The Sabbath Under Crossfire:
A Biblical Analysis of Recent Sabbath/Sunday Developments

Part 3a: The Sabbath as Christ's Rest for Human Restlessness

Index | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6

Part 1
The Rediscovery of the Sabbath by Sunday Sabbatarians
Part 2a
The Rediscovery of the Seventh-Day Sabbath
Part 2b
The Rediscovery of the Seventh-Day Sabbath - Continued
Part 3a
The Sabbath as Christ's Rest for Human Restlessness
Part 3b
The Sabbath as Christ's Rest for Human Restlessness - Continued


Rediscovering the Sabbath is not just a matter of accepting the Sabbath commandment by resting and worshipping on the seventh day. It also involves learning how through the Sabbath, we can enter into God's rest (Heb 4:10). Our tension-filled and restless lives today more than ever before need the rest and renewal the Sabbath is designed to provide. In this, the conclusion of this book, it is well for us to reflect on how the Sabbath can enable us to experience the awareness of Christ's presence, peace, and rest in our lives. So far I have endeavored to reaffirm the validity of the principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping by refuting the major attacks launched against this divine institution. At this juncture, by way of conclusion, I would like to focus on the physical and spiritual value of the Sabbath for our lives.

The Search for Inner Rest and Release.
We live in a tension-filled and restless society where many people try to work off tension by joining athletic clubs, and meditation groups, or by taking tranquilizers, drugs, and alcohol. Some seek release from their tension by taking vacations to some fantasy island. Experience tells us, however, that even fabulous vacations or magic pills provide at best only a temporary relief and not a permanent quieting of inner tension and restlessness.

True rest is not to be found in places or through pills, but rather in the right relationship with a Person, the Person of the Savior who says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28, NIV). Perfect rest and peace are not a human achievement but a divine gift. It is an experience that comes to us when we allow Christ to harmonize our lives ("I will give you rest"-Matt. 11:28).

Perfect rest does not come about accidentally but is the result of an harmonious accord of the physical, mental, and spiritual components of our being. Can we by ourselves harmonize these three, that is, our body, mind and soul? We can stretch our tired body on a bed, but if our mind and soul are troubled, we have not rest but agitation, tension, or even nightmares. As the various components of an orchestra need the direction of a skillful maestro to blend them into harmonious music, so the physical, mental and spiritual components of our being need the direction of our supreme Master in order for us to experience harmonious rest and peace.

Augustine expresses this truth eloquently in the opening paragraph of his autobiography entitled Confessions: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee." How can we enable Christ to harmonize and quiet our restless lives? Our study shows that God gave mankind before and after the Fall a vital institution, the Sabbath day-a day specifically designed to free us from our daily work in order to allow God to work more fully and freely in our lives (Heb 4:10).

To grasp more fully this important function of the Sabbath, we now consider, by way of conclusion, seven significant ways in which proper Sabbathkeeping enables the Savior to bring rest and peace to our restless lives.

(1) The Rest of Creation

The Sabbath brings Christ's rest to our souls by constantly reassuring us that our lives have meaning, value, and hope because they are rooted in God from creation to eternity. We may call this "Christ's creation rest" for the human soul. It is the rest that Christ brings to those thinking persons who are searching for meaning and value in their lives-to those who wonder if their existence as well as that of the whole cosmos is the result of chance or of choice, that is, of a merciless fate or of a merciful God. To these persons, through the Sabbath, Christ offers His restful assurance that their ancestral roots are good because they are rooted in God Himself (Gen 1:26-27) and that their existence has value because it is not the product of chance but of a personal creation and redemption by a loving God.

This reassuring message of the Sabbath is found in the creation story where on and through the seventh day God declares His creation "finished" and "done." Three verbs characterize God's assessment of His creation on the seventh day as being fully "done" (repeated thrice), "finished," or "created" (Gen 2:2-3). Another three verbs describe how God celebrated His magnificent accomplishments: "He rested . . . blessed . . . and hallowed" the seventh day. These verbs emphasize that on and through the seventh day God proclaimed the good news that His creation was "finished" and fully "done." To dramatize the importance of such glad tidings, twice we are told in Genesis 2:2-3 that God "rested" in recognition of the fact that everything was very good and there was no need of further improvement.

The Sabbath invites believers to renew their faith in the perfect Creator by delighting in the beauty of His creation. To celebrate God's perfect creation on the Sabbath means to experience Christ's rest of creation. It means to rejoice in the divine assurance that human existence, in spite of its apparent futility and tragedy, has value because it proceeds from God and moves toward a glorious divine destiny.

Augustine expresses this truth poetically: "Thy resting on the seventh day after the completion of Thy works foretells us through the voice of Thy Book, that we also, after completing our works through Thy generosity, in the Sabbath of eternal life shall rest in Thee."34 To celebrate the Sabbath in this restless world means to experience a foretaste of the future rest and peace that awaits God's people in the world to come; it means to rest in the assurance that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6).

Resting as if All Work Were Done.
To celebrate the completion and perfection of God's original creation it is important to rest on the Sabbath as if all our work were done. This may sound unrealistic since we often find ourselves at the end of a work week frustrated over unfinished tasks. In spite of our best efforts, we often accomplish during the six days only part of what we set out to do.

A vital function of the Sabbath is to give a sense of "completeness" to our incomplete work and life. A rabbinical comment on Exodus 20:9 ("Six days you shall labor, and do all your work") hints at this function of the Sabbath: "Is it possible for a human being to do all his work in six days? Does not our work always remain incomplete? What the verse means to convey is: Rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done. Another interpretation: Rest even from the thought of labor."35

True, the Sabbath often seems to arrive earlier than expected. We may feel disappointed with ourselves because of unfinished tasks. This is a forceful reminder of our human finiteness and limitations. By enabling us to detach ourselves from our daily tasks, the Sabbath gives a sense of completion to the work of the previous six days and to life itself. In some weeks, the result of our labor seems greater than in others, but it is a fact that whether our best efforts have produced much or little, during each Sabbath God invites us to celebrate His creative and redemptive accomplishments on our behalf by entering into His Sabbath rest. He invites us to interrupt our daily routine and rest as if all our work were done in order that we may enter into the joys of His "finished" creation and salvation (Gen. 2:2; John 19:30).

It would be impossible on the Sabbath to praise God for His marvelous accomplishments while living under a deep sense of personal failure and frustration because of work that remains undone. Thus, on and through the Sabbath, God invites us to view our work in the light of His accomplishments. He tells us, "Whether your hard work has produced little or much, rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done, because My grace is sufficient for you." The sense of completeness that the celebration of the Sabbath brings to our life gives meaning and direction to what otherwise would be a continuous, meaningless, and linear existence.

Renewing Faith in a Perfect Creator.
We celebrate on the Sabbath the perfection of God's original creation by renewing our faith in God as our perfect Creator. Faith in God as Creator is the cornerstone of Christian beliefs. The first article of the "Apostles' Creed" which most Christians recite and/or accept, states: "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth-creatorem caeli et terrae." Such a belief is implied in the opening declaration of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1).

To celebrate the Sabbath means to subscribe to this fundamental biblical teaching by confessing, not merely with words but also with corresponding actions, belief in God as the perfect Creator. It means to recognize that the existence of this world itself is an absolute gift from God. George Elliott eloquently writes: "Against atheism, which denies the existence of a personal God; against materialism, which denies that this visible universe has its roots in the unseen; and against secularism, which denies the need to worship, the Sabbath is an eternal witness. It symbolically commemorates that creative power which spoke all things into being, the wisdom which ordered their adaptations and harmony, and the love which made, as well as pronounced, all 'very good.' It is set as the perpetual guardian of man against that spiritual infirmity which has everywhere led him to a denial of the God who made him, or to the degradation of that God into a creature made with his own hands."36

Skepticism can be an outgrowth of forgetfulness.
A person who neglects the Sabbath, the memorial of creation, is liable to forget and become skeptical about the God of creation. This can be true also in human relationships. I was engaged to be married for four years, which to me seemed like an eternity because much of the time my fiancée and I were separated by an ocean. During the prolonged separation, I was tempted to forget and to doubt who my fiancée was and how much she loved me. How did I overcome my incipient skepticism? I would take time to read and reread her loving letters and to look at her pictures. That helped me to overcome my incipient skepticism and to renew my commitment to her. In a similar fashion the Sabbath provides a weekly opportunity to overcome any incipient skepticism by inviting us to "remember" God as our perfect Creator.

Through the Sabbath, God invites us week after week to hear and to celebrate His perfect creation by contemplating His handiwork and thus renewing our faith in Him as our perfect Creator. Because this vital function of the Sabbath meets a continuing human need-greater today than ever before-no Sabbath discontinuance can ever be sanctioned or ever be legitimately contemplated. Thus, any human attempt to invest another day of the week with the symbolic-memorial function of the creation-Sabbath would mean to disregard the event for which the day stands.

Delighting in God's Creation.
A tangible way in which we renew our faith in God as our perfect Creator on the Sabbath is by taking delight in the beauty of His creation. The Sabbath invites us not to prostitute the world but to delight in its beauty. It invites us to look above and beyond the cloud of sin and suffering that darkens our world and recapture in thought the astonishment, the joy, and the admiration experienced by the first human pair.

The Sabbath offers us the opportunity to look at the world through the window of eternity. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Sabbath has been regarded as a day of joy and jubilation. Isaiah calls the Sabbath "a delight," and a day to "take delight in the Lord" (Is 58:13-14). To ensure the festive atmosphere of the Sabbath, the Jews prepared themselves for the event with special clothing, meals, and a proper frame of mind. No fasting was permitted and even the seven-day mourning period was to be interrupted.37

Everything is more beautiful and delightful on the Sabbath. The divine services seem richer, the people friendlier, the food more delicious, ladies, gentlemen, and children more beautiful internally and externally. The reason is that the Sabbath offers not only the time but also the spiritual resources to perceptibly enjoy God, people, and things. By renewing faith in a perfect Creator and Redeemer, the Sabbath enables the believer to view things not merely as they are but as they must have been originally and as they ultimately will be again. It is like putting on for 24 hours a pair of spectacles that make flat pictures look three-dimensional.

Christians who love the Lord of the Sabbath find the Sabbath to be a day of joyful celebration of God's marvelous accomplishments in the world and in their personal life. When Friday evening comes, they gratefully say: "Thank God it is Sabbath!" They rejoice at the thought that another Sabbath has come-a day to taste and know that the Lord is good; a day to thank God for the accomplishments of a week that is past; a day to renew one's faith in and commitment to the perfect Creator and Savior; a day to sing the Psalmist's Sabbath song, "Thou, O Lord, hast made me glad by thy work; at the works of thy hands I sing for joy. How great are thy works, 0 Lord!" (Ps 92:4-5-A Song for the Sabbath).

(2) The Rest of Divine Presence

Proper Sabbathkeeping brings Christ's rest to our lives by enabling us to experience the awareness of His divine presence. It is Christ's presence that brought stillness to the stormy lake of Galilee (Matt 8:23-27) and it is also the assurance of His presence that brings peace and stillness to troubled lives. This is basically the meaning of the holiness of the Sabbath which is frequently stated in the Bible.

We have found that the holiness of the Sabbath consists in the special manifestation of God's presence through this day in the life of His people. Believers who on the Sabbath lay aside their secular concerns, who turn off their receivers to the many distracting voices in order to tune in and listen to the voice of God, experience in a real sense the spiritual presence of Christ. The heightened sense of the nearness of Christ's presence experienced on the Sabbath fills the soul with joy, peace, and rest.

Relationships, if they are to survive, need to be cultivated. This is true both at a human and a human-divine level. I vividly recall the A, B, C privilege-system that governed the social relationships among students of the opposite sex at Newbold College, England, where I received my college education. A couple with an "A" status was entitled to a weekly encounter of about one hour in a designated lounge. However, those couples who qualified for a "B" or a "C" privilege could officially meet only biweekly or monthly. Frankly, I did my best to maintain the "A" status because I viewed those brief weekly encounters with my fiancée as indispensable to the survival of our relationship.

The Sabbath is in a sense a special weekly encounter with our Creator-Redeemer. This encounter lasts not merely one hour but a whole day. It is a sobering thought that to enter into the holy Sabbath day means in a special sense to enter into the spiritual presence and communion of the Lord. Believers who cultivate Christ's presence during the Sabbath time and activities experience His rest and peace every day of their lives.

An Experience of God's Presence.
I vividly recall the many Sabbaths I spent in the town of Fano, Italy, worshiping God alone in the seclusion of my room or out in nature. At that time I was a teenager selling Christian literature during the summer to earn a scholarship. During the weekdays, I had to face considerable hostility from various quarters-from the local religious and civil authorities who constantly threatened to punish me for distributing unauthorized literature; from superstitious customers who feared being contaminated by the unendorsed literature I was selling; and from my relatives who gave me hospitality but viewed me as a heretic to be rescued from hellfire.

When Friday night arrived, I rejoiced at the thought that for one day I could forget the hostile world around me and enter into the peace of God's presence. Since no fellow believers lived in the immediate area, I would worship God alone, but not lonely, in the privacy of my room or in an open field. So the Sabbath has been for me, as for countless believers throughout history, a truly portable sanctuary-a day to forget human misery through the experience of the closeness of God's presence.

The experience of God's presence on the Sabbath reminds us of the purpose of Christ's coming into this world to become "Emmanuel, God with us." The Incarnation fulfills blessing and sanctification of the Sabbath, which, we have seen, consist in God's assurance to His creatures of abundant life through His presence. What God promised to His creation by blessing and sanctifying the Sabbath, He fulfilled by sending Christ into this world to become "Emmanuel-God with us."

"How often have we heard," writes Herbert W. Richardson, "that Jesus Christ abolished the Sabbath so that men may be truly free! But this suggestion is sheer theological nonsense. The work of Jesus Christ cannot contradict the purpose for which God created the world. To assert such a contradiction, by explicitly or implicitly opposing the Sabbath, is to reiterate the old Gnostic claim that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are two different 'Gods.'"38

Richardson continues by rightly affirming that "the Sabbath Day was created by God, so that He Himself might enter into the world and sanctify it by His personal presence."39 God's sanctification of the Sabbath represents a most telling revelation of God's concern for this world. It tells that God so loved this world, not only by entering into the limitation of human time on the seventh day of creation to bless this world with His Holy presence, but also by entering into the limitations of human flesh at the Incarnation to become again "Emmanuel-God with us."

(3) The Rest from Competition

True Sabbathkeeping brings Christ's rest to our lives by releasing us from the pressure to produce and achieve. The pressure that our competitive society exerts on us can cause untold frustration. Competition can dishearten, dehumanize, and demoralize a person. It can turn friends into foes.

In order to keep up with the Joneses, some Christians today, like the Israelites of old, choose to "moonlight" on the Sabbath (Ex 16:27), hoping to secure added income and goods. But Scripture points to the senselessness of such an effort when it pointedly says "they found none" (Ex 16:27). That is to say, one misses obtaining both the material and the spiritual manna by doing extra work on the Sabbath, consequently finding restlessness and dissatisfaction.

The Sabbath and Gratefulness.
The Sabbath teaches our greedy hearts to be grateful-to stop for one day looking for more and to start instead to gratefully acknowledge the blessings received. A person who learns gratitude experiences inner peace, inasmuch as a grateful heart is the abiding place of Christ and of His peace.

The Sabbath rest teaches that the chief end of life is not, as advocated by Marxism, to work to transform nature, but to rest to enjoy God's presence and creation. The Sabbath rest also teaches freedom from things. One of the most difficult lessons to learn is how to have things without becoming addicted to them-how to live with people without losing one's independence. On the Sabbath, by abstaining from the production or purchase of goods, we learn detachment and independence from matter and attachment to and dependence on the Spirit.

By freeing us from work, the Sabbath makes us free for God. It invites us, to use Aquinas' happy expression, to have "a day of vacation with God"-ad vacandum divinis."40 How sour the weekdays would be without the Sabbath vacation with God and fellow beings! Weekdays without the Sabbath are like spaghetti without sauce or food without salt. As a spicy sauce gives gusto to spaghetti, so a joyful Sabbath radiates a festive gleam to every day of the week.

By restricting temporarily our productivity, the Sabbath teaches us not to compete but to commune with one another. It teaches us to view fellow beings not quantitatively but qualitatively, that is, not in terms of their income but in terms of their human worth. If Mr. Jones lives on social security, during the week we may be tempted to think of him in terms of his small income. On the Sabbath, however, as we worship and fellowship with Mr. Jones, we appreciate not the little that he makes but the much that he offers to the church and community through his Christian witness and example.

By releasing us from the pressure of competition and production, the Sabbath enables us to appreciate more fully the human values of people and the beauty of things. This free and fuller appreciation of God, people, and things brings joy, harmony, and rest to our lives.

(4) The Rest of Belonging

Genuine Sabbathkeeping brings Christ's rest to our lives by reassuring us of our belonging to Him. At the root of much human restlessness is the sense of alienation and estrangement. The sense of not-belonging to anyone or anything will cause a person to feel bitter, insecure, and restless. On the contrary, in a relationship of mutual belonging, one experiences love, identity, security, and rest. To enable human beings to conceptualize and experience a belonging relationship with Him, God has given helpful signs and symbols such as the rainbow, the circumcision, the Passover lamb and blood, the bread and wine, and the Sabbath.

The Sabbath occupies a unique place among these various God-given covenant signs or symbols, because it has functioned as the symbol par excellence of the divine election and mission of God's people. It is unique in its origin, because it is the first sign given by God to reveal His desire to fellowship with His creatures. It is unique in its survival, because it has survived not only the Fall but also the Flood, the Egyptian slavery, the Babylonian exile, the Roman anti-Sabbath legislation, the French and Russian temporary introduction of the ten-day week, blank-day calendar proposals (disrupting the weekly cycle), antinomianism, and modern secularism. The day still stands for God's people as the symbol of God's gracious provision of salvation and of belonging to Him.


Chapter 7, Part 2b
Chapter 7, Part 3b


Notes to Chapter 7, Part 3a
Dies Domini: Pope John Paul II's Pastoral Letter regarding the Sabbath.

34. Augustine, Confessions XIII, 36.
35. Quoted in Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (New York, 1952), p. 32.
36. George Elliot, The Abiding Sabbath (New York, 1884), pp.17-18.
37. For a description of the positive celebration of the Sabbath in the Jewish home, see Nathan Barack, A History of the Sabbath (New York, 1965), pp. 89-105; Abraham E. Millgram, The Sabbath: The Day of Delight (New York, 1944), pp. 230-233, 395-437.
38. Herbert W. Richardson, Toward an American Theology (New York, 1967), p. 130.
39. Ibid.
40. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (New York, 1948), Part II-II, Question 122, 4, 1, vol. 3, p. 701.

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Written by: Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University