Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Sabbath: A shadow of Christ

I would like to share of a recent study I did of the sabbath and how it gave me a completely new perspective on rest, and ultimately how it pointed toward Jesus.

What is the Sabbath?  Christians often think of it as the day of rest, in particularly abstain from work usually done on Sunday.  The Jewish Sabbath was on the seventh day - Saturday, and in fact the 4th commandment from God given by Moses was to remember the Sabbath and to keep it Holy.  There are some people such as the Seventh Day Adventists who claim that we are not really Christians unless we also observe the Sabbath on the Saturday, reasoning that the Pope or Constantine shifted the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday and as such we worship false gods or idols.

So to understand the origin of the Sabbath, we must look at its first occurance in the Bible - Genesis 2:1-3.  This was the seventh day of creation, God had finished the work He had done in creation and He rested.  So the main thing we can learn about the Sabbath was that it is about rest.  The word rest occurs twice here, and the hebrew word is שׁבת (shâbath).  What does rest mean?  Clearly in this context, rest is not the kind of thing you do when you are tired, God does not get tired.  Rather the word means to "desist from exertion" or "cease from effort".  God rested because He finished a particular effort, his work in creation.

The next thing we notice is that the seventh day is different to all the other days.  In each of the other six days, the day ended with "there was evening and there was morning...".  I believe this eludes to the idea that the Sabbath is not tied to a particular day.  We are never told that God ever stopped resting from His creation work.  His last and final work in creation was creating Man, and He is still to this day, resting, from His "creation" work.  But God is active and working today.  In John 5:17, Jesus' answer to the Pharisees charge of working on the Sabbath, was that He was doing the will of the Father, and that God never ceases from the work of mercy and compassion.  This Sabbath which God has entered, is still continuing today, and is not limited to any particular day, but is concerned with rest from effort.

Now we compare this true Sabbath, this rest, to the Jewish Sabbath which was given to the people of Israel by Moses.  I would like to quickly make a point here that my view is that the entire old testament, is filled with Shadows or Types or Symbols which pointed towards Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb, burnt offerings, the Tabernacle, the High Priest, the Ark, all of these look forward to the one who would fulfill these.  Let us turn to Colossians 2:16-17.
Col 2:16  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.

Col 2:17  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.  
Paul is telling us here that many of the Jewish laws, traditions, ceremonies were a shadow of things to come, pointing towards Jesus who ultimately fulfilled all these things.  We no longer need sacrifice animals because Jesus offered Himself as the passover lamb to God once and for all.  We are also told that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath, and so claims that we are not Christians unless we observe the Sabbath on Saturday are as absurd as needing to sacrifice animals at the alter.  The Jewish weekly Sabbath occurred on Saturday.  We go to Church on Sunday because that is the Lord's Day, the day of resurrection.  This day has nothing to do with the Jewish Sabbath, its not a day of rest, its not the Sabbath.

When Jesus died and rose again, Christians stopped observing the Sabbath on Saturday, and began observing the Lord's day on Sunday.  So the weekly Sabbath was fulfilled when Jesus died and rose again.  We no longer need to observe such a day as a day of rest.  We can now experience the true Sabbath through Jesus.  Turn to Hebrews 4:8-10.
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
The book of Hebrews is all about how the old testament prophesies are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and I think this passage is telling us how to experience that true Sabbath, the rest for the people of God.  We can enter God's rest by ceasing from our works as God also ceased from His.

Matthew 11:28-30
28"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
 29"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
 30"For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
A yoke would have been something Jesus built as a carpenter.  A yoke is a piece of wood which was put onto oxen in order to pull a load.  But a yoke would almost always fit two oxen, as the two would work together.  When Jesus refers to putting on His yoke, He is saying He will work with us, by His strength.  Not by our efforts but His.  We are to rest from our work, doing things our own way, and do things under His strength.  That is what Paul meant when He said "It is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me".  The oxen under yoke is no longer able to do his own will, but only the will of his master.  The same is true when we put on Jesus' yoke, we are no longer able to do own thing, but only the will of the Lord.

Jesus said "Come to me, and I will give you rest".  So many of us Christians or not alike are unsatisfied with life.  We don't find happiness in our relationships, our jobs, our material wealth.  We don't have peace in our souls.  The true Sabbath is to rest from our own efforts, and allow God to work in us.  We are to put on Jesus' yoke and He will give us rest.

Further Reading:
In Hebrews 4, it mentions the Israelites led by Moses, and how they were not able to enter the Promised Land.  It was ultimately Joshua who brought them in.  Read the book of Joshua and notice where it says the Israelites will find rest in the land.  The book of Joshua is about conquering the land of Cannan, crossing the Jordan.  How does this parallel with the book of Ephesians, a book about life after becoming a Christian?