What is Sabbath rest?

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We associate the idea of a Sabbath with rest for three reasons. First of all, in terms of the big Biblical picture, Sabbath practice looks back to Genesis 2:1-4 where we are told that God rested on the 7th day after 6 days of creation. Note, that whilst God rested after completing his work, that this was Adam’s first day existing. He rested before he worked!

However, Sabbath also points us forward to eternity.  Hebrews 4 talks about entering a final and permanent Sabbath rest. Both of those things start to tell us a little about what we mean by “rest.”  You’ll notice that both do not suggest a complete absence of activity. God in his Sabbath rest does not cease from upholding and sustaining his creation. Our future sabbath rest is not about sleep but about conscious worship.

The third reason we associate the Sabbath with rest, is the specific instructions given to God’s people about keeping it. The Sabbath was meant to involve a ceasing from normal day to day labour.  It was rest in that it was a pause from the normal.  By the way, it is my view that the presence of Sabbath instructions in the 10 Commandments alongside other commands that continue means that we should treat this command as in force today.

But what exactly is that rest all about? Well, we need to look at the commandment in a little more detail.

 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

Exodus 20:8-11

The Sabbath Day was a rest day but it was specifically so because it was “holy”, it was set apart and specifically it was set apart to and for the Lord. In other words, the Sabbath Day was about taking time to give God glory and honour. It was about worship.

When you look at the Old Testament descriptions of feast days and sabbaths, you realise that these days were about celebrating God’s goodness and giving thanks to him. That included, especially at the festivals, a sharing in that goodness so that all of God’s people benefited.  That comes through most clearly when we look at the festivals like Harvest and Pentecost. However, I want to suggest that this was also true on the weekly Sabbath. All were meant to enjoy and celebrate the fruits of their labour together.

Sabbath was about worship because worship is about our chief duty to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” 

And that, I submit, is what our Christian Sabbath is meant to be about. It’s rest because it’s about enjoying God’s good provision together and because we are thankful to him, it is worship. We might say that rest IS worship and that worship IS rest.  There will of course be thankfulness for all of God’s good gifts to us.  However, our thankfulness will be focused on his goodness to us in Christ through the Gospel.  Our enjoyment of him will therefore include the enjoyment of our spiritual labours through the week.

  • We will thankfully enjoy the display of Spiritual gifts as believers share what God has been doing in and through them.
  • We will thankfully enjoy and celebrate new births as people we have been witnessing to put their faith in Christ and being to join us.
  • We will thankfully enjoy God’s Word as the preacher brings the fruit of his labours to the table.

This means that our Sundays should not be a wearisome duty but a joy and delight to be part of.

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