So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath-rest
reserved for the [true] people of God;
For he who has once entered [God’s] rest also has ceased from
[the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested
from those labors peculiarly His own.
The concept of the Sabbath has been a controversial and often contentious subject among fellow Christians and our Jewish brethren, alike. I believe it is a much bigger concept than most of us realize. To the casual observer, it seems to be a question of semantics and timing. It usually begins with a discussion as to what day is the Sabbath? Is it Saturday, or is it Sunday? Does the command to observe it belong to the Old Testament law, or is there a greater principle that still applies to us today? Is it as simple as setting aside a day to honor God, or is the picture of the Sabbath and Sabbath-rest a much bigger canvas?
I happen to think that there is a huge spiritual element to the concept of the "Sabbath as rest" that all of us (both Christian and Jew) miss. We all tend to want to assign physical attributes to it, but miss the fact that we are called to "enter into it". What does that mean, and how do you "enter God's rest"?
Let me just say, that I am a Christian who believes that the Sabbath "day" is Saturday, and not Sunday. History has shown us that Emperor Constantine, a pagan king who professed Christianity (yet remained a pagan sun-worshipper at heart) issued an edict in 321 A.D: "On the venerable Day of the sun (which we know as Sunday) let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed."
We must remember that Constantine hated the Jews because he blamed them for killing Jesus. Therefore, he wanted to separate his newfound religion (and convenient political tool) from any semblance of Jewish compliance. We also need to understand that the Jewish people "kept the law of the Sabbath" for more than 1500 years, so its observance on Saturday was closely associated with them. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, close on the heels of the Edict of Constantine, there followed the Catholic Church Council of Laodicea Edict (circa 364 AD): "Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday (Sabbath), but shall work on that Day: but the Lord’s Day (the Sun Day, substituted by Constantine), they shall especially honour; and as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ." The threat was clear: do not observe the Sabbath as the Jews do (on Saturday), or you will be excommunicated from the Church.
Following this initial legislation, both emperors and Popes, down through the centuries, have added other laws to strengthen Sunday observance. What began as a pagan ordinance ended as a Christian regulation.
The question as to whether Christians should keep a particular day as the Sabbath is answered very plainly in Scripture ... Romans 14:5 to be exact: "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord...". Each Believer needs to be wholly convinced in his own mind; and if he is, then he must follow his conviction by honoring the Lord on that day. But I do not believe that we are called to demand it of others who do not have the same position of faith.
Ok, now that we have covered the matter of the Sabbath DAY, let's consider what it means to "enter the Sabbath rest", or to "enter God's rest". It can all be summed up in the simple principle of "God rested on the seventh day [Sabbath]" (Genesis 2:3). Consider this ... it wasn't that God was so exhausted from creating the world that He had to stop and rest (or relax, or recharge, or slow down because He was weary). No, He had completed what He had set out to do, and was ready and willing to accept that what He had created would go forward as planned. He no longer had to work at it; it was complete as it was.
So, how does that concept of Sabbath rest apply to us? It is the same principle when we stop trying to control ( or work out) every situation in our lives, and step back and realize that we can, in full confidence, trust, and faith, rely on God's Word and what He has set in motion in our lives.
So can you imagine what that means to enter into HIS rest? It is the same rest that He enjoyed at the moment He knew His work was done; He is inviting us to join Him in that place where, we too, can experience the presence of His authority and power. True Sabbath rest is something that we have no part in making happen. It is a spiritual understanding that takes place in our minds, souls and spirits.
It is that moment when we look beyond the physical day, and come to the realization that we no longer have to worry that somehow we will fail to get the job done in our lives. It's time to "stop working" (another attribute of the Sabbath) for acceptance by God. There is nothing we can do to accomplish that goal; all of our efforts will never be enough. So, we can take a Sabbath and rest in the work Jesus is doing in our lives, through our faith.
Part of learning to "rest in God" is learning to be obedient to God; to trust Him and rely on Him; and let Jesus do the rest. When we can do that, and quit trying to finish our faith by our own efforts, we will find that we have peace in our minds and our hearts and our emotions. It is having that "heart knowledge" that God will work things out in a manner that is pleasing to Him, and best for us. That is true spiritual rest; a true spiritual Sabbath. Remember: Jesus said He would give rest to those who were "weary and heavy laden." Give it all up to him, and take Him up on His offer!
This is really just a cursory discussion on the spiritual essence of Sabbath. But hopefully, it will entice you to study Scripture on your own, and come to an understanding of what Sabbath means to God, and how we are to "rest" from our labors. Thank you to AmazingDiscoveries.org for the historical facts on the Edicts of Constantine and the Catholic Church Council at Laodicea. Thanks also to Steve Highlander and Crossroads Ministry for insightful and Biblical references on the Sabbath rest.