The idea of the Sabbath has been revered, disputed and despised. Yet, there is an aura of reverence that surrounds it. I have found myself thinking more about the Sabbath as I adjust to a working lifestyle. Work has been interesting and I have been enjoying it, but I realised, on my first full weekend off, that I was exhausted. In that coming week, I learnt the importance of making sure I got some good physical rest, and as I did, I pondered about the meaning of the Sabbath – a day of both physical and spiritual rest.
WHY THE SABBATH?
– Recognising the significance of the Sabbath
I realised I missed my “Sabbaths”. I thought about the freedom of time I have had to wander through the fields of God’s refreshing word, and I remembered how I never seemed to tire out. I would have extended periods of time to walk through the park, sit by the river, or to find a quiet spot in church. Working at the hospital, I’ve had more than enough time for the same, but I am also learning to recognise when to rest amongst the increased administration duties of work and home-keeping. When I come before the Lord, I do not want my body to be so weary that I miss hearing the nuances in His voice. My faithful God picks me up even when I am tired and restores my weariness but, I want to come before my Lord with all senses fully alert and attentive. I can take in so much more when my body is well rested. In fact, I long to steward not just the health of my body, but that of my mind and soul – to rest these parts of my being in the Lord and to be restored in His grace day after day, year after year, and for eternity. With my whole heart, my whole soul and my whole mind, I will worship God.
I have had a few memorable conversations with people about the Sabbath. It is mostly a phrase or two that I remember from each encounter, words that I have remembered as I again think about the importance of a lifestyle that honours the Sabbath.
- My father reminded me that the Sabbath, while perhaps more clearly emphasised in Jewish history, still remains an important concept for us today. Don’t forget it, but remember and search for it. “The Israelites worked full days in the fields, from dawn to dusk at times. The significance of the Sabbath, this day of rest, was perhaps more obvious in their time than it is in today’s rostered and shift-oriented workplaces.”
- I know a man who wanders the streets of central Adelaide, but stops by often in Koorong. Here in this Christian bookstore he sits, Bible open before Him, paper and pen in hand to write down the words of the Father, and smiling an invincible smile that is strengthened by the joy of knowing Jesus. “What do you think of the Sabbath?” He asked me one day when we again crossed paths. After some discussion, he said, “I think we need a Sabbath everyday.” There is no substitute for resting in God each and every day.
- My husband reminded me that yes, we need to rest, and that to have an extended time period dedicated to the Lord is precious. I was telling him how I missed our two hour worship and intercession at the Royal Adelaide Hospital chapel. “Let’s do them again,” he said. It might not be every Saturday 10-12 at the RAH chapel, but we want to have a good chunk of devotional time with the Lord, both individually and as a couple.
So, what is the purpose of the Sabbath? I think of three things:
- Baptism in the Sabbath (DECLARATION)
– declaring the Lordship of Christ
- Bathing in the Sabbath (HOLINESS)
– renewing heart, soul and mind before God
- Soaking in the Sabbath (REFRESHING GRACE)
– resting in the presence of the Lord
BAPTISM IN THE SABBATH
– Declaring the Lordship of Christ
Matthew 2:23-28 tells the story of Jesus’ disciples going through the grainfields on the Sabbath and picking heads of grain. The Pharisees, counting this as work, ask Jesus why His disciples were doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath. Jesus replies (v.27), “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Here we find a reference to the first purpose of the Sabbath – a declaration of God’s headship. Man was not made to blindly obey the laws of the Sabbath, or to treat the day itself as incomparably holy. No, the law of the Sabbath was never meant to overtake the law of Christ in the hearts of men. It is God alone who is Lord, and His law is the law of love. The Sabbath was made for man, to help them follow in God’s way, to help instruct them about the things He desires, and to remind them of their Lord. Consider the following verses about the Sabbath – how might they help instruct believers to remember the way of the Lord? How does God emphasise what His purposes are in the Sabbath?
- [Hosea 6:6]
– “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
and the knowledge of Godmore than burnt offerings.”
- [Colossians 2:16-17]
– “So let no one judge you in food or in drink,
or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths,
which are a shadow of things to come,
but the substance is Christ.”
- [Exodus 20:10]
– “…but the seventh day is the Sabbath
of the Lord your God.
In it you shall do no work:
you, nor your son, nor your daughter,
nor your male servant,
nor your female servant, nor your cattle,
nor the stranger who is within your gates…”
- [Exodus 31:16-17]
– “Therefore the children of Israel
shall keep the Sabbath,
to observe the Sabbath throughout
their generations as a perpetual covenant.
‘It is a sign between Me and
the children of Israel forever…”
- [Leviticus 23:3]
– “Six days shall work be done,
but the seventh day is a Sabbath
of solemn rest, a holy convocation.
You shall do no work on it;
it is the Sabbath of the Lord
in all your dwellings.”
- [Isaiah 58:13]
– “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honourable,
And shall honour Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words
(v. 14) “…Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord…”
- [Isaiah 66:2-3]
– “… But on this one will I look:
on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,
and who trembles at My word.
He who kills a bull is as if he slays a man;
He who sacrifices a lamb,
as if he breaks a dog’s neck,
He who offers a grain offering,
as if he offers wine’s blood;
He who burns incense, as if he blesses an idol…
(v.4) … but they did evil before My eyes and
chose that in which I do not delight.”
- [Isaiah 58:6]
– “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the heavy burdens,
to let the oppressed go free,
and that you break every yoke?”
It was God who first demonstrated a Sabbath of rest. As He has done in all things, He set an example for men. God does not grow tired, and He does not need to rest, but He does – not for His sake, but for ours. [Genesis 2:3] – “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” God called creation good, and rested, knowing that it was good. On the Sabbath, we also remember the goodness of God’s creation, and the goodness of His will.
BATHING IN THE SABBATH
– Renewing heart, soul and mind before the Lord
The Sabbath is also a time to be renewed and sanctified before God. Ezekiel 20:11-12 says, “And I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgements, which if a man does, he shall live by them. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” The Sabbath reminds us of the holiness of God, how He says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:16]
Why should we be continually sanctified in God? The goal is greater than simply saying words of repentance, or obeying a set of laws. The goal is clearly asserted in 2 Thessalonians 5:23 – “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The declaration of Christ’s Lordship in the Sabbath requires adjuvant preparation for His coming. This preparation is fulfilled in a life that reveres the holiness of God and follows in His holy way. It is a life set apart to God, and one that says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” [Psalm 51:10] The Sabbath is a holy day, a day to remind us of God’s holiness and of His sanctification in our lives.
[Deuteronomy 5:12,15) “Observe the Sabbath say, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you… And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
The Sabbath reminded Israel of their physical salvation from slavery and death in Egypt, accomplished by the mighty hand of God. In the same way, the Sabbath reminds us of how God has broken the chains of our bondage to sin, releasing us into the goodness of His grace. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” [Romans 8:2]
SOAKING IN THE SABBATH
– Resting in the presence of God
One instruction for keeping the Sabbath involves rest from physical labour – people were instructed to rest not only themselves, but their households, servants and livestock. There is blessing in physical rest, but there is also a blessing in spiritual rest. “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” [Matthew 11:28-29] In this passage, I see several promises, and several calls:
- CALL: Come to Me
The offer to come to the Lord has been extended. Whether or not we make the decision and effort to come before Him is up to us.
- WHO: all you who labour and are heavy laden
We labour in relationships, emotional attachments, everyday stressors, finance, study, work and more. There are so many things in life which burden us and require us to invest physical, emotional and spiritual energy. God is the God who daily bears our burdens [Psalm 68:19]. This does not excuse us from our responsibilities in life, but it does promise us support from a faithful God as we learn to steward these burdens, trust in God, and help carry the burdens of others
- PROMISE: I will give you rest
The rest we find in God results in a selfless heart, one of a cheerful giver, and of a willing, but wise servant. His rest gives us revelation of His being so that we are strengthened by His strength, and grown in His love. We become spiritually weary when we take our eyes off God because all of a sudden, the injustices of the world and our desire for self-preservation takes over. The burden of fighting for justice, or maintaining a good worldly image is a heavy one. When our eyes are placed on God, however, we have an immovable confidence of identity in Him, and an unfailing promise of His salvation. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26] This is a promise of release! Our soul can rest in the knowledge of God’s redeeming power.
- CALL: Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me
Will we work for the world, or will we work for God? The work is different and the wages are different because the Master is different – the world offers work for death, but God offers work for life. [Romans 8:20-22] – “For when you were slaves to sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” When we take up the yoke of God, we learn His ways – His love, His gentleness, His humility, His grace, His mercy and His life.
- WHY: for I am gentle and lowly in heart
God describes Himself as a gentle Master, lowly in heart. He does not set Himself over us pridefully, nor does He give us more than we can bear. He sets us a example in gentleness and humility, saying “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 2:5]
- PROMISE: you will find rest for your souls
Again, God emphasises that He will give us rest – and not just physical rest, but a deep rest that penetrates into our soul. What does that look like? I think it is a complete sense of identity and contentment which stems from the knowledge of God.
Physical rest is also important. It is part of stewarding our physical bodies, part of personal discipline and part of our testimony and example of living in this world. Here is an excerpt from the International House of Prayer’s article on “Health, exercise and nutrition”, available from http://www.ihopkc.org/about/files/2012/08/Forerunner-Lifestyle-Health-Nutrition-and-Exercise-030413.pdf:
“The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian church of something very important: the human body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). As such, we are to take good care of our bodies. God Himself handcrafted our frames while we were still in our mother’s wombs, and so it is our duty to look after ourselves (Ps. 139:13-14). Indeed, as with everything He has given us, we must exercise good stewardship of our bodies and treat them as a precious gift from God. There are several aspects of proper care for our bodies. Health, exercise, and nutrition, among other things, are vital to properly maintain the human body. While it is wrong to become obsessed with our bodies, it is also a great mistake to be negligent with our physical well-being. It is important for those desiring to live the forerunner lifestyle to pay attention to their physical condition.”
The Sabbath is an important day, an important moment and an important understanding, but it cannot overshadow God. It was God who made the Sabbath, God who is Lord of the Sabbath, who sanctifies it and sanctifies us. It is His rest that is portrayed in the Sabbath, and His promises that resound in the stillness of the Sabbath. I want to keep the Sabbath holy in my life, to remember its purpose and above all, to remember the Lordship, holiness and refreshing grace of my ever-faithful God.