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Of Holy Saturday–the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday–little is written. In Mark’s account of the Three Glorious Days, we only read that Friday had been the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath, and then the narrative jumps straightaway into Easter Sunday. We only get this passing comment concerning Holy Saturday: “When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him” (Mark 16:1).

Certainly, one option for considering the events of Holy Saturday would be simply to use our imaginations. The faithful followers of Jesus must have been devastated all through the day. The bitter herbs of the Passover feast must have overwhelmed these crushed people, who may have echoed Naomi’s deep grief: “Call me Mara [bitter], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me!” (Ruth 1:20). Their day of rest was undoubtedly a day of anguish–especially for the women who so desperately wanted to anoint their beloved Jesus properly with burial spices.

But instead of relying too much on our imaginations to fill in the gap of this Sabbath, let us learn from what the Bible tells us about God’s purposes in Sabbath. Just as Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, he is also the true Sabbath-keeper.

God instituted the Sabbath at creation: “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” (Gen. 2:2-3).

At Mount Sinai, God pointed to his own rest after creation as the reason that Israel would be commanded to rest from all their work on the seventh day: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:11).

God’s purposes for instituting the fourth commandment, however, were not merely to establish a rule. Yahweh declared that the Sabbath would testify to the nature of the relationship between him and his people: “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you” (Ex. 31:13). This passage is absolutely vital to understanding God’s desire for the Sabbath: when we rest from our work, we live out our belief that God will accomplish what we cannot–specifically, that he will be the one to sanctify us.

God’s chosen means of sanctifying us, then, is by our resting in the work of Jesus Christ. When Christ declared from the cross “It is finished” (John 19:30) and died, he proclaimed the completion of the work necessary for the sanctification of God’s people. We do not work for our salvation, because Jesus Christ worked for it. His work is finished, and so by faith we enter into the rest that he has provided for us.

This is why Jesus railed against the Pharisees and their scrupulous rule-dominated style of Sabbath keeping–because they did not rest. They were blinded to the fact that Sabbath was given in order that we might stop trying to work our way into God’s favor, but instead to rest in the favor that God has provided for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. On this point, the author of Hebrews insists, “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” (Heb. 4:9-10).

And so Holy Saturday was the day in which Jesus Christ rested from his works. The work was finished, and Jesus Christ rested the entire Sabbath day as his body lay dead in the tomb. By doing this, Jesus fulfilled God’s promise for the Sabbath: “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.”

So then, if Jesus Christ rested from his work to accomplish our salvation, shouldn’t we? Why do we continue to try to be “good people” and to justify our actions at every turn? Why can’t we admit just how sinful we are and embrace what Christ has done for us instead? Why can’t we give up our self-improvement projects and throw ourselves wholly on the mercy of God for us in Christ?

This is Holy Saturday, a day of Sabbath rest.

Post Series on Mark 15:42-16:8:

  1. Three Glorious Days, Part I: The Day of Preparation (Mark 15:42-47)
  2. Three Glorious Days, Part II: The Sabbath of Holy Saturday (Mark 16:1a)
  3. Three Glorious Days, Part III: Easter Sunday (Mark 16:1-8)

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