Two years ago, our family started implementing a rule that is still in effect today: I stopped cooking on Sundays. Any work more substantial than making a sandwich or cutting up fruit was not allowed. This felt like a lazy rule at first: what would this do for my kitchen and parenting credentials if I tried to regularly pass off takeout or cereal as dinner? (I can sense the laughter of all the parents reading this from my computer screen.) But after living by it for a time, I realized this rule has done two things: Resting for a day enabled better work for the week ahead; resting for a day made it possible to enjoy time as a family without worrying about the dinnertime deadline.
Coming to this realization helps me to appreciate that commandment to “do no work on the Sabbath” (Ex. 20:10-11) is intended as a gift from God. All the parameters around the fourth commandment show God’s protection. It is a boundary line that has fallen in pleasant places.
This command to rest is precisely because God has given great value to work. God gave mankind work from the very beginning; Jesus himself came with work to do. In John 5, he heals a man on the Sabbath, afterwards declaring that “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (Jn. 5:17) Jesus loves well, and he works well, to his Father’s glory.
Ultimately when Jesus works well, we see the same picture from Genesis 2, when God rests when he accomplishes his work. God does not need rest; but he does it when his work is complete. And in the same way, we can rest because Jesus has accomplished his work on the cross. There is no work whatsoever for us to do in that regard.
And yet, there is still work God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10). So what does resting look like when our work is incomplete?
I think one of the best passages to give this question context is Mark 6:31.
“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”
The stage for this verse comes from Mark 6:7-13, when Jesus sends the disciples out two by two and equips them with authority to heal people, to drive out demons, and preach repentance. Jesus gives them work to do. And just like God the Father, he gives the twelve specific instruction, a clear message, and power to complete the work he’s given them. It is the same for us today: just like his disciples, Jesus equips us to work well.
When the disciples return to Jesus, they are probably so excited to tell him everything, but also very tired. We’re not told how long they were away. But what we do know is that there are so many things going on “they did not even have a chance to eat.” (Jesus, do you think later there might be some loaves of bread and fish to share with a few people?) So, Jesus invites the twelve to come with him and get some rest.
Here is God incarnate, who has not only given the disciples power to do great and miraculous things, but also dignifies the work they’ve done by saying Stop for a little bit. Get some rest. Come with me. How amazing is that? Here is a King who will not drive his people into the ground, like Pharaoh with the Israelites, like all kings who took the best of what their people would give them. Here is the King of kings, who loves his people so much he invites them to come and rest.
This is something unique about Christianity over all religions and worldly ways. Our human condition can propel us to become extraordinarily lazy, or working addicts. But God says both work and rest are important. He wrote it into the fabric of creation that mankind would have work to do, and he created our physical bodies in such a way that they would thrive best when they rested from their labor. Not as a matter of laziness, but as a way to fuel the work we do after resting.
Maybe you are in a season where resting – even if only for a few hours – is very difficult. Maybe you are plagued, anxious, weary, and it seems as though there’s always something to be done. That’s because there is always something to be done! We’ll never completely outgrow our need to work. Since God gives value to our work, we know that our work is never in vain; it is important and good. Yet still, God invites us to obey him and rest in what he’s already done.
It’s also noteworthy that when Jesus invites the disciples to come away with him, he does so corporately. All of them withdraw together. And in this we can see a little foreshadowing to what God has invited us to: our future rest in Heaven, with Christ and his Bride together. Is your Sabbath leading you to enjoy the fellowship of others? Is it helping you to make much of God and rejoice in his nature? Does your rest enable you to continue the work God has given you to do? That’s the best kind of rest. And it points to what’s coming for his family.