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Jesus and Honoring the Sabbath

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Pastors work on Sundays. In spite of the standard joke about only working one day a week, a pastor’s studying, counseling, teaching, overseeing staff, meetings, and a myriad of other tasks means that most pastors have trouble even taking one day a week off. With the weight of ministry and shepherding the flock on their shoulders, pastors often work too much to the detriment of their own health and their family. It’s just a fact of life in ministry.

Scripture is clear that we were not created to work, work, work. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is only part of the problem. It also leads to idolatry of our own efforts, exhaustion, and burnout. It’s true in ministry. It’s also true in any other field of work. Rest invigorates. Rest re-creates. Rest is essential. And rest is commanded by God!

Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) was commanded by God through Moses. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” is the fourth of the Ten Commandments.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the 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.” (Exodus 20:8-11 NIV)

The One who created us knows we need rest and family time to make us ready for the work and challenges ahead of us. Some people say, “I work seven days a week, and I haven’t had a vacation in years,” like it’s a good thing. Look at how hard I work. I’m a self-made man, and I provide for my family by the work of my hands. While there is nothing wrong with working hard, God knows we need balance in our lives. We need Sabbath rest. On the other hand, Sabbath is not meant to be a legalistic thing that brings guilt and shame into our lives by its violation. Jesus “broke” the Sabbath in the eyes of the Pharisees, often on purpose, to help them see the heart of Sabbath rest beyond its legalistic observance.

Jesus and His disciples were walking through a field one Sabbath day and the disciples were hungry. They plucked a few heads of grain and ate. It was a simple thing. Their hunger was met by the bounty of God. But they were sharply criticized by some Pharisees (keepers of the Law of Moses) who saw them do it.

The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24 NIV)

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees was to point out that King David and his men went into the Tabernacle on the Sabbath and ate the consecrated bread that only the priests were allowed to eat. God did not strike them dead or punish them in any other way. It was a technical violation of honoring the Sabbath rules that brought life to them. Then Jesus laid this zinger on the Pharisees:

Then He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28 NIV)

Sabbath was given for our benefit. Rest is good for us. God knows it, and God commands it. But the good work of ministry – feeding hunger and healing the sick like Jesus did on Sabbath days – is allowed on the Sabbath. It is not to be seen as work, but as fulfilling the very purpose of our Savior, who is not only Lord of us, He is also Lord of the Sabbath. The Holy Spirit knows what is an opportunity from God to do ministry and what is an expression of our workaholism and reliance on our own good deeds. He can prompt one and check our spirit from falling into the other.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. Do you have trouble taking time off? Do you feel guilty if you take a break and rest? Do you attend Church for an hour on Sunday (the Christian Sabbath day) and then cram the rest of the day with chores like grocery shopping, doing laundry and mowing the lawn? Let the Holy Spirit speak to your frenetic spirit of working and call you to Sabbath rest. Take time to be with Jesus and to be with family. It is good, holy time. It is not a waste, it is life-giving. Rested and ready, we can then face the rigors of work with new energy and passion. That’s the way God designed life, and that’s the way He designed us.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. It’s good and holy to set aside a day a week to reconnect with God and with family. I’m writing this at 5 am on Sunday morning. I anticipate the worship services that are coming and relish the privilege to bring the Word of God to the people of God. And I’m anticipating the joy of my Sunday afternoon preacher nap after worship and lunch. How will you keep the Sabbath today?


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