Opening Prayer: Our Father, we confess that when it comes to the subject of the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath we are a confused people. We come to you now trusting and believing that your Word is our life and our hope and our rest. Speak to us words of correction where we need to be corrected, encouragement where we need encouragement, rebuke where we need rebuke, and comfort us by your Spirit. For we are your children, called by your name, and it is in Jesus’ name that we pray, Amen!
The subject of the Lord’s Day has been one of the most abused and controversial of many practical subjects in the church. While all Christians give some allegiance to the Ten Commandments and very few would seriously attempt to throw any of them out, the fourth commandment has perhaps been the most confusing. On the surface most everyone knows that Sunday is in some sense what Saturday was for the Jews. And yet there still seems to be some kind of significant differences.
First of all we need to understand the overall argument and flow of the book of Hebrews. While there is a lot going on, the writer is preeminently concerned with the temptation some Jewish Christians are facing to return to Judaism. His point is not to argue against Judaism per se but rather to show that it has been fulfilled and glorified in Christ (e.g. 3:1-6). As the Israelites were delivered from Egypt and led toward the Promised Land by Moses, so too the new Israel has been delivered from the ultimate Egypt and is being led toward freedom from the bondage of old, deformed Judaism. Examples of this bondage are particularly evident in the Pharisaical Sabbath regulations (e.g. Matt. 12, Mk. 2-3, Lk. 13:10ff). Just as there were forty years of wandering in the wilderness for old Israel, there was around 40 years between the ascension of Jesus and the destruction of the temple.
A Sabbath Remains
It is in this context that the writer exhorts his audience to enter the rest of God by faith (3:13-14, 18-19, 4:2). The rest that was set before Israel was clearly on the surface the Promised Land (3:7-11). But the writer says that it was actually more than that: it meant entering the very rest of God from creation (4:3-4). The Sabbath day was a weekly memorial looking back to the finished work of creation, but also a longing for the return to the garden (Ex. 20:11). The Jewish Sabbath also looked back to the Exodus, the great re-creation work of God (Dt. 5:15). Every day was always an opportunity to mix the good news with faith, as long as it is called Today (3:13, 4:7), but this rest was more than just the Promised Land because David is still talking about entering this rest almost five hundred years later (4:7-8). This means that the Jewish Sabbath day was anticipating something more than the Promised Land. It pointed to something bigger. And his conclusion is that there remains a Sabbath for the people of God (v. 10).
Resting from Works
Verse 10 is a little tricky because of the pronouns. But it simply cannot be referring to people ceasing from their “works” trying to earn their salvation because the comparison doesn’t work: “just as God did from his.” Are man’s attempts to earn his salvation comparable to God’s work of Creation or Redemption? Of course not, but the work of Christ is comparable to Creation and Redemption. Creation has already been spoken of as the “work” of Christ (1:10), and in the immediate context “his works” refers to the works of creation (4:3-4). Therefore the “he” in verse 10 must be Christ who has finished his new work of creation/redemption and entered his rest just as God rested from his original work of creation. The seventh day Sabbath could only have changed to another day if the world was remade and God saved his people with something greater than the Exodus, and that is exactly what has happened in the resurrection (Heb. 4:10, cf. Lev. 16:31).
Conclusions & Application
So what does this mean for us? Too often sermons and books on the Sabbath have run straight to a list of ‘thou shalt nots’. But the Sabbath is to be delight (Is. 58:13). Why is the Sabbath a delight? We get to imitate God’s pattern of creation and re-creation in Jesus. It is a delight because we get to picture physically and temporally what is true everywhere and at all times: God is our strength and our blessing. This is the way the world works: you can accomplish in six days what you can’t do in seven. The Sabbath is trusting God to bless us and make us fruitful.
The Sabbath is also a delight because it is a festive celebration. The Old Testament Sabbath was supposed to have been a feast day (Lev. 23:2-3), but the priests and Pharisees had turned it into a painful dirge. If the Sabbath was a feast in the Old Covenant, how much more so ought it to be a festival in the New Covenant? The Lord’s Day should be our favorite day of the week. And our children should know that it is our favorite day of the week.
All of this flows out of a rightful understanding of worship. Worship is the center of the Lord’s Day, the center of the Day of the Lord. While we gather in God’s presence, his living presence draws near to earth, and God creates, names, judges, fights, and raises up his own. The Day of the Lord is the day of God’s great work; our Sabbath is centrally resting at the feet of Jesus, hearing his word proclaimed, sharing bread and wine with Jesus, and receiving his blessing with faith. But a Sabbath remains for the people of God. In God’s goodness, he gives us rest. Growing a robust Sabbath culture is a declaration of what Christ has done in his death and resurrection and what that means for this world.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Concluding Prayer: Almighty God, you have done great wonders in our midst. When we were in slavery to sin and darkness, you remembered your covenant, the covenant that you made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and you came to us in Jesus, bearing your right arm, and you have thrown down the principalities and powers with your outstretched arm, and you have brought us out of darkness into your marvelous light. When Jesus burst from the tomb on the first day of the week, he finished his great work of redemption, and we praise you and thank you for the rest you have won for us in Him. Give us wisdom as we seek to follow after you in this.