God commanded we honor the Sabbath, not so we could add more religiosity but so that we would have time to devote to our relationship with Him, be strengthened, and renewed. It is one of The Ten Commandments. It is listed in Exodus 20:8-11
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
God did not rest because He was tired, He rested to give us this gift of a day we can set apart for rest. We had to go ahead and put our religion all over though didn’t we? We had to fight among ourselves about whether it was going to be the seventh day as it was originally or the first day as it honored the Resurrection. We had to make rules to make sure the rules weren’t broken. And make it more stressful than enjoyable. Do we cook? Wait isn’t that breaking the Sabbath and working? Do we go out to eat? But then we are resting on the labor of someone else! God did not give us the Sabbath, so we could argue about how to celebrate this weekly day.
Firstly, though I know people will argue the point, I do not think it matters to God if we set aside our Saturday, Sunday, or any other day, as long as we set aside a time for Him and for our rest. Do you imagine that we will get to the Judgement Throne and He’ll say, “Sorry you chose the wrong day, God and Faithful Servant, you didn’t keep the letter of the Law, See ya.” NO! We are resting from works, we are in The New Covenant, The Law was fulfilled by Christ and we follow the heart of the Law which is Love (Matthew 5:17, Galatians 5:14). We live in the Sabbath rest now. Yet, setting aside a day devoted to rest and celebration of God is still a spiritual discipline which will bring us closer to God and help us as we are made into Christ’s image. Not everyone has chosen to practice God’s Sabbath. Not everyone has chosen to practice it on the same day as you have. All these little worries about what will or will not break the Sabbath just do not matter. The Sabbath belongs to God, He made it for us. He will not have us be hungry on our day of rest, He will not have us give up necessities because it resembles work to get them. Matthew 12:1-8 says,
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
What day you keep the Sabbath, how you keep it, is not for other people. We are not under the Law, we are in Christ. Keep the Sabbath holy, set it aside as special, for the purpose of celebrating the Lord. It is a practice we are expected to follow the same as praying, going to church, being generous, and taking the Lord’s Supper. It is a practice that sets us aside as disciples of Jesus. It is a discipline that keeps us close to God, holding onto Him, and aware of His presence with us. Colossians 2:13-20 reads,
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
16 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. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Just like you want your kids to remember that every Monday is coming and prepare ahead of time for it by doing their homework, getting their clothes ready, and getting a get night’s sleep, our Father wants us to prepare ahead of time for the Sabbath. He provides plenty, we just have to notice it. God gave Israel an example of this with the food He sent from Heaven a white flake “bread” called manna. Each morning it covered the ground and the people would gather enough for each person in their tent for one day and no matter how much or little they gathered, it was enough to satisfy them perfectly. If they tried to save some for the next day, it bred worms and stank, it rotted. They had to gather it daily, except for the sixth day, Friday. On Friday they gathered for two days and God made it enough for both Friday and Saturday. Exodus 16:27-30 reads,
On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
Jesus, the Son of God, perfect and sinless did what the Pharisees considered work on the Sabbath, over and over they accused Him of the sin of breaking the Sabbath, But love does not stop because helping someone requires effort. Rest does not preclude loving one another. Matthew 12:9-13 says,
He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.
What is the spirit of the Sabbath? How do we honor the Sabbath and keep it holy without making it religious and ritualistic? Let’s go back to the passage from Matthew 12:1-8 where the disciples were eating the grains. There are some significant things to learn here. One is that Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6. If you regularly read this devotional than you will almost certainly have read this verse and hopefully even quote it yourself, it says,
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
God doesn’t want us following a list of rules and regulations, He doesn’t want us to robotically do things, even good things like praying, taking the Lord’s Supper, or giving money to the church. He wants us to do those things out of love, faith, and obedience in a desire to know Him more, spend more time with Him, and deepen our relationship with Him. In Verse 5 of that passage Jesus says, “Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?” What that means is that the priests had to do certain jobs regardless of the Sabbath and in order to make the Sabbath possible for others, yet they were not held guilty of breaking the Sabbath. They lit the lamps, baked the showbread and displayed it, made fires, killed and prepared sacrifices and more. It was to honor God.
On the Sabbath can rest from our pursuit of money, our pursuit of comfort, and any other pursuit that can come before God, but we should doggedly pursue God. Read His word, pray, fellowship, worship, and acknowledge who He is. Does your Sabbath include gathering with your local church, enjoying fellowship with other believers, learning more about who God is, sharpening others as you are sharpened yourself? Does it include a nap as you are assured that you can deliberately not pursue provision on this day? It is a special Day, purposely set aside for celebrating God.
Believers live in the Sabbath, we have rested from the labor of the law. Our entire lives now are devoted to pursuing God. Yet, still marking that wonderful truth each week is a practice that keeps us moving ever-closer to the image of Christ, the process we call sanctification. In Hebrews 4 the author is talking about God’s true Sabbath, His rest, given by salvation through faith and not works, eternal life, and ultimately eternity in New Jerusalem. Israel for the most part failed to enter His rest. They became an illustration for us as most of the Israelites who entered the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land did not get to enter. We so easily choose rules over Jesus, work over faith, and law over grace.
Hebrews 4:6-13 reads,
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Entering God’s rest, the true Sabbath cannot be done apart from the Word of God, here this scripture refers to the Bible but then the next sentence also refers to the word of God as Him. He, the Word of God is Jesus. On the Sabbath both our weekly celebration and the state of our new life, we have to allow the Word of God to pierce us and separate soul and spirit, bone and marrow and make us into the new creations He made us to be. We have to submit to His work for our sanctification. If we are not willing to let our Loving God in to make us more like Him, I would question if we are really saved, if He is really Lord, or if it is a shallow thing which will be gone with the stress of life.
How did the early church set an example and celebrate the Sabbath? They went to the synagogue, which is similar to a local church where they came together read scriptures and learned about Jesus (Acts 13:14-15, Acts 15:21). They prayed, taught Jesus, and spent time together (Acts 16:11-15). They talked about Jesus to one another and others (Acts 17:2, Acts 18:4). Not only did they honor the weekly Sabbath, they honored the New Covenant Sabbath every day. Acts 2:42-47 reads,
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Do you set aside a day to celebrate the Lord? Do you enjoy the rest He gave to you? He said, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” The Sabbath just as with God’s other gifts was meant to be enjoyed, if you do not currently practice a Sabbath day, I encourage you to do so. Have faith that God will provide for you, you can afford to stop pursuing provision one day a week.