I distinctly remember learning the Ten Commandments as a little girl in Sunday school. Every one of them made sense to me except for one… honoring the Sabbath. What did that even mean anyway? Did going to church on Sunday mornings count?
As an adult, this topic only grew more confusing. In the Bible, the Sabbath was always Saturday. God rested from His work at Creation on the seventh day. He made the day holy. And nowhere in His Word do we have any indication that the day changed to Sunday. (This change happened much later in church history.) And even if God honored the change to Sunday, is going to church enough? Wasn’t the Sabbath all about rest? How could I be honoring the Sabbath rest when I spend my Sunday afternoons working around the house?
Here’s the truth… we don’t have much to go on when it comes to religiously observing the Sabbath in the New Testament. Jesus and his disciples honored the Sabbath, but that was before the cross. In the book of Acts, we see many of the Apostles taking the opportunity to preach on the Sabbath at the synagogues. But then in Colossians 2, Paul tells believers:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. – Colossians 2:16-17 (NIV, emphasis added)
And this leads me to my main question… what does honoring the Sabbath look like under the New Covenant?
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said, “In my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest,’” even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” – Hebrews 4:1-4 (NLT)
The writer of Hebrews used the Sabbath day to illustrate a point to the Jewish people. The Israelites were offered God’s rest when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, but they disobeyed. They failed to trust in Him as their God which led them to 40 years of wandering in the desert. That generation failed to enter God’s rest and died in the wilderness. It was their children who eventually saw the Promised Land.
But as we see throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites continued to fail time and time again. They worshiped idols, made alliances with pagan nations, and they hardened their hearts toward God. And with the exception of a small remnant, they would ultimately reject Jesus as the Messiah and persecute all who followed Him.
But there is good news! God’s promise of rest still stands!
We can enter God’s Sabbath rest when we listen to His voice and open our hearts to Him.
Hebrews 4 is interesting in that it speaks of entering God’s permanent place of rest found in Christ, but it does so in light of God resting on the seventh day of Creation. Both concepts are intertwined. The truth is that God’s weekly day of rest served as a foreshadow of the permanent rest He longs to give us. The passage actually states that He prepared this rest for us at Creation. It was His plan all along!
It’s for this reason that God cared so much about His people honoring the Sabbath day and keeping it holy. Jesus isn’t just “Lord of the Sabbath,” He is our Sabbath rest!
In part 2 of this series, I wrote about the purpose behind the Sabbath in the Old Testament. Based on what the New Testament teaches regarding the issue, I do not believe we are required to religiously set aside a day of the week under the New Covenant. (Although there’s nothing wrong with doing so, and many have found it to be quite rewarding and spiritually restful. And I will also add that if you feel in your heart that God has called you to set aside a day of rest each week, then do so!) I do believe, however, that the purpose behind the Sabbath still stands in Christ.
- Rest – Jesus told us to not be anxious about anything. (As a natural worrier, I know this is easier said than done.) God wants us to find our rest in Him. Even when the world is crazy and chaotic around us, even when we have a lot on our plate… we can rest in knowing that He is our strength and that He will always provide. On another note, I also believe that God never intended for us to overwork ourselves. Physical rest is a good thing, and we should make it a part of our normal routine.
- Trust – God is our provider. We can trust Him with every area of our lives. Our finances, our family, our careers… the Creator of the universe has our best interest at heart.
- Freedom – We are set free from the Law. We are set free from sin. And we are set free from death. Even when we encounter struggles and strife in this world, we are set free by God’s peace that surpasses all understanding.
- Holiness – Honoring the Sabbath is what set God’s people apart from the rest of the world, and I believe it still does to this day. When we complain and stress about life, the world can see that we aren’t at rest. Our rest in Christ should be evident to those around us.
Honoring the Sabbath means honoring the rest we have found in Christ Jesus.
We honor the Sabbath when we choose to live in that rest each and every day. What good is it to worry, work, and stress all week and then simply take a day off to recover? Isn’t that what the Pharisees did? God wants us to live in His rest every day of the week. As a believer, the Sabbath day is every day.
We honor the Sabbath by taking the time to rest with God, trusting Him to provide and sustain us, living in freedom apart from sin, and by not being afraid to demonstrate this truth to the world around us.
*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
I welcome your thoughts and opinions regarding God’s Sabbath rest. Please remember that we are all part of the body of Christ. We are here to learn and grow as believers, not tear each other down. Thanks!