Do you ever think about what the Sabbath means to us as new covenant believers? In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was exceedingly important. The weekly observance was to be strictly observed, but there were also laws regarding a Sabbath rest for the land every seventh and fiftieth year. The length of the exile was determined by God to be the number of years of Sabbath rest that the land had been denied through Israel’s history.
There does not seem to be much clear teaching on the Sabbath in the New Testament. On multiple occasions we see Jesus heal on the Sabbath, earning the wrath of the Pharisees. Jesus points out that the "Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," (see Mark 2:23-28) and He proceeds to essentially do what He wants to do when He wants to do it. When we remember that He was fully God and perfectly sinless, we can see that His actions and timing were all perfectly in line with the will of God.
But, that doesn’t clear up the Sabbath much for us. How are we to handle it? How are we to find that rest in the chaos of our society? What does the Sabbath mean for us? Does it still mean doing absolutely nothing one day a week? How could we ever accomplish such a thing? If it doesn’t refer to such abstinence from work, what does it mean?
Despite the fact that Jesus does not clearly state what we are to do with the Sabbath, I believe there is some teaching on it in the New Testament.
First, we have a famous statement from Jesus Himself.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
The Sabbath was created for providing rest for God’s children. But, here Jesus says that He is our rest. Could salvation in Him actually be our Sabbath? If so, how do we walk in that rest? I think for the answer to that question we must look to a second, much more extended Sabbath related passage, this one found in Hebrews.
This passage begins at the end of Hebrews 3. The author of Hebrews refers back to the Israelites who had just been freed from slavery in Egypt. But, instead of obediently taking the Promised Land, they turned away in fear. Hebrews reminds us not to be like them.
For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME." For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:14-19
The Israelites had weekly Sabbath rest, but there was a greater rest that God intended for them. He intended the rest that would come when they obeyed and He provided perfectly for Him in the Promised Land. Their disobedience caused them to do without the full extent of God’s intended rest for them. A perpetual rest. A complete rest.
The profound truth of it all, however, is that even the Promised Land rest was still an incomplete one. It would never have worked. Why? Because it was based on works. Ironically, that is where our good news comes in. We look at our daily lives and wonder how in the world we could ever find that weekly Sabbath rest that was so important in Scripture. But, the very place where we see the failure of that weekly, works-based rest is the same place where we see the perfect solution for our own perpetual rest – the same perpetual rest the Israelites should have had when they entered the Promised Land.
Of course, that opens a whole new discussion…one which we’ll continue on Friday!