Raise your hand if this sounds familiar. When I was young, my family didn’t work on Sundays. We’d go to church, have lunch from the crock pot, leftovers for dinner, and church in the evening. We didn’t run errands, and we didn’t go out to eat (because that meant other people had to work). We also didn’t hunt—but fishing was okay—the Disciples fished, after all.
These Sunday rituals changed as I grew up, but many people still follow them. What was Sunday like for you? Did you work? Did you rest? I’ve found people who grew up in a non-church home who still followed a Sabbath. I’ve also found people who only remember Sunday as just another day.
But what should Christians make of the Sabbath? Does it matter? Should Christians still take a “day of rest?” And if so, should it be on a Saturday or Sunday? Here’s why the Sabbath still matters… and also why it doesn’t.
Why the Sabbath Doesn’t Matter
1. Jesus Condemned It
Jesus never truly broke the Sabbath. He only broke the Pharisees’ legalistic version of it. Jesus also made it clear He did not come to change Jewish laws, but to fulfill them.
But Jesus went out of His way more than once to condemn the role of the Sabbath in Jewish life. He did this three times. When He ate grain with His disciples, when He healed a withered hand, and when He healed a hunchbacked woman. Every time He responded the same. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
The actions of Jesus against the Sabbath show that God wants something more from His people than just a ritualized day of rest. Jesus did not condemn the Fourth Commandment, but He did condemn the way the Jews used it. This showed that there was something deeper at play in the Sabbath than just people not working. The Sabbath meant something greater.
2. Paul Condemned It
Paul wrote many of His letters to communities with a mix of Jewish and Non-Jewish Christians. Their questions mainly concerned how much of the Old Testament they needed to follow to be a “good” Christian. Paul answers that in Colossians 2.
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. ” Colossians 2:16-17
How much of a Jew did someone have to be to be a Christian? None! They didn’t need to be circumcised, or presented at the Temple, or attend Passover or eat Kosher or follow Sabbath. They only needed to have faith that Jesus died and rose for their sins. That is all that’s required of Christians today, too.
The New Testament reaffirms all the Ten Commandments except for the fourth one. In this sense, Christians are no longer bound to observe the Sabbath day any more than any other Jewish custom.
Paul explains in Colossians 2:17 that the Sabbath is a “picture of things to come.“ He, like Jesus, also believed that the Sabbath represents something more than just a day of rest. But if so, what?
Why the Sabbath Matters
Even though Christians are no longer bound to observe the Sabbath, the Sabbath still remains an incredibly important aspect of Christian life. In fact, the Sabbath may be one of the most under-looked truths in Christianity today.
God first instructed the Israelites to “keep the Sabbath holy” after delivering them from their work in Egypt. The Israelites apparently already knew what the Sabbath was, because God didn’t have to explain it to them. He just said to keep it. This makes sense, because other ancient cultures also followed a Sabbath. The Babylonians kept their Sabbath according to the moon, and the Sumerians observed Sabbath days, too. The concept of a “sabbath day” was already familiar to the Hebrews.
But while other religions followed Sabbaths to become closer to the gods or appease them, God gave His people a different reason. In Deuteronomy, before entering the Promised Land, God explain exactly why the Israelites should observe the Sabbath day.
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." Deuteronomy 5:15.
God showed that the Sabbath was not meant to be something to do for God, but a reminder of what God had done for them. While slaves in Egypt, the Israelites had little rest. But God intervened and delivered them from Pharaoh. As a result, they experienced “rest” in the Promised Land. God’s people could rest because of the work God had done in their lives.
From the beginning, God went out of His way to communicate the idea that, whenever He worked, it was followed by rest. After God worked in the Garden, He had rest. After He worked through the plagues in Egypt, the Israelites had rest from their slavery. And when Jesus finished His work on the Cross, the entire world had rest from their sin. The Sabbath is a reminder that people can do nothing for God, but that God can do everything for them. That is the deeper meaning of the Sabbath.
Today, we have a world full of Christians willing to rest on the Sabbath but refusing to rest in the grace of God. They embrace a physical Sabbath day but reject a spiritual Sabbath life. But imagine a Christian life where you were no longer fearful of whether you were a Christian based on a sin you committed? Imagine a Christian life where you were not consumed with guilt because you didn’t “feel” love towards God. This is the kind of life God intends for His people, one where He works as the Vine, and the branches rest in Him because of it.
Are you resting in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are you resting from your efforts to please God through good works and choosing instead to trust in His grace to work through you? Only then will Christians truly keep the Sabbath—by recognizing that they can do nothing for God, but that He can do everything for them.
Resting in Him,