The call of God to have the people of Israel observe the Sabbath is an amazing call to faith and a glorious pointer to Christ. Resting one day out of seven is something that requires discipline and faith. And the Sabbath command for the land is even greater.
Leviticus 25:1-4 – 1 The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.”
God called on the people of Israel not only to rest one day out of seven, he called the nation to let the land rest one year out of seven. God promised a harvest in year 6 that would be so great that it would sustain the people for years to come.
I’m sure you know that many Christians debate with one another as to whether or not we are legally required to keep a Sabbath day. Some folks do. Some others do not, but believe the Sabbath command to be a pointer to the ultimate rest we receive in Christ.
Hebrews 4:9–11 – 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
I am one who believes that the binding ordinance of Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ. But I also know that it is good for the people of God to take a day, focus on the Lord, and rest from their worldly labors. But this is not what I want to write about.
What grabbed my attention in this read through Leviticus and in thinking about the Sabbath commands is just how much faith the Sabbath required. The week-to-week Sabbath required faith. People had to believe God, that he would provide for them if they worked only 6 out of 7 days. If you look at our world, at businesses open 24/7, you know that it requires faith to believe that you can sustain life without constant labor. And if you take that further, if you consider the nation’s call to let the land rest for a full year, you know that would have required incredible faith. In fact, as far as I know, the people of Israel never once obeyed that command.
But, dear friends, that faith, that impossible faith, that stunning faith is what points us so greatly to Jesus. It takes faith to let a day go by without working. It takes faith to let a year go by without farming. And it takes faith, genuine faith, to believe that the holy God of the universe will welcome you without you performing a single religious ritual to earn your way to him. IT takes faith to believe that you can be forgiven without a special gift, a special sacred item, a special sacred incantation, a special object or word of power. But the Lord tells us that such is the case. There is no way for you to be made right with God other than by you letting go of sin and self and fully entrusting your soul to the person and the finished work of Jesus.
The author of Hebrews tells us to enter into the Sabbath rest of Jesus. He tells us to turn from the ideas that we do things to gain God’s favor. He instead tells us to fully rely on Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation. This is not him saying that there is no obedience to God that follows salvation. But it is to say that, as counter-cultural as the Sabbath felt to all who did not understand it, so too does it seem crazy to all other worldviews that a holy and just God would accept us based entirely on God’s own choice and God’s own work in Christ. Salvation by grace through faith requires a faith that is depicted for us in the crazy faith required to keep the Sabbath day and the Sabbath years.
No, I do not believe that the Sabbath regulation is a binding regulation on the modern Christian. Instead, I believe that the Sabbath regulation is a shadow that points to the finished work of Christ and our salvation by grace through faith. But I do believe it is good for Christians to shape our lives with work, with rest, and with worship on a regular cycle in the week so that we can, in our lives, show the world that we are resting in Jesus rather than trusting in our labor.