Sabbath: Exalting God | Humbling Man

As I turned my computer on this morning, I was greeted with an image of some beautiful Alaskan mountains, curtesy of Bing, that said, “What to get away from it all?” My heart’s answer was yes. Yes, it would be great to escape the pressures of everyday life, to behold firsthand the breath-taking wonders of God’s creation. And I’m obviously not alone. Major companies bank their costly marketing dollars on the belief that we are a tired people who just want to get away from it all.

The sad reality, however, is that we apparently are not finding much rest. The Industrial Revolution promised us that with the advent of modern technology we were going to be a people with more time on our hands than any other people in history. Therefore, we were going to get more rest. We were going to become more relaxed as a society. But the creators of such innovations misunderstood a key element of the human heart: when given more free time, we do not tend to rest more; rather, we do more. And now that the Industrial Revolution has given way to the Digital Revolution, the reality remains unchanged.

Think about it. Has having a super-computer in your pocket made your life less hectic or more? The tools that were supposed to make us more efficient only seem to be draining us further. They promise that if we connect to social media loneliness will be a thing of the past because we will always be connected to others. Yet the general feel of solitude has never been higher. We carry a connection to the world in our pockets, yet it is causing us to feel more isolated, not less.

Or consider our lack of sleep. Tish Harrison Warren writes:

According to data from the National Health Interview Survey, nearly 30 percent of adults average less than six hours of sleep per night, significantly under the recommended seven to eight hours. Only about 30 percent of high school students reported getting at least eight hours of sleep on an average school night, though they need around ten. In one national study, over 7 percent of people between twenty-five and thirty-five admitted to actually nodding off while driving in the past month. In 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared, “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem.” Most of us have heard statistics like this before. And we yawn and pour more coffee. We know, we know. We’re busy, we’re tired, we’re worn out. But this public health epidemic is indicative of a spiritual crisis—a culture of disordered love and disordered worship. We disdain limits. Wendell Berry warned, “It is easy… to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.

“We disdain limits.” I don’t think that I’ve heard a truer statement this week. I bring up the topic of sleep because sleep is interconnected to Sabbath. In many ways, sleep is our daily Sabbath, our daily rest. Daily we must shut off our minds and sleep. God has established this limit for us. We can live longer without water and food than we can without sleep. God limits us by forcing us to sleep and to rest. Therefore, what both sleep and Sabbath do is remind us that we are not God, that we are humans in dire need of God.

Yet the problem is beyond sleep. We need rest. We need Sabbath. We perpetually feel (but never truly learn) that two weeks of vacation never makes up for fifty weeks without rest. There’s a reason why we are exhausted. God established a pattern of fifty-two days of rest each year, but we think that fourteen is plenty.

One final quotations before we dive into viewing biblical passages that discuss the Sabbath. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said:

I feel that we can say about this doctrine of sin what I once heard a man say about the observance of the Lord’s Day. He said he had come to the conclusion that the Lord’s Day, like the Lord Himself, was in danger of dying between two thieves, the two thieves being Saturday night and Monday morning! He said that, increasingly, Saturday night was extended and extended and blended into Sunday, and then people started their Monday morning quite early on Sunday evening. Sunday becomes just a few hours during the morning, and then we think, “Well, that is enough now; we have been to church once.” Thus, our Lord’s Day has been lost between two thieves.

Is that not true? The day that Christians have traditionally set apart for worship of God and communion with His people we now give to a myriad of other distractions. We will give God two hours of Sunday (if that), but the rest of the day is for ourselves. After all, we know better than God how to find rest. It’s been going great so far, right?

KEY VERSES THROUGHOUT THE BIBLE

In order to understand what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath Day, we must, of course, turn to the Bible. I will limit myself to only a few comments in this section since we will attempt to comment over them all collectively in the final two sections of this sermon. This list is by no means exhaustive; however, I do believe that it will provide us with the key teachings upon the Sabbath for the remainder of our study.

It’s also important that we define the word Sabbath before continuing onward. The word in Hebrew means to cease working, aka to rest. Thus, when God tells us in the Fourth Commandment to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy, He is commanding us to remember the Rest, the day of rest. Throughout the Scriptures, this day was kept on the seventh day of the week, Saturday.

Let us now consider the teachings of Scripture. Notice that the very concept of Sabbath arrives in the second chapter of the Bible. In fact, many theologians have noted that the only two institutions that have survived from the Garden of Eden through the Fall are marriage and the Sabbath.

Genesis 2:1-3 | Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 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.

Although the word Sabbath is not used here, Sabbath literally means to stop working, and the Fourth Commandment explicitly cites this passage as its root. Notice, therefore, that the day of rest does not mean the cessation of all work; it means resting from common and ordinary work. If God were to rest from all His work, we would cease to exist because the entirely cosmos is held together by the word of His power. Instead, He rested from His work of creation. For six days, He formed all of existence, and on the seventh day, He rested. Note too that the seventh day was not concluded with the same evening-then-morning formula of the previous days, which means that in a sense we are living in that seventh day. It is a perpetual rest.

Exodus 16:22-30 | On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.'” So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.” On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.

God gave the Israelites manna each day in order to emphasize their dependency upon Him. He gave to them their literally daily bread. Yet on Friday, they were told to gather a second portion for Saturday as well. This is significant because God expected His people to observe the Sabbath day, even before the Ten Commandments were given.

Exodus 20:8-11 | “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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

We call this the Fourth Commandment. Notice that the command is not merely to remember the Sabbath but to keep it holy, which means to treat it differently, uniquely, to set it apart exclusively for God who is the Holy One. The command is surrender the Sabbath Day over to the LORD, to keep it different than the rest.

I see a tendency for us almost to place this commandment in a separate category than the other nine. Yet J. C. Ryle commented that “I find the law of the Sabbath side by side with the law about idolatry, murder, theft, and the like. I am utterly unable to believe that it was meant to be only of temporary obligation.” But why is this? Why is the Sabbath listed alongside murder and idolatry?

Recall that Jesus summarized all the laws of the Old Testament into two commands: love the LORD with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. When we consider the Ten Commandments, the first four fit under that first command (love God), while the latter six apply to loving our neighbors as we do ourselves.

Within those first four commands, the First Commandment warns us against having other gods, against making idols. The Second, Third, and Fourth Commandments seem to then address places and actions were idolatry is most rampant. The Second Commandment warns us against worshiping images made in the likeness of God’s creation. This command is necessary because God’s creation is glorious. The creation is meant to reflect the Creator, but now that we are bent and broken by sin, we often worship the creation itself rather than the God who designed it.

Likewise, the Third Commandment guards us against creating a false version of God. We may, after all, say that we worship the God of the Bible, yet if treat His name in vain, we do not in reality have an accurate understanding of the LORD. To use God’s name flippantly shows that we do not know the holiness of God.

The Fourth Commandment, then, guards us against the idolatry of self. The fact that God forces us to cease working reminds us that we are not divine, that we are merely human. Taking a day to rest is so difficult because we desperately grasp the belief that we are needed, that we are necessary. Working gives us purpose and the illusion of power. Resting, however, reminds us that we are not needed, that the world continues onward without us. The Sabbath, therefore, protects us from viewing ourselves too highly.

Exodus 31:12-17 | And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘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. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'”

I’ll only note from this passage that the punishment for not keeping the Sabbath was death. We may view the Sabbath as an unimportant issue, yet God apparently does not share our sentiments.

Isaiah 58:13-14 | 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 on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

The Sabbath is made for us and for our benefit, but it is about God, not us. The Sabbath is for our good because by delighting in God’s rest, we delight ourselves in God Himself.

Mark 2:23-28 | One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

While the Pharisees were attempting to catch Jesus in an act of profaning the Sabbath, Jesus instead teaches that the Sabbath rest is a God-ordained blessing. It is meant to help us, not hinder us. The following text is another example of this principle.

Matthew 12:9-13 | He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”-so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.

Matthew 11:28-30 | Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

True rest is found only in Christ. We, therefore, are commanded to come to Jesus for rest, but where is He promised to be found? In the gathering of His people: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).

Acts 13:44 | The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.

This is a sample of how the Apostles continued to gather on the Sabbath and preach to the Jews.

Acts 20:7 | On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

Early into Christianity, believers began to meet on Sunday for worship rather than Saturday, which is significant since much of the first Christians were Jewish. What sort of event could possibly cause them to make such a drastic shift in their worship practices? Of course, they met on Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

We should also note that although Christians began quickly to gather for worship on Sundays this was not necessarily Sabbath day of rest because they would still need to go to work after their worship gathering.

Romans 14:5-6 | One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

While this is telling us that we cannot judge others on the basis of strict Sabbath observance, the implication is not that one person views one day as holy and six as secular while the other person view all seven as secular. No! Both Christians here viewed all seven days as holy, but one person is claiming that even so, one day is still more special than the others.

1 Corinthians 16:1-2 | Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

This text shows that gathering for worship on the first day had indeed become normative for Christians.

Colossians 2:16-17 | Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Here Paul affirms that our need for rest is ultimately fulfilled in Christ; therefore, a Sabbath day is a shadow of the rest now found in Christ.

Hebrews 4:9-11 | 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. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

This text declares that Jesus is our Sabbath rest because in Him we no longer work to earn favor with God. By the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we are justified entirely before the Father. Our sins are forgiven, and we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. Therefore, we now rest from the vain labor of attempting to assuage the wrath of God. We rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ to save and redeem His people.

Notice also the intended irony: let us strive (or work strenuously) to enter that rest. What is the author saying here? Latch onto Jesus. When Satan tempts us to despair, we look to Christ and hold steadfastly to Him, the anchor of our souls. We must cling to Jesus for our very life.

Revelation 1:9-11 | I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

This text shows that Christians by the time of Revelation had begun referring to Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

4 MAJOR (& GENERALIZED) VIEWS OF THE SABBATH

Now that we have established a very quick scope of what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath, let us consider some of the most common views regarding how Christians should keep the Sabbath day holy. Again, these views are not exhaustive, and they are very generalized. As with any belief, most people will hold a much more nuanced stance than what is represented here, yet these will give us an idea of the interpretive camps that most Christians find themselves in.

The first major view is what we can call Seventh Day Sabbatarians, which is the view that is predominately held by Seventh Day Adventists. They believe that Christians today should still observe the Sabbath in much the same way as in the Old Testament. They also believe, as the name would suggest, that Christians should observe the Sabbath on its original day, Saturday. Many would even go so far as to say other Christians are in sin for gathering for worship on Sunday while neglecting Saturday as the true Sabbath.

We shall call the second view the Lord’s Day Sabbath, or Christian Sabbath. Proponents of this interpretation believe that the Sabbath commands of the Old Testament still apply today to Christians under the New Covenant, but they hold that the observance has been transferred to the Lord’s Day (Sunday) rather than Saturday.

I’m referring to the third view as Any-Day Sabbatarians. Supporters of this view would typically argue that Sunday is the preferred day for observing a Sabbath but that observing another day as a Sabbath is not sinful. They would, of course, still emphasize the need for biblical observance, but they are flexible on the day. For instance, many larger churches now have services on Saturday nights as well for those whose work might keep them from attending on Sunday morning. So long as the day is given to the Lord in community and in private, such a Saturday could be observed as a Sabbath.

We shall call the fourth view, which is seems to be most common amongst Baptists, the Perpetual Sabbath.[1] This view argues that because Jesus brought us into a perpetual Sabbath observing a Sabbath Day is no longer mandatory. Most would still maintain that spending a day of rest in worship both privately and corporately is still both beneficial and wise, just not mandatory.

After studying these texts and these potential interpretations, I have found myself oscillating between the third and fourth views. To be honest, I would love to be convinced by Scripture of the Christian Sabbath view, yet Colossians 2:16-17 largely prevents me from embracing it entirely. In much the same way, I love the Covenantal Theology behind infant baptism, yet the Scriptures continually convince me of credobaptism.

Ultimately, however, our observance of the Sabbath is a tertiary issue. So long as we understand that our ultimate rest is in Christ and that our works (and rest) contribute nothing to our salvation, these differing interpretations are not heretical.

THOUGHTS ON KEEPING THE SABBATH DAY

With the primary views of observing the Sabbath as a Christian now presented, let us now make a two thoughts on keeping a Sabbath and taking a holy rest in the Lord.

First, we should note that God has designed us for rest in Him. Since we are finite, we need rest, and the refusal to rest is pride. We are great at coming up with excuses to hiding the fact that it is pride, yet the reality remains. We know this because anxiety and worry keep us from rest. However, when we believe that God is truly in control, we can rest, knowing that the Almighty has nothing but love for us in Christ. We rest in Him spiritually from our efforts to earn our salvation, and we rest in physically, trusting that the world does not need us to keep spinning around the sun. Things will not fall apart because we cease to work. We are not that important or that great. God alone is sovereign. He alone needs no rest. Let us trust in Him. Let us rest in Him.

Second, how exactly do we observe a Sabbath Day?

Not legalistically. Remember that God gave the Sabbath Day for our benefit. This, however, does not mean that observing a Sabbath is not difficult. Exercise is for our good, even though it often painful for a moment. Keeping a Sabbath is a spiritual discipline, and like all other spiritual disciplines, discipline is required. We must often force ourselves to obey, trusting that God will give us joy in the fruit that is produced. Yet such discipline must never become a legalistic attempt to earn God’s favor.

In fact, there are certain forms of work that are permissible to do on the Sabbath. Works of piety, such as reading the Bible, prayer, and worship, are obviously a crucial component to observing the Sabbath and are not prohibited. Works of necessity (the Old Testament example is of your ox falling into a pit) are not forbidden from being performed on the Sabbath. We live in a broken world where unexpectedly ill events happen, and it is right for us to handle them immediately. Finally, works of charity are also permitted on the Sabbath. Jesus, of course, modeled this by purposely healing people on the Sabbath Day. Prohibiting these forms of work on the Sabbath is a blatant sign of diving into legalism. We must be disciplined to keep trivial matters from interrupting our Sabbath, but we should also remember that it is always proper to do good on the Sabbath.

Keep it holy. Give your Sabbath Day to God. The entire idea of keeping a day holy is giving it over to God. A Sabbath, therefore, is not your day, even though you are resting in it. Do this by making your day focused on the worship of God. Jesus said that true rest is found in Him; therefore, let us not commit the sin of pride by believing that we know better for ourselves than Christ. The Sabbath is for our good, but it is not for our pleasure. The Sabbath is for worshiping God, which is also for our rest and our good.

We should worship God on the Sabbath both corporately and privately (or as a family). Corporately, we gather as the body of Christ to pray together, hear the Word together, sing together, and be together (particularly as we eat together, both spiritually at the Lord’s Supper and physically during meals). In private or as a family we also read the Word together[2], sing together, pray together, and be together (particularly eating together)[3]. Notice that these actions do not require a degree in theology. Also note that the repeated use of the word together. If we are truly the body of Christ and if rest is found in Christ, let us then find rest by being in Christ’s presence by being with His body and bride.

Rest! Since the Sabbath is meant to be a cessation from work, we should actually cease working and rest! Joe Carter gives four types of rest: contemplative rest (enjoyment of God), aesthetic rest (enjoyment of beauty), recreational rest (enjoyment of nonwork activity), and repose (enjoyment of inactivity). If your weekly work is physical in nature, you may often need the contemplative rest of simply meditating on the goodness of God or even the repose of taking a nap. If your work more mental in nature, your idea of rest might involve more recreational rest, such as playing games or hiking. While the Sabbath is not ultimately about us, God did institute the Sabbath for us.

My final advice for observing a Sabbath is not to be overwhelmed with everything that you’ve just read. The Sabbath is for your good and for your rest. On the cross, Jesus brought the Sabbath back to being a gift rather than a burden. Yes, observing a Sabbath Day will require work and discipline, but brothers and sisters, let us strive mightily to enter that rest.


[1] Of course, calling this view the Perpetual Sabbath view is not meant to insinuate that the other views do not also hold that we have a perpetual rest from our works toward salvation because of Christ’s atoning work.

[2] Jon Nielson offers eight quick tips for reading the Bible with children: 1) Pick a regular time and place. 2) Read short chunks at a time. 3) Pick a literal translation. 4) Stop often to explain. 5) Ask follow-up questions. 6) Connect each passage with Jesus. 7) Let the reading turn to prayer. 8) Be willing to do it badly (this one is key).

[3] William Plummer also gives general advice for conducting family worship in the home: 1) It should be stated and regular. 2) It should be decorous, orderly, quiet, and serious. 3)It should be cheerful, not austere and morose. 4) Therefore, tediousness should be avoided. 5) But we should avoid both the appearance and reality of being hasty and of attending to this matter as though we were desirous of finishing it as speedily as possible. 6) Family instruction and worship should take proper notice of family mercies and afflictions. 7) In this matter, widows who are the heads of families, should remember that they are held responsible for the order and religious education of their households. 8) It is sometimes asked, what should pious wives and mothers do when husbands and fathers are absent? Take their place and see to it that God is honored in the house. 9) As the great object of all religious instruction and worship is to please God and secure His blessing, so let great care be taken that whatever is done be sincere, humble, and fervent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s