Sunday, February 5, 2012

A defense of sabbatarianism

The Ten Commandments are almost universally held by modern evangelicalism as the basis for morality and the groundwork on which our system of obedience to God is built. Certainly, we understand that Jesus expanded the understanding of them from strictly physical to obedience from the heart, but in essence that only serves to strengthen their purpose not undermine it. The teaching by Jesus that anger against your brother without cause is a sin (based on the command not to murder) presupposes that the physical act of murder is, without question, a sin. It surprises me then, how little dialogue there is about the fourth commandment in modern evangelicalism and is thought (or at least practiced) by most to be the only one of the Ten Commandments to be non-binding for today’s followers of the one true God. My attempt here is to call back our attention to this commandment that is directly referred to and taught on from Genesis through (at least) Hebrews, and not our attention only but our obedience. I will attempt to do this by outlining five points, first, at creation we see The Principle Established, in the law we see The Command Solidified, in the prophets we have The Idea Expanded, in the gospels we have Its Existence Reiterated, and in the epistles we’re shown The Day Exposed.

I. The principle established.

The first reference we have to the seventh day being set apart from the others as different and distinct by God is found in the second chapter of the bible.

Gen 2:2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
Gen 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

Here’s the curious thing about this being the one command generally set aside in our culture today as being an extinct part of the mosaic law; it’s the one command that has it’s root in the beginning of the world when everything was still perfect and untainted by sin. All other nine commands were only necessary because of sin. In a perfect world there was no command given about having no other gods before Jehovah, making graven images, taking God’s name in vain, honoring parents, not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, or not coveting, and yet there was a principle laid down that the seventh day was blessed and sanctified as separate from the others. So the argument that keeping a seventh day holy was abolished along with the Jewish feasts and holy days is debunked from the beginning of the bible. This was a creation mandate, and notice that it, like everything else already created, was altogether good and for the benefit of mankind.

II. The command solidified.

Exo 20:9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
Exo 20:10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
Exo 20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Listed among the Ten Commandments, the moral obligations for God’s people, on the first tablet - those laws dealing with our responsibility toward God – is included this command to keep one day out of seven holy unto the Lord. However, it is here that God tells his people what is meant by the day being blessed and sanctified, it was to be a good thing and a help to them. It was to be a day in which they could put aside the affects of the curse, the difficulty and sweat of their work, and spend one day a week, like Adam and Eve in the beginning, focused solely on worshipping God and fellowshipping with him with their fellows. Lost men look at this command with their twisted priorities and natural distaste for everything pertaining to God and see a day of lost profit, a day of boredom and a waste of time. But for a child of God this command is gracious and helpful, one day every week to put aside those things that are our duties, work to provide for our families, and indulge in those things that are our pleasures, time spent with our friends and families worshipping God and learning more of him. The fact that this was even a necessary command speaks to the depravity of man’s heart, for he either he is lazy wants to shirk from his duty to work six days or else he is greedy and wants to spend every day pursuing his own gain without any regard for relationship with his Creator.

III. The Idea Expanded.

Here’s the amazing thing about the depravity of man, every command that God gives us we try to find to a loophole to exploit, and everything he gives us for our own good we find a way to twist to our own detriment. God established and subsequently solidified one day which was to be separate from the other six days for man to put aside his work, rest and worship God. Israel then took that command and said, “All he said is that we can’t work on that day, he didn’t say we can’t play” and so traditions and practices were installed which allowed for the Israelites to technically keep the letter of the law (not the part about keeping it holy, but satisfactorily in their minds by not doing any of their weekday work) and yet waste the opportunity to fulfill the spirit of the command by squandering the day away with their own pleasures and pursuits instead of using it as a day of rest, worship and devotion to God. This led the prophet Isaiah to decry their practices and spell out what was expected of them each sabbath.

Isa 58:13 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
Isa 58:14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Isaiah’s explanation of the sabbath was that the Israelites were to not only forsake their work on that day but also forsake their recreational activities, whether it be travel (foot), activities (ways), or conversation (speak). Again, to a mind at enmity with God, this seems extremely restrictive, as though God is trying to force on us a day in which we are not allowed to do anything joyous, but that the day should be spent afflicting ourselves. But the idea of not doing our pleasure on God’s holy day does not exclude us from doing HIS pleasure on his holy day, and those things that God finds pleasure in ought to be a joy to us as well.
How many Christians do you know – you’ve probably said it yourself - who have said, “I would love to spend much more time than I do in my personal devotions, but there are only so many hours in the day” or “I’d love to socialize and visit more often, to get to know some more people in the church, but I’m always so busy” or “If I just had some more time I’d get to some of those good christian books I’ve been wanting to read for some time now” and yet they use Sunday afternoons as their time to wash the car, cut the grass, or go grocery shopping. Or else they spend that time watching football, reading the funnies and napping. God has given us an entire day to follow those pursuits that we claim we’d like to do as good followers of Jesus Christ if we just had the time, yet our actions betray our words and the truth comes out that no matter how much time we have we will give little more than what is squeezed out of us to something other than our self-centered desires.

IV. Its existence reiterated.

The argument is often made that 1. If obeying the sabbath were important in the gospel age why is the New Testament silent on reiterating its importance, and/or 2. Jesus came and fulfilled the law, putting an end to its ceremonial aspects. Ignoring for a moment the fact that sabbath day is one of the creation mandates, of which Jesus abolished none (marriage, work, dominion, etc…) let us consider whether Jesus actually spoke on the command to keep the sabbath day holy and if so what he said about it.

Mat 22:35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
Mat 22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Mat 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Mat 22:3 This is the first and great commandment.
Mat 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Mat 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Not only did Jesus mention the fourth commandment, he included it as part of the greatest commandment given to men! When asked by this lawyer what was the greatest commandment given in the law, Jesus replied in essence that it was the first table, on which man is told how his love toward God ought to be expressed and that the next most important was a close second and that was the second table by which we are told how to show love to our fellow man. Jesus could have taken this time to say, “Well I’ll tell you what the least important command is, it’s that outdated notion of keeping one day holy, you ought to spend every minute in holy obedience to God therefore nullifying the necessity of one day.” But instead he did the exact opposite, he said it is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and every Jew listening knew what he was intimating; have no other gods before Jehovah, make no graven images to worship, don’t take his name in vain, and keep his day holy!

V. The Day Exposed

A frequent question raised by many on this issue is, “If this sabbath observance still exists for us, why have we changed it from the seventh day to the first?” That answer is found in Hebrews.

Heb 4:9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
Heb 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
Heb 4:11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

The King James Version of the English bible unfortunately obscures the meaning of this text thus we have long missed its importance in the discussion of keeping the sabbath in the gospel age and on which day it is to be kept. The word translated as “rest” in Heb. 3:11, 18, 4:1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 11 are all translated from the Greek word katapausis which is defined as “repose, cessation from labor, rest”. However, the word translated in as “rest” in verse 9 is a completely different word; it is the Greek word sabbatismos which is literally “a sabbatism, a sabbath day”. With that understanding then, look at how that verse reads, There remaineth therefore a sabbath/day of rest for the people of God. He then proceeds to tell us when that sabbath or day of rest is, as the sabbath in the Old Testament was predicated on God the Father finishing his work of creation, so our day of rest under the New Testament is kept on that day in which God the Son finished his work of creating a new creature in salvation; i.e. The first day of the week, Sunday.
In conclusion I hope you see as I have that this is not a ceremonial law, it was established from the beginning, solidified as a moral law, exposited by Isaiah, reaffirmed by Jesus and explained by Paul why it has moved from Saturday to Sunday. It is as binding on us as it was on Adam and Eve, Moses, Isaiah, and the lawyer who was a Pharisee, and it is for our benefit and help just as it always has been. It is a frightful sign that so many who claim to love God, fight tooth and nail not to keep this command, let us not be named among that number.

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