Episode 40: Sabbath | 10 MGJ Devotional Podcast

Episode 40: Sabbath


     What do you mean rest? I’ve got work to do! This reaction is not an uncommon response to life. Yet, in the Bible one is reminded to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy. How important is the Sabbath? What role does it play in Jesus’ conflict with others?

In the Old Testament
     Sabbath rest in the Bible finds its foundation in the Genesis story concerning the creation of the universe. Following the sixth day and the creation of mankind on it, God had completed the heavens and the earth and all that dwells therein. He then rested on the seventh day, blessed it and set it apart. (Genesis 2:1-2) This ‘rest after creation’ theme is again taken up in Exodus 20, at the giving of the Ten Commandments. “Remember to keep the day of Sabbath holy.” (Exodus 20:8) The importance of Sabbath can be seen in the repetition of this command. In Leviticus 19, the instructions begin with the words, “Guard my Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.” Following a series of instructions, the passage closes with a repeated “Guard my Sabbaths!” (Leviticus 19:3, 30) This instruction is repeated again in Leviticus 26:2. The command is given a final time within the Torah. “Guard the day of Sabbath, it is holy.” (Deuteronomy 5:12)

     The Prophet Isaiah applauds those individuals who keep the Sabbath holy and allow it to be a holy day for the Lord. (Isaiah 56:2, 6, 58:13) After Nehemiah comes to Jerusalem in the 5th century BC, one change he must make for those living there is the observance, i.e. the guarding, of the Sabbath. (Nehemiah 13) The Sabbath is important as a day to set apart from work because God commanded his people to do so.

Elsewhere in John

     Jesus performs two main healings this Gospel uses to tell its story about him. The first is in Jerusalem at the unnamed feast (See Episode 39) and the second is the blind man at the Feast of Booths. Both of these occur on the Sabbath and create a controversy because, in the eyes of the Jerusalem religious leaders, Jesus was failing to guard the Sabbath and keep it holy. The other three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke record an event where Jesus questions the religious leaders concerning the lawfulness of healing on the sabbath. (Matthew 12:10-12, Mark 3:2-4, Luke 6:6-9) On these two instances Jesus heals the individuals away from the eyes of these religious leaders. Only later does the discussion find its way to the Sabbath regulations.

     After the man is healed from his 38 year ailment he begins walking around the Temple precinct, a naturally expected response for someone prevented from doing so for so many years. (John 5:14) This man’s visit is interrupted by leaders enforcing the Sabbath regulations. Apparently, he was not as aware as they were concerning the law’s commandments regarding the Sabbath. Afterall, he had lived his life as an outcast from the society for such a long time. So when asked, he assigns his actions to the one who had healed him, although he doesn’t even know his name. When he encounters Jesus, the ire of the enforcers turns to Jesus for having actually healed the man. (John 5:16) They become even more irate after Jesus responds to them.

Therefore, the Jews were seeking him more diligently in
order to kill him, not solely because he was violating
Sabbath regulations, but also because he was
repeatedly saying that God was his own father and
making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

     Jesus appears to remember more accurately than these enforcers that the Leviticus 19 instructions call the Sabbath “mine.” Claiming to be God as he did would actually make the Sabbath “his” to do with as he pleased. The value of the Sabbath regulation within society is shown for what everyone already knew, something that could be broken to keep a greater commandment. (John 7:22)

     The second healing, this time of a blind man, according to this gospel an unheard of event (John 9:32), brings with it a dispute because of the Sabbath once again.

Therefore, some among the Pharisees were repeating,
“This man cannot be from God! He does not keep the
Sabbath.” But others among them were saying, “How is
it possible for a sinful man to perform such a sign?”
Thus they were divided in their opinions. (John 9:16)

The Pharisees in charge continue questioning this man and become increasingly more irate at his simplistic responses to them. The others appear to become silent. Yet, we often forget that Jesus had instructed his disciples at the beginning of the story on why the man had been born blind. “Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him.” (John 9:3). The first Sabbath was a time when God rested after he finished his “works.” (Genesis 2:1) As long as God has works to accomplish, there is no Sabbath rest for him.


     Within the Gospel of John, keeping the Sabbath becomes an opportunity to recognize the working of God. Jesus claims to be doing the works he has seen the Father doing. Jesus seeks to bring about life, which is the same activity of God at the beginning, even if the recipients of his activity are dead. (John 5:20-21) In the simplest terms, the Sabbath is not a time for God to rest as much as it is an opportunity for humanity to acknowledge the work of God around him or her.

     Those accounts included in the Gospel demonstrate some of the most extreme cases of individuals dead to their religious leaders. Neither the blind nor the invalid had a place within the Temple. They were kept apart for their sake and for the sake of the nation. Yet, Jesus comes to these who are kept apart. Likewise, he heals the one who cannot physically enter the temple precinct because of his condition. This man can see the Temple but not approach it. He heals the one who cannot see the Temple and is forced to remain outside, unaware of the full nature of its glory and splendor. (See Episode 26)

     In the end, Jesus demonstrates through his actions that God the Father is not one who desires separation from the created order. Rather God the Father is at work, now in Jesus the Son, reconciling the created order to himself and his original plan and design. God is not forced to rest on the Sabbath Day when work remains to be done.

Take 5 Minutes More

     For humanity, the Sabbath is a time for resting and acknowledging what has gone on before. No longer is a Sabbath rest enforced by the culture we live in. Indeed, it would appear that sleep itself is not necessary with all the commerce available 24/7/365. Yet, the activity of acknowledging God’s work is never completed. When do you take time to engage in this activity?

  • Do you plan times of rest into your schedule? Would such times be more productive if you also planned what to do as your activity of rest?
  • Who do you know who can guide you into making time in your schedule to rest? What could they teach you to improve your own ability?
  • Who do you know who is skilled at acknowledging God’s work around them? How might you learn from them?
     Be certain to share your findings with that individual and begin practicing Sabbath rest, one that acknowledges the working of God in the present time.