Foundations: “The Sabbath” (Part One) – Exodus 20:8-11

Today we begin a short series on the Sabbath. Not unlike many doctrines, the Sabbath is one of ‘those’ topics. Not unlike many doctrines, it’s a topic to which much ink has been sacrificed. In the history of the church, much has been written about the Sabbath. In fact, so much has been written about it, one wonders if it’s at all possible to read all the material. What is not to be wondered about, however, is the fact that the Sabbath, as that which is Biblical, is a beneficial doctrine. “All Scripture is profitable for doctrine,” the apostle states. So, men have preached about it, explained it, defended it, and exhorted others to keep it. And not unlike most if not all doctrines, the Sabbath is a ‘ground-zero’ of much heated debate. We must be honest with ourselves: Sabbath teaching, while beneficial, is also controversial. The Sabbath has been, and is, a cause for division, even, and especially, in the church. This is lamentable. This is sad. Why I say this I hope you will see by the time we’re done; which I think will be in three or four Sundays. But by now, you know, or should know, that any and all Biblical teaching stirs up controversy. The history of the church displays this. Somewhere, sometime, and in some fashion men, both inside and outside the church, take issue with something the Bible states. In our own experience, as we find ourselves in the 21st century, we know this to be true. We don’t need to be church historians to realize that the exclusivity of Christ, for example, is hotly debated. We know ourselves that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty over all things, including one’s salvation, is controversial and stirs up much visceral churning and fierce contention. We know that the doctrine of the cross, Christ and Him crucified, as that which alone saves, is a point of contention. The very name of our church, Sovereign Grace Baptist, flies in the faces of many: Sovereign Grace (TULIP), Baptist (believers not babies).  My point in this is to simply underscore what I am about to say, namely this: ‘Because a thing is controversial, or even divisive, is no reason to not address it.’ One might even argue, and in fact has said, that to remain silent on any point of doctrine, especially if controversial, is to deny Christ at that point.
Having said all that, let me tell you why I address this issue. I do not raise the issue to stir up controversy or division, but quite the opposite. I do so because I am under authority. I am under the authority of the Scriptures which tell me that the pastor-teacher is a gift to the church for “the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith.” I’m going to ask you something this morning. I’m going to ask you to let me be your pastor. ‘But,’ you say, ‘you are my pastor.’ ‘Yes,’ I respond, ‘But each of you has one or even several pastoral voices to whom you default. Perhaps they are books, mp3s, or the radio. And we must not forget our beloved pastors of the past.’ That’s fine. That’s not all bad. We all have our ‘pastors.’ But what isn’t fine is when those other voices muffle the voice of the pastor God gave you today. Now, lest I am misunderstood, understand. I am not saying I am infallible. I am not saying I have everything figured out and everyone else doesn’t. I don’t have it all figured out. And I am not above any other ‘pastor.’  But I am, to my utter amazement and even bewilderment, a gift to this church, given so that we attain to ‘the unity of the faith…to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ,’ the result being we are not children, “carried about by every wind of doctrine.” That is why pastors exist. That is why I’m here. Doctrine is where it’s at. Doctrine is the thing. Doctrine is the purpose. Doctrine does divide; it separates the sheep from the goats. But it also unites! It unites and makes the church strong, able to withstand Chinooks and hurricanes of falsehood … and doctrine that simply misses the mark.  Underpinning all this is the fact that God has spoken. God has spoken a word to us. He has revealed to us His mind. And since God has spoken, we must seek to know what he has in fact said. What did God say concerning the Sabbath? What is its purpose? Why did He command it? What does it mean and look like to keep it? Who are the Sabbath-keepers? Faithfulness to the Scriptures, to the entire counsel of God as it progressively unfolds from Genesis to Revelation, is at stake here. And this is no mere doctrine without obvious and practical implications for the believer. There are monstrous implications for the one who is in Christ. But we cannot live in light of what God has said if we do not know, are unsure of, or hold false ideas about what He has spoken.
By way of approach this is how we shall proceed: First, I will briefly state my answer to the question “Does Sabbath-keeping fly in the face of the cross and is therefore at odds with the work of Christ?” Second, I will embark on a brief history of the doctrine by way of confession. Third, we will survey the Old Testament and make some Biblical observations. And finally, we shall together come to a conclusion, mindful that we’ll be nowhere near finished (but well on the way).
So the question: Does Sabbath-keeping fly in the face of Christ? Is it at odds with His Work? Answer: It does not. Sabbath-keeping does not fly in the face of Christ. It isn’t at odds with the cross. Sabbath-keeping is therefore relevant for the Christian.  Believers in Christ and the Sabbath are intimately related. The nature of that relationship I will not, at this point, define.  That you will see in due course.
A Brief History by Confession
Second, a brief history by confessional statement displays what arguably is the majority report on the issue. Hear the common thread between them. Each statement, each reflective of a different theological tradition, has similar ideas. Noteworthy among them is the ‘one day in seven’ principle.
1. The Westminster Confession of Faith states:

“As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.”

2. The 1689 Baptist Confession states:

“As it is the law of nature that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, should be set apart for the worship of God, so He has given in His Word a positive, moral and perpetual commandment, binding upon all men, in all ages to this effect. He has particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy for Him. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ this was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ it was changed to the first day of the week and called the Lord’s Day. This is to be continued until the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week having been abolished.”

3. The Seventh Day Adventists (From

“The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts.”


“We believe that the Sabbath of the Bible, the seventh day of the week, is sacred time, a gift of God to all people, instituted at creation, affirmed in the Ten Commandments and reaffirmed in the teaching and example of Jesus and the apostles.

We believe that the gift of Sabbath rest is an experience of God’s eternal presence with His people.
We believe that in obedience to God and in loving response to His grace in Christ, the Sabbath should be faithfully observed as a day of rest, worship, and celebration.”
4. Calvin
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin states:

“The purport of the commandment is, that being dead to our own affections and works, we meditate on the kingdom of God, and in order to such meditation, have recourse to the means which he has appointed. But as this commandment stands in peculiar circumstances apart from the others, the mode of exposition must be somewhat different. Early Christian writers are wont to call it typical, as containing the external observance of a day which was abolished with the other types on the advent of Christ. This is indeed true; but it leaves the half of the matter untouched. Wherefore, we must look deeper for our exposition, and attend to three cases in which it appears to me that the observance of this commandment consists. First, under the rest of the seventh days the divine Lawgiver meant to furnish the people of Israel with a type of the spiritual rest by which believers were to cease from their own works, and allow God to work in them. Secondly he meant that there should be a stated day on which they should assemble to hear the Law, and perform religious rites, or which, at least, they should specially employ [or be engaged] in meditating on his works, and be thereby trained to piety. Thirdly, he meant that servants, and those who lived under the authority of others, should be indulged with a day of rest, and thus have some intermission from labor.”

This is enough. This is enough for us to get a flavor of how the Sabbath is, and has been, conceived. These documents speak of a day, a day set apart, for the gathering of the church and the ‘doing’ of certain religious activities, even so that the matters of the soul might be the sole matter of the day. That might be a simplistic summary. But it captures what is asserted. Sabbath-keepers are therefore, according to these documents, a certain kind of people engaged in a certain kind of activity one day a week. For the Seventh Day Adventists it’s Saturday. For everybody else, it’s Sunday. At the end of the day, in the final analysis, at least in terms of how this is worked out and acted upon, it makes no difference. Whether Saturday or Sunday, both groups see their day as the Sabbath (even if called by another name).
Some Scriptural Observations
We leave confessions and traditions to make some Biblical observations. We will not concern ourselves with the New, but only the Old Testament, at least for now. There are five things I wish to show you concerning the Sabbath:
1. The Sabbath is God’s idea. It’s about Him. Genesis 2:1-3: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. And by the seventh day God completed 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 (or, ‘set it apart’ from the other days), because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” The Sabbath is God’s idea. God ordained it. God ordained it, and He did so for Himself. On the seventh day, God rested from the work of creation, of constructing out of nothing, and out of disorder and chaos, all that exists.
2. The Sabbath is for rest. I doubt very much that rest equals idleness. Had God been idle in the absolute sense on the day He rested, all that He accomplished the previous six days would have collapsed. Creation is not a watch wound up and let go, needing nothing more to function. God sustains and upholds what He created every nanosecond of everyday 24/7/365 days of the year. He commands the mornings and causes the dawn to know its place (Job 38:12). “He sends forth springs in the valleys…He waters the mountains…He causes the grass to grow for the beasts, and vegetation for the labor of man…” (Psalm 104).  So, what does it mean when Moses says God rested on the seventh day? He means that God ceased from the work of creation because that work was done. That work was completed. Finished. Notice carefully what the text says: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. And by the seventh day God completed 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.” God rested not because He was tired, but because He accomplished what He set out to day six days prior.
Why He rested has nothing whatsoever to do with fatigue. God is not a man that He should tire. We spend a day at work, come home, and immediately crash on the couch. Or, if that is not your custom, the very least we might do is sit down. But God has no such need. That God rested from creation means He ceased creating because He was finished that work. I cannot over-emphasize that.
3. The Sabbath is a commandment. It is a commandment given to the nation of Israel, and is part and parcel of that covenant founded upon the small but tremendously significant word “If.” In Exodus 19:5, the Lord says to Moses, and thus to Israel: “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession [then you shall be Mine].” The entire Mosaic Covenant was conditional. Blessing came because of one’s obedience.
3.1. Sabbath obligations
Listen now to the obligations demanded by the Sabbath. No one was allowed to leave home (Exodus 16:29b). No one may work (Ex. 20:10). No one was allowed to cook (Ex. 35:3). Keeping the Sabbath is connected to honoring parents in Leviticus 19:3. Every Sabbath, special bread was to be placed before the Lord (Lev. 24:5-8). Wood gathering was a ‘no-no’ (Num. 15:32). The Sabbath day required twice the amount of animal sacrifices, and meat and drink offerings (Num. 28:1-10). Visits to men of God were allowed (2 Kings 4:23). No one was permitted to carry a load (Jer. 17:21). And buying and selling, all business transactions, were forbidden (Amos 8:5). In a word, the Sabbath imposed restrictions on Israel. Keeping the Sabbath entailed keeping a list of do’s and don’ts.
4. The Sabbath was a sign of the covenant God made with ethnic, physical Israel. This is often overlooked or ignored. But it’s undeniably clear. Just listen to the Law (Exodus 31:12-17, NASB 95 Update):

12 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
13    “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
14    ‘Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.
15    ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.
16    ‘So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’
17    “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.”[1]

Three things here are noteworthy. First, the Sabbath is a covenantal sign. It is a sign of the Old Covenant. This is what the Lord says. It is a commandment. But the unfolding of revelation tells us it is more than a commandment.
Second, profane the Sabbath, treat it like any other day as if a common day, pick up sticks on the Sabbath even, and you die. This is what the Lord says.
Third, the Sabbath was “a perpetual covenant.” It was, in other words, an everlasting covenant, binding forever upon the people to whom it was given. It was a sign between God & the sons of Israel forever.  Striking is it to see how the Sabbath is so connected with the Old Covenant that it signifies that covenant. Hear that! You must hear that! But what about the “forever” part?  That’s easy. “Forever doesn’t always mean “forever.” Not in Scripture. Read the Law. Read Genesis 17:8; Exodus 12:14; Ex. 27:21; Ex. 40:15; and Numbers 25:13 and you will discover this to be true. One example before we press on (Exodus 40:13-15):

13 “You shall put the holy garments on Aaron and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister as a priest to Me.
14    “You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them;
15    and you shall anoint them even as you have anointed their father, that they may minister as priests to Me; and their anointing will qualify them for a perpetual [or ‘everlasting’] priesthood throughout their generations.”[2]

‘Everlasting’ and ‘perpetual’ doesn’t always mean forever. We know the Old Covenant priesthood was limited to the Old Covenant. We know that priesthood is not perpetual, forever, ongoing, with no end. Neither were the Passover, the tabernacle worship, and circumcision, all things described as ‘forever.’ So, sometimes the meaning of “forever” is restricted by the phrase “throughout their generations.”
5. The Day of Atonement was a Sabbath. It was a Sabbath, and thus Sabbath and priest and the work of the priests are bound up in it. Leviticus 16: 29-31-

29 This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you;
30    for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord.
31    “It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.[3]

Once every year, Aaron, the priest, dressed in the finest of clothes, would enter the holy of holies, the very inner sanctum of the tabernacle, and make atonement for all the people. And this Day of Atonement was a Sabbath day.
I could go on like this. Our survey has not been exhaustive; not in the least. But what we have covered is enough to make a point. And that point is simply this: if we’re honest with ourselves, in and of itself, there is nothing about this which captivates our hearts and causes our hearts to be launched in praise. To be honest, I find these things, in and of themselves, to be rather dull, dreadfully boring, and anything but inspiring.
Furthermore, when compared to the majority report as expressed earlier by way of confessions, all that can be truly concluded is this: At best, the majority report and the Mosaic Covenant both focus on a day, or days, upon which certain religious activities are to be done and certain other activities must be avoided. In essence, to put it another way, there is no difference between the Jewish and Christian vision of the Sabbath. Both are essentially the same, that is, at best.
But at worst, the majority report just doesn’t cut it. When compared with everything the Old Testament reveals concerning it, it is found terribly lacking. The Old Testament’s conception of the Sabbath is far more dynamic and comprehensive than the majority report. But what is the Old Testament anyway? Is it not the revealing of David and Solomon and the priesthood and the temple, all things that point beyond themselves to something far greater? Is King David about David? Or does he point beyond himself? Is Solomon about Solomon? Or does he point to someone far greater? Does the priesthood of the Old not point to a far superior One? Does the old temple not point to a far greater temple? Does Torah itself not  point to something far greater? And what of the prophets? “I must decrease,” said one, “but He must increase.” What is the Old Testament? And how therefore should we read it?  The Old Testament is the result when the light of revelation shines on Christ and casts a shadow. And the shadow is never the substance of the reality, but a mere silhouette of that reality. The Sabbath is therefore a shadow of Christ. Christ is the true David. He is the true temple. He is the true everlasting priesthood. He supersedes Moses. And He is the true Sabbath. Christ is the epitome of the Sabbath. When viewed through the lenses of the entire counsel of God therefore, the Sabbath is not a day, but a Person. Think it through with me. as the Old Sabbath, the shadow, was about God, the true Sabbath is about Christ. As the shadow spoke of God resting from His glorious work of creation, because it was finished, the true Sabbath speaks of one who now sits at the right hand of God because His glorious work of redemption is finished. As the shadow was the sign of the Old Covenant, Christ is the New Covenant. As the shadow was a perpetual sign as long as the Old Covenant was in force, Christ is the truly forever covenant that is eternal. As the shadow made atonement with blood that could never forgive sins, Christ is the true atonement.  If we don’t get this, if we do not read our Bibles correctly, we lose Christ in the shadows.
Who then are the Sabbath-keepers? What does it mean and look like to keep the Sabbath? I ask because we need to know.  Answer: Sabbath-keepers are not those who merely attend religious services on Sunday and follow a list of do’s and don’ts on that day. That might be traditional. But it ain’t Biblical. The Sabbath is no longer a day, or days, but a Person. Therefore, now hear this, Sabbath-keepers are those who rest not in a day, but in a Person & His Finished Work. Sabbath-keepers are those who trust in Christ for complete redemption. And they do that not one day a week, but 24/7/ 365 days a year! Therefore, Christians are inherently, by definition, Sabbath-keepers. And they are so only by the sovereign grace of sovereign God.
Are you a Sabbath-keeper? Do you rest in Christ? Is Christ your treasure? Do you treasure Him over your so-called Sabbath Day observances? Do you rest in Him alone? Or do you rest in your theological tradition? Theological traditions can be our idols, our gods. Sin is so deceitful. Rest in Christ, not your doctrinal understanding. Rest in Christ, not yourself. He is our Sabbath and I plead with any and all in this room who do not know this rest not to come short of it, but enter in. Trust Christ. Embrace Christ. Extend the hand of faith and rest from your strivings to measure up.

1 Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.
2    For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
3    For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said…[4]

Sunday, May 8, 2011
SGBC, Blackie, AB
Todd Braye

[1] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Ex 31:12–17). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[2] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Ex 40:13–15). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[3] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Le 16:29–31). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[4] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Heb 4:1–3). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.