Grace and Truth
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Series 9 - Comparisons Between Islam and Christianity
VI. Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day, to Keep it Holy
1. The Day of Rest for Praising the Creator
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.“ (Exodus 20:8-11).
1. The Day of Rest for Praising the Creator
To the Jews, the Sabbath is one of the signs of the covenant with God. Appointed for worship, this day distinguished the people of the Old Testament from other nations. Until the present day, the people of the old covenant sanctify this last day of the week in that they do not work as they do on other days. They do not light a fire or go on a long trip. Instead, they wear the new clothes kept for the feast days. The Sabbath is intended for joy as people gather in worship in order to read the appointed passages of the Torah and discuss them in an atmosphere of praise.
On the day of the Lord, believers should spend more time with God than on other days. They should focus upon Him with their thoughts and hearts, for He is their Creator, Savior and Comforter. We should make a habit of Bible reading, hearing a good sermon, and participating in prayer with songs of praise which will sustain and soothe us in the midst of weariness in our desert journey of the rest of the week. However, neither man nor his rest is the focus of such a day, but the Lord Himself. This way the Sabbath has become the day of the Lord. He has set apart this day exclusively, sanctified it and blessed it. The day of the Lord is a precious gift from God to His creation.
Sanctifying the Sabbath means that we praise the Creator who created the heavens and the earth, the stars, the dry ground and trees by His mighty word. He created the fish, birds and all small and big animals. His creation culminated in the creation of man in the image of God. In this creation, every creature is a miracle built up with wisdom and strength in a unique way. Scientists have solved only a few of the mysteries of man's body, his abilities and the sublimity of his spirit. How wonderful are the works of God! And if His creation is so beautiful, how much more so the Creator Himself must be! Human language cannot fully convey His greatness, glory and omnipotence. He deserves worship and praise from all His creatures.
When God accomplished his purposes in creation, He rested. He was not weary from the work, for the Almighty does not grow weary, neither slumbers nor sleeps, rather He was satisfied with His work, delighted in the countless great wonders He had created and found them very good. It is proper for us to praise God every day and especially on the day of the Lord for His unfathomable miracles in His creation.
2. The Necessity of Rest on the Sabbath
During the Sabbath day, we have the privilege of partaking in the heavenly rest of God which He has designed for us. He gives us an opportunity for deep silence and worship. This inner and outer quiet before the Lord is the key to our well-being. No one can violate this commandment without being punished. Nations like the former Soviet Union or huge companies in the West lost peace of mind in their attempt to do away with the day of the Lord. Those who ignore this day and rush about in their cars do not comprehend the glory of the Lord in His creation. They have lost the ability to meditate, and subsequently all their work suffered during the week. Everyone, even animals, needs to take some rest, and creation cannot regain its strength without first being quiet before God. We should never ignore the command of God to sanctify the Sabbath. We can see that this commandment does not speak of 35 or 40 hours work a week, but about six days of hard work. But the seventh day is completely for the Lord. The Bible teaches us that an idle life is the threshold to all vices, and daily work is beneficial to man.
Jesus encourages us to stop every now and then to meditate on the lilies of the field and other flowers and see how they grow. Have you noticed how long it takes for them to blossom, for the leaves to grow, until they bear fruit? Stop and open your eyes. Get to know the forces and laws of nature, then you will see behind them the wise Creator and His fatherly goodness. Jesus suggested that we compare the splendor of the flower in its colour with the splendid attire of rich people so that we may realize that even kings and princes are not dressed as beautifully as these many different flowers, which soon wither and die. Man himself is the most beautiful of all God's creatures, and his face communicates only a little of His glory. Oh, that we would change the way we live, stop rushing about and take time to think! When we do so, we will be spurred on by the awesome beauty of creation into thanking God and praising Him. Unfortunately, there are repugnant television programs that show pornography and violence while God wants to open our eyes in the spring, summer, fall and winter to see the wonders which He created and entirely preserved.
When the Lord commands us to keep the Sabbath, He is demanding that this day be kept apart so that man would use it to learn to live before Him. To sanctify the day of the Lord is not just resting or hearing and reading the Word of God, but it is also turning to Him with all our hearts so that He can change us and fill us with His goodness. He is holy, and He wants us to be holy, too. So let us advance into the light of His love and reflect His glory, for there is no renewal without silence and quiet.
3. Misunderstanding the Sabbath
The Sabbath day preserved the people of the Old Testament from decline and separated them from the many gods that were worshipped by other nations around them. This concentration on the day of the Lord also prepared them for the coming of Christ, the Saviour of the world. Yet the Sabbath by itself was unable to change, protect or renew the believers who kept it. All men appear weak, evil and inadequate before God. No law can change humanity, nor can the Sabbath set man free from his sins. But it can keep him from slipping into atheism. In the new covenant we do not celebrate the day of the Lord in order to receive the grace of God, but rather to thank Him because He created us. He was incarnated and came to us in Christ and cares for us more than a father for his children. For this reason, we love Him and honor Him. Keeping the law will not save us from our sins, but the grace of God is the mystery of our salvation and regeneration. Whoever wants to be justified by the law will be condemned by it. But if you reach out and take the hand of Jesus stretched out to you, he will guide and protect you from all condemnation.
On the seventh day God rested and looked at His work. He saw that all was very beautiful. Yet God's sanctified rest ceased when man disobeyed and fell into sin. God stopped resting and has been working ever since day and night that He may save His lost creation. He states, “You have wearied Me with your iniquities“ (Isaiah 43:24). Jesus affirms this, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working“ (John 5:17). God is deeply concerned about us and our ugly sins, but we thank God that there is a deliverance for all sinners through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. Whoever believes in the Lamb of God will not come under the judgement of the law, but rather will be totally justified by the blood of Jesus. Jesus died and was buried right before the Sabbath. He rested on the day of God's rest in the grave of a rich man. He rose on the first day of the week from the dead, and this way God fulfilled even the requirements of the Sabbath day. Through His resurrection, He set up a new day that symbolizes the new creation that thrives on the grace of God and on the power of the Holy Spirit, not on the judgment of the law.
4. Do Christians Have the Right to Celebrate Sunday Instead of Saturday?
Too often the Jews and the Seventh Day Adventists accuse Christians of breaking the fourth commandment and predict that the wrath of God will fall on the followers of Christ because they keep Sunday instead of Saturday as the day of rest. However Jesus said that He was Lord of the Sabbath. The Son of Man fulfilled all demands of the Sabbath on our behalf. He fulfilled it and consummated it. Jesus did not pass a new law in order to sanctify a certain day, month or year. He saved His followers and sanctified them. Man should not only worship God on the Sabbath day and during certain feasts, but on every day. That is why Jesus sanctifies individuals rather than days. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him“ (Colossians 3:17). Every work we do under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is a kind of worship to God. One day is not less valuable than another. Jesus justified us with His precious blood and renewed us with the Holy Spirit. He created sanctified people, not sanctified days. The purpose of His coming to earth was to accomplish what the Sabbath could not do: to create new people, change the wicked sinners into His sanctified followers, and turn the selfish into servants.
Jesus has revolutionized every aspect of our spiritual life. That is why Christians picked Sunday, the day Jesus was raised, in order to celebrate the new covenant with His new creation. But Jesus wanted His followers to rest, too, and to meditate on the privilege of being part of His new creation. He did not command us to keep Sunday, neither did He forbid us to keep the Sabbath. He did not mean us to be restricted by certain days and feasts, but He came to save sinners. The resurrection of Jesus so marked the beginning of a new era that we no longer live under the accusing law, but under the saving grace of our Lord. This does not mean that Christians are lawless people. The Spirit of Christ who dwells in us is in Himself the law of love and, at the same time, grants us the power to fulfill it. As such the Sabbath remains a symbol of the weak old covenant, but Sunday is a sign of Christ's victory that marks the new covenant.
Some believers in Islamic countries cannot rest on Sunday or the Sabbath. Therefore, they get together on Friday, knowing that the Lord Himself is with them as He promised, “When two or three get together in My name, I am there in the midst of them“ (Matthew 18:20). Jesus did not intend to appoint certain days for worship, but rather to sanctify believers always and everywhere.
5. Celebrating Sunday
How can Christians sanctify the day of their Lord? Love prompts them to gather together on Sundays for worship and Bible readings, and to praise Him in the fellowship of saints. Our children, guests, fellow-workers, even the animals in the stalls, should join us in the day of rest and in the divine joy of the resurrection which is remembered every Sunday and incarnated in our lives. The basis of the Christians' joy is deeper than that of the Jews. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you and that your joy may be full“ (John 15:11; 17:13). Paul also wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!“ (Philippians 4:4). “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace...“ (Galatians 5:22). Such verses show us the quintessential spirit of Sunday. But they also describe the spirit of our work during the week; they show us what living in a Christian family should be like.
Should we work on Sunday? Like all other people, Christians are normal people. They have bodies that get tired. That is why they need to relax and rest. They are ordinary creatures, and yet at the same they are children of God in the Spirit. They live in the flesh on earth and are seated spiritually in heaven with Christ. They do not deny the day of rest in the face of the Lord. Sunday was not originally intended for catching up on sleep, but to glorify God the Father and praise Him. This day belongs to God, and we are not supposed to do unnecessary jobs. Yet we should not run away when it comes to works of love and duties that rescue others from danger. Our righteousness is not based on the fulfilment of the law but on the atoning death of Christ who has instilled the concept of sacrifice into our hearts. Going to public worship and other spiritual meetings on Sunday is a privilege reserved for Christians. But, it is not enough for Christians to feed on their spiritual food only on Sunday, they should also eat their food every day, otherwise faith, love and hope will weaken. Sunday gives us an opportunity to sing in a community, pray as a group and share ideas with church members in order to feel Christian unity. All believers together are the spiritual body of Christ. The individual believer is not the main object of the new creation, rather the fellowship of saints which can be seen on Sundays particularly.
Blessed are those who visit the sick, the handicapped and the poor on Sunday. These believers will not watch the petrol gauges in their cars in order to see if the fuel will be sufficient for another 100 kilometres.
The spirit of the Lord leads us to get out of the church building and search for the dead in sin. We are called to guide them to repentance in Christ, so that they may rise from their despair and hardheartedness. It is inexcusable not to witness to unbelievers about Christ. We are also called to do charitable acts for needy individuals and deprived groups on the day of the Lord.
Sunday provides enough time to give thanks to the Lord, own up to our shortcomings and intercede on behalf of the needs of other people. And if the Lord gives us children, then we should spend considerable time with them and sing uplifting, joyful Christian songs with them. Let us ask Jesus how to fulfil the first three prayer requests in the Lord's Prayer particularly on Sundays.
If we keep Sunday we will be blessed. Jesus has prepared many blessings for everyone who seeks to be filled with the spirit of Christ risen from the dead on Sunday.
6. Desecrating Sunday
It is tragic that more sin is committed weekends than on other days. On Sundays cars pollute the countryside. Television stations provide only a short time for the Word of God while there are many more horror movies, pornographic or occult shows. On Sunday some people work at home, in the garden and the barn when they could have done that on other days of the week. In Old Testament times, if someone was caught working on the day of rest he was sentenced to death. If we could see all the sins committed at weekends, both publicly and privately in one town only, it would break our hearts or drive us crazy! Only the love of God possesses the long-suffering and patience that waits for the sinners.
Have you forgotten what the Lord says about a man who defiles His day? If we read Exodus 31:14-17 we will realize how essential it is for us to remain quiet before the Lord (see also Numbers 15:32-36 to understand the need for keeping the day of the Lord). Perhaps we should change our lifestyle and ask, for instance, our students not to do their homework on Sunday. The Lord threatens to burn the city or village that does not observe the Sabbath as a day of worship and rest (Jeremiah 17:22). We should not be complacent about this warning. Who knows if world wars and drastic catastrophes are not the outcome of such neglect? The Bible says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap“ (Galatians 6:7). No one can break the commandments of God and get away with it.
If Jesus had not died on the cross for our sins and bore punishment on our behalf we would be without hope. But his death is not an excuse for us to desecrate the day of the Lord. Jesus and His disciples always consecrated the Sabbath. He lived to glorify His Father. After His resurrection on the first day of the week, Jesus appeared to His disciples in order to celebrate the new feast of His covenant with them.
7. A New Perception of the Law
In thinking about the wrong way to keep the Sabbath, we can see how easy it is to misconstrue this law of God. Jesus was sentenced to death for healing the sick on the Sabbath, and for stating that He is the Son of God. He was hounded by religious leaders of His time who, in their fanaticism for the Law of Moses, had lost their capacity to love God and people. They were righteous outwardly in a hypocritical way and turned a deaf ear to the call to repentance. In their blindness they hardened their hearts. They were not ready to change their minds. They rejected God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They did not care for the sick on the Sabbath. So their zealous observance of the law on the Sabbath had turned into hypocrisy. No wonder Jesus had to say to them, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men“ (Matthew 15:8,9).
In His struggle to teach us the right way to sanctify the day of the Lord, Jesus did not say much about working or not working but emphasised the right attitude of our hearts before God. Paul continued to promote this understanding of the Law in the spirit of Christ. Yet he was cursed and stoned for teaching that non-Jewish believers were freed from the old covenant. He taught us that we are freed from the accusation of the Law because we have already died to the law through the death of Christ. Therefore, the Law no longer has authority over us. But the Holy Spirit has put the new order of the love of Christ in us. This new spiritual law in our hearts sanctifies us and spurs us on to praise the Triune God in all our thoughts, words and deeds. So, we are no longer weighed down by the Law, but it works repentance and faith in the power of the Holy Spirit in us. We should keep in mind that Christ sanctifies people, not days! Thus we learn the radical difference between the New Testament and the Old Testament, from our understanding of the fourth commandment.
8. Friday for Muslims
Muslims showed that they do not understand the meaning of the fourth commandment by appointing Friday as the day of the main religious gatherings, nor do they fulfil it. Muhammad went a step further when the Jews and Christians rejected his prophethood and his invitation to become Muslims. He neither agreed on Saturday with the Jews nor on Sunday with the Christians. In trying to establish his own belief, he rejected the order of the Old Testament and the New and instead appointed Friday as the day of assembly for Muslims. There is no support for this day in the Scripture, nor does it have any connection with the plan of redemption. In fact, it stems from a rebellion against God and His Messiah. Friday does not have any Biblical background or support.
Muslims go back to their jobs right after the Friday prayer. The speeches in the mosques on Friday are often political. It is not infrequent that they are followed by demonstrations with outbreaks of hatred and destruction. Sanctifying a particular day or sanctifying the believer himself is still unknown to Muslim worshipers. Allah is considered to be so great that the content of his holiness is unknown to the Muslims, except by his name. This shows why Islam stands far below the level of the old covenant, as far as this commandment is concerned. They do not have the least idea of the salvation and new creation in the new covenant.
But we give thanks to the One who was raised from the dead, for He performed His miracles on the Sabbath and on week days. He rose from the dead on the first day of the week and gave a whole new meaning to that day. Oh, that each Sunday would be like a sunrise for every new week shining with the reviving words of our Lord, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another“ (John 13:34-35).