The first mention of Sabbath in God's story appears in Exodus 16:23. God had just freed the Israelites from grueling slavery. No days off. No time to worship. And it wasn't just forced labor--it was harsh cruelty that we can't even understand in our present context. The Egyptians were throwing every male baby into the Nile River as a form of sexual abortion to keep the people oppressed. It was bad, and the people were crying out for liberation. God heard their prayers.
God's process of liberating his people meant that the Israelites witnessed a series of unthinkable plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the world's most powerful army, and a pillar of smoke and pillar of fire leading the way out into the desert. It sounds emotionally and physically exhausting. What were they thinking about God through this ordeal? So God said to the tired masses, "Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest." After all that, the people were probably thankful for all the WORK God had done FOR them.
Today, we are slaves to our own hurried, busy, work. We think we work to hold everything together. We think we work to make it all happen. We even try to work for our spiritual salvation. But like the Israelites under the crushing fist of the Egyptians, we are enslaved. Unlike the Israelites, we don't see it because we are so hurried, stressed, and rushed that we are blind.
"The Sabbath," writes Alan Fadling, " is God's antidote for our hurried, harried pace of life, and gives us the unhurried one-in-seven rhythm woven into the very fabric of creation" (An Unhurried Life, 112).
We think our day starts when we wake up, have a couple of cups of coffee, and get started; but God created the day and the mercies in it long before we did anything. We believe that if we work hard enough, we'll find God in our day, but we won't see God in our day until we stop working long enough to see God's work.
Some have read about Sabbath in the Old Testament and noticed that God had to place some hard rules on the Sabbath. The people struggled to stop for a moment and see God as the great provider, so they went out and collected firewood and food when God said there was no need. They didn't trust God, so God basically said, "If you're not going to believe me out in the desert, you'll die" (my interpretation, not an actual quote from Scripture.) Not trusting God is a sin and the punishment for that sin (without Jesus) is death.
In stepped religion and a series of rules for keeping the Sabbath holy.
"Do this, don't do that. Keep these rules so we can obey God." All these enslave man under the false-yoke of Sabbath. However, Jesus, the great liberator, had something to say about it. He said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28, ESV).
Our hurried, busy, try-to-be-in-control lives enslaved us. The rules we created for the Sabbath made it worse. Only when we stop to see that Jesus is the Lord--WORKING and IN CHARGE, will we see God for who he is and worship him. Jesus is the point of the Sabbath.
Falding argues, "God never meant Sabbath to be an enslaving, 'you can't' day as much as a freeing, 'you don't have to' day" (An Unhurried Life, 117).
Therefore, it's no wonder that when Jesus restated and strengthened the Ten Commandments during his earthly ministry, he didn't give a specific day or rule for how we are to follow the Fourth Commandment. Instead, Jesus modeled it with his life, pointing the world to God on the Sabbath, often.
Are you stopping long enough to see that God is the Creator and Author of your life, not you? Do you see where Jesus is in your life? Are you taking a Sabbath time to see and worship the Lord of the Sabbath? Or are you pressed under the weight of our works? Have you adopted rules for the Sabbath from which Jesus desires to liberate you?
Maybe it's time to reintroduce a rhythm of Sabbath into your life so you might grow closer to God. What's stopping you?
We'll be discussing that God's Word, the Bible, has to say about Sabbath this Sunday at 11 am. Join us.
For the Kingdom!
Pastor Bryan Catherman