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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Real and Better Sabbath

Herbert Armstrong (and others) taught that Christians were obligated to keep God's Sabbath. He also taught that the vast majority of Christians had rejected or abandoned God's Sabbath and had substituted a day of their own choosing (Sunday). Was he right? Have the vast majority of folks who claim to be Christian refused to obey God's commandment to keep the Sabbath holy? Why and how did God give the Sabbath to the Israelites? What was the Sabbath? Was the Sabbath part of God's covenant with the Israelites? And/or was it intended for all of humankind? Is it a part of the New Covenant through Jesus Christ? Did Christ and his original disciples keep the Sabbath? If so, doesn't that suggest that we should be following their example?

To answer these questions, we must employ the whole Bible - from beginning to end! Hence, in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, we are informed that God created the earth and its life in six days. Then, immediately following that event, we read: "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." (Genesis 2:1-3, ESV) Thus, in this first scriptural reference to the Sabbath, we are told: 1. That God had finished his creative work and rested on the seventh day, and 2. That he pronounced a special blessing on the day and made it holy. So, these two points are the foundation of our attempt to understand the concept of the Sabbath and answer our questions.

Even so, this immediately brings to mind another question: Did God need a rest? The prophet Isaiah once stated that the Lord does NOT faint or grow weary (Isaiah 40:28). So, if God didn't need a rest, why did he take one? In other words, God must have had some other purpose in mind when he created this day. Does Scripture reveal what that purpose was?

Within the context of his disciples eating some grain as they walked through a field one Sabbath, Jesus Christ revealed that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27-28, ESV) According to Christ, the Sabbath was created for humankind, and that he was consequently the Lord of the Sabbath! Indeed, in his own observance of the day, Christ revealed that it was appropriate to perform good works on that day - to do things which benefited people! (See Matthew 12:1-12, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:1-11, 13:10-17, 14:1-6, and John 5:1-17) In another place, we are also informed that Jesus once said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:18, ESV) He went on to say that all of the Law and the Prophets would remain relevant until he had completed his task of fulfilling them (Matthew 5:18-19).

On yet another occasion, Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders of his day: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:39-47, ESV) Likewise, in the Gospel of Luke, we are informed that after he was resurrected, Christ told his disciples: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:22, ESV) So, according to Jesus, the Hebrew Scriptures (including the Sabbath) pointed to HIM!

We know too that Paul preached Jesus from the Law and the Prophets (Acts 24:14 and 28:23). Moreover, in his letter to the saints at Colosse, Paul told them that festivals, new moons, and sabbaths were shadows of the reality found in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). This all provokes yet another question: Exactly how did the Sabbath point to Jesus?

Let's go back to Torah and see if it is plausible to see Christ in the Sabbath. The Sabbath was introduced to the children of Israel in the midst of God sending them manna - bread from heaven. In the book of Exodus, we read: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.'" (Exodus 16:4-5, ESV) Continuing in the account, we are informed that the Israelites eventually learned to follow God's instruction regarding the collection of manna relative to the Sabbath - that they eventually learned to rest on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:22-35)

In this connection, it is instructive to read of some remarks attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John. We read there that he said: "'Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.' Then they said to him, 'What must we do, to be doing the works of God?' Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.' So they said to him, 'Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.' Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'" (John 6:27-35, ESV) So, according to Christ, he was the real bread from heaven, and the work required of his followers was to believe in the one whom God had sent to them! Also, of interest in this regard, is the fact that Christ later instituted the symbols of the Eucharist - the bread and the wine (which his followers would be required to ingest - see Matthew 26:26-29).

Returning again to Torah, we know that God later incorporated the Sabbath into one of the Ten Commandments he gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. We read there: "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." (Exodus 20:8-11, ESV) Once again, God made very clear that the Sabbath was celebrated by NOT WORKING! He reminded them that he had finished his own work in six days and had rested on the seventh one. Now, how does that relate to Jesus Christ?

Before leaving Torah, let's return to a passage which I quoted in the post which immediately preceded this one. You remember, the one where God instructed the Israelites to "seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go." (Deuteronomy 12:5, ESV) Notice also in this same passage: "You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your God is giving you. But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you." (Deuteronomy 12:8-11, ESV) So, we see that God clearly told the Israelites that a day was coming when God would make his choice clear to them, after he had given them REST and their inheritance, and that they would be required to attend him there - ONLY there!

In this connection, the New Testament makes very plain that a Christians inheritance is in and through Jesus Christ (John 3:16, Galatians 3:29, Romans 8:16-17, I Peter 1:3-5, Hebrews 9:15, etc.). Also, it is interesting to note in this regard what Christ is reported to have said in the Gospel of Matthew. We read there that he said: "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." (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV) Christ invited all who were working and loaded down with burdens to seek him, and he promised to give them REST!

Likewise, in the anonymous epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.' Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end." (Hebrews 3:7-14, ESV) Continuing in the account, the author made clear exactly who God had declared would NOT enter his rest: "who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief." (Hebrews 3:16-19, ESV)

According to the author of this epistle, the children of Israel were not allowed to enter God's true rest! He continued: "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest," (Hebrews 4:1-3, ESV) Don't think this has anything to do with the Sabbath? Continuing with the account, we read: "as he has said, 'As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,' although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: 'And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.' And again in this passage he said, 'They shall not enter my rest.' Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, 'Today,' saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.' For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 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." (Hebrews 4:3-10, ESV) Then the writer goes on to warn Christians not to follow the example of those rebellious Israelites - to fail to enter God's rest (verse 11). Hence, the message is clear: Jesus is that ultimate rest!

This is, of course, in harmony with what Paul wrote to the saints at Rome. He said: "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:20-26, ESV) It is NOT through keeping the Sabbath that we will stand clean before God. It is clearly through Jesus Christ that we will do so, as Paul also made clear to the saints of Galatia. He wrote: "we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:16, ESV) Hence, for Christians, it is clear that Christ is the Sabbath which we celebrate!

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