A day of delight, a day to remember

Does it really matter? Does the keeping of the seventh day of each week as Sabbath really matter? Why not Sunday? Why not any day? After all, rest, regular rest, physical and spiritual rest, is what is important. Is not the spirit of the law more important than the letter?

Let’s begin with the giving of the law. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. If you asked someone what they did, they’d say, “I’m a brick maker.” Parents? Brick makers. Grandparents? Brick makers. Fourteen to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. No holidays. No vacation. Moses asks Pharaoh if they can all go out to the desert and worship God. Pharaoh says, “No, and go find your own straw.”

God sends plagues, Pharaoh lets them go, they cross the Red Sea and end up at Mt. Sinai. And God shouts down His Ten Commandments, and right in the middle is the Sabbath: “‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work’” (Exodus 20:8-10).*

What is God trying to say? “You are not just brick makers. You belong to Me. I made you. I brought you out of Egypt. You are not slaves any more. Not just brick makers any more. Don’t let yourself be defined by what you do–but by who you are.” So the Sabbath, every week, reminds us who we really are. A day to focus on who you really are, a person made in the image of God, made to be soulmates to God.

Better than sex

On the Friday of Creation week, God made Adam. He woke up, looked around, and realized he was all alone. So God created Eve, and gave them this gift we call sexuality.

But here’s my problem: Everyone likes sex. But God gave one more gift, that same Friday afternoon. The Sabbath! Why does everyone talk about the one gift, but not the other? Sex was given for pleasure and for family–but so was the Sabbath! Isaiah 58:13 calls the Sabbath a delight! People ask me, Do we still have to keep the Sabbath? Is the Sabbath still binding on Christians? What kind of question is that? Nobody asks us pastors, “Do we still have to have sex? Is sex still binding?” The Sabbath was supposed to be an incredible gift, the best God could do for our benefit and pleaure.

Jesus said to the woman at the well: “‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst’” (John 4:13, 14). This woman had had five husbands, and so had had plenty of sexual experiences–but yet she was still not satisfied; she was searching. And Jesus said she would be satisfied only by having a relationship with Him. That’s why we keep the Sabbath.

Yes, He made it into a commandment. But it was also a gift–a day to enjoy and to remember for generations to come. “‘The Sabbath was made for man’” (Mark 2:27). It was a gift hundreds of years before it became a commandment.

A day to be with Christ

Revelation 3:20 says that Christ is always knocking, hoping we open to Him and let Him in. The Sabbath is ultimately a window on your relationship with God. If you are bored with the Sabbath, it’s a pretty good sign that you are bored with God. If the Sabbath is not a delight, it’s probably because delight is not part of your picture of God. “‘I have called you friends,’” said Jesus (John 15:15). The essence of friendship is delight.

Of course, the Sabbath has intrinsic pleasure, in and of itself, even without Christ. Not working is nice! Hanging out with your family and friends is nice. Sabbath dinners can be very nice! But the purpose of the Sabbath is friendship with Christ!

The Sabbath is just part of being a Christian, a follower of Christ–to live like Him, to love like Him, and to serve like Him. That’s what we should do every day, and even more so on Sabbath. It’s His day. It’s a “temple in time,” as Abraham Joshua Heschel noted. He made it. It’s a day to be with Him and to make Him known. He kept the Sabbath, so we keep the Sabbath.

A taste of heaven

And I keep the Sabbath because it gives me a taste of heaven. The Sabbath is a memorial of Creation: “‘For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it’” (Exodus 20:11). Heaven is just putting everything back the way it was supposed to be at Creation; so the Sabbath points forward as much or more as it points to the past.

In heaven we will get to be with God all the time–so on the Sabbath we don’t work, and we’re free to be with God, full-time. In heaven we will worship God, so on Sabbath we go to church, worship God. We walk in nature, we rest, we eat with our family and best friends, because those are the kinds of things that will make heaven heaven. In heaven, time will slow down, because we have so much of it. And so on Sabbath we slow everything down, in a protest against the craziness of our daily lives.

Which means, if you really want to have one definitive rule for what you can do on the Sabbath, here it is: If it’s OK to do it in heaven–it’s OK to do it on the Sabbath! Because the Sabbath is supposed to be a taste of heaven.

The war is over!

One more reason to keep the Sabbath: it is a celebration that the war is over. Somebody in Amsterdam once went to the priest to confess.

“I kept a Jew, a refugee, in the attic during the War.”

“That’s not a sin.”

“Yes, but I charged him 20 guilders every week he was up there.”

“That’s not good, but it was for a good cause.”

“OK, that helps. But can I ask one more question: Do I have to tell him the war is over?”

The war is over. Christ won the battle! He shouted out, “It is finished.” On the Sabbath we celebrate the end of the war!

Six days, we are in the midst of a war. But every seventh day we take a break, we have a Sabbath, a sign of what it is going to be like forever someday, when all the evil will be gone, everything will be back to the way it is supposed to be, the whole universe is right again.

But does it really matter?

Does which day really matter? Let me see if this illustration helps:

Flags–you can take some pieces of cloth and clean your furniture or wipe your car with them. But the moment you sow them together into the flag of your country, something happens. Now you can’t wipe your shoes with them anymore. It becomes “sacred.” People have died for that flag.

So God tells us, “Six days a week are for your daily duties and your regular work, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest before the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:11, LB). God made it a holy and sacred day. It stands for something, the way a flag stands for something. It makes a statement of who you are, and your supreme loyalties.

When I come back from speaking overseas, there is one moment I always look forward to. After I land at the Los Angeles Airport and go through customs, I push the cart up the ramp, turn the corner, and there is this long row of people at the railing. And there are my sons, ready to give me a high-five. Those two boys have to be the same boys who were in my house when I left! My wife couldn’t have a little trouble while I was gone, and trade them in! No, the boys at that railing have to be the same boys that she and I created many years ago! And so, when God comes back down, the Sabbath has to be the same day He Himself created so long ago.

We have a family from Iraq in our church, with three sons. The older two went over to Iraq, and ended up marrying two sisters from the church in Baghdad (it’s a great story!). Suppose, at the first wedding, when the older brother got into the limo to go on the honeymoon, the younger sister got in the car. He says, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Going on the honeymoon.”

“No, you’re not. Go get your sister.”

“Come on, it doesn’t matter, does it? We’re just about alike, we look alike, we come from the same family, it doesn’t matter which one of us goes, come on, I want to go!”

What’s he going to say?! “Get out of the car!” With relationships, it matters. The Sabbath has that kind of symbolic importance to God. It makes a huge statement, that we care enough about God to worship Him on the very day He set aside, thousands of years ago.

Are you ready to take a stand?

In Daniel chapter 6 we read that the king made a law, forcing everybody to pray only to him. Many people went running to see if Daniel would change his way of worshiping. And someday we believe somebody is going to make another law, and everybody is going to be watching to see if you and I are going to change our day of worshiping.

Even God in heaven was watching, to see what Daniel would do: Would he pray in the closet, or would he throw open the windows and pray the same way he had always prayed? God watched as Daniel went up the stairs, got to the top–and went past the closet and threw open the windows. And God in heaven went, “Yes!” Daniel refused to change his way of worship, and someday God will be watching to see if we will refuse to change our day of worship.

Are you willing to be like Daniel, and decide that God is worth going right to the window, throwing it open, and worshiping God on the true Sabbath, wide-open, not ashamed, proud to take a stand for God?

*Except where noted, all Scripture passages in this article are from the New King James Version.

Dan Smith is the senior pastor of the La Sierra University Church in Riverside, California, U.S.A. His email: dsmith@lschurch.org.