Keeping the Sabbath
E. A. R. Shotter, Northampton
In six days the Mighty God finished creating the heaven and the earth, and all the host of them. That vast work having been completed, God rested on the seventh day from all His work. That rest was not the rest of one wearied by toil or strenuous effort, but in the delight and satisfaction of that which had come to exist as a result of that work. As day succeeded day (the exception being the second day), the approbation was "and God saw that it was good"; on the sixth day (when the whole work could be surveyed) the word "very" is added to this statement of satisfaction.
In consequence of the delight that the Creator had in His work, He set the seventh day apart as holy, sanctifying it to Himself, for on that day He rested. On that day, God ceased from His work. Ceasing from a thing is to partake in a sabbath. In Lamentations 1. 7 the enemy mocked at the sabbaths or the desolations of Jerusalem; she had ceased to receive and enjoy the desirable things that had once been hers in the days of old. Of course, ceasing from a thing need not imply desolation, but it does imply a rest, and it would seem a divinely appointed rest.
In the creation of Man, we have an intelligent being whom God desires to delight in Himself. When creating him He made provision for this, in that Man would need to be rested from his labours regularly every seventh day, or every week. That rest was not to be a change of self-gratifying employment, but the wise and needful provision for him to concentrate his thoughts and meditations more positively upon his God, and to hold communion with Him.
When Jehovah called out the nation of Israel to be His peculiar people, and covenanted with them to be their God, one of the ordinances He gave them to keep was the sabbath. They were not to do any work therein "save that which every man must eat", Exod. 12. 16; it was to be a holy convocation. In addition to this, it marked the distance between feasts in their religious calendar. They were to number from a certain sabbath to another certain sabbath, and may even have "a second sabbath after the first", Luke 6. 1. The sabbath then became fundamental to the Israelitish system of worship, and still is.
Further, the sabbath is applied to the land which, under the rebellion of the people of God, had not been permitted to rest. So, Jeremiah prophesies (when Judah was taken into captivity) that the land would enjoy her sabbaths, 2 Chron. 36. 21; Jer. 25. 9-12; 26. 6-7; 29. 10; Lev. 26. 32-35, 43. Disobedience to the laws of God pollutes the land.
The blessings given to Israel are all earthly, whether we look at them as to the past or as to the future. The sabbath is also related to creation, as we have seen. We can easily follow this concept of the sabbath in the context of Israel, and how, having completed six days' toil, they rested according to the commandment on the seventh or last day of the week. Whilst today they may appear to be keeping the sabbath in a ritualistic and religious way because of their unbelief regarding the Lord Jesus as their Messiah, yet Israel are following on with an ordinance divinely given to them, and which, it would seem from the later chapters of Ezekiel, is to be restored in the millennial kingdom.
With the inauguration of the dispensation of grace, a change is of necessity made from the dispensation of law. There were two principal works which the Lord Jesus Christ came to do: (1) To reveal the Father, and (2) to transact the work of redemption. To both of these He said, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do", John 17. 4.
His work completed, symbolically He kept a sabbath when He rested in the tomb, and brought to a conclusion all those earlier sabbaths. On the first day of the week He was raised again. Matthew, writing of Israel's King, says, "In the end of the sabbath[s]; as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week[s]", Matt. 28. 1 hi.; "when the sabbath was past", Mark 16. 1; Luke, writing of the heavenly Man, first concerning the women says that they "rested the sabbath day according to the commandment", Luke 23. 56, then goes on to say, "Now upon the first day of the week[s]", 24. 1; and John, writing concerning the Lord out of heaven, says, "The first day of the week[s]", John 20. 1. A transition is evident from the old dispensation to the new, and the first day of the week becomes the commemorative day for the believer. This we rightly call "the Lord's day" -it should not be Sunday (a name from a pagan source), nor the sabbath (from the Israelitish source), nor yet "Lord's day" (without the article "the") which is but a corruption and degenerates that wonderful day to just one of the other days of the week, and means little more than Sunday.
Leaving aside those who profess Christianity and who have not received the Lord Jesus Christ, there are many of His dear children-therefore forming part of the people of God-who still adhere to the title "sabbath" for the Lord's Day. It is only fair to say on their behalf that we do not feel that they mean to take this title in any other way than as a day of rest from secular working. They do not consider it in the way in which it was given to Israel. As a day of rest from secular employment, it is good to have this change which we, together with them, hold dear, though we respect it (we feel rightly) as the Lord's Day.
Considering the earlier part of our thinking, are we really "keeping a sabbath", that is, a day or period of rest in order to contemplate the works of God, not only now in creation but also in redemption, with all that that means both past, present and future? Better still, are we contemplating God in His Person and Essential Being?
The Lord's Day is filled with just, right and good service for Him. This is not to be despised, but Job says, "these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him", Job 26. 24; and when Martha chides the Lord for Mary's lack of service. He says to Martha, "Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her", Luke 10. 42.
Again, we are still part of the earthly creation which needs renewal, especially in these days when the vortex of daily life is ever sucking us downward with greater speed. That renewal does not properly come with a sudden rush in Christian service, but in spending time in meditation and the contemplation of Him for whom we were created-a holy communion together with Him concerning Himself, His works and His ways, etc. The Lord Himself said that "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath", Mark 2. 27, and on another occasion after the apostles had come back from a preaching tour and service for Him, He said, "Come ye yourselves apart ... and rest a while ... And they departed into a desert place by ship privately", 6. 31-32. If we would realize that our bodies are neither to be coddled nor caned, perhaps we would get a better balance of things, from which service to the Lord would ultimately benefit. So often because of "0 need" arising, with urgent appeals being made to meet that need, we put aside "the need" to dwell regularly in the presence of the Lord for a while, and consequently we get spiritually, mentally and physically exhausted.
But again, is there not another "keeping of sabbath"? We have looked at one important aspect; we now turn to another. Hebrews 4 tells us, "There remaineth therefore the keeping of sabbath to the people of God. For he that hath entered into his (God's) rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us give diligence to enter into that rest", vv. 9-11 with margin.
Whilst we all anxiously await the day of God's rest in the eternal state, and may even contemplate feebly some of the delight and satisfaction that that day will afford to Him and to ourselves, the context of this passage in Hebrews 4 clearly does not speak of that coming period. Rather, it suggests the present state in the Christian life of the people of God-each of His blood-bought ones.
When God rested on that seventh day, having completed the work of creation, He did not start creating again-that work was done. When the Lord Jesus rested in the tomb to rise again on the first day, having completed the work of redemption, He did not start that work of redemption again-it was complete. When we entered into God's rest, we acknowledged that our own works were insufficient to satisfy Him on our account, and ceased from them in Christ; so we should not commence them over again. One of the hardest things to come to terms with is that God is entirely finished with Adam-not immoral Adam, not Adam in any sinful garb only, but Adam, however good, upright, religious and spiritual he may appear to be-God has finished with Adam. Obadiah holds out no hope for Edom (a name with the same root) whatsoever; he must remain outside the pale of His ultimate restoration. So it is with all that is of Adam.
Why place us in Christ if our own works would satisfy Him? Why place the Holy Spirit in us, if by our own power and godliness we could live for Him? There is a cross for all that is of the flesh in us, for we must put to death the old man with all the affections and lusts-no good is ever to be expected; and there is a tomb for him as well, for we are to mortify the deeds of the flesh. But there is also a keeping of sabbath, a rising in newness of life-the life expressed by Christ in us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit in us motivating that life so that we should be affirming, "I have been crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and that which I now live in flesh I live in faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me", Gal. 2. 20 (using Newrhrry margin). How it behoves us, beloved, to keep this sabbath with that completeness with which God and the Lord Jesus Christ keep Theirs, and to allow Their ongoing works of the maintenance and sustenance of the spiritual life to go on unhindered in us. "Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead", Rom. 6. 13, is the apostle's injunction, always remembering that the working out of our own salvation is the product of God's inworking of the willing and the doing of His good pleasure. May the Lord enable us so to keep this sabbath!