Jesus is our Sabbath
For six days God created the heavens and the earth. Almost every day He observed what He did and said it was “good.” When finally He finished, and it was all completed, He looked at it all and judged it to be “very good” (1:31).
Then He devoted a whole day to rest. The famous 7th day was God’s day of rest. Follow along in 2:1-3 with me…. [Read]
Now if we get a picture of a “tired” Creator we have the wrong picture. The 7th Day was not added so God could plop down and catch His breath. He didn’t need to recharge after a 6 day work-week. Remember Isaiah 40:28 God says:
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary…”
So when we read in Genesis that God “rested”, the word for “rested” means simply “to cease from activity”. Of course that doesn’t mean that God stopped doing anything at all. It means He stopped His activity of creating the heavens and the earth. It was done. What He set out to do He accomplished.
God is a God who finishes what He starts. “He who began a good work in you” Philippians 1:6 says, “will carry it on to completion”. Just as personal Psalm 138:8 says:
“The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands.”
Here we see the faithfulness of God to complete everything He sets out to do. That builds eschatological anticipation, which basically means it makes us eager for God to make everything happen like He promised.
It also means that once He was done creating, the work of “sustaining” began. Hebrews 1:3 puts it this way: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” Colossians 1:17 says, “Christ is before all things (chronologically and hierarchically), and in Him all things hold together.” He gave everything existence, and it all continues to exist because of Him.
But: What did this First ever day of rest mean for God? Think about it, it was observed by God, not Adam and Eve. They were created the day before, on day 6, they weren’t even 24 hours old yet. They hadn’t really done any work, they certainly didn’t need a day off. No, this 7th day is significant to God. But how? Well I’ll offer several reasons.
First, I suggest that God was simply enjoying what He made. “Completed labors are pleasant,” Cicero says. Here the Creator took a day after His work to “take in” the pleasantness of all He had created. In this way, then, “resting” was the “finishing touch”. While the “work” was finished, in a sense the job was not complete until the finished work was enjoyed. That’s why the day of rest came at the end, when the work was complete.
Don’t you love to look out over your lawn after mowing it? Don’t you love to ride in the car after cleaning and washing it? Don’t you love to look at the house after a good cleaning? Don’t you love to sit on the new deck you built? Or the muscle car you restored? Or the old house you remodeled? (Or the new one you built!)
All the exertion, all the labor, all the time focusing on the actual work – it’s nice once you’re done to be able to step back or look around at all your hands have done. Yes, Cicero, completed labors are indeed “pleasant.”
Amplifying this even more is the realization that His creation glorifies Him, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1). The creation is not an end in itself, but, in its glory it points to the glory of its Creator. So God took time to take in the glory of what He had made, all while it was glorifying Him. And God is pleased when He is glorified.
Second, I think the day of rest was also because God intended to fellowship with what He made. We’re not Deists and believe God packed up and left after making everything. We know God is intimately involved in all He has made. He has always been interacting with His creation. He walked with man in the Garden. He looked at Adam and Eve, holding hands walking in the garden, plucking delicious fruit to share. He looked at the sun-glittered waves lapping upon the gorgeous shores, the sun gleaming brilliantly overhead, the birds in flight, the herds moving en masse across the land, the infinite variety of sea creatures, the flowers and the trees and the grass.
Third, the 7th Day was blessed by God. Verse 3 says, “God blessed the 7th day and made it holy…” “Holy” is the word in Hebrew that means “set apart”, “to dedicate”. Something is set apart and dedicated to God. God set apart the 7th day for Himself. He made it Holy for Him.
The question that often is asked at this verse is this: “Do we have to observe the Sabbath?” Is this passage teaching us that we also must stop all work on Saturday and rest? That Saturday, as the 7th day of the week, is to be made holy by us and set apart from all the other days of the week? Great question!
My answer is “No”. This passage does not obligate us to a Saturday, 7th Day, rest. The most obvious reason is this: the passage describes what God did on this day, it does not prescribe what we are to do on this day. Genesis 2 simply gives us an historical record of that first historical 7 day week.
ISRAEL & THE SABBATH
Now, while Genesis 2 does not command a 7th Day rest, it does in fact form the basis for the command given later on to the nation of Israel. Turn to Exodus 20 with me. When God had Moses lead Israel out of Egypt, He gave them the Law at Mount Sinai. It’s the famous scene when Moses went up the mountain and came down with the 2 stone tablets with the 10 commandments, written by God’s own finger. The 4th Command was the command to observe the Sabbath Day. Follow along with me as I read verse 8-11 [read]
God gives the 10 commandments. Now I want to give you a quick survey of the Sabbath law as it relates to the nation of Israel. Here are 6 important things to know:
- The Sabbath commands are given very specifically to Israel. It was not a universal command given to all mankind. No other nation or people group are required to observe the Sabbath. For one thing, the audience receiving the 10 commandments that day were the Israelites. No one else. Consider to what God said in Ezekiel 20:12, “I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy.” (20:12). One of the ways God imprinted onto the psyche of the Israelites that they were set apart from all other nations and belonged to God was He gave them the Sabbath. They alone belonged to God out of all nations, and, a sign of that belonging was the Sabbath – which no other nation had. Like circumcision, the Sabbath was a sign of their unique relationship with God. Throughout the OT the Sabbath is a command given exclusively to Israel. (Exodus 16:29-30; 20:8-11; 31:14-17; 35:3; Dt. 5:12-15; Ezek. 20:12)
- The Sabbath is part of God’s Covenant with the nation. Turn to Exodus 31:16-17 with me and 16:29 and follow along with me. God says to Israel that it was to them that He gave the Sabbath. The Sabbath (like circumcision, the Law, the priesthood, the sacrifices etc.) was to show that Israel was “holy” to God. The Sabbath was a “lasting ordinance” that distinguished Israel from all the other nations around her and identified them as God’s special, chosen, covenant people (Exodus 16:29; 20:8-11; 31:14-17; 35:3; Ezek. 20:12).
- The Sabbath is not just a command, but a gift to Israel from God. It was a gift in two senses: honor and recuperation. The Sabbath was a gift of honor to Israel because since they alone had the Sabbath it marked them as God’s nation. You see this in the language used, “I gave them the Sabbath…” (Ez 20:12), and “Keep in mind I gave you the Sabbath…” (Ex. 16:29).
But it was a gift to Israel also in that it allowed them to physically recharge after working all week. Exodus 23:12 says…
- Because the Sabbath was incorporated into His covenant with them, God tied rewards and punishment to Israel’s observance of the Sabbath. He would bless Israel for observing the Sabbath (Isa 56:2, 6; 58:13). He would punish them for not. That includes Sabbath days as well as Sabbath years (Exodus 31:14-17; 35:3; Lev. 25:2-12; Num. 15:32-36). Punishment for failing to observe the Sabbath was death and cutting off from the community (Exodus 31:14-17; 35:1-2).
- The Sabbath was to commemorate God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery (Dt. 5:15) I am quick to point out that the command to rest from work is an act of divine mercy. It contrasted with the harshness of forced labor every day back in Egypt they had to endure. Think of how obscene it was then to break the Sabbath and work on it: in a sense, it was to act like a slave again back in Egypt, as though God hadn’t delivered you from that. No, the Sabbath rest was a reminder that they had no rest back in Egypt. But God changed that. And they were to worship God as their Redeemer from slavery by making sure to observe the Sabbath.
- Through the Sabbath the Israelites worshipped God not only as their Redeemer, but, also as their Creator. The basis for Israel’s weekly Sabbath day being the 7th day was the creation week. God created in 6 days and rested on the 7th. The Jews were to understand that the God who rescued them from Egypt, who entered into a covenant with them, and brought them into the land was the One and Only God who created the heavens and the earth. Thus, they owed their obedience to Him (LORD) because they owed their existence to Him (CREATOR).
There was the weekly sabbath, then special Sabbath days around certain Feasts, and there were even Sabbath years to be observed where the land was not allowed to be cultivated, but rested.
THE CHURCH & THE SABBATH
The big question often times is this: “Do we as the NT Church have to observe the Sabbath?” I think the previous points alone demonstrate that we don’t, because the Church is not Israel. Let me make the point a little further and finish with the encouragement to add “rest” into your life intentionally.
The Church is not obligated to observe the 7th day of the week as a Sabbath Day as we see Israel was in the OT. In the NT we see 9 of the 10 commandments reiterated to Christians, from blasphemy to idolatry, to honoring parents to coveting, murder, etc. But the one command never repeated to the Church in the NT is the Sabbath. It’s absent. Furthermore, the NT makes very explicit statements about not having to follow the Sabbath.
- Turn to Colossians 2:16-17….[read]….Here Paul states don’t let anyone judge you over Sabbath days. Which means we are not obligated to observe them. Why? He tells us: because they were only shadows, but the reality is in Christ. We have Christ, so we don’t need them
- Turn to Galatians 4:9- 10….[read]….The book of Galatians is a fierce rebuke of the Christians who are turning to the Mosaic Law and trying to revive a bunch of commands from it, like circumcision, festivals, dietary laws, and the festivals on the Jewish calendar. Paul was beside himself that they were doing this. Get off the Sabbath Train he was saying
- Turn to Romans 14:5-12….[read]….Christians have freedom in Christ to treat every day the same as every other day, or, to make a big deal out of some days. Leave each other alone about it and accept each other. Don’t reject each other over such “disputable” matters.
CHRIST & THE SABBATH
Throughout Scripture we are introduced to Rests, or Sabbaths of different kinds. There was the 7th Day Sabbath of God at the end of Creation; there were the Sabbath days and the Sabbath years for Israel; entering the Promised Land was a Sabbath rest from the wilderness wanderings according to Hebrews 3:16-19; and then there is another Sabbath, another rest spoken of – a GREATER more SURPASSING rest. Turn to Hebrews 4:1-10 with me….[read]
What strikes me is the part in verse 10 when it says “rests from his own work”. In one sense I imagine many interpret that to mean at the end of our lives serving Christ we cease that life of service and rest with Him on the other side. I don’t disagree. I actually fully agree. But there is something else lingering in the passage for us, I believe. And that is a rest right now. It is the rest Jesus Christ gives someone when they receive Him as their Savior. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. Think about it. The Sabbath is for resting. Jesus is our Sabbath – remember when He said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He is our rest. Have you entered into the true Sabbath? The true Rest in Jesus? “What do I need rest from?” you ask. You need to rest from your own works. You need to cease all your strivings to be a good enough person in front of God. The only way your conscience and your soul can have peace is if you come to Christ. He came to take your sins away and give you peace with God, and peace in your conscience. Now its up to you to come to Him and give Him your trust and that thing beating in your chest.
- While the Church is not commanded like Israel was, nonetheless there is a good biblical basis to practice rest regularly in your life
- Practicing rest reminds you of your limitations and your unlimited God
- Practicing rest to intentionally acknowledge and remember the generosity of God and the blessings He has given.
- Practicing rest gives you time to reflect on your progress and struggles in your own walk with Christ.