Sabbath simply means rest. When God finished his work of creation, he rested and subsequently instituted it as a pattern for mankind and animals (20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15).
Sabbath is a divine ordinance and as such, should be observed. In effort to ensure the Sabbath observance, the legalistic Pharisees set up strict laws regarding the how, which included 39 categories of forbidden activities. They, in essence, made themselves lords of the Sabbath, and by extension, lords over the people. But in his several encounters with them, Jesus put it through that it is rather he, who is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8, Mark 2:28, and Luke 6:5). As the real Lord of the Sabbath (John 1:3; Heb. 1:10), Jesus had the authority to overrule the traditions and enactments of the legalistic Jews and also correctly interpret the meaning of the Sabbath and all the laws pertaining to it.
In John 5:1-21 (2nd Lesson for the day), we find antagonism to Jesus because he healed someone on the Sabbath day. The Jewish leaders, instead of rejoicing over the man being healed were rather offended at Jesus’ breaking the Oral Tradition (later codified in the Talmud) connected with the Sabbath (cf. vv. 16, 18; Matt. 7: 1-23). Jesus often healed on the Sabbath (cf. Matt. 12:9-14; Mark 1:29-31; 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11; 14:1-6; John 5:9-18; 9:14). He cast out demons on the Sabbath (cf Mark 1:21-28; Luke 13:-17), defended the disciples’ eating on the Sabbath (cf. Matt. 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:6-15) and initiated controversial subjects in the synagogue on the Sabbath (cf. Luke 4:16-30; John 7:14-24). Jesus response indicated his filial relationship with God and that Sabbath had never hindered the Father’s work. In essence, his healing activity on the Sabbath was no violation of the Law but a spiritual fulfilment of its true intention.
The original purpose of the Sabbath is to give man rest from his labour as God himself rested on the seventh day after finishing his work of creation on the sixth day. The New Testament, however, reveals a finished work of new creation in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross at Calvary provides man rest from labouring to achieve his own salvation by his works. Sabbath is about a time to forget the labours and stress of this world and be immersed in the worship of God who has finished his work of creation. In the Old Testament, it was on the seventh day. But in the New Testament, it became on the first day consequent on God’s finishing of his work of the New Creation and man’s salvation, which is manifested in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first day.
Ultimately, time will come when those who work for God will cease to work and enter into his eternal rest which is the eternal life. This is the path which Jesus trod for us to follow. May God help us to eventually come to the point of saying like Jesus: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30) or like St Paul: “I have finished…” (2Tim. 4:7) and then enter into God’s reward and bliss, the eternal rest.
This is the Sabbath of God.