In this final post I wish to ask the question: What does this mean for the Church today?
I will contend that the Sabbath is indeed an abiding provision. The fulfillment has begun in Jesus, and it continues through the present day. The Sabbath was fulfilled in Jesus, but not abolished by Him. It is through the work of God’s people that the fulfillment of the Sabbath continues. What might this mean?
First, just as communion reminds us of what God through Christ has done for us, so also, the Sabbath is a reminder that God has rescued us. In addition, just as taking communion looks forward to the eternal banquet in God’s kingdom, so also, practicing the Sabbath looks forward to the eternal rest awaiting us. Practicing the Sabbath reminds us that God has set us free from slavery. In fact, to not practice the Sabbath is to reject the notion that God had rescued us. It is a flagrant denial of the fact that we were in slavery and have been set free.
Secondly, a theology of the Sabbath means that we are to recognize the holiness of the day. This is best done in the weekly gathering of God’s people. For those who work on a Sunday maybe it means attending a weekly Bible study or some form of corporate fellowship, worship, and study.
Thirdly, we can rest and take time off weekly, because God is our source. The Sabbath reminds us that God’s economy does not follow the economics of the world. God blesses His people because they are obedient and because they practice justice. It is the economics of the kingdom of this world that begs us to work too much. In taking a day off each week, we are living out the Kingdom of God and confirming He is Lord and will provide. Consequently, we can take a day off each week to worship and serve the true King of kings. In doing so, we have no concerns about wealth—losing income or productivity—because our King reminds us that He is the provider. Practicing the Sabbath is a weekly reminder that God is in control.
Finally, to practice the Sabbath means to ensure that justice is done. This means that we are not engaging in activities that foster inequity and that we are actively seeking to eradicate injustice. Boy did I just opened up a can of worms! Having a kingdom ethic and engaging in kingdom practices means that we must ask the tough questions and put the answers into practice.
 I highly recommend the very challenging book by Richard Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity.
Jesus asserts, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). What He means here is that the Sabbath was made to protect people from being exploited. We were not made to observe the Sabbath (“not man for the Sabbath”). Instead, the Sabbath was made to be a blessing to humanity (“the Sabbath was made for man”); especially those who were being exploited.
If the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ, then, with the coming of Christ, the end of oppression is at hand! This is what Jesus means when He enters the Nazareth synagogue and asserts that, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Now, what better day was there for Jesus to demonstrate this than on the Sabbath! The very day that was established to prevent injustices.
Therefore, contrary to popular perceptions, Jesus was not proclaiming that the Sabbath no longer applies. He was confirming that it was fulfilled. In Him, all injustices are being eradicated. This is exemplified in Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath in Luke 13. “When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness’” (Luke 13:12). She was freed! Just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and freed, so also, this woman has been set free! This healing, then, provides an affirmation that Jesus has come to set the captives free! Indeed, the prophecies are being fulfilled. The healing of this oppressed woman is precisely what the Sabbath was for! In healing this woman, Jesus is demonstrating that the fulfillment has begun! The healing of this woman didn’t violate the Sabbath; it was exactly what the Sabbath was for! Consequently, despite the religious leaders’ objections to Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath, His actions were in accord with the very nature and purpose of the Sabbath!
Jesus was not denying that He was working on the Sabbath. He was indeed working. His work, however, was not in violation of the Sabbath—though it was in their mind. Instead, it was fully in accord with the Sabbath.
Sabbath as Holy
Now, in order to complete a theology of the Sabbath it is important to also note that practicing the Sabbath is also a holy act. Genesis says, “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3). While the first six days of creation are called “good”, the seventh day is blessed by God and made holy. To be made “holy” or “sanctified” means to be “set apart.”
It is also important to place the Sabbath discussion in the discussion of God’s economy! Throughout Scripture we see that in God’s economy He provides for His people as an act of grace. That is, God’s people will succeed because they are blessed by God. They do not get ahead because of their hard work, or their ingenuity. They certainly will not get ahead because they abuse their workers!
Another way to understand how the economy of God is directly related to the issue of the Sabbath is to note that the land was also supposed to enjoy the Sabbath.
“You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.” (Exodus 23:10-12).
It is very important to note that the provision of letting the land rest is also in accord with providing for the poor and the needy: “so that the needy of your people may eat” (Exodus 23:12).
Now, if one thinks about it, this doesn’t appear to be the best way to reap an economic boom. After all, only sowing in six out of seven parts of the field will not reap as large a harvest as sowing on all seven parts. Sure there are studies that have concluded that the land is actually more productive when it is allowed a year of rest. But we must wonder if the ancient Israelites knew this. There were simply instructed to give the land a rest every seven years. How were they to find provisions during the seventh year? God will provide!
This is how the economy of God operates. God provides and His people are blessed. They are blessed not because they followed the economic ideals of the world. Instead, they are blessed because they have been obedient to God.
In Luke 13, Jesus heals a woman who was crippled by an evil spirit for eighteen years. The problem, at least from the perspective of the local synagogue official, was that the healing took place on the Sabbath. The official remarks to the people, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). His statement has a clear allusion to Deuteronomy 5:13: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.”
Now it must be understood that the official’s complaint seems reasonable. The woman could have found Jesus the next day. After all, if she has been troubled by this spirit for eighteen years, then what is one more day? And if healing someone is indeed a work, and there is no absolute standard to say that it is or it isn’t, then Jesus’ healing was a violation of the Sabbath.
What many Christians attempt to do at this point is to justify Jesus’ actions on the basis that healing someone is not “work” and, therefore, He didn’t violate the Sabbath. Is this, however, the best way to read the passage? Was Jesus quibbling with them over the definition of “work.”? No. In fact, His reply seems to suggest that He was working, but so were they.
On another occasion, Jesus unequivocally acknowledges that He was working on the Sabbath. The Gospel of John notes, that “the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16). Jesus, then, replies, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). Instead of quibbling over what is work and what is not work, Jesus’ defense is that they do not understand the purpose of the Sabbath.
Thus, in Luke 13:15-16, Jesus replies to the official, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16).
Note that Jesus’ reply alludes to Deuteronomy 5:14—recall that the synagogue official had cited Deuteronomy 5:13 in his exhortation to the people. Jesus was, in effect, saying that he should have kept reading. After all, according to Deuteronomy 5:14, the Sabbath also applies to one’s ox, donkey, and cattle: “but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle.” Jesus is pointing out that they were willing to untie a donkey and lead it out to water on the Sabbath so that it may drink—something that was not life-threatening. If they are able to do so for an animal, and the Sabbath applies to their animals, then shouldn’t He be able to set this woman free on the Sabbath?
Now, if Jesus were merely arguing, “well, I am working but so are you,” the official might well respond by acknowledging: “yeah, you got us. We probably shouldn’t be leading our animals to drink on the sabbath. Thanks for pointing out our inconsistency.” This would leave Jesus in a corner. He would then have to submit to the Sabbath regulations that prohibit work; including healing. Clearly there is something more going on in Jesus’ argumentation. And discerning such, will help us determine our theology of the Sabbath.
Towards a theology of the Sabbath
In order to discern a theology of the Sabbath, we must first understand that the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ. Paul affirms this directly in Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
In saying that the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ, we mean that the nature and purpose of the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in Jesus. It is important to note that in saying that the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in Jesus does not mean that it is eradicated. Instead, it means that the very purpose for which the Sabbath was established finds its fulfillment in Jesus. What, then, is the purpose of the Sabbath? Is it not simply a day for rest? The answer is that the Sabbath is much more than that!
The key for understanding what Jesus was doing in healing on the Sabbath, as well as, for our understanding of the nature and purpose of the Sabbath, and, consequently, for our discerning a theology of the Sabbath is that the Sabbath rest is a matter of justice. The Sabbath, along with the rest of the ten commandments, was established in accord with creating an economy of justice. All one has to do to understand this point is to ask: who wants the workers to work seven days a week: the owners of the field, or the workers in the field? The Sabbath was established in order to protect those who were most likely to be exploited: namely, the working class.
That the Sabbath was intended to create an economy of justice—i.e., it was designed to protect those who were most vulnerable—is why, after the Sabbath law is stated in Deuteronomy 5:14, the next verse reminds them that they were slaves in Egypt: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). The Sabbath, then, is a way of saying “you will not exploit your workers; after all, you should remember what it was like when you were exploited.” The Sabbath law, then, points us to the time when injustices and oppression will cease!
 It is intriguing that the official does not address Jesus.
 The plural “hypocrites” suggests that Jesus was addressing more than just the official.