God's Rest at the Cross

cross sunset

Our God grounded the Sabbath rest in the biblical accounts of both creation and covenant. He then expanded his covenant with Israel to all the nations through the power of the cross (Romans 1:16). Yet although man was made for rest in God, we sacrificed that joyful rest as sin besmirched the world. Still today, we claw and scratch and kick and scream in order to earn God’s favor. We run restless with anxiety, fear, and guilt over unforgiven sin. In Augustine’s words, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they find their rest in Thee.” Thus, all of life apart from Christ, seems a striving to succeed, a striving not to fail, or a striving to please others. We know not happiness in this life apart from Christ. Yet as we rest in God, we discover perfect peace, forgiveness for our sin, and freedom from life’s worries. God’s rest is paradise restored.

The Sabbath day for Israel was but a brief reminder of paradise lost—what might have been—what they’d been missing. Yet like watching a movie on TV instead of the big screen, God’s rest never quite attained its monumental import. Until Christ came, God’s Sabbath rest could not be fully realized. Until Christ came, God’s Sabbath rest was just a shadow. Yet once Christ came to fulfill the promises of creation and the covenant, the Sabbath symbol was no longer needed. As Jesus promised of himself, “‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus offered the blessed rest for which we had been longing. As the old, Mosaic covenant was fulfilled, the cross became the new covenant symbol of God’s rest. For as Paul would explain, the Sabbath was merely “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17). Thus, the church no longer must observe the Sabbath day for the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ.

Jesus made this clear distinction throughout his ministry as when he healed the paralytic: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27–28). The Jews had grown preoccupied with keeping the Sabbath rules until it no longer felt either like a day of rest or a day of mercy. They even got upset when Jesus performed miraculous healings on the Sabbath. They could not see how the Messiah bringing comfort and hope was a greater fulfillment of the Sabbath than abstaining from their work. Entombed by their own legalism, they forgot that the Sabbath was made for man. Even worse, they refused to worship the Lord of the Sabbath himself. They did not know that joyful rest had found its climax in Jesus Christ when he gave his life upon the cross. For like he had declared on Day 6 of the creation week, so also Jesus bellowed from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Just as creation was completed in the beginning, so Christ completed his work of re-creation at the cross. He took his Sabbath rest within the tomb to rise again just three days later.

Jesus then arose not on the Sabbath, but on a Sunday (Mark 16:1-6). Thus, the church today now worships every Sunday, on the first day of the week (e.g., Acts 20:7). We do not abolish the Sabbath principles of rest, but we have now added to our joy. For on that first Creation Sabbath, God rejoiced over all that he had made (Genesis 1:31). Then, on that initial Easter Sunday, God rejoiced at Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:4). Therefore, every Sunday following, the church now celebrates Christ who died for sin, was buried in the grave, and rose again on the first day of the week. On Sundays, we rejoice with Jesus who ushers us into the Father’s rest. For only in Christ can we claim the forgiveness of our sin. Only in Christ do we possess such perfect peace and freedom from anxiety. Only in Christ can we sing the songs of both creation and the covenant as we stand in restful joy before our Savior’s cross.

7/27/2023 9:47:19 PM
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  • Tom Sugimura
    About Tom Sugimura
    Tom Sugimura is a pastor-writer, church planting coach, and professor of biblical counseling. He writes at tomsugi.com, ministers the gospel at New Life Church, and hosts the Every Peoples Podcast. He and his wife cherish the moments as they raise their four kids in Southern California.