Blessed Sabbath Rest
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. ” Matthew 11:28-30
The text that heads this page is a call to rest. Here the Son of God, the Lord of glory, the God-man Mediator, our all-glorious Christ, bids weary, heavy laden sinners to come to him and find rest for their souls. Call it a command, if you like. When the King of the universe bids you do something, his bidding is a command. Call it an invitation, if you wish. I have no problem with that either. When the all holy, infinite God condescends to speak to hell-bent, hell-bound sinners, when he bids those sinners come to him and live, that is the sweetest, gentlest, most tender, gracious, and merciful invitation in the world! Whether we hear these words as a command, or hear them as an invitation, it matters not. The only thing that matters is that we hear them.
Here is Christ’s word to lost, ruined, guilty sinners. - “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. There is no salvation to be had, but by coming to Christ. There can never be any true, peaceful, satisfying rest for our souls, except we come to Christ, trusting him alone as our Lord and Savior, -- trusting his blood as our only atonement and his obedience as our only righteousness. Only Christ can give weary sinners rest.
Here is the Master’s word to us all, both to the unbeliever and the believer. - “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls.” In all circumstances of life we find rest unto our souls only as we voluntarily submit to the rule and dominion of the Son of God as our Lord and King. The only way to find rest is to willingly slip our necks under his yoke. When we do and only when we do, we will find that his yoke really is easy and his burden really is light. I bid you now, whatever your circumstances, take the Master’s yoke upon you, and find rest unto your soul. Take upon you the yoke of his grace, bowing to him as your Lord (Luke. 14:25-33). Take upon you the yoke of his doctrine, his gospel, bowing to him as your Prophet (Jer. 6:16). Take upon you his yoke of providence, trusting him as your God and Savior (Ps. 31:1, 5, 7, 15). Only in this way do we find rest for our souls.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The call of the gospel is a call to rest, the blessed rest of faith in Christ. It is this rest that the Old Testament sabbath day pointed to and typified. All things relating to sabbath law in the Old Testament pointed to the necessity and blessedness of that rest of faith which believers enjoy in Christ. In this study we will see from the Word of God what was required for the keeping of the Sabbath in the Old Testament law, what the purpose of that law was, and why we do not and must not keep the Old Testament sabbath today.
Sabbath Observance is not essential in the worship of God. The first observance of a sabbath day mentioned in Holy Scripture is in Genesis 2:2-3, where we are told, “God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”
Though it is not mentioned by name, here we see the first observance of a sabbath rest. The Lord God himself rested on the seventh day from all his work. That is what it is to keep the sabbath. It is to rest from all your work. Though he kept the sabbath, there was no other mention of it for 2,000 years. Adam never kept a sabbath day, either before or after the fall. Yet, he worshipped God and walked with him. Abel never observed a sabbath day; but he worshipped God. Enoch walked with God; but he never observed a sabbath day. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord; but we never read of him observing the sabbath. Abraham was the friend of God; but he did not keep a ceremonial sabbath day of any kind.
Throughout the days of the patriarchs, (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), though God was believed, worshipped, loved and honored by his people, not one of his people kept a sabbath day. Even Joseph, that great, eminent type of Christ, never once observed a sabbath day.
Were these men antinomians? Were they evil, licentious, wicked men? To even suggest such nonsense is offensive. These were men, all of them, who walked with God. They were holy, righteous, believing men. They did not keep a sabbath day, because God did not require them to do so. Yet, they worshipped God! My point is just this: -- Sabbath observance is in no way essential to the worship of God.
The ordinance of sabbath observance was established by God in the wilderness at the same time that manna was given from heaven (Ex. 16:22-30). The manna portrayed God’s provision of life in Christ, the Bread of Life. The sabbath portrayed God’s provision of rest in Christ. It is specifically called, “the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord.” “So the people rested on the seventh day.”
The children of Israel were commanded not to do any work on the sabbath. They were not even allowed to pick up manna on the seventh day of the week! In Exodus 20:8-11 God’s law strictly prohibited any man from doing any work on Saturday, and even prohibited him from having anyone under his authority to do any work for him.
Those who would impose upon us the carnal ordinance of sabbath keeping, those who would bring us back under the yoke of bondage to the law, compelling us to keep the sabbath day, compel us to do what they themselves cannot do. I know that many teach sabbath keeping as a rule of life. They would impose upon God’s saints strict rules and regulations for sabbath day observance. But all their teaching and preaching in that regard is sheer hypocrisy. Not one of them observes the sabbath day. Their teaching regarding the sabbath are just “a fair show in the flesh” (Gal. 6:12-13), no more. Their pretended reverence for the law of God, when closely examined, reveals a total disregard for God’s law. They sift through the commandments, pick out what they like, and simply ignore the rest. Let me show you what I mean. Here are four things required in God’s law for the observance of the sabbath day. If the sabbath day is observed, it must be observed in such a way as to include all four of these things.
1. The sabbath day must be observed on Saturday, the seventh day of the week (Ex. 20:10). Sunday is not the sabbath day. It never has been. Sunday is once called “the Lord’s Day,” but only once, and then with no instructions of any kind about the matter. It was the day of Christ’s resurrection. But nowhere in the Bible are we commanded, or even permitted, to observe the sabbath on Sunday.
2. No work can be done on the sabbath. -- NONE (Ex. 20:10). Works of necessity and works of mercy were permitted on the sabbath; but no one was allowed to do any work of any kind for himself, or to benefit himself. If you want to keep the sabbath day, in accordance with God’s holy law, then you must not, under penalty of death, light a fire for cooking (Ex. 35:3), gather wood for burning (Num. 15:32-36), carry any burden (Jer. 17:21-22), travel (Ex. 16:29), or do any business (Amos 8:5). Anything which might be construed as a matter of personal profit or pleasure was expressly forbidden on the sabbath day (Isa. 58:13; 56:2; Ezek. 20:12, 21). The essence of sabbath worship was absolute, unreserved, unconditional, all-encompassing self-denial. It was an utter renunciation of self and an utter dedication of one’s self to the Lord God.
3. In addition to these things, any genuine observance of the sabbath day necessitates a return to the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. The sabbath day cannot be observed without the offering of a double sin-offering, a double meal offering, and a double drink-offering; and those offerings must be made in the temple at Jerusalem (Num. 28:9-10).
4. There is one more point, which cannot be ignored. Those who insist upon keeping the sabbath must also demand the execution of all sabbath breakers (Ex. 31:15). The very same law that required the observance of the sabbath also required the death of those who broke the sabbath. If a man wants to keep the sabbath, he must also be willing to stone to death anyone who breaks the sabbath, even his own son or daughter.
Do you know anyone who observes the sabbath day this way? I don’t. Not even the most orthodox Jew, the most strict Adventist, or the most heretical Russelite in the world observes such a sabbath. And those who pretend to observe a Sunday sabbath do not even come close to the requirements of God’s Word regarding sabbath observance.
It is obvious that no one observes the sabbath day in a literal sense, and no one has for 2,000 years! Jews do not observe it. Catholics do not observe it. Protestants do not. Reformed people do not observe it. Those who pretend to observe it only make a mockery of the sabbath by their hypocrisy. Their sabbath keeping is nothing but a fleshly show!
Why not keep a sabbath day?
Why don’t we observe a sabbath day? Why do we refuse to observe a literal sabbath day? What can be wrong with sitting aside the first day of the week and requiring God’s saints to keep it as a sabbath day unto the Lord? Should we not at least allow the observance of a sabbath day by those who want to do it?
We do not and must not observe any literal sabbath day for precisely the same reasons we do not and must not observe the Jewish Passover or any other legal ceremonies of the Old Testament. The sabbath day which God required the Jews to keep was, like all the other carnal ordinances of the law, only a temporary, typical ritual of the law, which represented, portrayed, and typified the Lord Jesus Christ and our redemption by him.
When the Lord God established the sabbath, when he instituted that ordinance of worship, he gave two reasons, and only two reasons, for its observance.
1. The sabbath day was to be observed by Israel as a symbol of God’s rest (Ex. 20:8-10). It represented the completion of God’s work, the finality of creation, and God’s total satisfaction with it. Though God’s creation has been marred by sin, though the slime of the serpent’s trail has polluted it, the Book of God speaks of a time called the time of restitution. The sabbath day portrayed that day when all things shall be restored to God; and that restitution began when Christ died and rose again (Acts 3:21; Col. 1:20).
2. The observance of the sabbath was designed by God to be a constant reminder to Israel of their redemption out of Egypt. As such, it was a picture of our redemption by Christ (Deut. 5:15). Like all other aspects of the Mosaic law, the sabbath was a picture prophecy of our perfect redemption by Christ. As the Jews rested from all their works on the seventh day of the week (eating the manna, the bread of life, which God gave them without any works of their own being done), believers find perfect rest in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We do not and cannot observe a legal, literal sabbath day, because Christ is our Sabbath, and we rest in him! In the New Testament epistles (Romans - Revelation), the sabbath is only mentioned in two places. It is mentioned in the four gospels and in the Book of Acts many times in connection with the Jews and Jewish worship. But in those Epistles that prescribe all ordinances of divine worship in this gospel age, it is mentioned in just two places (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 4:3-9).
Colossians 2:16-17 – “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
Here the Apostle Paul, writing by divine inspiration, forbids the observance of a legal sabbath day on the basis of the fact that in Christ every believer is completely, totally, entirely, and forever freed from the law (Rom. 7:4; 10:4).
Hebrews 4:3-9 – “For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works…There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”
The word “rest” in these verses is the word normally translated “sabbath.” Here we are told that all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ keep the sabbath spiritually, truly keep the sabbath by faith in him. How do we keep the sabbath by faith? Just like our God kept the first sabbath. -- Coming to Christ, believing on the son of God, we cease from our works and rest in him. This is our Savior’s word of grace to poor, needy, troubled, heavy-laden sinners. – “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”