Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
What does the Sabbath mean to you? For the modern day church, the sabbath has come to mean a time of gathering on Saturday or Sunday; It is a day when people come together and fellowship, worship the Lord, and listen to teaching.
In study of God’s moral law (10 commandments), I’ve often wondered how this particular law has remained relevant today. First, in examination of how God views His moral law, we see that it is a set of commandments that remain relevant for all time. Jesus made it very clear that even though He brought a new dispensation of grace upon the world, the old moral law was not being abolished.
Matthew 5:17-19 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
It seems to me that not only is the moral law relevant today, it is imperative we teach it correctly. So in examination of one aspect of this law, my focus is now on the Sabbath.
Understanding the Sabbath
Traditionally, the Sabbath was a day of rest. The instructions for observing the Sabbath were given through Moses to the people.
Leviticus 23:3 “For six days work may be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, a day of sacred assembly. You must not do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD.”
The charge given to God’s people was made in particular to work. The work of tilling the land, caring for livestock, bringing in the produce, these are all attributes of the fall of man. Sin introduced the curse and the curse of man was toiling under the sun for all his days.
Genesis 3:17-19 “Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
The Sabbath is a reprieve from this labor.
One aspect that stands out is the commandment to rest from labor is strictly given. Exodus 35:2 “For six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of complete rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on that day must be put to death.”
On the other hand, for those who give honor to the Sabbath, a blessing will follow:
Isaiah 58:13-14 “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The importance of observing the Sabbath seems very clear, it was instituted into the Moral law, it was reinforced from generation to generation to keep it, and it seemed to be very clear on what it entailed.
Then man messed it up…
Twisting the Sabbath
The pharisees were a group of men charged with upholding the religious doctrines, covenants, and laws of Israel. They were the teachers of the law and they managed the temple, including who would be elected high priest. They developed a set of oral traditions called the Mishnah. The Mishnah was an oral tradition of commentary on the Mosaic Law that introduced additional, man-made rules that “built a fence” around the Mosaic Law so people wouldn’t even come close to breaking God’s commandments.
Unfortunately, what likely was meant to protect the people became an oppressive list of rules that subjected them to a standard that God never intended. Eventually, the pharisees elevated the Mishnah into a place of prominence equal with scripture, they twisted the law and made it dishonorable.
Jesus corrected the false teaching
Concerning the Messiah, Isaiah prophesied:
Isaiah 42:21 “The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will exalt the law and make it honorable.”
The Moral law was given as a display of God’s righteousness. The unrighteous expectations that were added became an affront to God’s character and a defilement of the spiritual significance to its purpose.
As the pharisees rebuked Jesus and His disciples for the ways they defiled the Mishnah, Jesus corrected them regarding the law. When the disciples were hungry on the Sabbath, they, with Jesus, would glean the wheat in the fields and eat. The pharisees would be indignant regarding their actions and Jesus would remind them that He was the One who made the rules and He is the One who defines them.
Mark 2:27-28 “And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
Spiritual significance of our Keeping
The Sabbath was clear as to what we were to keep but it wasn’t completely clear as to why we were to keep it. It seems strange that a reprieve from work on the first day of the week would be a standard God was adamant for us to keep, clearly there was a greater reason for this standard.
Ezekiel 20:12 “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.”
To be sanctified is to be ‘set apart‘, or ‘consecrated‘, unto the Lord.
When the first day of the week is set aside to honor the Lord, to worship Him for His goodness, to draw closer in sanctification and honor, to grow in knowledge and fear of the Lord, it becomes an example to others of what is truly a priority.
This time of honor recognizes God’s people for who they are, led by God, and set aside for His purposes. The Sabbath is a type of first fruits of worship, giving the first of your week to honor the One to whom we are dependent.
The Sabbath was not meant to be oppressive, it was designed by God for His people to draw them into a closer walk with Him. Jesus made this clear to the pharisees who observed the law in black and white, the Sabbath was made for man. The strict nature by which God held His people in observation of the Sabbath was in respect to sin. Israel as a nation was to be set apart and made holy as unto the Lord, defilement of any form of idolatry would be strictly forbidden. Sin cannot be tolerated by God and offending the law of God is a direct act of rebellion and sin.
In the same way God would not tolerate Israel forsaking His law, He doesn’t tolerate mankind violating it today, the wages of sin is death. Hallelujah, Jesus redeemed us from sin and death to life and peace with God.
Today, as the redeemed of the Lord, we observe the Sabbath on Sunday as a way to honor Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection on Sunday. It is a way to love God and be set apart as His people.
I encourage you, don’t forsake meeting together as the body of Christ, there is far more purpose behind it than doing a zoom meeting or watching a video. We are the body of Christ and we are meant to grow together.