Sermon: The Sabbath: From Adam to Moses: Genesis 2:1-3

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 2:1-3

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 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. 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.” (Genesis 2:1–3, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Mark 2:23-28

“One Sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?’ And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.’” (Mark 2:23–28, ESV)


Last week I stated that we were entering into a prolonged consideration of the Sabbath. How long this focus on the Sabbath with last, I’m not entirely sure. 

Of course it is Genesis 2:1-3 which has prompted this focus, for it is here in this passage that the Sabbath principle is first introduced to us. God, having created the heavens and earth in six days, ceased from his work of creation on the seventh day and entered into rest, blessing the seventh day and making it holy. This he did, not for himself, but for man. Man made in the image of God was made to imitate his Maker by working six days and resting from his work to give special worship to God on the seventh day. The Sabbath is as old as creation, therefore. To speak with more precision, the Sabbath is one day younger than man. Man was made on day six, and the Sabbath on day seven. Indeed, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

But why the need for a prolonged study on the Sabbath? I’ll give three reasons:

One, there is a great deal of confusion that exists within the church today concerning the Sabbath. Clear teaching is needed. 

Two, the confusion that exists concerning the Sabbath has led many to neglect the Sabbath day entirely, and this has been going on in our culture for some time. The situation is such that even if one were convinced that the Sabbath day is to be kept, few understand how to go about keeping it. Instruction is needed. First, a biblical argument for Sabbath keeping must be made, and then instructions for Sabbath keeping must be presented. This takes time.

Thirdly, it must be acknowledged that what the Bible has to say about the Sabbath is complex. And by “complex” I do not mean that the Sabbath is impossible to understand, or even exceedingly difficult to understand, but that the doctrine is multifaceted – it has layers to it.

The Sabbath is Simple

At its core the doctrine of the Sabbath is very simple. 

The simple and unchanging moral principle at the core of the Sabbath ordinance is that God the Creator is to be worshipped by his creatures, and that man is to worship in the way that God has prescribed. Man made in the image of God is to worship God in the whole of life by living in perpetual submission to him. Man is to do his work to the glory of God, and man is also to rest and worship to the glory of God. From the beginning, therefore, it was established by God that time be devoted to the worship of God. Man is to glorify God in his work for six days, and he is to rest and offer up pronounced worship for one. This pattern is unchanging – work for six, rest and worship for one.

The symbolism of the Sabbath day is also, in some respects, simple and unchanging. What reality does the Sabbath day point to? It reminds us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and entered into rest on the seventh day. And what does the Sabbath day typify or point forward to? It points forward to a higher form of life for man – life characterized by true and eternal rest. The Sabbath day is a picture, a type, a foretaste of an unending, glorified, and truly restful life. This is what the writer to the Hebrews so clearly teaches when he says, “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” (Hebrews 4:8–10, ESV). We will give more careful attention to this passage at a later time, but for now see that it clearly states that a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. In other words, there remains a Sabbath day or a Sabbath observance for the New Covenant people of God, for this is what the word σαββατισμός means – it refers to a  “special religiously significant period for rest and worship (Louw Nida, 67.185). A Sabbath observance remains for God’s people, why? Because we have not yet entered into the eternal rest that the Sabbath has typified or symbolized from the beginning of time.

And so at its core the Sabbath is simple. God instituted it at the beginning for man. It reminds man of God the creator. It provides man with a pattern to follow. It points forward to the promise of a higher quality of life – life characterized by unending rest. The Sabbath day is a blessed day and a holy day, and has been from the seventh day of creation.

The Sabbath is Complex

But the Sabbath is also complex. 

The Sabbath ordinance is nimble. There are some things about it that will never change, but there are other things about it that are able to adapt and change with the developments of the history of redemption. The Sabbath is both ridged and flexible –  unchanging, and yet able to change. It is complex. 

The pattern of six days of work and one day of rest will never go away – not until God’s people  enter fully into the rest typified by the Sabbath day. But if we pay close attention to what the scriptures say about the Sabbath as it progresses with the history of redemption one will notice subtle, and sometimes radical, changes. These changes are not random and arbitrary but correspond to the development and progression of God’s work of salvation. 

Changes at Resurrection of Christ 

The most radical change to come to the weekly Sabbath was its transition from the seventh day of the week to the first. We will consider the change of days more carefully at another time, but for now let me simply ask, when did this change take place? The answer is that the change took place at the resurrection of Christ from the dead? What remained the same? The pattern of six days of work and one day of rest remained. The Sabbath as a blessed and holy day, set apart for the worship of God remained. The pointing forward to eternal rest remained. But what changed? The day changed! And why? Because Christ ushered in a new creation by his life, death and resurrection. Now the Sabbath day reminds us, not only of the creation of the heavens and earth, but also of our redemption, which the scriptures call, a new creation. He is risen! He is risen indeed. 

Do you see, therefore, that the Sabbath is complex. It is both ridged and nimble. It is both unchanging and yet capable of change.

Changes in the Days of Moses

The Sabbath also underwent changes in the days of Moses after Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and upon the giving of the law. Granted, the day did not change then, but remained on the seventh as it was from the time of creation. But the Sabbath did take on greater significance. Begging with Moses the Sabbath day was to remind the people of Israel, not only of God’s creation, but also of their deliverance from Egypt. 

In Exodus 20 we have our first exposure to the ten commandments. And the reason given for Sabbath observance in that place is God’s creation. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, “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” (Exodus 20:11, ESV). But when we come to the ten commands as recorded in Deuteronomy 5 we see that the people are urged to “remember” something else when the observe the Sabbath. 

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 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 or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12–15, ESV)

Here Israel is commanded to remember, not God’s creation and rest, but God’s deliverance. They were “slaves in Egypt” and “God brought them out”, “therefore the Lord [their] God commanded [them] to keep the Sabbath day.” It was not that Israel was no longer to observe the Sabbath on the basis of God’s work in creation and his subsequent rest, but now that Israel had been redeemed the Sabbath day was to remind them also of their redemption!

So do you see that the Sabbath is flexible? The moral principles at the core of it never change – God is to be worshipped, and particular time is to be set aside for work and for rest and worship according to God’s command, specifically one day in seven. But the Sabbath is also able to adapt to take on greater meaning and significance as the history of redemption progresses. Israel was to remember not only creation when she observed the Sabbath day, but also her redemption from Egypt. In the days of Moses the Sabbath day took on greater significance than it had before. 

Changes at Man’s Fall From Innocency

And something similar happened to the Sabbath at the time of man’s fall from innocence and into sin. While the essence of the Sabbath remained unchanged, its significance was altered. Adam and Eve were to work six days and rest and worship for one inside the garden of Eden when they stood upright before God. And they were also to work for six days and rest and worship for one having been expelled from the garden of Eden. But clearly the Sabbath took on a slightly different meaning for man after the fall than it had prior to sin entering the world. 


What did the Sabbath signify for Adam and Eve while they were upright and in the garden? It communicated that they were to finish the work given to them by God and thus enter into eternal rest just as God finished his work of creation and entered into rest.

But what did the Sabbath signify after man’s fall into sin? In other words, what did the Sabbath day communicate to Adam and Eve after having been expelled from of Eden because of their sin? 

First of all, the Sabbath day must have reminded Adam and Eve of their sin. When they observed the Sabbath day over and over again it would have reminded them that eternal rest was offered to them and that they came short of it. 

This was not a part of the original function of the Sabbath. The Sabbath did not in any way condemn Adam and Eve in the garden, but only held before them the promise of eternal rest should they finish the work that God gave them to do. I suppose it would be right to say that the Sabbath did threaten Adam and Eve in the garden. It communicated the potential of failing to finish the work. But the Sabbath did not condemn them while in the garden, only held forth the potential of entering into rest. 

But after man’s fall into sin, the Sabbath day reminds us of our sin, for our lives are not characterized by rest, but by toil, trial and tribulation.  Paul says in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” The Sabbath day from the fall of man into sin on to the second coming of Christ brings with it a very similar message. “All have sinned and fall short of the rest of God”, the Sabbath day now says. Each and every Sabbath day from the fall onward is a reminder that we have not entered God’s rest (at least not in full), but have come short of it.

But in the moment we emphasize the way in which the Sabbath confronts us with having fallen short of eternal rest, we must also emphasize the way in which the Sabbath gives us hope, though we are fallen. 

Indeed, the weekly Sabbath reminds us that we have not entered into God’s rest (in this way it condemns us) but it’s permanent presence in this fallen world also communicates that rest is still possible. Think of it! Though we rebelled against God and fell into sin,  there is still one day in seven that is blessed by God and set apart as holy. On the Sabbath day we are invited to rest from our labors as a foretaste of the rest that will be enjoyed by all of God’s people for eternity. The only reason that a day of rest remains for the people of God after the fall is that God has been gracious to us. By his grace he has determined to provide rest for his people by a Redeemer. 

What do our sins deserve? The answer: no rest at all, but only eternal torment. And indeed this is what those not in Christ will endure – eternal torment. Do you remember how the book of Revelation describes the punishment that those not in Christ – those who worshipped the beast and his image – will endure? Listen carefully to Revelation 14:8ff:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9–11, ESV)

Contrast that with the way Revelation speaks concerning those in Christ. Revelation 14:12ff:

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:12–13, ESV)

What do our sins deserve? No rest, but only torment. What has God graciously provided? Rest for his people. The weekly Sabbath communicates that this rest is still available. The way to rest typified by the Sabbath day has not been closed off entirely, but is still open.  


To put it differently, if God had determined to leave all of mankind in their sin – if God had determined not to save sinners at all – then the Sabbath day would have ceased with Adam’s transgression. Men and women would have been given over to a new pattern of only work, with no rest. But a Sabbath rest remains, which means that it is still possible to enter into rest, by the grace of God, through faith in the Redeemer. 

The Seventh Day Sabbath Pointed Forward to Future Rest 

How appropriate it was for the Sabbath day to remain on the seventh day prior to the death, burial and resurrection of the Christ and his session at the Father’s right hand.  

The Sabbath day was on the seventh day (Saturday) prior to man’s fall into sin, and rightly so. Adam’s faithful work would have lead to eternal rest, and the so the pattern was work and then rest, rest and then rest. The rest was in the future and was to be entered into through the accomplishment of work. 

And the Sabbath day remained on the seventh day (Saturday) from man’s fall into sin up until the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and rightly so. Again, the rest of God could still be obtained, but only through work. The law of God had to be obeyed. Eternal life had to be earned. The obtainment of this west was yet in the future. And so the pattern remained six days of work which would lead to one day of rest. 

And how appropriate it was that the Sabbath day was changed from the seventh day to the first when Christ rose from the grave and ascended to the Father, taking his seat in the heavenly places. Why did the day change from the seventh day to the first? Because Christ entered into rest. He did what Adam failed to do. He kept God’s law, earned rest through his faithful and finished work, and entered into it, being seated in the heavenly realm. 


The title of this sermon is “The Sabbath: From Adam to Moses”. My desire is that you recognize what wonderful testimony the Sabbath day is to the mercy and grace of God. How wonderful it must have been for Adam and Eve and their children to rest and worship on the seventh day. Yes, it would have reminded them of what they came short of, but how wonderful it must have been for them to observe the Sabbath day and to hear it say, there is still a way. You may still approach God in worship. You may still find rest in him. And the hope of eternal rest has not been be lost, but remains. 

Of course we know that the way to rest is through faith in the Christ. We must be united to him by faith if we are to enjoy the rest that he has earned. He himself did say, “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.” (Matthew 11:28–29, ESV)


Brothers and sisters, my desire for you is that you would keep the Sabbath day. 

Why should we?

To give glory to God (because it is right). 

For our good (there is blessing in the Sabbath day).

Consider what the Sabbath does for the soul. 

It centers our life upon God and upon Christ. 

It reminds us to diligently work to the glory of God. 

When we observe the day we find a blessing it. 

We find rest for our bodies. 

We find rest for our souls.

Our minds and hearts are directed heavenward where Christ is now seated.

Our affections are directed to the new heavens and earth, where we will enjoy consummate rest. 

Truly, the Sabbath day, which is called the Lord’s Day, is good for the soul. 

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