It seems as though the religious elite in Jesus’s day had come to misunderstand the meaning of “rest.” Somewhere between Exodus 20 and John 5, Israel’s leaders and scholars had begun to interpret the Sabbath so strictly that they’d lost their bearings on the matter altogether. In an effort to protect the Sabbath and keep it holy, they turned God’s day of worship into the worship of God’s day.
Instead of being a day of growing in wholeness and closeness to God, “rest-oration,” it had become an undue burden on God’s people—a day full of rules, codes, and classifications. This was never God’s intent, but as is often the case, humanity took God’s careful and loving law and distorted it into something it was never meant to be.
Sabbath is not merely a state of passivity. It is the state of settling deeper into wholeness through God’s divinely bestowed love.
We can see this so clearly in John 5. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, does not seem to worry about the established customs of the day. Rather, He goes directly to a man who needs rest the most. Jesus honors the Sabbath that He created by bringing physical and spiritual healing to a lame man in great need. In so doing, Jesus restored not only the man’s physicality but also his spirituality. An unclean person, like the crippled man, was not welcomed to the temple in Jesus’s day. By healing this man, Jesus, in a matter of moments, restored a sense of wholeness and closeness to God.
Rest, true rest, comes with healing. It may not be experienced right away, but we all know that it’s difficult to enter a true and complete rest when you’re in a state of suffering and pain. Our Sabbath days are markers and mileposts along this life journey. They are moments to stop, reflect, worship, receive new strength, become intimately closer with God, and regain the energy we need to persevere a little further.
We are meant to cease our work, not out of rule or obligation, but rather out of opportunity to create space in our lives for God to move. Much like the still, small voice who spoke to the prophet, God’s restoration in our lives frequently comes in an unobtrusive and undemanding manner. He shows up when we make room in the quiet.
God does not call us to seek passivity on the Sabbath, but wholeness—the type of wholeness that can only be found in Him. From that place and from that posture, we go out into the world, bringing a healing and comfort that naturally emanates from our rested and spiritually reinvigorated souls.
Jesus didn’t heal on the Sabbath purely to make a statement (though He certainly did drive a pretty significant stake pertaining to His divinity that day). Rather, He did it to offer a glimpse of the wholeness and rest that His coming has inaugurated. It is not complete yet. His kingdom has not completely come, but we’ve been given a foretaste. And we get a new foretaste each week when we lean into our God, Lord of the Sabbath.