Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Remaining Christian Sabbath

"So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His."
- Hebrews 4:9-10

The Sabbath was incorporated into the very first acts of God in His creation. After the six days of creation of Genesis 1, chapter 2 begins with the Sabbath. Verses 1-3 read, "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation." So the Sabbath long preceded the ceremonial Law, and was not part of it, though recognized in it. However, in commemoration of that event, God instructed Moses to include it in the Law. Exodus 20:8-11: "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 the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

The theme is also picked up by the prophets. In Isaiah 58:13-14, the prophet tells us, "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."

In the New Testament, Jesus acknowledges the Sabbath. For example, in Matthew 12:8, He declares Himself Lord of the Sabbath. Of course, as Jehovah in the flesh, He would have literally been the Lord of the Sabbath, even if He hadn't declared it explicitly. However, the fact that He did so is clear indication that He considered it part of the Old Testament typology that will be completed in Him, to be valued by Christians, for it hasn't been fulfilled, yet, as the writer of Hebrews, quoted above, reminds us.

Jesus's teaching on the Sabbath is clarified in Mark 2:27, which precedes the Marcan version of Mt 12:8, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." That is, He rejected the rules of the Pharisees which made the Sabbath a burden, restoring it to its original purpose, i.e., the rest from our labors that honors and celebrates the providence of God.

In Acts (such as Acts 13:14), we see the apostolic Christians attending synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath, then gathering as the church on the first day in celebration of the resurrection. There appears to be no explicit command for this transfer; apparently it happened spontaneously. For example, Acts 20:7 describes the believers gathering on the first day of the week to celebrate the Lord's Supper. Paul also mentions this practice in I Corinthians 16:2. In contrast, the same apostle dismisses the demands of the Judaizers that the Christians celebrate the other, ceremonial holidays, in Romans 15:4 and Galatians 4:10, or the Jewish Sabbath in Colossians 2:16. While the Christians may celebrate these days with their Jewish neighbors and kin, they are also free not to, as their individual consciences may dictate.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us in 4:9, that "there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God..." Among its many blessings, the Sabbath reminds us that we can, even must, rest from our spiritual labors, because Jesus has fulfilled the requirements of the Law and satisfied the justice of God, which had been offended by the fall of Adam and all his posterity. However, the Sabbath continues to have an eschatological aspect, because we cannot yet rest from our spiritual warfare, against Satan and the remaining sin in our flesh. That work, too, will end in the resurrection, where we shall receive our new bodies, free of corruption, and Satan will be finally judged and removed from any influence in the world. That is the ultimate Sabbath that the weekly Sabbath points us to. That is why the Sabbath cannot cease to be a blessing as long as this life continues.

And finally, we find the Christian Sabbath mentioned in the last book of the Bible. The Apostle John mentions, in passing, Rev. 1:10, that he was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, an alternate name for the Christian Sabbath. Thus, the emphasis on his personal spiritual exercise on the first day of the week, not the Jewish Sabbath, but rather the Christian.

Thus we see the biblical basis for the credal view of the Sabbath, from the first book of the Bible to the last. The Westminster Confession of Faith (XXI:7) says, "As it is the law of Nature, that, in general, a due portion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath."

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