Deuteronomy 5:12-14 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…”
We don’t hear as much about this commandment as some of the others. With so much attention given to what God says about sex or what God says about the taking of life, the third commandment doesn’t get much press. It is worth noting, however, that before the Lord gave us those commandments that govern our relationship with each other, he gave us three commandments that deal with our relationship with him. “Remember the Sabbath Day” is one of them. If more attention were given to keeping this one, then breaking those others wouldn’t be so much of a problem. Let’s take a closer look at just what he is prescribing for us.
Understanding what God was asking of his Old Testament people here is easy. Six days of the week could be spent climbing the corporate ladder, or ploughing the back forty, or doing whatever else it took to pay the bills and put food on the table. But one day a week the work had to stop, and that was Saturday, the seventh day, the Sabbath day. The word Sabbath itself means rest or stopping, and that is exactly what happened on that day. The people rested, just as God prescribed.
That rest wasn’t relief for spinning heads and aching backs alone. This was a day of rest for the soul. The Lord wanted the day to be kept holy. This was a day to be a Sabbath to the Lord. On Saturday ancient Israelites were to direct their attention to God and his gracious gifts for them.
It’s no secret that New Testament Christians don’t use Saturdays the same way today. When Jesus came he fulfilled the Sabbath law for us. The Saturday part of the Sabbath law, the seventh day command, was part of God’s ceremonial law. It was in the same class with commands God gave forbidding people to eat pork or shellfish, or requiring people to offer doves and lambs as sacrifices. The Apostle Paul makes that clear when he says in Colossians 2, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” All these things guided the lives of God’s people for a while. They helped prepare them for the coming Savior. They helped them look forward to Jesus’ day. But once Jesus arrived, they had served their purpose. People were not to be judged by whether they observed these laws, these shadows. The important thing is believing in the One to whom they were all pointing: Jesus Christ. God no longer requires that we make the seventh day our day of rest.
But that does not mean that the Lord threw out the whole concept behind the Sabbath Day. Jesus once reminded his disciples and the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath served people. It made sure they paid attention to their Lord, and that was something they needed.
Your God still prescribes plenty of rest for you today, plenty of time spent with him. It just isn’t limited to a single day. Jesus invites us, “Come unto ME all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He says in another place, in John 6, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” We still find relief from the sickness of sin, from consciences aching with guilt, in the spiritual rest only the Lord can provide.
Jesus gives you the freedom, and the opportunity, to find that rest in his word any time you open your Bible and begin to read. But there remains no better place to find this rest than gathered with God’s people to hear God’s grace preached, and to taste and touch it in Jesus’ Supper. Find your holy day, your “holiday,” of rest at church this week.