"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
(Mar 2:27 ESV)
This verse came to mind as I was driving home from Florida this past week. Even though I’ve served for only two months, my new congregation allowed us some time away. And this break was much needed after a year of work, along with the stress of our transition and move.
The Sabbath was made for man. In other words, the Sabbath is God’s gracious gift to man. But why did he give it?
When we look to the giving of the Ten Commandments, in the book of Exodus, we see why. In Exodus 20, we’re told that it’s a time of rest. As God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, he gave the Sabbath to us. So the Sabbath is a rest from our labors, something which all of us require.
In Deuteronomy 5, we find that it’s not only a day of rest. It’s a day of remembrance. It was a reminder to the people that they were slaves in the land of Egypt and that God had set them free. The opportunity they had to rest from their labor reminded them of this great blessing which was denied them during their time of bondage.
Further, we see in in Leviticus 23:3 that the Sabbath was a day of holy convocation, or a day of sacred assembly. In other words, the Sabbath was a day for corporate worship. The people were to gather in worship of the God who both made them and redeemed them.
In addition, God also commanded several holidays that were to be celebrated by the people. Again, no work was to be done. The people were to worship God. And each of these celebrations were remembrances of God’s salvation and provision.
However, as we look at Mark 2, we see that, in the time of Jesus, the Sabbath was no longer being used for its intended purpose. The religious leaders had made it something other than a day of grace for God’s people. They had made it burdensome. In fact, it was hard work to keep the Sabbath.
One Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were walking through the grain fields. As they walked, they plucked heads of grain. They were then criticized by the Pharisees for working on the Sabbath.
Even though the New Testament is clear that we’re not bound to certain days or months when it comes to our rest, many in the church think and act just like the Pharisees. They say that all we can do on Sunday is go to church and take a nap. If we do anything whatsoever, we’re criticized for working.
For this reason, Jesus gave the above reminder to the Pharisees. He told them that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In other words, the Sabbath is God’s blessing to man. It’s not another burden for his people to bear.
This is the blessing I recently enjoyed during my vacation. I was able to rest from my labors. It wasn’t a burden, it was a blessing. I didn’t have a set of requirements to follow. I was able to simply get away from my day to day work. And the same is true of my day off each week, and during our holiday celebrations.
I don’t have to worry, with everything I do, that I’m violating the Sabbath. I can simply enjoy my time free of labor. I can sleep a little later. I can enjoy my family. I can enjoy activities for which I have no time during my regular work week.
I thank God who’s given me this gift. And, as I rest from my labors, I’m reminded of the rest God has provided for me in Christ. I’m reminded of the fact that I don’t have to work to receive God’s blessings, because the work of Christ has accomplished it for me.