The Sabbath, what is it? How does it work? Why does it matter?
There is never enough time. I work hard at managing investments, I cook, I am the main caregiver for our kids I maintain the house and cars. My wife works a job which demands her attention ten hours a day and another one to two hours every night from home. With all that going on we still need to reserve time to exercise. Then the church asks for our presence in main service and small group. There are multiple requests every week for us to participate in separate men’s and women’s ministries and also do service projects. Whether we have been in a big church or a small church, the story is the same. Whether I have been in a full-time engineering job, or worked as a pastor, the story is the same. There are more demands and requests for our time than we can possibly meet. This is why it is essential to prioritize our time. And the best way to schedule our priorities correctly is to start by making time for the Sabbath. Let me show you why….
The Sabbath is a weekly day of rest. Once a week we need to set aside time for our minds and bodies to relax. Through the centuries since the first human beings came into existence many traditions have arisen regarding the ‘proper’ use of the Sabbath. On one extreme is the practice of never doing anything at all, not even turning on a light switch. On the other extreme is the habit of treating the Sabbath like just another day. These extremes are still widely practiced today, to the detriment of their adherents. If we want to live happier lives it is essential to understand and apply the biblical teachings regarding the day of rest.
The first recorded day of rest was the seventh day from creation. God worked six days creating the world and He rested on the seventh day. Did God need to rest, or was He setting an example for us? A case can be made for either view but these cases depend on a great deal of conjecture. What we know for sure is that God did rest on the seventh day.
The first time we see God telling human beings to rest once a week is in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. The scene occurs after the Hebrews have been led out of Egypt by Moses. Now Moses is on the mountain and God gives him the Ten Commandments. Here it is; “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God;” The term ‘holy’ means ‘set apart for God’.
God further clarifies the practical application of the commandment. “In it [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant, your cattle or your visitor 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.” Yes, we are supposed to have one a day a week for rest. But which day? Monday? Sunday? Saturday? Does it even matter?
Jewish tradition says the Sabbath begins just before sundown on Friday and ends Saturday evening when the first three stars appear in the sky. Christian tradition says the Sabbath is from sunrise Sunday to sunrise Monday. Many of us have or do work at jobs where the day of rest depends on our work schedules for that week. Others of us are expected to be available seven days a week. The intent of the commandment is not for us to stress about which particular day we take off each week, but to make sure that that we do take a day off. We may well ask if the Sabbath is so important then why do the priests and ministers get paid to work on Sunday? The answer is that for most of them their Sabbath day is either Friday or Monday.
Is it really up to each individual to choose their own Sabbath day? Jesus Christ clarified this question in
In Ezekiel 20:12 God says “I gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” The Sabbath is more than just a tool for recharging our soul, mind and body. It is also a sign that we are the people of God. Setting aside one day a week for our Lord causes us to be reminded that He is the One who is bringing us into heaven. The word ‘sanctification’ signifies that we are being cleaned up prior to our entry into haven. This is a lifelong process that does not end until we draw our last breath. Every person requires sanctification because none of us are perfect. Only Christians are receiving sanctification because we are the only people who are following Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The reader may have an objection to this last statement, but answer this question? Does eternal salvation come from within yourself? If so, why are you aging instead of remaining perpetually young? If eternal salvation comes from outside yourself, is the source the God of the Bible? The Bible says yes. What evidence do you have to say no?
We are in the process of being sanctified. Observing the Sabbath is one of the ways we demonstrate our faith in the Lord. We are commanded to do it, it only helps us and on top of that, it feels good to be refreshed.
Jesus was asked a question by the Pharisees. Keep in mind that the Pharisees were of the tradition that nothing was to be done on the Sabbath. Not healing the sick, not working in the fields, not working in your home or business, not preparing food. This was a case where tradition went beyond the intent of the commandment and became a burden rather than an encouragement. Jesus was walking with His apostles one Sabbath day. The apostles were picking the heads off some stalks of grain and eating them. The Pharisees asked about this apparent violation of the commandment. The passage is Mark 2:23-28. [The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look why are your apostles doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”]
Some Christians have taken this passage to mean that they never need to respect or observe the Sabbath. This interpretation is not supported by the passage. Jesus was not saying that the commandment was eliminated. He was saying that the Pharisees had an incomplete understanding of how to obey the commandment. The Sabbath was not created to be a negative (Don’t do this…). It was created to be a positive (Do this and be renewed and refreshed and demonstrate by your actions that you follow the one true and living God.). When we obey the commandment we actually provide inspiration and encouragement to others.
What does it make sense to do on the Sabbath? If the primary use of the day is prayer, praise and good works, great! Do it and be refreshed by the renewing of your mind. There’s still time to enjoy your hobbies. However, if your primary use of the day is “I need to catch up on everything from last week”, you will never catch up.
This is the God who created the universe. Always loving. Always practical. Always perfect in His judgment. This is the God who calls us to observe the Sabbath. He knows that some people need to work on Sundays. We cannot close the hospitals. We cannot abandon our military and police posts. This is why He gives us the freedom to set our own Sabbath day. Make sure that you do set one. You need the rest. You need the recharge. Observe the commandment and set aside a weekly Sabbath day for the Lord.