“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
For centuries upon centuries, the Jewish people observed the Sabbath as a special day in the week, and they still continue to do so. (Notice the theological reason given in verse 11 for honouring the Sabbath).
But the first century Jews who came to believe in Jesus as Messiah, changed their day of worship from a Saturday to a Sunday – because of their conviction that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. In fact, this is a significant piece of evidence for Christ’s resurrection – that Jews, who were so committed to observing the Sabbath, were prepared to change their day of worship in the way they did.
The sabbath rest is now fulfilled in Jesus. The gospel calls us to ‘rest’ from our own labours (i.e. our own attempts at self-salvation by good works), and rest upon the finished work of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30;Hebrews 4:9,10).
But the principle of the Sabbath holds good still today:
‘Our responsibility to live our lives in imitation of God is the heart of the fourth commandment, for did not the Creator perform his perfect work of creation – the work which he pronounced ‘good’ (Gen.1:31) – by working six days and resting one day? What is then the perfect life pattern for humans in the image of God? Is it not to work for six days and rest for one?… the Creator prescribes his pattern of working and resting for us because we are made in his image and this is our proper functioning procedure. It is ours because it was his. Our calling is to live out his pattern, to make his example the way we order our lives, to reflect what we are-beings created in the image of God.’ Alec Motyer: ‘The message of Exodus’, p.225.
The observing of Sabbath entailed faith and obedience back then. When having your daily bread was dependant on your daily labours, then ceasing for a day each week must have posed a challenge. Similarly now, as we stop for a day every week, we have to trust that life will go on without us, without our efforts. The world will still turn; God will go on running the universe. Sabbath faces us with our limits, with our smallness. It is humbling. It keeps us in our place. We are not God! We are here for a very short time, and the world will keep spinning in space when we have left it.