Saturday, August 25, 2012

Should Christians Keep the Sabbath?

After studying about the Sabbath I am sure that Christians do not need to keep it, and never did observe it.  However, this is the day that God blessed and made holy.  Why were we never commanded to observe it?  In this post I am presenting my views on why Christians are not commanded to keep the Sabbath.  I have not seen this view taught before so I would be grateful for any comments and corrections you have.

In the beginning, after six days creating the heavens and the earth and everything in them God rested on the seventh day.

“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.” Gen. 2.2

Nothing more is said in the Bible about the seventh day until Moses told the Israelites not to collect mana on the seventh day, because that was “the Sabbath,” a day of rest (Ex. 16.29).  There is no mention of anyone, Enoch, Noah or Abraham keeping it, or being commanded to keep the seventh day.  Tertullian pointed this out in his debates with Jews  “Let him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed . . . teach us that in earliest times righteous men kept the Sabbath or practised circumcision, and so were made friends of God.. so also the observance of the Sabbath is demonstrated to have been temporary.”  (An Answer to the Jews 2:10; 4:1).

When Moses gave the command to  “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Ex. 20.8-11) the reason for keeping the seventh day holy was because God “rested on the seventh day” after he had created the heavens and the earth.  The sabbath was to be a day of remembrance of God’s rest on that day.

After Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda ( John 5.1-18) the Jews persecuted Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath.  Jesus justified his actions by pointing out that “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John. 5.17).  Jesus touched on a difficult question for the Jews: Does God keep the Sabbath?  The  obvious answer is “no.”  The world does not stop functioning on Saturday.  God did not get tired and take the day off.  His day of rest was when He stopped his act creating the heavens and the earth.  This day of remembrance points to something more that just that God rested on the seventh day.

Col. 2.16-17 is the only place where Paul expressly taught regarding the Sabbath: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” The Sabbath and the other Jewish holy days are not something we Christians need to be concerned about, but it verse 17 that I’m interested in.  The Sabbath was a foreshadow of something we have realized when we became Christians.  This is why Christians do not observe the Sabbath: We have the reality, there is no need to keep observing the shadow.

Paul didn’t say what the reality is, but the writer of the book of Hebrews did teach about it.  In Heb. 3.7-19 the writer introduced the topic of God’s “rest.”  He quoted from Psalm 95.7-11 where God warns people not to rebel like the Israelites did in the wilderness.  Because of their rebellion they did not enter the promised land, but it was worse than that; they did not enter His rest.  At first we might assume that the writer is talking only about the promised land, or maybe the Sabbath, but in 4.8 he said “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.”  The rest that God offered the Israelites is still offered today and it is the the same rest as God’s seventh day rest in Genesis (Heb. 4.3-5).

To those who believe God offers rest: “Now we who have believed enter that rest...” (Heb. 4.3).  This is what the Sabbath day was a foreshadow of.  “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his” (Heb. 4.9-10).  

Should we keep the Sabbath because it is a day that God blessed, or because we want to live a more holy life?  No, Christians shouldn’t keep the Sabbath, especially not for the last reason.  We read in Col. 2.16-17 that Paul told the Colossians not to let people judge them by whether they kept holy days and the Sabbath.  He also wrote in Gal. 4.10-11 “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” Some religious people want to do more that what the scriptures say to do, and they look down on those who do not follow them as not being real Christians.  That the Galatians had adopted this attitude was something Paul found abhorrent.  We should be very reluctant to go beyond the teachings in the bible.

Christians do not keep the Sabbath because it was a shadow of what we have.  We have been given God’s rest.  When we believed and obeyed we entered into the promised rest for our souls.  This isn’t an isolated teaching in the New Testament,  Jesus also offered his disciples rest.  In Mat. 11.28  he said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


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