Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
– Gen 2.1-3
In the creation account, we see that God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh. Because of this model, He ordained that the seventh day should be a day of rest forever. He sanctified it – set it apart – made it holy unto Himself. He wants people to give one full day a week where we remember Him, honor Him, do everything specifically for Him and His glory. Thus we see in the Law that God established specifications for the level of effort that was to be made on the Sabbath (seventh day, day of rest). Food was to prepared the day before, people could only walk a certain number of steps, and they were mandated, by Law, to do nothing but think on and enjoy Him.
By the time Jesus came around, the Sabbath was established tradition. But Jesus rocked the boat by healing and doing good deeds on the Sabbath, and even allowing His disciples to pick the heads of grain and eat on the Sabbath.
For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”
– John 5.16-17
When the keepers of the Law accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, He did not defend Himself and argue that He was not breaking the Sabbath. Rather he argued that the Father is working, even on the Sabbath, and He – in like form – was also working. The religious elite were keeping the letter of the Law, but not the spirit of the Law. The purpose for the Sabbath was to set aside a day for God. To rest in God. To remember Him. To reflect on His goodness, provision and mercy. But the mindset was no longer to glorify God, but to glorify one’s self by counting steps and appearing to others as pious.
But Jesus came with the purpose to proclaim the Kingdom of God, to seek and to save the lost and to teach the truth. Thus we learn, by Jesus’ example that to work unto the Kingdom and to do good is permissible on the Sabbath.
For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.
– John 5.18-21
What does this matter? Does it have any implication for us today? Most Christians today are quick to sate that we no longer function under the Law, but under Grace. Jesus died the death and suffered the punishment that we deserve and He raised from the dead to offer us forgiveness and victory over our sins through faith alone. The topic of Sabbath keeping today is grounds for much debate. Some say it is one of the ten commandments, therefore it must be observed and some say that we do not “regard one day as more holy than another” and Jesus abolished the Law, so we do not have to keep it.
Whichever side of that argument you happen to fall on, I adjure you to keep your conviction based on the teachings and example of Jesus: He did nothing except that which He saw the father doing. And because Jesus saw the Father working on the Sabbath (towards the salvation of sinners and glory of God), He was permitted to do the same.
Jesus did not redeem us from the Law to set us free to do whatever we please. Jesus set us free from the Law to do whatever we see Him doing, and to follow wherever the Spirit leads. We are to die to ourselves and live unto Christ. In many situations we will appear as though we are keeping the Law, and that because we know from Scripture what it is that pleases God. But we do not do it out of compulsion but out of love. That is the change Jesus rendered.
What do you see God doing around you? Around the world? That is the work in which we should invest and imitate. Let us not look for our freedom to live worldly lifestyles. Let us look to our freedom to serve lavishly and share boldly. Let us embrace the indwelling spirit who gives us confidence and favor before God. Let us obey, follow and honor Him. Every day of the week, not just the Sabbath.