The Sabbath

John David Clark, Sr. - August, 1994

Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work. But the sabbath 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.... Six days shalt thou do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest, that thine ox and thy ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.... Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you. Every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death.

The weekly sabbath day which God gave to Israel is the day which we now call "Saturday". Christian tradition declares that the "holy day" of the week is now Sunday, what some call "the Lord's day". Muslims, on the other hand, have Fridays as their sabbath. In Christ, none of these days is any holier than the other. The sabbaths of the Law of Moses were ordained by God for the purpose of pointing to the work and glory of the coming Messiah, Jesus. The sabbaths of both Christianity and Islam were never ordained by God and point to nothing but to our own confusion and superstitious nature. The children of God are liberated from the observance of all "holy days" because all those things were fulfilled by Christ and "in him ye stand complete". For those in Christ to observe holy days and sabbaths is, in Paul's words, to "fall from grace".

When the church in Colossae began to drift toward observances of those Old Testament forms, Paul exhorted them not to yield to the superstitious pressures to do so. "Stop letting anyone pass judgment on you in matters of eating and drinking, or in the matter of annual or monthly feasts or sabbaths. These were but the shadow of what was coming; the reality belongs to Christ" (Col.2:16 - Williams). This is the crux of the matter. The reality belongs to Christ. All the sabbaths of the Law, all the water cleansing rites, all the sacrifices, all the orders for worship - all the Law's ceremonies - were mere shadows of life in the Spirit of Christ. They are not to be resorted to or relied upon any longer as vehicles of worship and communion with God.

The church in Galatia was persuaded by Jewish believers to observe those ceremonies and holy days of the Law before Paul could stop it. The heartbroken apostle wrote, "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid [for] you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain. Christ is become of none effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the Law" (Gal.3:1,3; 4:10,11; 5:4). In the Old Covenant, anyone who refused to observe the rules concerning the weekly sabbath day of rest was to be put to death (Ex.31:14). In the New Testament, the death penalty remains - but now it is for those who refuse to walk in or who forsake the way of the Spirit of Christ in order to observe those dead, Old Covenant symbols. In this New Testament, the holy Ghost brings us into the sabbath of God's rest. And because the holy Ghost is now our "rest" which we are commanded to keep (Isa.28:11-12), our hope of salvation depends upon our "resting" from our own thoughts and our old ways. To keep the true sabbath of God now, we merely have to live in the Spirit. To fail to keep this New Covenant form of the sabbath leads to death, just as failing to keep the Old Testament form of the sabbath led to death.

If there is a death penalty for "defiling the sabbath", then the reasonable man will want to learn how to "keep the sabbath holy." Obviously, the sabbath - and our reverence for it - matters a very great deal to the Creator. Should you ask a thousand Christians what one should do in order to "keep the sabbath day holy", the correct answer, to walk in the Spirit, would hardly occur to any of them. Should you ask that question of a thousand Christians, it is certain that virtually all of them would respond to the effect that we are commanded to set that day aside to worship the Creator. But even in the Old Testament that was not the case! That the sabbath day was set aside as a day of worship for all of God's people is an idea foreign to the Scriptures and to the mind of Christ. Please pay attention to this:

The weekly sabbath day was never understood to be a day of worship in the Old Covenant!

It is true that the priests had an extra sacrifice to make each sabbath day, in addition to the daily sacrifice of two lambs (Num.28:10). But that had nothing to do with the ordinary citizen of Israel. The Old Testament sabbath day was not designed principally for worship, but for physical rest! There is absolutely no indication anywhere in the Scriptures that the sabbath day was understood by the Israelites as a day in which they were to gather and "have a worship service". Such an understanding developed among God's people, but the idea is not found in the Law of Moses. A day of worship? Jesus said that even the few religious rites which the priests were required to conduct on the sabbath "profaned the sabbath" (Mt.12:5), but that God excused them since He Himself ordered it done! So, if even the worship rites which the priests performed on the sabbath "profaned" that holy day, how did we come to believe that the day was ordained by God for the purpose of worship for all Israelites?

By the time Jesus came into the world the Jews had developed a tradition of gathering on the weekly sabbath day for Scripture reading and prayer (Acts 13:42-44; 15:21; 18:4). But this practice was not commanded of God's people anywhere in the Law, and actually was a part of the repressive religion which the leaders of the Jews had devised of their own heart. This religion, remember, also condemned Jesus and his disciples for doing what God specifically allowed to be done (Mt.12:1-8; Dt.23:25), and added commandments to the Law which God never intended to be imposed upon His people. One very good example of adding to the commandments of God is the limitation which the Jewish rabbis set for travelling on the sabbath day (Acts 1:12). If you were the type of person who received rest from your labors by taking a long stroll on the sabbath, you were actually prevented by this "tradition of the elders" from getting the rest which God allowed - indeed, commanded you to get!

Now, there were sabbaths other than the weekly sabbaths in ancient Israel which were designated for worship. Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles, all contained sabbaths in which the people were commanded to present themselves before the Lord. But the weekly sabbath was not ordained for that purpose. The change in the purpose and function of the weekly sabbath was made by religious men who were trying too hard to be holy, instead of simply resting in the commandments of God and trusting Him.

By their traditions concerning the sabbath, Israel's leaders condemned the innocent (e.g. Jn.5:10) and justified themselves, "thinking to do God a service." But the "service" which they were doing was service of their own making. They had become "righteous over much" (Eccl.7:16) and thus were destroying themselves and the nation.

Every Sunday, the saints here gather to worship the Lord and to edify one another. It is a good thing to "assemble ourselves together". But we gather on those days simply because in this culture it is most convenient for everyone to meet on those days. In a Muslim culture, Fridays would be a more convenient day for the saints to meet. It has nothing to do with the sanctity of the day or any commandment of God. There is no sanctity in Sunday and no commandment of God concerning it. One of the obvious absences in the New Testament, from a traditional Christian perspective, is the complete absence of any commandment concerning the esteeming of one day above another. The observance of Sunday as a divinely ordained day of rest has no biblical basis whatever.

The gospel of Christ is completely foreign to the questions concerning what to do on the sabbath day, and which day is the real sabbath day. Thankfully, those in Christ may now REST from all such theological questions. Our sabbath is in spirit and in truth. No day is any holier than another. All holiness is in Christ, and outside of him there is no holiness or truth. It is the same way with water baptism. Those in Christ need not concern themselves with which form of water baptism is correct. They need only REST in the baptism which Christ himself administers: the baptism of the holy Spirit. It is the same way with the church. The saints need never worry over which church to join and what standards they have to meet in order to qualify as a church member. They need only REST in the fact that Christ baptized them into the only church that counts with God. And if Jesus gives you the holy Ghost, you are as much a part of the kingdom of God as was Paul, Peter, James, and John! When you received the holy Ghost, you became a member of the only church that is recognized in heaven! Rejoice in that. Be content with that! Rest in that, and enjoy the sabbath that only Spirit-baptized people can enjoy! Neither Judaism, Islam, nor Christianity enables anyone to observe the sabbath which the saints are privileged to keep. It is no wonder that God is calling to His people to "come out from among them". It is a call to return to our resting place, a place of peace with God, a place of calm assurance that in simply obeying and honoring our heavenly Father we will be accepted of Him. God is calling us to a resting place of reliance upon Him alone to save us, rather than resorting to the dead, symbolic works which Jesus gloriously fulfilled.


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