When approaching the discussion of the Sabbath we need to acknowledge the various debates it creates. There is a debate on whether the Sabbath has changed from Saturday in the Old Testament to Sunday, and is now identified with the Lord’s Day in the New Testament. Though I believe this to be the case, there are brothers and sisters in the Lord who don’t. So in this post I will refer to Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. As interesting as these debates are, this article isn’t concerned with them.
The Bible is very clear on this: the Christian Sabbath is the day of rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-13; Acts 20:7). There isn’t any debate here. Yet good and godly Christians differ on what this rest entails. While some believe that rest should include refraining from recreational activities others believe that Christians can still engage in recreational activities on the Sabbath. Again, this article won’t enter into those discussions.
The Christian Sabbath is the day of rest and worship.
Instead, I would like to highlight one important truth about the Christian Sabbath. In his word, God reminds us that the day should be a delight for all his people. So, using Isaiah 58:13-14, below I will highlight five reasons why Christians should delight in the Sabbath. Being “made for man,” it isn’t a burden but a joy. As the 19th century Anglican bishop, J. C. Ryle correctly notes, “The Sabbath is God’s merciful appointment for the common benefit of all mankind…It is not a yoke, but a blessing. It is not a burden, but a mercy…Above all, it is good for souls.”
Isaiah: The Sabbath is a Time of Delight
In Isaiah 58:13-14 God says, “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
God’s will for the Sabbath was not being obeyed by his people.
The context of this exhortation is that God’s covenant people are rendering half-hearted worship to God. For example, at the beginning of the chapter the Lord rebukes their fasting. For instead of being a time that they humble and devote themselves fully to God, they continue sinning against God and one another (Isaiah 58:3). It was hypocritical fasting. Then, in the verses quoted above, the Lord draws their attention to another problematic aspect of their worship: Sabbath observance.
From Religious Formalism to Rest and Rejoicing
Similarly to their fasting, God’s people were observing the Sabbath with lukewarm devotion. Instead of resting and worshipping God, they used the day for their own pleasure. Now some have understood “pleasure” in the verse to mean recreational activities. Others think it means normal daily business. Whatever view you hold, one thing is abundantly evident: God’s will for the day was not being obeyed by his people. Thus he calls them to repent of their religious formalism, so that they may enjoy God’s covenant blessings.
Delighting in the Sabbath is not only an inward expression, but also an outward one.
The Lord goes further to challenge his people to delight in the Sabbath. “Call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honourable” (Isaiah 58:13). Matthew Henry comments on these verse, “We must not only count it a delight, but call it so. We must call it so to God, in thanksgiving for it. We must call it so to others, to invite them to come and share in the pleasure of it; and we must call it so to ourselves, that we may not entertain the least thought of wishing the sabbath gone that we may sell corn.” Henry reminds us that delighting in the Sabbath is not only an inward expression, but also an outward one. It is evident in actions. Below are five ways Christians should delight in the Sabbath.
1. Imitate Our Heavenly Father by Resting
First, by resting on the Sabbath we mirror God our Father who rested on the seventh day despite not needing rest. Our Father does not get tired (Isaiah 40:28). He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). Yet “On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3).
By resting on the Sabbath we mirror God our Father.
One of the greatest desires that lie at the bottom of a child’s heart is to be like his father, especially a good father. A child regards his father as the hero, no matter what others think of him. Similarly, as God’s children our greatest longing should be to be like our Father. He rested on the seventh day so we should do likewise with great delight.
2. Celebrate God’s Victory in Christ
Second, we should delight in the Christian Sabbath (Sunday) because it is a day in which God completed the work of our redemption in Christ. On this day, Christ delivered the killer blow against our greatest enemies. Death died. Satan was disarmed. Sin was conquered.
Death died. Satan was disarmed. Sin was conquered.
At our church, Christ Presbyterian Church, before the worship service begins, I gather with some members to pray for the service as well as other needs among the congregation. We often begin by reminding each other that this is not only a day of worship and rest. For it is also a day of celebrating the greatest victory ever accomplished for man.
3. Find Reassurance of God’s Purposes
Third, we should delight in the Christian Sabbath because on this day we do not only enjoy rest and worship our God, but also rejoice in the assurance of God’s blessings in our endeavours for Christ.
O. Palmer Robertson says it beautifully in his book, The Christ of the Covenants. He writes, “the believer does not first labour six days, looking hopefully towards rest. Instead, he begins the week by rejoicing in the rest already accomplished by the cosmic event of Christ’s resurrection. Then he enters joyfully into his six days of labour, confident of success through the victory which Christ has already won.” The Christian Sabbath is a delight because it refreshes us at the beginning of the week and simultaneously assures us of God’s blessings for the week ahead.
Rejoice in the assurance of God’s blessings in our endeavours for Christ.
4. Obey God’s Word
Fourth, we should delight in the Sabbath because by keeping it we demonstrate our love for God. The fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) requires us to observe the Sabbath. As the moral law the commandment is still binding on all Christians. So, when we rest and worship on the Sabbath, we demonstrate our love for God (John 14:15, 21; 1 John 5:3).
5. Taste Our Heavenly Rest
Last but not least, we should delight in the Sabbath because it is a foretaste of our eternal rest in glory. On this side of heaven, we endure various sorrows. We sin against our most holy and gracious God. We lose loved ones and our weak bodies will eventually fail. Thorns and thistles sprout, despite our toil. Thus we’re reminded that, “There remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people” (Hebrews 4:9). Then all sorrow, pain, thorns, and thistles will be no more. It is that eternal state in the new heavens and earth where “God will wipe away every tear…death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
The Sabbath was made for us and for our good.
The Sabbath should be a delight for all Christians. It was made for us and for our good. In our bustling world in which the six days of work seem no longer enough, we should resist the urge to go along. There are many great blessings that come with delighting in the day, as I have endeavoured to show. May all God’s people always look forward to Sabbath with great pleasure and never with the thought of it as being a killjoy.