Mark 2:27-28 “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
You have been working 16 hour days, 7 days a week, for several months until you finally collapse in sickness and exhaustion. You go to the doctor. He takes one look at you and says, “My friend, what you need is some rest! Just look at you. And if you are going to sleep properly, you are going to have to get some more exercise. It’s no wonder you haven’t been sleeping. Your body is all out of shape. You are also going to have to eat more carefully. No more Doritos and Coke for meals or pizzas delivered to the office so that you can eat while you are working. You need to take time for three square meals a day. You’ll also rest better if you take some more time to be with your family. A hobby of some sort wouldn’t hurt, either. It helps you reduce your stress. Then you can get some sleep.”
The doctor’s observations may all be good advice. But how much help will they be if the 16-hour work days continue? Then the doctor has added hours of work to an already overburdened schedule. The result will be less rest, not more.
Even in the perfection of Eden, our Lord never designed us to work without end. We need rest. So he prescribed the Sabbath Day, a day to put work aside so that God himself could serve our souls with his grace and love.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day messed around with God’s prescription in ways similar to the doctor’s well-meaning advice. They added long lists of rules for the Sabbath to make sure people “rested.” But the more people focused on rules to keep, the less rest people got. Even worse, the less they were able to see the Savior to whom the Sabbath points.
God did not create the Sabbath so that we had a rule to keep. He gave this law so that it might keep us. On the Sabbath he led people to hear him speaking to them in his word. They responded with their prayers and praise. He gave their burdened souls rest from guilt and sin. His word of forgiving love kept them close to him in faith. They found God’s Sabbath Rest not by what they did to keep it, but by what the Lord himself did for them when they stopped all their doing, and all their busyness, and he himself had the opportunity to serve them.
Today we know we find our full Sabbath in the person of Jesus. He supplies us with rest from our sins and rest for our souls. The Sabbath Day was the long shadow of Jesus cast across centuries of promises (Colossians 2:16-17). It directed God’s people to the full and final rest which Jesus’ life and death in payment for our sins would provide. We no longer have to set aside all work on Saturday or consider it our holy day. The Apostle Paul tells us not to let anyone judge you in regard to keeping the Sabbath.
But we can still hear echoes of God’s will for us in that law. When we set aside our work to hear about his love, he still keeps us today. It is still God’s will for us to gather with other believers, and do so often. We don’t do it to save ourselves by keeping a rule. We encourage and edify each other with the word. The Lord speaks to us and saves us through that word. “Let us not give up meeting together (Greek, literally “synagoging”), as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another,” he urges in Hebrews 10. Let us find our Sabbath rest gathered with others for worship. There we still find Jesus, and he will give us rest for our souls.