Man’s greatest desire and need is rest for the soul. True rest for our souls is fulfilled through Jesus [Matt. 11:28-30]. The purpose of Sabbath: God’s desire for His people to rest their soul and be refreshed in Him is fulfilled in Christ. The Sabbath is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar except Yom Kippur, and is a symbol of the covenant between God and Jews. Yet, it is the only one of the Ten Commandments that is not repeated in the New Testament.

Jesus’ ministry collided with rabbinic interpretation about Sabbath observance. Imagine religious, God-fearing, and professed God-loving people being confronted by Jesus that they were not correctly observing the Sabbath. Would you expect them to receive correction and repent? Would you expect them to reject correction and rebel? What if we are those people, and Jesus wants to challenge our observance of the Sabbath?

Sabbath observance prohibits work generally [Ex. 20:8-10, Gen. 2:2]. Here is the Sabbath principle: set aside significant time to focus on God, worship, and refresh the soul, mind, heart, and body. Sabbath is a joyous feast – a reminder of creation, God’s covenant, and promise to bless those who observe. Jesus invites us to come to Him, take His yoke, and learn from Him. He has promised that if we do we shall find rest for our souls [Matt. 11:28-30]. This signals that Christ is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. Matthew’s gospel demonstrates that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath by recording Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders concerning the Sabbath. The two accounts relate to the disciples handling of grain, and the healing of a man with a paralyzed hand [Matt. 12:1-14].

Jesus was demonstrating that God desires to satisfy your hunger, and your soul’s hunger is satisfied in Christ. Jesus was revealing that God wants to satisfy your need of restoration, and your healing is complete in Christ. Jesus was not simply intending to add to the voluminous rabbinical commentary. In other words, He was not trying to merely clarify a specific issue regarding the handling of grain or the rules regarding healing on Sabbath. He declared that He was greater than the temple and was in fact Lord even of the Sabbath [Matt. 12:6-8]. Thus Jesus has all authority to declare the purposes and practices of Sabbath. Jesus clarified that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath [Mk. 2:27].

Here are three key principles that illuminate how Christians should observe the Sabbath. In other words, here’s how to rest in Christ and be satisfied.

  1. Avoid legalism: The original commandment regarding Sabbath is briefly revealed in a few verses [Ex. 20:8-10]. Well-intentioned God-fearing, religious, and professed God-loving rabbis wanted to help God’s people understand how to apply the principles prohibiting work and keeping the Sabbath holy. Their efforts resulted in thousands of thousands of words, and seemingly countless rules to prescribe how to observe Sabbath in great detail. This created a heavy yoke (obligation to God) that could not be managed, and in fact missed God’s desire for the Sabbath. Legalism (adding obligations to God’s commands) blinds people to the heart of God. Legalism unintentionally opposes God.

I grew up as an observant Jew. Every Friday we observed the Sabbath. We walked several blocks from our apartment to the synagogue. The reason we walked was because the rabbis had decided long ago that making a fire violated the Sabbath prohibition regarding work. A gas combustion engine makes a fire when you start the ignition. Thus we walked, which presumably was more work than driving. The moral is you can’t create a list of rules that create a performance-based approach to Sabbath observance and find rest for your soul. You can’t create a list of behaviors that will constitute a healthy Sabbath observance. For example, imagine that you decide that you will set-aside a day that you unplug from social media, not watch more than one hour of television, and read your Bible for a half-hour and pray for a half-hour. None of those activities is wrong (and they may be great ideas), but you can’t prescribe a healthy Sabbath observance through a list of rules. Undoubtedly, there will be occasion where you fail to perform, and will feel discouraged rather than refreshed. Also, you are likely to focus on accomplishing behaviors on the list rather than focus on Jesus. Thus, you can actually perform the list, and not feel a refreshed soul.

  1. Avoid liberalism: The basis of rest for our souls flows from being reconciled to God because of faith in what Jesus did at the cross. We are saved by grace, but that grace is not license. It could be tempting to think that because of God’s grace that you don’t need to: read the Bible, pray, repent, assemble with other believers, worship, serve, give, share your faith, etc. Yet, liberalism does not produce rest for the souls.

The Sabbath is the only one of the 10 Commandments not repeated in the New Testament. The Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus. Christians don’t need to observe the Sabbath from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown. Nor are they commanded not to work. Believers are given certain liberty regarding Sabbath observance [Col. 2:16-17, Rom. 14: 4-6], but believers are not free to do whatever without consideration of Christ, and what He desires and requires of you.

  1. Avoid neglecting Jesus: Time away from work, and time with Jesus yields an eternal perspective and results in satisfaction and restoration [His rest] [Matt. 11:28-30]. You need rest from work and rest from abiding in Christ. When the soul is at rest the body, mind, and heart can rest. Here is one of the problems, many have embraced the need for rest from work, but failed to embrace the need to set aside significant time to focus on God, worship, and satisfy and restore the soul, mind, heart, and body in Christ.

Escape from work provides temporary rest from burdens upon the body, mind, and heart (emotions), but doesn’t provide rest for the soul. Anecdotally, Christians are pursuing escape from their perceived unrest through hobbies, recreation, sports, leisure, travel, binge watching of shows, etc. Nevertheless, if the soul has not been refreshed in Christ then the rest for the body, mind, and heart is short-lived. Escape from pressures is not the answer, but continually coming to Christ, taking His yoke, and learning from Him through significant time abiding together is the solution.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What are some of the benefits of the Sabbath for man?
  2. What are some obstacles to observing Sabbath?
  3. How do you try to observe a Sabbath rest?