At the end of Creation week, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 1:31–2:3).
sign of a perfect provision
If the Creator had brought human beings to life at the beginning of Creation week and asked us to help out in some way or had requested our opin ion, we could take some credit, couldn’t we? But He didn’t. The observance of the Sabbath was from the beginning, is now and always will be a celebration of God’s work and not ours. We rest to show that we accept this reality, that we trust in God’s perfect provision for our wellbeing and fulfilment. It means that we repose confidently in His hands, trusting in His wisdom, His plan and provision for our lives.
We concede to God His position as Creator and accept ours as creatures.
Thus, in a deep and meaningful sense, our rest on the seventh day is an act of worship.
In nearly every false religion, including false Christianity, worship is a matter of doing. Only in the Bible are we instructed to worship by not doing, laying aside our effort and struggles, to cease our labour and rest in the serene confidence that the work on our behalf is done. The fourth commandment declares: “The seventh day is a sabbath.” The word sabbath itself means, literally, “rest.” The seventh day is the rest appointed by God Himself. It is the day in which He invites us to join Him in His rest—“on it you shall not do any work.” By resting with Him, we declare that the Sabbath rest is a sign of a relationship with God based on faith.
Our rest on the Sabbath not only symbolises this relationship—it promotes and deepens it, becoming a part of its reality. Our rest on the seventh day not only declares that we find assurance, and therefore peace, in God’s love; it strengthens this assurance. It affirms, and at the same time confirms, the relationship between God and His creation. This may be the reason that Scripture says the Sabbath is a “sign” of the covenant between God and His people (see Ezekiel 20:12, 20).
a commandment of mercy
Do you have any idea how many people feel desperate and frustrated with the responsibilities and problems of life? When the famous empire builder Cecil Rhodes lay dying, he supposedly muttered, “So little done—so much to do.” Countless people today echo his frustration.
Amid the onrushing fury of events and the strident demands of a life that, like the mouth of the grave, never cry “Enough!” the great Creator-God offers us the Sabbath.
Author Herman Wouk, a Sabbathkeeper, wrote: “The Sabbath is the arms of a mother that reach out receive a weary child.” “Six days you shall labour,” says the commandment. This is your allotted time. Work, struggle and give it your best. But all this has a limit—the Sabbath.
In it you are to rest.
The fourth commandment commands us to work, but it does not say: “Work until you fall exhausted.” Neither does it tell us to keep toiling until the work is done—that you can rest only when you finish. Rather it declares that you are to work until Sabbath.
From the Sabbath we learn to measure our achievement not by the standard of our own perfection but by that of God’s love.
The one who made us knows that our selfish ambition, and at times even our sincere desire to do our best, can lead us to intemperance and excess.
Therefore, He has given us a commandment of mercy. “Six days you shall labour,” He says, “but on the sev enth you will rest.” Jesus reminded the people in His day that the Sabbath was made for humanity (see Mark 2:27). It is a precious gift provided for our benefit and protection.
the Sabbath in a broken world
It was on a Friday when God concluded His work and rested from the finished task of Creation. And it was also on a Friday when Jesus finished the work of redemption. And as He bowed His head and died, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
After that, the disciples had just enough time to remove His body from the cross and lay it in a tomb. As they hastened away, the sun was setting and Scripture says, “The Sabbath was about to begin” (Luke 23:54). Then, for the second time, the Saviour rested on the seventh day from a finished work.
The Sabbath, created to commemorate God’s provision for a perfect world, then took on an additional meaning.
From that day forward it would also symbolise His provision for a world in sin—His plan to redeem and heal and restore us to a relationship of faith and trust in Him.
This second meaning of the Sabbath was anticipated long before the cross. When the Lord gave the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, He explained the reason for the Sabbath by pointing back to Creation. But when Moses repeated them 40 years later, He quoted them in a way that clearly foreshadowed the second reason: “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 created human beings to occupy a position of rulership (see Genesis 1:26,27). Slavery is the opposite of this.
Not only had the Lord rescued His people from literal slavery, but it was His intention to restore them to their trust relationship with Him (see Exodus 19:4), and as a result to a leadership position by elevating them to a “royal priesthood” (see 1 Peter 2:9). Thus the Sabbath is a celebration not only of Creation but also of redemption.
We have noticed already the meaning of the Sabbath as a complement and guarantee of the first three commandments.
But as a sign of our redemption from slavery, the Sabbath also brings home to our conscience the need to respect our fellow humans. It tells us to remember the quarry from which we were hewn (see Isaiah 51:1).
entering into His rest
Life is a battle. If it isn’t against the elements outside ourselves, it is within our hearts. I suspect the apostle Paul might have felt something like this when he confessed: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... .
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing... . For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (Romans 7:15-23).
With total honesty, the great apostle admits that he is a normal human being and that spiritual storms are a reality in his life, just as they are for the rest of us. It is an experience that every human being convinced of a need for change and improvement, yet finding themselves locked in mortal combat with old habits and passions, can understand and appreciate.
Mercifully, in the same passage the apostle tells us where to find help: “Thanks be to God,” he exclaims (verse 25). “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2).
Adam accepted that God really had made a perfect provision in His finished work of creation and he showed this acceptance by resting on the Sabbath.
Christians join him in celebrating the goodness and loving provision of God in the Creation. By withdrawing from the furious pace of our habitual activities, by stepping out from under the pressure of life during the Sabbath hours, we remind ourselves that the world doesn’t revolve around us, that the sun doesn’t rise and that flowers don’t bloom at our command. Creation can get along perfectly well without any help from us. Our physical rest on the Sabbath celebrates and acknowledges the marvellous provision for us in the physical world, just as it has for God’s people since the world began.
And our faith in Jesus adds a glorious new dimension of richness to all of this. As the passage from Hebrews 4 points out, the Sabbath rest now means that we accept that Christ really has achieved our salvation on the cross of Calvary.
Because of this finished work, the Christian can “rest from his works,” that is, from the frustrating and hopeless effort to earn salvation through personal good deeds. We can simply accept by faith that when Jesus said “It is finished,” it really was. He had achieved a salvation full and unlimited for “whoever believes” (John 3:16).
This trust relationship with God and the experience of living faith is symbolised and deepened when we rest on the seventh day. We no longer need to be tossed to and fro in a sea of problems and anxieties. For a blessed day, we can find peace and rest.
Maybe you are wondering what to do about all this. I urge you to hesitate no longer. With joyful and confident steps, enter into the Sabbath rest.