In 2007, the Lord opened the door for me to go study the Bible in Egypt and Israel. I went to Israel and learned that God is BETTER than I ever knew. And so is the Bible.
Scripture is telling us an ancient and yet real, right-now story. Broken things are being made whole. Fractured things are being brought back into harmony. Dead things are coming to life—back to life in some ways.
Sabbath is part of this story. We often think of Sabbath in terms of “rest” or “Sunday.” But Sabbath is more than, better than, and other than what we usually think. Sabbath is a celebration of restoration.
Genesis 1 begins with the living God creating the heavens and earth. They were “formless and empty.” The creation account is a restorative creation. The Lord begins sorting, separating, bringing order to the mess.
Greater light is separated from lesser light. Land is separated from sea. Birds go in the air. Fish go in the sea. Animals go on the land.
One of the FIRST things we learn about the Lord in the story of the Bible is that when He sees a mess, He enters into it to bring restoration. We run from drama. The Lord runs right into it—He knows His hands are restorative in their nature.
So, after restoratively creating in Genesis 1, He rests on the seventh day. His hands were strong enough to bring restoration. His heart was strong enough to look into the mess, enter in, set it right. This seventh-day rest is His victory dance.
We come to the Gospels in the story of the Bible and immediately notice something about Jesus: He celebrates the Sabbath by bringing restoration. When you are reading the Gospels and Jesus is present, start looking for it.
Something broken is about to be made whole. Something fractured is about to be brought into harmony. The lame will walk. The blind will see. The bent will be straightened. The sick will be made well.
Jesus is being like His Father. When He sees a mess, He enters into it to bring restoration. Jesus’ hands, like His Father’s, are restorative in their very nature. Notice how many times Jesus touches a person on the Sabbath as He restores them.
Sabbath is a celebration of restoration.
To “Shabbat” is to “cease.” In Sabbath, we are being invited to cease our work so that we can remember God’s work. What work is that? His work of restoring all things.
For the Jewish people, Shabbat (Sabbath) begins on Friday night at sundown. Two candles are lit. Shabbat begins with a meal. God stories are told. It’s a time to cease, remember, laugh, celebrate, share table fellowship.
As we remember, we remember anew that He has not failed us yet.
The Jewish people have a word for the atmosphere and spirit of Shabbat. It’s called menuha. Menuha is a “restfulness that is also a celebration.” Sabbath is bathed in levity, buoyancy of spirit. True Sabbath not only causes us to breathe, but it also causes us to laugh.
And if you are going to spend Sabbath in a restful celebration with levity, buoyancy of spirit, breathing deep and laughing, it’s best to share it with others! Sabbath gives us opportunity to set a table and invite others to it, into the Sabbath celebration of restoration.
Several years ago I set apart my Sunday nights for Sabbath. I wanted to celebrate the restoration with my family and friends. I invited people to come and sit around my fire pit in my backyard AND to bring their God stories to share with the community. Stories of restoration. Stories of times when God provided. Stories of times when God answered prayer. Stories of times when God healed, mended, made broken things whole. Stories of reconciliation.
Those Sunday nights changed us. We spent all week remembering God’s faithfulness in our lives, locating that one story we wanted to bring and share with others. Our work ceased. We remembered God’s ancient and right-now work of restoration. We celebrated it. We left those nights around the fire, and we lived into a new week. We started working from our rest, not resting after our work. We started seeing restoration everywhere. We started getting involved in the restorations around us.
Sabbath isn’t something we merely learn about in the Bible. It’s not something we acquire. It’s something we tune into. The Lord is sewing it into the fabric of our hearts and lives.
His heart is that we would be a sabbathed people, a people who celebrate the restoration.
Kristi McLelland is a speaker, teacher, and professor at Williamson College and the founder of New Lens Biblical Studies. Since completing her Masters in Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary, she has dedicated her life to teaching people how to study the Bible for themselves, discipleship, and writing about how God is better than we ever knew by teaching the Bible through a Middle Eastern lens. Her great desire for people to truly experience the love of God has birthed her desire to lead biblical study trips to Israel, Turkey, and Greece. Follow Kristi on Instagram @kristimclelland and on Twitter @McLellandKristi.