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Sabbath Rest


How New Testament Christians are to relate to the Old Testament Law of Moses is often misunderstood.  Addressing this issue is too big of a task for one article.  I'll just briefly point out a few New Testament passages explaining how Christians should relate to the Sabbath.  I know this won't satisfy those who differ with me, and, I'm certain it will raise more questions for those who haven't thought this issue through. 


It's a mistake to separate the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses into two distinct documents as we often do.  The Ten Commandments are found in the body of the Law of Moses.  They're part of the Law.  So, in order to understand the command to keep the Sabbath day holy (Exodus 20:10 11) we must search the Law's 613 regulations to see how to keep it holy.  Since we seldom do that, we misunderstand the Sabbath, as I believe my parents' generation did.  Their idea of keeping the Sabbath holy was to attend two church meetings, eat, and sleep, and that on Sunday, not Saturday as the Law commanded.  


Sabbath goes back to Genesis 2:2 where God "rested" from His work on the seventh day.  The English word "rested" is translated from the Hebrew word "Shabath".  "Shabath", and thus "Sabbath", means "to sit still and ponder".  Was God so wiped out that He had to take a day off and just sit around doing nothing?  No; His work was effortless.  He just spoke things into existence.  That's pretty easy. 


The last thing God spoke into existence was man.  This placed man's first full day of existence on God's day of rest.  I conclude that we were created to live in a continuous state of blissful rest as God would have understood it.  Adam blew that to shreds when he chose to know more than what was good for him to know.  This resulted in "painful toil" replacing rest as the NIV puts it in Genesis 3:17.    


By the time Jesus arrived on the scene a ritualized tradition of rabbinical laws ruled the day.  According to the religious establishment Jesus didn't keep the Sabbath day holy.  Healing a crippled man was unlawful on the Sabbath; but what was Jesus to do?   Was He to ignore the poor guy, hoping to catch him on another day?  Jesus responded to such silliness in Matthew 12:8 by saying that the Sabbath wasn't his lord.  He was Lord over the Sabbath.  As a matter of fact, Jesus is Lord over all of the Law of Moses because He was the one who spoke it into existence. 


Jesus addressed the issue of the Law of Moses in Matthew 5:17 when He said that He didn't come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.  The word "fulfill" tells me that the Law of Moses was one huge prophecy that only the life of Jesus could fulfill, and once fulfilled, served its purpose.  That's why the Apostle Paul said things like, "Christ is the end of the Law" in Romans 10:4, and, "Now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the Law" in Galatians 3:25.     


Jesus spoke to the issue of the Ten Commandments in Matthew 5:21 - 30.  He pointed out that the Law commanded us not to commit adultery and not to kill.  He got to the heart of the matter by saying that if one lusts in his heart he has committed adultery in his heart.  If one gets angry without cause, in his heart he has killed.  Jesus put a New Testament spin to these Old Testament laws, knowing that only the Holy Spirit could change the heart of man, something the Law was unable to do. 


Like adultery and murder, the Sabbath has been further clarified in the New Testament.  Hebrews 3:18 to 4:14 states the prophetic fulfillment of the Sabbath laws when it states that Israelis didn't enter God's rest because of their lack of faith.  It then says that "since the promise of entering into rest still stands ... let us be careful not to fall short of it we who have believed enter that rest there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God: for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work " 


Hebrews 4 states that there is definitely a New Testament Sabbath rest for Christians.  As God rested from His work, so we are to rest from our work.  In Biblical terms, it's the work involved in our feeble attempts to find our right standing before God by obedience to laws that we are to rest from.  Jesus confirmed this when He defined New Testament work to be simply trusting Him for our right standing before God. (John 6:29)   In short, we are to celebrate the Sabbath rest by trusting Jesus for our salvation instead of trusting our frustrating attempts to obey laws that could never save us, and weren't meant to save us.    


Paul clarified this a bit more in Romans 14:5.  He pointed out that some people consider certain days to be sacred while others consider all days to be sacred.  The context shows that Paul considered himself to be one who considered all days to be sacred.  For him, every day was a Sabbath rest unto the Lord as He trusted His life to Jesus.


If you feel compelled to observe the Sabbath because it was mandated by the Law of Moses, I point out the following.  You must observe the Sabbath on Saturday, not Sunday. (Exodus 20:10 - 11)  You can't cook a meal or have someone cook it for you on the Sabbath. (Exodus 3:16)  You muss reframe from planting your garden every seven years. (Leviticus 25:4)  You must not work on the Sabbath or else you'll be put to death. (Exodus 31:15)  You must find a priest to perform a wave offering on the Sabbath. (Leviticus 23:11)  You must keep an additional Sabbath on the first day of the seventh month. (Leviticus 23:24)  You must keep two additional Sabbaths on the fifteenth day and the twenty third day of the seventh month. (Leviticus 23:39)  You must kill two young lambs to be offered to the Lord on the Sabbath. (Numbers 28:9)  You must make sure your kids or farm animals don't work on the Sabbath. (Deuteronomy 5:14)  The tough part of this is that the Law of Moses doesn't permit you to pick and choose which laws to accept and which to reject, as Evangelicals have done for years.  It's all or nothing, and in New Testament terms it's nothing.   


I suggest you follow the Apostle Paul's example.  Celebrate each day of your life as a holy Sabbath unto the Lord.  Thank Jesus for rescuing you from the curse of the Law that should be your final fate.  Rest in the fact that God considers you to be just as righteous and holy as He Himself is, despite the fact that you aren't. 


The first prophecy found in the Bible is portrayed when God rested on the seventh day.  This seventh day rest will find its ultimate fulfillment in the blissful rest of eternity.





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