Dec 6, 2008

The Sabbath for Gentiles

“I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD,
    who serve him and love his name,
who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest,
    and who hold fast to my covenant."

Throughout Isaiah we see God’s vision, not only for the people of Israel, but also for all peoples. Though his salvation is focused upon Israel, it is not for Israel alone. Isaiah 56 reiterates the Lord’s concern for the nations. They too can be numbered among God’s holy people if they “commit themselves to the LORD” and “serve him and love his name” and “worship him” (v. 6).

All of this fits comfortably into our understanding of how we relate to God as Christians. But then Isaiah adds that Gentiles who keep God’s covenant must “not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest” (v. 6). How are we to make sense of this as Christians? Is the Sabbath for us too? Or did Jesus free us from keeping the Sabbath?

As I have worked on these questions for many years, I have become convinced that the Sabbath is gift of God given to all people, not just the Jews. God has created us with a need for weekly rest. We live most fully when we imitate him by setting aside a day each week for rest and refreshment. But a legalistic approach to Sabbath is inconsistent with the grace of God in Christ. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, invites us into the joy of his rest. Here we are renewed in our relationship with him and find oursleves strengthened to serve him in our daily work.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What do you think of the Sabbath? Do you set aside time each week for rest and renewal?

PRAYER: Gracious Lord, first of all, I thank you for including the Gentiles among your people. How blessed I am to be numbered among your sons and daughters!

You know, Lord, how the idea of Sabbath can be a perplexing one to those of us who belong to you through Christ. We want to be faithful to you in all things. And we want to receive the fullness of your goodness. Sabbath intrigues us. The thought of resting with you draws us. Yet we fear the legalism that so often attaches itself to the Sabbath, even among Christians. So help us, Lord, to have a right understanding of the Sabbath and its role in our lives. Teach us how to rest in a way that honors you and your grace. Amen.

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