A friend and I were studying in our dorm room when he looked over and said, “Man, I’m still feeling refreshed from Sabbath. Now I know why you’re never stressed out.”
A couple days earlier I had invited him to enjoy the Sabbath with me. We put our textbooks away to worship with a Church community, enjoy lunch with friends, and spend the afternoon at the beach.
In the midst of a challenging academic program, where one is always studying for the next exam and trying not to fall behind, it might seem counter-intuitive to unplug from studying for a day. But I’ve discovered that Sabbath was made for people like me who need to be liberated from the endless procession of tasks and deadlines. Sabbath hits the pause button on all the things I often define myself by–my achievements and failures–to remind me of what really gives purpose to my life–relationships, service, and, ultimately, the self-sacrificing love of my Creator.
In my journey to have a meaningful Sabbath experience, I’ve found myself drawn to the example of Jesus. Perhaps it is noteworthy that the gospel accounts mention the Sabbath more often than the books of Moses do. It is just as much a part of the teachings of Jesus as it is part of the law of Moses. Here are some lessons about Sabbath I’ve discovered from Mark’s gospel record:
Sabbath is about spending time in community. (Mark 1:21)
Wherever I’ve found myself, be it the States, Europe, or a tropical island, I’ve always been able to connect with a community worshipping on the Sabbath. Often “strangers” have become close friends by the end of the day. Unsurprisingly, most of my most meaningful conversations and experiences have happened on the Sabbath (often involving an incredible meal!).
Sabbath is about lives being changed by the Word of God. (Mark 1:21-22)
Jesus spent Sabbath morning teaching from Scriptures, but He taught as “one who had authority, not as the scribes.” Sabbath is less about speaking in abstract religious jargon and more about the Word’s power to transform the lives of real people.
Sabbath is about blessing and serving those around you. (Mark 1:23-26)
The majority of Jesus’ healing miracles happened on the Sabbath. Today, this looks like visiting and caring for those in need–such as the sick, oppressed, and social outcasts. Recently, I’ve greatly valued spending Sabbath afternoons serving with my church in our city’s homeless and elderly communities. How can you spend your Sabbath in service?
Sabbath is about discovering direction and purpose for the rest of your week. (Mark 1:32)
The healing that Jesus started on Sabbath continued well after Sabbath finished at sunset Saturday evening. The day set the tone for the week. Sabbath isn’t about escaping from what’s going on the rest of the week, rather it’s about discovering God’s mission for your life in whatever situation you find yourself.
Sabbath is about appreciating creation. (Mark 2:23, 3:7, 3:13)
The opening chapters of Mark find Jesus enjoying the Sabbath with His disciples walking through grain fields (Mark 2:23), down by the sea (Mark 3:7), and up on a mountain (Mark 3:13). Sabbath afternoon hikes through a redwood forest or along the beach have been some of my personal favorites.
Sabbath isn’t about rules to control the behavior of those around you. (Mark 2:24-27)
The point is to uplift those around you, not control them. It seems many of the religious leaders missed this in Jesus’ day. Perhaps some still do today.
Sabbath is a gift for all humanity. (Mark 2:27)
Sabbath is about Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. (Mark 2:28)
Sometimes friends remark that Saturday is my Sabbath, but it’s not. True, the Biblical Sabbath occurs from sunset Friday till sunset Saturday, but that time isn’t my Sabbath. It’s His Sabbath. I could determine to take a day off whenever–say, Friday, Sunday, or Monday–but Sabbath is unique because I didn’t choose the day. God did, and He set it apart to connect with me. This reminds me of a central truth of Christianity: long before we look up to choose God, God stepped down having chosen us in Christ.
Sabbath is about remembering the work Jesus did on the cross. (Mark 15:37-46)
Just as the creation account records that after the 6th day God finished His work and rested on the Sabbath, Jesus declared “It is finished” on the cross on the 6th day (“Good Friday”) and rested in the tomb on Sabbath.
Sabbath is about living in hope of the resurrection. (Mark 16:1-4)
A group of Jesus’ followers spent the Sabbath after Jesus’ death waiting to go and see His tomb, when they would discover Him resurrected. Likewise today, every Sabbath reminds us that we are living after the cross and in anticipation of the great resurrection at Jesus’ soon return. This offers incredible hope.
How has Sabbath been meaningful in your life and journey? We’d love to hear your experiences and questions in the comments below.