“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17, ESV)
Years ago I was inspired by this verse to remember that the Sabbath is inherently a shadow, or picture, of Jesus. The substance–the meaning and intention–woven into the fabric of this day is Christ himself. He is the truth and reality about which the Sabbath was designed to teach. Even better than looking at a person’s shadow flickering on the wall is turning around and considering the real person who is casting that shadow.
So what substance of Christ is found in the Sabbath? What does this weekly festival teach us about Jesus?
Rest. The deepest, truest, most satisfying rest can be found only in God, through the finished work of Jesus. St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Because we are created beings with the purpose of enjoying and glorifying our Creator, our souls are anxious, searching, and striving, until they find their home in Jesus. Without Him, there is no rest.
In the Old Testament Sabbath, God commanded bodily rest every seventh day. And yet, until Jesus came, it was only that: a rest for the body. Complete rest for the spirit was unattainable. As practiced under the Law, the Sabbath could only foreshadow the Great Rest that was coming.
Thanks to the Gospel, that Rest is now here! Remembering the Sabbath as followers of Jesus still includes rest from our physical labor. But it is more than that. The Sabbath is a weekly re-enactment of our restless souls finding rest in Jesus. Through the week we labor, we strive, we exert ourselves, and become tired. When Sabbath comes, we stop and rest our bodies. In the same way, before Christ, our souls were restless, seeking, hopeless, agitated, and tired. But then, the Sabbath of our souls–Jesus, the Prince of Peace–entered the picture and transformed us. Our souls at last can rest, because they have found their true home, the position in Him for which they were created. The rest that we have in Jesus is a spiritual rest that lodges deeply and permanently in our souls. It is a ceasing from spiritual striving, because in Jesus, we are complete, and need do nothing more. The work of Jesus is finished; all that is left for us to do is rest. Jesus is our Sabbath!
This summer I encountered a beautiful Yiddish poem in which the writer describes his beloved as giving him “sabbath all week.” Although this wasn’t a spiritual text, the phrase stood out to me as a picture of what our rest in Jesus has purchased for us: Sabbath all week. Not because our labors cease–we only enjoy that practical blessing once every seven days–but the substance of the Sabbath is Jesus, our rest, and he is our Prince of Peace every day.
Almost every week, my Sabbath prayer includes gratitude for the reminder the Sabbath is to me of the rest that I have in Jesus. Bodily rest is just the shadow; spiritual rest in Jesus is the substance.
May this Sabbath remind you of the rest you have in Jesus, a rest that continues all week!
“Jesus, I am resting, resting
In the joy of what thou art
I am finding out the greatness of thy loving heart.”