Christ / August 1, 2006

The Sabbath: Understanding God’s Call to Rest, Part 1

Can you name each of the 10 commandments? If we were to have a pop quiz right now on naming the 10 commandments, what would you score? 100? 80? 50? 20? During evangelism opportunities, I have asked a number of people if they can name each of the 10 commandments. Few can actually do it. While the commandments which they are able to name often vary, one thing is usually constant–they rarely mention commandment #4–Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

‘Remember the Sabbath’ is the forgotten commandment. You can see it in the way our culture lives. I remember one recent Christmas Day which happened to fall on a Sunday. Cami and I were driving from my family’s celebration to her family’s house on this Christmas morning. What we saw shocked us–while we expected for the roads to be deserted and for stores to be closed, we saw plenty of cars on the road and rarely a gas station that wasn’t opened for business. Though I knew this before, it was made clear to me then that America is more concerned with making money than remembering the Sabbath.

But what should we as Christians think about the Sabbath? How does the Sabbath fit into the big picture of what God is doing? Does it apply to us today? If it does, how are we supposed to live that out? These are the types of questions I want to explore as we deal with the sabbath: understanding God’s call to rest. We will look at the Sabbath from three perspectives–what does the Sabbath mean to God? What does the Sabbath mean to Israel? And what does the Sabbath mean to us as New Testament believers?

What does the Sabbath mean to God? The Sabbath declares the sufficiency of God in creation and redemption. I remember taking math quizzes in elementary school. When smart students would finish early, they would often make a pronounced indication that they had completed the quiz by slamming their pencil down, making a big sigh and adjusting themselves in the seat to a more comfortable position. All of this was in an effort to make the fact that they were finished clear to others.

While these kids acted from selfish, competitive motives, their actions shed light on to what the Sabbath declares about God. The Sabbath is the indicator that God, in all His sovereign self-sufficiency, has completed the work of creation and redemption. It signals that His work is complete. Let’s notice some important things about God and the Sabbath.

God creates the Sabbath

Genesis 2:1-3 tells us that God finished all of His creation work in six days and used the seventh day to rest. In fact, God blessed this Sabbath and set it apart as holy from all of the other days of creation because He did no work.

Why did God create the Sabbath? Did He need a cosmic water break? Was He tired? God created the sabbath not because He needed a break from the rigors or universe-creation but as a means of declaring that the work was finished. He wasn’t resting in order to return to work but He was resting in order to celebrate His work.

The Sabbath was the pinnacle of creation.The culmination of creation was not man but the Sabbath because man is not ultimate but God. The Sabbath is part of God’s created order that existed before the Fall. It establishes a precedent and a rhythm for His creation to follow.

God commands the Sabbath

God did not just create the Sabbath. He commands the Sabbath. As part of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:8-11), remembering the Sabbath was given to Israel as one of the primary instructions to orient their lives around. The purpose of the Sabbath, as with all of God’s laws, is to teach us more about Himself so that we can live in accordance with His character.

As the United States was established, our founding fathers developed the Constitution as the basis for defining the laws of the land. There is no question that the things included in the Constitution reflect the values and principles of the men who created it. It would make no sense for the Constitution to conflict with their character. So it is with God.

The Law is the outflow of the character of God. His laws reveal His character. What He demands reveals who He is.

So what does the command to ‘Remember the Sabbath’ reveal about God? It reminds us of His completed work. God did not just command Israel to observe the Sabbath because the rest would be useful. He commanded it as a means of building dependence on Himself and establishing trust. The command of the Sabbath declares God’s sufficiency in provision. Furthermore, it foreshadows the completion of the Sabbath that is found in Christ.

God completes the Sabbath

God doesn’t just create the Sabbath and command the Sabbath. He completes the Sabbath. What was begun on the seventh day of creation is now completed in Christ. In creating the Sabbath, God declared His sufficiency in creation. In commanding the Sabbath, He declared His sufficiency in provision. In completing the Sabbath, He declares His sufficiency in redemption.

Hebrews 4:9 points out that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” What is this Sabbath rest? It is Christ Himself. Jesus claims this in Matthew 11:28-30 when He says, “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.”

The rest that God foreshadowed through the commandment of the Sabbath to Israel is now completed in Christ. The temporary Sabbath that Israel failed to experience based on their unbelief has now become an eternal Sabbath that anyone can experience based on their faith.

Understanding the Sabbath from God’s perspective will provide a much more meaningful discussion in the coming days when we look at what the Sabbath means to Israel and what the Sabbath means to us.



Bookmark and Share




Previous Post
How to Avoid a Blogosphere Scandal
Next Post
Evolution in Education







10 Comments

Aug 01, 2006

Good post Phillip. One clarification though: You asked what it means for us who are “New Testament believers.” Did you mean New Covenant believers, because we are OT believers as well. I believe that the whole OT pointed to and is fulfilled in Christ and His church, and that Christ and the gospel are central to all of Scripture. Thanks for your post – I look forward to more.


Aug 01, 2006

Oren, great clarification. I meant New Covenant believers who are living in New Testament times. I am on board with all that you said.


Aug 01, 2006

Wow, I guess I never really thought of the Sabbath as being fulfilled in Christ. To be honest, the Sabbath is something I have never really understood. It seems to me tany people practically work out their Sabbath’s by doing two basic things. First, the Sabbath means going to church, and second, the Sabbath means getting an afternoon nap, or maybe watching the game. But that thinking never made sense to me.

Question: what do you make of the statement, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath?”


Aug 01, 2006

Trav, we will talk about “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” in part 3 when we discuss the perspective of the sabbath of believers in NT times


Aug 01, 2006

I enjoyed the post, challenging, I have a question though pertaining to the Sabbath. What do you think of going out to eat at a restraunt after church on the Sabbath?


Aug 01, 2006

[…] The Sabbath is Fulfilled in Christ.  In other, more interesting news, Phillip Bethancourt posted a very thought provoking article on the Sabbath today.  Having a biblical understanding of the Sabbath is something I am almost certain I don’t have, and Phillip helped me see that today.  Go check it out, and be encouraged! […]


Aug 01, 2006

Caleb, the short answer to your question is…yes, it is fine to go to eat at a restaurant on a Sunday. I will develop the rationale explaining that more in part 3, so check back.


Aug 02, 2006

[…] In part 1, we discussed God’s perspective of the Sabbath…He created it, He commanded it, and He completed it. In part 2, we will look at Israel’s perspective of the Sabbath. What does the Sabbath mean to Israel? […]


Aug 03, 2006

[…] In part 1, we discussed God’s perspective of the Sabbath…He created it, He commanded it, and He completed it. In part 2, we discovered that the Sabbath was a sign for Israel pointing them towards God and distinguishing them from other nations. In part 3, we will deal with some of the issues surrounding new covenant believers keeping the Sabbath. Then, in part 4, we will look at our perspective of the Sabbath as new covenant believers. What issues do people raise about the idea of new covenant believers keeping the Sabbath? […]


Aug 04, 2006

[…] In part 1, we discussed God’s perspective of the Sabbath…He created it, He commanded it, and He completed it. In part 2, we discovered that the Sabbath was a sign for Israel pointing them towards God and distinguishing them from other nations. In part 3, we dealt with some of the issues surrounding new covenant believers keeping the Sabbath. Now, in part 4, we will look at our perspective of the Sabbath as new covenant believers. How should we view the Sabbath today? […]



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



More Story
How to Avoid a Blogosphere Scandal
An interesting series is on the way from LaShawn Barber guiding others on how to avoid a blogosphere scandal. (HT: Challies)