What is the Sabbath and do I keep it?

Two phrases stand out as the most discouraging things Jesus said: “Have I been with you so long…” (John 14:9) and “how long am I to be with you…?” (Matt. 17:17, Mark 9:21, Luke 9:41–granted, all of those references refer to the same incident).

In each case, we might read the words with a tone of exasperation. After all, he was teaching the disciples, but they didn’t seem to get the overall theme. He multiplied the bread and fish, but in another instance, they didn’t look to him for food. He taught them that he was their teacher and they were all brothers. But they argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. He taught that his kingdom was not like those of this world, but they continued to think he would overthrow Rome.

Anyone would be frustrated if their followers didn’t get the message. But Jesus wasn’t just anyone. He is fully God and fully man. He lived with every temptation common to each of us, yet without sin.

I believe his words were filled with patience and longing. Like when someone is trying to explain something wonderful, and eagerly anticipates the moment the listener discovers that ah-ha moment.

“Have I been with you so long…?” “Don’t you see?”

In Mark chapter 2 we see Jesus answering a common question from the religious leaders: Why are you and your disciples doing work on the Sabbath?

For the Jewish people, they had rituals and religious observations that they kept, well, religiously. The seventh day was a day of rest! No argument.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). Again, “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.” (Exodus 20:11).

Well, actually, there was plenty of argument. What did work mean? What if this? What if that? How about when it lands on Leap Year?

The real irony is that they actually made the day of rest into another “work” to keep them holy.

This makes me think of a period when I was a kid. We were told that we couldn’t change out of our church clothes or play outside on Sunday (because some Christians don’t get Jesus’ teaching, either, if you believe that! And that we changed the Sabbath to Sunday because Jesus was raised on the first day of the week).  So, for a while, we’d sit around reading books and making sure we didn’t play too hard on Sunday. And we’d keep clear of clothes that might imply we were getting ready to play (or work).

Later, we decided that the best way to rest might be to change into clothes that allowed us more comfort.

As I grew up, I struggled with this. We are to obey God’s word. Not just the parts that are easy. The commandments include, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). Again, “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.” (Exodus 20:11).

“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).

There are 28 verses in the books of the Law talking about the Sabbath and the requirement that none among the people of Israel should do any work.

One of those passages was somewhat quoted by the ruler of the synagogue in Luke 13:14 when he tried to keep people from being healed by Jesus on the Sabbath!

This came up a lot. The pharisees didn’t like Jesus’ disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. They didn’t like Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They didn’t like Jesus, frankly. They saw him as a rival to their authority over the people. And the Sabbath violations were a perfect scandal headline for their endless indictments against the Lord.

Stop and think about that for a minute. Someone is healing incurable diseases, casting out demons, restoring people’s mobility … and these religious leaders say, “If you’re going to do something supernaturally wonderful, make sure it’s on Sunday through Friday, not on Saturday, buddy!”


I’d be tempted, and might just fail in responding with more than just exasperation. I’d throw in some sarcasm. But, God’s working on me with that flaw.

Jesus didn’t have that sin. He responded patiently. He sought to teach the leaders.

He told them, “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).

What does this mean? Jesus is the lord of the Sabbath … does that mean he gets to decide who observes it and when? Is he above the Law? This was probably what the Pharisees thought he meant.

But there’s a deeper meaning. Think way back to Genesis and the first Sabbath. God had completed creation. He narrates this to Moses in six days, describing the work in terms we’d understand. When the word was complete, He rested.

This is a pattern for us. It is good to rest from our work. We shouldn’t work continuously or we’ll get sick!

And, like we all know, sometimes we need to be forced to take a vacation. For our own good, someone might tell us, “It’ll wait till Monday. Go home.”

That’s a pretty neat meaning. Take some rest. But what about the part in the Law that we are to remember it and keep it holy? And why the emphasis on the Sabbath day in such detail? Couldn’t God have just said, “take a break! Trust me!”

Granted, God didn’t need to rest after creating the cosmos, spacetime and the planets and all living creatures, microbes and atoms. He doesn’t grow tired.

We do.

But that’s not why God created the Law of the Sabbath. There was something that all parts of the Law pointed toward that He wanted us to remember. Something far more important than taking a little vay-cay.

What was this thing that God wanted us to remember and keep close to our hearts? Why does this commandment rest within the 5 commandments that relate to our relationship to God? What’s the meaning here?

The writer of Hebrews points this out: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whosoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

How do we enter God’s rest? It is through repentance and faith in Jesus as the completer of our redemption by His work on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Remember Jesus’ last words on the cross? “It is finished!”

Jesus completed the work of redemption for the world on the cross. Those who believe in Him as savior enter by faith into God’s rest, never to need to work the various requirements of the Law. The Law and the Prophets were fulfilled by Jesus. He did it all for us.

He is the Lord of the Sabbath not because He selectively enforces the law, but because He completed His work and we all enter a perpetual rest with Him.

For the Christian, every day is the Sabbath day because we no longer have a list of requirements to please God. We no longer have sacrifices to bring, or washings and fastings to observe. If you don’t have your males circumcised on the 8th day after birth, you’re fine! No infant baptisms, either. And believer baptism is not a requirement of salvation, either (it’s an act of obedience to Jesus’ words). Communion, too, is not a “work” that we must do to receive the grace of God, as many teach from the pulpit (to their own judgment). The grape juice and crackers are not the body and blood of Christ. They are bread and juice. The fool who holds them and tells you they changed is a bald-faced liar.

We who have been completed in Christ’s work, having claimed that work by our faith (which is also a gift of God) are filled with the new wine (the Holy Spirit) and no longer need the pots of water for ceremonial washing. Jesus launched His ministry at a wedding, performing His first miracle of changing the water to wine. And it was the most amazing wine anyone had ever tasted.

Jesus will conclude all things of this earth at a wedding. It will be the marriage of Him with His people, the spiritual Israel, His congregation, his bride!

We’ve been called out of the old system of rituals that pointed toward Him and we embrace Him alone. He is the sign and substance of our New Covenant. He has purchased us completely out of this world.

We are at rest. We no longer observe new moons, sabbaths or other festivals. They mean nothing.



One Comment

  1. As I was reading through Mark 2 last week, the one thing that struck me is how often the religious leaders saw Jesus doing things only the Son of God could do — healing the sick, forgiving sins, etc, yet they refused to believe he was the Son of God. They closed off their hearts to any kind of change or even the possibility that Jesus might actually be who He said he was. Instead, they sought to get rid of him or prove him wrong from the very beginning of things. They themselves became “the Lord of the Sabbath” by trying to criticize Jesus about the Sabbath and other religious customs of the day. Jesus gives us so many opportunities to come to Him. That’s the patience of Christ. And we are the ones that refuse him. That’s why we shouldn’t even act as if Jesus owes us anything–like saying “well how can you love a God that takes away your family?” (as I mentioned yesterday). The train of thought I have is that I don’t deserve anything in this life–not because I’m stupid or worthless, but because none of us deserve the things we have, the gifts we’ve been given. But Christ gives them to us and when they leave, we somehow blame him for taking it away but it was never ours to hold. I feel like it is simply given to us for a time and we are responsible for that time. We are given children for a time. We are given parents for a time. We are given job and responsibilites for a time. But when it is gone, it is not our right to say “How could you take that away?” Everything belongs to the Lord. And the sabbath fits in that category.

    Liked by 1 person


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