The Beauty and Importance of Sabbath Rest

By Michael Brown Published on April 16, 2018

In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Sabbath is a “sanctuary in time.” As expressed in traditional Jewish prayer, the Sabbath is a “bride.” What is it about the Sabbath that makes it so compelling, so necessary, so refreshing?

God Rested

The Scriptures record that God Himself “rested” (in the sense of ceasing from labor) after the six days of creation. And it was the seventh-day Sabbath that God established as a unique sign between Himself the people of Israel.

Some later Church traditions claimed the right to change the Sabbath to Sunday, and Islam recognizes Friday as its Sabbath. But this diversity simply underscores the foundational importance of the Sabbath: The three major monotheistic religions recognized the role that it played.

‘Controversy Inspires Him’

To be candid, though, my nature does not relate well to Sabbath rest. I am an achiever, a doer. I am energized by activity, by the adrenaline of life and ministry.

My wife, Nancy, was once talking to our builder, who is also a Christian colleague. They were discussing the nice view I would have in my new home office. It was peaceful, restful, quiet.

The builder said to Nancy, “This will inspire Dr. Brown.”

She replied, “No, controversy inspires him.”

Exactly!

How, then, does someone like me (or, perhaps, like you) discover the beauty of Sabbath rest? How do people who thrive on being connected learn to disconnect? How do we find value in slowing down?

A Bizarre Weekend

I’m writing this article today from the crowded and busy Los Angeles International airport. It is Sunday morning, and I should have been on my way home to North Carolina after the strangest weekend of ministry I have had in my life. (I’ve been preaching since 1973, so to say this was the strangest weekend of ministry I’ve had is to say a lot.)

The folks inviting me to speak at California conference were as sweet and helpful as could be, and they did everything they could to be gracious hosts.

But the weekend was a comedy of unexpected twists and turns.

There was a major mix-up with my accommodations (a story in itself), resulting in changes being made after my arrival (after cross-country travel, now very late Thursday night). Then, somehow, word did not get out properly concerning the conference, and when we gathered for the major forum on Saturday, there were more guest speakers then there were people attending. This is no exaggeration. (Initially, not a soul was there; we were told to expect between 500 and 1,000 in attendance.)

That was the bizarre part of the weekend. None of us involved had ever seen the like, so we made the most of it for the handful of attendees who eventually arrived.

The good news was that I had an 8:40 flight home Sunday morning, which would get me back to North Carolina around 5:30 PM. Unfortunately, on Sunday morning, there was a mix-up with my drivers, who didn’t show up to bring me to the airport. (They got confused about the pickup time and their phones were turned down, so they didn’t see I was trying to contact them.)

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At the last-minute, I hired an Uber ride, arriving at the airport just in time. But as were pulling up to my terminal, I got a text message that my flight was cancelled. Eventually, I was rebooked on a later flight (5 hours later, to be exact), so I made new goal for myself: I would take a short nap.

I tried to find an isolated gate, located a less busy location, plugged my earphones into my phone, turned on the sound of ocean waves, and closed my eyes.

Quiet. Peace. Rest.

The outside world shut off. The pressures of my hectic schedule forgotten. All writing deadlines pushed aside. Can you close your eyes and feel it?

But it’s not that easy to sleep in an airport, and within minutes, the earphones were out, and airport life was buzzing all around me.

Sabbath Rest

That’s when I was struck again by the importance of Sabbath rest, the importance of a time to be renewed and refreshed. A time of separation from the normal activities of the week. A time to refocus. A time to recharge. A time to take hold of what really matters.

For a few minutes, I had carved out a place of refuge in the midst of a crazy schedule, a place where the constant blur of airport activity no longer existed. In that sense, it was a mini-Sabbath, a beautiful snapshot, a short respite from the daily rat race. It was something all of us need — but I speak now of Sabbath rest itself.

It was Vince Lombardi who once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Can you relate to his words?

I’m willing to take on almost anything. The greater the challenge, the greater the joy in tackling it. Obstacles invigorate me. Deadlines drive me. But over-tiredness saps our strength, dulls our vision, weakens our courage.

Rest Renews Us

Rest renews us — especially, holy, God-centered rest. And it is a rest we find most fully in Jesus, who said to us, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

May we all discover (or, rediscover) the beauty and importance of Sabbath rest. And hopefully, I’ll catch some sleep on the plane.

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  • Stephen D

    The Sabbath rest was a useful practical measure. But it stands now as symbol of salvation. Jesus said “I will give you rest”. The writer of Hebrews (at 4:3) says “Now we who have believed enter that rest”. The whole of Hebrews 4:1-11 is instructive on the spiritual rest we have in Christ.

  • Ray

    Yes, we can have rest any day of the week in Jesus.

  • John

    But Sabbath rest was SO much more. It was a time of not only physical rest but spiritual rest. It was focused on reconnecting with Yahweh. He was the focal point of the Sabbath. Their rest and renewal, and ours as well, comes from God as we connect with Him afresh and allow His Spirit to renew us. It is a day to reflect back on the previous 6 days of labor and recognize that apart from Him we could accomplish nothing. Thanks for the thoughtful article.

  • Steven Scott Alt

    Rest s important and valuable. I often remind my students that sometimes the most spiritual thing they can do is go to bed and get a good night’s rest, and that is the kind of thing this article is talking about. But yesterday someone handed my daughter a pamphlet claiming Christians are required to observe the Sabbath. It is unbiblical and dangerous to impose the law on believers in Jesus who have been “died to the law” so we can belong to Christ. Neither this article nor the Bible supports imposing a yoke of bondage on believers that the Jewish people were not able to bear. Thank God for freedom in Christ.

  • James Blazsik

    Michael, you are mistaken that “some later church traditions claimed the right to change the Sabbath to Sunday,” The celebration of the Sabbath on Sunday as the Lord’s Day happened in the early church from the very beginning. The Resurrection of Christ on Sunday is the reason.
    The Old Covenant has passed away.
    Study Church history. Read the Church Fathers. The Church has a rich history and you are missing it.
    Christ is our Sabbath rest. We rest in His work on Sunday and then go and work in the world the remainder of the week.

    • Kathy

      303 AD Christian persecution lasted until 313 AD, when the next Roman emperor, Constantine, restored all rights of citizenship to Christians. His action laid the groundwork which would ultimately lead to “an apostasy that would envelop Christiandom for more than a millennium.” Messiah’s bride would soon be wedded to paganism.

      313 AD Constantine, emperor of Rome, became a so-called follower of Messiah, after having a vision of himself victorious in battle under the sign of the cross. We know from history, however, that Constantine never truly repented of his sins. He continued to serve as the high priest of the pagan priestly cult. He later had is own son, wife and brother-in-law killed. As leader of the Roman Empire, he later forced the marriage of Church and state.

      321 AD Constantine enacted a law for the Roman Empire to rest on Sunday in all cities and towns. This act officially sanctioned Sunday (known as the venerable day of the sun) as the Sabbath for Christians. Until this time, they observed the Jewish Sabbath as well as Sunday. In response to Constantine’s edict, Sylvester, the bishop of Rome, changed the name of the day to the Lord’s Day. As bishop of Rome (not yet known as the Pope), his office carried much authority.”

      There is much more. I always encourage everyone to research what they are being taught by looking into information in addition to their own particular church doctrine. I was once there myself

      • James Blazsik

        Hey Kathy, thank you for your comment. Could you please share where you got your quote?
        Let me share a couple quotes and the source:
        1) “We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day (after the Jewish Sabbath, but also the first day) when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead.” St. Justin 1 Apolo. 67: Pg 6, 429 and 432. date 150 -160 AD.
        2) “Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day, in which our life is blessed by Him and by His death.” St. Ignatius of Antioch Ad Magn. 9, 1: SCh 10 – 88 date 50 – died 98 – 117 AD
        St. Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John.
        3) “On the Lord’s Day of the Lord come together, brake bread and hold Eucharist…” Didache 14:1 date !st century

        Kathy – as you can see the dates are very early – way before Constantine. The Lord’s Day is Sunday.

        • Kathy

          Sure, it’s taken from a 70-page timeline, chapter entitled “A History of Messianic Judaism & Messianic Terminology”, given to me while attending a membership class at the Messianic synagogue.
          –First, I will say it’s rather refreshing to hear a Catholic refer to Christ as being the Sabbath rest. So true! I honestly am not sure if the day really matters, and as for myself, the Lord’s Day is everyday. The issue really lies with men decreeing doctrine that is simply a speculation, not an actual biblical account or mandate. Yes, these church fathers first spoke of the Sabbath change (for some questionable reasons I might add), but Constantine made it official. I agree with David Reinwald (above post) on this one.
          –You mentioned Ignatitus: 115 AD (?) “Around this time, Ignatius. bishop of Antioch, taught in his Epistle to the Phillipians that whoever “celebrates the Passover along with the Jews, or receives emblems of their feast, be is a partaker of those who killed the Lord and His apostles”. In addition, the Epistle of Barnabas states that Jewish fasts are no longer acceptable to God and that Christians are the heirs of God’s covenant with Abraham. It goes on to state that the covenant was meant for Jews and Christians, but Jews lost it”
          –I learned that they did everything they could to separate themselves from Jewish believers. We were never supposed to be divided…Jews and Gentiles were to be in fellowship with each other. As a Jew Himself, I don’t think Christ would condone that separation whatsoever, do you?

          • James Blazsik

            Hey Kathy! Thank you for your response.
            1) 2,000 years of Catholic theology and teaching is a rich treasure. Remember that Jesus gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom. In other words the seat of the primacy of Peter replaced the seat of Moses.
            2) The Church celebrates the Lord’s Day because of the Resurrection of Christ. The Old Covenant has passed away, Christ makes everything new. The Church celebrated on Sunday three centuries before Constantine. He didn’t make anything official for the Church. He simply took Church teaching and applied it to the State.
            3) It’s important to remember that St. Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John. He was taught by the man who our Lord personally taught. He never taught to separate from Jews who believed in Christ. He admonished believers in Christ not to go back to the Old Covenant. Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover. Christians should never go back to the Old Covenant. The Church celebrates the fulfillment of the Passover: the sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist in every Mass.

          • Kathy

            Thanks for yours as well, James. I realize we can’t go on and on with our posts, so I will reply to what you wrote, and in my last post on this thread, will share what I have learned.
            1) You seem to lean towards the positive side of things, which is admirable. At the same time, though, we can’t overlook much of the very troublesome and detrimental aspects of the CC over those 2,000 years. We believe that Christ replaced Moses in the “seat of primacy”, not Peter. Christ is referred to as the cornerstone in the NT, the primary rock in any foundation, hence He is our foundation.
            2) If the Old Covenant has passed away, why are there certain aspects of it that the CC still observe, like having to go through a priest or other intermediary (Mary), to access God? Not referring at all to the moral law, which is still relevant for us today.
            3) You can be a disciple of someone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the disciple will follow, to the letter, what he is taught. They can still add their own thoughts and ideas later on, which many of the church fathers seemed to have done in some respects. We believe that Scripture is God-breathed, and that anything that deviates from that is questionable and must be examined thoroughly for accuracy.

    • George Spencer

      Which old covenant passed away? The Mosaic, the Abrahamic, Davidic, etc. Be specific. The Law included the 10 commandments. Which of those has passed away? Oh, only the Sabbath some would say. Jesus said heaven and earth would pass away but not one jot or title would disappear from the Law. The Sabbath has never changed. It was established in creation as the 7th day. It is an eternal principle that predates the Law given through Moses. The church fathers may have changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday but they were not authorized to do so. They are not the standard. God’s word is the standard. Sabbath never changed. The day many chose to worship changed. You can worship on any day you choose but that does not make it the Sabbath which is always the 7th day. I worship on Sunday but the Sabbath is Saturday.

      • Ray

        The way I understand the gospel, the entire Old Testament law was abolished by Jesus Christ, and he did this in his flesh, so I’m thinking it happened right shortly after he said “It is finished.” when he was on the cross. What this means is that a new covenant or testament was about to be put in place, as the old testament law was abolished. So what law? Find a commandment, any commandment to people under law, and yes that would be certainly a part of what was abolished.Does that mean God does not want us to love him with all our heart? No, where would we ever get that idea, as we are under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Does this mean God doesn’t want us to abstain from adultery? Of course not. Where in the world is there room for that kind of thinking under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? We are not under the law as the Jews were under the law before Christ. Does this mean we are not to live as the law had said, anywhere? Where is there room for that kind of thinking for a Christian under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Anything the law says that men should do, as long as it’s OK by Jesus, is OK to do, and by that I mean every jot and tittle of any written law of anything ever written by man or God. As long as it’s OK by Jesus, it’s OK to do. And how about anything written that people somewhere are, or were told to do, by commandment? As long as it’s Jesus commanding us to do it, today, that we are to do, even though the entire law that the Jewish people were under, has been abolished.

      • James Blazsik

        Hey George, thank you for your comment. I am referring to the Mosaic covenant. Now in quoting Jesus you left out part of what Jesus said. He finished by saying, “till all is fulfilled”. You left out the crucial part.
        Jesus fulfilled the law through His life, passion and His resurrection.
        Everything changed, Christ makes everything new. Again, we don’t rest from our work on the seventh day as in the Old Covenant. We now now rest on the eighth day, Sunday, in Christ’s work for us. After resting we then work.
        Christ is our Sabbath rest.

  • David Reinwald

    I humbly believe that the church fathers got this one wrong. By trying too hard to seperate from the Jews, they changed a command from the decalogue which God never gave them permission to do. Thus, instead of being “grafted in” we have lost some of our connection to Israel.

  • Ray

    The thing I was on about the Sabbath day, was that this was about creation week, and how week after week, day after day, the same number of days, the same week, goes on and on, as if it’s lesson is written in our hearts. Maybe this is why I view the creation to have been during days as our days are. I’m not a scientist, or a geologist, just a Christian. I wouldn’t be able to tell how old that wine was that Jesus made at that wedding of Cana of Galilee, (see John 2) if nobody told me, but I’m no scientist. It was reported to have been the very best wine, by someone whom I assume knows a lot more about wine than I do. Wines like that usually take time, don’t they?

  • Ray

    James Blazsik, Interesting post. Thank you for that.

  • Boris

    The laws in the Old Testament are not real laws they are part of the ancient Near Eastern story world of the gods. Jesus didn’t abolish anything, he never even existed.

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