Good News Not Bad News
Before we leave the Old Testament, there is one other passage that clarifies a common misunderstanding of the sabbath. It is Isaiah 58:13–14. It is a shame that for so many people sabbath keeping is thought of solely in terms of what you can't do. Its original intention was certainly intended to be good news not bad news. The sabbath command is in fact a command to experience joy.
If you turn back your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.
God's Purpose for Us on the Sabbath
God's purpose for us on the sabbath is that we experience the highest and most intense joy that can be experienced, namely, that we "take delight in the Lord." And yet what he finds again and again is professing Christians who prefer little human-sized pleasures from things that have no close relation to God at all.
If you worked seven days a week in the hot sun to keep life and limb together, with scarcely any time for leisure and reflection, would you consider it burdensome if your God came to you with omnipotent authority and said, "I don't want you to have to work so much. I want you to have a day a week to rest and enjoy what really counts in life. I promise to meet your needs with just six days of work"? That is not a cruel command. It is a gracious gift.
Why So Many People Think of the Sabbath as a Burden
The reason that so many people feel it as a burden is partly that we have so much leisure, we don't feel the need for the sabbath rest; but more important, I think, is the fact that not many people really enjoy what God intended us to enjoy on the sabbath, namely, himself. Many professing Christians enjoy sports and television and secular books and magazines and recreation and hobbies and games far more than they enjoy direct interaction with God in his Word or in worship or in reading Christian books or in meditative strolls.
Therefore, inevitably people whose hearts are set more on the pleasures of the world than on the enjoyment of God will feel the sabbath command as a burden not a blessing. This is what John says in 1 John 5:3, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." The measure of your love for God is the measure of the joy you get in focusing on him on the day of rest. For most people the sabbath command is really a demand to repent. It invites us to enjoy what we don't enjoy and therefore shows us the evil of hearts, and our need to repent and be changed.