By Mark Finley
John was a committed Christian. He and his wife were faithful believers. They wanted to do God’s will. As they attended a series of meetings I conducted on Bible prophecy, they were challenged with new truths they had never heard before. Questions loomed large in their minds. The Bible Sabbath particularly troubled them. They were convicted it was truth from the Bible, but their pastor raised some serious questions in their minds. They began to doubt. They seemed confused and needed their questions answered. As we studied the Bible together, their understanding of truth deepened. They found solid answers for their questions. Their doubts disappeared and they discovered the true joy and blessing of Sabbath keeping.
Possibly, you too have some questions regarding the Bible Sabbath. There may be some Bible passages which are difficult for you to understand. The Bible provides clear answers to our questions. In fact, throughout the Bible, our Lord invites us to ask questions, and He provides solid answers in His Word.
Jesus declared, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17, KJV). Peter adds, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
The apostle Paul counsels Timothy to be someone who is “Rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, asks, “Whom will he teach knowledge? . . . For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line” (Isaiah 28:9, 10).
In other words, be sure to see the scope of the Bible’s teaching on a particular topic. Do not build your understanding on one obscure text. If you want to truly understand what the Bible says on a particular topic, study that topic from Genesis to Revelation. Let the Holy Spirit speak to your mind throughout the teachings of Scripture.
Ask yourself, Where is the weight of evidence on this topic? What do the majority of passages teach? Never let something which is not as clear to you, overshadow what is clear. If there is a text you do not understand, let the plain passages in the Bible explain it. Do not disregard texts and passages of
Scripture which are abundantly plain in order to cling to something that is not as clear, simply to defend a doctrine you have previously been taught.
Here are four principles in discovering truth:
- Approach the Bible with an open mind, willing to do whatever Christ asks you (John 7:17).
- Ask God to send His Holy Spirit to your mind to reveal truth (Matthew 7:7; John 16:13).
- Compare each relevant passage of Scripture on a given topic (1 Corinthians 2:13).
- Act on the truth God reveals, and He will reveal more truth. Do not wait for all the truth to act on the truth you know (John 12:35).
As we approach His Word with sincere hearts, He will reveal His truth. He will enlighten our minds. He will impress us by His Holy Spirit. You may have questions, but God has answers. As you read through some of the most commonly asked questions in the next few pages, and the biblical answers I have provided, pray God will give you wisdom and understanding. You are not alone in your search for truth. Tens of thousands of others have asked similar questions and found solid answers in God’s Word. So read on.
Commonly asked questions regarding the law of God
Didn’t Jesus come to do away with the Ten Commandments and establish a new commandment of love? What about Matthew 22:37–40, “ ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, . . . [and] your neighbor as yourself” ’ ”? Isn’t love to God and our neighbors all Jesus requires? These are the new commandments.
It may surprise you to discover the Jesus was summarizing the law as given in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:5 declares “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart.’ ” Leviticus 19:18 adds, “ ‘ “Love your neighbor as yourself.” ’ ” The God of the Old Testament is a God of everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). In Matthew 22:40, Jesus declared, “ ‘On these two commandments [love to God and our fellow man] hang all the Law and the Prophets.’ ” The first four commandments reveal how human beings tangibly demonstrate their love to God. The last six commandments show how they demonstrate their love to their fellow man. Jesus did not come to “ ‘destroy the Law . . . but to fulfill’ ” it (Matthew 5:17). He revealed how to lovingly keep the law. He came to magnify the meaning of the law (Isaiah 42:21). Jesus reveals how love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10). He adds, “ ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments’ ” (John 14:15).
Does Paul teach that Christians saved by faith do not have to keep the law?
Paul teaches that Christians are saved not by faith, but by grace through faith. Faith is the hand that takes the salvation freely offered by Jesus. Faith does not lead to disobedience but to obedience. Paul states in no uncertain terms, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid” (Romans 3:31, KJV). Romans 6:1, 14, 15 adds, “Shall we continue in sin [breaking the law], that grace may abound? . . . God forbid” (KJV).
Is it true that in the Old Testament people were saved by keeping the law, while in the New Testament salvation is by grace?
In both the Old and New Testaments, salvation is by grace through faith. God does not have two methods of salvation. Titus 2:11 affirms, “For the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men” (KJV). In the Old Testament, men and women were saved by the Christ that was to come. Each lamb sacrificed pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah (Genesis 3:21; 22:9–13). In the New Testament, men and women are saved by the Christ who has come. Jesus is the only means of salvation (Acts 4:12).
Since we are under the new covenant, is it really necessary to keep God’s law?
The new covenant is actually older than the old covenant. It was given by God Himself in the Garden of Eden when He promised that the Messiah would come to break the deadly hold of Satan upon the human race. The new covenant contains the promise of redemption from sin through Jesus Christ. He saves us! He writes the principles of the law in our hearts. Love becomes the motivation for obedience. There is a new power in the life (Hebrews 8:10; Ezekiel 36:26; Psalm 40:8). Under the old covenant, Israel promised to obey God’s commandments in their own strength. They declared, “All that God says, we will do” (see Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7). All attempts at external conformity to God’s law lead to frustrated defeat. The law which we cannot keep in our own strength condemns us (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Under the new covenant, we belong to a new Master—Jesus Christ. We have a new heart and a new standing before God (John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 8:1).
Since Paul declares, “Let no one judge you regarding the Bible Sabbath,” isn’t Sabbath keeping unnecessary (see Colossians 2:16, 17)?
This passage, Colossians 2:16, 17, is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. One principle of Bible interpretation is that you do not allow what may be somewhat unclear to keep you from doing what you understand. The Bible teaching on the Sabbath is plain. It was given at Creation (Genesis 2:1–3). Jesus observed it (Luke 4:16). Paul observed it (Acts 13:42–44), and it will be observed in heaven (Isaiah 66:22, 23). The Bible mentions two kinds of sabbaths: the seventh-day Sabbath and the yearly sabbaths. The seventh-day Sabbath, instituted at Creation and part of the Ten Commandment law, is a weekly reminder of the loving, all-powerful Creator.
The yearly sabbath relates specifically to the history of Israel. Colossians 2:16, 17 specifically states, “Let no one judge you . . . regarding . . . sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come.” Hebrews 10:1 connects the law of shadows with animal sacrifice. Ezekiel 45:17 uses the exact same expressions in the exact same order as Colossians 2:16, 17, and connects it all with the ceremonial systems of feasts and sacrifices (meat offerings, drink offerings, feasts, new moons, and sabbaths, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel. Leviticus 23:5–32 discusses the ceremonial sabbaths (Passover, verse 5; unleavened bread, verse 6; sheaf of first fruits, verse 10; first fruits, verse 17; trumpets, verse 24; tabernacles, verse 24; and the Day of Atonement, verses 27–32; these are all specifically called sabbaths.)
These annual sabbaths were intimately connected to events foreshadowing Christ’s death and His second coming. They were designed by God to be shadows or pointers to the coming Messiah. Leviticus 23:37 uses the language of Colossians 2:16, 17 to describe these ceremonial sabbaths. Leviticus 23:38 distinguishes the ceremonial sabbaths from the seventh-day Sabbaths by using the expression, “ ‘Beside the sabbaths of the Lord.’ ” Since Christ has come, the shadowy sabbaths of the ceremonial law have found their fulfillment in Him. The seventh-day Sabbath continues to lead us back to the Creator God who made us. God’s people will keep it as a distinguishing sign of their relationship to Him (Revelation 14:12; Ezekiel 20:12, 20).
What about Romans 14:5? “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (KJV). Really, what difference does a day make?
Sometimes it’s helpful to carefully notice what a Bible text does not say, as well as what it does say. Verses 5 and 6 say nothing about the worship of the Sabbath. They simply talk about regarding a day. To say this particular day is the Sabbath, is an unwarranted assumption. Romans 14:1 sets the tone for the entire passage, indicating that the discussion focuses on “doubtful disputations” (KJV), or disputes on doubtful matters. Is the seventh-day Sabbath set apart by God at Creation (Genesis 2:1–3), placed within the heart of the moral law (Exodus 20:8–11), a doubtful matter?
Certainly not! The key to our passage is found in Romans 14:6, which states, “He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks” (KJV). The issue revolved around fast days, not Sabbath days. Some Jewish Christians believed there was particular merit in fasting on certain days. They judged others by their own standards. The Pharisees fasted at least twice a week and boasted about it (Luke 18:12). In Romans 14, Paul is pointing out that to fast or not to fast on a certain day is a matter of individual conscience, not a matter of God’s command.
Didn’t the disciples meet on the first day of the week? See Acts 20:7.
The reason this meeting is mentioned in the narrative is because Paul was leaving the next day and worked a mighty miracle in raising Eutychus from the dead. It is clear that the meeting is a night meeting. It is the dark part of the first day of the week (verse 8). In Bible times, the dark part of the day preceded the light part (Genesis 1:5).
The Sabbath was observed from Friday night at sunset to Saturday night at sunset (Leviticus 23:32; Mark 1:32). If this meeting is on the dark part of the first day of the week, it is in fact a Saturday night meeting. Paul has met with the believers all Sabbath.
He will depart the next day, Sunday, so the meeting continues late into Saturday night. The next day, Sunday, Paul traveled by foot to Assos, then sailed to Mitylene. The New English Bible reading of Acts 20:7 also confirms this as a Saturday night meeting, with Paul traveling on Sunday. If Paul considered Sunday sacred in honor of the Resurrection, why would he spend the entire day traveling and not worshiping? The record indicates that Paul was a Sabbath keeper (Acts 13:42–44; 16:12, 13; 17:2; 18:4).
Can we really tell which day the seventh day is?
There are at least four ways which we can tell for certain that Saturday is the seventh day.
- The Bible: It clearly reveals that Jesus was crucified on the Preparation day (Luke 23:54). His closest followers rested as commanded on the Sabbath day (Luke 23:56; Mark 16:1). Most Christians recognize Jesus died on Friday, the Preparation day; He rested the next day, and rose the first day, Sunday. The Sabbath is the day between Friday and Sunday, or the seventh day—Saturday.
- Language: In more than one hundred and forty languages in the world, the word for the seventh day, which we call Saturday, is the word Sabbath. Language testifies to the Sabbath’s preservation through the centuries.
- Astronomy: The leading astronomers in the world testify to the fact that the weekly cycle has never changed. Centers such as the Royal Naval Observatory in the U.S. and The Royal Greenwich Observatory in England affirm the fact of a constant weekly cycle.
- History: The Jewish people have kept an accurate record of the Sabbath. For more than four thousand years, they have preserved the true Sabbath on Saturday.
I keep Sunday in honor of the Resurrection. What’s wrong with that? Didn’t Jesus rise from the dead on Sunday?
Yes, Jesus certainly rose on Sunday! But He never commanded us to worship in honor of the Resurrection. Just as the Communion service symbolizes His death (1 Corinthians 11:24, 26), baptism symbolizes His resurrection (Romans 6:1–6). The symbol of Jesus’ resurrection is not worship on the day of the sun, which was adopted into Christianity from pagan Rome’s sun worship, but a beautiful ceremony of baptism as a symbol of a new life transformed by the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit. In the watery grave of baptism, the old person symbolically dies and is buried, while a new life is resurrected with Christ.
Isn’t one day in seven good enough? Why do you put so much emphasis on the Sabbath?
The issue is more than a matter of days. It is a matter of masters. Through a master stroke of deception, Satan has worked through apostate religion to change God’s law (Daniel 7:25). He has cast the truth to the ground (8:12). He has made a break in God’s wall of truth. God calls us to repair the breach by keeping His Sabbath (Isaiah 58:12, 13). We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). To worship on the seventh day, is to accept the authority of your Creator Lord, who commanded the day be kept (Exodus 20:8–11). To knowingly accept a counterfeit day of worship, is to accept an institution initiated and established solely by man in the apostasy. The real question, then, is, Whose servants are we—God’s or man’s? (Romans 6:16). All the celebrations the day before or the day after my birthday do not make these days my birthday. The world’s birthday is the Bible Sabbath, the seventh day. It is a memorial to our loving Creator. No other day will do.
Was Peter the first pope? What did Jesus mean when He said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18, KJV)?
Cesarea Philippi was a center of Greek philosophy, Roman logic, and Jewish traditional religion. Jesus set Himself against the back- drop of the world’s great religious and philosophical systems asking, “ ‘Who do men say that I . . . am?’ ” (verse 13). After they answered, “ ‘John the Baptist, . . . Elijah, . . . Jeremiah’ ” (verse 14), He asks, “ ‘Who do you say that I am?’ ” (verse 15). Jesus longed to deepen their faith. He desired to draw out a Messianic confession. Peter instantly responds, “ ‘You are Christ, the Son of the living God’ ” (verse 16). This thought could be inspired only by the Holy Spirit. Jesus affirms Peter’s faith by declaring, “Thou art [Petros, a moveable stone], and upon this rock [this immovable foundation—that I am the Christ] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (verse 18, KJV). The church is built upon Jesus Christ. He is the Cornerstone rejected by the builders (1 Peter 2:4–8). Peter clearly understood that the Rock was Jesus.
Paul clarifies the issue in 1 Corinthians 10:4 by proclaiming, “That Rock was Christ.” David declares, “Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and salvation” (Psalm 62:1, 2, KJV). There is no other foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11) except Jesus. The gates of hell will never triumph over His church. Peter misunderstood Jesus’ mission. Jesus said, “Get thee behind me Satan” (Matthew 16:23, KJV), meaning Satan was influencing him. No, the church was not built upon Peter’s weakness, but upon Jesus’ strengths. Peter discovered the marvelous truth for himself. Jesus became the Source of his strength, the Center of his life, and the Foundation upon which he stood.
What are the “keys of the kingdom” that Jesus gave Peter and the rest of the disciples (Matthew 16:19)?
Keys open and shut doors. Jesus said, “I am the way, . . . no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6, KJV).
“There is none other name under heaven . . . whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, KJV). All the Scriptures testify of Jesus (John 5:39). The scribes and Pharisees took away the “key of knowledge,” regarding the Messiah (Luke 11:52). They shut up heaven. The “keys” Jesus gave to Peter were His words, His teachings, regarding how men and women could have forgiveness for sin, freedom from condemnation, and peace through His shed blood and death on Calvary’s cross. A knowledge of Jesus, the promised Messiah, opens heaven (Isaiah 22:22).
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly
Jonathan was perplexed. His final exam was scheduled for Sabbath. To take the exam would be a violation of his conscience. He made an appointment with his professor, explained his situation, and asked for the opportunity to take the exam on another date. His professor flatly refused. He explained that there were no exceptions. If he allowed Jonathan to take the exam at another time, he might be opening the door for others who may offer any excuse. Jonathan only had two options: either take the exam and pass the class, or miss it and fail.
Certainly, Jonathan did not want to waste the whole semester. He did not relish retaking the course in summer school. He earnestly prayed that God would open the door for him to take the exam some other day besides the Sabbath.
As the day of the exam dawned, Jonathan calmly walked to church that Sabbath morning, believing God would honor his trust. There are times when God acts powerfully and miraculously to demonstrate His greatness. After the exam, as the professor was walking home from class with the students’ exams securely in his briefcase, he was robbed. The only thing that was taken was his exam-filled briefcase. The professor was not harmed, but his briefcase with all of the exams was gone forever.
Since graduation was only a few days away, the principal of the school made a surprising announcement. Each student in the class would get passing marks on the exam. Their total score for the class would be their test averages up until the time of the exam. Jonathan was overwhelmed with gratitude to the God who heard his prayer and honored his faith.
God blesses faithfulness
God’s promise to His faithful followers in Bible times is just as true today. Our Lord declares, “ ‘ “For those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed” ’ ” (1 Samuel 2:30). The words of Scripture echo down through the centuries. They speak to us with just as much force today. They are no less true than when they were written millennia ago. “ ‘And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God’ ” (Deuteronomy 28:2). God promises His richest blessings to those who obey Him. This is especially true of those who are committed to keep His seventh-day Sabbath each week. At Creation, God “blessed the seventh day” (Genesis 2:3). Whatever God blesses is blessed forever
(1 Chronicles 17:27). Since God’s eternal blessing is in the seventh-day Sabbath, we are richly blessed as we keep it (Isaiah 56:2).
This leads us to some specific questions. How do we keep the Sabbath? Are there some activities that are incompatible with the Sabbath? Are there some things that will destroy our Sabbath blessing? What is God’s purpose for the Sabbath?
God does not give us a to-do and not-to-do list of activities for the Sabbath. He does not define each minute detail of Sabbath keeping. He does give us principles of proper Sabbath observance. These principles guide us. They shape our Sabbath experience. As we seek God in prayer, committing our will to Him, the Holy Spirit will guide us into a rich experience in Sabbath keeping. Let’s examine three biblical principles, which will guide us in our Sabbath keeping.
Principle 1: The Sabbath is a day dedicated to worshiping our Creator.
The essence of Sabbath keeping is worship. On Sabbath, with all of heaven’s host, we joyously proclaim,
“You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
We were created by a loving God. Each Sabbath, we thank Him by worshiping Him as Creator. According to Leviticus 23:3, “ ‘ “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.” ’ ” The Sabbath is a “holy convocation”—a sacred gathering of God’s people for worship and praise.
Throughout the centuries, God’s chosen people, the Jews, worshiped Him each Sabbath. In the New Testament, Jesus gives us a positive example of Sabbath keeping. The Gospel writer Luke records Jesus’ Sabbath practices this way: “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). For Jesus, the Sabbath was a day of fellowship with God in worship. When the people of God meet together to sing praises to His name, study His Word, seek Him in prayer, and fellowship with one another, they are richly blessed. Jesus left His tools in Joseph’s carpenter shop in Nazareth each Sabbath to attend worship in the synagogue. Sabbath worship was important to Jesus. His custom, or practice, was to praise His heavenly Father, absorb His Word, and fellowship with His people each Sabbath.
New Testament Christians met each Sabbath to renew their spiritual strength. They met together to encourage one another. They followed the counsel of the apostle Paul to the Hebrews, when he said, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24, 25). Each Sabbath, God invites us to find our deepest satisfaction in worship. Sabbath is a slice of heaven. In heaven’s plan, God allows us to experience eternity each week as we enter the joy of Sabbath worship. On Sabbath, we place priority on worship, not work. The Sabbath liberates us from the grind of daily toil. On Sabbath, we are free from the burden of earning a living to experience life at its best.
The fourth commandment is too plain to be misunderstood. God knew that if He simply gave us good advice, many of us would ignore it, so He gave us a command: “ ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work’ ” (Exodus 20:8–10a). God says, “Remember,” but most of the world has forgotten. We can only keep holy what God has made holy. No other day can substitute for the Sabbath because the Sabbath is the only day God made holy. To place priority on work rather than worship, defiles the day God made holy and dishonors God.
Jesus said, “ ‘And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ ” (John 8:32). The truth about Sabbath worship liberates us from the unceasing burden of continued work. Every Sabbath, we are reminded by an all-powerful God and loving Creator that our intrinsic worth does not depend on how much we accomplish. We are called from work to worship.
Millions of people find their identity in what they do. Their work defines them. The Sabbath invites us to find our true worth, not in what we do, but in who we are. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder pointing us to learn of our eternal value in God’s sight.
The French Revolution
During the godless French Revolution, with the dawning of the so-called Age of Reason, the French adopted what they termed the French “Republican Calendar,” or “Revolutionary Calendar.” This calendar was used by the French for twelve years, from 1793 to 1805. It eradicated the seven-day week cycle, abolished the day of worship, and created a ten-day week. All workers worked nine days and on the tenth had a day of rest and merriment.
Napoleon Bonaparte abolished this Revolutionary Calendar with its ten-day week and demanded France return to the seven-day week cycle. French workers were not faring well at all under this new calendar with nine days of work and one day of rest.1 There is a natural rhythm in the seven-day week cycle that leads us to worship our Creator. To ignore Eden’s weekly cycle, given at Creation, simply makes us vulnerable to physical, mental, and emotional breakdowns. God created us for Himself. A commitment to keep the Sabbath holy makes an enormous difference in our lives.
As I have traveled to more than seventy countries sharing Jesus and the truths of His Word, I have seen thousands take a stand to follow Him and keep His Sabbath holy. Some of these people have experienced real tests to keep the Sabbath. Many have been threatened with the loss of their jobs. Their employers have bluntly told them that if they failed to show up for work on Sabbath, they would be fired. Time after time, I have seen God work miracles.
Sandra was a postal worker in Illinois. Although she had seniority, her supervisor threatened her with the loss of her job if she did not work on Sabbath. We entered into earnest prayer for Sandra. We claimed Christ’s promise in Matthew 6:33, 34a, “ ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.’ ” Miraculously, Sandra’s supervisor reversed his initial decision. She kept her job and got Sabbath’s off.
Rodger shut down his retail store on Sabbath. Since he did nearly 30 percent of his business on that day, his friends felt he was crazy. They really thought he had lost his mind. He placed a sign in the store window that read, “Closed for the Bible Sabbath.” The first few weeks were rough. Sales were down, but surprisingly, they gradually climbed. Rodger claimed God’s promise, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory” (Philippians 4:19). He found God to be faithful. The issue regarding Sabbath work is one of trust. Do we trust God enough to put our lives fully in His hands? Do we believe He will care for us if we are faithful to Him?
The decision not to work on the Sabbath is extremely difficult for many people. We have our house mortgage or monthly rent, car payments, credit card bills, and a host of other expenses that need to be paid. God does not always get us a better, higher paying job, but when we decide to be faithful to Him, He always meets our needs. He always fills us with an inner sense of contentment when we do what is right. The honor of His throne is behind the promises He has made. Since “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18), we can be absolutely certain He will take the responsibility to provide us with the necessities of life if we are faithful to Him.
Sabbath worship is essential for a healthy spiritual life. If we are going to grow in Christ, weekly Sabbath worship is vital.
Principle 2: The Sabbath is a day exclusively set apart for physical, mental, and spiritual renewal.
The Israelites drifted away from God when they defiled the Sabbath. In the days of Nehemiah the prophet, the common activities of life crowded out the sacredness of the Sabbath. The Israelites were influenced by their heathen neighbors. Nehemiah describes the scene this way: “In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions” (Nehemiah 13:15).
Nehemiah was concerned. God’s Sabbath became a common, ordinary day. The day our Creator set aside for spiritual, physical, and mental renewal became a day of exhausting toil. The day of liberation from the bondage of buying and selling, working and earning, had deteriorated into a business-as-usual day. Nehemiah could not keep silent. His words echoed like thunder through the streets of Jerusalem. “Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, ‘What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day?’ ” (verse 17). The principle is plain. When we become so absorbed in the earthly that we forget the eternal, we defile the Sabbath. The book of Isaiah adds this insight:
“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” (58:13, 14).
In other words, we will be abundantly blessed.
A personal testimony
When I became a Christian, I was playing basketball on a YMCA high school sports team in Norwich, Connecticut. Our team qualified for the New England championship. This was an exciting thing for a group of teenage boys from a small town. The tournament was scheduled Thursday through Sunday in Springfield, Massachusetts, which meant playing basketball all day Sabbath and, of course, missing worship. I had recently begun to understand the significance of the Bible Sabbath and attend church on Sabbath. For me to break the Sabbath was to be disobedient to Christ.
The Sabbath was a symbol of my allegiance to the God I served. I faced an extremely difficult decision. Should I stay home and keep the Sabbath, or travel with the basketball team and do what I naturally wanted to do? My mind began to rationalize. What’s wrong with playing just this one time? But deep within the fabric of my being, I knew that traveling to the basketball tournament and disregarding the Sabbath as the Lord’s Day would be a violation of my conscience.
I wanted to go badly, but one question continued to echo in my mind: What is more important, basketball or Jesus? In my anguish, I called a godly Christian woman who had become sort of a spiritual mentor. When I asked her for her counsel, she put it in very simple terms: “Mark, be faithful to Jesus.” Based on her advice and my inner conviction, I made a decision not to go to the tournament. It seemed that I had just ruined my chances to travel, sleep in a hotel, eat in restaurants, and see the world.
As I look back on this experience, I have to smile. Today I have had the opportunity to travel to countries around the world sharing God’s love and truth. I have had the indescribable thrill of seeing people come to Christ from Montreal to Moscow, from Russia to Rwanda, from Chile to China. God has immeasurably enriched my life since I made that initial commitment. Giving up my dreams enabled me to follow God’s dreams for my life. We may think that we are making great sacrifices to follow God, but He gives us much more in return.
The apostle Peter said to Jesus, “ ‘See, we have left all and followed You’ ” (Mark 10:28). You can almost hear Peter wondering aloud, “What will we receive in return?” Jesus gives Peter a remarkable response: “ ‘Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life’ ” (Mark 10:29, 30). In other words, Jesus says, “Yes, there will be challenges if you commit your life to Me, but whatever you give up, I will give you one hundred times more in blessings.” When we make a decision to follow Jesus, He pledges to meet our needs and to fill our lives with joy, peace, satisfaction, and purpose. I can certainly testify that God faithfully fulfills His Word.
One of the great blessings God gives us is Sabbath rest. How can we put a price on the renewed physical, mental, and spiritual rest Jesus gives us as we keep His Sabbath? I cannot put a value on the blessing of God’s Sabbath to me. Believe me, this time of spiritual rest is an essential part of my life. It keeps me going in my hectic schedule. It has helped to strengthen my bond with my family. This leads to the third great biblical principle regarding the Sabbath.
Principle 3: The Sabbath is a day of building closer relationships with our family and friends and blessing those around us in service.
Let your mind drift back over the millennia to the beauty and magnificence of Eden. On the sixth day, God created Adam and Eve. The Bible records, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). There was no sin, sickness, suffering, or death in the splendor of that Garden. Since God is love and we are created to love, God gave our first parents a gift of love—the Sabbath (1 John 4:8; Genesis 2:1–3). The first complete day Adam and Eve spent together was the Sabbath. Their first intimate moments of sharing and communicating were on the Sabbath. Sabbath is a day for strengthening relationships. It gives us time for our loving heavenly Father and for one another. It is a day to give time to strengthening our relationship with God and those we love.
Do you ever feel the week just rushes by and time for family is crowded out? Some studies indicate that fathers spend less than two hours a week one-on-one with their children. The Sabbath reminds us every week of what is really important.
Herman Wouk, the Jewish playwright, would not be without the Sabbath in his life. He describes how the Sabbath is an island of peace in the chaos of Broadway society. At sundown Friday night, he leaves the stress of the littered theater with the frenzy of opening night just hours away. As he arrives home to the warm embrace of his wife and the smiles of his children, he is encircled in loving relationships. The candles are lit. The table is set. The family eats and shares together. The children ask questions and the world of show business is forgotten. When Wouk returns to the theater Saturday evening after sunset, nothing much has changed there, but he has changed. His relaxing, restorative Sabbath has drawn him closer to his God and his family.2
A colleague remarked to Wouk after he came back to the theater one Saturday night, “ ‘I don’t envy you your religion, but I envy you your Sabbath.’ ”3 Who would not want to spend a day building better relationships with those you love?
For Jesus, Sabbath was about loving relationships. It was about service. This is precisely why Jesus performed numerous miracles on the Sabbath. On Sabbath, Jesus revealed the Father’s compassion to suffering humanity. When the Jewish religious leaders criticized Jesus for performing acts of healing on the Sabbath, He commented, “ ‘It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath’ ” (Matthew 12:12). The Sabbath is a day for doing good. Is a neighbor sick? Bring her a hot bowl of delicious homemade soup. Have you heard about a friend who is discouraged? Call them on the phone to lift their spirits. Do you sense the widower down the street is lonely? Invite him over for lunch.
On Sabbath, we remember our Creator. There is no better place to do that than out in nature. For years, my wife and I spent many Sabbath afternoons hiking when our children were growing up. Even now, although our children are now grown and married, my wife and I often spend Sabbaths in nature. We enjoy sharing together in the beauties of nature. Walking the trails near our home, listening to the birdsongs, seeing an occasional deer, and smelling the fragrant aroma of the wildflowers relaxes our tired bodies and lifts our spirits for another week.
The Sabbath is not drudgery. It is life-giving. The Sabbath is not a burden. It is a blessing. The Sabbath is much more than a duty. It is a delight.
If you have not experienced the exhilarating joy of Sabbath worship, why not begin this week? If you have not entered into the peace of Sabbath rest, why not start now? If you would like a closer relationship with your loved ones and friends, the Sabbath experience awaits you. The Sabbath is not simply something to be debated—it is a joy to be experienced. Why not experience the blessings of Sabbath for yourself? With arms wide open, Jesus says, “Come unto Me all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
- Wikipedia contributors, “French Republican Calendar,” Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Republican_Calendar (accessed March 11, 2009).
- Herman Wouk, This Is My God (New York: Back Bay Books, 1992), 45, 46.
- Ibid., 46.