What about the Sabbath?
This week we looked at the wonderful truth found in Matthew 5: 17-18 that Christ did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill (“fill full”) them. We established that the principles of the 10 Commandments are still in effect while Christ fulfilled the judicial and ceremonial law.
One question came up about the 4th Commandment. It reads as follows:
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. (Ex 20: 8-11)
The Sabbath is observed by Jews on Saturday, the 7th day of a week. The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew root word “sabat” which means “to stop, to cease.” The Sabbath was established by the LORD in the Ten Commandments as a reminder that 6 days of labor by the Creator was followed by a day of rest. Of course, it was not for the purpose that God needed rest, but that He was finished with His Creative activity. God blessed that day and set it aside from the other days as holy to Him.
The Law had been augmented with burdensome requirements concerning what it meant to rest and to cease from work. Jesus confronted this issue when He was criticized for allowing His disciples to pluck grain for food on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark2: 23-28 and Luke 6: 1-5) in which He stated two important principles regarding the Sabbath:
(1) “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). Jesus was stating that the Sabbath was made to bless man with a day of rest and not to overburden him with strenuous regulations.
(2) “The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5) Jesus is claiming His right as Lord God to decide how the Sabbath is spent and is not a slave to the Pharisee’s regulations.
Another confrontation with the Pharisees over Sabbath observance occurred right after this. (Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3: 1-6, Luke 6:6-11). A man with a withered and crippled hand was in the synagogue. The Pharisees challenged Jesus about healing. Their interpretation of the 4th Commandment was that only life-saving help could be given to someone sick or injured; anything more than that would be considered work. This is another important principle regarding the Sabbath:
(3) “So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matt. 3:12)
He then told the man to stretch out his hand and He restored it. He healed the man who was crippled and laying at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath and was again criticized for “working” on the Sabbath. (John 5:1-17; 7:22-24) Another time Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and healed a woman who was disabled and bent over. (Luke 13: 10-17) He healed a man with “dropsy” on a Sabbath while dining in the home of the ruler of the Pharisees. (Luke 14: 1-6) Finally, Jesus healed a man born blind by spitting on the ground and making mud which He applied to the man’s eyes. Jesus told him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash them. When He did, He came back with sight. (John 9: 1-41)
The Pharisees were so wrapped up in the letter of the law, that they missed the principle of the Sabbath and missed the One who created it. So infuriated were they by Jesus’ breaking their miniscule regulations about the Sabbath, that this very thing caused them to conspire together to destroy the LORD. They missed the true spirit and heart of the 4th commandment which Jesus tried to show them in these principles behind the command.
After Jesus ascended to heaven, the church met on Sunday, the first day of the week. (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). The earliest believers (mostly Jewish) still attended synagogue but assembled as believing Christians on the first day of the week. This day became known as the “Lord’s Day.” In Revelation 1:10, John the apostle began to receive the vision known as revelation when he “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…”. Gradually, the church began to recognize this first day—Sunday—as a day of worship to commemorate and celebrate the resurrection of Christ, which occurred on Sunday. (Mark 16:9)
There seems to have been some discussion about this in the early church as evidenced by some of Paul’s early references. He gave these principles about “special days” like the Sabbath.
(1) He warned the Galatian Christians to not be enslaved again to legalism by observing special days and months and seasons and years. Galatians 4: 8-11
(2) He told the Christians in Colossae that no judgments should be passed against them concerning observing certain festivals, new moons, or Sabbath. These, he said, were “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Colossians 2: 16-17
(3) The best statement of all is found in Romans concerning judging each other in the Body of Christ.
“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” Romans 14: 5-6
Finally, the principle of the Sabbath is rest. The writer of Hebrews addressed the issue of rest in Hebrews 4. The writer reminds his readers that God rested on the seventh day from all his works (v. 4), but He also pronounced judgment on the disobedient and faithless and unbelieving Israelites who rebelled in the wilderness by stating they would “not enter My rest.” (v. 3) Yet, He states there is a rest for God’s true people. I will quote it here:
“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: 9-10
The greatest principle behind the 4th Commandment is that Jesus has fulfilled the Sabbath…the rest prescribed by God and celebrated in this day. We “rest” from works trying to get us into heaven, and instead we receive what Christ has done for us in faith. We are encouraged to “assemble together” to encourage each other particularly as we see the end approaching. (Hebrews 10:25) But, let us resist the legalism of hard and fast rules concerning the Sabbath. Instead, embrace a day of rest and worship Him in freedom and in joy.