The Grace Behind the Weekly Sabbath
LAW AND GRACE
Jesus’ corrective statement on the Sabbath is two-fold: first, “the Sabbath was made for man” and, second, “not man for the Sabbath.” The positive part comes first, affirming the beneficiary of the Sabbath, followed by a negation of legalistic restrictions.
Unfortunately, faulty hermeneutics has underscored the second over the first; hence, we often hear “Don’t let others judge you concerning the Sabbath,” “It doesn’t matter which day is Sabbath,” and “Sabbath is not for Christians, we are free from the bondage of the law.”
This is really missing the point—that God, out of His gracious providence, made the Sabbath right after the sixth day of creation so that man could be blessed and refreshed.
By now it should be clear that Jesus’ remark does not apply only to New Testament Christians. Since the very beginning, the Sabbath was instituted for the benefit of mankind, from the first humans to the present elect, as long as we have a relationship with God.
To the covenant people under the law, the Sabbath was linked to their liberation from Egyptian bondage:“‘And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.’” (Deut 5:15) The weekly rest provided a welcome respite from daily toil and realigned the faithful community in fellowship with their Creator—a reversal of Egypt and reminiscent of Eden.
The Sabbath is therefore of grace, not of law. In fact, grace underlies all of God’s interactions with men, and we have to recognize this before we can make any sense out of the otherwise tedious statutes, rituals, and ordinances of Mosaic law. Jesus was not injecting something new into the Sabbath by His response to the Jewish leaders but was merely teasing out unwarranted elements added to the Torah that worked against the Sabbath grace God intended for men of all time.
Paul explained that after Christ had fulfilled the requirements of the law by His death, Mosaic law would no longer be applicable. But we have to distinguish grace from law—from the veil of transitory Torah requirements.
Just as we distinguish between the grace of forgiveness and animal sacrifices, we distinguish the grace of Sabbath rest from its related legal requirements. Under the new covenant, while the sin offering is done away with, remission of sins remains; likewise, while animal offerings and Mosaic prohibitions associated with the Sabbath are abolished, the Sabbath rest remains as a grace for us the redeemed, the new creation.
[To be continue]..