Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.Genesis 2:1-3
Rest. We all need it. We all need to take time to take a break from our labor. To recharge our physical and mental “battery”, if you will. Our bodies are only designed to handle so much stress before it wears out. Lack of sufficient sleep and periodic rest has been medically linked to increased stress levels, high blood pressure, heart disease, and an assortment of other physical maladies. And inability to manage stress and make time to relax and refresh your spirit has led to increases in alcoholism, depression, and even suicide. There is no discounting the value of a good night’s sleep and a weekly day of rest from the day to day toil.
Even God Himself made time to rest after all of His work was completed. On the seventh day of Creation, He rested. This does not imply that God was tired as that would limit Him and invalidate the Biblical principle of His omnipotence. However, it does imply that He took a pause and set aside a day for Himself. He blessed this day and made it “holy”. It’s a day set aside to honor all of the work that He had done. And it is His example that we must follow for our own good as a weekly day of rest gives us a time to reflect upon our eventual eternal rest.
Keep the Sabbath Holy
There has been much contention in recent years over what day of the week is God’s ordained day of rest. There are many in various Christian communities that insist on that day of the week being Saturday. Most Christian denominations honor the Sabbath rest on Sundays for two reasons: 1. Jesus resurrection on Sunday morning changed everything. (Mark 16:2) 2. As Paul began taking the gospel to the Gentiles, he would meet them where they were – on their own day of rest which was Sunday. (Acts 20:7)
I have personally even come under attack for my own worship on Sundays by those who hold to a “Hebrew roots” or “seventh day” background. The argument typically goes that Sunday was a day to honor the pagan god of the sun. However, historically speaking every day of the week is named after a pagan god – Monday (the moon), Tuesday (Tiw’s day), Wednesday (Woden’s day), Thursday (Thor’s day), Friday (Freya’s day), Saturday (the planet and Roman god Saturn). So by that reasoning, every day of the week would be an opportunity to worship a pagan god. In some cultures, the week begins on Saturday, making Friday the seventh day of the week. In other cultures, Monday is the first day of the week, making Sunday the seventh day. Then the question becomes which calendar ought we use.
The legalistic application of days of the week distracts from the entire point of the Sabbath day of rest and worship. For me, my work week begins on Monday. I work five days in commercial industry and then one day of work around home (typically Saturday). That leaves my seventh day as Sunday. But not everyone in the world has this luxury, especially those who work in certain industries that have non-traditional scheduling of work hours (i.e., retail, customer support, etc.).
Splitting hairs over which day of the week to worship led Paul to write to the Colossians as he wrote “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16, 17) In this instance, arguing over what day of the week one should worship was put to rest.
Sabbath for Man, not Man for the Sabbath
Jesus Himself came under heavy criticism for his disciples gathering grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28) and in another instance, healing a man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). After the first instance, Jesus addressed the point and set a precedent that some have taken to mean that Jesus abolished the Sabbath day of rest altogether, but in fact it is quite the opposite.
And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”Mark 2:27, 28
Not only was Jesus endorsing the need for a Sabbath day of rest, but He also states that He Himself is “Lord of the Sabbath.” As the agent through which God created all things, He is the one who most intimately understands the entire point of the Sabbath day of rest – to give man a chance to reflect, relax, and recline in the presence of Almighty God and give Him glory for everything He has done. The Sabbath was a gift to man – a gift of prescription and a gift of perception. Prescription because it is designed as a day to rest from your labor, just as God rested and paused from His labors in creation. Perception because it gives man a chance to come into the presence of the Savior and Lord of Creation with boldness and conviction and humility, honoring Him for all that He has done, is doing, and will do in our lives and in eternity.
A Shadow of Things to Come
Remember Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians? “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Ultimately the sabbath rest is a precursor to our eternal rest where as believers we will be ushered into the direct presence of the Father, where we will sit in eternal worship at the feet of Jesus.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”John 14:1-4
As I reflect on these things as it relates to our obligatory attitudes of service and worship and contrast that with a humble attitude of submission to the heart of the Lord, I am reminded of the illustration of Mary and Martha.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”Luke 10:38-42
Martha was so consumed by her works of service to the Lord that her attention was focused not only on what she was doing, but what her sister was not doing. Because her sister wasn’t serving the Lord in the same way that she was, Martha became distraught and began pointing fingers and demanding that Mary help her. But Jesus, in his own loving way pointed out the error of her ways. First, He addressed her mental state of anxiety that was caused by her excessive concentration on her works. Secondly, He pointed out that the only thing He desired was her presence and fellowship. Fellowship borne out of love, not out of obligation.
The Heart of the Sabbath
The heart of the Sabbath is very simple. First, it is an opportunity for us to recline in the presence of our Father and honor Him for all that He has done, all that He is doing, and all that He is going to do in our lives. Secondly, it is an opportunity for us to reflect upon His work, His witness, and His welcoming of us into His presence. And finally, it is an opportunity for us to look forward to the day that we will eternally rest at the feet of Jesus in worship and gratitude, knowing that He is the one who has done all the work to make it possible for us to enter His presence for eternity.
Please, come and see all that He has in store for you. Come and see everything that the future holds because of all the great things that He has done to redeem you. Rest in the knowledge that He will never forsake you or desert you.