotion is superficial in comparison with life. Whether thought or emotion, it is relatively external. What, then, is life? The Lord Jesus declared: “I am the life.” We should not hastily conclude that we have met life when all we meet is a kind of hot atmosphere, such as a so-called spiritually hot atmosphere. We should ask instead, whence does such atmosphere arise? Plenty of experiences confirm to us that many who are skillful in creating hot atmosphere know very little of the Lord, many excitable persons are quite lacking in the knowledge of the Lord. Only Christ is life, the rest is not.
We need to learn the lesson of knowing life. For life depends not on how enthusiastic is our emotion or on how manifold is our thought; it rests exclusively on whether the Lord has manifested His own self. There is therefore nothing more important than to know the Lord. As we are knowing Him, we are touching life. We ought to see before God the meaning of Christ our life. Those who are easily excitable or especially clever are not necessarily people who know the Lord. Knowing Him requires a spiritual seeing. Such seeing is life and it transforms us. If we know the Lord as our life, we realize the utter futility of all natural efforts in spiritual matters. Hence we look to Him alone.
When we first believed in the Lord, we did not realize what looking to Him truly meant. But gradually we learn increasingly to look to Him, having recognized that everything depends upon Christ, and not upon us. In the beginning of our Christian walk we desired to possess one thing after another; we could not trust Him for everything. After we learned a bit more, however, we received some understanding as to the necessity of trusting Him: not in the sense of believing Him to grant us item after item, but in the sense of trusting Him to do what we are unable to do by ourselves. When we first became a Christian, we were inclined to do everything our selves, fearing lest nothing would ever be done or matters would fall to pieces if we did not do them. Hence we were working all the time. Later, in having seen the Lord to be our life, we know that all of Christ and not of us. Consequently, we learn to rest and to look to Him.
Let us keep in mind that instead of giving us one object after another, God gives His Son to us. Because of this, we can always lift up our hearts and look to the Lord, saying, “Lord, you are my way; Lord, you are my truth; Lord, you are my life. It is you, Lord, who is related to me, not your things.” May we ask God to give us grace that we may see Christ in all spiritual things. Day by day we are convinced that aside from Christ there is no way, nor truth, nor life. How easily we make things as way, truth, and life. Or, we call hot atmosphere as life, we label clear thought as life. We consider strong emotion or outward conduct as life. In reality, though, these are not life. We ought to realize that only the Lord is life. Christ is our life. And it is the Lord who lives out this life in us. Let us ask Him to deliver us from the many external and fragmentary affairs that we may touch only Him. May we see the Lord in all things—way, truth, and life are all found in knowing Him. May we really meet the Son of God and let Him live in us. Amen.
© 1973 Christian Fellowship Publishers Inc.
Livingwalk Note: For more on the Sabbath for Christians, click here for Ray Stedman's timeless message on the topic.
Please pray for us here at Living-Walk, that we would watch and see the Master at work, and understand what He would have us do.
Your friend in Christ Jesus,
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