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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Where Did the Sabbath Go?

Doug Batchelor’s sermons on YouTube begin with the words “Happy Sabbath”.

Batchelor is a Seventh-Day Adventist, so this should not surprise anyone. Wikipedia calls Seventh-Day Adventism “a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday ... as the Sabbath”.


“Very few people, after accepting Christ, dispute nine of the Ten Commandments, but the fourth they often see as a ‘personal preference’ or optional commandment. But it’s not just a recommendation from Moses; it’s the law of the Almighty.

The devil doesn’t care whether your sin is adultery or murder or Sabbath breaking, just as long as he can get you to sin and separate you from God.”

That sounds serious. So how come so many evangelicals don’t keep the Sabbath? Are we all casual about obeying God’s commands, as Batchelor suggests? Are we perhaps misinterpreting scripture?

I don’t think so.

God’s Rest

Contrary to Adventist teaching, the Sabbath did not always exist. God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day, and he blessed the seventh day and set it apart “because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation”. But we have no indication from Genesis that God commanded or expected mankind to commemorate his own rest in any way. There is no evidence that Adam, Noah, Enoch or any of the patriarchs rested one day of the week. It is not until Exodus 16 that the Sabbath is first mentioned.

“Sabbath” and “rest” are almost exactly the same word in Hebrew. The word simply means an intermission or a break; a cessation from regular activities.

A Gift to Israel

Four times in Exodus (chapters 16, 20, 31 and 35) the Sabbath is explained to Israel. It was a new thing, and an important thing, so Moses repeated himself. As a people distinguished from all the nations of the world of their day by being Jehovah’s unique possession, Israel was given the Sabbath for their benefit. As the Lord Jesus put it, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. It was intended as a gift, not simply an obligation.

After all, a break from all work one day a week has benefits that outweigh any perceived economic negatives. But putting your feet up for twenty-four hours was not all the Sabbath was about.

The Sabbath and Provision

In Exodus 16, the first observance of the Sabbath is directly connected with God’s provision of food in the form of manna for his people. It also becomes clear that it was necessary to make Sabbath observation obligatory since otherwise Israel would never have kept it at all, as evidenced by the fact that the people ignored Moses and got up to gather food on the very first Sabbath they were ever given.

On the Sabbath, God provided what Israel needed without them working for it. For Israel, working on the Sabbath was not only unnecessary; it was understandably offensive to God in that it constituted a rejection of his gift, which we might reasonably view as a gracious temporary respite from the portion of the curse that declares “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”. Not so on the Sabbath.

The message of the Sabbath was that God, who had himself rested, wanted to share his rest with those he loved. It was only a rest for the body, of course, but it spoke of a greater rest to come.

The Fourth Commandment

The next significant mention of the Sabbath comes in the fourth commandment of the famous ten in Exodus 20, which explains that even God had rested on the seventh day and so Israel was to do likewise. That included any foreign proselyte, servant or sojourner associated with Israel. The entire nation was to observe the Sabbath together.

This could hardly be considered unreasonable, since God had first observed a Sabbath of his own.

The Sabbath as a Sign for Israel

Exodus 31 tells us the Sabbath was a sign for Israel that they were set apart uniquely to God:
“Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.”
In case we are unclear that this relates distinctly to Israel, God restates it:
“It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”
It is here that we find that anyone caught profaning the Sabbath in Israel (by working and treating it as other days) was to be put to death. This is stated three times in two verses with slightly different wording each time, presumably so there would be no ambiguity that might in later generations be exploited for economic reasons.

If this seems harsh, we would remind the reader that Israel assumed the Sabbath obligation and the risks entailed in disobeying it entirely voluntarily in order to acquire the national blessings that came with God’s presence.

The Sabbath and the Offering

Finally, in Exodus 35, right before taking an offering for the tabernacle, Moses reminds Israel of their solemn obligation to keep the Sabbath and the penalty that would result for failure to do so right before accepting a freewill offering for the tabernacle. It would have been evident to Israel that the Sabbath rest was a fundamental aspect of their relationship with Jehovah.

And indeed, it had to be. If the Sabbath had been nothing more than a mandatory holiday, there would have been little reason to get excited. But the Sabbath rest was an illustration of something much more significant. Israel’s Sabbath was, for most of its citizens, little more than respite from physical labour, but it anticipated salvation by faith and the abandonment forever of every human effort to please God in and of ourselves.

And this is where Doug Batchelor and his gang go very, very wrong.

Jesus and Rest

One very obvious hint that the true rest God intends for his people is spiritual in nature is given us by the Lord Jesus. First he declares:
“No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
That’s an intimidating statement on its face. No one can possibly find spiritual rest unless he or she has first been reconciled to God. And nobody can be reconciled to him who does not know him. And the Father cannot be known unless the Son reveals him.

This would seem to create a grave dilemma for the one seeking spiritual rest, but the Lord Jesus quickly adds this, throwing the door wide open to everyone who desires it:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
If we do not recognize in the person of Jesus Christ the absolute fulfillment of the Sabbath promise, we have missed the point altogether.

The Hebrews Connection

Of course we need to go to Hebrews to see this thoroughly laid out for us. Hebrews 4 starts out with a bang by telling us, “the promise of entering his rest still stands”.

The true meaning of the Sabbath rest could never be fully realized in Israel even though they were God’s chosen people because for most of them their obedience to God’s command was not united with faith. The writer goes on to establish from the Old Testament that there must exist a Sabbath rest which is greater, and which is faith-based, and he encourages his Hebrew audience, steeped in legal observances, to enter in to this rest:
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.”
Doug Batchelor and the Adventists are clinging to a shadow, rather than embracing the reality of Christ, our true Sabbath. Compare this glorious prospect with the dingy legalism of Batchelor’s reading of the same passage in Hebrews:
“In Hebrews 4:11, we read, ‘Let us [la-bor] therefore to enter into that rest.’ This sounds like a contradiction, but that’s really what happens when we prepare for the Sabbath. We invest additional labor so that we might enjoy the blessed rest of the Sabbath more fully. While I’m not comparing the Sabbath with a typical vacation, if you’re going to have a good vacation, it does require extra work, planning, and preparation to make it happen.

I believe that in order for us to really enjoy the release and peace that God has designed for this holy day, we must labor to enter that rest.”
Ugh. That’s just sad. The Sabbath was for Israel, not for Christians. It is fulfilled in Christ.

What Say the Apostles?

When Jewish apostles and believers gathered in Jerusalem to decide what features of Judaism were necessary for Gentiles to observe, here was their list:
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
Not a word about observing the Sabbath to be found there.

Further, by prioritizing a single day every week and giving it to God in some kind of extra-specially devoted way, Batchelor seems to have lost any sense that for Christians, the Sabbath is a rest to be experienced all day, every day.

I prefer this, from the apostle Paul:
“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. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
The Sabbath is merely a shadow. Christ is the substance.

So Happy Sabbath, Doug Batchelor!

Here’s something to celebrate: the Sabbath is not some twenty-four hour period to be legalistically observed beginning every Friday at sundown. Doug, your wife really does not need to be overly concerned that she is being ungodly by washing those few extra dishes left in the sink after the sun has dropped below the horizon.

That sort of sad triviality is not what it means to be “set apart” to God.

My Sabbath began when I came to know Jesus Christ. The true Sabbath rest is now, and it’s 24/7. If you trust him rather than your own good works, that Sabbath rest may be realized in your heart every moment of your life.

Where did the Sabbath go? In Christ it has been completely fulfilled, that’s where.

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