Sabbath & Grace 2

Don: The subject of a Sabbath rest recurs throughout the Bible, from Genesis through Revelation, from the Creation of this earth to the Creation of a new earth:

“For just as the new heavens and the new earth
Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the Lord,
“So your offspring and your name will endure.
“And it shall be from new moon to new moon
And from sabbath to sabbath,
All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:22-23)

The emphasis throughout, especially the emphasis placed on it by Jesus, is not on the day of the Sabbath, but on the meaning of the Sabbath. By making time sacred instead of space, God forever removed Man’s control over the designation of what is sacred. Man can control space, but not time.

Like grace, Sabbath rest is a gift of God to all Mankind. We cannot hasten, delay, manipulate, modify, move, control, contain, advance, retreat, or alter it in any way. All we can do is enter into that sacred rest. Like grace, it is everywhere, it is available to all, always, for free.

To enter into it is to enter into God’s presence, to lay down one’s burdens, and to “study war no more” as the old spiritual song puts it [Here’s a wonderful rendition that absolutely captures the spirit of oneness—DE]. Life is a war, a daily contention among and within ourselves and even sometimes with God. It is to change our swords and spears for plowshares and pruning hooks:

And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war. (Micah 4:3)

Sabbath rest is not just physical. Primarily, Jesus told us, it is rest for the soul:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Also like grace, while we tend to want to control and use it for our own selfish advantage, we cannot in fact do so. We cannot possess it; it can only possess us. When we place ourselves and what we do (or do not do) at the center of the Sabbath, instead of letting the Son of Man—”Lord of the Sabbath,” as the Book of Mark puts it—then we are in danger of making the Sabbath into an idol and of worshiping it instead of worshiping God.

The references Jesus made to the Sabbath are about as frequent as His references to grace. Make no mistake: Our reverence for the Sabbath does not make us special in God’s eyes. He is the God of all Mankind. If God wanted uniformity of worship or correctness of doctrine, He would have spelled it out more clearly in the details of how we are to relate to Him.

But herein lie two related perils: First, the more that God lays down the rules, the more we place emphasis on our own work. God knows that since we ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, we are wired to seek discrimination of our work. Second, if God gave the rules to one group only, that group would use the rules to suppress everyone else. Even now, every religion and sect claims to speak for God and seek to subject everyone else to their view of His rules.

I believe that God has revealed elements of His Truth to people everywhere; that every great faith and every denomination has some identifiable insight into an element of Truth, which they then rightly emphasize. For us, one of those elements is the Sabbath. When we talk and teach and share, we all have something to contribute to a discussion about what it is that God would have us see about him.

Like grace, the gift of the Sabbath rest must not be hoarded. It must be shared, but not as a doctrine to be justified or proven. It must be shared as a gift, as it was given to us. To disconnect from our daily pace and connect with God and enter into physical, emotional, and spiritual rest is a very special opportunity, to be cherished and shared.

It has been said, with some truth, that the Sabbath of the Old Testament became obsolete, and that it was a tool used by God for Man’s recreation. But it is not Sabbath rest (which, like grace, is eternal) that is obsolete. What is obsolete is the notion of a Sabbath controlled by Man, with his rules and prohibitions at the center of it.

How we apply the eternal gift of Sabbath rest to ourselves is between us, individually, and God. Our church must share how, what, and why it means something that is important to us; but we also must share how we use it ourselves individually, and demonstrate it in terms of our relationship with God. But we must do so with great humility and without sanctions or judgment.

Like grace, the Sabbath is both predictable and eternal. Both require us to rest, not to work. Both are about God and what He does, not about us and what we do. Just as it is fatal to fail to embrace God’s everlasting grace, a Sabbath rest predicated on “my” work is also fatal, as it was for a man stoned for breaking it during the Exodus:

Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation; and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Numbers 15:32-36)

The Sabbath is also a symbol of freedom from bondage, for all God’s creatures—rich and poor, animals as well as humans:

Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

The apostle Paul told us to accept the Sabbath gift with great humility:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. (Romans 14:1-13)

Paul emphasized this point:

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument….

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (Colossians 2:1-4; 16-23)

To me, this does not in any way reduce the importance of the gift of Sabbath rest. Rather, it sheds light on how we should share the gift with others. Just as I should share grace with you, I should share the Sabbath—and I should do so without judgment, coercion, or affectation.

Isaiah stressed the importance of the gift:

“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot 
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, 
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, 
And honor it, desisting from your own ways, 
From seeking your own pleasure 
And speaking your own word, 
Then you will take delight in the Lord, 
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; 
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, 
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

and

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
To spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:10-11)

I think that “Doing you own pleasure” does not just mean doing the things you want and shunning the things you don’t want to do on the Sabbath. It means making yourself the focal point of the Sabbath—putting yourself at the center of it, rather than God. We should rather: “Take delight in the Lord.” The result is to be wrapped in the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness.

This is the eternal, abiding condition of grace. We know now that the heritage of Jacob is nothing less than a new name signifying God’s reinvestment of grace in Jacob and forgiveness of his sins.

How do other religions and denominations view and approach this matter? Is there a difference between Sabbath rest and Sabbath day?

David: Paul made it clear, as I understand him, that the day, as a particular day, is irrelevant. To me, the Scriptures quoted this morning point to the Sabbath as a time for spiritual enlightenment. In that sense, even the Buddhists (who recognize no God) practice a Sabbath rest they call meditation. But there is no fixed day or time for Buddhist meditation—it can take place at any time. As I see it (and as I believe Scripture wants us to see it) Sabbath rest or (same thing) meditation is a way of clearing the burden and clutter of everyday life from the soul, thus enabling us to see God or (same thing) nirvana more clearly. It enlightens us.

KB: How did Jesus display the grace that God gave Him during His time on earth?

Dr. Singh: Sabbath is a celebration of creation. It is a 7-day covenant between God and all Mankind, not just God and Christians. If there were no Sabbath, there would be no creation, no God, no sin, no Jesus, no need for repentance. God asked one thing of us: “Don’t forget me!” The Sabbath is for the purpose of remembering God. It is for the whole human race.

Kiran: When Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites rest on their Sabbath, he responded by doubling their workload instead. To Pharaoh, their value lay in how many bricks they could make. The very young or old and frail had no value by the measure of their works. But after liberation, when they had crossed the Red Sea, their worth was measured by God not on their works but by their taking rest in Him—by being, and behaving, like what they really were (and we really are): God’s children.

The Sabbath reminds me of this on a weekly basis. It is a blessing, a grace, to know that God cares for us, values us, and saves us because we are His children, not because we are His workers. Living in a world that measures us by social status, what we earn, and so on, it is easy to lose sight of this. Hence the value of the gift of the Sabbath.

Pastor Melchizedek Panaya (sp?): Sabbath is grace, and grace is Sabbath. Grace is an undeserved gift. Jesus gave us that gift. Of course the Trinity was involved in it, but Jesus was the prime Creator. At the end of His creative week, He said: “Now it’s time to rest.” That is the greatest gift that God gave Man. I deliberately choose the present tense: “Is” not “was.” Years later, at the other side of the Red Sea, He said “Remember! Abraham followed my covenant. He did what I had commanded. In fact, when God mandates something, you can choose not to do it or you can choose to do it. Abraham chose to do it, unlike his peers and family members. When Jesus was here, we were reminded (Luke 4:16) that it was His custom, His habit, though not as we understand “habit” today. It was divine habit. Jesus reminded the Jewish people (Matthew 5): “Don’t think I have come to destroy the law, or what was given on Mount Sinai.”

Whatever was given on Sinai was not exclusively for the Jews. It was for the whole of humankind. Why do you think the Gentiles and some of the Egyptians observed the Sabbath? Because it was a gift of grace, given to everybody. Jesus said: “Till heaven and earth pass away, not one iota (the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet) will be destroyed. Which means the law is not “Do/do not do…”, it is a contract about a relationship. As a pastor, I have conducted many marriages. It’s a covenant when a man and woman say their vows. That’s the kind of covenant God enters into. We don’t have to accept it. It’s a gift of grace. Isaiah (66:23) says:

“And it shall be from new moon to new moon
And from sabbath to sabbath,
All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord.

Sabbath will not be done away with. God reminds us that there will be celebration of creation, of our worth, of the definition of the covenant and the relationship in which we have ended through histories. It is the best of days. I am so glad that God gave me this gift. Yes, I can rest on any day. I can be rejuvenated on any day. But this is the day that God has given in a very special way in the context of the covenant of grace.

Dr. Singh: It’s the covenant of Man and God. That’s why He created everything in seven days. He could have done it in a day, but He gave us the weekly calendar, which the whole world now follows.

Kiran: Years and months are determined by the movements of the sun and the moon, but the Bible supplies the origin of the week.

Anonymous: Some people may say that it is a sign of grace, freedom, health, forgiveness, and so on. But what is the day? We can live like that any time, they say. But to me, a period of time facilitates rest for the mind, rest from oppressive thoughts, rest from racing with the world. Without it, our mind will still be in the world. We cannot be in the world and think of God at the same time. We can’t go shopping in the mall and worship God at the same time. The Sabbath is necessary to facilitate rest, but the particular day doesn’t matter of itself.

Pastor Melchizedek Panaya: Many studies confirm that rest is necessary for mental and physical health. Now the secular world is discovering the truth of this. It may be a significant variable in lifespan.

Anonymous: The difference between nighty rest and Sabbath rest is that in one we are unconscious but in the other we must be conscious to conduct our relationship with God.

Rimon: So the longer that Sabbath rest, the better the relationship.

KB: It encourages engagement with God.

Dr. Singh: Nightly rest is physical; Sabbath rest is spiritual and physical as well.

Pastor Melchizedek Panaya: If I did not have Sabbath rest, I would be a wreck. Unless I make a deliberate effort to keep the Sabbath, it is not a blessed day.

Don: Do Moslems enjoy a Sabbath rest?

Kiran: They have something like it on Fridays. Nepali Hindus practice rest on Saturdays, as it was in India until the British colonial rulers made Sunday the official holiday.

Dr. Singh: In India, priests of a certain Hindu God go door-to-door on Saturdays, seeking donations and cursing those who don’t give.

Pastor Melchizedek Panaya: Some Hindu gods are so evil they even curse other gods, and people think they have to be appeased.

David: The key thing about the gracious gift of the Sabbath rest is that it helps to re-establish oneness with God. What day it happens on, how long it happens for, I believe are immaterial. Half the world’s population does not have a Sabbath day yet manages to achieve oneness with God, whether they recognize God and oneness as Christians conceive of them or not.

Don: Next week we will begin a new discussion, on the topic of God and human government. We will consider the stories of Daniel, Joseph, and Esther; we will examine what Jesus taught about the separation of church and state (“Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; render unto God that which is God’s”); we will look at the establishment of Israel’s first king; we will discuss theocratic vs. monarchic government; and whether we should resist or surrender to government.

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