Many Christians observe Sunday worship today. Is the Bible's command to keep the Sabbath on Saturday still relevant?
In our special service here, we discuss key questions that you might have about the Christian Sabbath day. Watch the sermon below and learn what God desires for us concerning this special, blessed day.
This sermon covers the following points:
Sabbath keeping is always quite a contentious topic. Many Christians today feel that Sabbath is not binding on us anymore. There are at least a few thousand theses written to dispute the Sabbath. The speaker would like to state upfront that in the True Jesus Church, we believe the Sabbath Day is still very much relevant and binding on us today.
This sermon will explore some questions related to Sabbath keeping: Is the Sabbath only meant for the Jews? Some Christians believe keeping the Sabbath is an Old Testament Mosaic commandment and that Christ has already nailed it to the cross. Did Christ abolish the Sabbath? We will look into the Bible to answer these questions.
We first look into the origin of the Sabbath Day.
Origin Of The Sabbath Day
Genesis 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
The first thing we note here is the 7-day week cycle we’re familiar with today started at creation. Throughout history there have been some cultures that tried other weekly cycles. The Romans tried the 8-day weekly cycle. But the 7-day week cycle always remained to the end. All we know today is the 7-day week cycle. Because God knows us the best. And this 7-day week cycle was established by God right from the beginning. It could’ve been a 6-day cycle. But God established the 7-day week cycle by keeping the Sabbath Himself.
One may object: “So what? God didn’t command Adam and Eve to keep the Sabbath Day. He never commanded the patriarchs to keep the Sabbath Day. There’s no record of anyone keeping the Sabbath Day in the book of Genesis.” Often they’d say the first time God commanded anyone to keep the Sabbath Day was in Exodus when God gave the 10 commandments.
We have to first understand that Genesis is really a book about beginnings. About the beginning of creation. About the beginning of the Jewish nation. It’s not a detailed book like Leviticus or Exodus about the commandments of God. Also because Genesis mostly contains stories, very often it doesn’t give in detail exactly what God tells them to do or what the patriarchs actually did.
To give an example,
Genesis 26:5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws
What were these commandments, statutes and laws that God had charged Abraham to obey? Genesis itself doesn’t explicitly tell us. The speaker won’t try to argue here that this definitely includes the Sabbath commandment. The point here is: absence of mention in the book of Genesis doesn’t necessarily mean absence of practice by the patriarchs. Clearly there were commandments, statutes and laws God had given Abraham that were kept by Abraham.
Even though Genesis doesn’t give explicitly examples of how the patriarchs kept the Sabbath, there’s an explicit example of one who kept the Sabbath. The greatest one which is God Himself. Isn’t the example of God greater than any example of the patriarchs? The example God set at the point of creation forms the moral basis to keep the Sabbath.
Let’s examine more closely the actions God had taken. Let’s ponder why God had taken those actions.
Genesis 2:2-3 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
The first action God took was: He rested.
Why did God rest?
This ‘rest’ here doesn’t mean to recover after one has, for example, strenuously exercised. The speaker has been going for 5km jogs. Sometimes when he stops at the traffic light when it’s the red man, he will stoop over to recover. Some good intentioned joggers will tell him he should stand up straight instead but he just needs to bend over to catch his breath. God doesn’t need to rest in this manner. Because Isaiah says God neither faints nor grows weary (Isa 40:28). This ‘rest’ is actually a cessation from the work He has done in the 6 days. The question is: “If God didn’t need to rest, why did He specially rest?” It was obviously not for His own sake. He was settling an example for men to follow.
The second action God took was blessing the 7th day. Let’s stop for a moment to think again. God blessed the 7th day in creation. What has happened to God’s blessing of the 7th day today? Many Christians are not able to answer this question.
Is God’s blessing still valid today? Of course! There’s no record in the Bible where God nullifies this blessing. Even up to today, the 7th day is still blessed.
And then God took a third action which was sanctifying the Sabbath Day. Sanctify means to “set it apart”. There are 7 days in the week, this particular day God sets apart for Himself. One example is: the holy vessels in the temple are sanctified/set apart for God. The children of Israel are sanctified/set apart for God too. God setting apart the Sabbath Day is reserving this day for Himself. 7 days in a week and He sets this day apart. This is the divine example He gave on creation. He rested, blessed and sanctified the 7th day.
Today when we follow the same divine example, when we rest from our work, when we set apart the 7th day for God, we will receive the blessings of the 7th day. The divine example clearly shows us the original intention of God. If God set us an example, who are we not to follow? In fact, God’s original intention is the most important reason why we keep Sabbath.
Let’s compare Sabbath with the parallel example of marriage. There are many similarities between marriage and keeping the Sabbath. Marriage was also instituted at creation.
Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Like Sabbath, it doesn’t explicitly give any commands with regards to marriage. It doesn’t say anywhere here that a man should only have one wife. Nowhere does it say here a man cannot divorce his wife. Nowhere does it say a man cannot commit adultery. It just says “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”. Yet Jesus Himself pointed to this passage to tell us God’s original intention for marriage.
Matthew 19:4-8 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
The Pharisees came to test Jesus on whether divorce was allowed. The Mosaic law allowed for divorce. How did Christ answer this question? Christ goes right back to the point of creation to answer this question. What did God do at creation? He made them male and female and the two shall become one flesh. In other words, what God did at creation was what He intended all along. What happens at creation supersedes the law itself.
Actions speak louder than words.
What God has put together let no man put asunder. Who are we to go against God’s example? Same goes for God’s example of Sabbath at creation. This was His original intention. The question is: are we following God’s divine example today?
Next, let’s look at the explicit command to keep the Sabbath. God set an example in Genesis and gave an explicit command in Exodus.
The Explicit Command To Keep The Sabbath
Exodus 20:1-17 list the 10 commandments. They are commonly understood as the moral law. On Wikipedia 10 commandments page, it lists down all the major Christian denominations that agree one way or another that the 10 commandments contain the moral truth.
One statement: Through most of Christian history the decalogue (10 commandments) was considered a summary of God’s law and standard of behaviour, central to Christian life, piety, and worship. Most Christians agree the 10 commandments contain moral truths. So let’s see what the moral law says about keeping the Sabbath.
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 the Sabbath of the LORD your God. 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. 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.
Here lists the keeping of the Sabbath as the fourth commandment. It is also the only commandment that God asked the Israelites to remember. The other verses don’t say “remember”. For example verse 2 doesn’t say, “Remember I am the Lord your God”. Verse 3 doesn’t say, “Remember you shall have no other gods before Me.” Only the Sabbath day says “remember”. It’s interesting to note that this commandment is the one most people forget today! That’s why God specially says to remember.
View: Sabbath Is The Only Commandment Not Part Of The Moral Law
Some Christians object to this. They say this is the only commandment not part of the moral law. The argument is that the moral law must be timeless and eternal. They’d ask, “Did God follow a 7-week cycle before creation?” “Would there be a 7-week cycle after the world ends?” “See! Sabbath is temporary! It doesn’t exist when there is still creation. It’s not timeless hence it’s not part of the moral law.” When the speaker heard this, he also found the explanation convincing.
But if we examine the 10 commandments more carefully, not all of them are timeless! Some of them are clearly related to our human relationships on earth. “Honour your father and mother”. This relationship only holds while we are living on this earth.
Parent child relationships do not exist in heaven. “You shall not commit adultery.” Obviously husband and wife relationships only exist while we live in this world. There is no husband and wife relationship in heaven. There won’t be marrying nor being given in marriage in heaven. Jesus says we will be like angels in heaven.
Some of these moral commandments aren’t timeless. They are just related to our life on earth. Does it mean we need not honour our father and mother? Does it mean we can commit adultery just because there’s no marriage in heaven? Obviously not. Then obviously, it means we cannot break the Sabbath commandment just because there’s no seven-day cycle in heaven.
View: Sabbath Is Only For The Jews
Some Christians argue that Sabbath is only for the Jews. They like to cite Exodus 31:13.
“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.”
They’ll say, “See! It’s a sign between Jews and God. Nothing to do with us. We don’t deny it’s a sign between the Jews and God for generations. This verse says so.”
But is it only a sign for them? This verse doesn’t say so. But what is clear in this verse is that Sabbath belongs to God. “My Sabbaths you shall keep”. “My”. God is claiming sovereignty over Sabbaths.
Exodus 20:10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God.
God says the same thing as well. He claims sovereignty over the Sabbath Day. Why? Verse 11 gives the moral basis.
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.
Why? Because He set it apart at creation. There were no Jews at creation. Abraham was not even born yet. Therefore Sabbath is not made for the Jews. Jesus says it was made for men (Mark 2:27). It’s made for human beings like you and I. In fact, it included even Adam and Eve before they fell.
It is not uncommon for God to link His commandments with the Jews. In the Bible, because the Jews were specially chosen to be given the oracles of God, God would link His oracles to the Jews. This is very very common. In fact if we just read verse 2-3 which says:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before Me.
This in other words shows God linking His deliverance of the Jews to not having other gods because He led them out. Does it mean the first commandment is not universally applied to everyone? “It’s only relayed and applicable to the Jews!” Of course not. It’s a universal moral law. The Sabbath command is also a universal moral law.
View: We Cannot Determine Which Day Sabbath Is
Then others go even further. “Even if Sabbath is universal, we do not know exactly which day is the Sabbath Day today. Sabbath was established so long ago at creation. We’re so separated in time from creation. How do we know which day is the Sabbath Day? It could jolly well be Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. Who knows? There could be some calendar mix up over the years. How sure are you that it’s the same as during creation?”
Again let’s go back to the Bible. In the Bible there’s a point of reference. The first point of reference after creation is when God told the Israelites that manna won’t be given on the Sabbath Day. Manna was given on every day except the Sabbath Day.
From then on the nation of Israel knew exactly which day was the Sabbath Day. Let’s also remember that after the Jews were dispersed in the year AD70, the Sabbath was zealously kept by them after that as an entire nation. Is it possible for a whole nation of Jews dispersed all over the world to lose track of the days of the week? It’s impossible. This is also exactly where this verse comes in.
Exodus 31:13 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.
When we ask when the Sabbath Day is, we just need to look to the Jews. Because God Himself says Sabbath Day is a sign between Him and the Jews. A sign points to something. The sign points us to the exact day of the Sabbath Day. This task of Sabbath keeping was given to the Jews. It wasn’t given to the Chinese or any other race. To know which day is the Sabbath Day today, we just need to look to the Jews. They still keep it from Friday evening to Saturday evening today. So we keep the Sabbath from Friday to Saturday evening as well.
Finally we move on to Sabbath in the New Testament. There are many passages in the New Testament that people use to reject keeping the Sabbath. It’s impossible to go through every single passage in the limited time left. Some arguments people often use will be gone through nevertheless.
View: Christ Acted Against The Prevailing Sabbath Traditions In Order To Give His Followers The Freedom To Reinterpret The Sabbath
Christ acted against the prevailing Sabbath traditions in order to give His followers the freedom to reinterpret the Sabbath. He allowed them to choose a new day to worship. There are a few New Testament passages where Jesus Christ acted against the rabbinic traditions of the Sabbath. The question is: was Christ trying to abolish the Sabbath? Or was he just trying to clarify what one could do on the Sabbath?
Luke 13:15-16 The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
Jesus was exposing the hypocrisy of the Jews. They could show kindness and let their animal drink water. Yet Jesus was not allowed to show kindness and loose a daughter of Abraham who had been bounded on the Sabbath Day. They treated their animal better than their fellow Jew. Actually they were just hypocritical. Jesus clearly demonstrated one could do good on the Sabbath Day. You could save life on the Sabbath Day. Jesus wasn’t saying you can do away with the Sabbath Day.
For example, you’re driving to church on the Sabbath Day. You meet someone who is injured, left on the road with no one helping. Like the story of the Good Samaritan, we don’t just leave him and go to church. We stop our car, call the ambulance and make a police report. As a result, you miss the church service. Because clearly saving a man’s life is more important than missing one service. Can you draw the conclusion that because you miss one service to save a person’s life, you can then miss every service? Of course not.
Likewise Jesus was clarifying what you could do on the Sabbath Day. You could save lives and do good on the Sabbath. He’s not saying you can do away with it on the Sabbath Day. Jesus was clarifying. He wasn’t abolishing the Sabbath Day.
View: Sabbath Is Only A Prefiguration Of The Eternal Rest In Heaven
One final objection against the Sabbath. It’s often said Sabbath is only a prefiguration of the eternal rest in heaven. It’s a prefiguration of the rest we enjoy in Christ. So when Christ came, He fulfilled the Sabbath by being the Sabbath rest for us. Since Christ has fulfilled the typology or prefiguration of the Sabbath, we enjoy rest in Christ. We don’t need to keep the Sabbath! Is it true? Of course we only enjoy true rest in Christ. But we also know our ultimate rest is in the Kingdom of Heaven.
2 Thessalonians 1:7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels
We still suffer troubles on earth. We will enjoy the ultimate rest only when Christ comes again. Therefore the author of Hebrews also says a promise remains of entering that rest. We have yet to enter the ultimate rest. Therefore the Sabbath Day still plays a function to remind us of the eternal rest to come. Back to the parallel institution of marriage. Marriage was instituted during creation. Marriage has its typology in Christ as well.
Ephesians 5:31-32 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
When God instituted marriage, He actually had Christ and the church in mind. What was prefigured in marriage was fulfilled when Christ came to redeem the church. Would anyone then say: “Christ has come and redeemed His bride. There’s no need for marriage now.” No one will say let’s do away with marriage because it’s been fulfilled with Christ! Because we know the ultimate fulfilment is when Christ comes again; when Christ comes again to receive the church as His bride.
Therefore, very often, marriage helps us to better appreciate the love Christ had for the church. Likewise, Sabbath has not been made redundant. Christ has come! We enjoy true rest in Christ no doubt. But the ultimate fulfilment is when Christ comes again. So the weekly Sabbath still functions to remind us all to strive to enter the ultimate rest.
Benefits Of Keeping The Sabbath Day
This sermon has talked about why we keep the Sabbath Day and will conclude with the benefits of keeping the Sabbath Day. Some Christians feel keeping the Sabbath is a huge burden. “Why should I be forced on this day to not do the things I want? This doesn’t contribute to my wellbeing. Sabbath was made for men not men for Sabbath. Since there’s no benefit to me why must I keep it?”
But Sabbath was never meant to be a burden. It’s actually made for men. God knows men best. It’s actually made for the wellbeing of men. It’s really a day for you to rest from the labours of the other 6 days. Human beings cannot just work and work and work everyday. Most importantly, it’s a day for us to nourish ourselves spiritually.
Isaiah 58:13-14 “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
If you honour the Sabbath Day, you shall ride on the high hills of the earth. What does it mean? If you’re at the foot of the hill, you can’t see very very far away. But the higher you climb, the further you can see. Before Moses died, God asked Moses to go up to Mount Nebo. What did Moses see? He saw the whole plain of Canaan. This has a parallel with our spiritual life as well. If we keep the Sabbath Day, we’re like rising up a high hill. God will raise our spirituality. When we work every other day in the week, we’re often just concerned with the things of the world; with the things below. When we drop all this work and keep the weekly Sabbath, we set it apart to refocus on what is above, God will cause us to ride on the high hills of the earth. Eventually, we shall see as far as the heavenly land of Canaan.
Therefore let us be diligent to keep the Sabbath. Let’s set it apart for a day for God to nurture our relationship with Him; to refocus ourselves on the things that are above. May God bless all of us with the blessings of the Sabbath Day.