KEY THOT: Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). Putting aside for the moment the theological debate about whether the Sabbath should be Saturday or Sunday, it is important to take note of the purpose of Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” does not mean Saturday but is derived from Hebrew verb sabat which means “to rest”. So, we are told in Exodus 23:12 “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest (sabat)”. So, the more important question about the Sabbath is not “when?” but “why?” We are to work six days but rest one day in a week. Sabbath was decreed in order that we don’t overwork and that we give ourselves (our body, mind and spirit) time to be fed and renewed. But how shall we spend this “rest day” in order to renew ourselves? Isaiah 58:13-14 gives us some tips:
- “If you turn back your foot…from doing your pleasure on my holy day”: Firstly, stop using the rest day to pursue our pleasures. Instead, since it is God’s “holy day”, we are to set it aside for the Lord—to focus on Him in worship, to listen to his word and just enjoy his presence with other of His children. It’s like having our weekly “Marriage Time” with the Lord—fully focused on Him, not distracted by our personal work and interests. We could read some good Christian books to fill up the day or just spend some solitude time with the Lord. (While it's not possible for some to have the "rest day" on Sunday, they can choose another weekday to rest and renew their spirits.)
- “call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable”: It also about maintaining a positive and healthy attitude towards this special day of rest—not keeping late night the day before or sleeping in on this “holy day”. It means rising early because we delight in it and are looking forward to give the day to focus on the Lord.
- “if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly”: It also means engaging in holy activities, not in wasting the day in “talking idly”. To avoid idle conversation, it is good to focus our conversation as a family around God’s word, especially what is heard in the preaching. (Recent practice in our church of care-groups meeting immediately after the Sunday worship service to discuss the sermon text and message is a good way to keep our conversation “holy”, instead of simply going off immediately to do our own things and forgetting totally what we have just heard from God’s servants.)
While we should avoid the religious legalism of the Jewish Sabbath (focusing on man-made rules regarding the Sabbath like what we can or cannot do), we should remember Jesus’ word that “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. God gave us the "rest day" to bless us, not to burden us. It is given to restore our spiritual vision and to feed and renew our spirits so that we are ready to bring God's presence into our workplace the following week. Therefore, it’s a good personal and family habit and discipline to set aside this day for God.
Remember, the Sabbath is God's holy day, not our holiday. So we should use it to delight in Him, not delight in ourselves.
Father, thank You for the blessing us with the gift of a rest day once a week. Help us keep this day holy unto You instead of filling it up with our work or our personal pursuits that do not renew our spirits. Amen.