The Beauty of Sabbath
Today, when it comes to my theology, I am firmly planted in the reformed tradition. I enjoy the spiritual fruit of the work carried out by countless men before me who did all the theological heavy lifting. In my case, I hold to the 1689 Baptist Confession and see it as a summary of what the Bible teaches. I haven’t always held those views, though. As a new Christian I was broadly evangelical and later moved into the Lutheran camp for a time. Then about 7 years ago I started moving towards baptistic Calvinism and eventually joined a Reformed Baptist church and affirmed the 1689 confession.
The theological journey wasn’t an easy one. Many of the theological distinctives of the Reformed faith perplexed me. Doctrines like election and limited atonement, things I hold dear today, were difficult and required serious study and truth-seeking. One such teaching of the Reformed faith I struggled with was the reformed view of the Sabbath, specifically the position that Christians should observe the 4th commandment today.
The following are some of the main issues I worked through and some of the fruit of that theological struggle.
Jesus was a Sabbatarian
A few of the common objections I often hear from brothers and sisters who disagree with the reformed view of the sabbath follow something along the lines that the New Testament doesn’t affirm the Sabbath or that Jesus didn’t command sabbath-keeping. This was more or less my go-to argument before embracing the reformed teaching on the Sabbath. The only problem with this position is that it’s wrong.
Mark 2:23-28 is a perfect example of why it’s wrong. This is a text I had to reckon with when studying the Sabbath. In the passage the disciples are with Jesus on the Sabbath and they get a little hungry, so they pluck some grain to snack on. The Pharisees take the opportunity to beat their chests and show how holy they are by accusing the disciples of “doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath.”
Now, let’s take a step back. If the 4th commandment becomes abrogated with the coming of Jesus (as some say), this would have been the perfect time for him to tell us. He could have said to the Pharisees: “actually, guys, God’s law doesn’t apply anymore at that point” or “yeah, that was true in the old covenant, but the with the new covenant comes a new law.” Yet, this isn’t what he says. Instead, he uses the account of David and his men from 1 Samuel 21 to tell the Pharisees that they have gotten the law all wrong. They’ve added to it, thereby voiding it. This is a perfect example of what Jesus talks about 5 chapters later in Mark 7:8: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Adding to the law of God is just as dangerous as removing from it.
Jesus’ point here isn’t that the Sabbath shouldn’t be observed anymore. His point is that we shouldn’t add rules to our observance that God doesn’t actually command.
God instituted the Sabbath
A profound reality we see in this text is when Jesus speaks of the Sabbath being made (Gen. 2:1-2). God instituted the Sabbath when he rested on the 7th day of creation. He didn’t do this because he was tired, but to set an example, to make a point. As God’s image bearers our vocation is to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. The Sabbath is God’s grace to us, intended to give us rest from this hard work.
In the new covenant the Sabbath has the added meaning of marking Jesus’ resurrection. This is where the New Testament term “the Lord’s day” comes from. Not only is it a day of rest, but it is also a day of celebration that points us to the future, perfect rest Jesus won for us on the cross.
The Sabbath is a gift, not a burden
One of the most profound parts of the passage are Jesus’ words: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” How often do we forget this! How often have I heard fellow Christians talk about the command to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy as if it were some heavy burden, a requirement God would never make of us? It’s funny how Christians never speak this way about the other 9 commandments. Nobody complains that they aren’t allowed to steal, murder, or covet (at least not out loud). The commandments are for our good, meant to guide our lives. Why would the 4th commandment be any different?
One thing that really drew me towards sabbatarianism when I started attending a reformed Baptist church was how the people whom I knew held to this view were not the slaves to law keeping that I had imagined Sabbatarians were. They saw it as a gift, a God-given respite from their worldly worries and struggles. Not just a break but a deeper, more profound rest. A rest that has an especially blessed character that can only come from being instituted and given to us by God himself.
It’s not a day for strict rules meant to bind our consciences. It’s a blessed day, one in which we rejoice. It is a day in which we humbly set our worldly worries and responsibilities aside in order to gather with the people of God, to partake in the means of grace together, and to worship in community to be edified, sanctified, and built up for God’s glory.
Kevin attends kristuskirken (www.kristuskirken.com), a reformed Baptist church in Viborg, Denmark and is currently working on his master’s degree in theology. He’s been married to Bodil for 8 years and they have 4 kids together. When he’s not with his family, working, or studying you can find him in the lifting weights at the gym, reading, or blogging at kevinjamesmorgan.wordpress.com.