August 23, 2016 • Life for Leaders
Then he said, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:27 (CEB)
The Sabbath is one of the primary ways Jewish people express their faithfulness to God and his covenant. By resting for a day each week (sunset on Friday through sunset on Saturday), Jews imitate God’s example (Genesis 2:2-3) and follow God’s commandment (Exodus 20:9-11).
According to Jesus, the Sabbath is something for human beings. It is a provision of God for us and our benefit.
In the time of Jesus, some among the Jewish people were so zealous to keep the Sabbath that they constructed an elaborate schema of specific rules and rituals. Thus, certain Pharisees were not pleased when they saw the disciples of Jesus plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath. They asked Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath” (Mark 2:24).
Jesus began his answer by referring to a time in Jewish history when David and his companions were hungry and ate bread that had been set aside only for the priests There is a time, Jesus implied, when human need, in this case, hunger, takes higher priority than ritual exactitude (Mark 2:25-26). Then, he added by way of explanation, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, CEB).
God did not set apart one day a week for rest for the sake of the day itself. Nor did God create human beings so that the Sabbath might be honored. Rather, according to Jesus, the Sabbath is something for human beings. It is a provision of God for us and our benefit. The Sabbath is, indeed, a gift from God. The statement of Jesus about the purpose of the Sabbath echoes the sentiment found in Isaiah, “[I]f you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable . . . then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land” (Isa 58:13-14).
There was a time in American culture when the Sabbath, structured around the Christian tradition of Sunday worship, was woven into the social fabric of our lives. Business and stores were, for the most part, closed on Sundays. People were expected to take a break from weekday activities in order to devote time to rest and worship. But those days are long gone (unless, of course, you happen to want a chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A, which closes on Sundays). Sundays are now days for shopping and entertainment. Many of us regularly work on Sundays without giving it much of a thought. Most churches I know don’t talk much about Sabbath keeping. We leave that tradition for faithful Jews.
But, we who would ignore the Sabbath should pause to consider the statement of Jesus: that God made the Sabbath for us. The questions below might help you in your reflections.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How is the saying of Jesus about the Sabbath relevant to our lives today? Is the Sabbath even possible today?
How do you respond to the idea that God has given the Sabbath – a day of rest from work – to you?
Do you think of the Sabbath as a gift from God?
Do you think of it much at all? What do you do – or not do – so as to keep the Sabbath?
Gracious God, thank you for making the Sabbath for us. Thank you for giving us a day of rest, a day to be refreshed as we enjoy your presence and that of our family and friends. Thank you for the time to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually rejuvenated.
Lord, some of us have received your gift of Sabbath. But for many of us, this is still an unopened package. Help us, we pray, to discover the grace of rest. As we step back from work, may we step closer to you and to your people. May we call our Sabbath a delight and take joy in you. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: The Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-3:6)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.