Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Christian's True Sabbath

Had the blessing of preaching at Gracepoint Baptist in Edmond this morning.
Preached on the Christian's True Sabbath - the Christ who promises true rest to all the Father has given Him.
Gracepoint is a wonderful fellowship where some of the saints make comments or ask questions during the sermon. I like this model!

The Christian's True Sabbath

Many people these days have a renewed interest in reformed theology and one thing that inevitably comes up is the doctrine of the Christian Sabbath that is found in those beloved confessions. What is the Christian Sabbath? This is a question that has consumed many men over the years. There are those who think one can only worship on Saturday (including 7th day Baptists) and others who claim the day was moved! Let's dig into this topic, with an eye towards the Scriptures rather than anyone's tradition.

It is clear from Scripture that God gave the weekly Sabbath to national Israel (Ex 16:23) as a sign of the covenant YHWH made with them (Ex 31:13 & 17); a covenant that was not made with the patriarchs (Deut 5:3) nor with the saints of the New Covenant (Jer 31:32). Yet there are many Christians who think the first day of the week is the "Christian Sabbath," having a direct connection with the Jewish Sabbath. Some of them are genuinely pious and try to observe the day as they are convicted. Others are aggressive towards those who do not agree with them on this topic. Many have never considered what the Bible says about the topic but are convinced their position is biblical. This is why it's important for the saints to consider what the Word of God says about the True Sabbath.

Within Baptist circles, there are many who hold to the 1689 LBC; which follows the Presbyterian thought and wording very closely on this topic. Hear what that confession says on this topic in chapter 22:

As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God's appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he has particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord's Day:and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.

The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe a holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (paragraphs 7 & 8)

There is no question that the Sabbath command given to Israel was to rest, from all work - but not all “works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employment and recreation.” The commandment only specifies rest from works. Exodus 34:21 makes this clear: even in plowing time and harvest, Israel was to rest from their work on the seventh day just as YHWH had rested from His work on the seventh day. No tending to animals, no working of fields, no work - period. This is a continuation of what He began teaching them in Exodus 16: God’s people are to work (itself a gift from God, mired in a creation cursed by Adam’s sin) yet see every good thing as provision from Him. On the seventh day, work for even the basics of life was prohibited to that His covenant community people would trust Him. The biblical Sabbath command says nothing about words and thoughts - it only commanded physical rest in the family dwelling.

We also do not find anywhere in Scripture is the teaching that there is a law of nature that binds all men in this perpetual sabbath command; nothing showing it was moved from the 7th day to the 1st day; nothing showing it continues to end of the age; and nothing showing it was called "the Lord's Day." Further, a detailed comparison of what the confessions describe as the "Christian Sabbath" with the biblical account of the Jewish Sabbath show virtually nothing in common. Rather than resting in your home, you are commanded to leave your home and gather with the saints while you neither work, speak, nor think about anything other than worship. Not only have they allegedly moved the day, they redefined it.

Biblical Sabbath
1689 “Christian Sabbath”
Every 7th day (Ex 16:27-30, Ex 20:8-11, 31:15, 35:2; Lev 23:3; Deut 5:14)
Para 7: Claims One day in Seven (Ex20:8). Changed from the last day of the week to the first day of the week (citing 1 Cor 16:1-2; Acts 20:7); claiming “Christian Sabbath” as the Biblical Sabbath was abolished (no Scripture citation).
Rest from all work (Ex 16:23, 25; 20:8-10; 35:2; Lev 23:3; Num 15:32; Deut 5:12-15; Jer 17:21)
Para 8: Rest from all works, words, and thoughts (Isaiah 58:13; Neh 13:15-22).
Remain in your dwelling (Ex 16:29; Lev 23:3)
Private and public worship are commanded (para 8; no Scripture citation)
It is a sign to the Israelite (Ex 31:13, 16, 17; Lev 24:8; 2 Chr 2:4; Neh 9:14; Ezek 20:12, 20)

Death penalty for violating it, even minor activities such as picking up sticks (Ex 31:14-15; Num 15:32-36)

No fires for cooking, Sabbath day meals were prepared the day before (Ex 35:3)

Ceremonial bread, made in accordance with a strict formula, was presented (Lev 24:8; 1 Chr 9:32)

Offerings – consisting of lambs, grain, and drink (Num 28:9, 10)

Soldiers/priests guard the temple (2 Kings 11:5-12; 2 Chr 23:4-8)

Gentiles not bound (Deut 5:15; Neh 10:31)
Para 7: Claims “law of nature … by Gods appointment” a “moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages” (no Scripture citation).
Prohibited from business (buying or selling) with Gentiles (Neh 10:31, 13:15-19)

Gentiles invited to join with God’s people and keep the Sabbath (Isaiah 56:1-7)

Israel to keep the Sabbath (Isaiah 58:13)

Duties of necessity and mercy are permitted (para 8; Matt 12:1-13)
No bearing of burdens (Jer 17:21-27)

What we do see in Scripture is the Lord Jesus taking the Sabbath teaching from Exodus and Deuteronomy and applying to kingdom living in a different way. In His Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:19-34, as He describes a people who are heavenly-minded, avoiding covetousness, being solitary in their focus on being obedient to their God. He then says be not anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. If we consider His provision for Israel as they were led out of Egypt, the parallel is amazing. In their exodus from Egypt, YHWH had provided Israel manna and quail to eat (Exodus 16:13 & 14), water from a rock (Exodus 17:1-7), and clothes that did not wear out (Deuteronomy 8:4). God provided for His temporal people the necessary things of life in this temporal age. He continues to provide these things for His spiritual children, just as He will discipline us as He disciplined them. Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son (Deuteronomy 8:5 NASB). All that was done was to teach Israel to trust YHWH, to honor Him, to glorify His name amongst the pagan world. These are the continuing messages from our God, who causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28, NASB). This “good” that God orchestrates is for our spiritual good, which is eternal. He will provide what we need in this life, but He works all things together for our eternal good, adding all these things to us in His time.

This is the theme of the Jewish Sabbath: rest from temporal work, trusting God to provide. This is the spiritual application of the Jewish Sabbath: cease from your works of self-righteousness, trusting God to impute His to you and find your rest in Christ (Hebrews 4:9-10). God ceased from creation work when it was finished and He declared it very good. He has ceased from His work of re-creation and He declared “It is finished!” (John 19:30); and He bids us who are weary from labor and heavy laden find our rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30). His yoke is easy, contrasted with the heavy yoke of the Mosaic Covenant that no man can bear (Acts 15:1-11). Jesus is the true rest, the true Sabbath for the Christian; the Jewish Sabbath is pale, weak shadow. The confessional version of the "Christian Sabbath" is like claiming to admire the sun while fidgeting with a flashlight. We are to honor the Son, not the shadow.

The 1689 LBC cites a passage from Isaiah (chapter 58 verse 13) wherein Creator God holds up the weekly Sabbath as a touchstone of His relationship with Israel. Is this text rightly applied to the New Covenant church? In this passage, not for the first time, a prophet of God is rebuking His temporal people for failing to keep His covenant made with them. The religious people in Israel had turned their Sabbath into the day before the important things of life, as Amos recorded: Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?” (Amos 8:4-6). This is the same behavior found as the nation returned from exile and Nehemiah rebuked them for polluting the Sabbath by conducting business on that day of rest (Nehemiah 13:15-22). Might the proper application for the New Covenant people be to take care of those in need?

It is clear that Sabbath breaking by those in the Mosaic Covenant was a serious affront to God. But is Sabbath keeping required of those in the New Covenant as well? We don't find weekly Sabbath keeping recorded in the record of the early church in the Scriptures. No rebukes for failing to keep a day as when the ancient Jews were put to death for picking up firewood. Ancient witnesses give their perspective:

Justin Martyr [circa 100-165], in controversy with a Jew, says that ... Christianity requires not one particular Sabbath, but a perpetual Sabbath. He assigns as a reason for the selection of the first day for the purposes of Christian worship, because on that day ... Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his assembled disciples, but makes no mention of the fourth commandment. Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned [after mentioning Adam. Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah, Melchizedek, and Abraham], though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God; and after them Abraham with all his descendants until Moses. And you were commanded to keep Sabbaths, that you might retain the memorial of God. For His word makes this announcement, saying, "That you may know that I am God who redeemed you."

John Gill's commentary on Rev 1:10 - Barnabas [thought by many to be the companion of Paul the apostle] ... calls this day the eighth day, in distinction from the seventh-day sabbath of the Jews, and which he says is the beginning of another world; and therefore we keep the eighth day, adds he, joyfully, in which Jesus rose from the dead, and being manifested, ascended unto heaven.

This concept of the eighth day is something we who claim Christ should study and seek understanding. A friend of mine, Terrance O'Hare, has studied this at some depth. He observes, “From another angle, redemption is also the beginning. Hence, the redeemed are free on the eighth day, that is, the first day of the new week. The new week designates a new period of time, a better epoch, and a new generation. It is built upon that which preceded but brings us closer to that which is anticipated; it reaps the blessings earned or bestowed in previous days, and hopes for fulfillment of greater promises.” O’Hare goes on to demonstrate from Scripture how the number eight portrays hope and promise that comes only in the promised seed. “Based on the root word for fatness or abundance, the first mention of eight occurs in Genesis 5, of the number of years that Adam lived after his son Seth was born, years marked by the prodigious growth of his family... Noah in a sense was “translated” to the new world as a family of eight on the eighth day, signifying again the association of eight with the resurrection to immortality in a new day.” O’Hare bases this observation on the record in Genesis 7, wherein the animals were led into the ark by YHWH and seven days later the flood came. On that day, Noah and his family entered the ark, God shut them in, and the ark foreshadowed the rescue of sinners that the Lord Jesus brings (1 Pet 3:18-22). The first day of safety in the midst of the world-destroying flood, was the eighth day after the ark was opened as a refuge (Gen 8:11-12). David was the eighth son of Jesse (1 Samuel 17:12-14). “When David's eighth-position antitype arrives (Jesus Christ), said Isaiah, His kingship and kingdom will be unlike anything that preceded it (Isaiah 9:6-7).”

The eighth day signifies our redemption and the resurrection of our Savior. The seventh day is the Jewish Sabbath, which was a type of the rest promised in the Messiah. The eighth day is our rest, begun when we are raised up by the Spirit of God to new life in Christ (John 5:24) and will be consummated when He returns to take us home. We should agree with Trypho and others, joyfully keeping the eighth day by fellowshipping and worshiping our King with others He has called to Himself.

Paul was provoked on more than one occasion to speak about this issue, which boils down to law keeping as a means of grace. Galatians 4:8-11, 16 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?  You observe days and months and seasons and years!  I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. ... Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? Romans 14:1 & 5 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. Paul warned us not to waste time on foolish genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless (Tit 3:9). How seldom have I found those who hold to a confessional sabbath be willing to "be at peace" with those of us who do not. May it never be that we make their esteeming a day a "wedge issue!

As for the allegation that the day of the Sabbath was moved, Jonathan Edwards claims national Israel came out up out of the Red Sea on their Sabbath, and since Jesus' resurrection is compared to coming up out of deep waters (Psalms 69), this must mean He changed the Jewish Sabbath from the 7th to the 8th day. Ancient rabbinical "urban legends" claim this but the Bible does not connect His resurrection with the Sabbath, other than to say He came up out of the grave on the day after the Sabbath. Nothing to indicate the shadowy Sabbath was "put to death and resurrected" as part of the New Covenant.

The third claim made on this matter is that the new perpetual "Christian Sabbath" binds all men. Nowhere in the Scripture do we find anyone outside national Israel being told to keep the Jewish Sabbath or punished for not doing so. Nowhere do we find those in the New Covenant community told to keep the "Christian Sabbath" or disciplined for not doing so. Early Christians encouraged one another to gather together for worship and fellowship but not for what the 1689 describes as the "Christian Sabbath." The Lord's Supper, not a weekly Sabbath, is what He has given us as perpetual reminder of His faithfulness as the redeemer and His promise of His return. Is that not a far better things than a list of rules about a religious day?

Lastly, the Baptist confession says the "Christian Sabbath" is "the Lord's Day." This phrase occurs once in the Bible, as John is caught up in the spirit to receive a series of vision of the end of the age, when Christ returns in final victory to judge the nations, gather His saints, and make all things new. It is known as "the Day of the Lord." There is nothing in the context of Revelation 1 to lead one to conclude that John meant the 1st day of the week. While the apostolic church met on the 1st day of the week, they also taught Romans 14:5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. And Colossians 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. Rather than condemn those who don't hold one day higher than another (which "the Lord's Day" as Sunday implies we should) Scripture reveals one may observe the day or not but we should not pass judgment on those who do not. Paul went on to explain, Colossians 2:17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. This is just as the elements of the Levitical religion were types and shadows of the heavenly realm (Hebrews 8). Since various passages refer to the end of the age as "the Day of the Lord" and that that end of the age activity is what John reported in 7 parallel accounts in his apocalypse, the only thing that makes sense to me is that this is what John meant by "the Lord's Day." I am aware of the long-standing tradition that asserts he meant Sunday, but I find nothing in the text to support that - only a phrase in the 1689 LBC and other such documents. While we have a healthy reason for gathering together on the 8th day, we should be careful not to impress others that one day is more important than others. This is one of those things we can differ on as long as don't make it a binding rule.

Each of these teachings in the Reformers' beloved confessions that we reviewed today have one effect: our attention is taken off the Redeemer and drawn to regulations according to human precepts and teachings. We are told in Scripture to fix our minds on the heavenly things (Col 3:2) where we are seated with Christ even now (Eph 2:6). The apostle further instructs us thusly:  Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. And we are not left to imagine how we are to live. Verse 9: What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

We keep our focus on Christ, from where our help comes. He is the author and the completer of our faith, our advocate before the judgment seat. He our refuge and strong tower of safety, our redeemer and friend. In Christ Jesus ALL the promises of God find their yes and amen. Why would we regress to cling towards the shadows once we've been delivered from the domain of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the beloved Son? (Col 13-14) Why would we worry about such things as "touch not, taste not, handle not" that accompany the regulations about Sabbath keeping which have no spiritual value (Col 2:20-23)?

Christ Jesus is our all-in-all. We have no hope of reconciliation with God apart from faith in Him. We find rest in Jesus - this was His promise to all who were weak and weary from their efforts of trying to gain God's favor. Our Sabbath keeps us! We are not legally hand-cuffed to a gilded first revision of the Jewish Sabbath given to national Israel. Let those who think the New Covenant is merely a part of the Old Covenant esteem a day if they like. Let us fix our eyes of faith on the One who doesn't command a rest that we cannot keep but provides the rest that our souls desperately need.

Christ Jesus came to save sinners. He doesn't not command us to rest in a day - He provides us rest in Himself.