When we carve out time for attendance in weekly worship as an expression of Sabbath observance, we remind ourselves that God is lord of our life and time. We keep a holy appointment to meet with Him to render to Him the glory due His name and to rehearse His blessings in the gospel. Our Lord Jesus informs us that the Sabbath was made for us. We lead busy, distracted, wearisome lives, prone to wander, to neglect, to forget our God amidst the travails of life. But God has given us the Sabbath, not merely to rest from our ordinary labors but to find refreshment and renewal, a redemptive reset of sorts.
Christmas this year falls on a Sunday. Already the question is circulating as to whether churches should cancel their services so as not to disrupt family celebrations.
The question asked is the answer implied that we might reasonably consider canceling and take a sabbath from the Sabbath. After all, people will be away visiting families or hosting family members who have traveled for the holiday. Plus, kids and grownups will be distracted with visions of sugar plums dancing through their heads.
The question is bigger, however, than what to do this year. It’s a question of what to do with the Sabbath itself. Sure, we continue to include the fourth commandment when we recite the ten, although we may do so in hushed tones or with a hint of suspicion.
But, unlike Pluto, it has not been demoted from its status. It continues as a commandment of God’s moral law, to be obeyed as an expression of love for Him and acknowledgement of His authority in our lives.
In that sense the Sabbath is a sign. That’s how God describes it: “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you’” (Ex. 31:13, NKJV).
God is not addressing the nations around them. He is speaking to His people as their covenant Lord. He is saying that keeping the Sabbath is a reminder whose we are and why that is, a sign of sanctification. Our setting apart one day in seven serves as a sign that God has set us apart from the world as His very own.
While there are aspects of discontinuity with Sabbath observance on this side of the cross, it continues to be part of God’s moral law and remains a sign between our God and us as His people. How does the Sabbath function as a sign? Let me suggest four ways.
A Sign to God
God established the Sabbath in creation. He could have created in one fell swoop but He did so in six days, resting from His labors on the seventh and thus establishing for us a rhythm to our days. When we observe the Sabbath we walk in that rhythm, acknowledging God as the One who ordains our days.
In addition to a creation ordinance, the Sabbath serves as a redemption ordinance given us as the redeemed of the Lord to honor God for delivering us from the bondage of sin. We express our love for Him by keeping His commandments.