I was recently asked to share my views on the Sabbath. As I mentioned previously, this is a very complex issue, and there are many intelligent people with convincing arguments on both sides of this issue. Personally, I’ve changed my mind several times, so I can sympathize with both sides. If the topic interests you, I’d highly recommend Five Views of Law and Gospel, by Zondervan, which treats this topic broadly (setting the Sabbath within the overall framework of Old Testament law).
To begin, the purpose of raising this issue here in this course is to demonstrate how the Old Testament and New Testament relate to each another. The Sabbath serves as a prime example of how our interpretation of one influences (or is influenced by) the other. For that reason, you’re not expected to solve this issue within a few days, but you are expected to see how the OT and NT interrelate.
That being said, my thoughts would include the following:
- The Sabbath is one of the The Commandments. In my view, this sets the Sabbath apart from ceremonial and civil law, since it is placed within the context of moral law. Because we would affirm all of the other 10, we should be extremely careful about tossing it out.
- Within the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is set aside not merely as a day, but as a statement of our individual and communal trust in Yahweh. Sabbath is more than a 24-hour time period. It is a statement or proclamation that we can rest in God as He provides for our needs. In the original context — where survival depended upon the thin thread of animals and crops — not working one day was a shocking state tent of trust.
- While we might doubt whether we need to observe the Sabbath today, the origin of the Sabbath resides within the nature and work of God. If God needed to rest after creation, and if we ar made in His image, and if the commandments reflect not merely a decree but His nature, then we would be compelled to observe Sabbath rest.
- When Jesus spoke of the Sabbath, we must carefully determine whether He was abolishing the Sabbath (rendering it null) or whether He was redefining the Sabbath (or more accurately clarifying the original meaning of the Sabbath). In my view, Jesus is not abolishing, but fulfilling the Sabbath in Himself.
- Some might say that Jesus’ fulfillment of the Sabbath makes it void or unnecessary for us; I take the position that our worship practices, of which the Sabbath would be included, were never intended as an end in themselves, but to point us to Christ.
- Ultimately, Jesus teaches that the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. In my interpretation, this means that the Sabbath is intended to be life-giving, not burdensome. Jesus blasts wide open our concept of the Sabbath, so that it’s not merely about sitting in church all day, but far broader than that.
- In constrast to legalistic views, such as the Orthodox Jewish prohibition of cooking or driving on the Sabbath, Christians are liberated to experience all of God’s life giving peace and restoration, in whatever form that may be. As it says in Colossians 1, all things were made by, through, and for Jesus Christ, so all of creation is opened up to us, even if that means walking around town, teaching, picking grain, helping those in need, and so forth.
That being said, forming a belief about the sabbath is relatively. Living into the Sabbath, ironically so, is more difficult, even though it was intended to be easy. More important than asking ourselves, “What can or can’t I do on the Sabbath?” we need to ask, “Am I trusting in God and resting in Him?” Ultimately, the Sabbath is not a calendar or a scheduling issue, but a heart issue. In other words, are we trying to outwork God, or are we relying on Him to provide?
If you’re interested in some further reading… Abraham Heschel is a Jew who has written on the Sabbath, and it is also worth reading his thoughts on the meaning of the Sabbath. While we would fundamentally disagree about the purpose of the Sabbath (I.e., for us, the Sabbath points to our ultimate rest in Christ), Heschel’s work demonstrates how the concept of Sabbath can be renewing and life-giving. Obviously, the Jews have contemplated this principle for longer than some of us, so some of those insights can be applied in our Christian worldview. Thankfully, we recognize that our salvation is not found in the Sabbath or any other regulation, but as it says in Hebrews 4, our hope is in Christ who ensures our ultimate rest.