Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy. Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws—by which the person who obeys them will live—and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths. Ezekiel 20:12-13a.
I have a long personal history of being blessed by the Sabbath. My wife introduced it into my life years ago in a way that I had never practiced it and it has become one of the great treasures of our family. Sabbath gives mankind a necessary rhythm and balance. It compels us to stop seeking our identity by doing (supposedly great) things and forces us to practice being for a short time. It serves as a reminder of our place at God’s table, dependent on Him for all we are and have.
Perhaps because of all its benefits, it can be easy to adopt an instrumental approach to Sabbath. After all, Jesus said it was made for us (Mark 2:27). But while the benefits are real, allowing them to capture our focus hides some of the Sabbath’s most important elements.
- It is not optional. Just because the Sabbath is beneficial does not mean we are free to observe it whether and however we choose. Sabbath was not a suggestion; it was a command. We were told explicitly that it was a day of rest and worship, as opposed to work.
- It is not ours. The Lord was practicing Sabbath before we were (Genesis 2:2). He then invited us to join Him in something He was already doing. He did not just lay down the rules for Sabbath, He demonstrated them and made them a badge of honor for His people.
Imagine if you were invited to a regularly recurring party by a friend. But rather than coming at the appointed time you decided to show up late, and sometimes didn’t come at all. Imagine that when you arrived at the party, you brought some memos to write, or some letters you needed to sort through and commenced to work on them. You ignored the invitation of the host to join Him (and the other guests) in the whole purpose of the party.
If that was your party, at your house, how would you feel? You might be pretty offended at your supposed guest. Would you even invite them back? What if the party was supposed to be extremely beneficial for all the guests? What if that party was named in your honor and was a key means by which you identified who wanted to be your friend and who didn’t?
I think you get it. Sabbath was made for us. But it wasn’t made by us and it doesn’t belong to us. God did not give our Sabbath to us so much as He shared His Sabbath with us. Our instrumental view of Sabbath can hide its relational centrality and importance. If you have been treating God’s Sabbath like leftovers – something you used if you wanted and threw out if you didn’t – repent of that this week. Let’s practice Sabbath as a means to honor the Lord and to thank Him for being invited to the party.