Sabbath: Real Rest

Sabbath . . .

Depending on which version of the Bible you read, the word Sabbath appears between 113 and 135 times. Clearly, Sabbath occupies an important place in God’s heart and purposes as is evidenced by its frequent reference in His Word. And as with all things that are important to God, we are wise to understand it. However, few subjects have caused more confusion in spiritual circles. So, what is it and how does it applies to us?

For starters, we need to recognize that Sabbath has two primary uses in Scripture as both a noun and verb. As a noun, Sabbath is most often associated with the Sabbath Day. As God began to establish the Nation of Israel under Moses’ leadership, He laid out a very specific set of instructions and laws which were to govern their society.

Among the very first of these laws, even before the Ten Commandments were given, was the command to set apart the seventh day of the week (our Saturday) as a day of resting from their daily work (Exodus 16:23-29). This became known as the Sabbath Day, because the root meaning of “sabbath” is “to cease,” which is precisely what God wanted. He wanted His people to cease from their regular routines.

Why Sabbath?

At this point, it’s appropriate to ask why God commanded, and not suggested, this for His people. A couple of reasons immediately present themselves. For one thing, as the divine designer of humankind, God understands what we humans need in order to live healthy and sustainable lives. We all know what physical exhaustion feels like and what a difference it makes when we simply stop and rest from our activity. Quite literally, we come to life again and find renewed strength to press forward in life. Knowing this inherent need of humans, God graciously built a restful rhythm into Israel’s way of life.

Beyond this; however, the Sabbath Day was also a powerful spiritual catalyst. Think this through: If the material livelihood for you and your family depends on your ability to produce crops or livestock, as was the case in society back then, then you are naturally going to want to work as many days as possible. More days in the field equals more crops, which equals a better life, right?

But that thinking is based on a self-sufficiency that God didn’t want His people to be led by. Instead, He wanted every Israelite to know that He was their ultimate provider. As the Lord over the earth and all that was in it, nothing could come to them except by His gracious hand (Psalm 24:1). This principle sounds well and good, but how deeply did they trust it? By forcing His people to regularly rest, to put down the tools of their trade, their faith was put in a position to grow. And over the course of weeks, months, years, and decades, God’s faithfulness as their provider could be powerfully seen and relied on.        

As God’s purposes continued to unfold, Israel’s law was fulfilled through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A new era was ushered in as faith in God’s Son and His perfect sacrifice on behalf of sinners became the basis of knowing and obeying Him. The regulation of the Sabbath Day was removed, or more accurately, it was repurposed. The noun became a verb.

Instead of Sabbath being identified by a day of the week, it became identified by something so much more—an act of rest, a spiritual rest, a rest which was no longer found on the seventh day of the week, but through a relationship with the Son of God. Jesus transformed Sabbath from a command into an invitation, an invitation to an inner-rest that could only be found in Him.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. . . . Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”—Matthew 11:28-29 (NLT) 

The author of Hebrews unpacks this concept even further by declaring that true and lasting rest can’t be found by simply obeying an ordinance in Moses’ Law, but by trusting in who Christ is and all that He’s done on our behalf (Hebrews 4:1-10). When we abide in Jesus through our faith in Him, this Sabbath rest becomes alive and active in our lives.

Applying Sabbath Rest Today

This brings us to the final point of how all of this applies to us. What place should Sabbath have in our lives? As Christians, we aren’t locked into setting aside a specific day of the week to cease from our labors. Jesus offers us something so much greater. He invites us to spiritually experience the continual undercurrent of His divine rest.  

Yet, there’s also a practical and physical aspect we need to observe as well. Just like the Israelites, we have the built-in need to cease from our regular activities so we can be refreshed through rest. So, we’re wise to follow Israel’s example by consistently setting aside time and space to actively rest by reflecting on the Lord. It’s a universal truth that we can only focus on one thing at one time, and we need moments that works best with our schedules when we can regularly focus on Jesus.

For example, if you have a couple of days off work each week, set one aside for spiritual focus. Or, if your schedule is irregular, determine where those soft spots in the week are, set them aside, and fill them with things you know will bring you closer to the Lord. It can be a book, a study, a podcast, a phone call, or even a long walk. The main thing is to avoid the things that distract from the spiritual side of life.

Just know that Sabbath rest won’t happen on its own. We reveal our priorities by our planning. Having a plan to experience these moments will take this from being a great idea to a life-changing habit of grace. Doing so will refresh and reinvigorate us so we can continue to grow in our relationship with God. And as we trust Him in these times of rest as Israel did, we’ll grow in knowing His faithful provision in the weeks, months, years, and decades to come.

“Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’”—Mark 6:31 (NLT) 

 


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