Leviticus 23 mentions seven celebrations. Since seven is the number of completion, it’s an appropriate number for these holy days (aka holidays). Today, let’s look at the sabbath and what it means for us under the New Covenant.
Shabbat #1: Weekend
Sabbath, or shabbat (in Hebrew), occurred weekly. The word literally means “cease.” It’s a time where we stop our labor to remember that God reigns, and the world will continue spinning without us. It’s a day where we obey the Biblical injunction, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46)
When do we observe shabbat? Orthodox jews do sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. In Rom. 14:5-6a, we’re told “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord…”
From those verses, I draw that that the specific day isn’t important. A preacher is better off taking Monday as his day of rest. For some strange situations, perhaps people are better taking two, 12 hour Sabbaths during a week. As we are under the Law of the Spirit, He can speak what our Sabbath looks like.
But we generally need a specific time. Sometimes we just say, “I don’t go to work on Sundays, and I go to church, therefore Sundays are my sabbath.” Hah, yeah right. Before you know it, Sunday will be your day to do all your housework, pay the bills, and plus catch up on email. Picking a specific time helps to avoid this kind of trap.
As far as what to do and not do, I leave that to wisdom and listening to the Spirit. Maybe one man washes his car, because that’s a relaxing, weekend activity. But his friend who works at a car wash definitely shouldn’t do that. The peacher should stay as far away from church as he can get. My friend might post to Facebook, but as an author building a social media platform, I shouldn’t.
Sabbath #2: He Walks with Me
But Shabbat has a much deeper meaning to us. Look at what Hebrews 4 says about it:
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Heb. 4:9-11)
This passage says that we should strive to enter God’s rest. That’s a rather funny contrast.
I take this to mean that we should throw of everything that keeps us from Jesus and run to Him. That’s the striving: we do whatever it takes to get to Him, first in terms of becoming a Christian, then in terms of daily seeking Him. Yet, ironically, that salvation does not come through our work. It’s a sabbath. Our works cannot earn His love, yet He commands works! The Christian life lies perched upon a razor’s edge of running after Him and resting in Him. And somehow, when we stand balanced on this edge, we find rest.
If we do not strive for Him, we often find worldly exhaustion, such as working hard after money and career. And that’s the opposite of rest. Or maybe we live in our parents’ basement and play video games all day. That kind of self-indulgent lifestyle also has no rest, because God created our bodies for work. Talk to someone who has been doing that for two or three years and see if they have peace.
Ah, but when we root our rest in Him, a rest the world cannot understand, we find peace. And if we listen to Him and follow Him in regards to employment, He’ll guide us to a job where that rest in Him extends even to our working day. That’s the second kind of shabbat: continual rest in Jesus.
Shabbat #3: Kingdom Without End
But Shabbat takes us one level deeper. We look forward to an eternal day of rest when Christ has returned. Theories abound about how this works: some say that there have been about 6000 years since creation and that the thousand year reign of Jesus will begin around year 7000.
Some say that there have been various dispensations: pre-fall, pre-flood, pre-Babel, pre-Moses, then pre-Jesus. This is the sixth age, the age where the Spirit has been poured out, the gospel covers the earth, and we await the return of Messiah. The seventh will be the reign of Jesus on earth. However all this math works out in the grand scheme of things, when Jesus returns, he will initiate the seventh day, our bright and eternal Sabbath.
I’d go on, but I can’t say it better than Saint Augustine did in the final paragraph of The City of God, a lengthy tome indeed which theologians still ponder over and which seminary students still commiserate over.
“After this period God shall rest as on the seventh day, when He shall give us (who shall be the seventh day) rest in Himself. But there is not now space to treat of these ages; suffice it to say that the seventh shall be our Sabbath, which shall be brought to a close, not by an evening, but by the Lord’s day, as an eighth and eternal day, consecrated by the resurrection of Christ, and prefiguring the eternal repose not only of the spirit, but also of the body. There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end. For what other end do we propose to ourselves than to attain to the kingdom of which there is no end?”