“I am no preacher of the old legal Sabbath. I am a preacher of the gospel. The Sabbath of the Jew is to him a task; the Lord’s Day of the Christian, the first day of the week, is to him a joy, a day of rest, of peace, and of thanksgiving. And if you Christian men can earnestly drive away all distractions, so that you can really rest today, it will be good for your bodies, good for your souls, good mentally, good spiritually, good temporally, and good eternally.” -Charles Spurgeon
One of the curious things about the clamor that ensues when someone finds a picture of the Ten Commandments in a courtroom and immediately declares themselves offended and sues… is that Christians like me usually argue for displaying the Ten Commandments -but actually only observe Nine. We should start a petition asking for the Nine Commandments don’t you think? Sure murder is wrong, worshiping false gods is wrong, committing adultery is wrong, and taking the Lord’s name is wrong, but what about the Sabbath Day? How many of us keep it?
And even better point is that while arguing for the Ten Commandments, we should be quick to do so with humility as all of us have disobeyed them. But I digress…
How can we take the command against murder literally, even expand it to include hating someone in your heart, and not take the Sabbath literally? Acknowledging the fact that Christians are not under the Law of Moses according to the teaching of the New Testament is a good point, but we don’t mention that when it comes to taking the Lord’s name in vain, or any of the other commands for that matter. We apply nine commands literally and directly to our lives today, but not so much the one about keeping the Sabbath Day holy.
Interestingly, the New Testament at some point or another reiterates every commandment except for the Sabbath. Here are some quick facts about the Sabbath Day and the New Testament:
- –Nowhere in the New Testament are there any instructions to keep a Sabbath.
–The early church met in Acts 15 specifically to debate whether or not Gentiles (non-Jews) who were becoming Christians should be required to follow the Law of Moses. The Church decided not to require them to follow the Law, nor were any instructions given them to observe a Sabbath.
–We are told not to let anyone judge us regarding a Sabbath Day. (Colossians 2:16)
–Jesus said man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man. (Mark 2:27)
–If the apostles and the early church observed anything, it was the first day of the week. But no mention is made of them “resting” on that day. The apostles came together on the first day to break bread (Acts 20:7) and a “collection” was taken on the first day of the week. (I Corinthians 16:2). John mentioned being “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” (Revelation 1) a reference to the vision God gave him.
–Romans 14:5-10 says one man esteems one day above another, and another man esteems every day alike. It says each should be convinced in his own mind. It does not take sides.
Obviously, if the Lord had wanted to give us instructions concerning the Sabbath Day, or if the Holy Spirit had wanted us to observe the Sabbath Day, He could have given clear and straightforward instructions to the church exactly as He had previously given clear and straightforward instructions to the Jews. However, He did not.
The question becomes… on what basis does God no longer require a Sabbath Day? Or does He?
Here’s what I mean -The original commandment reads:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
-Exodus 20:8-11 [NIV]
Notice the basis for the commandment was that God had finished the Creation in six days and rested on the seventh. Not only did he rest, but Genesis 2 says he blessed the day and made it holy. This wasn’t part of the Law, this was in the very beginning. God blessed this day at the start of mankind, long before Israel ever existed as a nation. Based on Genesis 2, it would not be difficult to argue that Saturday should still be a holy day. In fact a lot of people believe just that. They may still go out to eat, shop, watch live television, and in effect, pay other people to violate the Sabbath, but that’s another issue.
I’ve argued for the Sabbath Day occasionally when my wife asks me to mow the lawn on Saturday, or do some work around the house instead of watching the Miami Hurricanes lose again. (Isn’t football a holy activity? It’s in the Bible somewhere I’m sure…) But the truth is, I have wondered about the Sabbath precisely because I was worried that I was making excuses for it. I was worried that I might have ignored the command because I DO like to play/watch football, go out to eat, get some work done around the house and many other things that would not be in keeping with a holy day of rest. So is it just me and my wants, or is there a basis for no longer observing the Sabbath, just as there was a basis for observing it?
First, the Bible says if you do believe in keeping the Sabbath either on Saturday or Sunday, then you should.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. –Romans 14:5-6 [NIV]
Catch that? I’m not condemning anyone for keeping a Sabbath Day. In fact, if you do, wonderful.
Second, the Sabbath Day is NOT merely symbolic in some way. It has always had a symbolic meaning AND a literal one. So we can’t just dismiss it so easily. Symbolically, the nation of Israel’s “rest” was the Promised Land. The Promised Land was a shadow of something even greater, namely the eternal kingdom of God through Christ. In Christ Jesus, our symbolic Sabbath-rest is the eternal kingdom.
Israel had a symbolic “rest” in the Promised Land:
for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you. But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. -Deuteronomy 12:9-11[NKJV]
The New Testament Book of Hebrews compares us today, with Israel of yesterday, saying:
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest
This passage is speaking of those who didn’t go into the promised land because of their unbelief. (see Hebrews 3:16-19) Comparing that to us, the writer warns us to be careful we don’t fall short, and encourages us to believe. He concludes with:
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Since the Scripture says “there remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God,” then that rest is more than just the Promised Land of the nation of Israel. It also says, “Now we who have believed, enter that rest” -a present term because of salvation in Christ which is given right now, and it also says, “make every effort to enter that rest” -a future term because of God’s future eternal kingdom for everyone who believes in Christ.
Thus there was a symbolic rest for the nation of Israel represented by the Promised Land. It was a shadow of a much larger, eternal kingdom which came through Christ. In Christ, there is a rest, represented by the eternal kingdom of God received by faith.
Now here’s the kicker. Even though Israel had a symbolic “rest,” they still had a literal day of rest, the Sabbath Day. So by extension, despite the fact we have a symbolic day of rest through the salvation that comes through faith and repentance in Jesus Christ, couldn’t we also have a literal day of rest as well? Just as Israel did? We certainly could. But do we?
And if not, on what basis?
Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 12. A Scripture I’ve read many, many times, but never quite saw what was in there until recently.
The problem for Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 12, was the disciples were hungry and had been picking heads of grain as they went through the fields. Despite the fact that the Jewish Law allowed someone to snack on the grain in a field on the Sabbath Day, the ever-watchful, extremely legalistic and judgmental Pharisees pounced on the snacking sin.
“Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” -Matthew 12:2
I’ve run into a few Christians who are good at pointing fingers, too. Haven’t you? Anyway, Jesus solves the entire argument in two examples and one Old Testament Scripture. Ready?
Example Number One:
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.
Example Number Two:
Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.
Old Testament Scripture:
If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. -Matthew 12:7 (referring to Hosea 6:6 which says “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.)
“For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” -Matthew 12:8
Brilliant stuff. Deep stuff. Solves everything we’ve asked. Here’s how:
Jesus first mentioned the time David and his men were hungry, and the priest gave them the consecrated bread from the temple. It was meant for the priests to eat and no one else. Nevertheless, God did not condemn the priest for giving it to them, nor did God condemn David and his men for eating it. The principle is that God values compassion over religious ritual. Jesus pointed out that in Hosea 6, God had said “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Mercy and compassion matter more than religious ritual as far as God is concerned. That’s a good lesson for today as well, as we often put our rules above loving and caring and forgiving others. Jesus would also reinforce this by saying that the Sabbath Day was made FOR man, not man for the Sabbath Day. (same story Mark 2:27)
Second, Jesus pointed out the priests have to work on the Sabbath Day and they aren’t condemned for it. The Old Testament Law required the priests to make special sacrifices on the Sabbath Day in addition to the regular sacrifices, yet they weren’t condemned for “working.”
Why? Well because as Hosea says, “acknowledgment of God” is more important than religious rituals as well. The priests could work because they were in the temple doing the Lord’s work.
And then Jesus drops the bombshell. Speaking of Himself he says, “one greater than the temple is here” and again, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
If the priests could work on the Sabbath because they were in the temple doing the Lord’s work, how much more the disciples of Jesus who were with the Lord Himself? He was and is much more important than the temple.
According to I Peter 2:9, in Christ, we are priests.
According to Galatians 2:20, we no longer live for ourselves, but for Christ.
According to Romans 6:13 and 12:2, we offer ourselves to God as our spiritual worship
According to I Corinthians 6:19, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit
According to Acts 2:38, everyone who turns to Christ and is baptized receives the gift of the Spirit of God within them. Just as God’s presence remained in the temple, in Christ the Spirit of God remains in you.
So just as the priests could work without being condemned on the Sabbath Day because they were in the temple, in the presence of the Lord, doing the Lord’s work…
We too can work without condemnation, even on the Sabbath Day, as long as Christ lives in us because we are His temple and our lives belong to Him to do His will.
“I no longer live but Christ lives in me” Paul said in Galatians 2:20
If you have put your faith in Christ, repented of sin and been baptized in His name, and live each day as a believer and follower of Christ, then every day can be a Sabbath Day for you -a day dedicated to serving the Lord wherever you go and whatever you do.
It’s when we live for ourselves, instead of surrendering our life to God and surrendering to His will, that we get in trouble. The Law of the Sabbath convicts us as guilty. As a follower of Christ, you would be excused for working on the seventh day since you are living your life for God, and God lives in you. For you all days are alike. Same reason why God allowed priests to work on the Sabbath day at the temple. But if God isn’t in you, and you live life for yourself, then working on the seventh day of the week is uh… well…..mmmm…. sin. God made that day holy way back in the beginning of time.
Of course, if you’ve sinned, welcome to the club. I recommend giving your life to Jesus. He’s the Lord of the Sabbath.