Delighting in the Sabbath

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 also called the Lord’s Day in the New Testament. While I believe in the latter, I should grant that there are brothers and sisters in the Lord who believe in the former. But that’s not what this post is all about. There is also a debate on how Christians should observe the Sabbath. Now the Bible is very clear that the Sabbath is the day of rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-13; Acts 20:7). There should not be any debate about it. 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 post does not intend to go into that discussion.

This post is about delighting in the Sabbath. God speaking through Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 58:13-14 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 honorable; if you honor 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.”

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 which instead of being a time that they humble and devote themselves fully to God they continue sinning against God and one another. It is hypocritical fasting. Then in verses 13-14, the Lord draws their attention to another aspect of worship namely the observance of the Sabbath. Similarly, God’s covenant people are observing the Sabbath with lukewarm devotion. Instead of resting and worshipping God, they are using the day for their own pleasure. Now some have understood “pleasure” in the verse to mean recreational activities while others think it means normal daily business. Whatever view you hold, one thing that is clear from the verse is that God’s will for the day is that his people should observe rest; hence, he calls them to repent of their religious formalism so that they may enjoy God’s covenant blessings.

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 honorable.” Matthew Henry commenting on the verse writes,

“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.”

The 19th Century Anglican Bishop, John Charles Ryle also agrees with Henry and notes,

The Sabbath is God’s merciful appointment for the common benefit of all mankind. It was “made for man” (Mark 2:27)…It is not a yoke, but a blessing. It is not a burden, but a mercy…It is good for man’s body and mind…Above all, it is good for souls.”

So here are five ways that we as Christians can call the Sabbath a delight. First, we can call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that when we rest 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 in Genesis 2:2-3 we read: “And 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.” 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.

Second, we should call the Sabbath (first day of the week) a delight by realizing that it is a day in which God completed the work of our redemption in Christ.  On this day, Christ delivered a killer punch on our greatest enemies. Death died, Satan was disarmed, and sin was conquered. At our church, Christ Presbyterian Church, before the worship service begins, I gather with some members to pray for the service and other needs of the congregation. We often beginning by reminding each other that this is not only a day of worship and rest but it is also a day of celebrating the greatest victory ever accomplished for man.

Third, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that 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 endeavors for Christ. O. Palmer Robertson says it beautifully in his book, The Christ of the Covenants,

“(The New Covenant) believer does not first labor 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 labor, confident of success through the victory which Christ has already won.”

Fourth, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that 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).

Last but not least, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that it is a foretaste of our eternal rest in glory. On this side of heaven, we endure various sorrows. However, the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 4:9 reminds us that “There remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people” in which 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 from (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).  

The Sabbath should be a delight for all God’s people. 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 endeavored to show above. May we always look forward to Sabbath with great pleasure and never with the thought of it as being a killjoy. 

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