The Sabbath instructions God gave to Israel are very strict and come with consequences. This is an area of Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders of his time. And in his life and death and resurrection, Jesus seems to have transformed the idea of rest for the Christian.
21 “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
1 Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do: 2 For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. 3 Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”
Exodus 34:21, 35:1-3
The Lord is emphatic with Israel that they must keep the Sabbath day holy. When Moses was receiving the commandments on the second set of stone tablets in Exodus 24, God reiterated that the Sabbath was important, even in harvest and plowing seasons. In chapter 35, Moses passing on the message, with the consequence of death for those who disobey God.
Don’t even light a fire in your home on the Sabbath. Rest. Which I’m pretty sure meant don’t be checking your phone or watching football or doing that home renovation project. Our concepts of rest are interesting compared to the Lord’s.
We are not, however, bound by this law today. Not only did Jesus not repeat this law as he did many others, he brought a new teaching with him in his incarnation. In Mark 2, Jesus and disciples are traveling through grain fields (which I think violated the Hebrew rules around distance of walking) and picking the grain to eat (which definitely violated the rules). When challenged, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
In his statement, I hear that the purpose of the Sabbath is for man – and for Israel during the Exodus, that clearly meant stopping everything. For Jesus and his followers, it meant that finding food was okay. In his teaching, Jesus moved many issues from the hands to the heart.
He spoke of love and hate and lust as issues of the heart even more than they are issues of the flesh. And Sabbath seems to fit this category. That’s not to say we shouldn’t stop and rest. I feel the conviction that I ought to rest and practice Sabbath more. It would help me draw closer to God.
At the same time, it is an issue of the heart in which Jesus himself has become our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4 & 10). We have a high priest in Jesus who finished the work and sat down at the right hand of God. He is at rest on his throne. If Jesus is also at rest on my throne, I will be in a place of Sabbath.
Living in Sabbath rest seven days a week should be possible. I’m not there yet. I strive and yearn and succeed and fail every week. I don’t often rest in Jesus for any 7 days running. It’s one day at a time…
Be my Sabbath rest, Jesus.