Series on Genesis, I Creation, D. The Completion of Creation Text 1:31-2:3 Title: Sabbath Rest


There are many difficult doctrines of Scripture which are tested by our modern lifestyle, and the Bible's teaching about the sabbath is the center of much of that controversy.  In questioning men for admission to our Presbytery we find that even ministerial candidates may be confused. This is puzzling for two reasons. Although we may differ in our perceptions of what is and what is not acceptable behavior on the sabbath day, there is no question as to the importance of the sabbath principle in Scripture. In fact, the Old Testament is so filled with the sabbath, the sabbatical cycle and the number seven that to deny the validity of the sabbath principle seems almost unthinkable. Perhaps of even greater importance is that the sabbath is not simply presented in the Old Testament as a part of the law of Moses or of the religious worship of Israel. It is set forth as a creation ordinance here in our text. It is part of the fabric of creation. It is a principle of such magnitude, that to ignore it or water it down is to attack the vitals of God's revelation to us. I would like us to consider three things from our text. First, the announcement of the sabbath, secondly, the activity of the sabbath, and lastly, the anticipation of the sabbath.

I The Announcement of the Sabbath

The thrust of our text is that God had not only finished his work of creation but that He took great pleasure in it as fufilling his purpose and revealing His person. The words of Genesis 1:31 occur for the first time, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. God has previously stated that what He did was good, but now in contemplating the entirety of the work of creation God says it is very good. As we read on in Genesis we discover that sin enters the world and the creation is spoiled. The intense reflection of God upon his work as very good is intended to make a stark contrast with what follows. It is written so that we can see the imperfection of a blighted world over against the bliss and perfection of what God made. In this there is a lesson. In the midst of a war-torn strife ridden world filled with destruction and death we need to return to a contemplation of what it once was and what it shall be by God's grace. This is why the Bible begins with paradise and ends with paradise regained and in Revelation 21 and 22. The description of the eternal state echos the features of the Garden of Eden. The sabbath calls us backwards and forwards to our true selves and to the meaning of life. It enables us to see the goodness of God. Job's statement in Job 2:9 and 10,  His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”  He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” is not enough. It cannot stand alone or we will be victims of fate. We need to see the larger picture. This is why the weeping prophet Jeremiah even in the midst of predicting the destruction of the theocracy and of Jerusalem still promises the sure goodness of God to those who believe in Lamentations 3:25, The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him. This is the same thought echoed by Paul in Romans 8:28 when he writes that God is working all things together for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. This is why the sabbath and the number seven are woven into the fabric of the Old Testament. The passover ends on the seventh day; God breaks his silence on Sinai on the seventh day; Jericho's walls fall on the seventh day; Noah's ark rests in the seventh month; the day of atonement is in the seventh month; the seventh year was the freeing of slaves and the release of debts; and the book of Revelation has seven churches,seven seals,seven trumpets and seven bowls of wrath. This by no means exhausts the usage of the number but the point is that it is there because the people need forever to be reminded to see the larger picture of God's goodness.

II The Activity of the Sabbath

Since the text says God rested, it may seem strange to speak of the activity of the sabbath, but we need to understand that rest in the Bible does not mean inaction. Once there was an all-day wood chopping contest. One contestant worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. Another man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At day’s end, the first man was puzzled to find that the other fellow had chopped more wood than he had. "I don't get it," he said. "every time i checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than i did." "But you didn't notice," said the winning woodsman, "That I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.” God’s works are creation and providence. He now rules over all, supervises all, administers all, holds everything together by the word of his power. What is ended is the work of creation, but not all work, and the rest is not one of inactivity but of contemplation of what has been accomplished while God at the same time continues to work. Jesus even said in John 5:17, My father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. He said in John  9:4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. Paul speaks to the Corinthians of the “God who works in you.” Thus the fundamental point of the sabbath is not simply rest but a cessation of one kind of work so that we can do another. Jesus whole ministry consisted of doing things on the sabbath which were forbidden by the Scribes and Pharisees of His own time. He seemed to have a very different idea of the sabbath, and the point is that when he was asked how we can do the work of God he replied the work of God is to believe on him who was sent into the world. The activity of the sabbath is an activity of worship along with works of mercy and necessity. In the second century Justin Martyr wrote, "On Sunday a meeting is held of all who live in the cities and villages, and a section is read from the memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the prophets, as long as time permits. When the reading is finished, the President, in a discourse, gives the admonition and exhortation to imitate these noble things. After this we all arise and offer a common prayer. at the close of the prayer wine and bread and thanks for them, and the congregation answers, 'amen.' Then the consecrated elements are distributed to each one and partaken of, and are carried by the deacons to the houses of the absent. The wealthy and the willing then give contributions according to their freewill; and this collection is deposited with the president, who therewith supplies orphans, widows, prisoners, strangers, and all who are in want." Paul told the Corinthians to set aside their tithes on the first day of the week in I Corinthians 16. Early Christians called the sabbath the Lord’s Day, as the apostle John does in Revelation 1:10. They used this term, not because it was not the new sabbath, but because it was the day Christ rose, the first day of the new creation. In Asia Minor, where the churches to which John was writing were located, people celebrated the first day of each month as the Emperor’s day. Some believe that a day of the week was also called by this name. Thus, by calling the first day of the week the Lord’s Day, John may have been making a direct challenge to emperor worship, as he does elsewhere in the book. So the Sabbath is a day of contemplation and of continuation in doing the work of the Lord. Our text says that God hallowed, blessed, or sanctified the sabbath. Sanctification means setting something aside for a holy use. The priests were sanctified before they could serve in the tabernacle. The saints are set aside from the world to serve God. The sabbath day is set aside for a holy use. The most important question about the sabbath is the promotion of holiness and the Kingdom of God, not inactivity. One of the reasons for this is that the sabbath is a foretaste of the future which brings me to the last point the anticipation.

III The Anticipation of the Sabbath

We have already noted that the sabbath is a time to reflect backward to paradise lost and forward to paradise regained. However the eschatological significance of the sabbath is most fully brought out in Hebrews 4:1-11, Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.  There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;  for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. The nation of Israel was prevented from entering the promised land, but the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus has brought us in. Therefore in this passage the sabbath symbolizes our eternal rest. The important thing here is not to interpret this everlasting sabbath as an eternity of doing nothing. When this passage in Genesis says that God ceased from all his work, it must not contradict other passages of Scripture. The real key to understanding the significance of such a statement is to see how the Bible contrasts the old creation with the new. There is a new creation which involves not only us who are born again but the whole physical world, a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells. Once the first creation was finished it was spoiled. Then the sabbath took on the significance of the new creation. That's why the day was changed from the seventh to the first day of the week. It is of course the resurrection day of our Savior but it is more. At the first creation the sabbath was a time to look back and meditate upon the glory of the Creator in all he had made, but once sin entered the world that creation was spoiled. Then the sabbath took on the idea of a renewed creation. The actual change took place when the new creation formally began in Christ, that is, when we entered the age to come which is what the author of Hebrews is referring to in Hebrews 4:10 and 11. This does not mean that we still need to enter the rest. It means that the Jewish Christians to whom the author is writing need to enter a different rest from the one Joshua gave them. To ignore the sabbath means to ignore our final destiny. We have been changed. we’ve been given a new nature now, we are joined to Christ; we are a part of the new creation. We celebrate the first day because that is the day he rose from the grave. That is what it means in Colossians 2:14 when it says that the Old Testament ordinances have been nailed to the cross.  By the cross our Savior has transformed the old creation week into the new. The day has changed but not the importance. We might even say if God said the day was important in the Old Testament, how much more now when it symbolizes our Christian hope?