Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Role and Relationship of the Sabbath in the Life of a Believer

Keeping the Sabbath, it is a subject that keeps cropping up.  One that never seems to get completely settled in people's minds.  Do we or don't we?  Is it a requirement or not?  If we do keep it, how do we keep it?  Is it merely a day of rest or is there something else to it? Is there even a Sabbath to keep for those of us in the New Covenant, post-cross, under grace and not under law era?  Is the Lord's Day (Sunday) the New Covenant Sabbath?  How do we go about answering all of these questions?  Obviously, the best place to go is the Scripture, and the best place to start is Jesus Himself.

As you follow the life and ministry of Christ through the gospels, one of the things you notice is His continual confrontation with the "Jews."  This group was comprised of Pharisees, Saducees, and the chief priests, who were the supposed spiritual/religious leaders of Israel.  He was always doing things that not only confounded them, but also contradicted their teachings and interpretations of the Law.  He called them blind guides of the blind.  Many times Christ is quoted as saying, "You have heard, but I say to you." when He was challenging the teaching of the day.  This is important to note, as we see that one of the main things He did that infuriated the "Jews" was healing on the Sabbath.  In His healing on the Sabbath it was as if He was saying, "You have heard, but I am showing you."  In response to their accusation of his followers not doing what was lawful on the Sabbath, Jesus had this to say in Mark 2:27-28 "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So even the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath."

We know that Jesus perfectly kept the Law, and every jot and tittle was kept and fulfilled by Him.  So we see His understanding of the Sabbath was that the Sabbath was given to man for his welfare, not to lord it over him.  It is for man's well being, for his benefit, that God has given him the Sabbath; and Jesus, Himself, rules over it so that it does not rule over man, but Jesus does. This then, is the basic understanding that we need to start with.

Also, in both Colossians and Romans we see Paul's insight into the place of the Sabbath.  In Colossians 2:15-16a he tells us this "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." So we see here that the Sabbath is a shadow of the substance (reality) to come, which is found in Christ.  In other words, the shadow (Sabbath) finds its fruition, its fulfillment in Christ.  This is consistent with the typology, the representation of Christ, found through out the OT, especially in the sacrificial system and the feasts.  So if the shadow has found its fulfillment it should no longer be necessary.

Additionally, in Colossians we see that no one is to act as our judge in relation to the keeping of the Sabbath.  Paul gives us insight into this in Romans 14.  Here Paul teaches us about liberty and responsibility in the practice of our Christianity.  Let's look at chapter 14:5-6a "One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord."  Notice, here, he does not call the day observed the Sabbath, but it is obvious that this particular day is a day that would have significance to Christians, and the Christians Paul is writing to in Romans are both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  Some may want to observe the Sabbath, some may want to observe the Lord's day, and some may not have any particular day as special.  None are condemned.  Since Paul was a Pharisee, and called himself a Hebrew of Hebrews, you would think that if keeping the Sabbath day was important or necessary he would have said so, but in fact he said just the opposite.  Paul ends the chapter saying this, "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.  "Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.....and whatever is not from faith is sin."  So we have freedom in our faith in honoring a certain day or considering a certain day more important than another.  Don't we see this in the celebration of Christmas and Easter as well, as we are not commanded to celebrate either one?

One other insight we can glean from the New Testament regarding the keeping of the Sabbath is found in Acts 15.  The setting in Acts 15 is the mother church in Jerusalem when Paul and Barnabas go there to talk to the apostles and elders concerning the matter of circumcision, whether it should be required of the Gentile converts.  A group of Pharisees who had come to faith stood up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the law of Moses." (italics mine).  After much debate, a speech from Peter, words from Barnabas and Paul, the whole church decided to send leaders to the church at Antioch with a letter regarding these matters.  The end of the letter states this, "For we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will report the same things by word of mouth.  For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials; that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.  Farewell."  Notice that not only did they not require the Gentile Christians to be circumcised, but they also did not require them to keep the Law of Moses, which would include keeping the Sabbath. 

So we see from Acts, Romans, and Colossians that for Christians in the New Covenant economy, keeping the Sabbath and all its requirements, is not mandatory.  And we also see from Acts and Romans that those who did keep it were not condemned.  In Mark we see that God's intention for the Sabbath was for man's benefit, not his bondage; so our understanding of the Sabbath must start from that point, God's intention. Also, in Colossians we see that the Sabbath was one of the OT shadows that pointed to Christ, or was fulfilled in Christ, and as such we must also understand how the Sabbath represented the reality found in Christ.  

From Christ, in Mark, we learn that the Sabbath was made for man's benefit. So how is the Sabbath for man's benefit and what was it pointing to that was fulfilled in Christ?  These two realities, these truths about the Sabbath are linked together.  The OT gives us insight into these truths.  So let's go there.

The first mention of the Sabbath is in Exodus sixteen and is in connection with the gathering of the manna.  And in this first mention it is called a holy Sabbath.  In many other of the references to the Sabbath in the OT you will find the phrase, a holy day, or holy to the Lord in connection with the Sabbath.  In the giving of the Law in Exodus 20:8 the Israelites are commanded not only to remember (observe and keep) the Sabbath but to keep it holy.  In Exodus 20:11 we are told that God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  So it was to be regarded as a holy day.

The concept of holiness always begins with the idea of separation, of being set apart, of existing in a state of separation.  In this idea of separation was the concept of purity, consecration, being set aside for sacred use as compared to a common or profane use.  So we see this day was a day that was consecrated, it was to be set aside for sacred use as opposed to common use.  We see this concept developed also in the giving of feasts as many of them contained a Sabbath day, a day to be set aside for a sacred purpose, and for the Israelites to humble their souls. So, for the Israelites, keeping the Sabbath meant keeping it holy, to set it apart from the other days of the week, to consecrate it for sacred use and not for common or profane use.  This is why the Lord gave them the admonition in Exodus 20:9-10 to not do any work on the Sabbath day, as it was to be a day where they were set apart from focusing on common pursuits or daily endeavors, and instead set that day apart so as to focus on God.

We see this explained further in Exodus 31:12-17...You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you....for six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord.... 

Notice what the Lord says about the Sabbath in these verses as He gives us further enlightenment concerning it.
     1. It is holy to the Israelites (remember what we learned about being holy).
     2. It is holy to the Lord.
     3. It is a perpetual covenant between them and the Lord.
     4. It is a perpetual sign between the Israelites and the Lord.
     5. It is a sign of His sanctifying them.

Now, let's break down the Hebrew a little bit.  In Hebrew the word sanctify is qadash, and the word for holy is qodesh.  Both essentially have the same meaning (as explained above) except that qodesh is the state of, and qadash means to be made.  In other words one is to be made holy/separate and the other is the state of being holy/separate.  So not only is this to be a day that is to be holy (qodesh) to the Lord, in essence set apart to the Lord, but it is also a perpetual sign for the Israelites; and the sign is for them to know and remember that it is the Lord who sanctifies/makes them holy (qadash), not themselves.  This concept of sanctification is carried over to the NT.  Listen to I Corinthians 1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (italics mine). 

So we see that running throughout the Sabbath is the concept of holiness, separateness, purity, and sacredness.  These convey the concept of being set apart from worldly pursuits and being set apart to the Lord.  The Sabbath was to be the one day of the week when they laid aside worldly pursuits, the daily cares of the world and set themselves apart to the Lord.  Instead of seeking the things of this world they were to seek the Lord on this day.  In the keeping of the Sabbath we have a picture of sanctification, both positionally and practically.  The Sabbath was the Old Testament picture or shadow of sanctification.  We see another fulfillment of this shadow of sanctification in Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed....work out your salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.  Sanctification is an important concept, in both the OT and NT.  How important?  Listen to Hebrews 12:14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

In Isaiah we see the Lord giving further enlightenment on what the Sabbath was to be about.  Listen to Isaiah 58:13-14 "If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word.  Then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."  So the way they were to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy was to desist from living, seeking, and speaking what satisfied them and gave them pleasure; in other words, on the Sabbath they were to cease living for themselves and live for the Lord, and instead of seeking their own pleasure they were to seek what pleased Him. On this day they were to delight themselves in the Lord and find their pleasure in Him.

So with this in mind, how did Christ go about keeping and fulfilling the Sabbath. We see this throughout the gospel of John in verses 4:34, 5:19, 6:38, 10:18, 12:49, 14:31; and perhaps most clearly in John 8:28b-29...and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.  And He who sent Me is with me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him (italics mine).  Christ kept the Sabbath every day.  Every minute of every day He was set apart from the world and set apart unto God the Father.  He was totally sanctified, both positionally and practically, and not just on one day of the week, but on every day. 

Next,we see from Exodus 20 that the Sabbath was part of the Ten Commandments, and therefore considered part of the Law of Moses. So the rub here is that the Ten Commandments as God's  moral law are still  effective, still being lived out in the lives of those who belong to Him, and we see these fleshed out throughout the New Testament.   So for those of us under the New Covenant economy how do we keep the Sabbath as part of God's moral law?

To answer this question let's look at what takes place in the New Covenant.  Remember Christ initiated the New Covenant at the last supper, the night before His crucifixion.  First let's look at Jeremiah 31:33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the Lord, "I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God and they will be My people."  Next let's look at Ezekiel 36:26-27 "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances."

According to these promises, what has God done in the New Covenant for those whom have entered into covenant with Him through Jesus Christ?

     1. He has taken out their heart of stone (a hard impenetrable heart).
     2. He has given them a heart of flesh (a soft imprintable heart).
     3. He has put His law within them by writing it/imprinting it on their heart.
     4. He has given them His Holy Spirit.
     5. By His Holy Spirit He will cause them to walk in His statutes, and be
         careful to observe His ordinances (statutes and ordinances
         being synonyms for His law).
     6. He has written His law (statutes and ordinances) on their heart and by
         His Holy Spirit He will cause them to keep it.

So what has happened to the Sabbath in the New Covenant?  Remember, the Sabbath is part of the law, an integral part of the law.  We are still keeping it because the Lord has put the law in our heart and has given us the Holy Spirit to cause us to keep the law.  So when do we keep the Sabbath?  We keep it every day, just like Christ did.  Every day we live for the Lord.  In everything we live for the Lord.  Whether we live or we die, we are the Lord's.  We live each day to please Him and not ourselves.  So what the Israelites were not able to do on one day a week, we do each day of the week. This is what Christ was referring to in Luke when He said we are to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.  So the issue with the Sabbath, is not the particular day in and of itself, but what the day represents and what is to be actually taking place on that day, which is now every day.

We are sanctified positionally (declared holy), and are being sanctified practically (made holy) as we walk in our faith further and further away from the sin we were saved out of; and walk further and further into Christ, whose image we are being conformed into, knowing that one day our sanctification will be complete as the Lord completes the work He started in us (Philippians 1:6). 

So, has the Sabbath gone away? No, it is still a requirement, an every day requirement; but a requirement that God Himself is causing us to keep by the power of His indwelling Spirit.  So if you are truly born again, and have been given a new heart through the circumcision made without hands, then you will be living for the Lord consistently and daily.  In other words, you will be keeping the Sabbath every day by the power that God supplies.  Think about how good this news is, another provision that the Lord has made for us to keep His requirements.  Another gift of His marvelous grace.  One more reason to praise Him greatly and fervently.  Let's do just that.