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A Sabbath-rest for the People of God (2)

Blowing the Ram's Horn to Announce the Beginning of the Sabbath

In Part 1 of this post, I closed with the dilemma I faced. I was maintaining there is no Christian Sabbath, that the Sabbath is entirely an institution of the Law of Moses. Yet, Hebrews 4:9-11 says clearly that there is a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

The context clearly speaks of “Today” and denies that Israel entered into that rest (Hebrews 4:6-7). What does the writer mean? At first, I thought this “rest” is the “rest” of Heaven. But am I prepared to say that none of Israel will enter Heaven? I’m not. Are you? To me, this seems to rule out Heaven being this promised rest. But what is it?

The Dilemma Solved

To find a solution to this dilemma, I looked more closely at what the Sabbath in the Old Testament meant and how it is a shadow of the reality that is Christ.

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 the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. – Colossians 3:16-17

In the Old Testament, I discovered three reasons for keeping the Sabbath, each of which reminds us of God’s power and blessings.

At Sinai, God said to Israel:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Exodus 20:8, 11

The Sabbath was celebration of God’s Creation and His subsequent rest on the seventh day. Indirectly, Jesus pointed to this when He justified His disciples for plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Grain is symbolic of God’s blessings for His people in Creation. It was at this time that Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 3:27). God’s rest was given to Man to bring a blessing to Man as well.

At the Jordan just before Israel crossed into the Promised Land, Moses repeated the Ten Commandments to the nation. This time, Moses gave a different rationale for the fourth commandment:

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. – Deuteronomy 5:15

Here the stated reason for Israel to observe the Sabbath is the Exodus, the redemption of God’s people from bondage. Jesus referred to this when He healed the woman with the bent back. He asked His challengers, “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:16). The Sabbath commemorated the nation’s freedom from bondage. Was this woman to remain bound until after the Sabbath, the celebration of freedom, was over?

In Babylonian Captivity, God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel spoke to Israel and mentioned a third reason He had given Israel the Sabbath:

Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy. – Ezekiel 20:12

By keeping the Sabbath holy, Israel should have remembered that God separated them from other nations and made them a holy people. I believe Jesus referred to this when He told the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Certainly, Jesus was reminding him that he was under obligation to God to be a man of holiness.

The Fulfillment of the Sabbath

The Sabbath signified three great manifestations of God’s power. This day pointed to God’s power in Creation, in Redemption, and in Sanctification. In all of these, the Sabbath was “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). By pointing to God’s power in Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification, the Sabbath pointed to Jesus.

The Sabbath spoke of God’s Creative Power, which He exercised through His Son as He made the world. It is also in Jesus that we become a part of God’s new creation (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). The Sabbath was to remind Israel of their Redemption from Egyptian Bondage. Jesus is not only our Passover; He is also our Redeemer. The Holy Sabbath was to be a sign to Israel that God chose them to be His peculiar people, a holy nation that is different from all other nations around them. In the New Testament, we are told:

Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. – Hebrews 2:11

Everything the Sabbath meant is fulfilled in Christ. Is it any wonder, then, that the Sabbath itself finds fulfillment in Him?

The Christian Sabbath

The Christian Sabbath is not the Jewish observance of the seventh day moved to the first day, though Christian legalists often make it that. Blue laws do not make Sunday a Sabbath of rest. These laws are nothing more than the Jewish Sabbath traditions transferred to a different culture. The rest of the Christian Sabbath is something entirely different.

The Christian Sabbath is the Rest we receive in Christ Himself. In Him, we are a New Creation, Redeemed and Sanctified (made holy).

Israel never did get the Sabbath right, so the Hebrew writer stresses that they did not and will not enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 3:11, 18, 19; 4:3, 5, 6, 8). The generation in the wilderness had the seventh day, but they did not enter the promised rest. Nor did Joshua give them rest in the Promised Land (Hebrews 4:8). Unbelief kept them from God’s rest, though occasional Old Testament glimpses are seen of some who entered rest.

In Jesus’ day, the Jewish leaders were more concerned with the traditions regarding how to keep the Sabbath holy than they were with why they should keep it holy. Their conflict with Jesus came because they forgot (if they ever knew) that the Sabbath pointed toward God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of His people. Jesus tried to help them remember this – but they would have none of it. They thought that if Israel would ever keep one Sabbath perfectly, the Messiah would appear. When Messiah was standing in front of them, they rejected His power and wisdom to cling to their empty traditions.

In the Hebrews passage, we read that “Now we who have believed enter that rest…” (Hebrews 4:3). The next verse adds, “And on the seventh day God rested from all His work.” When we trust God and the gift of His Son as our means of salvation, we also will cease from our works, just as God did from His work of creation. We will quit trying to create our own righteousness to receive the righteousness of God which comes by faith. We will quit trying to deliver ourselves from bondage and will accept the deliverance He gives us through faith. We will quit trying to make ourselves holy and grasp the Sanctification that he brings to us through faith.

This is the rest Jesus promised in the Great Invitation:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

This is the rest remaining for the people of God. It is not a day to observe, but is rest in Jesuswho is the Christian Sabbath.

March 15, 2010 – Part One: The Dilemma


4 Responses

  1. How did Sunday come about and how did it replace God’s seventh-day sabbath?

    “Protestantism, in discarding the authority of the church has no good reasons for its Sunday theory, and ought logically to keep Saturday as the Sabbath.” –John Gilmary Shea, “The Observance of Sunday and Civil Laws for its Enforcement,” in The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Jan. 1883, p. 152

    “Sunday is a Catholic institution, and its claims to observance can be defended only on Catholic principles. From beginning to end of scripture there is not a single passage that warrants the transfer of weekly public worship from the last day of the week to the first.”– Catholic Press Sydney, Australia, August 1900.

    “Is not every Christian obliged to sanctify Sunday and to abstain on that day from unnecessary servile work? Is not the observance of this law among the most prominent of our sacred duties? But you may search the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.”–James Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, 92nd ed., rev., p. 89

    • I’m not sure what your point is. Nothing that I said in my post depends on a Catholic background for worship on the first day of the week. In fact, did I even talk about worship on a particular day of the week? I worship on Sunday, but in that I follow the example of the churches in Troas (Acts 20:7) and Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:1). The point of my post is that the Christian Sabbath is not in the observance of a day (Israel did that in Canaan, but Joshua did not give them true rest). Our Sabbath Rest is in trusting God’s grace for our salvation instead of our own works (Hebrews 3 – 4, passim). Thank you for your comment, even though I’m still not sure what your point is.

  2. Soon after the new testament, a new form of legalism crept in slowly but surely-condemning those who OPTIONALLY observe the shadows as Judeize. Whereas Paul merely called those who made Torah(and by application any additional law as obligatory(and/ or for justification and sanctification) as children.

    I firmly believe old testament practices are neither prescribed nor proscribed(Romans 14 & Colossians 2:16). We as Churches of Christ have falsely criticized those who adopt old testament worship practices as severed from Christ!

    • This is a good observation, and one with which I agree totally. When you look at the church in Jerusalem, especially as depicted in Acts 21 when Paul came from his third journey, you can see this vividly. J.W. McGarvey objected to the point you make and excused Paul’s conduct as the result of “progressive revelation.” He maintained that the separation of the bloody sacrifices of the Temple was, at that time, not yet revealed. Yet, as a friend of mine once observed, “Either Paul was guilty of sin or we have a lot more freedom in Christ than most of us are willing to admit.”
      Jerry Starling

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