Now that most of the farmers in this congregation have worked on Sunday, I thought it would be a good time to make them feel guilty by speaking about Sabbath keeping.
I am kidding!
In fact, I find myself in an interesting spot.
I think this may be the first year that I have actually felt like I could bless the farmers as they went out to harvest on Sunday afternoon.
At the same time, I believe that most of us are missing out on what God truly intends for us in regard to Sabbath keeping.
I wonder whether we really get it.
Now you may think that this is crazy talk, but let me explain from Scripture.
The key text which will guide our thinking is Mark 2:27, where Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
I. The Story of Sabbath Keeping
To begin with, let us review the Biblical history of Sabbath keeping.
!! A. God Rested
It begins right after creation in Genesis 2:2-3 where we read, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
After completing creation, God stopped working and initiated the pattern which He intended for His creation, a pattern of working for 6 days and then taking a day of rest on the seventh day.
There are two important ideas which we need to take note of in this passage.
One is that the seventh day was intended as a day of rest.
If God, who needs no rest, chose to take a day of rest, then surely we also need to follow His example.
The other concept is that it was to be a holy day.
The word holy means set apart.
So God’s initial intention was that there should be one day in the week on which people rest and which they set aside as a special day, different from all the rest.
!! B. Covenant Command
Many years later when God made a covenant with his people, Israel, he gave them the Ten Commandments.
They were the rules by which he expected them to live in relationship with Him.
One of the Ten Commandments also has to do with Sabbath keeping.
In Exodus 20:8-11 we read, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.
On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.
Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Once again we find the same two ideas about Sabbath as we found in Genesis.
Once again the people are taught that it was to be a holy day.
God also repeated that it was to be a day of rest and that rest was not limited to them, but also extended to their servants and their animals.
!! C. The Jewish History of Observance
In the history of the people of Israel, there continued to be a consciousness of Sabbath keeping, but there was also a lot of disobedience regarding this command.
The people of Israel disobeyed God in many ways.
They worshipped other gods, they opened themselves up to idolatry, and among their many other sins, they did not keep the Sabbath.
Because of this failure to obey, God sent the prophets to warn them that He would judge them.
Several of the prophetic books mention failure to keep the Sabbath as one of the causes of their coming destruction.
For example, in Jeremiah 17:21-23 we read, “This is what the Lord says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem.
22 Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers.
23 Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline.”
They did not listen to God and as a result the nation was destroyed and many of the people were exiled to Babylon.
For 70 years they stayed in this foreign land, but after that time, God allowed them to return to the land of promise.
When they went back they rebuilt the temple and the walls around Jerusalem.
They re-established worship of God in Israel and were determined to follow God.
However, it wasn’t very long after they returned that they once again began to desecrate the Sabbath.
Nehemiah 13:15-22 describes their failure and Nehemiah’s great concern.
He recognizes their sin in verse 15, “In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads.
And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath.
Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day.”
He goes on in verses 17, 18 to warn them of the terrible consequences if they persist in this sin.
He says, “I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn’t your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city?
Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.”
The great concern was that although they had returned to the land, had they really returned to the Lord?
Failure to keep the Sabbath was an indication that they had not and Nehemiah’s concern was that they would once again be subject to God’s wrath.
!! D. Jesus and the Pharisees
Over the next four hundred years, it seems that Sabbath keeping developed into a deeply held value.
By the time Jesus came along, we discover in his interactions with them that they were very strict about keeping the Sabbath.
In fact, they had defined every detail of life so that they would know whether any action was a violation of Sabbath keeping or not.
They spoke of a “Sabbath day’s journey” which was a distance of about 7~/8 of a mile which defined how far you could travel on a Sabbath day.
They had defined every detail of what it meant to work even declaring that boiling water on Sabbath was work that should not be done.
So, no hot coffee on Sunday!
However, in the interactions with Jesus, we see that the question is really the same one raised by Nehemiah.
They had returned to Sabbath keeping, but had they returned to God?
Why was it that Jesus came into such violent conflict with the Pharisees on this issue that they determined to kill him because in their view he was violating the Sabbath laws?
But Jesus had not come to rebel against God or God’s law.
In fact the Bible tells us that Jesus came to fulfill the law, so we need to listen carefully to what He has to say in order to understand what God’s intention was for the Sabbath.
We get some idea of what Jesus was saying in the many Sabbath conflicts He had with the Pharisees.
This morning we will look at one of those passages, Mark 2:23-3:6.
This passage, reorients our thinking to what God intended Sabbath keeping to be.
His critical points are: that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath and that it is right to do good on the Sabbath and not evil.
!! E. The Lord’s Day
Before we take a little more time to think about how Jesus reorients our thinking about Sabbath, let us complete our review of the Biblical history of Sabbath keeping.
What happened after Jesus left and the church was started?
We find that Jewish Christians continued to meet on the Sabbath, but there is also evidence that a shift was beginning to take place.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia indicates that “conclusive evidence for widespread Sunday observance is not found until the 2nd century.”
However, there are hints that Christians began meeting on the first day of the week.
Acts 20:7 indicates that on the first day of the week Paul met with the believers at Troas to break bread together, which is likely a reference to communion.
In I Corinthians 16:1, Paul encouraged the Christians in that church to set aside some of their income on the first day of the week.
Revelation 1:10 speaks of John’s vision which took place on the Lord’s Day.
Right from creation, Sabbath has meant seventh day rest.
It prescribed a rest after the work had all been completed.
But the resurrection of Jesus took place on the first day of the week.
The idea is that instead of designating a holy day after work has been completed, the early Christians designated a holy day at the beginning of the week, recognizing that Christ rose on this day and that we go out to serve God with the assurance that Jesus has completed the work of sins forgiven and with the confidence of living in the resurrection.
Most Christians have continued this pattern of making the first day of the week a holy day.
This is a brief history of Sabbath keeping in the Bible.
The question is, “what does it mean for us?”
I believe that the words of Jesus in Mark 2:27 help us understand how we ought to observe Sabbath.
Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
!! A. If Man Was Made For the Sabbath
Jesus said this to the Pharisees who, by their behavior demonstrated that they believed that man was made for the Sabbath.
What were they thinking?
They were thinking that Sabbath is the most important thing there is and if we are to be pleasing to God, we must obey the laws of Sabbath keeping.
In a number of places in Scripture and especially in the words of Jesus we find out how wrong this perspective is.
Already in the prophets, God had declared his hatred of legalism.
In Hosea 6:6, God says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
The heart of God towards us was never intended to give us the impression that the things He tells us to do are to be a burden to us.