Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we are assembled here before you in order that we may rejoice in your goodness, in order that we may rest in your provision. Teach us to delight in your Sabbath, to rejoice in the great rest that you have won for us and to enter into that rest even now. Feed us now by your Word and Spirit, through Jesus Christ, Amen!
Last week we investigated the Old Covenant Sabbath principle which was not only a day, but included feasts and years and was a continual sign of the covenant, a sign of forgiveness, release, freedom, provision both for Israel and ultimately the world. The New Testament shows us that Jesus came to fulfill the Sabbath, and when he died and rose again, he remade the world and gave us an even greater Sabbath.
Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus has a number of run-ins with the Jews on the issue of Sabbath keeping. One that is mentioned by several of the gospel writers is the grain eating incident (Mt. 12, Mk. 2:23ff, Lk. 6). Jesus explains that it is lawful for he and his disciples to eat the heads of grain because David and his men at the showbread of the tabernacle. He concludes by insisting that the ‘Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ Far from this being an incident where Jesus is bending the Sabbath laws, Jesus is in fact fulfilling and revealing the full meaning of the Sabbath. David and his men were on the run from Saul (on the Sabbath) and were likely preparing to defend themselves. David asks the priest for the Face Bread, the ‘Bread of the Presence.’ David tells Ahimelech that his men are holy and therefore may eat of it (1 Sam. 21:5). This means that David’s men had probably taken a Nazirite vow which gave them a temporary priestly status. Thus if David was a ‘lord of the Sabbath’, this primarily refers to the fact that he has access to the sanctuary and to the holy bread. Jesus is in effect saying that he and his disciples are free to eat heads of wheat on the Sabbath because they have access to the holy place and to the holy bread. The implication is that the Pharisees are like Doeg the Edomite and King Saul, plotting to kill Jesus and his disciples.
The Sabbath in the Gospels
The grain eating incident is followed by Jesus healing a man with a withered hand. Jesus says that it is lawful to heal and to do good on the Sabbath (Mt 12, Mk. 3, Lk. 6). This of course fits with the Sabbath pattern we saw last week where God expects his people to forgive debts, give rest and provision to the land, animals, and strangers. He explicitly appeals to these provisions when he heals a woman with an unclean spirit and likens it to loosing an animal to pasture (Lk. 13:10ff). He also healed a man of dropsy on the Sabbath likening it to pulling an animal out of a pit on the Sabbath (Lk 14:1). John also records a couple of Sabbath healings: a crippled man (Jn. 5:9ff), a blind man (Jn. 9).
Sabbath in the New Testament
Paul has a number of references to Sabbaths and observing days, etc. In Col. 2:16, Paul exhorts the Christians not to allow anyone to judge them for food, drink, new moon feasts or festivals or Sabbaths. Paul is likely dealing with Judaizers here as he does else where, and he says that Christ is the fullness of the gospel (Col. 2:9-10). There is nothing missing or lacking in their salvation; they were even circumcised in their baptisms (2:11-13). In this context, Paul says not to allow anyone to say they are lacking or incomplete. In Christ the old Sabbaths all died and were nailed to the cross with all the other laws (2:14). Christians are not required to keep the seventh day Sabbath, neither are we bound to the precise application of the law (e.g. making fires on the Sabbath, gathering manna, etc.). Romans 14:5-9 is similarly concerned with Christian Jews and Gentiles loving one another. Some Christian Jews were observing the old feast days and Sabbaths, and Paul says that Christians are free to observe them or not. He says the issue is thanksgiving and loving one another (14:6, 17-18, cf. 13:8). Paul has a similar point to make in Galatians. The issue is the conflict between Judaizers and Christians. Paul says that submitting to the Judaizers is turning “back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world,” and a chief sign of this was the observance of days, months, seasons, and years (Gal. 4:10). Paul is not against having a calendar per se; the point is that he is adamantly against living like the Messiah has not come and remade the world (cf. 6:15).
A Sabbath Remains
Hebrews says that a Sabbath remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:9). While we recognize that the exact regulations for this law were for a particular nation and time in covenant history, the Fourth Command remains in force. The center of this command is the requirement not to neglect coming together as God’s people (10:25). While God’s people are free to gather at any time any day; the Lord’s Day is the New Testament pattern in honor of the resurrection, the day of the new creation. At the center of this gathering is entering the holy place in the power of the Spirit to partake of the Bread of the Presence and the wine of gladness. As Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath, so we have been made lords of the Sabbath and given access to drawn near in full assurance of faith (10:19-22) to partake of the altar (13:10) and to offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving (13:15).
Conclusions & Applications
Sabbath keeping means having access to the Holy Place and to the Holy Bread. And therefore it means worshipping God together with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. If the Lord’s Day is our Sabbath, our release, our celebration of freedom and forgiveness then we need to do all we can to make it special: dressing up for worship, working on the songs during the week, look forward to the Sabbath with your children. Make worship a big deal by singing with gusto, saying ‘Amen!’ with vigor.
We have Christian Worship at the center of our New Covenant Sabbath observance. That feast flows out into the rest of the day and ultimately our entire lives. In the New Covenant, God’s people have been raised to positions of authority; we are the Sun, moon, and stars of the New Creation. We have been given authority over the days, seasons, and years. This means that in some non-Christian cultures it is impossible to have the day off on Sunday. In the early church Christians gathered late at night and early in the morning to worship. As our society returns to a semi-paganism it may be increasingly hard to keep the Lord’s Day as a feast day, but it should be our aim, our goal, what we are working toward.
Differing families will work out the details of their Sabbath cultures in different ways. Some families will decide to have certain guidelines to direct the family culture. There is freedom here, but the central goal of God’s people needs to be rejoicing before the Lord for his goodness and resting in Christ.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty and Gracious Father, we give you thanks and praise that in your infinite wisdom you have remade the world and given us access to the garden. You have placed us as kings and queens in your new Eden, the Church, and you have given us access to the Tree of Life. This is the great and final Sabbath that we partake of each Lord’s Day, and we ask that you would give us deeper and more vigorous experiences of this life that we might be your ministers of Sabbath freedom, Sabbath forgiveness, and Sabbath joy both here and throughout this community and the world.