Sabbath. What comes to your mind when you think of that word?
Maybe you recall it as one of the ten commandments, or it sounds like some churchy gibberish that you’ve heard in passing but never quite understood. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, the practice of Sabbath was made for you.
Here’s the truth about Sabbath: It’s a practice that goes back to the very beginning, creation and it’s a practice God put into place FOR His people.
But before we get to how Sabbath applies to our life today, it’s important to remember where Sabbath originated.
What does Sabbath actually mean? The Hebrew word for Sabbath is Shabbat and means to cease, stop or rest.
The first time we see the word “Shabbat” in the Bible is in Genesis 2. After spending six days creating, God “shabbat.” Genesis 2:2-3 says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
If you’re familiar with the Creation story you know that as the story unfolds it goes from peaceful rest with Adam and Eve walking with God in the cool of the day, to chaos.
(If you’re not familiar with the creation story click here to read it before we keep going).
Here’s a quick summary. In Eden, God was WITH Adam and Eve. He also gave them dominion over the entire creation. Like kings and queens entrusted with God’s creation, Adam and Eve could work the land to produce a harvest, they were the crown of creation and all of creation was made for them to steward and enjoy. God also gave them boundaries, He commanded them not to eat from a particular tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That’s where the enemy enters the story. The enemy is the father of lies (John 8:34) and he tempts Adam and Eve to think that by not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that God was withholding something from them. So, Adam and Eve ate.
Just like that, Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness and hid from God. And God, being completely holy, could no longer be with Adam and Eve because of their unrighteousness. So Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden.
Since that moment, God got back to work, not creating, but pursuing, rescuing and redeeming. He began a rescue mission for His people, to bring them back to relationship with Him.
The story continues in Exodus when God gave Moses the ten commandments. While walking through the wilderness God gives the Israelites ten commandments that represent how they are to live and are meant to foreshadow the life they will live in the promised land. One of those commandments is to practice Sabbath.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 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)
Since those commandments were first given, Jewish people have been practicing Sabbath every Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown as a way of looking forward to the hope of future rest.
When Jesus arrived on the scene He identified himself as “Lord of the Sabbath.” What does that mean? It means Jesus claims that He is the only way to get back to the eternal rest of Eden. It is through Him that we receive the rest that the Sabbath looks towards because He is the only one who can return us back to Eden.
“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)
Now that we’ve looked at what Sabbath means, Biblically, it’s time we ask ourselves what it means for us.
As followers of Jesus, we practice the Sabbath for the same reason the Israelites did:
- As a reminder of the hope of rest that is to come when Jesus returns.
- As a reset and reminder that God is God and we are not. It is an act of surrender and trust that He is who He says He is and He is in control, not us.
In 2021, there isn’t a more helpful reminder than the reminder that God is God and we are not.
In an age that idolizes productivity, consumerism and independence, a physical practice of ceasing from work and resting is what it takes to break the cycle of work.
It’s funny isn’t it? You scroll Instagram on a Sunday and you see the hashtag #selfcaresunday trending or you see commercials for apps of all kinds that are designed to help people learn to relax. Culture recognizes the human need to rest and is longing for it, but what culture is attempting to create is a rest that can only be found in Jesus.
Sabbath is not just about taking a hot bath and reading your favorite book instead of working (although that’s totally acceptable). Sabbath is meant to reset and realign your heart through recognizing who you are in relation to God and His creation. It’s meant to be a time of worship, prayer and communion with other believers that transfers control of your life back to God. It is spending time in God’s creation by going on a hike or sitting on your patio, eating a meal with your friends or family, taking an intentional break from the mindless scroll of social media, and diving into God’s word and asking Him to lead you through it. Sabbath directly combats the fear of not having enough time, it reminds us that our value comes from what Jesus accomplished on the Cross and it teaches our hearts to find satisfaction and fulfillment in the one person capable of holding our entire being, God Himself. In a digital age where our minds consume information at a rapid pace, Sabbath allows space to be.
Practically speaking, what does it mean to Sabbath?
Just like in the Garden of Eden, there are boundaries for Sabbath. There are certain things that you should try not to do, like work or shop and there are certain things that would be good for you to do, like spend time with God through scripture and prayer. Besides those things, your Sabbath should be something that you and God dream up. Ask Him what He would have you do with your Sabbath. Ask yourself what brings you joy and honors the Lord. From there, simply start practicing.
Have a plan of what you want your Sabbath to look like. Pick a time, whether it’s sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday or a random day during the week. Then, get what you need to get done, done, in order to actually rest on your designated day. Go grocery shopping, clean your house, finish your homework, etc.
The greatest mistake of the Pharisees in regard to Sabbath was that they made it religious. If you Sabbath just to say you Sabbath you’re probably missing the point. Like all things with Jesus, Sabbath is about the heart. Let your Sabbath grow and evolve with you as your stages of life, interests and passions change. Keep the priorities of Sabbath simple and have fun with the rest.
Remember the words of Jesus, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). God made Sabbath FOR you. Look forward with hopeful anticipation to the day when you too can walk in the cool of the day with God himself and live in eternal rest.