What do the Scriptures reveal about Sabbath in the New Testament? Did Jesus practice the Sabbath? And how does that relate to how you might choose to keep the Sabbath today?
Most people do not observe a Sabbath day — even committed Christians. They believe it’s an old law that’s not for today (Ex 20:8, Deut 5:12). Many think that Jesus worked on the Sabbath and set it aside in his teaching.
You may not realize it, but if you’re not keeping a weekly Sabbath day, you’re missing out on one of God’s greatest gifts. It’s a time to rest and reflect on all that God has done for us.
When you keep the Sabbath day holy, it will change your life. You’ll find that you have more energy and focus to devote to the things that matter most to you.
You don’t have to be confused about the Sabbath anymore – we can help!
In this article, we explore…
- Does Sabbath have to be on a specific day of the week?
- How Jesus spent his Sabbath days
- Practicing works of love on the Sabbath
- Four steps to train yourself in bodily habits of Sabbath rest
What does Jesus’ life actually reveal about Sabbath keeping in the New Testament?
Let’s look closer…
Sabbath in the New Testament
Jesus shows us by his life and teachings in the New Testament that the Sabbath is a day of fasting from your regular work and projects in order to feast on God.
It’s a celebratory day for you to stop working in order to rest, worship God, and enjoy family and friends.
In the New Testament, your Sabbath can be any day (Rom 14:4-6). But ideally it’s the same day of the week and you use it to mark the First Day of your week (Matt 28:1; Acts 20:7).
To start your week with “the Lord’s Day” and then tackle your work for the week honors Jesus and his resurrection, and it teaches you God’s created rhythm (Gen 2:2-3).
Making Sabbath your First Day each week can develop a habit of delighting in God. You are cultivating an attitude of Sabbath rest that gives you strength and sustenance for your daily life and work (Heb 4:1-11).
How Jesus Kept the Sabbath in the New Testament
In the Gospels, the “work” we see Jesus doing and teaching others to do is the work of love. This work is not a strain, it’s a joy because it’s done in God’s presence.
Jesus’ works of love reveal what the New Testament says about keeping the Sabbath holy. Rhythms of loving activity and rest are the holy works of the Sabbath.
The New Testament Sabbath Scriptures below show the activities that Jesus lovingly engaged in on the Sabbath. You may find it helpful to build your own Sabbath rhythms from Jesus’ example!
You can see that Jesus delights to love people, gather with friends, read Scripture in the local synagogue, minister healing, take walks, and relax at the home of friends…
Rest From Your Work to Be Renewed
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
Trust Jesus as Your Lord
“The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8).
Recount the Lord’s Blessings
“On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues… ‘Be set free on the Sabbath day’… He put his hands on [a crippled woman], and immediately she straightened up and praised God… The people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing” (Luke 13:10-17).
Examine Yourself and Confess your Sins
Jesus asked the invalid at the Sheep Gate Pool: “Do you want to get well?” He cured him… He told him: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:1-15).
Keep Silence to Listen to God
“When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach… ‘Be quiet!’” (Mark 1:21, 25).
Give and Receive Hospitality
“As soon as they left the synagogue [on the Sabbath], they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them” (Mark 1:29-32).
Let Scripture Define You
“On the Sabbath day, [Jesus] went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read [from Isaiah]… ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me…’ ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-21).
Take a Walk With Jesus
“Jesus [walked] through the grain fields on the Sabbath [with] his disciples” (Matt 12:1).
On a Sabbath Jesus taught: “Be set free on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:10, 16).
Wait to See What Christ is Doing Then Follow Him
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week… The angel said… ‘[Jesus] has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him’ ‘” (Matt 28:1-10).
A New Testament Sabbath Lifestyle
To make Sabbath part of your lifestyle is very counter-cultural.
The world around you opposes Sabbath. Stores are always open. People are busy and want you to be busy. Your work can be done anytime, anywhere. Distractions abound on your phone, and more Sabbath obstacles.
Here are four steps to train yourself in bodily habits of Sabbath rest:
1. Meditate on Scripture
Reading and soaking in Scripture renews your mind and rejuvenates your body. The Scriptures above on Jesus’ Sabbath are a great start.
2. Practice solitude
When you spend a few hours in solitude and silence with nothing to do but be with Jesus, you discover that you have a soul and that you’re not alone because God, your creator, is with you, loving you.
But to benefit from solitude, you have to stay with it and keep doing it. With practice, you can learn to get past restlessness, distractions, and boredom.
Being in nature helps you benefit from time alone in the quiet. Meditating on examples of Jesus’ solitude and silence also helps.
3. Seek empathy
If you truly get alone and quiet for a long time and abandon all work, people-pleasing, and entertainment, emotions will percolate up into your consciousness. You might feel empty, anxious, frustrated, bad about yourself, or like God is far away.
You might also feel deep longing for God, intimacy, beauty, rest, freedom, or love.
Sharing the emotions you experience with a soul friend or spiritual director who gives you empathy allows you to experience the cathartic relief and peace that cultivate Sabbath rest in God’s loving presence.
4. Start small
“Don’t despise the day of small beginnings” the prophet says (Zech 4:10). That’s where God’s work begins.
Jesus taught that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. A little bit of real solitude practiced repeatedly over time can start to permeate your life.
Here are some examples of little Sabbaths that can grow:
- Sleep in to get more rest
- Linger in bed to pray or meditate on Scripture
- Practice statio by putting margin between activities
- Take a long walk in nature
- Each day thank God for a long list of blessings
The Freedom to Celebrate
I hope that this exploration into the Sabbath Scriptures of the New Testament has given you hope and joy in creating your own Sabbath rhythms with Jesus. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5.1).
Learn more about the freedom you can enjoy working step by step with Christ in my book, Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke: Rhythms of Grace to De-Stress and Live Empowered. I discuss Sabbath practices in greater detail in the book on pgs 139-148.
My Prayer for You
Jesus, thank you for my friend who desires to learn to keep Sabbath with you in a way that brings rest, freedom, and a deeper intimacy with you. May you bless them in taking the next small step into the rhythm of grace you intend for their life! Amen.
May you enjoy practicing the rhythms of love seen in Sabbath in the New Testament— freedom to rest from work and celebrate life!