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

Part 3b: The Sabbath as Christ's Rest for Human Restlessness - Continued

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

Divine Ownership.
The Sabbath constantly reminds believers of their belonging to God, because it is the seal of divine ownership. The meaning of ownership is explicitly expressed both in the Fourth Commandment and in its sister institutions, the sabbatical and the jubilee years. In the Sabbath Commandment, believers are invited to "remember" that "in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them (Ex 20:11; 31:17). As Creator, God is the only legitimate Owner of this world. In the sabbatical and jubilee years, the Israelites were enjoined to relinquish the use of the land and to liberate their fellow beings from poverty and bondage (Lev 25; Deut 15:1-18) in order to acknowledge that Yahweh is the only rightful owner of the land ("The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants"-Lev 25:23, NIV).

As the symbol of divine ownership, the Sabbath enables believers to realize constantly and effectively that this world and their very lives belong to God. This recognition of God's ownership of one's life is indispensable for a total commitment and belonging to God. This is true also at the human level. Husband and wife truly belong to each other when they are willing to say to each other, "I am yours and you are mine."

One of the pitfalls of a life style characterized by husbands, wives, and children working to earn separate incomes (often irrespective of need) is the false sense of independence and separate ownership it fosters. It often leads a member of the family to say: "This is my money, my car, my house. I have worked for it, so I am free to do with it whatever I wish." This deceptive sense of ownership, which sometimes strains and even destroys human relationships, also can weaken the very connection between a person and God. The wealth and abundance of goods which a person may acquire as a result of diligent work can easily induce a false sense of autonomy and independence from God.

Sign of Dependency upon God.
Are not autonomy and independence-living one's own life without any regard to God-the essence of a sinful life? The Sabbath, symbol of divine creatorship and ownership, is designed to aid the believer in overcoming any incipient feeling of self-sufficiency. As the first couple observed Sabbath on their first full day of life, standing before their Creator empty-handed, acknowledging their indebtedness for all, so believers who on the Sabbath cease from their own work acknowledge their indebtedness and dependency upon the workings of God.

To observe the Sabbath means to confess God as Creator and Owner of all life and wealth. It means to recognize that God's total claim over one's life is expressed by consecrating the Sabbath time to God. Ownership implies boundaries; there is to be no trespassing. God has chosen to set in time the boundaries of His dominion. Believers who accept God's claim over the last day of the week-the Sabbath-accepts God's claim over their whole lives and world. Those who accept this particular sign of God's ownership, stopping their work on the Sabbath in order to allow God to work in them, demonstrate and experiences a total belonging to God.

Divine Commitment.
The Sabbath reminds us of our belonging to God because it effectively expresses the mutual commitment that binds God and His people. A mutual belonging relationship can endure only if both parties remember and honor their respective obligations. The Sabbath expresses both divine and human commitments.

The Sabbath stands first of all for divine commitment. God's last creative act was not the fashioning of Adam and Eve but the creation of His rest for mankind (Gen 2:2-3). Such a divine rest has a message for the creation as a whole as well as for human beings in particular. With regard to creation, as noted in Chapter 2, God's rest signifies His satisfaction over the completion and perfection of His creation. With regard to humanity, God's rest symbolizes His availability to His creatures.

By taking "time out" on the first Sabbath to bless the first couple with His holy presence, God committed Himself to be available for His creatures. As aptly expressed by A. Martin, "The promise to which God commits Himself through the Sabbath is to have time for mankind. God is not an idea but a Person who assures all creation of His presence. The Sabbath is the sign of this promise. However, this is not limited solely to the Sabbath time. In the same way as Christ's presence is not limited to the space occupied by the bread, so the Sabbath reminds mankind of the permanence of God's [presence]."41

This divine commitment becomes explicit in the covenant relationship in which the Sabbath is presented as God's assurance of His sanctifying presence among His people (Ex. 31:13; Ezek. 20:12). Human disobedience did not alter God's original commitment. On the contrary, when the estrangement caused by sin occurred, God through the Sabbath guaranteed His total commitment to restore the broken relationship.

Human Commitment.
The Sabbath stands not only for divine but also for human commitment. It signifies not only "that I, the Lord, sanctify you" but also that "you shall keep my sabbaths" (Ex 31:13). By reassuring human beings that God is available and "working until now" (John 5:17) to accomplish the ultimate restoration of this world to His eternal fellowship, the Sabbath invites the believer to assume his responsibility by making himself available for God. By accepting God's invitation to keep the Sabbath with Him, the believer enters into a special relationship with God.

The free offering of time to God is a supreme act of worship because it means acknowledging God with the very essence of human life: time. Life is time. When "time is up" life ceases to be. The offering of the Sabbath time to God enables believers to acknowledge that their whole life, not just one-seventh, belongs to God. It represents the Christians' response to God's claim on their lives. By bringing all routine work to a halt for one day, Christians act out their commitment to the Lord.

Sabbath, then, on the one hand, symbolizes God's commitment to be available for His creatures. On the other hand, Sabbathkeeping expresses the believers' acceptance of the Creator and Redeemer's claim upon their lives. In a sense, the Sabbath is the insignia of the believer, a sort of badge worn at God's request in order to recall God's loyalty to us and our loyalty to God. It is a placard we carry to show the world what we stand for and whom we serve.

During the week a person may feel frustrated by a sense of anonymity. "Who am I?" he may ask, as he lives and moves among the crowd. The answer that often echoes back is, "You are a cog in a machine and a number in the computer." On the Sabbath, the answer is different. The Christian hears the Lord saying, "You may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you" (Ex 31:13).

Being the symbol of divine ownership and sanctification, the Sabbath assures believers of their own divine election and sanctification. By renewing the sense of belonging to our Creator-Redeemer, the Sabbath restores to us a sense of human dignity, identity, peace, and rest to our lives.

(5) The Rest from Social Tensions

True Sabbathkeeping enables us to experience Christ's rest by breaking down social, racial, and cultural barriers. The inability or unwillingness to appreciate and accept another person's skin color, culture, language, or social status is a major cause of much unrest, hate, and tension in our contemporary society. After the Fall, an important function of the Sabbath has been to teach equality and respect for every member of the human society. Every seven days, seven years (sabbatical year), and seven weeks of years (jubilee year), all persons, beasts and property were to become free before God. Genuine freedom leads to equality.

The uneven divisions of Hebrew society leveled out as the Sabbath began. Samuel H. Dresner rightly notes that the equalizing function of the Sabbath has seldom been recognized. "Although one Jew may have peddled onions and another may have owned great forests of lumber, on the Sabbath all were equal, all were kings: all welcomed the Sabbath Queen, all chanted the Kiddush, all basked in the glory of the seventh day. . . . On the Sabbath there were neither banker nor clerk, neither farmer nor hired-hand, neither rich nor poor. There were only Jews hallowing the Sabbath."42

It is noteworthy that Isaiah reassures the outcasts of Israel, specifically the eunuchs and the foreigners of whom the Assyrian and Babylonian wars had produced a great number, that by observing the Sabbath they would share in the blessings of God's covenant people, "for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Is 56:1-7).

Many social injustices could have been avoided in the ancient and modern society if the concern for human rights expressed by the Sabbath (and its sister institutions) had always been understood and practiced. The Sabbath forces upon us the important issues of freedom and humanitarian concern for all, from our son to our servant (Ex 20:10; 23:12; Deut 5:14). By placing such issues before us at the moment of worship-the moment when we are truest to ourselves-the Sabbath cannot leave us insensitive toward the suffering or social injustices experienced by others.

It is impossible on the Sabbath to celebrate Creation and Redemption while hating those whom God has created and redeemed through His Son. True Sabbathkeeping demands that we acknowledge the Fatherhood of God by accepting and strengthening the brotherhood of mankind.

The bond of fellowship which the Sabbath establishes through its worship, fellowship, and humanitarian services influences by reflex our social relationships during the week. To accept on the Sabbath those who belong to ethnic minorities or to a lower social status as brothers and sisters in Christ demands that we treat them as such during the weekdays as well. It would be a denial of the human values and experience of the Sabbath if one were to exploit or detest during the week those whom the Sabbath teaches us to respect and love as God's creatures.

By teaching us to accept and respect every person, whether rich or poor, black or white, as human beings created and redeemed by the Lord, the Sabbath breaks down and equalizes those social, racial, and cultural barriers which cause much tension and unrest in our society and, consequently, makes it possible for the peace of Christ to dwell in our hearts.

(6) The Rest of Redemption

A sixth way in which Sabbathkeeping brings Christ's rest to our lives is by enabling us to experience through the physical rest the greater blessings of divine rest and peace of salvation. The relationship between the Sabbath rest and Christ's redemption-rest was examined in chapter 4. There we saw that from the symbol of God's initial entrance into human time, the Sabbath became after the Fall the symbol of God's promise to enter human flesh to become "Emmanuel-God with us."

The rest and liberation from the hardship of work and from social inequalities which both the weekly and annual Sabbaths granted to all the members of the Hebrew society was understood not merely as a commemoration of the past Exodus deliverance (Deut 5:15), but also a prefiguration of the future redemption-rest to be brought by the Messiah. Christ fulfilled these Old Testament Messianic expectations typified by the Sabbath (cf. Luke 4:21) by identifying His redemptive mission with the release and redemption of the Sabbath, thus making the day the fitting vehicle through which to experience His rest of salvation.

It was on a Sabbath day that, according to Luke 4:16-21, Christ inaugurated His public ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth by quoting a passage from Isaiah 61:1-2 and by claiming emphatically to be the fulfillment of the sabbatical liberation announced in that passage. In His subsequent ministry, Christ substantiated this claim by revealing His redemptive mission especially through His Sabbath healing and teaching ministry (cf. Luke 13:16; Matt 12:5-6; John 5:17; 7:22-23).

Finally, it was on that historic holy Sabbath that Christ completed His redemptive mission ("It is finished"-John 19:30) by resting in the tomb (Luke 23:54-56). Christ's Sabbath rest in the tomb reveals the depth of God's love for His creatures. It tells us that in order to give them life, He was willing to experience not only the limitation of human time at creation but also the suffering, agony, and death of human flesh during the Incarnation.

In the light of the Cross, the Sabbath is the weekly celebration and jubilation of a liberated people. It memorializes not only God's creative but also His redemptive accomplishments for mankind. Thus, "the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God" (Heb 4:9) is not only a physical cessation from work to commemorate God's perfect creation, but also a spiritual entering into God's rest (Heb 4:10) made possible through Christ's complete redemption. The physical act of resting becomes the means through which believers experience spiritual rest. We cease from our daily work on the Sabbath to allow God to work in us more freely and fully, and to bring to our lives His rest of forgiveness and salvation.

(7) The Rest of Service

The Sabbath brings Christ's rest to our lives by providing time and opportunities for service. Inner peace and rest are to be found not in self-centered relaxation but rather in God and other-centered service. The Sabbath provides the time and the reasons for serving God, ourselves, and others. Let us look at each of them.

The Sabbath as Service to God.
Repeatedly, Scripture reminds us that the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord (see Ex 31:15; 16:23; 20:10; Lev 23:3; Mark 2:28). Obviously, we serve God every day, but our everyday service to God differs from the Sabbath service. During the week we offer to God what may be called the Martha type of service in which we acknowledge our Saviour while serving an employer and meting the many demands of life.

On the Sabbath, however, we offer to God what may be called the Mary type of service in which we desist from gainful employment and from secular pursuits in order to fully and wholly honor our Saviour. The deliberate act of resting on the Sabbath for God is a most meaningful act of worship because it signifies our total response to God. It is an act of worship that is not exhausted in the one-hour attendance at the worship service but lasts for twenty-four hours.

To appreciate the profound religious significance of the Sabbath rest as service to God, we need to remember that our life is a measure of time, and the way we spend our time is indicative of our priorities. We have no time for those toward whom we feel indifferent, but we find time for those whom we love. To be willing on the seventh day to withdraw from the world of things in order to meet the invisible God in the quietness of our souls means to show in a tangible way our love, loyalty, and devotion to God. It means being willing to tune out the hundreds of voices and noises that clamor for attention in order to tune in our souls to God and to hear His voice. It means not merely sandwiching in one hour of worship for God in a hectic day spent seeking selfish pleasure or profit, but rather serving God wholly during the Sabbath; it means offering to God not only lip service but the service of our total being.

The Sabbath as Service to Ourselves. Sabbathkeeping means not only service to God but also service to ourselves. The very service we offer God on the Sabbath by resting and worshiping Him is designed not to add strength or power to God but to enable God to strengthen and empower our personal lives.

God does not need our Sabbath rest and worship, nor does He need our weekday work. What He wants is a receptive heart, mind, and soul willing to receive and experience His peace and rest that only can fulfill the deepest longing of our hearts. On the Sabbath we can experience divine peace and rest by taking time to meditate in the climate of stillness and free reflection the day provides.

According to some social analysts, the lack of reflection is a fundamental cause of our restless culture. Many today live intensely active, restless lives without understanding their true selves; thus, they ever sense an inner emptiness and disillusionment. Some often go from one round of activities to another in an attempt to find peace and joy by forgetting their inner tensions. But inner peace and harmony are to be found not in forgetting oneselves by doing an endless round of activities but rather in discovering ourselves by being still.

The psalmist expresses this truth eloquently when he says: "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps 46:10). For many of us, it is difficult to "be still" during the week. The Sabbath, however, by releasing us from the pressure of our daily work, provides us with time and opportunities to restore order and harmony to our fragmented lives. It enables us to restore equilibrium between our bodies and our souls, between the material and spiritual components of our being.

During the week as we work to produce, to sell, to buy, and to enjoy things, we tend to become materially conscious, to view our material wants as more important than our spiritual needs. Our bodies seem to become more important than our souls. The Sabbath is designed to restore the equilibrium between our bodies and our souls.

The story is told of some African workers who were hired to carry pieces of heavy equipment on their backs to a remote post in the interior of Africa. After several days of marching, one day they refused to pick up their burdens and go any further. They sat by the side of the road turning a deaf ear to the appeals of the man in charge. Exasperated, the leader of the expedition asked them, "But why don't you want to go on?" One of the workers replied, "Sir, we are waiting for our souls to catch up with our bodies."

This story well illustrates the function of the Sabbath to give a chance to our souls to catch up with our bodies-to give a change to our souls, through worship and meditation, to be enriched with new moral and spiritual values. This spiritual renewal that comes to us on the Sabbath through worship and meditation enables us to turn a new page in our life, to start a new week with a fresh provision of divine wisdom and grace.

The Sabbath as Service to Others.
The Sabbath provides precious opportunities to serve not only God and ourselves but also others. After helping us to find God and ourselves, the Sabbath helps us to reach out to others. After renewing us with a fresh understanding and experience of God's creative and redemptive love, the Sabbath challenges us to reach out to others, to respond to human needs.

To help us to remember others, the Fourth Commandment gives quite an inclusive list of persons to be remembered on the Sabbath. The list goes from the son to the manservant, from the daughter to the maidservant, and includes also the sojourner and the animals. This humanitarian function of the Sabbath tends to be neglected. We prefer to think of the Sabbath in terms of service to ourselves rather than service to others. Thus, Christ took pains through His Sabbath teaching and ministry to clarify and emphasize this function of the Sabbath commandment.

The Saviour proclaimed the Sabbath to be a day "to do good" (Matt 12:12, NIV), "to save" (Mark 3:4), to liberate people from physical and spiritual bonds (Luke 13:12)-a day to show mercy rather than religiosity (Matt 12:7,8). Through His Sabbath ministry, Jesus taught that the Sabbath is not rules to obey, but people to love; it is the day to share God's blessing with others.

During the week, many pressures may cause us to neglect needy persons. On the Sabbath, as we celebrate God's creative and redemptive love, we are motivated to share our concern and friendship with the needy. The service we render on the Sabbath to needy persons not only honors God but also enriches our lives with a sense of joy and satisfaction.

The unique opportunities the Sabbath provides to serve God by consecrating our time to Him; to serve ourselves by experiencing physical, moral, and spiritual renewal; and to serve others make it possible to experience a larger measure of the Saviour's rest in our lives.

At a time when the Sabbath has come under the crossfire of controversy-being attacked not only by Sundaykeepers but also by some former Sabbatarians-it is reassuring to know that there are many Christians who are rediscovering the Sabbath as God's gift to the human family.

Our survey has shown that an increasing number of scholars, religious organizations, and Christians in general are rediscovering the meaning and value of the Sabbath for their lives. These Christians are discovering that the values of the Sabbath as a day for spiritual, physical, moral, and social renewal are essential for revitalizing the religious experience of millions of Christians today.

Rediscovering the Sabbath in this cosmic age provides the basis for a cosmic faith, a faith which embraces and unites creation, redemption, and final restoration; the past, the present, and the future; man, nature, and God; this world and the world to come. It is a faith that recognizes God's dominion over the whole creation and human life by consecrating to Him the seventh day; a faith that fulfills the believer's true destiny in time and eternity; a faith that allows the Savior to enrich our lives with a larger measure of His presence, peace, and rest.


Chapter 7, Part 3a


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

41. A. Martin, "Notes sur le Sabbat," Foi et Vie 5 (1975), p. 18.
42. Samuel H. Dresner, The Sabbath (New York, 1970), p. 43.

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