We Christians often refer to the 10 commandments. Indeed, some Christians see these commandments as the only ones in the “old” testament that still apply to them. However, there is one commandment out of these 10 that most never obey. In fact, if you dare to question them on this command, they are apt to become angry – angry at the mere suggestion that they SHOULD obey this command. That leaves just nine commandments that they really DO obey. In this post, I want to talk about the one commandment that evangelical Christians (almost) never obey – even though many think they do.
Before we go there
On Friday’s, my wife and I do some extra planning. We shop for food items ahead of time. We also try to clear our plates of any urgent business. We (rather, my wife) cook a couple of meals ahead of time. By sundown, we are ready to spend time with family or friends or simply to “chill” together.
On Saturday morning, we sleep in. (The only exception to this is when joining a group for study or worship). We spend the morning reading God’s word and sharing our insights. Lunch and dinner are leisurely affairs. They are pre-prepared. There is no cooking to do and no pots and pans to clean. In the afternoon, we both take a nap or read some more.
Later, we may go for a walk or a bike ride enjoying nature and the beauty that surrounds us. We take time to study the flowers and wonder over the birds we see. The pace is slow and thoughtful. We don’t allow ourselves to think about unfinished tasks or the week ahead. We just bask in the pleasure of what God has created and enjoy Him in the process. Sometimes, we call friends and catch up on their lives. Sometimes, we pull out a journal or write a blog post on the reflections of the day. By sunset, we feel fully rested.
To the point
By now, it should be obvious that I am writing about the 4th commandment – the one that few in my country obey. It is ironic that God uses more words to communicate the proper observance of this command than any of the other nine commands. Why then, is this the one that has been universally ignored or intentionally disobeyed?
The 4th commandment describes keeping the Sabbath. Technically, Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, which is called Preparation Day (Luke 23:54), and ends at sundown on Saturday. The correct definition of this day is clearly described at the start of Genesis. Of all the days of the week, this is the only one that God set aside as holy for the purpose of rest and assembly. This day has been sanctified or set apart for this very purpose. (Gen 2:3)
It is worth noting that the Israelite people have maintained meticulously accurate records of this day from the time of Moses until now. In every place where Scripture speaks of the Sabbath, it is speaking of Saturday. I am not aware of any respected evangelical scholar who believes that the sabbath of Scripture refers to any other day of the week. However, please do your own research so you too can rest assured that this day of the Biblical week is not in dispute.
The Sabbath day was given by God to all humanity as a gift. It is to be a day of rest, a vacation. When we obey Him, we experience 52 days of total relaxation a year. If my math is correct, that comes to 7.4 weeks of vacation, each and every year – from day one. Now THAT’s an employer I’d like to work for! Come to think of it, that IS who I work for!!
Earlier, I described how my wife and I keep the sabbath. I don’t mow grass or repair equipment and she does not cook or clean the house. Instead, we make time for God and we make time for each other. Often, we also make time for family and friends. We enjoy it for what it is – a precious gift.
I just referred to Sabbath as “a vacation.” Technically, that is not correct. Sabbath is primarily a “holy place in time”. Just as there are “holy places” (such as the temple in Jerusalem), there are “holy times” – periods set apart to meet with God. First and foremost, Sabbath is a holy place in time where God Almighty invites us to join him. Is it also a day of rest? Definitely.
What about Sunday?
Some sincere Christians believe they obey the sabbath command by attending a church service on Sunday. If they are honest, they will call this “The Lord’s Day”, not the Sabbath. These are two different days.
The first thing to recognize, is that in God’s economy, the first day of the week is a work day. It was on this day of the week that He created light. (Gen 1:3-5) It was also on this day that he raised a dead man – His very own son – back to life. (Luke 24:1-9) Now, for those who don’t think that raising the dead is hard work, I suggest giving it a try – without any divine assistance, of course. Please let me know how that goes.
Why three days?
I’m sure many of us have pondered why Jesus remained dead over some part of three calendar days. There are several good reasons – one of which was for the fulfillment of Scripture. Another obvious reason, is that God observed and honored the day of rest that he had set aside centuries before. So did his disciples, who would not even visit his tomb until Sabbath was over.
Any day will do
Some people believe that God doesn’t get to pick the day Sabbath falls on. Really? Their argument is that if they treat a work day like they would a Sabbath, then for them, it becomes a Sabbath. What are we to say to this?
My first observation is that someone already tried this. Remember when the Israelites were being guided through the desert by God and a man went out to gather sticks on the Sabbath? (Numbers 15:32-36) What did God tell Moses to do? That’s right. God said the man should be executed. And he was.
If we learn nothing else from reading the Hebrew Scriptures, we should note that God expects precise obedience to His commands. Remember when Moses and Aaron were told to speak to a rock to bring forth water and instead, Moses hit the rock with his staff? How did that go over with God? Do we really want to stand before Him some day and explain that we did not obey His clearly written orders because . . . (you fill in the blank)?
Remember Uzza? He and Ahio were the two cart drivers on the day king David and all Israel went to bring the ark of God back to where it belonged. This was a good thing – in fact, a very good thing and long overdue. They were part way back when the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. One driver, Uzza, reached out to steady the ark. Perhaps without thinking and with the best of intentions, he violated a clear command and by doing so, showed disrespect for God. He died instantly. (See I Chronicles 13:5-10)
How to overturn a “last will and testament”
God put the 4th command (as well as all the others) in writing. Why? Because it was intended to be a legally binding document. That’s one reason. (Another, is that we need to be continually reminded!!) So, what would be required to legally overturn this particular command? Even in human courts of law, overturning a legal document requires another written document, signed by the same person, that is more recent than the first document. We know this, right? What judge overturns a written and verified last will and testament because a distant relative states in court that “I was told in a recent phone call that the inheritance is all mine?” We laugh at this.
So, those who think THEY get to choose what day is the Sabbath, need to provide a more recent document, signed by God, declaring that such is the case. Nothing less will do. I suspect I will be waiting a long time to hear about this.
But – this was just for the Jews, right?
There’s much I could say in response to this question. For now, let’s just remember what Jesus said in Mark 2:27 “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” We would do well to note that he did not say the Sabbath was made for the Jews, but for “man” – literally “mankind”. By his choice of words, Jesus is teaching that the creation order governs all mankind, not just Israel.
A couple examples
It was Jesus weekly custom to be in the synagogue on Sabbath. (See Luke 4:16) Today people ask the question “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD bracelets) Well, here we have one answer! As Jesus’ disciples, doesn’t it make sense to do as He did?
If anyone would have had a problem with the Sabbath, it would have been the missionary to the gentiles, Paul. But Scripture tells us in Acts 17:2 that it was his custom to keep the Sabbath, meeting with fellow believers in the synagogues and later, in homes.
We already know the future on this subject
If we need more evidence, we should consider how it will be in the future. When speaking of the last days, Jesus told his audience “Pray that your flight will not be . . . on the Sabbath.” (Matt 24:20) Why would the Sabbath be a concern for anyone in the last days if His people were no longer to keep it?
If the Sabbath has somehow been replaced by Sunday (as some believers claim), then why will the Sabbath be in force during the Millenium for both the Jew and foreigners who attach themselves to Israel? (See Isaiah 56:3 and 58:13)
Honestly, greater scholars than I, have found no hint in Scripture that the Sabbath has been abolished or changed. What I found however, was Jesus’ clear teaching that until Heaven and earth pass away, nothing in the law, which includes the 4th commandment, will be removed or done away with. (See Matt 5:17-20)
Conclusion – for now
Do you meet with other believers on Sunday to worship God? Great! Feel free to do so – any work day of the week. While you are doing this however, be sure to keep the Sabbath. Rest on Saturday. Refrain from any work. Make time for God and your spouse or closest family members. It is a gift. Enjoy it and experience the blessings that come to those who obey the commands.
Around the world, believers are waking up to the realization that they have been missing out. Indeed, God has been gracious to us Gentile believers who abandoned this truth shortly after the first century A.D. Perhaps, like Uzza, we no longer fear God the way we should – with a sense of holy awe. There is great joy in reclaiming this command and its blessings and in sharing each Sabbath with those of the nation of Israel who still follow hard after their Messiah. Join us.