I’ve never technically observed sabbath. I believe Jesus released us from the place of holding to Mosaic / Hebrew law, but reading the Old Testament over the years has given me so much insight into how God desires me to relate to Him through the instructions he gave to the Israelites.
I was casually perusing Leviticus (j/k I’m trying to read through the Bible this year) and came across the story of God giving Moses directives for a day of atonement. Once again Israel had messed up (Aaron’s sons, to be exact), and in this place God was offering grace for them to be made right with Him again.
One particular verse gave me pause:
“It will be a day of Sabbath – of complete rest for you, and you must deny yourselves.” Leviticus 16:31
I’ve always understood sabbath to be a day of remembrance and rest. A re-prioritization of God above all else. A day set apart to focus my heart and mind on what God has done in me, why I still need Him to get through the rest of my week and why He’s worthy of my everything.
“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. There fore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)
People always talk about how God rested on the 7th day in Genesis and how Sabbath is a way for us to follow in those footsteps. Pause the weekly chaotic cycle and REST. While this takes discipline to implement – it doesn’t exactly sound like a denial. Another translation says afflict yourselves. Not sure about you but not working sounds pretty great actually.
But then I thought about what I would choose if I wasn’t working… all the movies I’d catch up on, the lazying around, hiking or cooking I’d do. These aren’t bad things – but they’re still distractions in the wake of not working. Funny how quickly ‘rest’ turns into ‘what can I do/accomplish with this free time?’ God’s call to rest isn’t just to rest FROM but to rest IN. To rest IN HIM.
“And he said unto them, the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
Clearly God thought this practice was a necessary, even essential, part of living in wholeness. He created a day for his people to stop and just be with him. So what does THAT look like? Full circle back to what initially lead up to the call for sabbath: a day of atonement.
I read an interesting commentary on Matthew 12, a recount of Jesus’ rebuttal to the Pharisees’ accusal of He and his disciples unlawfully plucking grains of wheat on a sabbath:
For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day–In what sense now is the Son of man Lord of the sabbath day? Not surely to abolish it–that surely were a strange lordship, especially just after saying that it was made or instituted for MAN–but to own it, to interpret it, to preside over it, and to ennoble it, by merging it in the “Lord’s Day” ( Revelation 1:10 ), breathing into it an air of liberty and love necessarily unknown before, and thus making it the nearest resemblance to the eternal sabbatism.
I love that last line – breathing into it an air of liberty and love. Ultimately, confession and forgiveness are so key in bringing liberty and love in my life. And isn’t that atonement? Allowing Jesus and his grace into the crappy parts of my heart and the pieces that STILL DON’T MAKE SENSE, or don’t feel like they’re going anywhere, or don’t look how they should. It’s comfortable (for a while) to just let yourself be where you’re at and acknowledge you want to change. But man, it gets uncomfortable real quick when you stay there and aren’t changing. ::can I get an amen::
In a way I didn’t see it coming, but I’ve sort of fallen in love with the church I started going to less than a year before I left for Thailand. Their pursuit of being real – honest and vulnerable with yourself, your community and God – has brought some incredible healing and transformation in people around me that’s reignited my desire for intimacy with the Lord. And as I’ve heard them talk week in and week out about ‘being real,’ I’m believing it on a heart level. And realizing that I’ll never experience the life altering transformation of heart I so want without first being honest myself and bringing those broken parts to Jesus, sabbath after sabbath.
“But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years.” (Galatians 4:9-10)
God help me if I just start implementing another practice in my week. A day of rest – sure, it’s great in principle. But Galatians reminds me that that won’t get me anywhere I haven’t been before.
If sabbath is going to truly be a day of rest, a day of denial, and a day of atonement – then I HAVE to let go of the comfort of living with my sin. Living with the parts that don’t look like Jesus or even resemble someone who knows Him. I have to give those up to him, deny myself the place of staying where I’m at, and rest in the freedom that comes from letting Him take those pieces – and watch Him start turning me into someone who’s truly been resting in Him.
“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)