Now, I would really like to bring this all back around to Jesus.
I think to understand what Sabbath was really about in the first place; we need to connect it back to the Jubilee, which provides a much clearer connection to Christ.
When Jesus first began his ministry, he stood up and read something very significant. We find this in Luke 2:16 and onward:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
(Luke 4:16-21 ESV)
“To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” That’s the year of Jubilee. (Lots of theologians agree that that is what he is talking about there. It’s probably listed as a cross-reference to the Jubilee laws in Leviticus 25 if you have a study bible.) Jesus picked just this passage and said, “Today this Scripture is FULFILLED in your hearing.”
What he is saying is, “I AM the Sabbath. I AM the year of Jubilee. The slaves being set free? The debts cancelled? That was just a shadow, but not anymore. I have arrived! The rest, the seventh day is HERE right now, in the flesh, right in front of your face. I’m it.”
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has this to say about how Jesus handled the Sabbath:
“So why would Jesus so pointedly cut a swath through this great and God-given institution? The only explanation which will do – but it will do very well indeed – is that Jesus believed he was inaugurating the new age toward which the entire Sabbath institution had been pointing. He had come to announce and enact the Jubilee of Jubilees, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the time when God’s purposes and human life would come together at last.”
-N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, p.180?
This is what Jesus was talking about when he announces:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”
(Mark 1:15 ESV)
To continue to focus on the Sabbath is to step backwards and look at the signposts that point to Jesus instead of looking at Jesus himself. His amazing resurrection is the only thing that enables us to celebrate the “rest” in the first place.
Before Christ, how could we really rest? We were commanded to, but the world was broken and we were lost in the mire of our sin and its curse.
Imagine, could you really rest on a Saturday if the roof on the house was leaking? Could you sleep in if there was water dripping on your bed? What if the furnace was broken and the pipes in the bathroom had frozen hard? Could you just chill out and take it easy? That is no rest! The same is true of our sinful lives. Can we rest when we have been nasty and hateful to our family members in recent memory? We still feel dirty – and angry – about our lies and lust, even if not all of it is immediately obvious to outside observers. Can you rest in this? No. But with Christ, you can.
He IS the jubilee. Your bank account is empty and your credit card maxed out on raucous living, just like that of the Prodigal son. But you get it all back – you are returned to your place of sonship in the house of God. This is a real Sabbath rest. The Grace of Jesus Christ is the sole ENABLER of this, and he prefaces it with no burdensome prerequisites. He, Jesus, IS the real Sabbat. Like nearly everything we see in God’s relation to OT Israel, Jesus is the fulfillment. The old was a shadow – a signpost pointing to the new. The new is here.
Thank you God, for providing us with this marvelous rest, even yourself. Dear Jesus, let us know freedom from the burden of sin and the demands of those around us. Grant us that rest you have won for us. Amen.
Note: I found Ben Witherington’s 7-part blog post series on the Sabbath to be an excellent resource.