I hope you are well! Back in the Spring, I wrote a number of brief articles for our church on the first three commandments. So this week, I wanted to give a bit of reflection on the fourth commandment, namely taking a Sabbath rest. The fourth commandment is sometimes a bit controversial for Christians. Different, God-loving Christians disagree on whether or not the Sabbath is necessary for believers of the New Covenant, including many I personally know and respect. This is an area over which we can have different opinions. That being said, my best understanding of the New Testament would imply that the Sabbath is indeed in force for Christians. Let me give you three reasons.
1. Jesus dignifies the Sabbath. At a number of points, Jesus had opportunities to disband the Sabbath. But instead, Jesus reminds us God gave us the Sabbath for our own good (Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-6; Luke 6:1-11, 13:14-16, 14:1-5; John 5:9-18) and Scripture actually calls Jesus the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:1-14; Mark 2:23-28). Far from ridding his people of Sabbath, he redeems it.
2. The Sunday Gathering descends from the Sabbath Gathering. In the OT, God commands Israel to gather for a “holy convocation” on the Sabbath throughout the land of Israel (Lev 23:3). In the same way, Christians are told not to neglect the “gathering” (Heb 10:25). That word for “gathering” in Heb 10:25 is “episynagoge“, from which we get “synagogue.”
3. The First Day of the Week celebrates the New Creation. In the Old Testament, God commands Sabbath to celebrate the past work of creation (Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:8-11) and Exodus (Deut 5:12-15). Similarly, the New Testament repeatedly uses “new creation” language to describe Sunday (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1-19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). The Sabbath in the OT looked back to the Old Creation, the Sabbath in the NT looks forward to the New.
Now, that is not to say there are no differences, there obviously are. In the New Covenant, we celebrate on the first day of the week, not the seventh. While the Old Covenant meant ceasing from work and effort (just as God did), in the New Covenant this is not emphasized.
However, what is emphasized in the New Covenant is that we must rest in Christ. It is less about what we rest fromand more about who we rest in. This is why shortly before Jesus claims to be the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-14), Jesus said, “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.” (Matt 11:28-30) It is not a coincidence that those two passages are side by side. Jesus reveals that in the New Covenant Sabbath we rest in Him. So this Sunday, let us ask, what is more important for us, that we get to take a day off of work, or that we get to rest in Christ’s once-and-for-all cross work for us? What is more important, that we get to sleep in, or that Jesus woke up on that Easter Sunday? What is more important, that we have recreation on earth, or that we are seated with Christ in heaven (Eph 1:3)?
Beloved, let us rest in Christ together, for he, himself, is our Sabbath.