Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Defining Sabbath

(This message was preached at Heritage Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 2-1-17: )
THESIS: To define the Sabbath biblically and how it impacts us as believers today. To know the Lord is the intent of the Sabbath.

This evening we’ll be considering Mark 2:23-28:

23And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? 26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? 27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. (Mark 2:23-28)

What is the Christian’s responsibility toward the Sabbath?  What does keeping the Sabbath look like today?  How do we know?  These are the questions I seek to answer today.  First off – we are defining the Sabbath because it is clear that Christ’s idea of the Sabbath is different from that of the Pharisees.  And Christ is the authoritative One, but the Pharisees aren’t to be completely ignored.  They do have a zeal about the Sabbath which makes their case compelling.  Sabbath keeping was to them a serious business!  But secondly, please recognize that to preach a single sermon on defining the Sabbath is kind of like studying an atlas of America, and presuming that you know all about driving!  The sheer amount a material, let alone the depth of the various facets are too great!  And don’t worry! We’ll be touching the subject again, as the very next pericope deals with Christ healing on the Sabbath!

The Sabbath described.

Let’s consider how the Sabbath is described in the Scripture.  The 1st reference to the Sabbath is found in Genesis 2:2-3.  And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.  I want you to notice that it is God who sanctified the Sabbath.  In Exodus 16:14-30 we have the gathering of manna explained – and in particular the explanation centers on the Sabbath.  How much to gather, when to gather and to save it overnight 1 night a week, that Sabbath may be observed.  Both of these accounts reference the Sabbath before the giving of the Law.  So Sabbath actually predates Mosaic Law.  But that does not mean that it supersedes it.  The Law merely codifies the matter.  Sabbath was not created by the Law, but the Law does establish the Sabbath day practice to some extent. 

And let’s look at the law.  The 10 commandments are listed twice for us. The 1st giving of the Law in Exodus 20, the 2nd in Deuteronomy 5.  Consider how the commandment is put, in the positive – to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  But then the command switches to the negative.  You shall not do any work.

What is the benefit of a negative command?  In most cases it is to prevent receiving the consequence of the act itself.  But ‘work’ has a good consequence – in fact we are commanded to work from the time of the garden. Look at some of the other negative commands, you shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not lie. These commands are there simply to prevent us from the catastrophe of participation.  These things are sin, and the wages of them is death.  But the wages of work?  Work is not sin. So immediately we see a uniqueness to Sabbath.   The reason given to keep the Sabbath was that creation reference in Genesis.  God blessed the day – He sanctified it.

Before we get to the 2nd giving of the Law in Deuteronomy, we read in Exodus 31:12-17 some additional clarification on the Sabbath, and I want to focus on verse 13, as this verse gets to a purpose not yet known to us.  It reads as follows:

Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.

So here it is made known that the Sabbath is a sign to all between the Lord and the people of Israel throughout your generations.  A sign of what you ask?  Of the relationship God had and has with his people.  Sabbath is an outwardly visible display to everyone of the specialness our Lord has toward his people. And again we read that it is the Lord that sanctifies you. We read a similar reference in Ezekiel:

Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. (Eze. 20:12, 20) 

Deuteronomy 5 restates the Law upon the arrival to the Promised Land.  But the interesting thing is how instead of pointing to creation as a reason that we are to keep it, now Moses tells us to “remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God brought you out…therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Duet. 5:15)  We’ll see why I think He does this later.

I’d like to consider what might seem to be a rather obscure event which happened in Numbers 15:32-36,

32 And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.  33 And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation…35 And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.

Why was this man treated so harshly? Let me show you how it wasn’t harsh at all.  Let’s reason this out for a moment.  This man knew about manna and how it was they were to collect it every day, before the sun was high.  He had seen that God supernaturally provided it, and even gave the double portion on Friday, and further allowed that it stayed fresh for that 1 evening a week.  The whole matter was a supernatural event.  He knew of the commandments in Ex. 20, 23, 31, 34, and 35.  Yet knowing all this – the man would not believe the testimony of God’s mighty loving provision for the people!  He did not know his God!  And let me assert right here – To know the Lord is the intent of the Sabbath.

Later in the whole 1st chapter of Isaiah we read of another negative example of keeping the Sabbath.  Verses 11 – 15 read as follows,

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. (Isa. 1:11-15)

These people were doing all the right things.  The problem is that they were not doing them in truth.  I’d like to read verse 13 in another translation, “Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.”  Though they were doing the work of offerings and prayers, the Lord rejects such as sin, because their heart was not in it – to Him it was sin to combine empty obedience without love.  They really didn’t love this God to whom they offered sacrifice and prayed. 

Consider for a moment David’s words in Psalm 40,

5 Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done; And Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered. 6 Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. 7 Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. 8 I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.”

David extols God’s wonderful works and thoughts toward us.  Can I ask, what is his motivation for saying so?  David loves his God!  He knows Him, and loves Him!  This is an important clue.  Reading on we see in verse 6 that sacrifice you did not desire.  This is not news to us, as we know well 1 Sam. 15:22, that to obey is better that sacrifice.  But David goes a whole lot further than that.  Verse 6 concludes, “Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.  Very clearly something new has been disclosed to us.  The Law of Moses did indeed require sacrifice.  I puzzled for a time on this and came to verse 8, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.”  This is amazing!  In David’s words we have the very expression of the New Covenant!  Didn’t David live long before such was prophesied?  Indeed – about 400 years before Jeremiah and Ezekiel mention it.  And what do we know about the New Covenant? A new heart! A new Spirit!  New desires!  What drives this New Covenant?  Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel tell us, Ye shall be my people, and I shall be your God.  Again we see relationship as the key.  Jeremiah explicitly tells us in verse 34a, “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord.”  It is the knowledge of the Lord which accomplishes this!


To know the Lord is the intent of the Sabbath.  Psalm 46:10 is really the theme of the Sabbath, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”  You might be more familiar with the rendering, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Let me demonstrate from the commandments themselves that the knowledge of the Lord is indeed the goal of keeping Sabbath.

In the creation account we are told that God rested, and that is why we are to rest on the 7th day.  We bear the image of the living God – and if so, we should reflect that image – even to the point of rest.  In the Ex. 20 commandment this is what we are reminded of – God rested and set it apart.  In Ex. 31 we read that it is a ‘sign between me and you’ pointing to a unique and special relationship God had with his people.  Especially note the phrase, “that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.”  Knowledge of the Lord is what sets us apart folks. That’s exactly what we read earlier in Eze. 20 verses 12 and 20.  And we do not sanctify ourselves in sabbath keeping – rather it is the Lord who does so.  In the restatement of the commandments in Deuteronomy 5 the Sabbath command is again stated, but this time pointing to their slavery in Egypt and His deliverance of them.  Why does He point them to this event instead of creation?  I say he does so because as his relationship with his people progressed he wanted to remind them once again of His special covenant love to them, and he did have the right to expect of them obedience!   He loved them!  And those whom He loves receive His benefits. 

In Isa 56:1-8 we see that a blessing is in store for those who keep my Sabbaths.  Even for the foreigner, even for the eunuch!  He gives them ‘a place and a name that shall not be cut off’ in verse 5.  A name and a place to live point very much to relationship.  Just 2 chapters later we read,

13 If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, 14 Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isa 58:13–14)

This portion reminds me of the Psalmist, “Delight thyself also in the Lord and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

How does this work? As we delight in our God He gives us what we delight in - more of Himself! It is as we love him he becomes more and more precious to us and we are blessed by more of that very precious Lord Himself! Do you delight in being still before the Lord? 

In our passage the disciples were plucking grain as they went through the field and this act is what upset the Pharisees.  What they didn’t get was that Sabbath keeping is not simply the keeping of the letter of the law.  The intent was that instead of having to go out early and pick up the manna – they had a day set aside to consider the God of that manna!  Instead of looking at Him as some evil taskmaster who was waiting to strike them down over the least stick picked up, He wanted them to see that they didn’t need to pick up sticks.  He’d made provision for them in manna and he’d do the same if they needed sticks.  Unbelief is betrayed in the Pharisee’s legalistic accusations.  And Christ answered them easily with an example from the life of David – a man after God’s own heart – who had learned with great joy the God does provide for his own – even if it would be day old shewbread.  Look it up in 1 Sam 21:1-6 to get the detail. 

It’s not that the law didn’t matter.  Think about it – This is the Son of God we’re thinking of when we keep the Sabbath!  Do you know Him?!  If the Sabbath appealed to anyone, most certainly it did to Him!  In the counsel of eternity, when God rested on the seventh day, was Christ absent?!  Of course not!  We know that he was party to creation itself from John 1.  Most assuredly that was a Sabbath day properly kept!  But Christ makes a revelation to us in the statement, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.  Turning this statement on its head, the Pharisees made the Sabbath a burden to man.  But Christ points us to the Joy of Sabbath – which is God himself.

Do we extol our God and enjoy being his people?  This is Sabbath dear people!  This is the real joy of keeping Sabbath.  Not the keeping of every jot and tittle of the law per-se but considering how such a God can and does take care of His people – even when they don’t know where the manna and sticks will come from next.  

In early December 2002 I walked into the fellowship hall of Forest Glen Baptist church and there on the whiteboard it read, “Have a Mary Christmas!  What was different was that Pastor Dave, had misspelled Merry.  He put M a r y in place of M e r r y.   Then he had us turn to Luke 10:38-42, “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.  39And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.  40But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.  41And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:  42but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

The message was clear – don’t let all the distractions of the holiday season take you away from the precious Lord of that season.  Cease striving, and know that I am God.  I’ve never forgotten that lesson.  And I really believe that Mary was keeping Sabbath right then.

Jesus made another pronouncement against the religious leaders in respect of Sabbath observance in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

This tells us again that God looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).  We read in Col 2, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Col 2:16–17)  The blessing of being a New Testament believer is that we don’t have to wait ‘til the 7th day.

I’ve made a whole lot of ‘keeping the Sabbath’ as a law.  Please don’t leave today thinking that to be a burden.  The law if rightly kept is a joy to his people – but it can also be a burden.  That is pharisaical law keeping.  We aren’t under the law to keep it.  It was the pointer to lead us to Christ.  But if you now have Christ – it becomes actually a means of grace!  O the wonders of our God! 

Let me close with the words of our Lord from Matthew 11, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat. 11:28–30.)



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