“The Jews were persecuting Jesus because he was [healing] on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’”SABBATH REST
You may listen to this 4-minute devotional by clicking here
JOHN 5:16b-17 (ESV)
Jesus was not in public ministry very long before the Pharisees were plotting with the Herodians to destroy him (Mk 3:6). Their animosity was sparked by the way in which Jesus treated the Sabbath. In Mark 3, he healed a man with a withered hand. On another occasion, Jesus healed an invalid and instructed him to ‘Take up his bed and walk’ (Jn 5:8). The Sabbath was intended to be a day of rest, but Jesus was working!
Now, Jesus never actually broke the Sabbath according to the written law of God. Instead, he was violating the oral Jewish traditions, which had become akin to law. The religious leaders probably meant well when they established thirty-nine rules for protecting the Sabbath day. The problem was that they started to care more for their own traditions and neglected the actual commands of God (Mk 7:8).
In one such occasion, Jesus responded by saying “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Here, in John 5, Jesus responded by appealing to His divine authority to work in much the same way that God Almighty never stops working.
After the resurrection of Jesus, the Christian ‘Sabbath’ shifted to the first day of the week and was called ‘The Lord’s Day’ but it wasn’t quite the same as what Sabbath was like under the Old Covenant.
It wasn’t a day of ‘stay-at-home rest’ because these gatherings typically included teaching, worship, food and the sharing of financial means (see Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Likewise, Sunday wasn’t to be seen as ‘more honorable’ than other days because each day belongs to Jesus (Rom. 14:5). Although ‘Sabbath’ changed during the time of the Early Church, the practice of establishing a regular time to worship the Lord, rest in His presence and celebrate His sanctifying work with others remained.
Although there are no specific commands for us about preserving a ‘Sabbath,’ does that mean that we should be cavalier about it? No. The writer of Hebrews instructed, “Let us not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another all the more as you see the Day [of Christ] drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). Likewise, Jesus said “Sabbath was made for man” (Mk 2:27).
As long as we live on this earth, we will need regular times of renewal. We discover this kind of rest as we gather around the Word of God, prayer and worship. This is what the New Testament modeled for us and the kind of Jesus-centered gatherings that we need.
We don’t live at a time when people are overly legalistic about ‘Sabbath’. Instead, we live at a time when people don’t really think much about it at all.
Let’s be counter-cultural and press into weekly habits of gathering! Because Jesus is working, we can set aside our small tasks and delight in His sovereign care. How might our souls be nurtured if we regularly rested in Jesus’ presence together?
Lord, keep us from spiritual legalism and the temptation not to renew our souls among other Christians. Help us to stop our work and delight in Yours. Through Jesus, amen!