Does the Sabbath Commandment apply to Christians today? If so how? Is it Saturday or Sunday? What does Sabbath rest mean for a Christian?
I’m not going to try to fully answer all these questions in a brief article, but I want to focus on just one small aspect of the Sabbath that will help us put all those things in the proper perspective: Why did God give the Sabbath to Israel?
One verse explains why God gave physical Sabbath rest to Israel, and its answer is surprising.
So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. (Ezekiel 20:10-12, ESV)
We can make two observations from this explanation of Sabbath:
First, the Sabbath rest identifies both God and his people to the watching unbelievers. Who are the people of God? They are the people who belong to YHWH. Who is YHWH? He is the God who liberates his people from slavery and gives them rest. This leads to a second point.
Second, the Sabbath rest communicates something about the character of the God to whom we belong. He is not a tyrant. He does not burden his people. He is the God who gives his people rest. He’s not like the other (false) gods who are heavy-handed with burdensome expectations.
There are two implications of these points that are relevant to ministry and missions.
1. If we can’t take the time to rest because we are too busy in ministry, we are behaving as if our God is burdensome, not generous with rest. Our God is not the kind of God who unduly burdens his people with toilsome work, even the work of the ministry. Our God is the God who gives his people rest.
2. Non-Christians ought to look at our lives and see that we worship a God who is not burdensome like theirs. Those who worship other gods must constantly work to please them, and they cannot rest from trying to earn the favor of their gods. But when they see us, they must see a people who are not restlessly striving to earn God’s favor.
We must exhibit a state of rest in the finished work of Christ upon the cross, so our service to him should not appear burdensome. We must demonstrate to them that we don’t restlessly serve to try to earn our place with him. We serve out of joy for what he has already done for us.
We may have a tendency to say to ourselves, “I’m the only who can (or will) do this ministry; if I don’t do it, then it won’t get done.” But that’s a dangerous line of thinking. The truth is that God doesn’t lay that kind of burden on his people. He doesn’t leave us alone to manage the ministry on our own.
Consider the example of Elijah, who thought that the burden for ministry was on him: “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10).
But God revealed to Elijah that he was not alone. The burden of ministry was not on Elijah, but on God himself. “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).
Should we be surprised at what follows in the very next verse? “So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him” (v. 19a).
When Elijah was at his lowest, most discouraged point in ministry, God reminded him that the burden was not his. Then, God put shoe leather to his promise and provided Elijah with Elisha to serve with him in ministry, relieving the load. God provided Elijah rest, refreshment, assistance, fellowship, and a replacement. He had everything covered the whole time.
We serve a God who is not burdensome and heavy-handed with his people. Let us serve him with joy, resting in his promises and provision.