How to Enjoy the Sabbath


Two weeks ago, I answered several questions or objections that are brought against Sabbath observance. And we won't cover those again this morning. We went through a ton of Scriptures going through the change of day, the reason for the day, We saw that it is a moral obligation for both believers and unbelievers and we saw several passages where God commands Gentiles to keep the law, and we looked at two passages which prophesy that Gentiles in our own age will be blessed by God because they keep the Sabbath. So it is a moral law.

But we also saw that it is called a sign. So it is both moral law and ceremonial law. As a sign it teaches us something. I believe that the only change that was made to the fourth commandment was with respect to the direction the sign is pointing. Before the fall it pointed backward to God's finished work. After the fall it swung around and pointed forward to the need for redemption. After Christ brings redemption it once more points backward to a finished work.

So that's something we need to keep in mind. It is a moral law that is embedded right into the ten commandments. But it is also called a sign in Ezekiel 20 and Exodus 31. And every sign God gives symbolizes something and teaches us something. And we saw from both Ezekiel 20 and Exodus 31 that even with regard to its function as a sign the Sabbath is perpetual (Ex. 31:13,16,17). For example, Exodus 31 says that the Sabbath will be a sign of the covenant forever, and calls it perpetual and a sign between God and us throughout our generations.

The first point we are going to start with today is going to look at how the Sabbath as a sign teaches us to be dependent upon God entirely. And then we will get into some of the practical of how we should keep it.

The Sabbath as Sign Teaches us to be Dependent on God's Work.

Pre-fall – Dependent upon God's finished work (vv. 1-3)

God had provided everything needed for life and godliness. This is symbolized by when the sign is placed In man's week.

Now let me put up an overhead chart here so that you can see Point A and the chart beneath it. Before the fall man obviously did not need redemption. But he did need to depend upon God. And point A says, before the fall man was dependent upon God's finished work. When we looked at the dominion mandate, we saw the incredible provisions that God gave to enable dominion to take place. And the Sabbath was a sign that pointed back to God's total blessing and total provision. Adam didn't have to scramble and sweat and work hard in order to have something to eat and in order to be able to survive and then rest. No. He starts with rest because God has finished something. Verse 1 says, Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. What an incredible blessing this first Sabbath was. They could relax, focus on God, take instruction from Him and then go out to take dominion. So you can see here that Adam and Eve were supposed to celebrate the Sabbath in a way that was fundamentally different from God's dominion-rest sequence. God began with six days of Dominion and rested one day whereas man rested one day before taking six days of dominion.

Man's role was not to create, but to recreate. There wasn't anything additional that man could provide for dominion. It was finished. You can see this same concept coming up through verses 2-3. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. The first Sabbath symbolized the finished work of God that man needed to look to and depend upon. If man was placed in a desert and didn't know how he would survive, where he would sleep, he wouldn't have had the leisure to rest first and then provide for himself.

Post-Fall – Dependent upon Christ's Future Work of Redemption

God would provide everything needed for Life and Godliness. This was symbolized by when the sign is placed in man's week.

But you know what? After the fall, that is exactly what happens to Adam and Eve. Look at chapter 3:23-24.

Therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

If you remember our discussion on the dominion mandate – we said that chapter 2:7-8 shows that Adam was created before the Garden of Eden was created, and Adam would have been watching God take dominion of non-garden earth and turning it into garden. He was modeling to Adam how to take dominion. Then 2:8 says that God took Adam and placed him into the garden. But look at 3:23 again. therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. Adam was taken from soil that had not yet had dominion taken over it – soil outside the garden. So what he was being sent to was a wilderness, or at least the wild. It wasn't garden-like at all. And if Adam and Eve are to survive their first week, they are going to have to sweat up a storm in providing shelter, and gathering wild things to eat. There won't be a lot of rest. And if God had left it at that, Adam and Eve for time and in eternity could have experienced a total lack of rest on earth and in hell. But God was merciful. Though man's rest was cursed, it was not totally taken away. In chapter 3:15 God says that a rest will be provided in the future.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman [that's a blessing by the way. There was no enmity between Satan and Eve now. They were in league together. But God was going to translate her out of Satan's kingdom and into His own, and adopt her as His child. So anyway, He says, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman"], and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel. God is speaking to Satan here and saying that a descendant of Eve would be wounded by Satan, but that Christ, the seed of the woman would crush Satan's head. But that's all in the future. They can't rest in a past, finished work of God any longer because of sin. What they need hasn't happened yet. So the sign symbolizing dependence has to be swung around. They still need to depend upon God, but they will need to depend upon a future provision. So we saw last week that the Sabbath was changed after the fall to reflect both the curse of God and the promise of a future rest. And so the worship of chapter 4:3 is at the end of the week (or as the margin has it literally, "at the end of the days."). And that is the consistent pattern after this. The Sabbath was a blessing in that it looked forward to the reversal of the fall. But it was also a curse in that it perpetually reminded them of what had been lost in Eden; they had lost their rest. This is why Colossians 2 can speak of the Old Testament Sabbath as being both a blessing that pointed forward to Jesus and also a commandment which was against us and which was contrary to us. It constantly reminded man of his broken fellowship, of paradise lost and of the emptiness of dominion without a future redemption. Something more needed to be created for man to have everything needed for life and godliness. In fact, all things had to be made new. It's Christ alone that can make us and all things a new creation.

Post-Resurrection of Jesus – Dependent upon God for His Past work of Redemption

All things for life and godliness have already been purchased for us. This is symbolized by when the sign is placed in man's week.

  1. Don't be deceived by Judaizers who are still looking forward in their Sabbath observance (Col. 2:8,14-18)
  2. Rest in Christ's full provision (Col. 2:6-7,9-10)

So that brings us to the resurrection of Jesus when he declared a former work day to now be a rest day. Several times in the New Testament Sunday is called a Sabbath. And we looked at those verses last time. As you can see by the chart under point C, the sign of the Sabbath swings around on its hinges and celebrates something that God has finished. When Jesus said, "It is finished" on the cross, He meant it. There is nothing more that we need to provide. Once again mankind has all that is needed for life and godliness because Jesus has conquered death and made all things new. That's why we begin our week by worship and resting in His finished work, trusting Him for the future, and then (and only then) taking dominion.

So in summary: Why was it a big deal for Adam and Eve to begin their week with a Sabbath celebration? Because to fail to do so would be a declaration of independence and would symbolize that man can take dominion without God and without God's provisions. When Adam tried to do that, it became a demonic dominion and demonic rest and both were cursed.

Why was it a big deal to celebrate the Sabbath at the end of the week after the fall? Because, once again to fail to do so would also show a lack of dependence upon God. It would in effect be saying, "We can take dominion without trusting in Christ's future work of redemption." So Israel waited till the end of the week for rest because Christ's provision of salvation would not occur until the end of their age.

Third, why is it a big deal for us to celebrate the Sabbath at the beginning of the week again? Because to fail to do so is to make the Sabbath a sign that Jesus has not yet come. It is to denigrate His statement that "It is finished." To celebrate the Sabbath at the end of the week is to symbolize that we are still looking for a future Messiah to provide salvation and rest.

That's why in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 three times Paul commands us to observe the Sabbath on Sunday. …as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: on the first day Sabbath let each one of you lay something aside… etc.

Now that's the symbolism of this sign. That's the ceremonial side. The sign continues to be on the pole of history, even though it has swung around in different directions. But there are no changes to the moral side of the commandment. Man continues to be obligated to take dominion for six days and he continues to be obligated to take rest on one day.

And we are going to restricted ourselves now to Genesis 2:1-3 which boils down the doctrine of the Sabbath into a distillation which can apply to any age. I've summarized the essence of the Sabbath in four words. The four words are prepare, focus, expect and seek.

The Sabbath as a Moral Precept Calls Us To Set Aside One Day In Seven For Special Union and Communion with God and His People

Prepare: Take the Day of Preparation Seriously (2:1)

First of all we are called to prepare by God's example of preparation. God didn't allow His work week to encroach a few hours into the Sabbath. As soon as evening hit, whether you interpret that as six pm or midnight, all work ceased. And I think the six pm interpretation is probably correct. God was organized and efficient. Verse 1 says, Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. We have to structure our week so that our work and pleasure is finished and doesn't encroach onto God's day. If we stay up late unecessarily, we end up being tired for the Sabbath. But for sure, we ought to organize our time in such a way that dominion is not needed on the Lord's day.

But preparation doesn't just relate to finishing work. It also relates to preparing our hearts for the next day. God prepared for the Sabbath by preparing a home (Eden) and a community of people (Adam and Eve) and giving them instructions. He prepared everything needed to be able to celebrate the Sabbath with joy. The garden was in order. The food was ripe. He did that on what Scripture later calls the day of preparation. It is helpful when we prepare our children for the next day in positive ways. Just some examples, if you find your Sabbath morning harried and stressful because your kids can't find their shoes, and they are complaining that their dress needs washing, make sure that everything is laid out for quick dressing the night before. Each child can have his little pile of socks, pants, shirt, etc ready to go. You might even make some preparations for cooking. Or at least, go through a check list the day before to make sure that you have the groceries that you need, etc. I mean, there are many ways in which we can prepare so that the Sabbath morning is not a stressful morning. We want it to be a relaxful morning; a joyful morning. So the first word is prepare; prepare like God prepared.

Focus: God's Call to Rest is a Call to Focus upon Him

The meaning of the word "rest"

The second word is "focus." I've deliberately labeled it "focus" to draw out three implications of the term rest that many times we miss. Let's first read verses 2-3 where the word "rest" occurs in each verse And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. This has been confusing to some people because Scripture says that God never grows weary or tired. Why would He need to rest? But the literal meaning for rest is "to stop," "to desist" from or to "cease" from something. And there is no question that God ceased from His creation work. We too are over and over called to stop doing certain things on the Sabbath. We are told to stop carrying loads, purchasing things at the store, working on non-essentials or non-emergencies. There are a number of "don'ts" that God gives us in His Word. And they flow straight out of God's own modeling to us. He completely stopped, desisted or quit doing His work of creation just as we need to completely stop our work of Dominion. But it would be very easy to misinterpret this ceasing from work in three ways.

Don't focus on the "don'ts" of the Sabbath. The "don'ts" are given to help us focus on God (see "refreshed" in Exodus 31:17)

The first is to think that ceasing from work is an end in itself. Legalists like the Pharisees were good at ceasing from work. Boy, they had that down pat. In fact, they went way beyond the kind of ceasing that God intended. They added all kinds of don'ts not found in the Scripture. And it would be easy for us to do that as well. We miss out on the heart of the Sabbath if we think that we have kept the Sabbath simply because we have ceased from labor. God didn't intend the list of "don'ts" to be a negative burden for His people. The point of ceasing is to focus.

Let me just illustrate that. In order to take my children sledding I have to quit working on the computer, counseling, doing evangelism and studies on campus etc. That makes perfect sense, right? Now let's try to imagine that I am forgetful, and any of you who know me know that's not too hard to imagine. And my wife calls me up on the phone and reminds me, "Honey, you promised to go out with the children. You're going to have to quit what you are working on." If all I did was quit the work and never went sledding, I would miss the whole point. And if I responded to my wife. "You're just a legalist. All you can think of is ‘Don't do this. ‘Don't do that. Quit your studies. Can't we have some grace around here?" I would have totally missed the point. Right? So many people see the "Don'ts" of Scripture as negative because they have failed to see that what God wants is focus. I can't focus on sledding if I don't quit. When I focus on the sledding, the quitting is delightful. When I focus on the quitting, all I can think about is everything that still needs to get done and I get frustrated. But on the other hand it wold be wrong for me to assume that since I don't need to focus on the quitting, that I don't need to quit. Nor should I assume that people have no right to criticize me when I don't quit. Failure to quit working is a big deal because it means that I am neglecting my family.

Now hopefully that illustration can be a word picture for you of why focus is a key issue in Sabbath observance. God ceased from His work so that He could focus His attention of blessing His people. We are called to cease from work so that we can focus our attention on blessing God. In proof of this, turn to Exodus 31:17 and I want you to notice how God later interprets this passage.

When Exodus refers to this in Exodus 31:17 it says, "for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed." The verb refreshed comes from the noun meaning soul. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament says, "the use of nepesh with reference to God is rare since god does not have the cravings and appetites common to man nor is his life limited by death. In addition to the passages already noted, we cite several more where the word is use dot e3xpress forcefully his passionate disinclination or inclination toward someone." This has to do with relational refreshment. This refreshment can mean nothing less than the delight and satisfaction that God had in His creation and especially the creatures that He had made. Sure there was a list of things God refused to do on that day, but the reason was so that He could positively focus on enjoying Adam and Eve and His angels. This was a time when the angels and man himself fellowshipped together in worship. When Psalm 104 looks at this time of creation it says, "let the LORD be glad in His creation." (v. 31) Cessation of labor is not an end in itself. It is simply the means to the end of focusing on God.

Don't Veg out on the Sabbath. The call to "cease" is not a call to inactivity or laziness. It is a call to cease from anything that distracts your focus from God and ministering to His people.

So the first misunderstanding is to think that the Sabbath is a bunch of negative rules. The second huge misunderstanding that we can have of the Sabbath is to think that rest means inactivity or sleeping all day or vegging out. I gave this illustration before to show how important some presidents treated the Sabbath. But for the interim president, it is a negative example.

James C. Hefley wrote about a strange thing that took place in 1849. He said:

President-elect Zachary Taylor was scheduled according to the Constitution to take office on March 4, but he refused to be inaugurated because the day was a Sunday. Politicians pleaded in vain for the devoutly religious Taylor to change his mind.

The Constitution forbade President James K. Polk from staying on another day. There was no alternative but for the Senate to elect a president to serve from Sunday noon to Monday noon, the time re-scheduled for Zachary Taylor to take office. The senators chose David Rice Atchison, the head of the Senate. But the last week of the Polk administration was so hectic for Senator Atchison that he retired late Saturday evening after instructing his landlady "not to awaken him for any reason."

She followed his orders. Senator Atchison slept through Sunday and on into Monday, past the time his twenty-four-hour ended. The startling truth is that he slept through his entire term of office!

It's true that he was ceasing from dominion activity. But he was failing to engage in an activity of focus upon God. I think most questions of what you can and cannot do on the Sabbath don't need to really be answered. You just need to answer what your focus is. With the limited resources that I have, how can I make the most of this day with the Lord to focus upon Him and upon ministering to His people? Again, it is a focus issue. And sleeping all day does not give that focus.

Don't selfishly "use" the Sabbath day for your own comfort. The call to "rest" in God is not only a call to delight in God but to delight God. Himself (cf. Exodus 31:17; Zephaniah 3:17)

The third misunderstanding, and its listed in point 4, is that we shouldn't selfishly use the Sabbath day for our own comfort. The call to rest in God is not only a call to delight in God, but to delight God Himself. That was the point of the Exodus 31:17 passage. Adam was to bring delight and refreshment to God. But God is the most delighted with us when we are the most delighted in Him. So the two are tied up in each other. But I think it is helpful to realize that we somehow mysteriously bring God pleasure by our Sabbath observance, and our worship times.

Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The LORD your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy." So don't think only of what you can get out of the Sabbath, but think of what you can give to God. He is your lover. Hopefully we don't just take time with our spouse for what we can get out of him or her. It is the same with our God who is our husband. We need to cultivate time with him, and he declares in Isaiah 58 that that the Sabbath should not be only for our pleasure, but for God's pleasure as well.

The whole purpose of the rest was to provide true focus. The "don'ts" are merely the means to the end.

Expect: Expect Rich Blessings from the Lord on the Sabbath (2:3)

So we have looked at the words "prepare" and "focus." Thirdly, let's look at the word "expect." We are to expect the blessings of the Lord on this day in a far greater measure than we can expect them on any other day. It is par excellence the day of blessing. Verse 3 says, Then God blessed the seventh day… What does it mean for God to bless a day? In the Scripture, the blessing of God is something tangible that actually rests upon something. You will find references to a blessing resting upon a person, a house, animals, land. When the 70 disciples went out they were commanded to bless households, and if there was an elect person there, the blessing would rest upon the house, but if not, the blessing would return to the person who gave it. In other words, when God sends forth a verbal blessing, the Holy Spirit always accompanies the blessing to see it carried forth. Anything blessed by God finds God's power producing changes. When God blesses the land, the land produces. In Genesis 1, when He blesses the womb, it produces. When He blesses the Sabbath, it produces. To lay hold of the Sabbath is to lay hold of God's highest and richest blessings. God says in Isaiah 56, Blessed is the man who … keeps from defiling the Sabbath… He pronounces His blessing, and that blessing is always carried to us by the Holy Spirit.

That means we need to come to this day with our arms open in expectation. In Isaiah 56 God promises that God will give a heightened assurance of sonship to those who doubt their acceptance by God. The same passage says that God will enhance our reputation by giving us a name. He will give them joy. He will answer their prayers. The last promise in Isaiah 56 is that He will bless our evangelism to the nations. Isaiah 58 is loaded with promises of blessing to Sabbath keepers. My favorites are in verse 14 where God promises to enable us to delight in God and will cause us to ride on the high places of the earth and satisfy us. If you have a hard time being close to God, keep in mind His statement in James: draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Observing the Sabbath is one of those ways in which we can draw near to God.

But other passages mention even physical blessings of health, prosperity and peace. And it is no wonder. Since Exodus 31 says that the Sabbath is not just the sign of the covenant, but is the covenant itself, to expect blessings from the Sabbath is to expect all the covenant blessings which God has promised in the Scripture. Why is the American church so shallow and so unblessed? In part it may be because of their failure to keep the Sabbath. This is the day of blessing. And those blessings can be as tangible as physical health and good jobs.

When Israel left Egypt they left behind certain practices. In Egypt most of them didn't tithe, didn't keep the Sabbath and failed to have the disciplines of Christianity as part of their culture. But that changed under the leadership of Moses and Joshua. And Scripture indicates that they went from the land of just enough to the land of plenty. Now there was one generation that kept complaining all the time that they wished they could go back to Egypt. But when Israel finally learned to take God at His Word, the tangible blessings of the land of plenty began to be theirs. God prospered their time, their warfare, their dominion, their money, their wisdom.

You are probably familiar with the influence that Lord Shaftesbury had with abolishing slavery in England. But he was also a good influence in regard to the Sabbath day. He tells how fruit vendors who pushed their donkeys into work every day of the week found that the donkeys did not have the stamina, and were not able to travel as far or as fast as donkeys that had one day off a week. When calculations were tallied up it was found that Sabbath donkeys on the average were able to travel 3900 miles farther in a year than non-Sabbath donkeys. God made the Sabbath for health. And Deuteronomy 5:14 tells us that we must give our animals a sabbath rest as well. And so even the old Testament sabbath was in every way truly a blessing. The question is, do we trust God enough to believe we will be blessed instead of cursed? Lord, if I don't work on Sunday I won't make it. God says, "Trust Me to be a God of blessing." Expect something good when you come to this day. Come with expectation.

Seek: Since the Sabbath is Sanctified (set apart to God's presence), this is the Day we should Seek His Presence

The last word that I want to highlight this morning is the word "seek." Now you may not immediately see it in the passage unless you understand how sanctifying of time, space and objects works. Genesis 2:3 says, Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it… The word for sanctified means to be set apart to God. If you read through the Old Testament you will find that even things like pots and pans could be said to be sanctified or holy because they were separated to God in the temple and the closer a person or thing was identified with the Holy of Holies or the throne room of God, the more holy it was said to be. For example, all Israel was said to be holy, but there was a city called the holy city that was more holy than the rest because of how close to God's temple presence it was. Then within Jerusalem there was one mount that was called the holy mount. Then in the temple there was an outer court, a holy place and a Holy of Holies. Holiness was identified with closeness to the presence of God.

Well, God declares this day to be sanctified here, which means that God is declaring His presence to be especially manifested on this day. In Exodus 20 he uses the word "holy day" because from that time on the Sabbath day would be the day that was associated with God's special presence. Look at Genesis 3:8. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. And Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. If you want an awesome description of this verse, Meredith Kline has devoted 34 pages to this verse comparing Scripture with Scripture and showing how this was the majestic glory cloud presence of God with the rushing sound of beating angelic wings. And he speaks of it as God's judgment advent, which it was.

But what I would like to propose for your consideration is that God's original purpose was for manifesting the blessing of His presence, not judgment. The Hebrew is emphatic that this was "the day" – I believe a reference to the Sabbath when God's presence was especially made known. That's what made the Sabbath holy. The Spirit of the Day was present. And God's day of Presence should have been a blessing beyond description. Whether this Sabbath day was the first Sabbath day as A.W. Pink thought, or whether it was a subsequent Sabbath Day as others propose, I don't know. But what I think is clear in the Genesis account as well as in later Sabbath passages, is that seeking God's presence on the Sabbath can usher us in our private devotions into such awesome times of experiencing His glory, that once you have tasted of it, you will never again want to run from Him. You will seek Him on the Sabbath. You will long for Him. You will pursue Him in studying His Word, in prayer, in quietness before His majesty, in rapture at His love.

Now this might be an excuse for private exercises of devotion exclusively on this day if it was not for repeated commands for gathering together, celebrating together, rejoicing together, etc. In fact, the way the fourth commandment is worded in Leviticus 23:3 mandates the public gathering together. It says, Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. "Holy convocation simply refers to the calling together of the whole assembly to meet before God's presence.

Now God often ushers us into His presence on other days as well, but if there is any day where seeking Him has the possibility of pressing into God's throne room and into His being in a closer way, the Sabbath has it. It is the day where God says He delights in causing His whole glory cloud – angels and all – to crowd into the assembly. This is my longing and my heart's cry – that God would simply be present. But we must seek Him by honoring the Sabbath if we are to experience this fully.

Accordingly, I would like those of you who gather for fellowship at our house to try to concentrate on how we can be better at these four things. Sometimes our conversation drifts into work, movies, and anything but God. And I am just as guilty as anybody. But let's try to make this a fun challenge to creatively ask each other questions about the sermon, about each other's walk with God, about theology, etc. so that we can truly prepare, focus, expect and seek. Amen.

How to Enjoy the Sabbath is part of the Foundations series published on June 29, 2003

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