Sabbath rest: yours for the taking

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Do you need a break? Are you feeling stressed, worn out and overwhelmed? Let’s face it: We’re living in a world filled with ever-increasing demands on our time and attention. Many are working harder than ever only to find it more difficult to make ends meet—which sometimes results in addictions, anxiety and conflict. Relationships suffer, health declines and real solutions seem out of reach.

If you’re suffering from the anxiety of living in the modern world, you’re not alone. According to Beyond Blue, 17 per cent of Australian adults have experienced some type of anxiety disorder within the past 12 months. At any one time, 15 per cent of New Zealanders will also be affected. Clearly, many of us are overwhelmed. This is NOT how our Creator designed life to be, but how can we get out of that discouraging and even dangerous cycle?

More and more people are turning to what might seem to be an unlikely solution: the idea of a “sabbath”.

The Original Sabbath Day

The idea of a sabbath didn’t just appear out of thin air. It comes from the Hebrew word shabbat, meaning to stop, pause, cease, or rest from labour and activity. Genesis 1 describes God creating all the living creatures on earth, including the first man and woman. Genesis 2 then says, “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:1–3).

Where did this idea of taking time to rest after a period of work come from? Straight from the Creator God, who modelled that behaviour right at the beginning of the Bible.

In other words, the idea of a sabbath has been around forever. But what about the word “Sabbath”? That word appears in many biblical passages, including Exodus 20:8: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

This is something God cared enough about to write into the Ten Commandments: “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:9–11).

“Sabbath” is not just a vague idea. It springs from a specific event in history: God’s rest from His work of creation. As such, it applies to a specific day each week! God’s intention was that His children, the entire human race, would benefit from a weekly rest throughout our entire lives. God wants us to work hard and then to take a well-deserved rest.

All too often, we don’t stop until we must stop.

Maybe that’s why God tells us the Sabbath is mandatory. He must command us to take a break each week, because there’s always another load of washing to do, another space to clean, another report to submit.

As human beings, we too often do things that are good for us only when we suddenly must do them. We don’t exercise or take care of our health until something causes us pain. When we notice the suffering and negative consequences of neglecting our health, we feel compelled to act.

That might be why God had to tell us plainly that a Sabbath rest is important for us. In His mercy, He created and scheduled time for us, because He knows that we often don’t do things, even things we know are good for us, unless we absolutely must. 

And the Sabbath is, indeed, very good for us!

The Sabbath Was Made for Our Good

The apostle Paul wrote, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:16,17). There’s much misunderstanding about this verse, but let’s focus on one phrase: “sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come”.

Paul was saying that as good as Sabbaths are for giving us rest, they symbolise something greater that is yet to come.

We find texts elsewhere in the New Testament that support this idea, such as Hebrews 4:1: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.” Because of their disobedience, the Israelites did not enter the Promised Land. But, if we are faithful and obedient, we can enter God’s kingdom at Christ’s second coming.

Regarding the seventh-day Sabbath established when God rested from His work of creation, we read, “For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works’” (Hebrews 4:4).

What does this mean? Simply that if we are people of God, the Sabbath rest should mean something very important to us. We should be observing that weekly rest in our lives now.

The Greek word here translated “Sabbath rest” is sabbatismos, coming directly from the Hebrew word shabbat, which refers to the weekly Sabbath.

Clearly, Christians are to observe the weekly Sabbath! But it goes far beyond even that. If Sabbaths are a shadow of things to come, every seventh day that comes around in the calendar is also a prophecy of a coming millennium Sabbath, when God’s kingdom will fill this earth after Christ’s second coming.

Notice what the book of Hebrews encourages us to do: “For whoever enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no-one will fall by following the same pattern of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:10,11, Berean Study Bible).

We’re reminded to live our lives in such a way that we may enter the rest of God’s kingdom at Christ’s return.

There is hope for this tired, worn-out world: a new world is coming. That new world will be peaceful and full of joy—the violence and tension of this age will be no more.

Notice how Scripture describes that world:

“Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places” (Isaiah 32:16–18).

The weekly seventh-day Sabbath is symbolic of that coming age of peace and prosperity.

The True Purpose of the Sabbath—in This Life and Beyond

Jesus taught His disciples a lifestyle of peace and tranquillity that did not depend on outside circumstances and was compatible with working hard. Notice His promise:

“Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

If you long for relief from the burdens of life, learn from Jesus Christ. He has the answers, and He will give you peace if you are obedient to His will and respond to His love.

If you worry about your life and the world around us, remember Jesus’ comforting words:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Matthew 6:25–27).

We can have peace of mind. God knows the anxiety this world produces, but He offers us a weekly Sabbath—a total break from work for a 24-hour period, week in and week out. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

Just imagine that every Friday at sundown, you left your work behind. You spent time with your family. You read the Bible and reflected on God’s plan for you. You went to church on Sabbath with others of like mind and fellowshipped with them. You spent the remaining hours of the Sabbath not mowing the lawn or doing chores, but going for walks and reflecting on what you’ve learned.

That’s the way God designed the Sabbath, not the way the Pharisees made it a burden. The Pharisees actually disapproved of the way Jesus and His disciples kept the Sabbath (see Mark 2:23,24). The Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of breaking the Sabbath, but Jesus turned their accusation around and explained the right perspective:

“He said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?’ And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:25–28).

Yes, Jesus Christ—our Saviour—is Lord of the Sabbath. He created the Sabbath, establishing it as a 24-hour period to step back and think about our life. Every one of us can claim this gift for ourselves.

So, do you need a break? Do you need rest?

The Sabbath isn’t just an idea of snatching some downtime now and then; it is a weekly gift from God to refresh us and give us peace. The Sabbath is also a promise of a better world to come—a gift that God has given to an anxious world. That gift is yours for the taking.

Maree Young writes from Chinchilla Adventist Church, Qld.

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