8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20)
Christians often wonder how important this command is in the New Testament era. It is true that Jesus did condemn a purely legalistic interpretation of the Sabbath rules created by the Pharisees of his day.
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2)
To begin with we need to understand the reason for the institution of the Sabbath. Unlike God, man is a finite being who needs rest. In God’s viewpoint, the way man has been created requires that he cease to work each day (that is why we have the day and the night every 24hours) and each week for a day so that his finite limited capabilities can be adequately restored for further work after the rest.
The command to rest was not just a suggestion in the Jewish times but a mandatory requirement issued by God, so important that any lassitude in observing the Sabbath was met with strict discipline. The Sabbath was indeed made for man and without it he would be burnt out and ineffective.
The concept of rest as defined in the Bible is way different from the concept of rest that weekends have come to portray in the current era. Vacation, partying, eating out, shopping, television, movies and so on do give man a change in his routines but do little to feed his soul and rest his spirit. That can come only when man connects with God and becomes strengthened in the spirit. This connection can come in various ways- church, fellowship, service, meditation, Bible study, prayer and so on. But be assured of this, unless his spirit is rejuvenated, he will emerge from the weekend as weary as ever.
Yes, the Sabbath rule has a very good reason, but is it mandatory? Should a person fear judgment if he breaks the Sabbath? The passage in Mark 2 makes it clear that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and because he has freed us from a legalistic lifestyle and brought us into the freedom of the Spirit of God, the Sabbath rule should not evoke condemnation within a believer’s mind. However for one who fails to observe a day of rest (now usually Sunday as opposed to the Sabbath Saturday in the Jewish times), the loss is entirely his.
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