The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8–11), and it gets more discussion in the Old Testament than any of the other nine.
Most Sabbath references in the New Testament are simply a time reference for events, and the Sabbath commandment is the only one of the Ten Commandments not quoted verbatim in the New Testament. Jesus was regularly criticized for not honoring the Sabbath. Paul expresses freedom about honoring the Sabbath on different days (Colossians 2:16).
Does the New Testament minimize the call to Sabbath? Is it now obsolete?
Jesus definitely honored the Sabbath, in its true meaning — as a command given for us, a means of grace for us and a gift to us because we need it. The misguided rabbis had loaded up the call to Sabbath with rules. Jesus wanted to liberate the gift of Sabbath (Isaiah 58:13–14) from life-robbing, legalistic burden. He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
The Sabbath keeps God in His rightful place and me in my proper place. In working, we tend toward self-reliance and control. We act as gods of our own lives. In Sabbath, we stop working. We “cease striving and know that [He is] God” (Psalm 46:10 NASB).
The Deuteronomy 5:12–15 expression of the Sabbath commandment ties it to the deliverance from Egypt, where God’s people toiled in slavery with no rest for 400 years. We need to remember that all people are made in the image of God and should not be used or abused.
Keith Cowart is the lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Columbus, Georgia.