For thousands of years, and even today, controversy and confusion surround the matter of the Sabbath. Should the day of rest be Saturday or Sunday? Are we allowed to do anything on the Sabbath, or is the point to just avoid work? And why can’t Chick-fil-A be open all the time?
Regardless of what we believe about the Sabbath, we know two things to be true: we need rest, and Jesus is our ultimate rest. Currently, I have been working for about twelve days straight, so I am experiencing the practical need for a day of rest in my life right now. At the same time, I know that it is in Jesus alone that I find true Sabbath rest.
In Matthew 12, Jesus is confronted with the legalism of the Pharisees who seek to prosecute Him for not adhering to the culturally appropriate ways of observing the Sabbath in His day. Jesus responds by telling the Pharisees and others listening that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 8). Meaning, the religious ordinances and rules erected by the Pharisees in an attempt to worship Yahweh, yield to the authority of the Son of Man, who is Jesus.
The Pharisees misunderstood the Sabbath. They understood it to be a day in which they rested, but they executed it as a sort of worshipful mimicry of how God rested after He created the earth. This was a partial, and therefore incorrect, view of the Sabbath.
Jesus came to tell them that the Sabbath is more than a day. It is a person. It is Jesus Himself. And it is in Him that we find true rest, not in a day defined by ritualistic relaxation. Indeed, one day, as Matthew said in recounting Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees, “The nations will put their hope in his name” (Matthew 12:21; Isaiah 42:1-4).
Taking a day of our week to rest from work and the routine stressors of life is wise, no matter what day of the week it is. But we rob ourselves of true rest if we simply understand the Sabbath to be a license to be lazy one day out of every seven.
To experience true Sabbath rest, we must rest in the finished work of Jesus. He is the only One in whom we can find true rest, because His work is the only work which is actually finished. Might we, the nations, put our hope in the name of the One who purchased eternal rest on our behalf.
Written by Chris Martin