Entering Sabbath Rest

The Lord’s Day is the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament Sabbath, the day of rest that God instituted at the close of the creation week. On this day God calls His people to rest; not merely to rest physically (though that is part of it), but to rest spiritually. This spiritual rest is an important dimension of our worship on the Lord’s Day. For that reason, we do well to think about Sabbath rest as we prepare ourselves for worship tomorrow.

The true idea of Sabbath rest is lost in much of the church today. On the one side, there are those who have taken the liberty to transform the Sabbath into a day for themselves. Rather than faithfully attend the corporate worship of the church, they are very willing to substitute “family time” or some other activity in place of church. That can be a temptation for us too. After all, family time is a good thing, right? The problem is, just because something is a good thing does not mean it is an acceptable substitute for what God commands His people to do on the Lord’s Day: public worship in the assembly of the saints. There is no other activity that is a legitimate substitute for going to church (Heb. 10:25). On the other side there is the danger of adopting a rigid legalism about the Sabbath. Yes, we are not to work on the Sabbath. But there is a lot more to Sabbath observance than keeping a long list of “don’ts.” If that was the heart of the matter, the meticulous Pharisees would be role-models for us all. The real question is not “What are you not doing on Sunday?” but “What are you doing on Sunday?”

The Lord’s Day is a day of rest. But it is a day of rest that God intends to be filled with lively activity! To see this we need look no farther than what God Himself did on the first Sabbath Day. God rested. But what did that rest consist of? It consisted of God enjoying His finished work of creation. God was not idle. God did not sleep the day away. He spent the day active, enjoying the finished works of His hands. This is also true, in fact, for Adam and Eve. Remember that God created Adam and Eve on the sixth day. That means Adam and Eve’s first full day of life was the Sabbath day, a day of rest with God. And how did Adam and Eve spend the Sabbath? By walking and talking with God in the garden (Gen. 3:8), fellowshipping with Him, and enjoying His finished work.

So it is with us. Sabbath rest is not the cessation of all activity; Sabbath rest is entering into the enjoyment of God’s finished work for us in Christ. Our sin has disrupted our fellowship with God. But Christ has restored us to God’s fellowship through His atoning work on the cross. We who were once alienated have been drawn nigh again. Being reconciled to God, we have Sabbath rest once more. Our Sabbath rest is fellowshipping with the God of our salvation in and through Jesus Christ. And we enter into this Sabbath rest by being active in the spiritual activities of the Lord’s Day. It is here that the command not to do any work enters the picture. Avoiding work is not an end in itself. We lay aside our daily labors in order to devote ourselves fully to the refreshing spiritual activities of the Lord’s Day. We rest from our everyday callings that we might actively enter into the rest of our Lord.

The chief and most important activity of our Sabbath rest is the public, corporate worship services of the church. In worship we enter into the rest of our Lord. Here in the assembly of the saints we together acknowledge our God and extol His matchless worth. Together we “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15), in prayer, and in song, and in giving of alms. Together we are spiritually nourished by the means of grace: the life-giving Word and faith-strengthening Sacraments. God meets with us in our worship. He draws us nigh unto Himself in sweet communion. We enjoy a foretaste of eternal life with God. There is nothing like it in all the world. True joyful rest!

While the worship of the church is the heart of our Sabbath rest, the spiritual activities of the day do not end there. The whole day is for Sabbath rest! This means we ought to resist the temptation to use the time between church services for ourselves. Instead we should be busy in spiritual activities: reading, prayer, discussing spiritual things with family and friends around the table, to name a few. Of course, this does not mean that we may never take a Sunday afternoon snooze to refresh ourselves for the evening service. But it does require that we honestly face the question: What is your focus on Sunday? Is it Sabbath rest: enjoying fellowship with God through Christ’s finished work? Or is it selfish rest: using the day first for your own pleasure and relaxation? Let the Lord’s Day be a day of heartfelt worship! Let it be a day brimming with spiritual activities that deepen your relationship with God and spiritually refresh you for the battle of the Christian life in the week ahead.

Indeed, the Sabbath is forward looking. Sabbath rest extends beyond Sunday. It’s not just about one day a week, it’s about all of our days. We take our Sabbath rest into the work week ahead. Every day we seek to enter into the rest of our Lord. How so? The Heidelberg Catechism offers a fine answer: “that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by His Holy Spirit in me; and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath” (LD 38).

We carry Sabbath rest into the week by living out of the finished work of Christ. The Lord Jesus has implanted His new life in our hearts. Out of this new life we live! We live the Sabbath life! The rest and worship of the Sabbath Day strengthen and refresh us to go into the week ahead, put away our evil works, and put on the works of Christ. The Sabbath ought to have a “sanctifying influence” on the week days to follow. As we more and more crucify our sinful natures and put away our sins, and as we more and more are conformed to the image of Christ, we begin, already in this life, to enjoy the eternal Sabbath.

As we prepare our hearts for worship tomorrow, let us resolve to be busy in the spiritual activities that befit a Christian on the Lord’s Day. And let us resolve to carry our Sabbath rest into the week ahead, to fight sin, and to live consciously every day out of the new life of Christ.

Justin Smidstra

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