Since the New Year, I have been asked by four or five different people to preach on the Sabbath, and specifically, why it has changed. It seems to be a perennial topic of interest. So I decided that rather than ending with chapter 1, I would finish off the creation week and show the foundations of the Sabbath, because that is one of our distinctive – at least in this day and age. This means that some of you folks that have been here from the beginning are going to get some review, even though I may throw some new material in this week and next week. But review is not all bad, right?
Last week we looked at the first half of the fourth commandment – dominion on six days. Today I want to look at the second half of the fourth commandment – the rest day that God blessed. And I think we need to emphasize the fact that God blessed it. The Sabbath is a blessing. It is not a difficult day that we need to dread. It is the time that God delights to pour blessings into His people. One Puritan called it the Market Day of the soul because it is the day when we get to go into the spiritual grocery store and buy without money and without price the good things God desires us to have. Another Puritan used the language of love and called the Sabbath the trysting place of the soul – in other words, the place of romance – when we can get away from the hustle and bustle and spend time with God. And so next week we will see that it is par excellence, the day of God's presence and the day of God's blessing.
But today I thought I would do something a little bit different, and give you information that is not in the booklet on the back table. And I don't have an outline for the sermon today. Instead, I want to answer six questions that have been posed to me from time to time.
Question 1: Was the Sabbath a ceremonial law or a moral law?
The first question is this: "Was the Sabbath a ceremonial law or a moral law?" And the answer is: both. Calvin pointed out that there are moral dimensions and there are ceremonial dimensions. Turn with me to Ezekiel 20 and I will give you some proof texts that the Sabbath was a symbol or a sign. It was a ceremony that pointed to something. As we will see shortly, it was a sign that pointed to something wonderful all the way back when it was given to Adam and Eve. But look at Ezekiel 20:12.
Ezek. 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. Now we will look at the meaning a little bit later. But just notice for now that it is called a "sign." Look down at verse 20.
Ezek. 20:20 ‘hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.'
Turn to Exodus 31. This will be our last one, but I wanted to demonstrate that it is a sign because some Reformed people are so intent on avoiding the conclusion that it has passed away that they miss an important part of the Sabbath that Calvin did pick up on. Exodus 31:13.
Ex. 31:13 "Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. Notice He says that "it is a sign." It's like a road sign that is teaching you something. Some people have concluded that if it is a sign, that it has passed away with all of the other signs and ceremonies of the Old Covenant.
Question 2: If it is a sign, then hasn't the Sabbath passed away?
And so that brings up the second question I hear: If it is a sign, then hasn't the Sabbath passed away? Actually, the whole sermon is going to deal with that issue, but let me at least deal with the issue of its everlasting character. On the surface it may seem plausible to say that if it is a sign, then it has passed away. But before you jump to that conclusion it is worthwhile to remember that there were four signs in the Old Testament that are called everlasting signs.
Let me quickly list them for you. Turn to Genesis 9. And look at verses 12-13. And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth… Two things to notice, it is a sign, and it is perpetual. That sign remains as long as there is an earth. He calls it in 9:16 "the everlasting covenant." As chapter 8:22 says, While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night... As far as I know, none of those things has stopped. And so the rainbow continues to be a sign of God's covenant with all mankind. Every time you see a rainbow in the sky, it should send up a prayer of thanks for God's common grace. We ought not to despise signs. They are an important part of our covenant life. So there is at least one sign of the everlasting covenant which continues to be a sign.
A second such sign is the Passover meal. When Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, what meal was He eating? It was Passover, a ceremonial law which was said to be everlasting. Now God made some changes, but the essence of that ceremonial law continues to be kept today. Essentially the Lord's Table is a ceremonial meal. It is a ceremony with covenant significance that teaches us something.
The third such sign was the circumcision/baptism sign. Baptism is a ceremonial law. So all ceremonial laws are not done away with.
And just as the other three ceremonial laws or signs were said to be everlasting, so is the Sabbath. Look at verse 16 again. This is Exodus 31:16. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is said to be throughout their generations. That means as long as they continue to have babies, the Sabbath continues to apply. And the Sabbath is called a perpetual covenant. Look at verse 17. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever… And so the assumption is, even if this is ceremonial, the ceremonial part itself continues forever. And as we will see shortly, it's a good thing, because the Sabbath continues to teach us a lot. It continues to be a road sign pointing to something.
Question 3: Is the Sabbath only for the Jews?
A third question that frequently comes up with regard to the Sabbath is this: "Is the Sabbath only for the Jews?" They will say, "Yes I understand that it is perpetual. But doesn't this say that it is a sign between God and the children of Israel? We're not a part of Israel. Therefore the Sabbath no longer applies." Well, the answer to that is two-fold. First of all, if we aren't the Israel of God, what were we Gentiles grafted into in Romans 11? Ephesians 2 says that we were once aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise (v. 12), but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near… (v. 13). Brought near to what? The commonwealth of Israel. Verse 19 says, Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens… A useful book to pursue sometime is Provan's book, the Church is Israel Now. The Scriptures call pastors Levites, and the church the Israel of God. The whole book is a catalog of tons of verses proving that we are part of the true Israel of God. And when national so-called Israel is converted, they will come back into the church they left. There are not two people's of God. There is only one temple, one bride, one vine, one olive tree. So this passage does apply.
The second part of the answer is to say that while this passage speaks of the blessing of this sign to Israel, it is still a moral imperative for Gentiles even if they are unbelievers. In Nehemiah 13, Nehemiah as the governor imposes Sabbath observance on unbelievers from Tyre. But since we are dealing with Genesis, just think about it this way: if the Sabbath started at the creation of mankind, then it is obviously not just intended for Israel. And that is Christ's interpretation of Genesis 2 in Mark 2:17. He says, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The word "man" is mankind generically. And Christ indicates that when man was made, he wasn't made to benefit the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made to benefit mankind. It was intended to be for all mankind.
Well, let's see if other Scriptures support this conclusion. Turn to Exodus 20 and we will look at a few examples which show Scripture commanding all Gentiles to observe the Sabbath. Exodus 20 is the giving of the ten commandments.
Let's read verse 10: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do not work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant [He doesn't specify what nationality the servants were. But he gets even broader. He says], nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. The stranger within your gates refers to Gentiles who have immigrated to Israel or who are passing through.
There are similar passages in Deuteronomy 5:14; Numbers 15; Nehemiah 13 and elsewhere, but let's stop with Isaiah. Turn to Isaiah 66. We will read two Isaiah passages which prophesy what will take place in the New Covenant. That's our time period. The first one is Isaiah 66:23. Prophesying of our own day and age, it says this: And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,' says the LORD. Do we continue to have New Moon cycles? Absolutely yes. And half moons and quarter moons. In fact, in many parts of the world it is the chief measure of time. So basically he is saying, from month to month and from Sabbath to Sabbath all flesh shall come to worship before Me. Sabbath will continue to be a measure of time in our day and all flesh (a term referring to all nationalities) will worship God on those Sabbaths. I don't think you could get clearer testimony to the continuation of the Sabbath in our own day and age.
But let me give you one more. Turn to Isaiah 56. The whole chapter speaks of God's salvation coming to the Gentiles in our day. Notice in verse 3 it speaks of the son of the foreigner… Notice the same thing in verses 6-7. Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants – everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant – even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. I won't get into the interpretation of this wonderful passage except to say that Gentiles are admonished to lay hold of the Sabbath, and that when they do, God will make them joyful.
So far we have answered the question, "Is it a sign or a moral law?" with the answer – "Both."
To the question, has the sign passed away, the answer is Biblically "No. It is everlasting."
To the question "was it only for the Jews?" we saw that the only answer possible is, "No. It is for both Jew and Gentile; for both believer and unbeliever."
Question 4: Why is the Sabbath treated as being so important?
But a fourth question that has often puzzled people is this: "Why is the Sabbath treated as being so all-fired important?" And if you turn back to Exodus 31 we will see the answer. Let's read these verses again beginning in verse 16. Exodus 31:16. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. Notice he says that we are to observe the Sabbath as a perpetual covenant. The Sabbath is called the covenant in this passage. It is not just a sign of the covenant. It sums up the covenant. To despise the Sabbath is to despise the entire covenant. Between dominion and rest, you cover everything that a man does: all seven days, rest and work. When Adam followed Satan's plan to be wise and to be as God, he was taking a shortcut on dominion and bypassing the purpose of rest. And as a result God cursed both the dominion and the rest. And we will be looking at how it is possible for the Sabbath day to be cursed later. But the Sabbath commandment summarizes the whole law of God.
Francis Nigel Lee in his book on the ten commandments has written a whole section on how this was true. But let me just outline the ten commandments quickly.
The first commandment deals with the sanctity of God. To take dominion and rest in any other way than God prescribed is to be the authority ourselves. So it breaks the first commandment by failing to trust God. And let me tell you something, the Sabbath is a huge faith issue. Are we really going to trust God with our time by giving up one day? But it is not only a trust issue, it is the prescribed means by which we come to know God and grow in our sanctification. God won't sanctify you with the methods you choose. Ezekiel 20:16 says, "Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that [here's what it produces. that] they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. That they might know that I am the LORD. The Sabbath clearly ties in with the first commandment and is essential to fully keeping that commandment. So it is a big deal.
What about the second commandment? The second commandment deals with the sanctity of worship. It insists that we must worship God His way. He determines how He wants to be worshipped by regulating the Sabbath. So when we ignore the Sabbath, it is a big deal because it breaks the first and second commandments.
What about the third commandment? In what way is failure to honor the Sabbath a dishonoring of His name? Simply because God has identified His name with the Sabbath and He says in Isaiah 56:6 that Gentile believers who love the name of the Lord will keep from defiling the Sabbath. The two are joined. And there are many ways in which God has identified His name with this day. He does so before the heathen who look on and judge how awesome God is by how His people set apart this day against all odds. God says that His name must be great, but when we don't keep the Sabbath we break the third commandment by despising His name. The goal of history is given in Isaiah 66:22-23 where God says, "So shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass That from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me," says the LORD. Honoring His name cannot be separated in God's mind from honoring His day on which His name rests. It's Jehovah's day.
But the fourth commandment indicates that we violate the law of dominion when we violate the law of rest.
The fifth commandment is the sanctity of authority. Is God our highest authority? Not if we choose to ignore His Sabbath. The commandment says honor your father and Isaiah 58 says that we honor God when we honor the Sabbath. In Matthew 12:8 Christ said, For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. The question is, do we try to be Lord of that day? If we do, we break the fifth commandment. In fact, this issue of authority is so tied up with the Sabbath that Leviticus 19:3 even connects it to our attitudes toward parents. It says, Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God." The Sabbath is such a big deal to God because failure to honor the Sabbath is a failure to honor our heavenly father and ultimately all authority. Why? Because all authority is derivative, isn't it? So there are two Scriptures which tie it in with the fifth commandment.
What about the sixth commandment? That deals with the sanctity of life. Scripture indicates that to keep the commandment thou shalt not murder, we must not only avoid killing and anything that destroys our health, but we must actively promote the things that promote health. Well, over and over again Scripture indicates that the Sabbath is intended for the health of our animals, our families and our own lives. But it is also one of the greatest symbols of our life and our rest in Jesus. I think it is one of the reasons that Jesus went out of His way to heal on the Sabbath. The Pharisees had sucked all the joy and healing out of the Sabbath through their legalism, and He was trying to restore it to its proper purpose of bringing health and refreshment.
Moving on to the seventh commandment which deals with the sanctity of marriage, we can say that the Sabbath rest promotes the marriage relationship. It's that constant check and alignment of our marriages with His word. But more importantly, since it stands for the covenant itself, to defile the sign of the covenant is to speak lightly of our marriage to God.
Eighth commandment is the sanctity of property and says thou shalt not steal. Scripture says that we rob God when we use the Sabbath for our own pleasure. It's His day; His property.
The ninth commandment deals with the sanctity of truth. If the Sabbath is the sign of the covenant which pledges our faithfulness to God, then we lie each time we break it. The Sabbath is a big deal because it is the sign of the covenant, summarizes the covenant and is the pledge to the covenant with God.
The tenth commandment deals with the sanctity of contentment and our desires. The Sabbath is the true test of where our contentment lies and how strong our desires for God truly are. Are we going to be content with what dominion He enables on six days, or will we covet more than what God enables?
In answer to the question of why God treats the Sabbath as being so all fired important is that it is important. It is not only the sign of the covenant, but is the covenant itself. How we treat it, we treat the entire covenant.
Question 5: Is the Sabbath simply a long list of don'ts?
The fifth question is this: "Is the Sabbath simply a long list of don'ts?" And the answer is "No." In fact, I think we miss the genius of the Sabbath when we only see what we can't do. Turn to Isaiah 58. Next week we will look at how positive the Sabbath is from Genesis 2, but for now I want to show that the purpose of the don's is simply to provide us with focus to be able to delight in God. According to Isaiah 58:13-14 it is an issue of focus. The bible does give us some don'ts, but it doesn't give us an exhaustive list because God knows our legalistic hearts. He knows we would immediately find ways in which to get around those, and would feel that our duty was done when we had accomplished the don'ts. Instead, God calls upon us to do whatever it takes to focus on Him and to delight in Him and to grow. Isaiah 58:13-14 says, If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath [remember we saw last week that the word foot is used for dominion or rule. When you placed your foot on a king's neck, you were asserting dominion or rule over him. So this is saying, if you turn away any dominion from the Sabbath… going on. Then he lists another thing:] from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight [notice that God wants us to enjoy life. "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 [there's some negatives. But it's not so that we can't have positives. The sentence isn't finished. It continues in verse 14.] 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. God pledges His reputation on the promise that when you observe the Sabbath properly, you will find delight. If you keep it legalistically, you will be dry and dusty.
So when people ask me, "Can I do such and such on the Sabbath," I like to deflect that question and ask if that is the best way to focus on God. Otherwise we can so easily get into legalism. We don't read the newspaper on the Lord's day, not because it is wrong to do so. God may lead others to do so. It could even be a fantastic prayer exercise. It's just that for our family, it's not a high priority in focusing on God and on being with God's people. Ezekiel 20 twice says that the Sabbath is a day to know God. So, yes there are don'ts in the bible. But the point of the don'ts is to free up our time and focus to have some wonderful dos we would'nt otherwise get to.
Question 6: If it is a sign, what is it a sign of?
But let me give you one more background question, and then I will try to finish off the material by preaching on Genesis 2:1-3 next week. Here's the question: "If it is a sign, what is it a sign of?"
When God blessed the Sabbath day in Genesis 2, it symbolized a completion that could be rejoiced in and rested in. God's work was complete. If we could have the overhead, it could be diagrammed this way.
God's week ended in a Sabbath ceasing from dominion. But Adam and Eve's first full day was a Sabbath rest. You can see that I have an elipses on day six for man's first week. On the day of preparation, God created a home (Eden) and a community (Adam and Eve) for worship. Each day was counted as an evening and a morning, and Adam missed the evening and part of the morning. Eve missed the whole day since she was made just before the end of the day when God gave instructions and then ushered them into the Sabbath at six pm.
This means that the first evening morning sequence that either of them experienced was a sabbath one. God did not want Adam and Eve to begin with dominion and end with rest as He had done because man had to be taught to be dependent. Man must first worship, be taught and when prepared by focus on God could go out on the basis of God's finished work of creation and take dominion. In my booklet I show how Adam violated both the rest principle and the dominion principle by taking dominion in his own strength rather than in God's.
In Genesis 3 God curses both the dominion and the rest of man. But he graciously also mixed that curse with a promise of blessing. Because of the fall man could not start his day with rest as originally intended. But God did not take away all promise of rest. He gave promise in Genesis 3:15 that in the future God would provide Jesus, the Second Adam, who would reverse the demonic upset and provide salvation.
And if you look at the bottom row of this chart you can see that this is both a curse of the rest and a blessing. Colossians 2 says that the Sabbath commandment was against us. In what way was it against us? It reminded us that Adam had turned things upside down. Since he tried to be like God he would have to suffer the consequence of trying to take dominion to enter his rest. He could not. His sabbath would now be at the end of the week as a perpetual reminder that rest is not in the past any longer, but only anticipated. They had to look forward to Jesus. But it was also a perpetual blessing in that it reminded them that there was still a future rest. It was a kind of perpetual graphic board to point them to Jesus. Every week when they partook of the Sabbath they would be reminded that they had lost their rest in Eden, but could look forward to a rest in the coming Messiah.
I won't go into it this morning. You can read about it in the booklet I produced. But there are Old Testament prophecies of a change in days once Messiah came. When Jesus, the second Adam perfectly kept dominion and made all things new, He restored the Sabbath purpose to the first day of the week. We begin our week by resting in Christ's finished work of redemption and then, and only then going forth to take dominion.
That's the pattern God has set. And I will probably spend a little time on the beautiful symbolism of that next week. But let me quickly point out that its not just the Old Testament that anticipated a change from the seventh day Sabbath to what the Old Testament calls an eighth day Sabbath, but the New Testament does so as well. Only the New Testament speaks of it as a first day Sabbath. What's an eighth day Sabbath? It's the day after Saturday, which is the first day of the week. So eighth day and first day are the same thing. Turn to Mark 16:1. What we are about to read here is repeated in each Gospel account. I want to read from the literal Greek while you read along in the English. I'll wait till you get there. Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day Sabbath, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. Exactly the same word for sabbath in verse 1 is translated as "week" in verse 2. But there is a perfectly good word for week in the Greek. It isn't sabbaton. It is hebdomas. A rule of interpretation is that the same word, in the same context, using the same grammar should be translated the same. The Greek does not say "first day of the week." It says, "first day Sabbath." The other Gospels say that Jesus rose on the first day Sabbath.
Why is this so important? It's because the 16th of Nisan had never been a Sabbath in the history of the Jews. That's why translators find it difficult to translate it as Sabbath here. How could the festival of firstfruits be called a Sabbath? It was a work day. On the feast of firstfruits the grain was threshed. The women who came to the tomb were ignorant of this change in days as is evident from verse 1 and the parallel in Luke 24:1. But the use of the word sabbaton here is nothing to be confused over. It's not a metaphorical use of language. The Old Testament anticipated that God would make a new Sabbath on the eighth day, and Psalm 118 speaks of Christ's resurrection after his death and says, This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it. Christ's resurrection day is not called a Sabbath by man's authority. It is called the first day Sabbath by God's authority.
I won't trace this all the way through the New Testament because my booklet does. But I want to end this morning's sermon by having you turn to 1 Corinthians 16. This is one of several places in the New Testament where Sunday is called a Sabbath. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Paul was giving instructions here for offerings in the public church gatherings. Notice when they take place. Now concerning the collections for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also. On the first day Sabbath [You can look it up in the Greek. It is not the term for first day of the week. It is literally, on the first day Sabbath] let each one of you lay something aside… etc. I want you to notice three things about this passage. First, Sunday is called a Sabbath. Second, three times the saints are commanded to observe the Sabbath. The first two times are in verse 1. He says, as I have given orders. Orders are not suggestions. Paul is saying that this is law or orders. Sabbath observance cannot be on Saturday. It has to be on Sunday. The second time is in the last phrase of verse 1. Paul says, so you must do also. Notice the "must." Seventh day Adventists insist that there is no mandate to worship on Sunday. Yes there is. Three. The third one is in verse 2 where the Greek uses an imperative tense to say, let each one of you lay something aside. The imperative tense is the tense for commands. Paul was commanding them to do something not on any day that they chose, but on a day that God chose. Sunday.
So the first thing I have had you notice is that Sunday is called a Sabbath. The second thing is that this Sunday Sabbath observance is commanded three times. The third thing I want you to notice is that this is not just a quirk in Corinth. It was true of churches plural, and he had just finished telling the churches in Galatia the same thing. …as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also…
I think I would like to devote one more Sunday to the subject of the Sabbath, but let me sum up now by recapping what we have shown from the Scripture:
First we have seen that the Sabbath is a sign, and as such is more than just a moral law. It is also a ceremonial law which teaches us about God and our covenant relationship with Him.
Second, we saw that the Sabbath is perpetual as both moral law and sign. The only change that was made was in the ceremonial or teaching side of the commandment. Before the fall it looked back on God's finished work of salvation. After the fall it was at the end of the week because it looked forward to Christ's work of making a new creation. After the resurrection, it looks back on Christ's finished work of redemption, and so it reverts to the beginning of our week. Unless the New Testament had authorized the change, both the sign aspect and the moral aspect would continue forever.
Third, we saw that the Sabbath was not just intended for the Jews. It was made for mankind, and Gentiles are not only commanded to keep the day, they are prophesied to be keeping it in the New Covenant era that we live in. Isaiah says that all nations would keep the Sabbath in the New Covenant era.
Fourth, we saw that the Sabbath is treated as incredibly important by God because it is the sign of the covenant, represents the covenant, summarizes the law, points us to God and sanctifies us. God says that to despise the covenant is to despise Him. No wonder He treats it seriously.
Fifth, we saw that the Sabbath is not simply a list of don'ts. The reason for the "don'ts" is simply to help us focus on God and His people. It is a focus issue to usher us into God's blessings.
Sixth, it is a sign that Jesus has completed something and that we are to rest in that finished work of redemption.
Seventh, we saw that the Sabbath must be celebrated on Sunday, and Sunday alone. To fail to do so involves us in treating the Sabbath as a sign that Jesus has not yet come. Obviously, we don't want to do that. As sign it must teach us that His work of redemption has already been accomplished. As command, it helps us to focus on God.
My exhortation to you is to study the doctrine of the Sabbath and enter into the joy promised the sons of the foreigner in Isaiah 56. And may God bless you richly in this day blessed by God. Amen.