We’ve been going through some marks of a disciple of Jesus, some characteristics of a Christian. We started with Faith: We say, I love Jesus and Jesus loves me. Then we did Evangelism: God enables what He commands. Third we did Bible reading: What we marinade ourselves in determines how we grow. Today, we have sabbath.
Sabbath means different things to different people: to some it means not having to go to work, to some it means getting to go to church, to some it means not being able to shop at a few places, to others it means getting to watch tv all day instead of just half the day.
But today when I talk about Sabbath I don’t want to talk about church attendance or not working, I want to focus on one specific element of sabbath: the need for retreat, the need to pull back from the world, the need to leave the crowd, and go to our Father.
Once children get to a certain age, they often stop going and sitting in their parents’ lap — it just happens.
Often, it also happens with God.
I seldom hear the full story. But I talk to someone who used to go to church every Sunday as a child. Never missed. Loved the songs. Loved the stories. Loved the people. But as they grew up, they just stopped going. Not sure why. As they grew up, they grew distant from their heavenly Father.
I wonder how God would feel if they returned. If they dropped their busyness. If they dropped their pretense. If they stopped pretending they were too smart and too important and too busy for Him, and just returned to Him. I wonder how God would react.
You know how God would react, because you know the story of the Prodigal Son. And because you know Jesus.
Jesus’ life is characterized by a number of unusual tendencies. One of the least noticed is this: whenever he was increasing in popularity, he decreased his time with crowds, and increased his time with his Father. When people wanted more of him, he gave more of himself to his Father. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it. All of a sudden something happens and someone is drawn out of the shadows and into the spotlight — all of a sudden everyone wants to listen to Jesus, certainly he should give them all his energy. But instead, he retreats.
Luke 5:15-16 “But now even more the report of him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
Luke 19:37-38 “As [Jesus] was drawing near–already on the way down the Mount of Olives–the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Luke 22:39-41 “And [Jesus] came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed.”
Acts 1:8-9 Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
Before Jesus starts his public ministry, he retreats from the crowd and prays to his Father.
Before Jesus heads onto the path to the cross, he retreats from the crowd and prays to his Father.
Before Jesus sends his Spirit to his followers, he retreats from the crowd and goes to his Father.
Throughout Jesus’ life, it is clear that there comes a time when he needs to leave the crowd and go to the Father.
If Jesus needs to do that, do you think we need to as well? Of course.
There comes a time when you need to leave the crowd and go to your Father.
Generally we seek to be Christians amidst the chaos of daily life:
to say a quick prayer before eating breakfast,
to listen to Christian radio while furious in traffic,
to fit in an hour of church before a crammed week.
That, however, is a radical new way of seeking to be a Christian: 100% immersed in the world, while trying to not be overcome by it.
We tend to think we can go with the flow while being a good Christian.
Historically Christians have sought to be more like salmon and herring,
who after spending their earlier life going with the flow, eventually turn and head upstream to where they came from.
We tend to think we can just slide along with the crowd on the escalator.
Historically Christians have been the crazy ones moving against the crowd with frenzied determination.
We tend to think of our culture as a smooth flowing yacht.
Historically Christians have viewed society as a sinking ship from which we must swim to safety.
The world asks, “How can I get more?”
The Christian asks, “What can I do without?”
The world asks, “How can I find myself?”
The Christian asks, “How can I lose myself?”
The world asks, “How can I please others?”
The Christian asks, “How can I please God?”
Today is Reformation Sunday, the day when we remember that 497 years ago one man left a career in law to go spend years in a monastery avoiding the crowds and seeking his heavenly Father in prayer and Bible study, and then spent his life seeking to spread God’s Word in purity and truth, even when the crowds turned against him.
There comes a time when everyone has to turn from the crowd and go to the Father. The churchy term for it is ‘retreat.’ To get out of the hubbub, to get out of the busyness, to head into nature, and to seek your heavenly Father.
Pretty soon a bunch of guys in our church have a good opportunity for Christian retreat. They will go missing for a few weeks. Don’t worry: they haven’t gotten sick, or died, or become Baptist, they’re going hunting. Their poor widows will take themselves out for lunch. Don’t feel bad if they throw a big stack of offering envelopes in the plate later on and you only have one. They’ll abandon their tvs, their computers, their favorite chair, and go sit amidst the trees and rocks and birds, and seek something to eat. While they do, I hope they remember to give thanks, to pray, to reflect, to rest in the presence of their Father.
Each of us needs to intentionally carve out moments to get away from the crowd to rest, to pray, to seek God’s will for our lives.
I heard a story the other day of someone who called up his elderly dad living far away and asked him what he wanted for his birthday. His dad said, “I want to spend the day with you.” His son took vacation, booked a flight, and went to him. And then went back the next birthday, and then the next. When his dad’s time came, and their earthly relationship ended, his son had no regrets, because he had taken the time to leave the crowd and go to his Father.
When our day comes, will we approach the throne comfortably, like a child goes to their parent, because we had taken the time to leave the crowd and go to our heavenly Father?
May we be so fortunate.