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Ancient Practices (#5) - Sabbath

Images-23 Jesus tells us in Mark 2:23-28 that the “Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” In other words, God’s intention in instituting the Sabbath Day was for our own benefit. In reality, Jesus never violated God’s Sabbath. He simply confronted the religious leader’s additional rules and traditions they had added to God’s command.

The meaning of the Sabbath (a word which means “to stop” or “to cease”) is rooted in God’s rest following the six days of creation. On the seventh day, God “rested” from his work of creation and declared the day “blessed” and “holy” (Gen.2:1-3). This principle was then reinforced as the fourth commandment (Ex.20:8-11). This commandment forbids being “lazy” (you must work if you are able) or becoming a “workaholic” (someone who never stops or slows down). Both work and rest are ordained and blessed by God.

Sabbath was a day of rest for the Israelites and violating it was a serious offence (Ex.31:14. Num.15:32-36). It was a joyous holy day, a day of spiritual refreshment, community worship, prayer, contemplation and community worship.

Jesus, his disciples, the apostle Paul and the early Christians observed the Sabbath because they were Jewish believers and they were reaching out primarily to Jewish people initially. Later in the first century, it seems that Sunday emerged as a time when Christians met to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection and became known as the Lord’s Day (see Acts 20:6-7. 1 Cor.16:1-3). When certain Jewish teachers sought to impose various laws, including Sabbath keeping, on Gentile churches, Paul vehemently opposed them (Rom. 14:5; Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16). The New Covenant believer serves the Lord each day of the week. Jesus is to be Lord of every day and we are to live to please him daily, seeing each day as a gift from his hand – blessed and holy.

Today we no longer need to keep the Sabbath Day as Israel did, nor do we need to transfer the rigidity of Sabbath keeping to Sunday, as the Lord’s Day. However, we can glean some very important lessons from the principle of the Sabbath Day for our lives today. We can and should reclaim Jesus’ liberating view of the Sabbath as a “gift from God” for our benefit and a time for “doing good”. Let’s recapture the heart of God’s original intention for it.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Make Church Gatherings a Priority in your Schedule. The Sabbath usually included participating in special meetings at the local synagogue – a time for worship and hearing teaching from God’s Word along with other believers. Jesus and the early church believers did the same. Jesus attended the synagogue every Sabbath and often participated in the meeting. The early church gathered frequently for worship, teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42-47). A true disciple of Jesus Christ is in close relationship with other believers and meets together with them regularly and consistently in homes and public gatherings. We should be careful not to neglect church gatherings (Heb.10:24-25).

2. Spend Time Reading and Meditating on God’s Word. The Sabbath was a time to read and meditate on God’s Word personally. Jewish families would take time to think about it and reflect on God’s laws and his ways as recorded in the Scriptures. Even Jesus, who is “the Word” made flesh, learnt the Scriptures as a boy. At the age of twelve he was discussing their meaning with the teachers of his day and as an adult he knew the Scriptures well enough to quote and teach from them. The early believers were people of the Word. Paul tells us that all scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for every area of our life and he told Timothy to study the Word so he could both understand it correctly and teach it to others (2 Tim.3:16-17; 2:15). Getting God’s Word into our heart is a key to renewing our mind and to success in life (Rom.12:1-2. Josh.1:8. Ps.1:1-2).

3. Create Special Times for your Family and Friends. The Sabbath was a time to enjoy the companionship of family and friends. Families usually stayed home and spent most of the day together. Jesus also spent hours with a small group of people, his disciples, who he called his friends – walking on along the road, rowing a boat, eating a meal (Mk.3:14). The believers in the early church spent much time together with each other. They “devoted themselves” to activities such as “fellowship," which means close relationship and partnership together in life. Life is all about relationships (“people”) not tasks (“things”). Yes, there are tasks to accomplish and things to do, but these exist to serve people. The family is very important to God. Husbands and wives are to love each other deeply, parents are to raise their children in the ways of God and children are to honour their parents (Eph.5:22-6:4). This takes an investment of quality time.

4. Ensure you Get Adequate Time for Rest and Relaxation. The Sabbath was a time to rest and relax from the busyness of the week’s work. God didn’t design us to work constantly without rest. God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh. Jesus also, in all his busyness of ministry, took time aside to rest and to sleep when he was tired. Jesus, though completely God, was fully human. He experienced our physical limitations and he had to look after his physical body (see Mk.6:31). We should also ensure that we look after ourselves. Leaders, especially, need to consider the pace of their life. 

5. Take Time for Reflection and Contemplation. Sabbath was a time for stillness, reflection and contemplation about life, its meaning, its direction and God’s activity within it. It was a time for spiritual renewal - to reconnect with the holy and recharge spiritual batteries. Jesus took regular time aside from the demands of the pressing crowd to connect with his Father and ensure that his priorities and his life’s direction were aligned correctly (Lk.5:15-16. Mk.1:32-39; 6:45-46). Reflect on the good things God has done in your life, be still and wait on the Lord and listen to God’s voice.

For further reading, I would recommend:

Sabbath by Dan Allender

The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel

Restoration Theology by Kevin J Conner


I wonder how many of us have confused the term 'Sabbath' with 'Going to Church' of a Sunday.

Anything for a rest day once per week - possibly impossible with young Children. :-)

Yes, the sabbath principle needs to include more than that .. especially for church leaders, as the weekend is one of the busiest times of the week!

Hi Mark, I think the term the 'Lord's Day' was only used in Rev 1:10. Christians later adopted the term but I gather in the Greek its meaning is ambiguous and might even be taken to mean 'Lordly Day' in reference to a veneration of Caesar. Makes a lot of sense especially in the light of what you said - Paul's vehemence at imposing Sabbath keeping.
Have to say however, it is a real challenge with the Sabbath principle in today's world and we musn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Like your suggestions.

The Sabbath gave me a real benefit growing up a Seventh-day Adventist. I never ever felt guilty about not doing homework or studying on a Saturday. There was one day a week when I didn't feel I had to be doing all those things, but was able to be truly relaxed. It really did enable me to completely put off the pressure of things I had to do during the rest of the week. That's one of the greatest benefits behind the Sabbath principle.

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