We live in a world that is busy 24/7 365 days a year. In the Western world, people are always busy. But we know from the Bible that God created a day of rest and that He commanded His people to rest from their work as well. Should we as Christians take an intentional day of rest?
Should Christians keep the Sabbath today? Christians are not required by God to keep a Sabbath. We are free in Christ from the law. However, Christians are still meant to honor God as holy and to abide in Christ. The Sabbath is a day where we get to stop what we are doing and take time to rest from our work and spend time in God’s presence.
In this blog, we will explore what it means to keep the Sabbath from the Bible and why it is important.
What Is The Sabbath?
The Sabbath is a day of rest that God created to show mankind how to rest and enjoy Himself.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.Genesis 2:2-3 ESV
In Genesis 2, God sets up a pattern of rest. After the six days of creation, God rested on the seventh day and enjoyed all the fruit of His work.
When He created mankind, He also settled them in the garden that He created so that they could dwell with Him and know Him personally.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.Genesis 2:15 ESV
The Hebrew words for rest are “Sabbat” and “nuakh“. Sabbat means to “stop working” while nuakh means to “dwell” or “settle”.
Often when we think of rest, we think of taking a break from work or going on a vacation. Most Christians take off work on Sundays to honor the Lord and go to church.
This is because our understanding of rest comes from the word, Sabbat, which is the root of our English word for Sabbath, a day of rest.
However, there is also nuakh, which is not only to stop what you are doing but to also settle in and be restful.
This is intentionally setting aside time to spend in your relationship with God and be renewed by His presence, just as you would intentionally set aside time to spend with a friend over coffee or sit by a campfire with your loved ones talking late into the evening.
The Purpose Of A Sabbath
Keeping the Sabbath is an invitation to rest, take a break from work, and spend time with God.
As Christians, we associate the Sabbath with going to church on Sundays to worship God, hearing someone preach the Word of God, and then fellowshipping with other believers.
However, there is much more to the Sabbath than just going to church on Sundays.
God’s purpose and design for creating the Sabbath was so that He could dwell with His people. It was to be a time where people sought God out in a deeper relationship and where people could rest and be satisfied in Him.
But this picture was distorted by the fall.
After God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden He had made, He used to walk with them in the cool of the day. But then, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and their sin separated them from His holy presence.
He could no longer dwell in their midst.
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.Genesis 3:8 ESV
After this, God banishes Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and sends them out into the world. The pattern of rest was forgotten by mankind.
Years later, when God led the Israelites out of Egypt, He commanded them to remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. On this day, they were to do no work, but remember how the Lord rested on the seventh day after doing all of His work.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.Exodus 20:8-11 ESV
God also gave the Israelites a command to have a year of rest every seven years. For six years they would work the land, and then during the seventh year, they were to not work or reap any harvest from the land (see Leviticus 25:1-7).
The purpose of the Lord commanding the Israelites to keep the Sabbath was to reflect on the Lord’s goodness, faithfulness, and provision.
The Sabbath was also created for the Israelites to spend time with God, who dwelt in their midst in the tabernacle.
God wanted His people to be holy just as He is holy and to experience His presence living among them so tangibly so that they could know His rest.
However, since the people were not without sin, they could not dwell fully in the presence of God without getting killed.
Over and over again we see the Israelite people failing to keep both Shabbat and nuakh as they follow other gods and ignored the presence of the living God resting among them.
The Fulfillment Of The Sabbath
Throughout the Old Testament, we never saw a picture of complete rest as God intended for His people. But then we come to the New Testament and meet Jesus.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath.
It was always meant to point to Him. He is the physical presence of God dwelling with us in the flesh, Immanuel. When He came, He showed us what true rest looks like as He restored all things to Himself.
In Matthew 11, we see Jesus telling the Jews,
Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
In this passage, Jesus is redefining what it means to keep the Sabbath. During that time, the Jews were heavily burdened with keeping the Sabbath.
The Pharisees had added on so many laws and rituals that needed to be kept for the Sabbath to be “holy”.
Because of this, the Sabbath became much more legalistic under the law rather than being a time of worshipping God and dwelling in His presence.
Following this passage is a story of Jesus and His disciples walking through a field of wheat on the Jewish Shabbat. The disciples were hungry and began to pick grains of wheat to eat.
When the Pharisees saw this, they rebuked Jesus and told Him that they were breaking the law. Jesus replies by telling them that something greater is here than their understanding of the Sabbath and points to Himself as being Lord of the Sabbath.
In another story following this one, Jesus heals a man who had a withered hand. The Pharisees were surprised and asked Him if it was against the law to heal on the Sabbath. His answer was,
“Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”Matthew 12:11-12 ESV
Contrary to the Pharisees’ understanding, Jesus was not breaking the Sabbath as in Exodus 20:8-11 and Exodus 31:12-17.
Instead, He was pointing to Himself as the fulfillment of what the Sabbath meant as God intended it to be, which is restoring all of mankind to Himself so that we can dwell in perfect unity with Him forever.
Jesus is God with us in the flesh, and through Him, we get to experience the holy and convicting presence of God now and for all eternity.
When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place where God’s presence dwelt tore in two, from top to bottom.
This tearing of the curtain was God’s way of saying that His presence was now being made available to everyone who put their hope and trust in Jesus.
Is Keeping The Sabbath Still Relevant For Christians Today?
Because Jesus has restored us to Himself, offering us true rest and peace, we as Christians are not required by the law to keep the Sabbath.
Instead, we are free in Christ to intentionally set aside time from work to enjoy God’s presence and rest in Him aside from all of the anxieties in this world.
When Jesus came, He became the fulfillment of the Sabbath because He came to restore all things to the Father.
The purpose of the Sabbath for the Israelites was to spend time with God, who dwelt in the tabernacle in their midst, but then Jesus came and fully restored all peoples to God through Himself so that they could live forever in a relationship with Him.
The principles of the Sabbath still apply to us as Christians as Jesus calls us to abide in Him—to dwell with Him and rest in His presence.
If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.John 14:23 ESV
When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives, we invite Him to settle in our hearts permanently and set up a place of peace. Now, daily we can abide in God’s rest.
Jesus also said,
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.John 15:4 ESV
Many times in the Bible we read that Jesus went to a quiet and desolate place to be alone with His Father and pray (see Mark 1:35 and Luke 11:1). He also taught His disciples to take time to rest after they had been in ministry (see Mark 6:31-32).
Jesus was and is a living example of what it looks like to rest and abide in God’s presence. This is what keeping the Sabbath is about. Through Jesus, we can now live in the presence of God and have peace with God, who provides rest for our souls.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.Romans 5:1 ESV
Another great resource on Christians & the Sabbath is this podcast.
Practical Steps for Taking a Sabbath
The Bible does not tell us how to observe the Sabbath as much as it tells us its purpose, for the law was given to the Israelites within a certain time, and the purpose of the law was to point people to Christ.
Now that Christ has come to fulfill the law, we are to look to Him and follow His example.
Keeping the Sabbath is a consistent pattern of rest where we abide in God’s presence and enjoy His creation.
Since Jesus has restored our relationship with God the Father through Himself on the cross, we now have unlimited access to His presence.
As a follower of Jesus, it is important to take a day of rest from work and spend time with the Lord.
The Sabbath can be a time where we as Christians intentionally set aside time to be with Jesus and thank Him for restoring us to rest with the Father and abide in His presence for all eternity.
As a Christian, it is still important to go to church, worship God, read the Bible, pray, and fellowship with other believers. But keeping the Sabbath does not mean that it needs to be on a Sunday.
Here are some examples of how to start implementing a Sabbath into your week:
Try taking one day where you are not going to do any work. Whether that is your job, or spending time on the computer all day, set aside one day a week where you are intentionally going to spend time with the Lord, rest, and enjoy God’s creation.
Don’t get on social media. Take a break and go outside and enjoy the people who are around you that God has placed in your life.
If you are a student, try not to do any homework on that day if possible. This does not mean being late on an assignment.
Do your best to get that done ahead of time so that you can have a day of complete rest.
Find out what is restful to you.
There are many things that we can do to have a day of rest and spend time with the Lord in His presence. For example:
- Studying the Bible
- Listening to Christian worship music
- Playing an instrument
- Taking a walk in nature
- Going for a drive in the country,
- Going to your favorite coffee shop
- Reading a good Christian novel or autobiography
- Watching or listening to a sermon or podcast
- Fellowshipping with friends
- Inviting someone over for dinner
- Eating a meal with family
Another idea for keeping a Sabbath is setting aside one day a week to seek the Lord through prayer and fasting. Is there something on your heart or an area of your life that you want the Lord to speak into?
Taking a day of rest and intentionally seeking out the Lord both personally and with other believers can be greatly beneficial to your growth and walk with Christ.
Here are some other questions to consider as you think about how to practically keep the Sabbath:
- What am I going to do daily to be refreshed?
- What am I going to do weekly to rest?
- What am I going to do monthly to be renewed?
- What am I going to do annually to be revitalized?
God created the Sabbath and greatly values taking the time to rest. As people who are created in God’s image, we also are to value rest and take the time to enjoy God’s presence in our lives.
Keeping the Sabbath is not something we have to do as Christians—it is something that we get to do and have been invited into through Jesus Christ for all of eternity.
Taking a day of rest to stop working and rest in God’s presence is actively abiding in Christ.
How are you going to rest in God today?