The Pharisees wanted to make the Sabbath all about showy self-denial, but Jesus reiterated that the Sabbath was a celebration of God’s graciousness and provision—whether in gathering grain or in feeding a hungry army. The Sabbath is God’s gift to us. We need rest and everything that comes with it, but we are no longer bound by refraining from certain activities one day in seven (see Col 2:16–17). Being stewards of Sabbath means, as theologian and educator Marva Dawn comments, celebrating God’s gift and letting it enhance our life with him.
We all experience constantly how much our own time crunch is aggravated—and the pace of life accelerated—by the technological milieu in which we live. In such a cultural context, the first Sabbath gift for us to celebrate is its realization that the Bible presents an entirely different sense of time …
Many biblical passages in the Scriptures underscore this freedom from the anxiety of too much work. More positively, many biblical texts highlight the attitude demonstrated by Jesus that all the work committed to us by God can be done in God’s timing, for the grace that entrusts the work to us also empowers it.
Most notably, Jesus models this when the disciples worry that He wants to go to Judea again (after Lazarus’s death), and He responds, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? [Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light]” (Jn 11:9–10). Sabbath keeping fills us with the light of God’s presence so that the work of the following days can match their hours. Sabbath keeping gives us the opportunity to discern what really is God’s will for our lives and service so that we don’t try to do more than twelve hours’ worth of tasks (nor less either).
Theologian Jürgen Moltmann also comments on this idea of Sabbath as a means of God’s grace.
On this day of the week, the nature which human beings process and utilize should be allowed to breathe and come to itself again. Our mental and purposeful concentration on reason and will is relaxed. On this day the mind or spirit can return again to the body which it had made its instrument. The body becomes the temple in which God’s Spirit can live and rest …
The holy place of God’s silent presence is no longer the space of the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem. It is now found in time, in the time of the holy rhythm of the Sabbath days. God lives in time, and interrupts the plans and purposes of human labor through his resting presence … It is in the rhythm of the times and the alternation of work and rest that we find the pulse of life. That is the spirituality of the lived life.
If you keep a Sabbath day, spend time this week reflecting on how it is a holy place. If you do not regularly keep a Sabbath day, determine to do so this week.