Scripture Reading: Isaiah 56 - 61 …
Things in the world will get better ... they just have to! Perhaps that's what the people in Isaiah's day were thinking ... but they didn't. Within a hundred years of the end of Isaiah's long ministry (around 60 years) Jerusalem would be in ruins, the temple destroyed, and the people taken into captivity in Babylon. It must have seemed that there was no rest for God's people. Wickedness and evil appeared firmly in control. There was no justice, no pursuit of righteousness ... only more and more evil. "Come, let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even better," the wicked cried (56:12). And the only "rest" the righteous found was in the grave. "... the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death" (57:1-2).
God asks, "Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?" (57:11). Yet, God offered comfort and hope to those who trusted in Him, even as He does today. In Chapters 56 and 58, Isaiah speaks about God's "sabbath." Many think God is speaking about the sabbath day of the fourth commandment, and undoubtedly God was pointing out that the people had broken their covenant with Him. They were fasting and going through some of the motions of religion and devotion to God, but they were very clearly missing the point.
While they were engaging in religious activities, they were ignoring God's Word and failing to show compassion for those around them. At the same time they were offering worship to God, they were abusing those who were oppressed. They were carrying on their normal sinful lives while claiming to know and serve the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Therefore, God had pulled away from them, and He called them back to His "sabbath" ... to His "rest." Was He talking only about honoring the sabbath day, or was there more to what He was saying?
I believe the answer is in Hebrews 4, where we read, "since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it" (4:1). The writer of Hebrews even mentions "And on the seventh day God rested from all His work" (4:4). Then he says, "It still remains that some will enter that rest" (4:6). What "rest" is God talking about? Verse 9: "There remains then a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from His own work, just as God did from His. Let us therefore, make every effort to enter THAT rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience" (4:9-11).
The "sabbath rest" the writer of Hebrews seems to be talking about is rest from our old "work" of sin! God's “rest” for us is a rest from sin, from evil, from self. "Anyone who enters GOD's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His" (4:10). God rested from His work of creation, where He said that everything He had made was GOOD. Mankind, on the other hand, has produced the consequences of sin. Mankind has taken what God made good and has created evil and destruction. That's why Isaiah condemned the fasts of Israel. They were a mockery. God called them to observe HIS sabbath rest ... to enter into the righteousness and beauty and goodness of His perfection and His glory. And He paints a picture of that rest in Chapters 60 and 61.
God will restore Jerusalem and the temple, HIS sanctuary. "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn" (60:3). "Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations" (60:11). "Then you will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob" (60:16). And in words that would be quoted by the Apostle John is Revelation 21: "The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory!" (60:19).
God Himself is the "sabbath rest" for His people. Living in His presence, beholding His glory, we will sin no more, for we will be made like HIM! O glorious day!! And how will this happen? Through the coming Savior, the One whom the LORD "anointed to preach good news to the poor … to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from the darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor …" (61:1-2). Jesus quoted these words in Luke 4:18-19, and then said in verse 21: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." JESUS brings all this to pass for those who believe in Israel's God, and the One descended from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David.
When things get hard and evil seems to be winning, our hope is in the LORD! He "bestows a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair!" (61:3). This is a picture of the future glory of Zion, of Israel, Jerusalem and the temple, but such hope is available for those who trust in the Savior today! God calls us to look past the temporary trials and suffering and to see His hand at work in all of it, leading to that day when Jesus returns and we enter into God's rest.
I have shared with many people that I long to go to heaven not only to be free from the trials and suffering of this life, but even more, because there I will no longer be hindered by sin and will be free to set my eyes on Jesus - LITERALLY - the Author and Perfecter of my faith. I will no longer be living by faith, but by sight, and in the glory of His presence I will rest from sin and all the distractions it brings and rejoice with the angels in singing His praises and serving Him for eternity. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!!”
"O LORD, my God, I cry out to You for help and You hear me from Your throne on high. I long to enter into Your rest, to be free from sin and to behold Your glory. Give me, today, a glimpse of Your glory as I place my hope in Jesus, my Savior and my Lord. Help me even now to turn from sin, to enter a holy 'fast' from that which is contrary to Your will, that I may reflect Your light to those around me and find joy in the assurance of Your presence. In Jesus' name, Amen"