Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation (Gen 2:1-3).
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Ex 20:8-11).
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:9-13).
Since going to seminary, Hebrews has become probably my favorite book in the New Testament. It is a richly theological book, uniting the reality of the Gospels with the practical and theological points of Paul’s writing (so much so that many believe Paul wrote it, though this was probably not the case), but making those same points with a very Rabbinical Jewish line of theological reasoning.
As I was reading through it again, something struck me about its teachings about the Lord’s Rest in chapters three and four. I’d highly recommend you read those two chapters really quick (and Ps 95, since Heb 3-4 are a Rabbinical rundown of Ps 95 in light of the coming of Christ), though this should be understandable with just the part I quoted.
So what hit me as I was reading these chapters recently was how the Sabbath is a promise of God. We often hear the Sabbath explained as a way of honoring God’s creation, and that’s certainly a major reason given when God gave the Sabbath commandments. But I think it goes much deeper than this.
Ps 95 and Hebrews treat the Lord’s rest as a promise. It is something that the people of God “strive to enter” (v. 11). It is a time when, as God rests from His works, we shall rest from ours (v. 10).
And I think this answers a major question people have: why did God command us to rest on the Sabbath? Because it’s a promise of what is to come.
For those of you who have been reading for a while, you probably remember me talking about the New Testament perspective of, as Gerhard Vos and George Ladd put it, “already but not yet;” that is, salvation is here in Jesus Christ, but is not completed until His return. And we’ve talked about how Paul describes the Holy Spirit as the “down payment” on our inheritance—which is to say that what we have now in Christ is only a part of what is yet to come.
It seems to me, viewing the commandments of the Sabbath in light of how Hebrews talks about the rest of God, that the Sabbath works in much the same way:
The Sabbath commandments are there because the Sabbath rest is a down payment on the rest we will receive in Christ’s return.
This is a reason why Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). In keeping the Sabbath, we enjoy one of the first fruits of our life in Christ. And by doing so, we gain all the more confidence in the coming fulfillment of our inheritance as children of God—just as someone who might doubt if someone will pay what they promised looks to the down payment and is reassured.
So this makes it all the more important to keep the Sabbath! If you cannot enjoy the Sabbath now, when it is only part of your inheritance, will you so willingly enter God’s rest in His return, when the payment comes in full? If you do not keep the Sabbath holy, will you continue to have faith in your inheritance in Christ? And if you doubt your inheritance—as we all do at times—why not enjoy the portion you already have?
I know you’re busy. Especially right now, with finals. But you will always have good reasons not to honor the Sabbath. Remember, the people to whom the commandment was first given were people who largely lived on subsistence agriculture: if they didn’t work hard, they might not have eaten.
Honoring the Sabbath is as much an exercise in faith as it is a way of restoring your faith. And it always has been. Faith is like that.
So even now, in your finals, set aside a day to honor God with the Sabbath. Does this mean you’ll have to work all the harder on other days? Absolutely. But it’s so worth it!