Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 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.
Why is sabbath observance commanded?
In Exodus 20:11 God says, “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.” It would be foolish to conclude that man not commit himself to what God has done, at the very least. God worked six days in creation and rested on the seventh, therefore man ought work six days and rest one. It is interesting to me that those who reject the binding nature of the fourth commandment on Christians today never make anything of the fact that it’s the only commandment in the decalogue that makes explicit reference to its origin in pre-fall creation. In other words, sabbath rest is a creation ordinance, as has been discussed in a previous post, not something that simply showed up as a requirement for the Israelites to live on the land. In creation, God set a pattern and created man with a need to follow that pattern of six days of work and one of rest.
While it ought to be enough for the Christian to say, “I do this because God commands it,” there certainly are other compelling reasons to observe the sabbath. Mark records the words of Jesus in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” What does that mean? It means the sabbath is good for us; it is for our benefit! The Lord’s Day is intended to restore us spiritually and physically. It is good for all of mankind. The restorative nature of the sabbath will be an important consideration when we look at application in a future post, but at present there ought to be a recognition that the sabbath is commanded by God for the good of mankind. God is not a cosmic kill-joy who is seeking to make life miserable, but instead commands what’s best for us; as creator, he knows better than we do. The prophet Isaiah proclaims a word from the Lord in Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
I speak to many Christians who share with me a lack of joy in their life. They confess that their joy in the Lord is gone, they feel empty and distant from God. There are always multiple factors to this issue, and most often it centers on a lack of communion with God through the means of grace, however one of the prescriptions for joylessness is found in Isaiah 58. God promises joy to those who delight in the Lord with triumph and feasting on the good things of God! The treasures of God’s kingdom both now and forever will overflow to those who rightly keep the fourth commandment. On His day, God Himself is taking His people by the hand, leading us to joy, triumph, and feasting. It ought to be the highlight of our week!
Notice, the prophet doesn’t give us a list of do’s and don’ts, but addresses the issue of the heart. If there is a genuine desire to enjoy God and all that is ours in Christ, the primary focus is almost never about what we can and cannot do, but rather a delighting in our union with Christ and enjoying soul-stirring, deeply satisfying communion with God. How do we get there? Take advantage of the wonderful, holy worship and rest that God has prescribed for our good. In doing so, many of the do’s and don’ts take care of themselves. That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate questions to consider when thinking through fourth commandment’s application, however those questions ought not be our starting place. As we learn to call the sabbath a delight for the right reasons, we move further away from “we have to keep the Lord’s Day” and get closer to “we get to spend all day with God – enjoying Him and all His benefits, through worship, rest, and the fellowship of the saints.”
In the next post we will discuss why Christians meet on Sundays and not Saturdays.
(By: Nick Kennicott)