Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Sabbath: A Sign and a Standard

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work.” (Exo.20:7-8)

It is obvious from Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament, that the sabbath was a sign between God and Israel. “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever…” (Exo.3:16-17a); “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.”(Col.2:16). Why, then, is it included in these ten mandates God gave for all men and women, for all time? It is because the standard of six days of labor and one day of rest is a principle God laid down, not for His benefit, but ours. “And he [Jesus] said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mk.2:27). As verse eleven of Exodus twenty tells us, God Himself utilized it. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth…and rested on the seventh day…” Obviously, He did not need to rest, as we know it, but He set the pattern for us of six days of labor then one day of cessation and contemplation.

This would be a good time to remind ourselves that there are two parts to this commandment: First, “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work”; and second, “But on the seventh day…thou shalt not do any work…” One is as mandatory as the other. Some would want to observe one without the other. But, the labor is part of what makes the rest so sweet; and the sabbath-rest is what gives meaning to the work. The sabbath was a day to turn from the material to the spiritual. In reality, every day belongs to God, because He alone gives life, but, as with the tithe, He graciously exacts only a portion of it to be given exclusively to Him.

Mark 2:28 tells us, “Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” It only stands to reason then that the Lord who instituted the principle of the sabbath can decide on which day it should be observed. After the Resurrection, it was not on the sabbath (Saturday) that the risen Lord first appeared to His disciples but “the first day of the week” (Sunday), indicating that from now on, this would be His day—the Lord’s Day. And to show that the disciples understood this to be the case, Sunday was the day when they met together to preach and “break bread” (Acts 20:7; 1Cor. 16:2). It was only fitting that Sunday would become the day of remembrance. The sabbath was a memorial to the Creation; but the Lord’s Day is a memorial to the Resurrection. In Creation, God gave us life; in redemption, He gave us eternal life. The former required only His voice; but the latter cost Him His Blood. The sabbath was a day of contemplation; we gather together on the Lord’s Day for celebration.

What should characterize our observance of the Lord’s Day? Well, first and foremost, it should be His day. If we are physically able, some part of it should be spent fellowshipping with His people. Are there activities that we do through the week that would not be appropriate on His day? Probably. We read in Isaiah 58:13-14, "If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the his places of the earth…” Again, this is Israel, and this is their sabbath; but the principle is unmistakable. God has set aside one day for Himself, and He expects us to respect that by setting aside our own pleasure, our own ways, and our own words for His

These first four commandments dealt with our relationship to God. The other six will get down to the nitty-gritty of how we are to treat one another. The first ones were necessary before the last ones could even be considered. There are no ethics apart from God. As Matthew Henry said, “If you’re not true to God, you will never be true to man.” So far, we have seen that God will not settle for second place in your life, and we must never rely on anything material to interfere with our worship of Him. His name is holy and we should never desecrate it by anything we say or do…or fail to do. And finally, He has asked that one day out of seven be set aside exclusively for Himself. If we can’t manage that, we probably don’t deserve His name.

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