God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour. (Job 37:5-6)
Snow day! Music to the ears of children and adults alike. All normal work is halted and we go home to watch our landscapes turn to white. The clouds become painters and the fields are transformed into works of art; God’s masterpiece unveiled in a brief sliver of abundant creativity – foreshadowing what he has in store in a New Heaven and a New Earth – and He does it all with water. We put on our winter gear, grab the sleds, and turn the nearest hill into a winter wonderland.
Many people in America had already gotten at least one snow day in the winter of 2014. In the Pacific Northwest, after a very mild winter, we finally got ours. Snow covered our roads and we were compelled to rest. Folks of all ages were out in it and laughing and greeting one another. Snow slows everything down. On Sunday morning, it still had not melted. In fact, a freezing rain on top of the snow made the roads unsafe, so again, we were compelled to remain at home, even from church.
When I was younger, Sunday was the other Saturday; its only drawback being that it was a day closer to having to get back to work. My wife and I didn’t go to church, so it was a time to get up a little later, make some coffee, stoke a fire, hang out with the kids and channel surf for sports. It was a day of rest – a Sabbath. In Exodus 20, God commanded the Sabbath in this way…
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
The people of Israel created elaborate rules around this command to be sure that it could not be broken. These rules governed everything from what could be called work to how much work could be done before it officially became work. Preparations were made prior to the Sabbath and the day was lived with a fearful concern for transgressing this law. But what does God command? Rest. Not fear. Not law-abiding. Not 70-steps to adhere to in order to have a work-free day. God blessed the Sabbath. It is a day of rest. Jesus was constantly running afoul of the gatekeepers of the Sabbath command. He healed on the Sabbath. The gatekeepers called it work. When accused He asked,
“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:4-6)
He told a man who He healed on the Sabbath to take up his bed and walk home. To the gatekeepers, He was undermining all the rules they set. But to the people, he was reminding them of God’s loving intent for His people. It was inconvenient to the leadership, so they sought to stop Him. Another time, He and His disciples plucked heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath while traveling from town to town. When accused, He said,
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
The Romans did not have a weekly day of rest. They had festivals and feasts during which time was set aside, but the people worked weeks on end between them. They viewed the people of Israel as lazy for taking a day off each week. Yet they marveled at their productivity. It made no sense to them. But the Sabbath principle, like the tithe principle, is not about production, but about trust. God tells us that if we will give up something we previously regarded as ours for our production and accumulation and would trust Him with it, He would respond in abundance (Leviticus 25).
Sabbath is a day of rest. It does not preclude worship, but rather reflects it. On any given Sunday, we choose to gather together and to raise our voices to honor and praise our God. This is good and right and the privilege of people who know and love Him. In the Spirit of Jesus, the day is a day to rest from our work and to extend that rest to every living creature. For the last several days in the Pacific Northwest snow gave rest to many people who don’t often take a pause. We couldn’t go to church this morning, so I sat down in my reading chair and read the Book of John. I miss my church family, today, but I am having a Sabbath. The family will get up a little later, make some coffee, stoke a fire, hang out with one another and maybe even channel surf for sports later. I am worshiping. I will enjoy this rest with those I love. I will obey the command and the presence of God, who makes His home in mine…
“If anyone loves Me [Jesus], he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23).
And the Pacific Northwest will enjoy one more day in rest compelled by the maker of snow…
“He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; He makes his wind blow and the waters flow.” (Psalm 147:16-18)
Note: Sunday or Saturday? The Christian church regards Sunday as its day of worship. Somewhere in antiquity the focus turned from Saturday (the Old Testament Sabbath) to Sunday. If you want to be like those who misunderstood the command to rest, you might get all hung up on whether or not it we are only to rest on Saturday. Then again, you might as well ask whether there is only one day on which you worship (the Ten Commandments do not restrict worship to only one day!).