Do we observe the sabbath today? Before you say nay then read what script has to say
by Sinclair Ferguson
The anonymous author of Hebrews found different ways of describing the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ. One of them, which forms the underlying motif of chapters 3 and 4, is that Jesus Christ gives the rest that neither Moses nor Joshua could provide. Under Moses, the people of God were disobedient and failed to enter into God’s rest (3:18). (quoted in ) implies that Joshua could not have given the people “real rest” since “through David” God speaks about the rest he will give on another day (). This in turn implies that “There remains a sabbath rest for the people of God” ().
In speaking of this rest (3:18; 4:1, 3–6, 8) the author consistently used the same word for “rest” (katapausis). Suddenly, in speaking about the “rest” that remains for the people of God, he uses a different word (sabbatismos, used only here in the NT) meaning specifically a Sabbath rest. In the context of his teaching, this refers fundamentally to the “Sabbath rest” which is found in Christ (“Come … I will give you rest,” –30). Thus we are to “strive to enter that rest” (4:11).
Since Augustine, Christians have recognized that the Bible describes human experience in a fourfold scheme: in(i) creation, (ii) fall, (iii) redemption and (iv) glory. We are familiar with echoes of this in the Westminster Confession of Faith () and in Thomas Boston’s great book Human Nature in its Fourfold State. It is no surprise then that the Sabbath, which was made for man, is experienced by him in four ways.
In creation, man was made as God’s image — intended “naturally” as God’s child to reflect his Father. Since his Father worked creatively for six days and rested on the seventh, Adam, like a son, was to copy Him. Together, on the seventh day, they were to walk in the garden. That day was a time to listen to all the Father had to show and tell about the wonders of His creating work.
Thus the Sabbath Day was meant to be “Father’s Day” every week. It was “made” for Adam. It also had a hint of the future in it. The Father had finished His work, but Adam had not.
This new context helps us to understand the significance of the fourth commandment. It was given to fallen man — that is why it contains a “you shall not.” He was not to work, but to rest. Externally, that meant ceasing from his ordinary tasks in order to meet with God. Internally, it involved ceasing from all self-sufficiency in order to rest in God’s grace.
Considering this, what difference did the coming of Jesus make to the Sabbath day? In Christ crucified and risen, we find eternal rest (–30), and we are restored to communion with God (–30). The lost treasures of the Sabbath are restored. We rest in Christ from our labor of self-sufficiency, and we have access to the Father (). As we meet with Him, He shows us Himself, His ways, His world, His purposes, His glory. And whatever was temporary about the Mosaic Sabbath must be left behind as the reality of the intimate communion of the Adamic Sabbath is again experienced in our worship of the risen Savior on the first day of the week — the Lord’s Day.
But we have not yet reached the goal. We still struggle to rest from our labors; we still must “strive to enter that rest” (). Consequently the weekly nature of the Sabbath continues as a reminder that we are not yet home with the Father. And since this rest is ours only through union with Christ in His death and resurrection, our struggles to refuse the old life and enjoy the new continue.
But one may ask: “How does this impact my Sundays as a Christian?” This view of the Sabbath should help us regulate our weeks. Sunday is “Father’s Day,” and we have an appointment to meet Him. The child who asks “How short can the meeting be? ” has a dysfunctional relationship problem — not an intellectual, theological problem — something is amiss in his fellowship with God.
This view of the Sabbath helps us deal with the question “Is it ok to do … on Sunday? — because I don’t have any time to do it in the rest of the week?” If this is our question, the problem is not how we use Sunday, it is how we are misusing the rest of the week.
This view of the Lord’s Day helps us see the day as a foretaste of heaven. And it teaches us that if the worship, fellowship, ministry, and outreach of our churches do not give expression to that then something is seriously amiss.
Hebrews teaches us that eternal glory is a Sabbath rest. Every day, all day, will be “Father’s Day”! Thus if here and now we learn the pleasures of a God-given weekly rhythm, it will no longer seem strange to us that the eternal glory can be described as a prolonged Sabbath!
From this article on ligonier.org
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.” (ESV)
3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. (ESV)
7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.” (ESV)
9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, (ESV)
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (ESV)
9:1 And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.
27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.
32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (ESV)
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (ESV)
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (ESV)
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; (ESV)
18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (ESV)
11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (ESV)