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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness #21

The Overview of the Sabbath


                          Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD

                         GOOD NEWS OF DIVINE REST

Concluding chapter:

     Our tension-filled and anguished, compressed lives long for
rest. The heart specialist or the high-blood pressure physician
often admonish us, saying, "You need to slow down and rest." Yet,
how difficult it is to work off tension, to quiet restlessness!
Some join athletic clubs, others meditation groups. Still others
seek release from their tension by taking vacations, tranqu-
illizers, drugs or alcohol. Experience tells us, however, that
even fabulous vacations or magic pills provide at best only a
temporary evasion but not a permanent quieting of inner tension
and restlessness. How then can our restless lives experience
perfect rest and peace? In the opening paragraph of his
autobiography entitled "Confessions," Augustine points to the
real solution to the problem of human restlessness, when he says,
"Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until
they find rest in Thee."
     True rest is to be found not in places or through pills but
rather in a right relationship with a Person, the Person of the
Savior who says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest" (Matt.11:28; NIV). Perfect rest and
peace are not a human achievement but a divine gift. It is an
experience that comes to us when we allow Christ to harmonize our
lives ("I will give you rest" - Matt.11:28). Why is divine
assistance needed to experience true rest and peace in our lives?
The answer is to be found in the fact that perfect rest does not
come about accidentally but is the result of an harmonious accord
of the physical, mental and spiritual components of our being.
     Can we by ourselves harmonize these three, that is, our
body, mind and soul? We can stretch our tired body on a bed but
if our mind and soul are troubled, we have, not rest but
agitation, tension or even nightmares. As the various components
of an orchestra need the direction of a skilful maestro to blend
them into harmonious music, so the physical, mental and spiritual
components of our being need the direction of our supreme Master
in order for us to experience harmonious rest and peace.
     How can we enable Christ to harmonize and quiet our restless
lives? Our study has shown that God gave mankind before and after
the Fall a vital institution, the Sabbath day: a day specifically
designed to free us from secular concerns in order to freely find
rest in God (Heb.4:9-10). It is to be regretted that this divine
institution has often been neglected, disregarded or even
perverted. This occurred in OT times and it is also happening in
our materialistic-oriented society. Many people today view God's
Holy Day as a time to seek for personal profit and pleasure
rather than for divine power and presence. The story is told of a
pastor calling upon a member who had missed church services for
several weeks. The pastor asked him, "What keeps you away,
friend?" To this the member replied: "I'd rather be in bed on
Sunday morning thinking about the church than in the church
thinking about my bed. At least my mind is in the right place."
Indeed, for many the right place to be on their "Lord's Day" is
not in God's sanctuary but rather in the sanctuary of a bed, a
boat, a car, a restaurant, a football field, a cinema, a shopping
mall, ecetera. Even those Christians who attend morning church
services will often revert in the afternoon to places of business
or entertainment. This is hardly reflective of what we have found
to be the Biblical notion of Sabbathkeeping, namely, a day set
apart to experience God's restful presence in our restless lives.
     This prevailing trend raises a crucial question: Is the
Sabbath institution a superseded religious tradition no longer
relevant to space-age Christians? Or, Is this a divine ordinance
still essential to Christian growth and survival? It is hard to
believe that at the very time when the tyranny of things enslaves
many lives, there should no longer be any need for the Sabbath
day - the day whose very function is to free human beings from
the bondage of materialism in order for them to experience divine
peace and rest in their restless lives. 

     Our investigation into the Good News of the Sabbath has
shown that the Sabbath is indeed a vital divine institution that
provides time and opportunities to develop a growing relationship
with God and fellow beings. In a special sense the celebration of
God's Holy Day enables the Lord of the Sabbath to bring His peace
and rest to restless lives. To grasp more fully the latter
important function of the Sabbath, we shall briefly review, by
way of conclusion, seven of the significant "Good News of the
Sabbath" that have emerged in the course of this study. It is to
be hoped that this conclusive summary will help the reader to
better appreciate how proper Sabbathkeeping enables the Savior to
bring rest and peace to our restlessness.

1. Rest of Creation

     A first way in which the Sabbath brings Christ's rest to our
souls is by constantly reassuring us that our lives have meaning,
value and hope because they are rooted in God from creation to
eternity. This message of the Sabbath was seen especially in the
first two chapters. We may call it "Christ's creation rest" for
the human soul. It is the rest that Christ brings to those
thinking persons who search for life's meaning and value in their
ancestral roots; to those who wonder if their existence as well
as that of the whole cosmos is the result of chance or of choice,
that is, of a merciless fate or of a merciful God. To these
persons through the Sabbath Christ offers His restful assurance
that their ancestral roots are good because they are rooted in
God Himself (Gen.1:26-27); that their existence has value because
it is not the product of chance but of a personal creation and
redemption of a loving God.
     We have found this reassuring message of the Sabbath in the
creation story where the number seven, emphatic terms and the
imagery of God's rest are used to proclaim the Good News that
originally God created this world and all its creatures in a
perfect and complete way. The believer who celebrates this Good
News on the Sabbath by renewing his or her faith in the perfect
Creator, and by delighting in the beauty of God's creation,
experiences Christ's rest of creation. To experience this rest on
the Sabbath means to rejoice in the divine assurance that human
existence, in spite of its apparent futility and tragedy, has
value because it proceeds from God and moves toward a glorious
divine destiny. As eloquently expressed by Augustine, "Thy
resting on the seventh day after the completion of Thy works
foretells us through the voice of Thy Book, that we also, after
completing our works through Thy generosity, in the Sabbath of
eternal life shall rest in Thee." To celebrate the Sabbath in
this restless present means to experience a foretaste of the
future rest and peace that awaits God's people; it means to rest
in the assurance that "he who began a good work in you will bring
it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil.1:6).

2. Rest o f Divine Presence

     A second way in which proper Sabbathkeeping brings Christ's
rest to our lives is by enabling us to experience His divine
presence. It is Christ's presence that brought stillness to the
stormy lake of Galilee (Matt.8:23-27) and it is also the
assurance of His presence that can bring peace and stillness to
troubled lives. This is basically the meaning of the holiness of
the Sabbath which is frequently stated in the Bible. We have
shown in chapter 3 that the holiness of the Sabbath consists in
the special manifestation of God's presence through this day in
the life of His people. The believer who on the Sabbath lays
aside his secular concerns, turning off his receiver to the many
distracting voices in order to tune in and listen to the voice of
God, experiences in a real sense the spiritual presence of
Christ. The heightened sense of the nearness of Christ's presence
experienced on the Sabbath fills the soul with joy, peace and
     Relationship, if they are to survive, need to be cultivated.
This is true both at a human and human-divine level. I vividly
recall the A, B, C privilege-system that governed the social
relationships among students of the opposite sex at Newbold
College, in England, where I received my college training. A
couple with an "A" status was entitled to a weekly encounter of
about one hour in a designated lounge. However, those couples who
qualified for a "B" or a "C" privilege could officially meet only
biweekly or monthly. Frankly, I did my best to maintain the "A"
status because I viewed those brief weekly encounters with my
fiancee as indispensable for the survival of our relationship.
     The Sabbath is in a sense a special weekly encounter with
our Creator-Redeemer. This encounter, however, lasts not merely
one hour but a whole day. It is a sobering thought that to enter
into the holy Sabbath day means, as we have seen, to enter in a
special sense into the spiritual presence and communion of the
Lord. Believers who cultivate Christ's presence during the
Sabbath time and activities experience His rest and peace every
day of their lives.

3. Rest from Competition

     A third way in which true Sabbathkeeping brings Christ's
rest to our lives is by releasing us from the pressure to produce
and achieve. The pressure that our competitive society exerts on
us can cause untold frustration. Competition can dishearten,
dehumanize and demoralize a person. It can turn friends into
foes. We noted in chapter 3 that in order to keep up with the
Joneses, some Christians today, like the Israelites of old,
choose to moonlight on the Sabbath. But the Scripture points to
the senselessness of such greediness when it states with a point
of irony, "They found none"; Ex.16:27}. The Sabbath teaches a
greedy heart to be grateful and a grateful heart is the abiding
place of Christ's peace, and rest.
     By restricting temporarily our productivity, the Sabbath
teaches us not to compete but to commune with one another. It
teaches us to view fellow beings not quantitatively but quali-
tatively, that is, not in terms of their income but in terms of
their human values. If Mr.Jones lives on social security, during
the week we may be tempted to think of him in terms of his small
income. On the Sabbath, however, as we worship and fellowship
with Mr Jones, we appreciate not the little that he makes but the
much that he offers to the church and community through his
Christian witness and example. Thus, by releasing us from the
pressure of competition and production, the Sabbath enables us to
appreciate more fully the human values of people and the beauty
of things. This free and fuller appreciation of God, people and
things brings joy, harmony and rest to our lives.

4. Rest of Belonging

     A fourth way in which genuine Sabbathkeeping brings Christ's
rest to our lives is by reassuring us of our belonging to Him. At
the root of much human restlessness there is a sense of
alienation, estrangement. The sense of not-belonging to anyone or
anything will cause a person to feel bitter, insecure and
restless. On the contrary, in a relationship of mutual belonging
one experiences love, identity, security and rest. To enable
human beings to conceptualize and experience a belonging
relationship with Him, God has given helpful signs and symbols
such as the rainbow, the circumcision, the Passover lamb and
blood, the bread and wine. In chapter 4 we found that the Sabbath
occupies a unique place among these various God-given covenant
signs or symbols, having functioned as the symbol par excellence
of the divine election and mission of God's people. Being the
symbol of divine ownership, the Sabbath constantly reminds the
believer who keeps this day of his belonging to God. "The
Sabbath," aptly writes Chuck Scriven, "is the insignia of the man
of faith, a sort of badge worn at God's request in order to
recall God's loyalty to us and our loyalty to God ... It is a
placard we carry to show the world what we stand for and whom we
     During the week a person may feel frustrated by a sense of
anonymity. "Who am I?" he asks, as he lives and moves among the
crowd. The answer that often echoes back is, "You are a cog in a
machine and a number in the computer." On the Sabbath the answer
is different. The Christian who observes God's holy and chosen
day hears the Lord saying, "You may know that I, the Lord,
sanctify you" (Ex.31:13). Being the symbol of divine ownership
and sanctification, the Sabbath assures the Sabbathkeeper of his
own divine election and sanctification. Moreover, as shown in
chapter 4, the Sabbath offers not merely an assurance of
belonging to God but also a concrete weekly opportunity to
express such a commitment by re-enacting the baptismal covenant
of self-renouncement and renewal. By renewing the sense of
belonging to our Creator the Sabbath restores a sense of human
dignity, identity, peace and rest to our lives.

5. Rest from Social Tensions

     A fifth way in which true Sabbathkeeping enables us to
experience Christ's rest is by breaking down social, racial and
cultural barriers. The inability or unwillingness to appreciate
and accept another person's skin-color, culture, language or
social status, is a major cause of much unrest, hate and tension
in our contemporary society. After the Fall, as noted in chapter
5, an important function of the Sabbath has been to teach
equality and respect for every member of the human society. Every
seven days, seven years (sabbatical year) and seven weeks of
years (jubilee year), all persons, beasts and property were to
become free before God. And genuine freedom leads to equality.
The uneven divisions of the Hebrew society leveled out as the
Sabbath began. Samuel H. Dresner rightly complains that this
equalizing function of the Sabbath has seldom been recognized.   
He goes on by saying, "Although one Jew may have peddled onions
and another may have owned great forests of lumber, on the
Sabbath all were equal, all were kings: all welcomed the Sabbath
Queen, all chanted the Kiddush, all basked in the glory of the
seventh day.... On the Sabbath there were neither banker nor
clerk, neither farmer nor hired-hand, neither rich nor poor.
There were only Jews hallowing the Sabbath." It is noteworthy
that Isaiah reassures the outcasts of Israel, specifically the
eunuchs and the foreigners of whom the Assyrian and Babylonian
wars had produced a great number, that by observing the Sabbath
they would share in the blessings of God's covenant people, "for
my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Is.
     Social injustices could have been avoided in the ancient and
modern society if the concern for human rights expressed by the
Sabbath (and its sister institutions) had always been understood
and practiced. The Sabbath forces upon us the important issues of
freedom and humanitarian concern for all, from our son to our
servant (Ex.20:10; 23:12; Deut.5:14). By placing such issues
before us at the moment of worship - the moment when we are
truest to ourselves - the Sabbath cannot leave us insensitive
toward the suffering or social injustices experienced by others.
It is impossible on the Sabbath to celebrate Creation and
Redemption while hating those whom God has created and redeemed
through His Son. True Sabbathkeeping demands that we acknowledge
the Fatherhood of God by accepting and strengthening the
brotherhood of mankind. The bond of brotherhood which the Sabbath
establishes through its worship, fellowship and humanitarian
services influences by reflex our social relationships during the
week. To accept on the Sabbath those who belong to ethnic
minorities or to a lower social status as brothers and sisters in
Christ demands that we treat them as such during the weekdays as
well. It would be a denial of the human values and experience of
the Sabbath, if one were to exploit or detest during the week
those whom the Sabbath teaches us to respect and love as God's
creatures. By teaching us to accept and respect every person,
whether rich or poor, black or white, as human beings created and
redeemed by the Lord, the Sabbath breaks down and equalizes those
social, racial, and cultural barriers which cause much tension
and unrest in our society and consequently it makes it possible
for the peace of Christ to dwell in our hearts.

6. Rest of Redemption

     A sixth way in which Sabbathkeeping brings Christ's rest to
our lives is by enabling us to experience through the physical
rest the greater blessings of divine rest and peace of salvation.
The relationship between the Sabbath rest and Christ's
redemption-rest was examined in chapter 5. There we saw that from
the symbol of God's initial entrance into human time, the Sabbath
became after the Fall the symbol of God's promise to enter human
flesh to become "Emmanuel - God with us." The rest and liberation
from the hardship of work, and from social inequalities which
both the weekly and annual Sabbaths granted to all the members of
the Hebrew society, was understood not merely as a commemoration
of the past Exodus deliverance (Deut.5:15), but also a
prefiguration of the future redemptionrest to be brought by the
Messiah. Christ fulfilled these OT Messianic expectations
typified by the Sabbath (cf. Luke 4:21) by identifying His
redemptive mission with the Good News of release and redemption
of the Sabbath, thus making the day the fitting vehicle through
which to experience His rest of salvation.

     It was on a Sabbath day that, according to Luke (4:16-21),
Christ inaugurated His public ministry in the synagogue of
Nazareth by quoting a passage from Isaiah (61:1-2) and by claim-
ing emphatically to be the fulfilment of the sabbatical
liberation announced in that passage. In His subsequent ministry,
we found that Christ substantiated this claim by revealing His
redemptive mission especially through His Sabbath healing and
teaching ministry (cf. Luke 13:16; Matt.12:5-6; John 5:17;
     Finally, it was on that historic holy Sabbath that Christ
completed His redemptive mission ("It is finished" - John 19:30)
by resting in the tomb (Luke 23:54-56). Christ's Sabbath rest in
the tomb reveals the depth of God's love for His creatures. It
tells us that in order to give them life, He was willing to
experience not only the limitation of human time at creation but
also the suffering, agony and death of human flesh during the
incarnation. In the light of the cross, then, the Sabbath is a
time to celebrate not only the Good News of God's perfect
creation but also the Glad Tidings of Christ's complete
redemption: it is the weekly celebration and jubilation of a
liberated people; it is the day when we cease from our work to
allow God to work in us, to bring to our lives His rest of
forgiveness and salvation.

7. Rest o f Service

     A seventh way in which the Sabbath brings Christ's rest to
our lives is by providing time and opportunities for service.
Inner peace and rest are to be found not in egocentric (selfish)
relaxation but rather in heterocentric (unselfish) service. The
various types of service contemplated and made possible by the
Sabbath have been considered in chapter 6. The study has shown
that the Sabbath provides the time and the reasons for serving
God, self, others and our habitat. We serve God on the Sabbath by
resting to acknowledge His claim over our lives and by worshiping
to celebrate His marvelous creation, redemption and ultimate
restoration. This celebration of God's goodness offers us a fresh
experience of divine rest and peace in our lives. We serve our
personal needs on the Sabbath by taking time to reorder our
lives, to sharpen our moral consciousness, to experience divine
forgiveness, presence and rest.
     We serve others on the Sabbath by coming closer to loved
ones, friends and needy persons, sharing with them our friendship
and concern. The service we render unto others on the Sabbath
honors God and enriches our lives with a sense of restful
satisfaction. We serve our habitat on the Sabbath by learn-
ing to act as curators rather than predators of this earth; by
taking time to admire rather than to exploit God's creation; by
experiencing rest and peace through the appreciation of God's

     Does the Sabbath bring divine rest to our human
restlessness? This study has shown that the Sabbath does enable
the Savior to bring perfect rest to our lives by offering us the
opportunity to experience the rest of creation, the rest of
divine presence, the rest of belonging, the rest from
competition, the rest from social tensions, the rest of
redemption and the rest of service. 
     Is the Sabbath, then, Good News or bad news? A day of
celebration or of frustration? 
     We have found in the Scriptures that the Sabbath expresses
God's Best News to the human family: the Good News that the Lord
has created us perfectly, that'He has redeemed us completely,
that He loves us immensely and that He will restore us
     In this cosmic age, the Good News of the Sabbath provides
the basis for a cosmic faith, a faith which embraces and unites
creation, redemption and final restoration; the past, the present
and the future; man, nature and God; this world and the world to
come; a faith that recognizes God's dominion over the whole
creation and human life by consecrating to Him the seventh day; a
faith that fulfills the believer's true destiny in time and
eternity; a faith that offers Divine Rest for Human Restlessness.



A very fine expounding of the many meanings of the 7th day

With all that Samuele Bacchiocchi has written on the topic of the
Sabbath day; with all that I have written on the same subject;
with all that both Dr.Sam and I have given you on this Website
concerning the Sabbath day, I believe just about all arguments
have been answered from those who would either abolish the FOURTH
commandments altogether, or who would change it from the 7th day
to the 1st day of the week. 

The Sabbath question is really not very complicated; the Ten
Commandments have always been from the beginning, and still
remain as part of the New Covenant introduced by Christ, and
amplified by the whole New Testament writings. Hence the FOURTH
commandment still retains the words as found in Exodus 20. The
FOURTH commandment tells us to REMEMBER the Sabbath day to keep
it holy, and that Sabbath day is no other than the 7th day of the
week, just as the commandment clearly tells us, and as the Jews
have preserved the 7th day of the week, there is no loss of time,
no loss of which is the 7th day. The religious Jews are the
living proof that God has preserved for us the knowledge of which
is the 7th day of the week.

All that remains is for us, with humility, to be willing to obey
the fourth commandment of the GREAT and HOLY Ten Commandment law
of the Holy Eternal God.

Keith Hunt

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