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Remember The Sabbath
“Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which He had done.”
-- Genesis 2:1-3
As we well know God created the heavens and earth in six days and on the seventh day after all His work was finished He rested and He set apart the seventh day to be a holy day of rest – a Sabbath. God did this for a specific reason that He would not conclusively reveal until centuries later. At the time that He sanctified the seventh day, God did not command man to immediately start observing the Sabbath to observe it as holy by doing no physical labor on that day. The first time that a specific command is given concerning the Sabbath is when God gave the children of Israel manna to feed them in the wilderness (Exodus 16). On the sixth day God said to them, “Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning…the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 16:23,29-30). After this, it was not until God issued it as the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11) that remembering the Sabbath became a clear directive for the Israelites throughout their generations.
The Sabbath was a command of particular importance for the children of Israel. It was a command of remembrance designed to remind them that it was God who made the heavens and earth. It was also a reminder to them that it was God who led them out of Egypt and was making them into a great nation (Ezekiel 20:1-25). For the children of Israel to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy as a perpetual covenant throughout their generations was a sign of their trust and devotion to God. When the children of Israel forgot the Sabbath and defiled it the penalty was often death, destruction, and/or defeat.
On one occasion, when the children of Israel were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath. He was taken before Moses to see what was to be done to him. When Moses inquired of God, the Lord responded by saying, “The man must surely be put to death; and all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” (Numbers 15:35). It seems to be a severe punishment for picking up a few sticks but the issue was not that the man was picking up sticks but that he was willfully violating the Sabbath and tempting God before all the people.
On another occasion, after the children of Israel had for years established a pattern of rebellion, God said through the prophet Ezekiel who prophesied among the captives of Judah in Babylon, “I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgment, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’ Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they did not walk in My statutes; they despised My judgments…and they greatly defiled My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them in the wilderness to consume them, but I acted for My name’s sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles, in whose sight I had brought them out…But I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols…Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, and were not careful to observe My judgments…but they profaned My Sabbaths…Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live” (Ezekiel 20:1-25). For Israel, to remember the Sabbath was to honor God, but to forget the Sabbath was to forget everything that God had done for them.
Jesus observed the Old Testament in its purest form as God intended it to be observed. This did not always comply with the interpretation of the Law given by the religious leaders of His day (Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, elders, etc.). These men had developed their own standards for observing the Law and tried their best to force their interpretation on all the Jews of their day. The Sabbath was no exception.
On many occasions Jesus was accused of breaking
the Sabbath. On one Sabbath Jesus’ disciples were hungry
and as they walked through the grain fields they plucked and ate
grain (Matthew 12:1-8). A group of Pharisees witnessed this and
accused Jesus of unlawful Sabbath activity. In defense of His
actions Jesus offered three observations. First, He reminded them
of what king David had done when he and those with him were
hungry. They entered the house of God and ate the showbread. Even
though this was a clear violation of the Law it was allowed, with
certain provisions, because of unavoidable circumstances and
genuine hunger. Jesus seems to be advocating similar
circumstances for His own disciples in this instance (to read
about David eating the showbread go to 1Samuel 21:1-6). Second,
Jesus mentioned that the priests enter the temple and perform
their obligations on the Sabbath and are blameless. With this
Jesus was showing that when there was an unavoidable overlapping
of these commands it was not a violation to fulfill one’s
obligation under the Law on the Sabbath (see John 7:14-24; see
also Numbers 28:1-10 – on this occasion God actually
commanded the burnt offerings on the Sabbath to be more than on
the other days of the week). Finally, Jesus quoted Hosea’s
prophecy, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea
6:6). Jesus seems to be indicating that His disciples were
genuinely hungry through unavoidable circumstances. It would have
been unmerciful to let them go hungry. That is why He said that
they were not guilty of breaking the Sabbath (see also Luke
13:15). A few verses later in Matthew’s account, Jesus
said, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mt.
12:12). Jesus did not redefine the Sabbath for the Jews. He was
teaching them the true spirit of the Sabbath.
In the New Testament there are no commands, examples, or inferences given for Christians to observe the Sabbath as a holy day by doing no work on the seventh day of each week. The Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments and all the regulations that go with it, has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18), abolished and torn down (Ephesians 2:14-15), and nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). We must therefore seek our authority from the New Testament for the things we observe and do in the New Testament church.
The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote about how the Sabbath should be understood and applied to New Testament Christians (see Hebrews 4:1-13). The writer of Hebrews refers to the Sabbath as a time of rest that every person should work toward entering. He wrote, “It remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David…Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:6-7). In Old Testament times the children of God profaned the Sabbath, disobeying God by working on the seventh day of the week. In New Testament times Christians profane the Sabbath by not doing the works that God has given us to do. The writer of Hebrews went on to write, “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us be therefore diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience” (Hb. 4:9-11). The rest that remains for God’s children is a Sabbath rest (Greek: sabbatismos). This Sabbath rest that New Testament Christians should be working in obedience to enter is heaven.
In modern times the question has been asked,
“Does the Sabbath have any significance for us
today?” Clearly, God does not intend for us, in New
Testament times, to observe the Sabbath by doing no work on the
seventh day of every week. For example in Acts 16:11-15 we see
where Paul and Silas walked from where they were staying to the
river to find a group of believers. When they found them they
taught them the will of Christ and baptized them into Christ for
the remission of their sins. We also see that they did all of
this on the Sabbath (v.13). The seventh day Sabbath observance
was a statute for the children of Israel throughout their
generations that God intended to be a symbolic representation of
what He had done when He rested at the end of His labors. The
Gentile Christians were never commanded to observe the Sabbath
(Acts 15:1-29 – this would have been a perfect time for the
Gentiles to be admonished to remember the Sabbath as a weekly
observance to keep it holy but it was not mentioned among the
“necessary things.”), and since we have no command,
example, or inference in the New Testament for observing the
Sabbath, we dare not venture where God has not commanded us to
go. We should therefore remember the Sabbath in this way: God
worked until His work was finished. When He saw that all He had
done was very good then He rested. As we are now living in the
earth that God created we are to be doing the work that He has
given us to do. If, when we are finished with our work, God
judges that we have done well then we too will enjoy sweet rest
from our labors. Just before healing a blind man on the Sabbath,
Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while
it is day; the night is coming when no man can work” (John
9:4). The same is true for us. Our night is coming so while we
live we must work the works that Christ has given us to do.
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