Genesis 1 and 2 - The Sabbath
The first two chapters of Genesis teach us that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day he rested. Now God doesn’t get tired, he neither slumbers nor sleeps, and he is still sustaining all things today, however, when God had finished creating the heavens and the earth, and all that is within them, on the seventh day he “rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
And in the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20:8-11, this incredible truth is applied to Israel. There Israel is told,
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
So Israel was to keep the Sabbath because God made heaven and earth in six days and then rested on the seventh day. Although, Israel were already aware of the Sabbath before they received the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 16, a few chapters earlier, while Israel was in the wilderness, God provided bread (or manna) from heaven.
God provided it every day except on the Sabbath. And because it wasn’t around on the Sabbath, on the day before the Sabbath they were to collect twice as much as usual. So here we see God’s people keeping the Sabbath before they received the Ten Commandments. And the reason they kept the Sabbath before they received the Law is because the Sabbath has a stronger connection to creation than to the Law given through Moses.
The Sabbath is what we call a ‘Creation Ordinance.’ Creation ordinances refer to things that God ordered and established in the beginning. So things like: work, marriage and the Sabbath. Because the principle of the Sabbath has been written into the very fabric of creation.
Before I became a Christian I never asked people how they were going. But after I became a Christian I started to care more about people. So I started asking them how they were. And one thing I’ve realised is that people regularly say, “I’m busy.” And sometimes people even say it over a period weeks or months. People’s constant refrain to the question “how are you going” is “I’m busy.”
But why does everyone feel so busy? I mean, we live in an age where so much is done for us. And compared to previous ages we really do live in an age of luxury. Now don’t get me wrong. Some people really are busy. Some people have a stressful job, and they have lots of people to care for. And it makes sense that they feel busy, because they are busy. However, even people who don’t have a particularly stressful job, and who don’t have anyone that’s dependant on them, still say they’re busy.
But why is that everyone feels so busy? I certainly don’t know everyone’s situation, but if I had to guess why so many people feel stretched and overworked, then I’d say that it’s because they’re ignoring the principle of Sabbath rest. Because if the early chapters of Genesis are true, then it means that the principle of Sabbath rest has been written into the fabric of creation. And if we ignore it then we should really expect to feel busy and tired.
In Japan they’ve even invented the word “Karoshi.” Which literally means “overwork death.” So the word “Karoshi” was invented to explain the horrible reality of people literally working themselves to death. And that’s where our culture in Australia is heading.
Nevertheless, it’s not just our own wellbeing that’s at stake. Because the Sabbath isn’t just about rest. It is also about worship. The Sabbath was given for two main reasons: it was given so we could rest, and so that we could spend an extended together time worshipping God. And it has always been this way. In the beginning God set it up like this: 123456 rest. So we should work for six days, but on the seventh day we should set aside a day for rest and worship.
And that’s what I’ve tried to encourage at Chalmers. We have two services at Chalmers, but I only encourage people to attend one. Because Sundays aren’t just for worship, they’re also for rest.
Now so far we’ve seen that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance. And we’ve seen that Israel was commanded to remember and keep the Sabbath. And that was a serious command. So much so that one reason the Jews were exiled out of the Promised Land was because they ignored the Sabbath. In Leviticus 26 God promised the Israelites that they would be exiled if they neglected the Sabbath. And when they did neglect to keep the Sabbath, God exiled them to Babylon so that the land might enjoy its Sabbaths (2Chronicles 36). So the Sabbath is key to our wellbeing, and it is clearly important to God.
But you might be wondering, “is the Sabbath still a thing today? Or was it done away with like other parts of the Law of Moses?” Well, in answer to that, we’ve already established that it has a stronger connection to creation than to the Law of Moses. Which means it will always be relevant. The principle of 123456 rest has been written into the fabric of creation.
And the principle of the Sabbath is also found in the 10 commandments. And most Christians would agree that the other 9 commandments are still in force today. However, it’s not as simple as just doing what the Israelites did. We must look at the New Testament and see how it impacts our understanding and expression of the Sabbath. So let’s have a look at the NT and see what it has to say about the Sabbath.
And at the outset to be frank, the NT doesn’t say much. 9 out of the 10 commandments are affirmed in the NT. And the only one that isn’t explicitly affirmed is the Sabbath! In fact in Colossians 2:16-17 we read, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
So, in these verses we are at least being told that we don’t have to obey the Sabbath in the way that the Israelites did. The Law given through Moses was a shadow of the things to come, and the substance has now arrived in Christ. However, before we throw away the Sabbath entirely, we must realise that the principle of the Sabbath is not abolished in these verses. In Colossians 2 it is only Moses’ teaching about the Sabbath that is done away with. So it would be simplistic to affirm that the idea of the Sabbath is finished. Especially considering we are encouraged elsewhere in the New Testament to continue to meet together. In the book of Hebrews we find this encouragement, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Now these verses don’t say “keep the Sabbath”, but they do give us a clear encouragement to continue meeting together. So it seems that, in some way at least, the principle of 123456 rest is still in place. However, the day one which to meet seems to have changed.
The Lord Jesus rose on Sunday and ever since Christians have met for worship on that day.In 1Corinthinas 16 we hear Paul talking about a collection for the saints in Jerusalem. And he seems to suggest that the church was meeting on Sunday. There we read, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. 3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.”
So it appears that the Corinthian church were giving on the first day of the week which is Sunday. And it is likely that this is the day on which they were meeting together for worship. Which suggests that the appointed day of rest and worship may have changed. And this is supported by Acts 20:7 where the church gathered together “on the first day of the week to break bread” and to hear the apostle Paul preach. And the reason some people call Sunday the Lord’s Day is because the apostle John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” when God spoke to him in the book of Revelation (Revelation 1:10).
However, although we have reasonably strong support for a change of day for the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, we are also taught not to get too hung up on the particular day that we meet. In the letter to the Romans Paul is trying to help Jews and Gentiles unite together in Christ. They have very different backgrounds and practices, and in Romans 14 he gives some helpful teaching regarding the day of worship. He says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honour of the Lord.”
So, quite surprisingly, Paul (as a Jew) isn’t overly fussed about which day we honour. And for this reason, if anyone does try to push a day on us then we should be wary of them. Because they are insisting on something that Paul doesn’t. And it would mean that they were passing judgement on others in questions of “food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” So, the teaching of the NT is that we must meet together for worship and encouragement, however, the day on which we do that isn’t overly important.
At Chalmers we meet on Sunday because it is the day on which the Lord Jesus rose. It is the day that Paul met with the Christians in Troas in Acts 20 to break bread and then preach. And it is the day that Paul instructed the Corinthians to meet together, and financially contribute to the needs of others in 1Corithians 16. Although, to be honest, the main reason we meet on Sunday is probably because it was the tradition of the early church that has been passed onto us. And, according to Romans 14, we aren’t bound to meet on any particular day. Nonetheless, the principle of 123456 rest still applies. And it applies because it is a creation ordinance.
So let’s now consider what it means for us today to live in light of the creation ordinance of 123456 rest. And let’s have a think about what we should and shouldn’t do on Sundays. Now in the Bible we find that there are four things that we should do on Sunday. We should do necessary things, we should rest, we should worship, and we should help others.
So on Sunday we should do necessary things like preparing meals. And we should do things like brushing our teeth. And we should even turn on the lights and the heating in our house. Because these are necessary things. And we know that these things are ok to do because in the NT we read of Jesus’ disciples plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath. And Jesus taught that this kind of thing is fine to do. So necessary things are acceptable to do on the Sabbath (Mark 2).
However, on Sundays we should also rest. In early chapters of Genesis we discover the principle of 123456 rest. So whenever possible we should set aside a good amount of time on the Sabbath to rest and refresh. But we shouldn’t only rest. We should also worship. We should worship God while we’re alone, and we should meet together to worship God and encourage one another.
And on Sundays we should help others. Sunday is a great day to attend to the needs of others. Jesus taught that it is good and lawful to help others on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:11-12). So we should pick people up for church, and we should drop in to see people who are in hospital. And Sundays are also a great opportunity to be hospitable. Sunday is a great day to have someone over for a meal.
So there are four things we can and should do on Sunday. We should do necessary things, we should rest, we should worship, and we should help/serve others.
But perhaps you’re wondering what to do during the rest times on Sunday? Depending on your background some people will have considered this before, while others (if you’re like me) may not have thought much about it at all. But here are some thoughts (not laws!) of what not to do on Sunday.
Firstly, you shouldn’t do unnecessary things that interfere with rest, worship, and serving others. But if it’s a necessary thing then that’s fine. However, a 10 hour hike on Sunday that prevents you from worshipping God with others, and that stops you helping other people simply isn’t what Sunday is for. Saturday is a much better day for a 10 hour hike. Because Sundays aren’t just for rest in the form of leisure activities. Although that said, they are given to us so that we might have a rest. Which means that whenever possible (and it’s not possible for everyone) we shouldn’t do our usual work on Sunday.
And even though it’s hard, I think it’s a good idea not to do things that make other people work. In Exodus 20 the Israelites weren’t to make their servants or even their livestock work on Sunday. And I think we should reflect on that teaching and think about what we can do (or not do) that will make it possible for others to enjoy a day off on Sunday.
And while we’re thinking about Sundays, it’s good to remember that attending church is important. Now attending church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. Rather, a Christian is someone who has given up on themselves, and entrusted their life into Jesus’ hands. So, a Christian is someone who has stopped trusting in themselves, and put their trust in the Lord Jesus.
However, in a fallen world it isn’t always easy to continue trusting in the Lord Jesus. There are many distractions, and many opportunities to turn back. So we need constant encouragement. Earlier we read this exhortation in the book of Hebrews, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
A day is soon coming when the Lord Jesus will return. He will return “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” And because waiting is hard work, we need continual encouragement to keep going and to hold our original confidence firm to the end. In Hebrews 4 we are reminded that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” And we are exhorted, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.” And praise God that the road to that eternal rest is punctuated with weekly Sabbaths to remind us that there is an eternal Sabbath coming.
Each Sunday we should remind one another to hold onto Christ until we enter into that rest. “We are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” In the book of Hebrews the definition of a true Christian is someone who holds on firmly to the end. And the principle of 123456 rest gives us a weekly reminder to hold on, and to strive for the eternal rest that is to come.
So have a good rest on Sunday and freshen up. Because, by my guess, most people feel busy and tired because they ignore the creation ordination of 123456 rest. But don’t give up meeting together on Sunday as some are in the habit of doing. Because the road to the eternal Sabbath is long and hard. And you need a weekly reminder to keep going.