The week has passed. My work is done. Sun has set; Sabbath is here. I’m so ready.
Another busy workweek wore me out, as usual. I’ve leaned toward this moment all day. Walking through the front door, I sigh audibly, bodily. The best day of the week arrives in the nick of time, greeting me like an old friend. I smile.
I can’t explain it, but in that instant, space shifts, time tips, and I let go. It’s Sabbath.
So here I am writing these thoughts with my family sleeping, the lights low, and my feet kicked up.
I love the Sabbath. I have for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine living without it or why anyone would want to try. A well-meaning Christian once told me I didn’t have to keep Sabbath because I wasn’t under the law. My defense wasn’t theologically well formed, although I think it could’ve been. All that came out then was “Can I keep it if I want?”
Now it’s a running joke in my family. Dragging myself home on Friday evening, I’ll often quip with a wink to my wife, while I’m flopping onto the couch, “Thank God I’m under the law.”
I just turned 48, and my workweek takes a bigger toll as the years pile up. Yes, I was one of the weird church kids who actually liked Sabbath p.m. naps. I enjoy them now even more, along with what “church” can really be and how Sabbath makes that possible.
If real life has taught me anything, it’s that I need Sabbath and that Sabbath is there for me. For all of us. It’s not just about the law, important as that is; it’s about delight. Sabbath is the best day of the week simply because it’s the blessed day of the week. A delight. Why would anyone want to miss out on that?
Lord of Sabbath
The more I experience Sabbath as a blessing, the more I realize how much it’s entangled in Jesus. I learned long ago that I can’t fully know God’s Sabbath by starting at creation and moving toward Christ through the law. Jesus is the first, the last, and the center. Beginning with Him, I discover that whichever way I go, He’s waiting for me there, illuminating the text in wonderful ways.
Mark 2:23-28 illustrates this profoundly. It tells how Jesus’ hungry disciples picked grain to eat while walking through a field on the Sabbath and were accused by the Pharisees of breaking the command. Jesus, more concerned about human need than defining work, replies, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (vv. 27, 28).
I love the simplicity in which Jesus corrects the misguided Pharisees who, in professing the day, had missed its blessing: Don’t take what God made for us and turn it against us. Jesus can say this because He is “Lord of the Sabbath.” That’s it in a nutshell.
As simple as Jesus’ reply is in this situation, it blows my mind how far-reaching it is. Jesus addresses the origin (“made”), the intent (“for”), and the scope (“man”/humanity) of the Sabbath.
As in a later argument over marriage and divorce (10:2-12), you can almost hear Jesus saying, “But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made . . .’” (v. 6). Christ can take us back to creation and claim lordship over it because as the Word of God, He was there (John 1:1-3). He made it all and knows its purpose as only the Creator can. Let’s head back to the beginning now and find the Lord of the Sabbath there.
Then God blessed
Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended 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 (Genesis 2:1-3).
If this were all the Bible ever said about Sabbath, I’d be asking, “How do I get in on this blessed day?”
The first thing declared “holy” in Scripture isn’t a thing at all but the day in which God ceased from His creative work, having declared it all “very good.” The “holy” points us away from things made and the labors by which they are made, to what transcends and enriches it all: God. By His example we sense the call to let go and trust Him.
Further, the blessing of the seventh day is not the first “blessing” of creation week. By the time God “rested” (shabath, root of Sabbath), He’d already blessed the living creatures created on the fifth day (1:20-23) and man (adam, or” humanity”), created “in His image” (vv. 26-28) on the sixth. The sixth day was God’s creative peak, and His blessing the seventh indicates that creation’s goal is our final rest in God.
When God blesses humanity, He addresses them personally (v. 28). On the heels of this intimate blessing of those shaped in His image and called to flourish, God ends His work and blesses the seventh day, resting with His creation. These two blessings interrelate and correlate. The final touch, Sabbath, was not blessed for its own sake but for the sake of the blessed — those who would labor after God, imitating Him.
The blessed man followed by the blessed day establishes the priority to which Jesus spoke in Mark 2:27, 28. The one precedes the other, the latter enriches the former, and God, who blesses both, is Lord over all.
Like marriage, another divine institution woven into the created order prior to man’s fall, Sabbath is neither named nor commanded in Genesis 2. Like that first marriage, it is simply, sublimely modeled by Divine initiative, its invitation extended to the first adam and all who follow.
Delight in the Lord
Beyond Eden, sin distorts and robs people of God’s best gifts, as we saw in Mark 2 and 10 with Sabbath and marriage. Our God-given “dominion” has been subverted by pride so that Sabbath is either overlooked or oppressive, its blessing lost. We need a change of heart.
God’s creatures may forget or resist this blessed day, ignore it, or resent it, but to no avail. It remains. Sabbath is blessed and holy however I may choose to acknowledge it, or not. It’s just the way the world is, the way God the Word made it. Sabbath continues to witness to the truth that our Creator and Redeemer is, relentlessly, for us:
- He offered Sabbath rest to a mixed multitude of former slaves just out of Egypt (Exodus 16).
- He commanded them to follow His Sabbath example, remembering to share this blessed day with male/female, slave/free, citizen/foreigner — even domestic animals (Exodus 20).
- He gave Israel a Sabbath song to celebrate His faithfulness and our flourishing (Psalm 92).
- He promised a coming covenant, Sabbath rest, and the ingathering of all peoples (Isaiah 56).
This biblical witness anticipates Christ’s words that the Sabbath was made for us — God’s work in Christ — and the new covenant written on the hearts of all who trust Him (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). Jesus embodied Sabbath when He went about working miracles of restoration, especially on Sabbath. This kingdom, now and not yet, this King, come and coming, are Sabbath-shaped — a blessing of rest and restoration for the world (Hebrews 4:9; Matthew 11:28-30).
It does indeed take more than Divine example and command to live Sabbath-shaped lives. Our proud, restless hearts resist God’s blessing. It takes the full operation of God in Christ through the Spirit to embody Isaiah’s vision of lives set free from their own works and pursuits in order to call Sabbath a delight and to delight in Sabbath’s Lord (58:13, 14).
Reading the stories of gospel, of creation, and of law and prophets, it’s impossible for me to evade the scriptural weight of Sabbath-as-blessing-for-us.
Now the night is far past. I’m still sitting here, pecking away, lost in my Sabbath thoughts on the best and blessed day of the week.
I’m praying for us all to find that blessed delight this Sabbath and the next and the one after that. To delightfully model Sabbath blessing just as God the Father and His Son have shown us.BA