What do we do with the Sabbath day?
As we continued in our study of the Book of Genesis this past Sunday, we read from chapter two, verses one through three, which describes what happened on the seventh day of creation — when God’s work was done:
“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.”
First off, let’s remember that just because the Lord finished his work creating the universe, that doesn’t mean he stopped being creative. In fact, when people accept Jesus into their lives, those also are miracles of creation — for as the Bible says, with new Christians the old has passed away and the new has come. We are new creations in Christ!
But there’s quite a bit of meaning behind God’s decision to rest on the seventh day — and it’s important to remember that he set aside that day of rest for us. For our benefit.
One way we can think about a day of rest is that it’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on what God has done — to look around us and acknowledge, “Wow. God has made a beautiful world.” To pause and count all the blessings the Lord has given to us. To be thankful.
God also gave the Sabbath as one of the many signs of his relationship with his people. Ezekiel 20:12 reads, “Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” God provided other signs of his covenant with us — promises we can count on — from the Lord’s pledge to Abraham that his descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and that through him all nations will be blessed to the sign of the rainbow so Noah will know that the Lord will never again destroy the earth by a flood.
Remembering and observing the Sabbath also has been a way for God to teach his people who he is — and for us to learn godly qualities such as humility, generosity, and righteousness. But here’s the other side of it — and for many it’s a tough truth to swallow … but oh so important to keep in mind: WE CAN’T DO IT! The reality of God’s laws and requirements for his people is that, in the end, they’re impossible for us to follow perfectly.
But as always, the Lord has a plan. The prophet Jeremiah notes the following:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
This promise of a new covenant points directly to Jesus. Instead of an endless cycle of animal sacrifices to cover our sins, Christ became the once and for all sacrifice on our behalf — and because of his work on the cross and resurrection from the tomb, by believing in him God deposits Jesus’ righteousness into our spiritual accounts. We are saved! And the Lord remembers our sin “no more.” No more shame. No more guilt. No more sorrow over the fact that we can’t keep our end of the bargain. When we surrender and hand it all over to Jesus, he welcomes us into God’s family forever.
But what of the Sabbath day when Jesus appears on the scene? What role does it play?
As we know from the Scriptures, when Jesus introduced the new covenant to us, it included some head-turning moments involving the Sabbath. In Luke 6, we see Jesus and his disciples breaking the Sabbath — and Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is that “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Wow! That was probably something very new for the Jewish leaders to hear. Jesus also inquired of them on another occasion, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” With that he healed a man, and the Pharisees were not happy — and they plotted to kill him.
But the larger truth Jesus teaches us is that he represents the new way of living. The law — including the Sabbath — is the old way of doing things. Those old ways are still important because they’re part of God’s story, and that story culminates with Jesus — but with Jesus, God has given us something new. Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law; rather he came to fulfill it!
It used to be that Israel’s high priest would approach the holiest place in the temple to come before God — but now that Jesus is our high priest, we can come directly to God through him. When Jesus died on the cross, the tabernacle curtain in the temple was torn in two, representing the end of a barrier between us and the Lord. Just a few of the signs of God’s new covenant with us.
In the early church, keeping the law was a HUGE issue among Jewish believers. And understandably so. They built their lives around keeping the Old Testament law — but with Jesus bringing a new covenant, how are they supposed to live day by day? The Apostle Paul was especially attuned to this. In fact, Paul was a Pharisee and an expert in the details of the law. His answer in New Testament was helpful for his brethren and for us today: The old law — including the Sabbath — isn’t necessary to keep anymore. Jesus is the new law. We must follow him now.
And while Christians today generally don’t observe the Sabbath, it’s still important — particularly as the Sabbath, like the rest of the old law, has been fulfilled in Jesus. Christ, in fact, is our Sabbath. Jesus promises us rest if we follow him. He promises us peace as only he can give.
And at this moment in history, rest and peace have been hard to come by. We’re dealing with racial strife, a bitterly divided America, violence in the streets, controversy surrounding a possible new Supreme Court justice, a presidential election that may make the fraught contest of the year 2000 look like a walk in the park — to say nothing about a worldwide pandemic that has taken many lives, many people’s means of employment, and many people’s hope.
In the midst of all that, Jesus still wants to be our Sabbath rest. He still beckons, “Come to me.” And as we heed his call and rely on him, has there ever been a time you’ve experienced when Christ’s invitation may be welcomed by those who don’t yet know him? As you let Jesus be the rest for your soul today, also ask God for opportunities to point others to the rest and peace that only Christ can give.