Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-3
The fourth commandment is this:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11
We forget that God created the Sabbath in the beginning, before the entrance of sin or the giving of the law. He instituted the pattern of the seventh day’s specialness from the start; even Adam and Eve in Eden knew about it. We forget its origin, and we also forget its loveliness. The Sabbath is a truly beautiful thing, and it is precious to God. We neglect it to our own loss and shame.
The Sabbath compels us to remember God. God pointed this out in Exodus 31, telling Moses,
You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.” Exodus 31:13
The Sabbath exists as a weekly signpost to the fact that God is; that he is holy; that he relates to mankind; that he mercifully sanctifies his people; that he alone deserves all glory, praise, and thanks. With the Sabbath in your life, six days is the longest you can go without being forcefully reminded of God and of his action in your life and in you.
Christians typically regard Sunday, rather than Saturday, as the Sabbath day because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday (a practice originating at the beginning of the church). Thus, the Sabbath exists as a year-round celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. With the Sabbath in your life, six days is the longest you can go without being forced to consider the objective fact of Jesus’ divinity, the New Covenant identity which defines you, and the resurrected world to which you are headed.
For if Joshua had given [the Israelites] rest, God would have not spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Hebrews 4:8-10
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Romans 4:4-8
In one sense, the entire Christian life is work: pursuing greater holiness, greater knowledge of God, greater love, greater spiritual stature. In another sense, all of it is rest: receiving the Father’s love, receiving Jesus, receiving the Holy Spirit, accepting grace through faith.
“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” The whole Jewish pattern of living revolved around the Sabbath, the holy day of rest which they understood as belonging in a special way to God. In the same way, with the Sabbath in your life, six days is longest you can go without being forced to rest from your useless striving and working for God’s love. It’s the longest you can go without being forced to savor the free forgiveness of the cross.
The Sabbath designates the rest of faith. It also foreshadows the rest of heaven, that blessed ceasing from labor and suffering which awaits those declared righteous through faith. To many of us who live sedentary, comfortable lives, the idea of heaven as rest may seem almost anti-climactic. To the rest of humanity, there is hardly a sweeter thought in the world.
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 58:13-14