Missional Sabbath

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Some people claim that we who keep Sabbath on the seventh day are legalistic, exchanging God’s grace for law, earning salvation by works. But Isaiah 58 tells a different story — that Sabbath is a grace of God bestowed on humanity.

Why was this grace needed when Isaiah wrote? Because of the Israelites’ sin (vv. 1-5): They had not only neglected the poor and needy but also treated God as if He were some kind of vending machine that spits out blessings in return for religious rituals.

Then God points out what He instead desires from His people. He wants them to loose bonds of wickedness, undo heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke, share bread with the hungry, take in the poor and homeless, and clothe the naked (vv. 6, 7).

This list covers both physical and spiritual needs. God delivered Israel from slavery and called them to be a beacon of hope to a world in sin-bondage. Sadly, they failed to extend this hope to others, even in their own nation.

Now see what God promises to those who do what He asks:

  • He will answer their cries for help.
  • They’ll be a light in darkness.
  • He will satisfy their souls, strengthen their bones, and guide them continually.
  • They’ll be like a watered garden that doesn’t dry up.
  • They’ll rebuild the destroyed places, be a foundation for many generations, and be called repairer of the breach and restorer of cities (vv. 8-12).

These are awesome promises. God will answer our prayers, send light in the ugliest situations, and bring peace into chaos and devastation. Using us to do that for others is even more amazing.

Many sermons on Isaiah 58 stop at verse 12. But in verse 13 God says something we often miss. He includes Sabbath in the ingredients of what looks a lot like Christ’s ministry and teachings. Compare Matthew 11:28-30 with Isaiah 58:1-12.

Our worship services are only half of what it means to keep Sabbath — maybe less. We also need to give help in the myriad of troubles people face, and pass the same blessings to others who never enter the church.

Many people struggle with emotional, mental, and spiritual burdens for years. They need rest from that work too. The Sabbath is an opportunity to bring it to them — to be about God’s redemptive work. God has given us six days for our own business. The seventh day was made to rest from that and to make time for God’s business: helping the lost and needy.

The result of delight in the Sabbath is delight in the Lord himself (vv. 13, 14). Missional Israelites would delight in Him. He would cause them to ride on the high hills of the earth and feed them with the heritage of Jacob — two promises that would have excited Israel.

Then comes the chapter’s end: “The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” It seems God wanted to emphasize Sabbath’s important place in His desires for love, grace, and compassion among His people and their ministry to the world.

Sabbath is a gift, not only for rest from physical work but also for spiritual rest in Christ, rest from labor to earn salvation. And it is missional, a holistic rest that God wants to extend to others — through us.BA

Andrew Fernandez
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Andrew Fernandez, alumnus and former staff member of LITES (Leaders in Training for Evangelism and Service), now pastors the Freeland, MI, Church of God (Seventh Day).