By David B. Smith
It is a strange experience to be in Bangkok on Christmas Day! The streets are as clogged with buses and taxis and tuk tuks as any other day. The markets and stores are bustling full; tourists are bargaining and merchants are thriving. Here in America, where it’s our favorite holiday, of course, the freeways are virtually empty. You drive by a Target parking lot and it’s absolutely bare. But kitchens are filled with good cheer; living rooms are overflowing with love and fellowship and wrapping paper and memories. Because people are doing something much more wonderful than earning.
God once said to a whole group of beaten-down people who had been held as slaves for 400 years: Allow me to give you liberty. I’ll be your God; you will be My people. And from this time on — please remember — every seventh day you can simply REST. Your slave-masters are gone; I did that. And the Sabbath will be your weekly reminder that I am your Creator and also your Deliverer. Stop working and let Me care for you.
Does this sound good? Does it sound like a blessing and an assurance we could still enjoy in this frantic, blogging, texting, 60-hour-workweek society? If so, consider the Bible reality that the Sabbath of Exodus 20 is as eternal and generous as God Himself.
The Sabbath is a permanent gift!
It didn’t begin at Mt. Sinai; God set it up during Creation Week. By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done (Genesis 1:2, 3). The children of Israel tasted — literally! — God’s kindness in the great manna experiment, happening four chapters before Mt. Sinai. Already He was teaching them to believe Him when He ordered them to rest; a double portion of the free provisions fell on Friday, but no one had to do collecting work on Sabbath morning.
And the Sabbath didn’t end at the cross. Beyond the fact that Jesus faithfully observed the Sabbath His entire life — on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom (Luke 4:16) — and told everyone He was “the Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28), the apostles in the early Christian Church continued to observe Sabbath on the seventh day even after Christ returned to heaven. All through Acts, Paul and others worshiped and attended church and witnessed on the Sabbath (Acts 13:14, 17:2, 18:4). Jesus spoke prophetically about the temple which would be destroyed by Roman armies in 70 A.D., long decades after Calvary, and added: “Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” (Matt. 24:20). Isaiah closes his lengthy book by writing about the new heaven and new earth, and immediately affirms: “From one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before Me,” say the Lord (66:23).
If we accept this Sabbath gift, how should we treat it?
The good news is surprisingly abundant! Here’s what the Bible teaches.
1. Don’t work. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. 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 (Exodus 20:10). The rest of the command points to the reality that God created the entire universe in six days, so we actually owe Him our loyal worship. The obvious point is that if we remember this, and gratefully trust in Him, we surely do not need to work! A passage in Nehemiah 13 teaches us that on the Sabbath, we can cease running our businesses for the same reason — God is able! Sabbath is a beautiful antidote to idolatry and also to a workaholic or legalism mindset.
2. Keep the day holy because it is! God made it holy in Eden; He affirms its holiness in the Fourth Commandment. It can be an interesting challenge to embrace a holy mode of life for 24 hours, sundown to sundown, but as a Christian’s relationship with their Redeemer deepens, it becomes an experience of joy. The Jews in Christ’s time called Friday “Preparation Day,” and it’s a good discipline to clear as many distractions out of the way as possible so that we can bask in the full blessing of Sabbath rest. Marva Dawn, author of the book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly refers to this heavenly gift as “Queen Sabbath,” and advises making it a special, elegant experience.
3. Make it a day of blessing and serving others. Jesus swept away the clutter of mindless regulations by explaining that the Sabbath was made for us – we weren’t made for it! He routinely healed people and relieved their suffering on the sacred seventh day and explained His acts of kindness with the simple command: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12).
Why, then, is celebrating the seventh-day Sabbath according to the Bible blueprint such a minority practice in this modern time? There are at least four major theological viewpoints commonly held today.
1. The Sabbath of the Fourth Commandment has been changed to Sunday. This is the official doctrine of the Catholic faith; catechisms cite the teaching authority of the church as a reason for transferring the solemnity of the Sabbath to the Sunday in honor of the resurrection of Jesus.
2. The entire Mosaic law – including all of the Ten Commandments — ended at the Cross. Much of the evangelical world holds to this perspective, worshiping on Sunday (again, because of the Resurrection) but in a belief that the Sabbath command expired with Calvary. Colossians 2:16, 17 does say: Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. However, the context of this passage seems to refer directly to the ceremonial feast Sabbaths, not the holy weekly Sabbath instituted at Creation Week. Paul explicitly concludes his Romans 3 discussion regarding salvation by grace by asking: Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
3. The Sabbath commandment simply teaches the principle of observing one day in seven — but the choice of which day is unimportant. A recent essay found on the Billy Graham Association Website offers an opinion that various groups are basically at liberty to choose which day seems right for them. Ironically, the opening theme of the essay focuses on the specific importance of a child’s birthday, the significance of holidays like the Fourth of July, honoring the freedoms purchased with the blood of our first patriots. It would seem, especially considering that the seventh-day Sabbath is blessed by God and made holy by Him, that moving our Sabbath observance around at our own human convenience, is not a viable choice.
4. The Sabbath is an eternal and unchangeable reality, joyously kept in a spirit of gratitude offered to God our Creator and Christ our Redeemer. It is never legalism to guard the Seventh Commandment because you are in love with your wife; it is equally not legalism to celebrate and keep holy the seventh-day Sabbath because you are in love with the Savior who set you free.
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David B. Smith writes from California. (20 of 28) His web page is Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information. Biblebay