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The Gift of the Sabbath

November 12, 2023

Teacher: John McLeod
Scripture: Genesis 2:1-3

Sermon Points

  1. Receive the Sabbath and Remember Your Creator
  2. Remember the Sabbath and Rest in Your Redeemer
  3. Do Not Regiment the Sabbath in the New Covenant
  4. Rest on the Sabbath to Rehearse for Your Future

Scripture Reading — Genesis 1:31-2:3

Genesis 1:31–2:3 (ESV)

  • (31) And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
  • (1) Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
  • (2) And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.
  • (3) So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.


Have you ever received the perfect gift at the perfect moment? I don’t just mean a utilitarian or useful gift. One time I remember my grandmother—an extremely practical person—giving me white tube-socks for Christmas. They were useful, but I wouldn’t call them the perfect gift. We’ve all also endured the white-elephant gift exchange at the office party, where any number of interesting, but impractical gifts make the rounds. We’ve even received the helpful gift card at times. These can be a blessing, but sometimes they are the result of the giver not having any idea what we really need.

What I’m talking about is the thoughtful gift-giver who knows just what you need—what will bring you delight or help—and gives it to you at just right moment.

I remember one year as a teenager getting a lightweight, waterproof jacket for Christmas. The next week, I was in the Smokies on the Appalachian trail for what was supposed to be a five day, 80 mile trip, and we got rain on the second day, and a couple of feet of snow on the third day. That waterproof anorak from REI was the perfect gift for that moment. I was grateful to have it, and it was very needed in the moment.

On another occasion, Stacey’s parents gifted us their used Chevy Astro van. We were poor, young parents with our fourth kid on the way, and the sedan was no longer gonna handle it. It was the right gift for the right time.

This morning, I’d like us to consider a gift that is being offered to us. We often think of it in other ways—either as a burdensome command or a debatable theological conundrum. We will consider the seventh day of creation and the gift of Sabbath. The words from the book of Esther, “for such a time as this” definitely came to my mind in my studies this week. God has intended the Sabbath to be a gift to mankind for all of history, but I truly believe that we are in desperate need of this gift in our day.

We are in our series, “Right from the Start.” What were things like in the very beginning? What were things like before sin entered the world?

It’s been a few weeks since we were talking about the days of creation. For the last few weeks we have considered the creation of man as male and female, as well as what it means to be made in the image of God.

We are returning back to the six days of creation. God made Adam and Eve on Day 6, but now we are turning to Day 7. Nothing has gone wrong. It is all very good.

Then something unexpected happens. The almighty God who created the heavens and the earth—all that exists—in six days ceased from his labors and blessed this seventh day and made it holy. What does that even mean?

This morning, my goal is to convince you that this gift of the Sabbath day of rest is for our good; that it’s a gift we should receive gladly.

We have four points this morning:

  1. Receive the Sabbath and Remember Your Creator
  2. Remember the Sabbath and Rest in Your Redeemer
  3. Do Not Regiment the Sabbath in the New Covenant
  4. Rest on the Sabbath to Rehearse for Your Future

Pastoral Prayer

  • for the weary or busy
  • for the focused or distracted
  • for the students
  • for the stay-at-home moms
  • for the person in the office or the job site
  • for the retired
  • for the engineer, programmer, electrician, salesman, or soldier
  • for the lawyer or nurse or teacher or pastor
  • for the one on disability or the one at the peak of his career
  • for the unemployed or the entrepreneur
  • for the one who is striving and is not enough

Give us rest in you this morning. Help us to embrace and receive the gift of Sabbath rest.

  • Matthew 11:28–30 (ESV) — Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I. Receive the Sabbath and Remember Your Creator

Genesis 2:1–3 (ESV)

  • (1) Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
  • (2) And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.
  • (3) So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

This is an unfortunate placement of a chapter break. Remember that they are not inspired. Here, we clearly have the final day of the creation week. It is all included between 1:11, “In the beginning, God created…” and 2:3 “…God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

Consider the massive statement in 2:1. “The heavens and earth were finished, and all the host of them.” God brought the universe into existence over the course of six days. All that exists—all matter, all planets, all stars, all energy, all kinds of plants and insects and fish and birds and animals.

The awesome power of God is on display in the creation. Miracle after miracle. Creativity. Beauty. Intricacy. Magnitude.

Then, just as unexpectedly as God began his creative work, he finished it. He stopped, finished, ceased.

We should pay attention to at least three keywords here in these verses—rested, blessed, and holy. Of course, we’ve mentioned before the significance of the number seven throughout all of chapter one.


God’s plan to take six whole days to create the world and to rest on the 7th day was not because he needed that long to create the universe; it was for our sake. He was giving us a pattern to follow.

God was not tired.

The key word here is the well-known “rest” (šābat, “to rest”; šabbāt, “the Sabbath”). The word actually means “cease,” more than “rest” as understood today. It is not a word that refers to remedying exhaustion after a tiring week of work. Rather, it describes the enjoyment of accomplishment, the celebration of completion.

  • Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 113–114.

We should admit that this passage does not officially name the seventh day the “Sabbath.” We have the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20, of course, that makes that connection explicitly. But here in our text in Genesis, we simply have the word “rested” (šābat).

Something else we should acknowledge at this point is that there is no command in this passage for us to follow. We will discuss the Fourth Commandment eventually, but here in Genesis 2, there is no command regarding the seventh day. We just see God’s example.

However, even though there is not a command, there is an implication. There is more here than simple indicative statement that God rested. We just read in 1:27 that “God created man in his own image.” God made us to bear his image, and he rested on the seventh day. I think the clear implication of the passage is that those that bear his image should do the same thing. We’ll see this more in our next keyword, “blessed.”


Genesis 2:3 (ESV) — So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

God blessed the seventh day. This is an interesting word to use to describe a day. We sometimes politely say, “Have a blessed day” to someone. Have you ever thought about what we mean? Is this just southern hospitality or are we hinting at the reality that it is God that brings blessing to our days?

This is the third time we’ve seen the term “blessed.” God blessed the fish and birds in 1:22, telling them to be fruitful and multiply and fill.

For Adam and Eve…

  • Genesis 1:28 (ESV) — And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Thus far in creation, blessing includes fruitfulness and fullness. This seems like a fine description of what this blessing should mean for the seventh day. God intends for there to be blessing and fullness on the seventh day. But for whom? For us, I believe. More specifically, for all of his image-bearers.

Because we often think of the Sabbath as a sign of the Mosaic covenant (more on that later), we wrongly assume that the Sabbath is just for the Israelites, or for God’s covenant people specifically. This, however, misses the point that God introduced the Sabbath as a creation ordinance. It is a blessing for all of those made in his image—for all of humanity for all time.


Not only did God bless the seventh day, he also made it “holy.”

This is the first time in the scripture that something is made “holy.” It is set apart from the others and made special. It’s important to see that the special nature of the day is not limited to a ceasing of labor, but of a blessing of fullness and holiness.

The resting in view on this seventh day is therefore a holy resting. To be sure, it is a day marked by the cessation of God’s work in creating the world and everything in it. But that cessation is only the penultimate characteristic of the day. The ultimate characteristic of the day is worship, a worship that is tied to fruitfulness and fullness.

  • Guy Prentiss Waters, The Sabbath as Rest and Hope for the People of God, 17.

The arc throughout the creation narrative does not stop with the creation of man, but with the creation of a holy day of resting, in which man and God share communion with one another. The point of creation was not merely a populated world, but a day of communion between God and those made in his image.

Think of this from man’s perspective for a moment. The seventh day is the first full day after Adam and Eve were created, where they could enjoy the blessing and fulness of communion with their Creator.

Rest is needed for creatures

We can’t really know what it felt like to live as creatures unhindered by fallenness and sin, but we can notice something with regard to the Sabbath.

God intended for Adam and Eve to enjoy one day in seven of blessed rest and communion with him even before sin or curse entered the world. We assume that our need for rest is tied to the brokenness of the world, but this is one of the significant aspects of what it means to be human. As creatures, we are designed from the beginning to need and enjoy rest. We are made as dependent, limited creatures; we are not gods ourselves. Our need for sleep is a daily reminder of the this; the Sabbath is a weekly reminder.

God sets the example so that we will follow in his footsteps and enjoy his blessings.

We were made for this rhythm. We were made to remember and worship our Creator through Sabbath rest.

We are to “Receive the Sabbath and Remember our Creator

II. Remember the Sabbath and Rest in Your Redeemer

Let’s jump ahead a few thousand years of human history. Adam and Eve sinned. Life became much more complicated. Many generations are born and then die.

Perhaps when you think of the Sabbath, your first impulse is to go to the Ten Commandments given to Moses at Sinai when the Israelites were miraculously delivered and redeemed out of Egypt.

The Ten Commandments begin with this reminder:

Exodus 20:2 (ESV) — “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Before he gives them any of the commands, he brings to their minds the fact that they have just been delivered. They have been redeemed.

Then the fourth commandment is the most verbose of them all. You’ll hear quite a few things here reminiscent of Genesis 2.

Exodus 20:8–11 (ESV) — “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

We’ve clearly moved on from the Creation Ordinance of the Sabbath as a gift to all people to a command to keep the Sabbath for the people of Israel.

But, we see many of the same foundations. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. The LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Even here in the command to Israel, we see that the blessings of the Sabbath are to be shared with those outside Israel. Your kids are supposed to rest, as well as your servants and sojourners. The LORD is indicating that we were made for this rhythm. Six days of work, and a seventh day of rest that is holy to the LORD.

But Moses will go still further than this. Not only is the Sabbath rest commanded of Israel, it will become the sign of the Mosaic covenant. We will be learning more about Covenants as we move through the rest of Genesis, but we are familiar with at least two other covenant signs.

In God’s covenant with Noah, he gives the sign of the Rainbow. This is a reminder of God’s promise not to destroy the entire earth again in a flood.

God also gives a sign to Abrahamcircumcision. It is a reminder to Abraham and his descendants of God’s promises.

Now, with Moses, God gives the sign of the Sabbath. It takes on greater meaning from the Creation account and becomes a sign of God’s special relationship to Israel. God wanted them to remember that he had rescued them—he had redeemed them.

Exodus 31:13 (ESV) — “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.

God wanted them to keep the Sabbath, not only so they would remember him as Creator, but also as the one who sanctifies them. God had delivered them. God was making them holy and setting them apart as a people devoted to him.

Ezekiel 20:20 (ESV) — and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.’

God is not just the LORD, he is the “LORD your God.”

This sign of belonging to God in the Mosaic covenant was so significant that to disregard the Sabbath command was a capital offense. In numbers 15, a man was found picking up sticks (i.e. working) on the Sabbath.

Numbers 15:35–36 (ESV) — And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses.

The Sabbath became a distinction between Israel and the nations surrounding it. When they ceased to make this distinction, God brought judgement and disaster.

Ezekiel 22:26 (ESV) — Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.

This particular passage in Ezekiel is one of the reasons I’m inclined to see the Sabbath command in the 4th Commandment as more closely tied to the ceremonial law than the moral law. Here, we see the Sabbath as connected to holy and common or unclean and clean. These were the ways Israel was set apart from the other nations surrounding them.

Excursis: The Sabbath, the Pharisees, and Jesus

Clearly, the Jewish traditions surrounding Sabbath-keeping expanded over time. By the time of the New Testament, there were many man-made rules added to the Sabbath commands. Many of these are recorded in a Jewish document called the Mishnah. Here is an examples:

If a gentile lighted a lamp an Israelite may make use of the light, but if he lighted it for the sake of the Israelite it is forbidden. If he filled a trough with water to give his cattle to drink, an Israelite may give his own cattle to drink after him, but if the gentile did it for the Israelite, it is forbidden.

  • (Mishnah, Shabbath, 16.8)

Jesus famously had to remind the Jews:

Mark 2:27 (ESV) — “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

We, therefore, should receive the Sabbath to remember our Creator and to rest in our Redeemer.

Now for some clarifications.

III. Do Not Regiment the Sabbath in the New Covenant

Various Christian traditions disagree on whether or not keeping the Sabbath is required in the New Covenant. There are even disagreements about which day should be celebrated.

I am attempting to make the case this morning that God has given us a Sabbath day as a blessing and a gift, but that the New Covenant does not require or regiment certain behaviors on the Sabbath. Wayne Grudem would label this view as the “wise but not required” view. This is in contrast with the “Sabbatarian” view which holds that the Fourth Commandment is still binding on Christians today, and that failure to keep the Sabbath is a sin.

Of course, there are also disagreements among different Christian traditions about which day should be celebrated as the Sabbath. Some Adventists groups maintain that the church should still worship on Saturday (the seventh day), while the vast majority of Christians since the New Testament and throughout history have rested and gathered for worship on the first day of the week, which we call “The Lord’s Day.”

This has been a part of the Puritan tradition from which we have come. Some of you have even been been a part of churches which require Sabbath-keeping as a mark of true discipleship, where failure to keep the Sabbath would meet with church discipline.

This doctrine is one example of where we have adjusted our Trinity Confession of Faith away from the Puritan-influenced 1689 London Baptist Confession and the Westminster Standards.

Here is the Sabbatarian position from the 2nd London Baptist Confession, Chapter 22:

  1. As it is of the Law of nature, that in general a proportion of time by Gods appointment, be set apart for the Worship of God; so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all Ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the World to the Resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week which is called the Lord’s day; and is to be continued to the end of the World, as the Christian sabbath; the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.
  2. The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employment, and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
  • 1689 2nd London Baptist Confession, Chapter 22

Notice that they say the Sabbath is a “perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages.” They are to observe “holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts, from their worldly employment and recreations.”

I do have a great deal of respect for those who carefully devote themselves to the Lord on the Lord’s Day. However, I do not believe the New Testament allows us to require sabbath-keeping as a matter of discipline.

Let’s look at a couple of significant New Testament passages that inform this view.

Romans 14:5–6 (ESV) — One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Paul allows freedom here, a freedom which we’re often uncomfortable with. He says you may esteem one day better than another…or not. Be fully convinced in your own mind. Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord and give thanks to God.

Colossians 2:16–17 (ESV) — 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.

The substance belongs to Christ. There is no true resting unless we find our rest in him. The true rest that we need goes beyond ceasing from our vocations or recreations. The true rest is realizing the Gospel truth that Christ has done all that is required to bring us near to the Father. He has brought us by faith into the completeness of his provision and salvation. Sabbath rest points us to this reality, though Sabbath-keeping cannot earn this reality.

The point of the Sabbath is more than rest from your day job. Even secularists realize that working seven days per week is bad for you. We’re not merely following some self-help routine for greater physical, emotional, and mental health. The Creation of the Sabbath day was not only a day to cease from labor, but it was also made Holy. It was set apart for communion with God, our Creator.

This is how we present the Sabbath in our own Trinity Confession of Faith in Chapter 24.

  1. On the seventh day of Creation, our God rested from all his labor and bids us to receive this Sabbath rest as a gift, for the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Sabbath law was then commanded in the Decalogue for Israel to work six days and rest on the seventh. The New Testament promises a Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God. We should therefore strive to enter that rest by hearing his voice, not hardening our hearts, resting from our labors, and putting our faith and trust in Jesus, our true rest, rather than striving in our flesh.
  2. In the New Testament, the church began to gather on the first day of the week (Sunday) for its corporate worship. This is commonly referred to as "the Lord's Day" in honor of the resurrection of our Savior. It is commendable to reserve this day for corporate and private worship.
  • Trinity Confession of Faith (Trinity Fellowship Churches, 2022).

I hope we can all grasp the distinction between “commendable” in our Confession compared to “a perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages” in the Puritan confessions.

This is where I’ve been the most concerned in laying out this sermon. The Sabbath is a gift from our Creator for our good. Yet, it is not a binding, moral law accompanying discipline for the church. But, it is still a creation ordinance that brings blessing. We were made to live this way, with six days of labor and a seventh day of rest.

Let’s approach our fourth point with faith to welcome this gift of Sabbath rest by faith.

IV. Rest on the Sabbath to Rehearse for Your Future

Even in the Garden, the seventh day was eschatological, not in that it was pointing the future, but in that it was pointing to the purpose for which everything was made. This day was a taste of the final rest and communion which we will have with our Creator in the future. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, perhaps that future would have been ushered in permanently through the Tree of Life. But, as it is, there is still a future resting with the LORD which we have not experienced.

The New Testament authors capture this in various ways, but the author of Hebrews discusses this rest in Chapters 3-4.

Hebrews 4:8–10 (ESV) — For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

He then continues with an exhortation, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.” Please don’t confuse this “striving” with “working.” It’s exactly the opposite. The striving is resting. This is a good word for us today.

We enjoy the first fruits of that rest today. We know that we cannot save ourselves. Christ has already accomplished what must be accomplished for our salvation. Our hope rests in another. His obedience counts for ours. He offers us rest in our souls as well as our bodies.

For such a time as this

We began this morning considering how great it is to receive a gift that is right for the moment. I truly believe that our culture generally, and we specifically need to receive this gift of rest.

Unlike most of human history, we have the ability to work any time and anywhere. Our todo list is long, and it’s most likely in our pocket readily available. We have constant connectedness with the outside world, including our co-workers, bosses, and the onlooking world. Many of us live under expectations from others that we are always available, that we will respond within hours, or minutes, or seconds to their beck and call.

In a culture struggling to find identity in nearly anything other than our Creator, busyness is often a measure of our value or worth. We are not immune to these forces. This is wrapped up in the American dream—we can make anything out of ourselves. But it requires working harder than the other guy, not letting up, getting ahead.

There is a whole genre of books and blogs about maximizing our productivity. I actually gravitate toward these ideas. Getting Things Done, Deep Work, Atomic Habits. These are all fine tools, but they make terrible masters. The creation tells us we need rest. The Gospel tells us we can find rest.

Sabbath reminds us we are not enough

Our attempts to rest often stir up the discontentment, busyness, and chaos in our souls. Resting reminds us that we are not enough, that we depend on another. Sabbath is a reminder that we have limits.

Trying to sabbath brings almost everyone to the same realization: “I can’t get it all done.” Maybe it’s the laundry, maybe it’s the yard project, maybe it’s word emails, or a job search. Whatever it is, when you plan to stop the work for twenty-four hours, you come to the stubborn reminder that you can’t do it all.

This is the point! Practicing sabbath is supposed to make us feel like we can’t get it all done because that is the way reality is. We can’t do it all. Sabbath protects us from acting out the lie that we can.

  • Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule, pp. 152-153.

Sabbath rest reminds us:

  • Salvation comes from the LORD.
  • Provision comes from the LORD.
  • We are creatures with limitations and weaknesses. We are not gods.
  • We cannot do it all or do it on our own.
  • We were made for fellowship and communion with God.
  • There is a future day coming in which we will finally rest from all of our toil.

If you are like me, you find it hard to be still, hard to truly let your mind rest. Over the last 18 months, I’ve attempted a couple of times to get away for a personal retreat with the expressed purpose of resting in mind and body, of communing with God. It was amazingly difficult. Both times, for several days, my mind was constantly swirling, looking for distractions, pursuing meaning and purpose in being productive or helpful. It was truly “striving” to enter that rest.

Conclusion / Application

Receive the gift of the Sabbath. We were made to live with this rhythm.

“Three ways to start” from The Common Rule

  • Pick a 24 hour period.
  • Doing and not doing. Give thought to what would be truly restful for you.
  • Communal sabbaths. Practice the Sabbath with others.


  • electronic sabbaths. No screens?
  • communicating your unavailability (email away message)


The Sabbath was not instituted to make you feel guilty but to make you feel known and loved. It was meant to reorient your view and experience of God and his world. As Jesus later explained, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Contradicting our temptation to imagine that God’s love for us depends on our productivity, one day a week he says, “Stop; look up; look around; lift your heart; delight and rest.”

  • Kelly M. Kapic, You’re Only Human, p. 219

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