“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-9, 11, NIV).
Few concepts are as difficult to get a handle on as the Sabbath. How does the Sabbath apply to Christians today? What biblical principles for living can the believer draw from the fourth commandment?
To understand the relevance and applicability of the Sabbath for believers we must first understand what the Sabbath meant to the Hebrews. The Old Testament concept of Sabbath meant the complete stoppage of all labors to worship the Lord and reflect upon his goodness (to literally rest in God). The keeping of the Sabbath was a sign that a person was in covenant with God—to keep the Sabbath was to demonstrate your faith.
Technically, Sabbath is the cessation of activity, intermission, or rest. It is to take a break for a specific purpose and agenda—to draw close to God. The Sabbath requirement was God’s way of corralling his covenant (but not born-again) people into fellowship with him. In this sense, the Sabbath represents “sacred time,” or set aside time for God.
For believers today, the Sabbath commandment (a type of spirituality) finds its total fulfillment in the work of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “So do not let anyone make rules for you about eating and drinking or about a religious feast, a New Moon Festival, or a Sabbath day. These things were like a shadow of what was to come. But what is true and real has come and is found in Christ”(Colossians 2:16-17, NCV). Paul also explained that any future keeping of this type or shadow of Jesus is now strictly a matter of personal conscience and conviction: “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter” (Romans 14:5, NLT).
The Scriptures teach that the true Sabbath rest is a relationship and lifestyle rather than a certain day of the week. Jesus called out to the world to come find rest in him: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30, MES).The rest God promises is ultimately found in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ: “My soul finds rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:1, NIV).
Jesus repeatedly ran into opposition from the Pharisees over his ministry activities on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not something that people were ever to serve. It was an opportunity for God’s people to enjoy complete restoration. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath. And I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28, NLT).Therefore, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would teach on the Sabbath, encourage on the Sabbath, make provision on the Sabbath, and heal on the Sabbath. In other words, the Sabbath rest found in our personal relationship with the Lord is for the total restoration of man, not for the codification of more religious activity.
The true, genuine rest of God on earth (only a glimpse of what waits for us in heaven) is not accessed through a certain day of the week, but through faith. We enter the rest of God by faith. The writer of Hebrews declared that the message of the gospel is of no value to those that hear but fail to combine what they hear with faith (Hebrews 4:2). Our rest on earth (and in heaven in the future) is compromised when we fail to develop and maintain the spirit of faith: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19, NIV).