Lord's Day

The Sabbath, The Lord's Day, And Rest


After some really good discussion and questions in Message Plus and side conversations last week, I decided it might be worth our time to spend a little more time on this topic of rest and honoring the Sabbath. Let’s begin with the passages in the Old Testament that talk about the command to the Israelites to honor the Sabbath. "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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. 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 20:8-11) 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you….The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. (Exodus 31: 12-16) 

“The seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a day of sacred assembly. You shall do no work on it, wherever you live (in all your dwellings)…” (Leviticus 23:3)."Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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 ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.  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 5:12-15) 

The Old Testament commanded that the Israelites keep this day holy (“set aside”) by doing one think in particular: Resting.The word “Sabbath” is related to the Hebrew word for “rest,” and the primary duty for observant Jews was to stop working on the Sabbath: Rest by not creating or building or harvesting, but instead enjoying the fruit of their labor and God’s work on their behalf.

Since this is tied in with remembering how God freed them from slavery, they also understood this to mean they must take time to remember how God had freed them from bondage.[1]Leviticus adds that it is a time of sacred assembly.

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There are some interesting things about the Sabbath command.

It is the only commandment given as a covenant sign.We see elsewhere in the Old Testament that covenants have signs, so that the sign of the Noahic covenant is the rainbow (Gen. 9:8–17) and the sign of the Abrahamic covenant is circumcision (Gen. 17).[2]The observance of Sabbath was a constant re-honoring of the covenant between God and Israel.

It is the only commandment that is referred to as a type pointing toward the True Form (the True Sabbath).Many of the early church fathers compared Sabbath to the other covenant sign, circumcision: both were physical ways of enacting a covenant with God; both were now enacted spiritually in Christ.

"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." (Colossians 2:16-18 )

There still remains a place of rest, a true Sabbath, for the people of God because those who enter into salvation’s rest lay down their labors in the same way that God entered into a Sabbath rest from His.” (Hebrews 4:9-10)

Whatever circumcision did now, it did not bring or confirm salvation. There was a circumcision of the heart that did that.  Whatever Sabbath observance did now, it did not bring or confirm salvation. There was a Sabbath of the heart that did that.

However, I don’t know if it’s an entirely fair comparison. The other covenant signs were not part of the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments are the 10 foundational commands on which all the other Old Testament laws are basically commentary  - “This is how it looks in practice in this community”.  We don’t argue that the other 9 no longer apply to God’s people.

I am not sure the Bible frees me to think of the Sabbath as ONLY a type. Sabbath is not less than a type, but its placement in Scripture sure seems to argue that it’s more than that. There is something timelessly important about its observance by God’s people.

So, let’s talk about how the early church, which was initially filled with people moving from Judaism to Christianity, handled this.

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First, let’s look at how Jesus handled the Sabbath.He pointed out that so many of the Pharisee’s laws were missing the point of Sabbath. Sabbath is for us.It had become a burden to keep, and it should not have been a burden. It should have been a blessing. So he didn’t re-command it… but he also didn’t un-command it. He clarified what keeping it does and doesn’t look like: specifically, what kind of freedom do we have in rest. It should not be governed rigidly by narrow definitions of what is work and what is not. Sabbath rest should not be yet another legalistic burden on Christians.

“The God who made the Sabbath is not a cranky schoolmaster, always forbidding, coercing obedience, and watching sniveling subjects slinking about in cowardly compliance. The Sabbath commandment comes from a kind, wise teacher who does not like to see us suffer. Let me make it easier for you, God says….Forgetting the Sabbath is like forgetting to unwrap the most beautiful gift under the tree... “Excerpt from Sabbath by Wayne Muller

Many Jewish converts observed Saturday as Sabbath and Sunday as the Lord’s Day (which Gentiles treated as the Sabbath).Sabbath was such an important part of life to Jewish converts that it was unthinkable not to keep it. The mostly Jewish early church believed Jesus had come to redeem Judaism and the Jews, not to set up another religion. They assumed they would continue to meet in the Temple. So when they converted to following Jesus, they continued to observe the Sabbath in the Temple even as they focused on Jesus.

  • The first Christians were all together with one accord in the Temple at the time they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). 
  • In Acts 2:46,“And they, continuingdaily with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house, ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”
  • Acts 5:12 “The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.”
  • Acts 18: 4 “Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

But… they also began to talk a LOT about the importance of setting apart the day after the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, the day on which Jesus rose from the tomb (Mark 16:2; cf. Matt. 28:1; Luke 24:1). The argument was that Jesus was dead (“resting”) on the rest day of the Sabbath, so that kind of observance was still good. But on Sunday Jesus rose, and that’s a day of celebration, so Sunday was the Risen Lord’s Day.[3]Many Jewish converts to Christianity observed both days because they saw the Lord’s Day as separate from Sabbath rather than a fulfillment of it.

A major split between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews took place before the Bible was even done being written. John 9:29 describes how "the Jews had agreed that if anyone confessed Jesus as the Christ or messiah they were to be excluded from the synagogue."In the Eighteen Benedictions that Jews recited daily and in every synagogue service, Christians were singled out as heretics and given a curse:

“For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and the [Nazoreans] and the minim [which at least includes Jewish Christians] perish as in a moment and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant.”

Since no Christians were going to go say that about themselves, their Sabbath synagogue attendance stopped.

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Since, as the writer of Hebrews points out, True Rest and the True Sabbath are found in Christ, it sure seems on the one hand that Sabbath Rest points toward the spiritual rest in Christ and the salvation he offers us.

On the other hand, the seriousness with which the Old Testament treats the observance of Sabbath rest and the assumed continuance of it by the early converts sure seems to at least strongly suggest there is a timeless to the Sabbath command that ought to carry significant weight in our lives.

As I’ve been reading a LOT of Christian perspectives this past two weeks about whether or not Christians HAVE to observe a Day of Rest, and if it should be Saturday or Sunday, and what we should and shouldn’t do, I’ve found people whom I respect have a lot of different and at times conflicting opinions about all of this. I’m not going to resolve that tension for you. That’s your homework.

I want to finish by talking a little bit about some principles for observing and experiencing rest in Jesus.

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30

Come to Jesus and take His yoke. “Take my yoke” was a common saying of rabbis. It meant, “If you are going to be a disciple, you must obey my teachings and follow my example.” If you want rest – deep, spiritual rest of the heart and soul - don’t pursue rest. Pursue Jesus.

Learn about Jesus.  Rest is connected to trust.My cat sleeps on me without a care in the world because she trusts me. If you trust the driver, you can rest on a trip. I can bare my soul to my wife because I trust her. Rest is connected with trust. If you can’t seem to rest in Christ, learn more about a Savior you can trust.

And you will find rest for your souls.  Is there a formula for how we can practically experience this rest (and I’m talking about soul rest that permeates every aspect of our life)? I don’t think there is a formula, but some ideas are probably better than others. I am going to offer a couple ideas built from a list taken from some of Tim Keller’s writing on the Sabbath.

  1. Consciously Enjoy[4]God and His good gifts. Appreciate what you have achieved through God’s help. Remember the freedom salvation brings (past, present and future tense); celebrate the freedom Jesus offers from all kinds of slavery: slavery to achieve, slavery to impress, slavery to earn, slavery to addictions of all kinds… I think this can look really different depending who you are. I’m not interested in being legalistic. I am interested if you are enjoying God and His good gifts.
  2. Do something that frees you from the slavery of being amazing. (Controlling, building, creating, accomplishing, making a mark on the world, being noticed).The world turns even when you take time off! (I know, right?) Israelites had to let their fields lie fallow every seventh year. (Leviticus 25:1–7). This stopped them from over farming.  They could enjoy whatever grew on its own.  You need time to make sure you don’t “overfarm” your life or your schedule; just let stuff come up that is the good fruit of your life, and enjoy it.
  3. Plan some contemplative rest (prayer, singing, reading the Scripture, listening to God.) I like to do this until I fall asleep on my bed, honestly. It’s really refreshing. Seriously. Listen, if you are going to ”lie down in green pastures,” you are going to go to sleep. Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as success. Unless it’s during this sermon.
  4. Do something that refreshes you.Be careful that recreation really refreshes. Enjoy that which you find beautiful, and thank God for it. Also, don’t feel the need to imitate each other’s Sabbath rhythms if what someone else does is not refreshing to you. [5]
  5. Make the True Sabbath a part of your daily lifestyle
  • Creating moments in the day to rest and pray
  • Consciously giving up fear/anxiety/worry
  • Interrupting conflict with love
  • Surrendering the Last Word in your arguments J


I am going to finish with a quote from Spurgeon, who wrote and preached a lot about the Sabbath. It feels like a great summary of a whole bunch of ideas.

“I am no preacher of the old legal Sabbath… I am a preacher of the Gospel, and rejoice that Believers are not “under the Law, but under Grace…” therefore I keep this day [Sunday, for Spurgeon]…  not as a slavish bondage, not as a day on which I am chained and hampered with restraints against my will, but… as a day in which I may take holy pleasure in serving God, and in adoring before His Throne… the Lord’s Day of the Christian… is a joy, a day of rest, of peace and of thanksgiving….

This day is Care’s balm and cure, the couch of time, the haven of Divine calms. Come, my Soul, throw yourself upon this couch —rest and take your ease—for you have come unto Jesus, to a finished Sacrifice, to a completed Righteousness, and your soul may be satisfied in the Lord, and your spirit may rejoice in the Lord your God. This is to keep Sabbath…!

In vain do you keep the day, unless, your hearts keep it too. Oh, may your hearts know how to find in Christ a perfect rest…! May God give you Divine Grace to know your sin, and enable you to fly to the Savior, and find in Him all your soul needs! May He enable you to rest in Christ today, and then you shall keep Sabbaths on earth till you keep the eternal Sabbath before the Throne… Trust Him, and so shall you be saved, and your spirit shall be at ease.


[1]“Anyone who cannot obey God's command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you… Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom. It means you are not a slave—not to your culture's expectations, your family's hopes, your medical school's demands, not even to your own insecurities. It is important that you learn to speak this truth to yourself with a note of triumph...” - Tim Keller

[2]Circumcision was not unique to the Israelites, but the type of circumcision may have been. The Egyptians, for example, appear to have used circumcision as an act of initiation or rite of passage for boys entering ‘manhood.’ Circumcision was an act of initiation; the style of circumcision showed what you had been initiated into. This may seem odd to us, but it made sense to everyone in the Ancient Near East. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/55911658.pdf

[3]Acts 20:7 - "And upon the first dav of the week when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, and continued his speech until midnight. "