Monday, December 22, 2008

Keeping the Seventh-day Sabbath Expresses Love Towards God

Jesus was asked, what is the great commandment of the Law.

"Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). In answering, Jesus was quoting the Old Testament scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18). "The Law and the Prophets" is a reference to the Old Testament scriptures, which are composed of the "law" (the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible), the "prophets" (books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as well as the other prophets), and the "writings" (such as Psalms). Jesus is saying that the Old Testament scriptures are based on love towards God and love towards neighbor.

The two great commandments are further defined by the ten commandments. The ten commandments fill in details about HOW to love God and love our neighbor. The first four of the ten commandments teach us how to love God, and the last six teach us how to love our neighbor. Then the whole rest of the Bible further teaches us how to practice the way of love and how to keep God's commandments in their practical application in our lives.

The fourth of the ten commandments teaches us to observe the seventh day Sabbath. As God counts days from sunset to sunset (Genesis 1:2, Leviticus 23:32), this would be from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. During this time we are to refrain from work (Exodus 20:8, Deuteronomy 5:12) and not pursue our own entertainment (Deuteronomy 5:13-14). This is a time for drawing closer to God and assembling with other Christians for fellowship and instruction (Leviticus 23:3).

How does observance of the seventh-day Sabbath express love towards God? By obeying the Sabbath command, we are acknowledging God as our Creator and as our Lord who has authority over us. We acknowledge God's authority by believing and obeying what He commands in the fourth commandment. "Lord" means ruler, one who has authority. Many people call God "Lord", but it is those who really strive to believe and obey what God says who are acknowledging by their actions that the true God is their Lord (Luke 6:46). The fourth commandment has been called by some a "test" commandment, because it tests our willingness to believe God and obey Him (Exodus 16:4-5, 22-30). It is also a sign between God and his people (Exodus 31:12-13). A sign identifies. The Sabbath helps to identify to Christians who the true God is, that is, the God who created the earth, because the Sabbath day is a memorial of creation (Exodus 20:8-11). The Sabbath also identifies to God who His people are, because it is God's people who are willing to believe and obey what God says by keeping the Sabbath. Throughout the Bible, obedience to God's commandments is equated with love (John 14:21, 1 John 5:1-3).

The weekly Sabbath also illustrates the 7,000 year plan of God, for as the Sabbath follows the six days of work, so the millenial rule of Christ for 1,000 years will follow 6,000 years of man's rule over himself (2 Peter 3:8, Revelation 20:1-4, Daniel 12:4).

The Sabbath provides time for people to rest from the burdens and concerns of the week and draw closer to God in prayer and Bible study. Taking time to learn about the things of God and to draw closer to Him is also an expression of love towards God.

Keeping the Sabbath can also be a test of faith. Many people can figure out that it is wrong to murder, steal, commit adultery, etc. Even societies that do not have a culture based on the Bible can recognize that those things are wrong. But man cannot figure out on his own that it is wrong to work on the seventh day of the week. Man can only know that by believing what God says, and it takes faith to believe what God says, as Abraham did (Romans 4:3, James 2:23, Genesis 15:4-6, Isaiah 51:1-2), and faith is one of the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). In our day, it can be a test of faith for a man or woman to keep the Sabbath, especially if that man or woman has not grown up in a Sabbath-keeping tradition. Sometimes people can lose their jobs for refusing to work on the Sabbath, and it takes faith to trust God to provide.

Here is an index to some recent posts in this blog about the Sabbath:

A Question and Answer about the New Covenant

Are the Ten Commandments Part of the New Covenant?

When Was the Sabbath Made?

The Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, and Animal Sacrifices


Todd G said...

Amen and Amen! That was a whole lot of truth for one post. Keep preaching the Gospel, my friend! Indeed, we all need to be reminded of the true reason for the Sabbath sometimes. Oftentimes I find myself keeping the Sabbath because I know it's the right thing to do, but I lose sight of, and neglect, using that blessed time to truly draw closer to my Creator.

I look forward to more posts. :-)

God bless you and keep you!

Paul Woods said...

I actually keep Sunday as the Sabbath. I wonder, do you hold that only Saturday Sabbath keeping is the only genuine Sabbath keeping? If yes, how do we really determine what the seventh day is? Is it possible that the first day on the Roman calendar was the seventh day on the Hebrew calendar? How do you deal with the apostles emphasis on the first day of the week in the following texts,

19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
John 20:19 (KJV)

7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

Acts 20:7 (KJV)

2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

1 Cor 16:2 (KJV)

I am a Sunday Sabbath keeper and I love the Lord and keep his commandments. I refuse to work on the Sabbath(Sunday), and told my current employer that under no circumstance would I work. I observe this day faithfully. said...

Hello Paul, and thank you for your comments and questions.

I think you show integrity and firmness of character by refusing to work if it means compromising with God's will to the best of your understanding. It shows that you correctly understand that we must put God first, and it shows your willingness to do this even if you have to pay a price in personal sacrifice and hardship. That is the right attitude in your approach to God.

I remember years ago when the movie "Chariots of Fire" came out that several seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath keeping Christians and I were talking about the movie. Everyone in our group really respected the character of Eric Liddell (he was the runner who refused to run a race in the Olympics because he would have to run on a Sunday) because we could identify with his commitment to try to put God first over his desire to participate and his firmness to resist the pressure some were putting on him to compromise.

I also think God works with a person according to that person's understanding, and He knows the heart. Assuming you are sincere, and I think you are, God will have patience with you if you have made a mistake. I hope and trust that if I am mistaken God will also have patience with me.

I think there is a difference between Sunday and seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath keeping traditions. That is, it is not all the same as far as which day we keep as long as we keep one day a week. One tradition is right and the other wrong. The question is, which? Also, you raise a good question in asking how can we know which day the seventh day from creation really is.

God requires we have faith (Romans 11:19-20) and faith is one of the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). Faith is more than believing that God exists. Faith includes believing what God says. Abraham was justified by faith because he believed what God told him (Romans 4:2-3, Romans 4:16-22, Genesis 15:4-6) and because Abraham acted on his faith by not only believing what God said but also obeying what God said (James 2:21-24).

So the issue of the Sabbath is important. If you or I are mistaken, we have to be diligent to get the right answer from the Bible, believing God's word, and then obeying it.

I was raised Catholic, so I started in a Sunday-keeping tradition. When I came across teaching that the seventh-day, Saturday, was the Sabbath, I researched it in the Bible and I considered the history of the weekly cycle and how the seventh day was counted.

It is the fourth of the Ten Commandments that shows we are to rest on the Sabbath. It is called the "seventh day" (Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Israel knew which day was the Sabbath, the seventh day, because God had shown them by the miracle of the manna shortly before the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 16:4-6, Exodus 16:22-30). From that day till the time of Christ significant numbers of Jews kept the weekly cycle, even though at times large numbers of Israelites did not properly obey the Sabbath by resting. It is possible of course that certain individuals could make mistakes and lose track of a day here and there, but not the whole Jewish people. Sabbath keeping Jews have been scattered to different parts of the earth where there was little communication between them, yet there is no instance of separated groups of Jews making contact with each other and finding that one or the other group was a day off. In any case, at the time of Christ, Jesus Christ entered the synagogues to teach on the Sabbath, and he would have known the right day (Luke 4:16). God placed great importance on obedience to the Sabbath throught the history of the Old Testament. It would not make sense that God would not see to it that the weekly cycle was preserved. So there could not have been any losing track of the weekly cycle from Exodus till the time of Christ.

From the time of Christ till today, both Jews and Christians have kept the weekly cycle intact, and even though there have been separated groups of both, there is no instance of groups making contact that had been separated for a long time and finding that one group was a day different in counting the week that another group. Though traditional Christians differ from Jews in their opinion about which day is the commanded day of rest, both agree about the weekly cycle. Both agree that Saturday is the seventh day and Sunday is the first day of the week, and all keep the same weekly cycle all over the world.

When you think about it, it is possible that an individual can make a mistake and accidently gain or lose a day and be off in the weekly schedule, but it is extremely unlikely that such a thing could happen with millions of people all over the earth at the same time. Also, I think that since the Sabbath is so important to God, we can trust Him to make sure that the weekly cycle that has come down to us throughout history is reliable.

There are two other issues. Some traditional Christians believe that the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath are for the Old Covenant only and were abolished after the death of Jesus Christ. Most of my posts and comments in this blog about the Sabbath cover that topic. Since you are already committed to obedience to the Sabbath, which is correct, I think you understand that the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath are still in effect.

The other issue is whether the Sabbath was changed by God, or by the Church with God's approval, from the seventh day to the first day of the week. This is what many churches teach.

But there is no record in the New Testament of such a great change. Something that important would be clearly documented. And if Peter, Paul, and the other apostles began to teach that the weekly Sabbath was changed from the seventh day to the first day, it would have been a raging controversy and there would evidence in the book of Acts and in Paul's epistles.

Also, the very premise of the reason for such a change is not valid. The only reason for observing the first day of the week that I have ever heard suggested is that it is to honor the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first day of the week. But Jesus was not resurrected on the first day of the week. He was resurrected on the seventh day of the week.

Traditional Christianity holds to a Friday afternoon burial, Sunday morning resurrection tradition. But if the Bible is our authority, then that tradition cannot be true.

When the Jews asked for a sign, Jesus said that the only sign that would be given was that He would be in the grave three days and three nights as Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:39-40). From Friday night to Sunday morning would be one day and two nights, so that tradition cannot be true. Yet many people think He was buried shortly before sunset on Friday, because of scriptures that say Jesus was buried just before the Sabbath (Mark 15:42-46).

The confusion arises because there were two Sabbaths that week, an annual Sabbath called the First Day of Unleavened Bread which immediately follows the day of Passover (Leviticus 23:4-7) and the regular weekly Sabbath. The First Day of Unleavened Bread, like most of the annual Sabbath days of God, fell on a particular day of the month and could fall on any day of the week. In order for Jesus Christ to be in the grave for three days and three nights, He would have to be resurrected 72 hours after burial, which would place the TIME of His resurrection late afternoon just before sunset, just as He was buried late in the afternoon just before sunset. Since He was already resurrected when the women came to the grave early on the first day of the week, He must have been resurrected late on the Sabbath before. This would place His burial late on Wednesday before sunset. Thursday was the First Day of Unleavened Bread. Friday was a work day, and that would be the day the women did the work of purchasing and preparing the spices. Saturday was the weekly Sabbath and near the end of that day Jesus was resurrected 72 hours after His burial.

That is the only interpretation that I know of that is consistant with all the scriptures that say that Jesus would be in the grave for three days and three nights.

Also, Mark 16:9 appears to say that Jesus rose on the first day of the week. But it appears to say this because of the placement of a comma. Here is where the comma is placed in a quote from the New King James Version: "Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene...". But the original Greek this is translated from did not have commas. The translators place the comma where they think it belongs, but they are subject to the influence of their personal beliefs and traditions the same as most people. The comma could just have easily been placed here: "Now when He rose, early on the first day of the week He appeared first to Mary Magdalene..." The "early on the first day of the week" can apply to appearing to Mary Magdalene rather than Christ's resurrection.

How do I know that Mark 16:9 means that it was on the first day of the week that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and not that it was the first day of the week that Jesus was resurrected? Simply because the Bible cannot contradict itself. If Jesus rose on the first day of the week, that would contradict the scriptures that say that He would be in the grave for three days and three nights. That is because, no matter how you figure the days, Christ was buried in the afternoon and would have to be resurrected in the afternoon. If He rose on Sunday, then His resurrection would have to be Sunday afternoon. But He was NOT resurrected Sunday afternoon because the grave was already empty Sunday morning (Matthew 28:1-7).

Even apart from the issue of the placement of the comma in Mark 16:9, there is a footnote in my Bible indicating that verses 9 through 20 are bracketed in some manuscripts as not in the original text and some manuscripts do not contain them at all. This indicates to me at least the possibility that these verses were not in the original inspired text and were added later.

John 20:19 - This is not necessarily a Sabbath meeting. But even if it was, the evening of the first day of the week could be referring to the early part of the day because the days begin and end at sunset. In other words, if they were gathered in a meeting on the Sabbath (Saturday), and remained in the room with the doors locked because of fear of the Jews, after sunset it would be the evening of the first day of the week.

Acts 20:7 - Again, this could be referring to a meeting on a Saturday that extended into the night, and that night, from sunset till midnite, would be the first day of the week. In other words, it could be a seventh-day Sabbath meeting that extended past sunset into the next day.

1 Cor 16:2 - "lay by him in store" does not seem to indicate bringing the offering to a meeting place, but each person laying it aside in his house as a way of saving it from week to week, and this may have been a food crop.

There is at least one record of a Sabbath meeting of gentiles: Acts 13:42-44. This would be the seventh day of the week, because the New Testament NEVER calls the first day of the week "Sabbath". The first day of the week is simply called the first day of the week.