One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot over the past few months has to do with the Sabbath. As I’ve been reading through “The Boys of Summer” reading plan, it is a concept that has come up more than once. But the question remains: what role does the Sabbath have in the life of believers? Here’s an answer I recently provided someone who questioned me about this:
Perhaps the most helpful Old Testament verse to me about the Sabbath comes from Deut. 5:12-15:
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. ”
The key verse here is v. 15, in which God commands them to remember their former slavery. The whole idea of the Sabbath observance comes down to an issue of freedom. Dorothy Bass, in a book called Practicing Our Faith, says this: “Slaves can’t take a day off; free people can. When they stop to work every seventh day, the people will remember that the Lord brought them out of slavery, and they will see to it that no one within their dominion, not even animals, will work without respite. Sabbath rest is a recurring testimony against the drudgery of slavery.”
Just as God is not a slave to His own creation and was free to rest on the seventh day, so He desired His people to have the same freedom. When we move into the New Testament, we are no longer bound by the Mosaic Laws. (This is why Jesus responds as he does in Matthew 12). We are still compelled to celebrate our freedom from slavery to sin. This is one of the reasons Christ was so willing to heal on the Sabbath–he adhered to God’s laws, but not the extra-Biblical traditions of the Pharisees (see, for example Luke 14, John 5, and many others).
Paul picks up this idea of freedom from sin in several places, but most notably in Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
So, the Sabbath rest when it was instated as a Law under Moses was designed to celebrate freedom and dependence on God. For believers, it should be a day that we spend worshipping God and serving others, sharing with them the good news that Jesus Christ can set them free from sin as He has set us free.