The following is a sermon transcription that will explain about Sabbath and focus on what is God’s grace for us in the Sabbath.
God’s Grace in the Sabbath
(adapted from a sermon by Pr Peter Shee)
The Seventh-day Sabbath
The weekly Sabbath, the Seventh-day Sabbath is a much misunderstood thing. This has resulted in diverse opinions and these opinions ranged from non-observance, which they think Sabbath is abolished, to perhaps a transferred observance from Saturday to Sunday, which they called the Lord’s Day. Those who observed the Lord’s Day do so because Lord Jesus resurrected on Sunday. Some go to the other extreme to say that we can observe the Sabbath on any day that is convenient to us. So if my work gave me an off day on Monday then that would be my Sabbath and I would find some way to observe it. Some people will do it this way, depending on which country you are in. They kept Sabbath on the Sunday since most countries declare Sundays as weekend. It is not because of any biblical instruction, because it can be any day and Sunday is most convenient. And for those who live in Israel, it will be on Saturday. For those who live in Arab countries, Sabbath observance will be on Friday. Can we observe the Sabbath at our convenience, on any day?
There are still a handful of churches who continue to observe the Sabbath, the biblical Sabbath on the Seventh-day of the week. Is the Sabbath still relevant to Christians today? Is the Seventh-day Sabbath on Saturday still something that Christians should keep?
So Jesus said, “I did not come to destroy the law or to abolish the law.” Instead, everything that God has put into the law must be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18). So the law is to be fulfilled, not to be abolished, because the law has a purpose.
According to Paul in his letter to the Galatians, the law was given because of Christ. The law was given in order to point us, to lead us, hold us by the hand to Christ. So what we know of the Mosaic Law, it is good, it is from God, and in it we can see grace. The grace that the Lord Jesus has bestowed upon us.
The law makes us understand what grace is all about. For example, “Circumcision” points to us the remission of sins. In the Old Testament, when people sinned, they needed to sacrifice sin offerings. On the day of atonement, a special designated day, the high priest could offer a sin offering for the entire nation of Israel. This was in Mosaic Law, the law of Moses. And the sin offering points to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the remission of our sins. So you see, the law of Moses actually helps us understand the grace of God.
We do not undergo circumcision today, not because Christ came to destroy this law but He has fulfilled it. Today we need not offer sin sacrifice. Whenever we sin we just asked God for forgiveness. This is not because Jesus came and He said, “Okay the law of Moses, what is all this? This is all nonsense, I will just take it away. Abolished.” But because He fulfilled it, therefore we do not need to keep it any longer. So whether keeping the Sabbath day applies to us or not depends on whether Jesus has fulfilled the Seventh-day Sabbath in His work on the cross.
Notice I say weekly Sabbath, because in the Old Testament there are many, many kinds of Sabbaths. But the Seventh-day Sabbath, on Saturday that we know it, has it been fulfilled by Jesus in His work for us? Or is it still waiting for fulfillment in the future? Let us look at the purpose of the weekly Sabbath and differentiate it from the other Sabbaths from the Old Testament.
The weekly Sabbath was a day dedicated by God for man.
Jesus made a very important statement in Mark 2:27, He said “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” This was because there were some misconceptions regarding the Sabbath in His days. They thought that the Sabbath was meant to restrict man. In fact all these restrictions were man-made. Can you imagine when Jesus passed by the corn field, he could not just pluck the ears of the corn to eat, because that was considered “harvesting”, that is work. So Jesus corrected one kind of misconception regarding the Sabbath. However today, our misconception goes to the other extreme, because we misinterpreted what Jesus said here. There are two parts to see statement, but many people only look at the second part of the statement, i.e. “man was not made for the Sabbath.” They read it to mean that we need not keep the Sabbath. But it is already clear about what Jesus said, “The Sabbath is made for man.” So it is the misconception on how we keep the Sabbath that Jesus was trying to eradicate, not the Sabbath day itself.
In fact, in the very first part of the statement, Jesus tells us the purpose of the Sabbath, – to benefit man. So man as the beneficiary of the Sabbath day was mentioned before Jesus negated all these restrictions of Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day dedicated for man. And who dedicated it? If we know the scriptures, right from the very first book, Genesis 2 it says that when God created everything, He did it in six days. On the Seventh-day there was nothing created but He instituted the Sabbath. He says two things. First He says that it is a Holy Day. Secondly He says that it is a day of Blessings. How does He bless a day? Does it mean that the Sun becomes brighter, the air becomes fresher? The day was set apart for man to receive his blessings. So can you imagine what an honor God set aside a special day just for man? And He even says these day that He dedicated to man is holy. That many honorable man of the past, we dedicate certain days to them. But none of these days were set to be holy. Gandhi’s birthday, Sun Yat Sen’s birthday, all these are not holy days. But the day that God set aside for us, that day is Holy. And that day is full of blessings, locked inside for us. Let us see what God says when He gave the Sabbath day as part of the Ten Commandments. Then we realized that not only do we see the grace of God in the Sabbath, we realize that the Sabbath itself is a grace.
Exodus 20:11 says the reason why this day was set apart was because God rested on that day after His six days of creation. And it served as a weekly reminder so that we do not forget our origin but are clear that we do have a Creator. If there is no Creator, then we are just a product of blind chance, that has no value. But when God specially design us, and when God create us for a purpose, that makes our lives valuable. And when we recall how God created man in comparison with how He created other things, we realized how much love and grace God has given us. The Sabbath day is given to us to remind ourselves of the grace of God’s creation, because when God created us He did not just say “Let there appear human kind” and human kind just sprang from the ground and walk around. That happens to the monkey. When He said “Let there be monkeys.” and a pair of monkeys, male and female just sprang from the ground and started to crawl around and swing around. But when God created man, the bible says that He fashioned man from the dust of the ground. So God fashioned man. Pointing to the fact that man was His Masterpiece. Man was created in stages. It is not that God did not have the power to create man in split seconds, but because man was His Masterpiece, He wants to show us, when we read the bible, that He has put a lot of heart into the creation of man.
Next, Genesis also tells us, that God breathe into the nostril of Adam, the breath of Life and Adam became a living soul. It is just a simple statement like this, but there is a lot of depth in it. That is why in the book of Job, when this man Job underwent a lot of trials and tribulations, he drew closer to God, he understood God better, and God opened up his mind to understand what was meant by God breathing into the nostril of Adam, the breath of Life. It is said in Job 32:8 that there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives man understanding. So the weekly Sabbath is a reminder of God’s creation, and specifically God’s creation of man. He fashioned man in His own image and breathe into Adam’s nostril the breath of Life, He makes us His Son.
There is another reason why God put the Sabbath day in the Ten Commandments.
Deuteronomy 5:15 – And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
It is because of God’s deliverance. He brought them into the land of Canaan and the bible says the land of Canaan was the land of rest. And here it says, “Therefore you must keep your Sabbath day in all your dwellings.” They were homeless in Egypt, but in Canaan God gave them rest, God gave them home. So it is not just out of Egypt, but it is also into Canaan. Out of slavery, out of toil, into freedom and into rest.
Leviticus Lev 23:3 – ‘Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.’
The Sabbath day is a day that you should not just rest, but a day for you to assemble together. Not just to assemble to eat and drink and be merry, or to play a game, for it is a Holy convocation, not a gathering of indulgence. It means to say that it is a must to gather for worship, to come for Sabbath service, to have fellowship with God and with our fellow brothers and sisters.
Matthew 11:28-29 is an invitation of Jesus, and it says here, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” But some people misunderstand that Jesus meant that we need not keep the weekly Sabbath anymore. But Jesus says in the next verse, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” What is the yoke for? Do we bear the yoke to go and enjoy ourselves? The yoke is laid upon beast to make them work. So what Jesus meant to say is this – we will still have our own toil and labor on earth, and sometimes also pain and sickness. It is like a yoke, like a burden on us. But if Jesus bears the yoke with us, no matter how much physically tiring and demanding the demands of this life can be, there will be rest for our souls. But the Lord is also gracious, and He wants to give us rest for our body on the Sabbath day once a week. And when we are sick, we can never rest, but with Jesus, even when we feel the pain and the sufferings, there will be inward peace. So Matthew 11:28-29 is not to tell us that the weekly Sabbath is fulfilled. It will only be fulfilled when we go into the Kingdom of Heaven (Revelations 14:13), when we die in the Lord and rest from our labors.
But what the Lord does fulfill for us is the other kind of Sabbath, the Sabbath days of the seven feasts. And Jesus has also fulfilled for us the special offerings that must be made on the Seventh-day. (Matthew 11) That is why today we need not offer special sacrifices nor need to keep the feast-day’s Sabbaths.
But the weekly Sabbath points to the rest in Heaven. It is not fulfilled in our lives yet. We only need not keep it when we die. When we are still alive, this day is God’s gift for us, let us enjoy it, since it is especially dedicated to us.
The Sabbath day is not something that belongs to the old covenant.
Let us turn to Isaiah 56:1-7
Thus says the LORD:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come,
And My righteousness to be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who lays hold on it;
Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Do not let the son of the foreigner
Who has joined himself to the LORD
“The LORD has utterly separated me from His people”;
Nor let the eunuch say,
“Here I am, a dry tree.”
For thus says the LORD:
“To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
Even to them I will give in My house
And within My walls a place and a name
Better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
That shall not be cut off.
“Also the sons of the foreigner
Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him,
And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants—
Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And holds fast My covenant—
Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be accepted on My altar;
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Seventh-day Sabbath is a covenant of grace. There are many important truths in these seven verses. The prophet Isaiah talked about God opening His arms to welcome foreigners, i.e. non-Jews. Isaiah pointed to a time where there will be a big influx of Gentiles into God’s elect. And God says, “As long as you keep the Sabbath it shows me two things: that you choose what pleases me, and it shows that you hold fast to my covenant.”
Twice in this passage in verses 4 and 7, it links keeping the Sabbath to us holding on to the covenant of God. And this is the new covenant in Jesus Christ that allows all Gentiles to become God’s people. That is why it ends here by saying that My House shall become a house of prayer for all nations. And verse 5 says, “An everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” The name will be in the very wall of God’s house. So we know that this is not talking about the Old Testament temple, but the church of God. In the church of Jesus Christ, names of Gentiles are inscribed on the spiritual walls of the church to become part and parcel of the church. Therefore this Sabbath’s blessing is not an Old Testament thing, or a Jewish thing, but a New Testament and a Christian thing. It is to be enjoyed by us who looked towards the new heavens and the new earth. It is a covenant of grace, a new covenant. Even in the Old Testament times, there are many things that could not be done on the Sabbath day. They really could not go and till the ground, they could not even pick up firewood, and of course they could not light a fire. But there were certain things that they could do.
Jesus says two things are permitted on the Sabbath, one is circumcision, another is healing. The circumcision points to covenant, because that is the seal, the sign of covenant. Healing points to grace. So on Sabbath day, circumcision can be done because the Sabbath is a covenant. Healing is allowed on the Sabbath day because healing is a grace. So the Sabbath day is a covenant of grace, it is a day when God wants to heal us so Jesus can perform all kinds of healing (John 7:22-23). It is also a day when we can save lives, even lives of animals. Jesus said if your animal dropped into a well you could also save its life on the Sabbath.
It is not that they are abolished or expired because they are all fulfilled in Christ. Only the grace that the Seventh-day Sabbath which in itself a grace, it still remains. This Sabbath day itself is a grace that still remains. Just like Baptism is a grace, it is with us. The Sabbath is a grace also because it is a sign of our sanctification. We do not just discern between good and evil, right and wrong (that we do everyday), on the Sabbath day, we do not just distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil but at a higher level, we distinguish between sacred and secular. Therefore it is a sign of our sanctified identity.
Ezekiel 20:12 says that God gives people the Sabbath so that they will know that “I am the LORD who sanctifies them.”
Finally in Matthew 24, Jesus talked about the great tribulations at that time. In verses 20-22 – “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.” Jesus mentioned the elect. The elect will be spiritually protected in the day of great tribulation. And Jesus says, “And pray that your flight may not be on the Sabbath.” Meaning to say that the elect keeps the Sabbath, so the Sabbath day identify the elect as God’s sanctified people. That is why the Seventh-day Sabbath is a grace. It has not been abolished, it has not been fulfilled yet, but it will find its fulfillment in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the grand and eternal Sabbath.