Thursday, June 08, 2006


Recently some of us at work had a discussion/debate on the Sabbath. Do we keep it today? And if so, how? Those differing didn't arrive to a consensus that day, it seems. But it was good for me to reflect on, beyond that day.

What our relationship is today, to (what my tradition would call) the fourth commandment of the Decalogue (Ten Words/Commandments), is one that makes theologians and professors, more or less pull their hair out. It isn't as easy as some think. Nor are my thoughts intended to slough over the difficulties inherent in this study and discussion.

I, for one, believe that a keeping of the seventh day was given to Israel. In the new covenant, I do not see this command repeated, for us to keep. Whereas, we do see all the other commands repeated in the New Testament. Though I do believe there is a fulfillment of that, for us, as God's people.

For fulfillment today, I believe we need to go to Hebrews 3 and 4. The Sabbath rest there, for God's people is found in Jesus. And the teaching is echoed from Psalm 95. That psalm indicates that even Israel keeping a seventh day for rest, did not insure that they really entered into God's rest for them. This is because, this rest is internal, one of the heart. And it does work its way into one's life. It is a rest that requires faith.

We need to be resting in Jesus. Our relationship with him, he promises, will give us rest. But this rest will be into service with him. Yes, with him! We will learn from him. And will find that his yoke is easy, and his burden light. (Matthew 11:28-30 and context). In other words, we should find this work that God has for us to not be burdensome, but a delight. Akin to what work was before Adam and Eve sinned?

Back to Hebrews. It is a resting in Jesus and specifically in God's work in Jesus. As I was taught recently, in a book by David Roper, God's seventh day rest remains. And we, by faith in Jesus, are to enter that rest. When you look at this teaching with Psalm 95 and all this tied back to the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, then we see that there "remains...a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for those who enter God's rest also rest from their own work, just as God did from his." (Hebrews 4:9-10; TNIV). We're then told, paradoxically to "make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience." (v 11)

Sometimes, I think, we try to do too much with this passage. Making it into some kind of deep, mystical resting in God, only for the elite few Christians who can find it. At other times, though, we make it too simple: simply believe in Jesus, and you are in this rest. What we're missing here is the profundity that faith in Jesus brings to us. Or is meant to bring to us. It is a rest in God's works, and a working that comes out of that rest. It is a delight to be enabled to be workers with God (2 Corinthians 6:1). Knowing that all does not depend on us, and on our working. All depends on God and his working. Yet we are called to work in that working, in the very works of God. (In a true sense, at least an important aspect of God's working today, includes us in our participation!) This can encourage us, in our humble works, that God can take them into his very workings. I think, also, this helps us to take the breaks we need to take from busy activity. To be able to say, "No". And to spend that time in quietness and rest, that we need. As well as learning to not crowd our families out with our busy, never ending labors.

Lord, You've called us to rest in you. Help us to follow you, and learn from you. To know your rest, and how you make our load seem light. Thank you for your finished work for us as our Savior, that we can rest in you and what you've done. Save us from our burdensome toiling. We know you'll call us back to yourself and to the rest you will give us. And we look forward to that final and perfect rest in you. Amen.


Scot McKnight said...

Very early in the Church the Sabbath, a Jewish day of rest (not worship), became a day of worship, and this combined two concepts for the day: both rest and worship. But, you are right, this is not taught in the NT.

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks so much for your input here.

Are you saying that early on "the Lord's Day"- Sunday, became the Christian Sabbath day for rest and worship?

Ted Gossard said...

Scot, a follow-up question to my first question.

When something is not evident from Scripture/the New Testament, but the Church by and large held to it, in the early centuries, does that mean that we should at least be slow to depart from that tradition? (here, the Sabbath)

Sabbath understanding for today isn't easy, I don't believe, as said in the post. So this position taken by the Church would seem practical and good, and really, when you look at it, continued, by and large in the Church of the present day. A day taken for rest and worship.

Stoogelover said...

As I understand the Sabbath principle in the OT, when God rested on the 7th day, it was in the sense that his creation was perfect. To add to or take from would have been to make it less than perfect. Much like an artist "rests" from a painting or sculpture when it is completed.
God surrounded the children of Isreal of reminders of his rest in the form of sabbaths, sabbath months, sabbath years. Adam's role was to accept what God had done, rest in what God had done, and learn to say "Thank you, God."
Interestingly, the high priest, upon entering the most holy place once a year for atonement, was to wear a linen garment. He was not to sweat in the most holy place for sweat was the signature of man's fall.
You are right in that we are still to enter (present tense) God's rest and it is in Christ. When Jesus said "It is finished!" and died, salvation's work was accomplished to add anything or take away anything would have been too much or not enough. The beauty of Sabbath rest is that we accept what Jesus has done on our behalf (everything!), rest in it just as the Father rests in it, and learn to say, "Thank You, Lord!" Only then do we enter the hilarity of serving God out of gratitude and thanksgiving.
Good post!!! (Found your blog through a mutual friend, Jim Martin.)

Ted Gossard said...

Greg, Great to have you stop by. Yes, I've enjoyed meeting Jim Martin through his blog.

Good words you share with us. Helpful. I'll have to stop by and check out your new site.