A Framework for Thinking about the Sabbath Principle

Preaching through the Gospel of Luke continues to be a rich blessing for me, personally, and for our church. In yesterday’s sermon, the Holy Spirit drew our attention to Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. In Luke 6:1-11, we read of two conflicts Jesus had with the Pharisees over the Sabbath.

In the first encounter, the Pharisees criticized the disciples for picking, rolling, and eating grain on the Sabbath, which was permissible according to Deuteronomy 23:25. Jesus responded by asking if they have read the account of David and his companions eating showbread, the priest’s food, on a Sabbath. The point Jesus makes is that the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. The day of rest was to be a blessing to man. This was God’s design. However, work was not forbidden to the extend that it was even wrong to meet the urgent needs of a man—such as eating and drinking.

In the second encounter, Jesus chooses to heal on the Sabbath. In his response to the Pharisees’ challenge, he does not give in to their focus about what is right and wrong to do on the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus makes it clear that by not doing right, i.e. helping the man with the withered hand, they were indeed doing wrong. He makes it clear that by not showing mercy, compassion, and justice on the Sabbath, they—the ultimate “law-keepers”—were actually the ones guilty of breaking the Sabbath. Why? Because they neglected that which was more important to God—a heart dedicated to worshipping Him and to serving others with mercy and compassion. As students of the Old Testament, they should have remembered Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

But how did the religious leaders respond to Jesus’ correction? They were filled with rage, madness that resembled insanity, and began to plot how they might destroy Jesus. This response was clear revelation of the true condition of their hearts—the very thing that mattered the most to God.

Working through Luke 6:1-11 we not only saw the Lord Jesus once again brilliantly answer His critics, but it got us thinking about the Lord’s design for a day of rest and dedication to worship. Here are five points that help us think biblically about the Sabbath principle.

5-Point Framework for Thinking about the Sabbath

  1. The principle of one day of rest in every seven is rooted in the creation week. Genesis 2:2-3 says, “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” We might say that God designed His creation with a certain rhythm. One day of rest from normal labor was a conscious pause. By following this creation principle man becomes more productive, not less productive, since his mind and body get the rest he needs. This is also evident even in God’s law for the farmer’s fields, which were to rest and lie fallow every seven years (Exod 23:11).
  2. This day of rest was then commanded by God as a holy day—for Israel—to set her apart from the other nations. Exodus 20:9-11,Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the 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.”
  3. The land of Canaan was intended to be a land of rest for Israel, but is also symbolic of the eternal rest that believers now possess, through Christ, with God. Hebrews 3:12-19 warns us to beware of the unbelief that prevents us from entering God’s rest, the same kind of unbelief that prevented so many from entering the land of promise. The author continues, then, to speak of the good news that when believed results in our entering the spiritual rest that comes through Christ alone. According to Hebrews 4:10-11, we as believers have already entered His rest when we rested from our works and, by faith, rested in God’s work. This “resting in Jesus” is a Sabbath rest for us now, which will be experienced in its fullness in eternity future.
  4. Jesus is our Sabbath, our resting place. The Christian finds rest from the wearisome burden of sin by trusting in Jesus as Savior. Jesus invites sinners like us into His rest, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The Christian finds rest from any attempt at works-righteousness through active faith in Jesus, our crucified and risen Redeemer. Romans 4:4-5 makes this clear: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
  5. As a shadow of Christ, the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in Him. The gathering of God’s people for worship now takes place on Sunday, the day of His resurrection, known as “the Lord’s Day,” not as a requirement of the Law, but as a celebration of God’s grace. All four Gospels indicate that Jesus rose from the grave early on a Sunday morning. The book of Acts demonstrates that the early church gathered for worship, instruction, prayer, and fellowship around the Lord’s Table on the first day of the week (20:7). In 1 Corinthians 16:2, the apostle Paul exhorts believers to bring their offerings on the first day of the week.

For Christians, the Jewish Sabbath is superseded by the Lord’s Day. Sunday is called the Lord’s Day not because the other six days do not belong to God (we should live for Him every day), but because it is the one day out of seven that we deliberately gather to worship the Lord in a uniquely corporate way.

The Sabbath is not the same binding law for us as it was for the Jews. We are free from ceremonial law and the laws of particular holy days. Paul reminds us of this and warns us not to judge one another regarding personal applications of the Sabbath principle. “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).

For the true Christian every day is holy. Nevertheless, since the Sabbath principle of one day of rest in every seven is rooted in creation—long before the Law of Moses, there is a pattern that continues to be a blessing. Whenever possible the Lord’s Day should be a day of rest from one’s regular labor. It is wise and healthy for our lives, both spiritually and physically. But Sabbath law is not binding upon Christians.

The Lord’s Day is a day to celebrate the finished work of Christ and a regular reminder that our eternal rest is yet to come. Sunday should never become a hyper-religious day that is filled to overflowing with man-made restrictions, but a day to joyfully gather with fellow believers for worship, edification, feasting, and ministries of mercy and compassion. It is not just another day for ourselves. Rather, the Lord’s Day is a day of worship and instruction for the church, a day to spend with fellow believers, a day of serving one another, a day to practice hospitality, visit shut-ins, minister to those in nursing homes, and carry out many other acts of mercy and compassion toward those in need.

Though we have been gloriously freed from the law we have also been set free from the dominance of self-love. Deliberately keeping corporate fellowship with other believers as a high priority is a necessary part of our sanctification (Heb 10:24-25). It is also a wonderful opportunity to deny ourselves and acknowledge the Lordship of Christ in a very practical way. It is a day to serve one another. Let us remember Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Enjoying this rest from God along with other believers in Christ is a blessed gift from God. Let us celebrate the triumph of Christ together!

Recommended Article: Is the Sabbath Still Required for Christians? by Tom Schreiner

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