Lord of the Sabbath

Sep 3, 2021

Reading time: 6 Minutes

Labor Day is set aside to honor those who work hard. It’s meant to grant the laborer a holiday of much-needed rest.


We Americans have trouble with the idea of resting. So did the Israelites. Why do you think God had to command them to rest? The injunction yet stands in the Ten Commandments, but believers’ eyes glaze over at the fourth one—the one that admonishes us to cease from our labor and rest the last day of each week.


In my calling, I enjoy connectivity in the Jewish world and the State of Israel. One benefit of that is beholding the fourth commandment embraced in culture. It is astounding that every Friday at sundown a nation largely shuts down its commerce, transportation, and entertainment to re-focus on what is most important—faith, family, and friends. What a sacred time to walk the streets of Jerusalem.


Years ago, reading a bedtime book with my kids on a Jewish family’s observance of the Sabbath, my imagination was captured by the description of what the family did together Friday evening and all-day Saturday: “We enjoy slow, festive meals, catch up on everyone’s news, sing special songs, take walks or naps, read nice fat library books, and study the Bible.”


In contrast to our hectic weekends, this sounded like heaven. A longing for something simple, something better from God for my family welled up in me. And so “the Papa” of the family boldly announced, “We’re going to have a Family Sabbath!”

 feet kicked up on couch with slippers


This was met with groans and concerns voiced that 24 hours of no computer or TV would be a lost day. I told them they could handle the deprivation and to get ready for the quiet. I intended that at least once a year we would do this counter-cultural embracing of the biblical Sabbath. Rather than impose a heavy requirement on the family, I hoped to grow an enlightening lifestyle.


Well, the Adams family accomplished one official Family Sabbath—just one. And the kids can each give you a special memory from that sanctified day. But, alas, the culture won the bigger battle and the Adams still don’t know how to rest very well.


The day of rest is a God original. The word Sabbath is from the Hebrew shabbat meaning to rest, cease, or end. It all began when God rested after his six days of serious creating…


“For in six days the Lord made heaven and 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.” (Exodus 20:11, ESV)


In the giving of the Torah, God’s Law, the people of Israel were told to rest from their labors like God rested from His. Makes sense. The idea is to do your part for six days, then cease work on the seventh day to show you trust God for his provision.


Later in God’s redemptive plan, Jesus came, fully keeping, and thereby fulfilling, the Torah’s instruction on the Sabbath. Thus, he filled it full and wrote it on each believer’s heart (cf. Jeremiah 31:33), allowing Sabbath to work from the inside out as His people enter into His rest from our labors unto salvation.


In its first decades, a very Jewish church kept the seventh day Sabbath rest in accordance with the Torah while gathering in celebration on the first day of the week, called “The Lord’s Day,” since that was the day Jesus concluded his rest by bursting forth from the grave!


Imagine that. Our early brethren entered into the Lord’s rest on Saturday, and the Lord’s resurrection on Sunday…a bonus round!


God has been calling me back to His rest. That’s hard for multi-tasking me. How about you? Jesus proclaimed, speaking of himself, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28, NKJV). As always, it’s all about Jesus—who He is—God resting in us, drawing us to rest in Him.


In ancient civilization, the common man toiled but never rested. Leisure was for the wealthy and ruling classes. The Hebrews labored to exhaustion under the bonds of slavery in Egypt. No day off for a slave.


Problem was, they carried the slave-to-work mentality with them into the Promised Land; it had to be defeated or the promise would be undermined. Now you see why God commanded the weekly “Labor Day.” We need that command working in our hearts—to cease our striving and bondage to work, especially the work of trying to save ourselves when the Lord of the Sabbath has done all the work and given us all the rest.


As I paused to consider Labor Day in this light, I realized that I had been forgetting about the rest that Jesus first impressed upon me as a new believer:


“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV)


calm lake at sunset


And you? Are you too busy to receive His rest and join Him in Sabbath? Not enough time in six days that you must burn out on a seventh? Heschel adjusts our perspective on the tyranny of time…


“Time is like a wasteland. It has grandeur but no beauty. Its strange, frightful power is always feared but rarely cheered. Then we arrive at the seventh day, and the Sabbath is endowed with a felicity which enraptures the soul, which glides into our thoughts with healing sympathy. It is a day on which hours do not oust one another. It is a day which can smooth all sadness away.” (The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel, p. 21)


Jesus does some perspective adjusting as well…

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, ESV)


Buchanan amplifies…

“That, actually is all we need to know to keep the Sabbath holy. This day was made for us. God gave it to you and me for our sake, for our benefit, for our strengthening, and our replenishment…it’s a day that God intended to fuss over us, not we over it.”

(The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan, p. 219-220)


Let’s confess. We just don’t fit the Sabbath very well. We really can’t pull it off. So, since we can’t serve it properly as master, let’s try letting it serve us. We just need to be humble enough to let the Lord of the Sabbath minister His rest to our willful souls. He can do this, and He delights to do so.


The rabbis like to say, “More than Israel keeping the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel.” Let us say, “More than us serving the Lord of the Sabbath, the Lord of the Sabbath has served us.”


Shabbat Shalom (Sabbath Peace).


Happy Labor Day!


And get some rest.

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