April 16, 2012—SnyderTalk Editorial: The Sabbath Day

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The Sabbath Day

Exodus 20: 8 says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  Every Word spoken by Yahweh is important, but this command is distinctive because it is fourth on the list of the Ten Commandments.  I point that out so you will understand that the Sabbath day is very special to God, and I want you to know that changing it in any way requires an explicit and unequivocal command from Yahweh alone.

Exodus 20: 9-11 provides details about the Sabbath.  In a nutshell, God commanded us to set apart the Sabbath day for rest and for fellowship with Him, and the day He referred to is Saturday — not Sunday.  The Sabbath actually begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday because God counts days from sundown to sundown — not from 12:00 midnight to 12:00 midnight.

Between the time God issued that command and the time the Messiah came, Jewish rabbis concocted a lengthy list of “laws” governing the Sabbath day, and Jewish people were required to obey their laws or suffer the consequences.  Even today in Jerusalem, if you drive your car through some orthodox Jewish neighborhoods on the Sabbath, you are likely to get stoned, and I mean that literally.  They will throw rocks at you because they believe that driving a car is forbidden on the Sabbath.

Ancient rabbis came up with a distance that people were permitted to travel on the Sabbath and referred to it as a “Sabbath day’s journey.”  It’s the distance between the top of Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) and the top of the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount.  It’s not very far, and if you went any farther, you were violating the Sabbath.

The ancient rabbis also made up rules about lighting fires or lamps, so many contemporary orthodox Jews refuse to turn on a light switch to avoid breaking the Sabbath.  Yahweh did not say these things.  They are simply traditions accepted by many Jewish people, and in Jerusalem not knowing about them can get you stoned — literally.

When Jesus came, one of His goals was to explain what Yahweh actually intended when He proclaimed the Ten Commandments, and His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 through 7) is the best example of this in the New Testament.  But He also performed many miracles on the Sabbath to demonstrate that the rabbis had gone far beyond what Yahweh had in mind when He told us to set the Sabbath apart and to keep it holy.

Although the New Testament includes many examples of Jesus challenging the rabbis on the Sabbath, I will present only one.  It’s discussed in Luke 13: 10-17.  Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, and a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit for 18 years was in the congregation.  When Jesus saw her, He called her over, laid His hands on her, and said, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” (Luke 13: 12)

Her healing was instantaneous.  She stood erect for the first time in almost two decades and immediately began praising God.  But the “president of the synagogue” (Luke 13: 14 from The New Jerusalem Bible) was indignant because Jesus healed her on the Sabbath, and in his mind that was work and work was forbidden on the Sabbath.  He said,

“There are six days in which work should be done; therefore come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Luke 13: 14

Jesus was furious.  He looked directly at the rabbis and said,

“You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead him away to water him?  And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” Luke 13: 15-16

Everyone in the synagogue except the rabbis rejoiced.  Luke 13: 17 refers to the rabbis as Jesus’ opponents, or His adversaries, and the Bible describes Satan as Yahweh’s adversary.  In this instance, the rabbis were following Satan’s lead.  Although the president of the synagogue aimed his remark at the healed woman, Jesus was his real target because He had violated their tradition by “working on the Sabbath.”

With a simple demonstration of Yahweh’s healing power, Jesus showed everyone, including the rabbis, that their traditions were way off base.  He was setting the record straight by revealing Yahweh’s point of view on this critical issue, but not once in the New Testament did He challenge their belief that the Sabbath is Saturday.

Charles Ryrie is one of the world’s leading Bible scholars and author of the Ryrie Study Bible.  In his note on Exodus 20: 8-11, he says,

“This is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated after the day of Pentecost.  The church made Sunday her day of worship (Acts 20: 7), commemorating the resurrection of Christ.”(The Ryrie Study Bible Expanded Edition, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 122.)

Since Ryrie references Acts 20: 7 as the sole basis for changing the Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday, you would expect that verse to be crystal clear on the subject.  Take a look at it and see if it provides clear and unambiguous instructions to change the day for Sabbath observance, and keep in mind that this change represents a major modification in one of the Ten Commandments:

“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” Acts 20: 7

As you can see, this verse says absolutely nothing about the Sabbath day.  It merely points out that a group of believers, including Paul, gathered together on Sunday to share a meal before Paul set off on a journey.  Acts 20: 7 also says nothing about what they did the day before, and it certainly doesn’t qualify as a ringing endorsement of Sunday as the Sabbath day.  If you were a lawyer presenting this verse in court as your sole justification for making that change, the judge would laugh at you and throw your case out of court, and you don’t need to be a lawyer to understand why.

Two other passages of Scripture are used frequently to support the argument that Sunday is the Sabbath day: Galatians 4: 9-11 and Colossians 2: 13-17.  Let’s take a look at them and see what they say:

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.” Galatians 4: 9-11

Does Galatians 4: 9-11 sound like an unqualified endorsement of Sunday as the Sabbath day?  Hardly.

“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Colossians 2: 13-17

Again, in Colossians 2: 13-17, does it sound like Paul is saying the Sabbath is now Sunday instead of Saturday, or is it more likely that he is alluding to the fact that we are not obligated to keep all the “laws” regarding the Sabbath day that were made up by ancient rabbis?  Jesus addressed that subject, and He made it clear that they went way too far.  But Jesus said nothing about changing the Sabbath day and neither did Paul.

Some people believe Hebrews 4: 1-10 suggests that people who are saved (i.e., born again) have entered God’s rest already and that it no longer matters which day of the week they choose to observe the Sabbath.  They point to Hebrews 4: 3 as the pivotal verse:

“For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He said, ‘As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,’ although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.” Hebrews 4: 3

Now let’s consider what Paul said in Hebrews 4: 3.  While it’s true that believers have “entered His rest” in the sense that we can look forward to spending eternity with God in heaven, it is a real stretch to think that we’re living presently here on earth in the ultimate rest that He has in store for us.  Crime, disease, natural catastrophes, and other hardships we confront here on earth every single day simply cannot be a part of the final “rest” we will experience with Him in heaven.

Genesis 2: 2 is even more telling:

“By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” Genesis 2: 2

It is obvious that the “seventh day” is the day of rest that God has in mind when He refers to the Sabbath, and the “seventh day” is Saturday — not Sunday.  Saturday is the last day of the week.  Sunday is the first day of the week.

Finally, take a look at Matthew 5: 17-19.  These verses are part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and they shed some light on this important question:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 17-19

Orthodox rabbis have identified more than 600 Laws in the Scriptures, and the Ten Commandments are without question the most important ones of all.  In Matthew 5: 17-19, Jesus said that every Law in the Scriptures will stand firm “until heaven and earth pass away.”  Since that hasn’t happened yet, there is no reason to believe the Ten Commandments have changed in any way.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained that the “laws” made up by the rabbis were of no consequence and that they went far beyond what God intended.  God’s Laws are a completely different matter, though.  According to Jesus, they are binding on everyone.  That was a bold statement challenging the rabbis’ authority because they regarded themselves as “God’s police force,” so to speak, and they made Jewish people obey their “laws” as if they had come directly from God.  In effect, they built a religion around obedience to man-made decrees which became well-established traditions that superseded God’s Law.  Jesus made it clear that the rabbis were dead wrong.

As I said, if Yahweh ordained a change in the Sabbath day, it would be crystal clear in the Scriptures.  The command to keep the Sabbath holy is one of the Ten Commandments, and it ranks just below not worshipping false gods and ahead of not committing adultery and not stealing.  A change of that magnitude requires a clear and unequivocal command from Yahweh.

Arguments supporting a change in Sabbath day observance are very weak, and they don’t hold up under careful scrutiny.  Through prayer, Bible reading, and study, God has made that very clear to me.  Even though this view goes against Christian tradition, it does not contradict anything God said in the Old Testament or the New Testament.

This is an excerpt from What Will You Do with the Rest of Your Life?

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