‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’ ~ Mark 2:27
Jesus completes this statement by adding, ‘Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:28). Of the Ten Commandments God gave to the Israelites, the fourth was; ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work’ (Exodus 20:8). God continues to explain that, ‘For in six days the Lord made heaven and 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’ (v11). God resting from work does not mean that He was tired because, ‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom’ (Isaiah 40:28). It simply means that God ceased from work on the seventh day because He ‘saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). In other words, God’s work was perfection and nothing more could be added, and so He rested. He ceased from creation.
The Israelites however could only enter the rest of God through work. After the Fall of the first man, all mankind was separated from God, and the only way they could approach God was by offering sacrifices to atone for their sins. This was work. Continually, the Israelites had to offer sacrifices for purification and atonement for any and every sin committed. It was to the extent that, ‘If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s command, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty. When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting’ (Leviticus 4:13). This was the only way that the God could ‘dwell among the Israelites and be their God’ (Exodus 29:45), because ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22). And so approaching a Holy God meant that they had to atone for each and every sin, every time, or else they would die, because ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die’ (Ezekiel 18:20).
So the Israelites knew what work was, making the Sabbath highly regarded. In fact, anyone who did not observe the Sabbath, ‘The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp’ (Numbers 15:35). God’s unwavering command that they do no physical work on the Sabbath (both man and beast), was to give them a foretaste of what rest was. God instructs, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy’ (Exodus 31:13). God says my Sabbaths, meaning that He only can provide rest to mankind, and that the rest the Israelites were enjoying once a week was a sign of a better rest to come – not just in the literal sense, but more so in the spiritual sense. God says, ‘The sorrows for the appointed feasts I will remove from you; they are a burden and a reproach to you’ (Zephaniah 3:18).
When that time finally came because Perfection, the Seventh Day, arrived, many Jews still did not cease from their labour. Jesus, ‘the author and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2), died for our sins once and for all. This means ‘we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (10:v10). ‘And where these have been forgiven, there is no more sacrifice for sin’ (v18). Perfection is decreed, and so rest is decreed. Man ceases from work, because God Himself made it possible for all mankind to enter rest. It is God’s Sabbath, God’s rest that we enter into. This Sabbath is not a once a week observation. It is not even a day of the week. It is a condition, a constant spiritual reality. However, the religious leaders could not grasp this, and so when they saw Jesus and His disciples picking corn on the Sabbath, they remarked, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ (Mark 2:24). Even when Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath, they used that as a basis of plotting against Him. But Jesus asks, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ (3:v4). Jesus who achieved perfection and rest for mankind was hinting that He is Lord of the Sabbath, and even says it plainly. In other words, the focus should be on Him and not on a certain day, because He Himself is rest. He is the Sabbath. In fact, He says, ‘Come to me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). Yes, ‘ye shall find rest for your souls’ (v29) in Jesus, not on a certain day.
‘One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind’ (Romans 14:5). Paul was alluding that accepting Jesus is the bottom line for all Christian activities, and so whether one considers the Sabbath a Monday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, it does not matter. Because if one has accepted Christ, they are already in God’s Sabbath, God’s rest, and so, ‘He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord’ (v6). The only error lies in inverting the sequence – when one uses a day as means to wear themselves out in order to get right with God. Such should instead of accept Jesus and His rest, and merely set aside time for assembling in worship be it on a Sunday, Friday, Saturday, or Wednesday. ‘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 things that were to come; the reality, however is found in Christ’ (Colossians 2:16-17). Christ, the Sabbath, is not only holy, but makes those who observe Him holy.
For Christians who have entered into God’s rest through Christ Jesus, every day is a Sabbath, ‘as long as it is called Today’ (Hebrews 3:13). Those who refuse to accept Jesus and so do not ‘make every effort to enter that rest’ (4:v11), are defying God’s command. And the same way the Sabbath-breaker had to be put to death, those who refuse Jesus and so fail to enter into His rest are condemned to eternal death. ‘Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it’ (v1). So, for those who believe in Jesus, He ‘made known to them your holy Sabbath’ (Nehemiah 9:14). He made known Himself. And so anyone who believes in Jesus enters rest and escapes God’s wrath, because ‘they were presented before the Lord and have become holy’ (Numbers 16:38). Presenting ourselves wholly to Jesus everyday is not work. It is rest, for it entails sitting by Jesus’ feet and listening to Him, the Word. Jesus tells Martha who was up and about instead of staying by His feet like Mary did, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’ (Luke 10:41-42).