How (and How Not) to Keep the Sabbath

How (and How Not) to Keep the Sabbath

When we set apart the first day of the week, we are declaring openly that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. We are testifying to his saving work for sinners. We are no less declaring the reality of the “rest” that awaits us in the consummation—the fullness of the blessing, life, and glory in Christ. Observing the Sabbath is a profound declaration of the gospel—its truth, its importance, and its claim on our hearts and lives. 

What is the Sabbath?

Imagine that you are walking in the neighborhood of a busy city and someone flags you down from the stoop of their brownstone. The homeowner is waving with some urgency, so you stop to see what they want. “Can you come in the house and change out my lightbulb?” they ask you. “Why do you need me to change out your lightbulb?” you reply. “Because I’m Jewish, it’s the Sabbath, and I can’t work on the Sabbath. The house is dark and we need the bulb changed. I figured that since you were a Gentile, you wouldn’t have a problem with doing it.”

Something very much like that happened to a friend of mine many years ago (and he gladly changed the bulb). I suspect that it captures many of the impressions that Christians often have about the Sabbath—It’s just for Israel, but it’s not for the Church. The Sabbath is legalistic and stifling because it burdens people with unreasonable, man-made rules. I am free from the law in Christ, so why would I ever think about observing the Sabbath?

It is tempting to rush into discussions about what to do (and not to do) on the Sabbath. But before we get there, there are a couple of questions that we need to ask. First, what is the Sabbath? The Sabbath is a weekly day that God has appointed for human beings to rest from the labors and activities that fill out the other six days and to devote that day to the worship of God and fellowship with his people. The Hebrew word underlying the English word sabbath means “rest.” The Sabbath is a day of holy resting, of spiritual refreshment in God. We see God establishing the Sabbath at creation. He completed his works of creation in six days, and then he “rested on the seventh day” (Gen. 2:2). That “seventh day” was a day that God “blessed” and “made . . . holy” (Gen. 2:3), that is, a day set apart for people to worship God.

In the life of Israel, the Sabbath takes on added meaning. In Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God tells his people that the Sabbath is a day to “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut. 5:15). It is a day to remember the mighty work of God in redeeming his people. Since the Exodus always pointed forward to God’s work in redeeming his people from their sin through Jesus Christ, the Sabbath, therefore, commemorates what God has done in Christ to save sinners.

Should We Still Observe?

Second, is the Sabbath something that Christians should observe? Some may interject at this point, What you have been saying is all well and good, but that’s the Old Testament. What about the New Testament? That is an excellent question, and the New Testament affirms the Sabbath as a standing commandment for all people. Jesus taught often about the Sabbath. In the Gospels, we see him correcting misunderstandings of the Sabbath. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day had taken a commandment that was to be a joy and had turned it into a miserable burden.

Read More

Scroll to top