Much evidence exists for the value of regular work breaks and a weekly day off the usual to regain strength and a sense of perspective. Yet there is another aspect about rest that I never thought of before. It is this: God values this day of rest so much that He puts it right up there with His most important commands…
Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (Isaiah 56:1–2)
Primary to Christian living is heeding justice and doing righteousness as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ. God blesses those who do not sit on their hands but are active in doing good things.
We are also to keep those hands from doing any evil, the other side of doing good. No one can be neutral. That is, in the economy of God, I am doing good or doing evil, obeying Him or disobeying Him. There is no middle where anyone can simply do nothing. Even keeping the Sabbath has never been about doing nothing.
I’ve heard about families who forbid their members to work or play on Sunday. They were not allowed any type of exertion or any pleasurable activity. Back in Jesus’ day, the Jews kept Sabbath on Saturday. They were not allowed to light a fire or carry a stick lest that be interpreted as work. Jesus was not impressed with their way of keeping Sabbath. It was instead intended to be a holy day, a day set apart from the norm, reserved for rest and for worship. This holy day is also a picture of the salvation found in Jesus Christ.
The normal ‘week’ of humanity involves toil. This includes work involved with employment, but also work involved with striving to be the right person, impressing others, generally doing the right things to please God and man and ourselves. Whatever our work, it makes us tired, but Jesus came to give us rest from all that.
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)
Jesus hints at how the rest He gives, the Sabbath, points to something beyond a weekly day of rest from physical work. While that physical rest is good for my body and even renews my spirit, there is a greater rest. The writer of Hebrews speaks of it, illustrating that the rest God prescribes was not so much about ceasing to work, but about starting to believe. This rest is entered into by faith.
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:9–11)
The Sabbath of the Old Testament is a road sign that points to the rest in Christ clarified in the New Testament. Jesus brings salvation to those striving to be right with God. But instead of struggling to merit His favor with our work, this blessing is given as a gift. Instead of struggling to heed justice, do righteousness, and keep from evil, the Lord Jesus Christ freely offers rest from all of that, a rest that we enter by faith and by choice.
In Him and in that rest, He also provides the grace and strength to do justly, love righteousness and hate evil. This makes keeping the Sabbath (no matter which day of the week a person selects) more significant than going to church, and certainly more significant than a list of activities to avoid.
Holy God, You know my need for physical rest and the importance of devoting a day to focus on You. You also know my need for spiritual rest, not that I rest from pleasing You with what I do or don’t do, but that I rest in Christ, trusting Him to give me all that I need to do whatever You want me to do, every day of every week for my entire life.