“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.”
Have you ever watched kids running and playing on the playground with their friends and thought, Wow! I wish I had their energy! Or have you ever had to stay up late finishing a work project and totally dragged through the next day, remembering your high school and college days when you hardly slept at all, taking parties, classes, and other adventures all in your stride? As adults, our souls long for rest. No matter our age, sabbath brings rest—and rest brings joy.
As author Ruth Haley Barton put it, “Sabbath keeping helps us to live within our limits, because on the Sabbath, in many different ways we allow ourselves to be the creature in the presence of our Creator. We touch something more real in ourselves, and others than what any of us is able to produce. We touch our very being in God.”
the joy of rest
It seems counterintuitive, but when we rest, we learn. We learn about God and, surprisingly about ourselves—about who we really are when we take time to stop and remind ourselves that we are the creature, God is the Creator, and this is right. There, in the place of rest, we find deep, abiding joy because we stop striving and begin to interact with God as He originally intended.
In Matthew 11, Jesus explained true rest to His disciples: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (vv. 28–30 NASB).
a picture of salvation
Sabbath in the Old Testament was a picture of what Jesus would eventually provide for us through His life, atoning death, and resurrection, which paid for our sins and reconciled us to God. Without Christ’s willingness to suffer and pay for our sins, we would be lost in endless, joyless striving. His yoke is light because He chose to pay the debt humanity owed but was entirely unable to pay. When we choose sabbath, laying aside our work reminds us that we can also stop striving for salvation because Christ has done that work on our behalf. This opens up the possibility for profound rest and great joy.
In his classic work The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine, A. W. Tozer explains what happens in the lives of Christians when they take the yoke of Jesus upon themselves. “The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.” With this acceptance comes a flood of relief that raises up gratitude and joy in the heart of the believer.
Learning to keep the sabbath can be difficult at first because it is so counter to our culture’s idol of busyness. We will spend our lives walking the line between feeling like we need to earn God’s love and wanting to rest in the reality of His love. The practice of the sabbath urges us to pay attention and to not only stop for physical rest, but to truly surrender our anxiety and desire to be creator and sustainer of our own lives. Practicing the sabbath teaches us to rest securely in the joy God has for us.