Say to the Israelites, “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.” Exodus 31:13
When the Israelites were slaves, they worked seven days a week. Now God was insisting they rest one day a week. It was supposed to be a blessing. Yet it became a burden. By Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had turned keeping the Sabbath into a complicated procedure with a huge number of restrictions, and when Jesus refused to abide by their Sabbath laws they wanted to kill him! (Matthew 12:10-14).
Even in our day, I know people who have also missed the point and discuss whether irrigating a field on Sundays is work (the irrigator is on a timer so no one turns it on). How have we managed to turn something that was supposed to be a blessing, into nitpicking and burdensome law-keeping?
There are reasons. Some struggle to accept free gifts. Others feel the need to repay God. Many feel the need to work to be acceptable to God and being able to point to something tangible makes them feel better. For some of us, we simply don’t know how to rest.
In God’s eyes, none of these reasons are valid. The Sabbath was to be a sign that God’s people trusted him to meet their needs. They could rest because they weren’t relying on the work of their hands but on God who promised to meet all their needs.
Furthermore, it’s the Lord who makes his people holy. We aren’t made holy by keeping the Sabbath or any other law. We are made holy by trusting what God has done for us through Christ.