Before talking about the Sabbath, or Sabbath-keeping, or Jesus as our Sabbath rest, let me first admit that in America, the Sabbath is no longer considered much by the vast population.
In my home town, Grand Rapids, Michigan, when I was a little kid in the 1950’s, the Sunday Sabbath was not only taught in most churches, but was legislated by the city itself, or forced by the pressure of Christian church groups.
Alcohol couldn’t be sold on Sundays, stores and other workplaces were closed on Sunday, sports were strongly discouraged, and in most neighborhoods one would not even mow their lawn on Sunday, because of peer pressure.
While this may sound to some of you like a documentary about some bizarre religious cult, believe me, this was the tradition of much of America before the ‘60’s, and European Reformed Church influence dating back to the Reformation of the 1500’s.
And I’m well aware that much has changed these days. And yet there are many who still think of Sunday as the Sabbath Day, and practice various levels of abstaining from work, or demanding certain practices on that day, to fulfill religious duty. And there are still Christian sects and cults who teach Seventh Day or Saturday Sabbatarianism even to the point of requiring it for salvation.
So I want to look at Sabbath Keeping in this and one other message. This time we’ll deal with the abolishing of Sabbath Keeping in the New Covenant, and next time dig deeper into the subject of Jesus Christ as our new Sabbath rest.
First, Some Old Covenant Scriptures
Exodus 20:8, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
Exodus 20:10, “but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.”
Exodus 20:11, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the 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 31:14, “Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.”
Exodus 31:15, “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.”
Before we go any further, notice this: you will notice that this was a covenant with the nation of Israel only. There was no universal Sabbath commandment for the nations, the Gentiles.
“Wait a minute”, you might say. “What about in Genesis? Didn’t God say something about the Sabbath after He created everything in six days, and rested on the seventh?”
Well, here is what He said:
Genesis 2:2, “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Genesis 2:3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”
No commands here. Certainly nothing about refraining from doing anything on the seventh day. But way back then, God was filtering into our thinking something about this idea of rest. Rest from working.
How Serious Were The Sabbath Commands?
But back to Israel in the book of Exodus.
Was God serious about this Sabbath-keeping for Israel? He sure was. This was part of what we call the Mosaic Covenant, or Old Covenant which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. And God was VERY serious about the Sabbath. Profane the Sabbath, and you die. That was the Law.
The actual Sabbath commandments for Israel were bad enough. But by the time Jesus walked the earth, the Pharisees were holding up a much tougher bunch of rules that they actually held ABOVE the Law.
For example, the law included detailed regulations regarding what constituted a “burden” that could not be carried on the Sabbath; for example, pieces of paper, horses hairs, wax, a piece of broken earthenware or animal food. Generally a burden was anything as heavy as a dried fig, or a quantity sufficient to be of any practical use (e.g. a scrap of paper large enough to be converted into a note or a wrapper).
It prescribed what might or might not be saved if one’s house caught on fire. Only those clothes that were absolutely necessary could be saved. But one could put on a dress, save it, then go back and put on another. One could not ask a Gentile to extinguish the flames. But if he did so voluntarily, he should not be hindered.
One could eat food on the Sabbath lawfully only if it had been specifically prepared for the Sabbath on a weekday. If a laying hen laid an egg on the Sabbath, it could not be eaten. But if the hen had been kept for fattening and not laying, the egg could be eaten, since it would be considered a part of the hen that had fallen off!
These regulations considered studying the Mishna on the Sabbath more important than studying the Bible. The Hagiographa (the Old Testament “Writings”) were not to be read on the Sabbath except in the evening. And there are many other similar examples.
Of special interest to us are the laws regarding harvesting and healing on the Sabbath. Even the slightest activity involving picking grain—removing the husks, rubbing the heads, cleaning or bruising the ears or throwing them up in the hand—was forbidden.
Yet if a man wanted to move a sheaf on his field, he had only to lay a spoon on it; then, in order to remove the spoon, he might also remove the sheaf on which it lay!
Did Jesus Break The Sabbath?
All this is important in order to realize that Jesus never broke the Sabbath. He lived under the Old Covenant, and was expected to obey the Sabbath laws, and He did.
But He did not obey the rules of the Pharisees, and that infuriated them.
Ironically, by adding to the Law of God their own rules, the Pharisees were breaking the Law of God. Listen to Deuteronomy 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”
Is The Sabbath For Us Today?
Now, what about us? Is the Sabbath for us today?
The clear answer from Scripture is no.
We are under the New Covenant, and the Bible in the Book of Hebrews, Chapter 8, makes it clear that the New Covenant has made the Old Covenant obsolete (Heb. 8:13).
That alone is enough to make it clear that Sabbath-keeping is not for us today.
But let’s look at more detailed reasons why we are not Sabbatarians:
1.We read In Colossians 2:16-17,
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Paul clearly refers to the Sabbath as a shadow of Christ, which is no longer binding since the substance (Christ) has come.
2.The Sabbath was the sign to Israel of the Old Covenant (Ezekiel 20:12). Since we are now under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8), we are no longer required to observe the sign of the Old Covenant.
3.The New Testament never commands Christians to observe the Sabbath.
4.The Church met on the first day of the week in the book of Acts (Acts 20:7), and even that is not a command, but merely a practice that sprang up, possibly in honor of Christ who rose from the dead that day.
5.We touched on this already, but nowhere even in the Old Testament are the Gentile nations commanded to observe the Sabbath or criticized for not observing it. That makes it clear that Sabbath-keeping is not meant to be an eternal moral principle.
6.Nowhere in the Bible does anyone keep the Sabbath before the time of Moses, and there are no commandments in the Bible to keep the Sabbath before the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai.
7.The apostle Paul warned the Gentiles about many different sins in his epistles, but breaking the Sabbath was never one of them.
8.In Galatians 4:10-11, Paul rebukes the Galatians for thinking God expected them to observe special days (including the Sabbath).
9.Nothing in Scripture indicates that Sunday has replaced Saturday as the Sabbath. Believers tend to gather on Sunday, which is the first day of the week, but there is no command of Scripture to do so.
Now you may have heard of a book by Jonathan Edwards called “The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath”. I once talked with a conference speaker who promoted Sabbath-keeping. And after the conference I went up to him and I said, “Okay, I’m a Realtor. If I go out and show a house on Sunday, am I in violation of the Sabbath, in such a way that the Church should rebuke me and discipline me?”
And he said, “Well…no…it’s not that exactly, it’s…”
And I said, “Well, how about 10 houses? How about 15 houses?”
“Well, no…it’s not exactly…”
And he hemmed and hawed, and I said, “Isn’t it true that the Sabbath has been done away with in the New Covenant?”
He said, “You need to read Jonathan Edwards’ The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath.” Which is supposed to prove that the Sabbath has continued and that it’s been changed to Sunday.
And I said, “I have read The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath” and I said, “basically it’s not a Scriptural teaching at all”.
And he became frustrated and said, “Well…”, as if to say, “Well, there’s just no hope for you if you think Jonathan Edwards is not being Scriptural.”
And I said, “Let’s examine the Scripture on that.”
And all of a sudden he looked at his watch and said, “Uh…I gotta go…uh…I gotta go catch a plane.”
And so ended the conversation. Because when brought straight to the Scriptures for the teaching on the perpetuity and change of the Sabbath, it just isn’t there.
10.Lastly, Hebrews 4:9-11 makes it clear that the Sabbath was all along meant to be a shadow of Christ who came to be our Sabbath rest.
Now we will be covering this wonderful truth in greater detail in Part 2 of this message, but for now let me say this.
In Him there is a rest for the people of God, wherein they rest from their works.
In the New Covenant, Christ Himself is our Sabbath. He is our rest. We are saved by grace through faith in Him. But not only is our salvation not based on works, but the very love of God for us, His acceptance of us, and His favor on our lives is by grace.
It doesn’t mean we won’t have good works in our lives. God is working those in us through His Spirit. But we rest from our works as the way to earn God’s love and favor. He loves us, period.
Is the Sabbath for today? No, not the legalistic keeping of rules for a special day of the week. But our Sabbath is Jesus, and our rest is in Him, every day of the week, and forever. More in Part 2 next time.