Sabbath: the Foundation for Worship

Sabbath: the Foundation for Worship

Exodus 20:8-11

8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

When talking about worship we frequently hear sermons on who we worship, how we worship, and why we worship but I cannot tell you the last time I heard a sermon on the Sabbath. We are going to talk about the Sabbath as being integral to worship but I am not going to be proscriptive as to whether the Sabbath is Saturday or Sunday (Romans 14); we will discuss why before our time together concludes.

What is the Sabbath?

Literally, the Sabbath is the seventh and in the case of days of the week, it is the 7th day. On our calendar this would, typically be Saturday as the week would begin on Sunday. However, According to international standard ISO 8601, Monday is the first day of the week. It is followed by Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sunday is the 7th and final day and Although this is the international standard, several countries, including the United States, Canada, and Australia consider Sunday as the start of the week.

How did the Sabbath get started?

The principle of a Sabbath rest goes all the way back to the dawn of time as we know it. It was instituted by God Himself. Look at Genesis 2:2, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.”

I want to be careful, here, to point out that God did not rest because He was somehow tired or depleted; that is an entirely human concept and struggle. If you will look at the account of creation in Genesis one we see over and over again, “and God saw that it was good.” The creation that God had made was good and I want you to understand that this does not simply mean that it was high quality, even though it was; when God saw that it was good, He saw that it was pleasing/delightful/enjoyable. So when God rested, He was pausing to enjoy that which He created.

What is the Sabbath’s Purpose?

There are 3 things I want you to think about when it comes to the Sabbath:

  1. It is a time to cease laboring/striving and to have fellowship.
  2. A day of rest gives our body time to replenish
  3. The Sabbath is a sign of the coming age when we will be in perfect communion with God.

Cease laboring/striving and have fellowship.

As Baptists, we tend to think of the “fellowship” time as involving food and while that is certainly a legitimate component of fellowship, the overall point of the fellowship time is to cultivate a relationship. In this case we are cultivating a relationship with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

  • Knowledge of God in Christ should be our greatest delight ( 9:23–24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14).
  • Knowing God is the basis of attaining eternal life (John 17:3); it is at the heart of life in the new covenant ( 8:11–12);
  • Paul’s primary goal was to know God and we follow Paul’s example ( 3:10);
  • Knowing God and resting in Him leads to godly love (1 John 4:7–8).

God will never be known absolutely, but we can know things about him that are absolutely true, so much so that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. No one will ever be able to say he lacked the necessary revelation to know God and to start living as God intends.

The importance of relationship with God is, perhaps, never more clear than in Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus points out that there are some who think that they have a relationship with God but really do not. They have the illusion of a relationship, so to speak.

A Sabbath gives us time to replenish

By design, the human body can only do so much and then it must rest; this is most evident in our sleep cycle. There are hormones, neurotransmitters, amino acids, etc which are critical to the normal functioning of our body that can be depleted. When these are depleted the body ceases to function in its normal way and various types of illness set in. One of the most common of these illnesses is clinical depression which many doctors now think is linked to a loss of serotonin, one of the most important and powerful neurotransmitters in our body. One doctor I spoke with told me that it can take about 30 hours for the body to replenish its natural supply of serotonin…

It is interesting to note that 4000 years ago, God proscribed a time of rest that we now know is not only essential to our spiritual well being but to our physical as well.  In fact proper rest is so important that the following symptoms/behaviors let us know our body is not resting properly:

  • yawning
  • moodiness
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • depressed mood
  • difficulty learning new concepts
  • forgetfulness
  • inability to concentrate or a “fuzzy” head
  • lack of motivation
  • clumsiness
  • increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings


You might be asking yourself, “what does physical rest have to do with worship?”  Let me tell you that worship is not simply giving God praise or listening to a sermon etc. The whole of worship is developing that relationship with God wherein He knows us intimately and we know Him as intimately as is possible for a finite human being.

The Sabbath is a sign of communion yet to come.

Before the fall, man walked with God in the cool of the evening (Genesis 3:8). Now the Bible is not clear as to how God walked in the garden or what it looked like when Adam and Eve walked with Him but we are able to know that since the man and woman hid from the presence of the LORD, at one point there was fellowship that had been broken by sin. Where God was once coming in enjoyment and pleasure, at that moment he was coming in judgment.

Since the day of the first sin, fellowship with God has been impaired, even broken. We do not have the same relationship with the Lord that we once had but we will have it once more.

You will hear people say that someone has “entered into eternal rest” and you may have even asked yourself what that means. It means that the believer in Christ has entered into a perpetual Sabbath, forever in God’s presence and delighting in Him. Revelation 22:1-5 gives us a picture of what that eternal rest will look like. YHWH will be our God and we will be His people and we will fellowship with Him forever.

How do we keep the Sabbath holy?

This is a very important question since reverencing the Sabbath is commanded in the Scripture. Honoring the Sabbath by keeping it holy is, as far as I can tell, the most challenging commandment for us to keep as we try to keep afloat in the sea of paganism that we call western culture. We Baptists love lists so I am going to give you three words to keep in ming when considering the Sabbath:

  • Recognize
  • Gather
  • Minister


Recognize that you need a Sabbath. It is critical to both your Spiritual and physical well being that you take a time to rest. You cannot, properly, commune with God from a state of exhaustion. To fully commune with God, you need a time of replenishment; being able to commune with the God of Heaven and Earth is an enjoyment not a burden.


Hebrews 10:25 reminds us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together for this very reason: corporate worship tends to be very refreshing to our souls. Gathering together to sing praises, to hear how God is working in the lives of other believers, to come to the Communion Table, and so on brings a delight to the soul of the believer.


A natural outflow of our fellowship with God is that there will be opportunities to minister, both to Him and to others. The verb minister means to attend to someone specifically with regard to their needs. But if God needs nothing, how do we then minister to Him? We minister to God by being attentive to His commands/precepts/principles and by leading others to Him to be redeemed by the Lord.

Is the Sabbath Saturday or Sunday?


Some people are very rigid that the Sabbath is Saturday, others are insistent that it is Sunday. Both miss the point. The Sabbath is a person, God Himself. God is our source of everything, including our rests and our delights. When we take a Sabbath, we are taking time to be with Him and in His presence where there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

Whether you observe Saturday or Sunday is less important than whether or not you are taking the time to rest in God’s presence and to fellowship with Him. Without getting into a whole other sermon, when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath, He was not rebuking them for not being fastidious in keeping it; He rebuked them for missing the point entirely, to be with God and delight in Him, knowing and being fully known.

Lastly, when Jesus said the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, He was not simply implying that He has authority over the Sabbath. Instead, the message was, “the Son of Man is, in fact, the very God who gives you the Sabbath in the first place.” When you delight in the Sabbath, you are delighting in Jesus and when you are delighting in Jesus you are then worshipping fully because your worship stems from your love for Him and your pleasure in being His.

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