I have struggled to write this series, and I confess that this last post has really stretched me. I’ve kept the Sabbath my entire life, yet I hesitate to share what I know and have learned because I don’t want anyone to think that I judge or condemn. I don’t work that way. Based on comments from the other three posts in this series, I see a longing in some of you to find deeper rest.
I propose that you can find deeper Sabbath rest by studying the history of the Sabbath and making a commitment to keeping it the way Jesus did.
First of all, know that I realize that man created religions and denominations. A wise Bible teacher told me a long time ago that “Truth is progressive.” All too often, our preferences and personality styles get tied up in the creation and execution of ‘religion’ and its practices. We settle in to what feels right and stop making progress in our relationship with Jesus.
As we understand the scope of knowledge and history, we realize that we have sadly missed the mark in understanding and communicating the Gospel. At times we have instituted things that make no rational sense to us now. Slavery, for example. No rational Christian could argue today that owning another human being is o.k. But during the 1800s, preachers stood in front of congregations and expounded on why slavery was right.
The Purpose of the Sabbath
The spiritual aspect of Sabbath rest hinges on how we see the day. Is Sabbath just a day to get together and praise God? Or does it encompass more than that? Does the day really matter? Can we take Sabbath on Tuesday? Or Sunday? Or any day of the week? Does God care? Somewhere along the way, did Christians throw the baby out with the bathwater? If we choose our own day, do we make ourselves to be God?
I won’t promise to answer any of these questions, but I do want you to think about them and hopefully, you’ll feel spurred to study this topic for yourself.
The spiritual benefits to keeping Sabbath as a day of rest result in an accumulation of all the other aspects of Sabbath-keeping. If you rest your mind, explore your creativity, and step away from your normal physical labors, you will experience enhanced spiritual rest as well.
But first, let’s look at the words ‘Sabbath’ and ‘sabbath’ in order to understand a key concept in Sabbath rest. A quick perusal of a Bible search engine such as Bible Gateway, shows that the word sabbath has two contexts. Biblical authors talk about ‘a sabbath’ and ‘the Sabbath.’
Out of Love and Respect
When talking about ‘a sabbath,’ the authors refer to a rest or celebration. When referring to ‘the Sabbath,’ the author is talking about something that belongs to God.
In reading through the Ten Commandments, one sees that the fourth commandment is the last commandment that deals with man’s relationship to God. God instructs the Israelites to keep his Sabbath holy because he (God) rested on that day, blessed it, and kept it holy (Exodus 20:8-11, Genesis 2:2-3).
The following six commandments delineate how we should love our fellow humans. When Jesus came and died as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, his sacrifice did away with the old tabernacle system—a system put in place to help the Israelites understand their relationship to their God and Creator. But Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t do away with the basic principles of ‘love God and love your neighbor.’
- Mark 12:28-34
- Matthew 22:34-40
- Luke 10:27-28
- Romans 13:8-10 Understanding of the early church about the commandments and love
- Galatians 5:13-15
- James 2:8-11
- Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law or the prophets—he came to fulfill them Matthew 5:17
The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Somewhere between Creation and Salvation, God’s people had forgotten about Sabbath rest. Their lives filled with rules and regulations that, if kept, they believed would bring about their salvation. In other words, the day of rest turned into a contest to see if everyone could get it right.
The belief that they could usher in kingdom of God with their deeds acted as a great incentive to nit-pick each other’s behavior. When societies come up with rules for keeping the rules, something has gone wildly wrong.
Sabbath Rest Offers True Rest
The Sabbath has always given us a physical rest from our labors. When Jesus died on the cross he offers us rest from our striving to keep myriad laws to make ourselves holy. In other words, Spiritual rest. He becomes our holiness. Jesus offered relationship with himself as the alternative to rule-keeping to obtain our own salvation.
We need the Sabbath as a weekly reminder that we have no holiness in and of ourselves. As mortals, we need rest and rejuvenation of our minds, spirits, bodies, and souls. And that true rest can only be found in a personal relationship with Jesus. It doesn’t come from a church.We need the Sabbath as a weekly reminder that we have no holiness in and of ourselves. #sabbathrest Click To Tweet
Corporate worship has its place, of course. Although I have often rebelled at the whole construct of church and community, I know that it has its place.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25 4
The purpose of ‘church?’ To encourage each other in our quest to love better, do good, and not give up when times are hard. Praising and worshipping God together also has its place—especially under the umbrella of encouragement. Praising and worshipping an almighty God has a way of reminding me that I don’t have to depend on myself and my abilities to make it through another week.
How Did Jesus Keep the Sabbath?
Hebrews 4:9-11 makes it clear that Jesus is our Sabbath rest. When we enter into relationship with him, we want to do what he did. We want to follow his example. We ask ourselves, “What did Jesus do on the Sabbath?”
- He worshipped at the synagogues. Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35
- He taught at the synagogues. Luke 6:6, John 18:20
- He harvested grain to fulfill a need (hunger) Matthew 12:1, Luke 6:1, Mark 2:23
- He healed people (to release them from bondage) Luke 4:31 Luke 13:10, Luke 6:6-10, John 9:14, Matthew 12:10, Mark 3:1-4
- He accepted invitations to eat Luke 14:1
He also proclaimed that he was Lord of the Sabbath. His actions on the Sabbath point to the fact that the Jews had gotten off track and made keeping the rules more important than entering into rest and relationship. (Luke 6:1-10).
At no point during his time on earth did Jesus hint that he wanted to change the day of worship or rest—instead, he consistently showed that he wanted to change the way of worship.Jesus wanted to change the way, not the day. #sabbathrest Click To Tweet
To pick and choose which day we want to take our Sabbath rest seems disingenuous. God created a specific day and he rested. Jesus showed us a new way to keep the Sabbath. Rather than focusing on perfecting our law-keeping, he showed us how to perfect our loving.
The disciples and early followers of Jesus met every day of the week. The first day of the week is mentioned, but this day has no biblical significance (other than the day of Jesus’ resurrection—which shows that even in death, Jesus rested on the Sabbath).
The History of the Day Change
A quick perusal of history shows that Constantine I passed the first Sunday law on March 7, A.D. 32. This Roman emperor, a sun-worshipper, ruled that “On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.”
Muddled in with all of that tumultuous time period we find early Christians wanting to distinguishing themselves from Jews (who continued to keep the Sabbath holy), and laws that made working on Sunday illegal.
In A.D. 364 the Council of Laodicea agreed that
“Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saurday but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s day they shall especially honour, and, as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.”The Sabbath in Scripture and History, p. 329
For political reasons, the church had moved from worshipping on Sabbath to worshipping on Sunday (and making laws against Sabbath rest).
For a Catholic perspective on Sabbath and Sunday, a series of articles from the Catholic Mirror published in September of 1893 shed interesting light on the matter. According to the articles, the Catholic Church is the only church with authority to change the Bible, and since a Pope made the change from Saturday to Sunday, all Protestant churches (with the exception of those that keep Saturday as Sabbath) are actually bowing to the authority of the Catholic church when they worship on Sunday.
I would hazard a guess that most modern Christians have no idea of the historical change from the seventh-day to the first-day. I would also suggest that maybe what people long for is the complete package. Not a day filled with rules and regulations, but a day of genuine rest. A day where we have ‘permission’ to step out of the rat race, quit climbing the ladder of success, and dedicate ourselves to something bigger than us.
I invite you to explore on your own. Experiment—dedicate Friday night at sundown to Saturday sundown to Sabbath rest. Pay attention to your stress levels. Journal about it. Pray about it. Seek answers to questions on your own, rather than in the context of an official church agenda.
Above all, know that God deeply loves you and he wants the best for you—the best health, the best rest, the best relationship with him.