27 January 2012

A Survey of the Old testament Law--The Sign of the Sabbath

This week we will look at the final portion of the old covenant that God spoke to Moses. The terms of the old covenant are contained in the portion of Scripture that starts at Exodus 20:1 and runs through Exodus 31:17. The final command given to the people was the sign or pledge or token of this old covenant. That sign or token or pledge was the seventh-day sabbath. If you recall way back in Exodus 24, we talked about how covenants were ratified, always by blood. But there was also always a sign or pledge that both sides would fulfill their part of the bargain. After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah, that God would never again destroy all life on the planet with water. God put a rainbow in the sky as a token of His faithfulness. In the covenant that God made with Abraham, God gave the sign of circumcision. And under the covenant that He is making with the nation of Israel, God gives the sign of the seventh-day sabbath.

Exodus 31:12-1712 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 13 "Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: 'Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16 Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'" 

Out of all of the Ten Commandments, the keeping of the sabbath is the one that is the most widely debated. Are Christians bound by the sabbath? If so, do we keep it on Saturday or on Sunday? Well, the short answer is this: the church, under the new covenant, is NOT bound by ANY sabbath—neither Saturday nor Sunday. Phrases like “Sunday Sabbath” or “Christian Sabbath” are really not appropriate. The true Sabbath is not a day of the week. The true sabbath is eternal rest in Christ.

Should we come together as a body to hear the word and to partake in the worship of God? Absolutely. Hebrews 10:24-2524 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. But keeping the sabbath on any day of the week is not part of the new covenant. And there are two very simple reasons. ONE—God says in Exodus 31:17 that the sabbath is what? “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.” This was the sign of the old covenant. God tells Israel, “Keep My sabbaths, and I shall be your God and you shall be My people.” The sabbath was not enforced on any Gentile nation. It was a sign between God and Israel. There is an interesting little passage in the book of Nehemiah chapter 10. The people have come back from the Babylonian captivity, they have rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, and the people sign a decree that they will separate themselves from the pagan nations around them. And we find the following language in this decree, in Nehemiah 10:31If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day. Did this decree say that the Israelites, if they found a foreigner selling grain or wares on the sabbath, would put that person to death? No. It said they would not buy from the peoples of the land on the sabbath. What does that tell us about the sabbath? It was between God and whom? It was between God and Israel. It was not binding on any Gentile nation—never was, never has been.

Another point I want to make is this: when we think of all the ordinances and rituals and offerings and sacrifices that we find throughout the old covenant, they are all, for the most part, “Work, work, work; do, do, do.” However, the commands concerning the sabbath are what? “Don’t work; don’t do.” Contrary to what many legalistic, sabbath-keeping groups demand of their followers, the commands concerning the sabbath were not meant to be a yoke upon the neck of the people. If it was, then we would not see the many confrontations between Christ and the Pharisees over sabbath-keeping. And we will see one of these confrontations if we turn to Matthew 12:1-81 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" 3 But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." 

In this passage, did Jesus encourage His disciples to sin by working on the sabbath? Well, if He did, then He was partaking in that sin--yet the Scriptures declare Christ to be sinless. So no, they were not working on the sabbath. They were picking a few heads of grain and eating them to ease their hunger—which they were allowed to do under the Law (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). But the Pharisees had turned that into work. John MacArthur—“In picking and rolling and rubbing and discarding, they had been reaping, threshing, sifting, grinding, winnowing and preparing food.” All by picking a few heads of grain and rolling them in their hands and eating them.

Now, we find a dire warning for those who break the Sabbath, we find it in Exodus 31:14“Everyone who profanes [the sabbath] shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it…shall be cut off.” How does Jesus describe what the priests did in the temple on the sabbath? Matthew 12:5“On the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless.” The priests in the temple “profane the sabbath.” Then look at what He says in Matthew 12:7-8“But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” First, He refers to the actions of His disciples as ‘guiltless.’ But He also explains, from the prophet Hosea, that it is not the keeping of the strictest letter of the Law that God desires, but for men to know God, and that God is a merciful God. A little later on He gets into a discussion about how these men would pull out their neighbor’s goat out if it fell into a pit on the Sabbath. He also reminds them that, in order that the Law not be broken, they would circumcise their male children on a Sabbath if must needs be.

Now, let's remember one thing: when Jesus walked the earth, were the Israelites still under the old covenant? Yes. Were animals still being killed, cut up and burned, their blood being poured out around the altar and sprinkled and smeared all over the temple? Yes. Was the Torah still being taught? Yes. Were the people of Israel still being commanded to keep the sabbath? Yes. BUT here’s the thing, and the second main point I want to make—the Pharisees had taken the sabbath and changed it from a day of rest to a day of work. What I mean is this: it was harder for people to keep the sabbath than it was to not keep the sabbath. They had to spend all day, every waking moment of every sabbath day (keep in mind, they did not refer to it as “Saturday”) worrying about whether or not they were breaking the sabbath! “Oh no! I picked up my mixing bowl up off the floor! Did I just break the sabbath?” There were literally hundreds of volumes of books being written by the rabbis about what counted as ‘work.’

In fact, according to one book I found, even today many “traditional” Jews will not drive a car on the sabbath. Want to know why? Spark plugs. “Turning a key in a car sets the ignition on—which creates a spark—a fire. Not the kind of fire of banging two stones together, but a fire nevertheless—a human being creating when God commands that he rest from all creative acts. Granted, some of these (forbidden activities) are so routine and ordinary, with no ‘work’ involved, and don’t seem to involve any genuine creative efforts, but that is the challenge of observing the Shabbat to the letter of the Law.” (From a discussion at AskMoses.com, quoted in Brown, Michael L., 60 Questions Christians Ask About Jewish Beliefs and Practices, ch. 15). In fact, this is a misapplication of Exodus 35:4“You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” So unless they're firing up their Buick in their living room, they're OK. Now we read that and we say “Oh, how silly!” But it’s really not any sillier than people who want to teach that the sabbath is still binding on the church under the new covenant. Because it’s not. Especially the “Saturday” sabbath, which is a misnomer because the Jews don’t use the term “Saturday.” They call it “Shabbat.” 

The point is this—when Jesus refers to Himself as “Lord of the sabbath,” He is telling these Jews, who are still teaching the Law, still keeping the sabbath, that HE is the one to whom the seventh day was dedicated. HE is the one who says what can and what can't be done on the sabbath. To them, that was blasphemy. In a parallel passage to this, He says in Mark 2:27-2827 And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath." The Pharisees had gotten it all backwards. They were teaching that man was the servant of the sabbath, when the truth was that the sabbath was the servant of man. Just like Paul said in Galatians 3:24-2524 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. The law was a servant to point the way to Christ. But now that Christ has come, that servant has been fired (so to speak).

The sabbath was not meant to stir people up to anxiety—it was meant to give them rest. From the first day through the sixth day (which was how they refer to what we call “Sunday through Friday”), it was “work, work, work; do, do, do.” But the seventh day was “stop working and stop doing.” Exodus 31:15“Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD.” Remember that phrase “Sabbath of rest.” It’s going to be very important. Because now we are going to see the next reason why the sabbath is not binding on the church—that is, that Christ is our sabbath; He is our rest. Hebrews 4:1-31 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. 3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: "So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest,'" although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. First, let’s put this in context. The book of Hebrews is a commentary on the Law. Is all Scripture given by God? Yes. So, not only is the book of Hebrews a commentary on the Law, it is, in all actuality, GOD’S commentary on HIS OWN Law. It was written by a Hebrew to Hebrews. The people he was writing to would have had a pretty good knowledge of the Old Testament. Now when we read Hebrews 4:3For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: "So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest,'" we see the word ‘rest’ used twice, and having two very different meanings. What is the first ‘rest’ he is talking about? Resting in Christ. Matthew 11:28“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” What is the second ‘rest’? When Joshua led the people of Israel into the land of Canaan—the “Promised Land,” the ‘rest’ the Israelites were looking forward to. Now, who was it that would not enter into that ‘rest’? It was all those who rebelled in the wilderness (see Numbers 14:1-35), because of whom the people had to wander the desert for 40 years. Those who rebelled did not enter into the ‘rest’ they were looking to. 

Hebrews 4:4-5 hold the key to this whole issue of the sabbath. Hebrews 4:4-54 For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; 5 and again in this place: "They shall not enter My rest." Many times when you read the book of Hebrews you will find passages that say something along the lines of “God has said in a certain place [this], and in another place, [this], and again He says [that].” He does that all through the entire first chapter (Hebrews 1:1-14). And what he’s doing is stringing passages of Scripture together to make a single point. And the point he is making here is that both of these ‘rests’—God resting on the seventh day (the basis for the seventh-day sabbath) and the people resting when they entered Canaan—these were both simply types and shadows of the rest that Christ would bring. God rested on the seventh day, but did He stop working altogether? No. John 5:16-1716 The Jews…sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." So even after God rested on the seventh day, He did not stop working. He was working even while Jesus walked the earth; He is still working now! The people of Israel looked forward to that day when they would enter Canaan as their promised rest. But did they really ever rest? No. They were always fighting pagan nations and even amongst themselves. Obtaining a piece of land did not give them rest.

BUT—the rest that we have in Christ is the true sabbath, and we see that in Hebrews 4:8-108 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. If you have a KJV, verse 8 is not correctly translated. It should say If Joshua had given them rest, not If Jesus had given them rest. Through the first eight verses, the Greek word translated ‘rest’ has been the generic Greek word for ‘rest.’ BUT! There is another Greek word that literally means ‘sabbath.’ That is the word σάββατον (sabbaton). And in Hebrews 4:9, where it says There remains therefore a rest for the people of God, the word translated ‘rest’ is the Greek word σάββατισμός (sabbatismos). There remains a σάββατισμός (sabbatismos) for the people of God. That word literally means “a keeping of the sabbath.” What does that mean for us? It means we don’t look at one day out of the week as our sabbath—we look to Heaven as our sabbath.

True rest comes on that day when Christ Jesus welcomes us into His kingdom. Revelation 14:1313 Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, "Write: 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them." So if we are looking to Heaven and the rest that Christ has promised us, guess what we do every single day of the week? We keep the sabbath! By doing that, we remember the Sabbath and keep it holy! Keep in mind, the point the writer keeps making throughout the entire book of Hebrews is how Christ is so much greater than the Law. And if Christ is greater than the Law, then the rest He gives is far greater than a day of the week. That is why Paul tells us in Colossians 2:16-1716 Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. The seventh-day sabbath was a shadow of the true ‘rest’, the true sabbath that we look forward to by faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I really think one reason God took the sabbath so seriously is because it was a gift He gave them. In Exodus 16 we see God giving the people manna. The command was that on the sixth day they were to gather up enough for two days because He would not give them any on the seventh. Exodus 16:27-2927 Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. 28 And the LORD said to Moses, "How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? 29 See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." In verse 29 God says “The LORD has given you the sabbath.” What happened to those who rejected the gift of the sabbath? They found no food. What happened to them under the Law? They died. Christ is our sabbath; He is our rest from our own works. What happens to those who reject the gift of rest that is found in Christ? Eternal death. Those who rejected the gift of the sabbath under the old covenant were cut off physically; those who reject the gift of the sabbath that is Christ under the new covenant are cut off spiritually, eternally. Hmmm…I think there is a parallel there.

We could go on, literally for months. But the fact is simple—the church, under the new covenant, is not bound by a Sabbath. Saturday, Sunday, doesn’t matter. Should we take one day and rest, and be refreshed, and come together as a body to worship God together? Absolutely. But there is no such thing as a “Christian Sabbath.” Christ is the fulfillment of the command concerning the Sabbath. And we are to remember Him and keep Him sanctified in our hearts, and be looking forward to our eternal Sabbath rest which comes from Him.

Jesus Christ is Lord.