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The Sabbath

by William MacLeod on September 16th, 2011

We live in a day of unfettered pleasure. People’s great ambition is to be happy. They do not ask, ‘Is this right?’ but ‘Will I enjoy myself?’ With the vast majority the concern is to discover what will make them feel good. And if they feel good about something it must be right. Take marriage vows as an example. Surely it is a very serious business to promise before God and in the presence of a congregation to be loving, faithful and dutiful to one another ‘till death us do part’. Yet how often today even professing Christian couples split up, one party, if not both, saying, ‘Our marriage is dead’ or ‘I no longer love you’. The vows are broken, a divorce is obtained and there is the temptation to remarriage with the resultant adultery. But God has not changed and His laws still stand and there is a Judgment Day ahead of all when we will have to answer to God for breaking His laws. Even in this life there is a price to pay for being lovers of our own pleasures rather than keeping God’s laws.

No commandment today is under such attack as the Fourth. One hears of professional footballers claiming to be Christians and yet playing sport, indeed working, on the Sabbath. We are told, “Judge not that ye be not judged” (Mt.7:1). Increasingly employers demand ‘flexibility’ of their employees and often in interviews for jobs those who will not work on the Lord’s day are not offered the job. It is very tempting for the Christian to go for the higher paid job which involves occasional Sunday work. Surely, they argue, God wants me to be happy, to provide for my family, to have money to give to the church and anyway the complexity of modern industry makes Sabbath work a necessity. What experts people are at providing excuses for disobedience, but God sees through them all. Thomas Peck says: “The Sabbath (besides the institution of marriage) is the only flower that has been transplanted from Paradise in our fallen world and has survived the scorching heats and blasting winds of wickedness for so many centuries”.

The Sabbath is a Special Day

  1. The very first Sabbath Day was special. The first six days of time were used by God for working, creating the world and all that it contains. He rested on the Seventh day contemplating his work and rejoicing in it. God did not have to rest because He was tired. Rather He was leaving us with an example and establishing a law for man for all of time.
  2. When God established His covenant with His chosen people Israel whom He redeemed from the Land of Egypt He spoke from heaven in the hearing of all His people Ten Commandments of which the Sabbath was one. This commandment was in the form “Remember”, implying the continuance of the Sabbath from creation.
  3. God wrote these Ten Commandments with His own finger on two tablets of stone so that they would be permanent. The tablets were to be kept in the ark at the very heart of Israel’s religion.
  4. Very severe punishment followed a breach of the Sabbath. One individual was caught gathering fuel on the Sabbath and God ordered that he should be stoned to death (Numb.15:32-36). One of the reasons for the Babylonian exile was the desecration of the Sabbaths (2Chron.36:21).
  5. Sabbath observance was to be a distinctive sign of God’s people in Old Testament times (Ezek.20:12,20) and still is to be such today. Their enemies mocked their Sabbaths (Lam.1:7).
  6. Special blessings are promised for Sabbath observance: “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: 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” (Is.58:13-14).
  7. Christ claims that as the Son of Man He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mk.2:28). This means that it is His day and He is the one to whom it is given and for whom it is to be spent. Having completed on the cross an even greater work than creation He rested in the grave on the Sabbath and then rose on the first day of the week which ever after was called the Lord’s Day (Rev.1:10). It became the day of worship (Acts 20:7; 1Cor.16:2).
  8. The keeping of the Sabbath is good for the mind and body, but essential to the soul. Why is there so much stress-related illness today? Is it not because minds and bodies need a Sabbath of rest. Why is religion at such a low ebb? One great reason is the neglect of the Sabbath.

How should the Sabbath be kept?

  1. Resting from work. There is certain work which is allowable on the Sabbath, works of necessity and mercy, such as that of doctors and policemen. Some pretend that all types of work can be necessary because one must earn money to live. They have to pay for their mortgage, their family’s education and their annual holiday. But those who use the Sabbath for making money will find that they are earning to put it into a bag with holes (Hag.1:6). There are Christians in the world today who have lost their homes and livelihoods for the sake of Christ. Let them be our examples and let us not be afraid to suffer persecution for the name of Jesus.
  2. Resting from pleasure. Some argue that they find sport relaxing, or Sunday papers, or watching television, or reading novels. But doing your pleasure on God’s holy day is strictly condemned (Is.58:13). Lay aside the weekday entertainments. Some misuse the day by spending it in travel so that they will not waste part of the working week.
  3. The day is to be kept holy. This means it is a day to be set aside for God. Some profane the day by idleness. They think that it is allowable to spend it sleeping. But the rest spoken of with regard to this day is rest in the Lord. It is a day to be spent in the public and private exercises of worship. It is a day for doing God’s pleasure.
  4. Specifically the day is to be spent as much as possible in prayer, singing praises, worshipping, reading Christian books and engaging in spiritually edifying conversation. It is a day more than any other for remembering God, His creation, providence and redemption, a day for the building up of our own souls and for doing all in our power for the conversion of sinners.
  5. It is a day to be enjoyed. God is looking for heart-worship. Dull, duty religion is offensive to Him. “Rejoice in the Lord” (Phil.3:1). “Call the Sabbath a delight” (Is.58:13). Sabbath delights, unlike the pleasures of the world, leave no bitter taste behind. God’s blessing rests upon our bodies, minds and souls. His love, kindness and covenant faithfulness will reach our families, our friends, our churches and our communities. Sabbaths here are to be a foretaste of heaven (Heb.4).

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One Comment
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