15 March 2011

A Survey of the Old Testament Law----- "Remember the Sabbath Day" (part 2)

Last time we saw that the reason God commanded the people of Israel to keep the Sabbath was as a reminder that in six literal, 24-hour days God created the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them. That God did not take thousands of years to do one thing, then another thousand years to do something else, and so on and so forth. That the seven-day week that our life revolves around is the exact same seven-day week that was the beginning of everything that we call time. And just as God rested on the seventh day—not because He was tired, but because He was done creating everything He wanted to create—God commanded the people of Israel to work six days and rest on the seventh. Of course, the day of the week that the Israelites rested on and set aside for worship was Saturday—the seventh day of the week. But most Christians, for the last 2000 years, have met to worship on Sunday. And of all of the Ten Commandments, this is the one that has been the most widely-debated. Was the Sabbath day changed from Saturday to Sunday? If so, who changed it and why? Or, is it still supposed to be Saturday, and are we breaking this commandment by meeting on Sunday instead of Saturday? Well, we’re going to see part of the answer to these questions today.

For now, let’s read the words of the LORD our God. Exodus 20:8-118 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. 10 In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” The debate over the breaking of this commandment goes back even father than the earliest days of the church. Not only was this one of the issues where the Pharisees were most vehemently opposed to Christ, but even in the years leading up to Christ walking the earth, there were mountains of books written about the subject of what could and what could not be done on the Sabbath. The Jewish religious leaders at the time had written thousands of volumes trying to explain the Old Testament Law. These books were called Talmud. And in the Talmud, there were 24 chapters devoted to the subject of what constituted “work.” These chapters were so burdensome and so detailed that for one of the most distinguished rabbis in all of Israel, it took nearly 2 ½ years just to study one chapter!

Well, back in 1881, a fellow named Alfred Edersheim wrote a masterpiece called “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.” He devoted one section to detailing what all the different rabbis and their students taught about what was and what was not to be considered “working on the Sabbath.” There were many different groups that taught different things, depending on who the rabbi was that they followed. Listen to how nit-picky some of the Sabbath regulations had become:
“As the most common kind of labour would be that of carrying, this is the first point discussed. The Biblical Law forbade such labour in simple terms. But Rabbinism developed the prohibition [against carrying] into eight special ordinances, by first dividing ‘the bearing of a burden’ into two separate acts - lifting it up and putting it down - and then arguing, that it might be lifted up or put down from two different places, from a public into a private, or from a private into a public place…If an object was thrown into the air with the left, and caught again in the right hand, [did] this involve sin[?] [T]here could be no doubt a man incurred guilt if he caught it with the same hand with which it had been thrown, but he was not guilty if he caught it in his mouth, since, after being eaten, the object no longer existed, and hence catching with the mouth was [allowed]…”
And as if these regulations weren’t enough, listen to this:
“[One] school also [outlawed the making of] any mixture, the ingredients of which would not be wholly dissolved before the Sabbath. [So], the Sabbath law was declared to apply even to lifeless objects. Thus, wool [was not to] be dyed if the process was not completed before the Sabbath. Nor was it even lawful to sell anything to a heathen unless the object would reach its destination before the Sabbath…[therefore, one rabbi] was careful to send his linen to be washed three days before the Sabbath. But it was lawful to leave olives or grapes in the olive or wine-press.”
So you kinda get the idea. By the time Jesus came and walked the earth, all these different schools of teaching had degraded the keeping of the Sabbath to nothing more than a list of rules that no man could follow. Their problem was this—these were man-made laws and regulations. These were not commands given by God. And not even those who created these rules and regulations could obey these commands. Jesus said of these men, in Matthew 23:3-43 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” In other words, they created this huge burden out of keeping the Sabbath, and they couldn’t even carry it! They had basically made work out of not working. And Jesus would show us that these rules and regulations were not what God intended when He gave the commandment concerning the Sabbath. Because what these rules and regulations did was this: they prevented people from doing good for others on the Sabbath for fear of breaking the Law of God and receiving the penalty of death.

But in Matthew 12, we see a confrontation between Christ and these self-appointed judges concerning what was considered “work” and what could or could not be done on the Sabbath. The subject of keeping the Sabbath was easily the one subject where the Pharisees were most vicious in their attacks against Christ. Matthew 12:1-51 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?” John MacArthur says this about the Pharisees’ response to the disciples’ actions:
“Now this is what the Talmud said, if you roll wheat in your hands to remove the husks, it is sifting and that is forbidden. If you rub the heads of wheat, it is threshing and it is forbidden. If you clean off the shell, it is sifting and that is forbidden. If you throw the chaff into the air, that is winnowing, it is forbidden. So just in picking and rolling and rubbing and discarding, they had been reaping, threshing, sifting, grinding, winnowing and preparing food. And their real question, the real underlying question is...why do You and Your disciples live in such overt, open defiance of our religion? Why do You challenge our religion? Why do You challenge our authority? It is an implied threat. It is not a legitimate question, they don't want an answer. It is a scornful indictment, implying a threat.”
But Jesus points out the Pharisees’ hypocrisy: See, the Pharisees were totally devoted to worshipping in the temple. They were there every Sabbath day, every Passover, every time the temple was open, they were there. But they forgot one thing—that in order to have a complete temple worship service on the Sabbath, this forced the high priest to do work on the Sabbath. Look what Jesus says in verse 5“…on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless.” All that temple service was a foreshadowing of Christ—that is, all the ceremonies and offerings and rituals were a picture of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. They were a kind of visual prophecy. Now, watch this: these Pharisees spent all their time worshipping in the temple, and look at what Jesus says in Matthew 12:5-65 …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.” This, I'm sure, reminded these Pharisees of Haggai 2:7-97 I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says the LORD of hosts…9 'The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,' says the LORD of hosts.”

Serving Christ, obeying the commandments of Christ, and following the way of Christ are far greater than killing animals and burning their flesh in the temple. Because even the temple itself was only a temporary picture of Christ. In fact, the entire OT Law was only a picture of Christ. Galatians 3:23-2523 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 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. Think about a map. If I have a map of Knoxville in my hands, do I actually have the city of Knoxville itself in my hands? No. But when I arrive in the city of Knoxville, I will know it because I will see the streets and landmarks and other details that are pictured on my map. The OT Law and the sacrifices and offerings—and yes, even the Sabbath—was a picture, a map of Christ. These things were not Christ, but they were given so that when Christ arrived, if one kept this map in front of them, they would recognize, by all the things that He said and did, that He was indeed the Messiah they had been waiting for. But these fellows were blind, willfully ignorant, even though they had the truth staring them right in their face. Have you ever known someone that, you could tell them it was pouring down rain, you could come in soaking wet, and they'd still have to look outside? That’s what kind of men these Pharisees were. Jesus showed them, from the Hebrew Scriptures that they valued so much, that He was the Messiah—but they would not listen. He tells them in John 5:39-4039 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” And here, He is going to tell them, point blank, that they do not understand the Scriptures that they claim to be experts of. Matthew 12:7“But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

Many times Jesus told the Pharisees that even though they were teachers of the OT Scriptures, they had no clue what it meant. And this is one of those places. Because what He’s saying here is that God does not want us to just show up at a building one day out of the week with our ‘sacrifice’—He wants us to live a life that is marked by mercy toward others and love toward God and toward our neighbor. When these same Pharisees questioned Him about this, He told them the same thing. Mark 12:28-3128 Then one of the scribes came, and…asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of all?" 29 Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." And He said in another place, “On these hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Now, I tell you all these things to lay the groundwork for what we’re about to see. And what we are going to see is that the OT Sabbath, that we read in Exodus 20:8-11, was fulfilled in Christ. The first 4 of the 10 Commandments deal with our relationship with God. The last 6 deal with our relationship toward others. Which is why Jesus said that the two great commandments are to Love God and to love your neighbor. Christ fulfilled the first four commandments, and never broke the other six.
  • God said “You shall not have any other gods before Me”—Christ was God in the flesh, and the only way to the Father.
  • God said “you shall not make for yourself any graven image”—because Christ is the image of the invisible God.
  • God said “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain”—Christ was the manifestation of the name of God on earth.
  • And when God said “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”—Christ is our Sabbath, our rest.
He says in Matthew 12:8“For the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Christ did the work of creating (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17). After Christ finished creating He rested from that work, and the Sabbath is subject to the authority of Christ. Now, this that we are reading in Matthew 12, we see it recorded also in Mark 2. And Christ says something there that Matthew does not record. Mark writes these words of Christ in Mark 2:27-2827 The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” In other words, all those burdens and regulations that the Pharisees had added to the keeping of the Sabbath—that you pick something up but you could only put it down in a certain place, and that you could collect rain water from a bucket but not water that had run down the wall—all these rules and regulations had made man subject to the authority of the Sabbath. But that was not what God intended. God meant for the Sabbath to be subject to man. Not that man could go changing it just for the sake of changing it. But the reason that we now worship on Sunday instead of Saturday is that Christ has set us free from the Law of sin and death, triumphing over death by His resurrection, and we worship on what the apostle John called “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10) to celebrate His victory over the grave when He rose on the first day of the week.

Now, lest we forget, the OT Law was not abolished—it was not just crumpled up and thrown away (Matthew 5:17). But, those of us in Christ are no longer under the penalty of that Law (Romans 6:14), since Christ fulfilled the righteous requirements of that Law (Romans 8:3-4) and has become our righteousness (2nd Corinthians 5:21). So what does that have to do with keeping the Sabbath? I'm glad you asked. There were many parts of the OT Law that Jesus explained in more detail. Adultery and murder are two examples, as well as the Sabbath. He showed us and taught us what it really means to keep the Sabbath. And if anyone was going to keep the Sabbath, it would be Christ, since He kept the Law perfectly and never violated it once. So if Christ did some kind of work on the Sabbath, that it was not lawful to do, He being born under the Law (Galatians 4:4) then He would have sinned and could not be our Savior. And, to go a step further, if God the Father did work on the Sabbath, would He not be violating His own Law? And by commanding the priests to do work in the tabernacle and in the temple, on the Sabbath, would He not be commanding those men to sin by breaking the Sabbath? I say all this for a reason: in John 5, we see Christ healing a man on the Sabbath, and listen to how He responds to His accusers. John 5:16-1716 For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and 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." The reason I've been so deliberate in saying that God rested from the work of creation is because it’s not as if God had not been doing anything after that first 7th day. He was even working every single day—including every 7th day of every week. Now, does that mean that God broke His own law by working on the Sabbath? No. Look at what Jesus said in Mark 2:27“The Sabbath was made for man.” The purpose of the Sabbath was so that man could take a day off from the day-to-day grind of life, and rest and enjoy the presence and worship of the LORD our God. John MacArthur--
"Jesus dropped the bomb of all bombs on their self-righteous minds in [Mark 2:]28, 'So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.' 'I am,' He says, 'the sovereign ruler over the Sabbath.' The Son of Man, again the messianic title; the Lord of he Sabbath, a stinging, impossible blasphemy to them. But He is the Lord of the Sabbath because He is God. 'I am the sovereign of this day. I designed this day. I am the Creator.' Doesn't John say that at the beginning of his gospel? 'Everything made was made by Him, and without Him was not anything made', so it was He who ceased to work, it was He who rested. It was He who ordained this day to be blessed and separated from work. 'I am the sovereign of this day. I am the interpreter of the will of God for this day. You do not rule the Sabbath. You do not set the standards of behavior for the Sabbath, I do. I interpret God's will and God's Word.' Yes Jesus is the interpreter of God's will. He is the interpreter of God's Word. He is the interpreter of God's Law, not men."
Jesus Christ is Lord.