Is “Sabbath-keeping” Today Really A Big-deal?

POST SCRIPTURE – Luke 6:1-10

I have been residing in the small town of Lynden, Washington now for almost fifteen years.  It is a small rural town south of the Canadian border.  I have been hearing stories from residents and have become interested in how the town’s history all began with the early pioneers.

There Are Really Two Lynden’s –

The historic downtown part of the city was settled in the 1870s by Baptists, Methodists and THREE DUTCHMEN who, legend has it, wrote back to their families in the Midwest that LYNDEN was “just like home.”

They were right and by the early 1920s, the Dutch were the majority. Soon. Lynden stores closed on Sundays, reflecting the Christian Reformed church belief that one day of the week should be set aside for rest.  And boy, did they “set aside the day”; abstaining from all other activities was as-much-a-part of observing the Sabbath Day, as was, going to church.

At one time, the city of Lynden held the world record for the most churches per square mile and per capita although unsubstantiated.  [Lynden History Museum]

I heard long time residents tell me stories of the “Christian Dutch Mafia” who would respond to church members reports of “mowing lawns” on the Sabbath or reading the newspaper on front porches; checking out the reports, then telling the so-called ‘violators’–“The Sabbath is holy, so you should be holy.”  No strong-arming–just a verbal warning.

Front Street in Lynden, Washington

Things are different in this small little Dutch town today.  On October 20th, 2008, liquor is now sold on Sundays in local grocery stores and local restaurants. And even the local Family Bible Book Store opened its doors for business on Sundays.  [Note: The Family Bible Book Store has closed their doors.]

Before I go any further…let me say that these particular church members of their day were no legalists.  The didn’t make and keep rules just for the sake of making and keeping rules!

SABBATH DEFINITION:  Google online Dictionary defines “Sabbath” this way:  “A day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians (my add: ‘whatever “most” Christians mean’) on Sunday.”

Somehow…some way, these THINGS had become commitments for them; deeply rooted personal commitments that emerged in the course of living and applied their faith day-to-day, week-to-week.  And I think that’s what we wanna do!  Having FAITH,…believing in God,…trusting that God has forgiven us through the redemptive work of Jesus: that’s the one thing.

And what about life and living when it comes to the Sabbath?

What difference does it make how I spend my days…how my time is organized and spent during the week?

That’s what SABBATH is all about!

We don’t keep the Sabbath in order to be a Christian; …But we keep the Sabbath because we already are Christians!

In other words, …the motivation, …the impulse to recognize the Sabbath doesn’t arise from a desperate hope to be acceptable to God; …but it springs from a HEART OF GRATITUDE that we’ve already been accepted by God.

QUESTIONS arise when investigating what the SABBATH is all about:

  • What was God thinking when He established a Sabbath-day?
  • Why should we observe the Sabbath in today’s society?
  • What does it mean to “keep the Sabbath”?

Looking up in my Bible concordance, I found the word “SABBATH” appearing 151 times!  94 times in the Old Testament and 57 times in the New Testament.  So, I’m thinkin’ that it was pretty important to the biblical writers.

The Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8)

Bible scholars have pointed out that the first 3 commandments given deal with our relationship with God…and the last 6 deal with our relationship with others. The 4th Commandment becomes a bridge.

So if “keeping the Sabbath” is in the Top 10 of God’s Commandments, it must be important.

I thought about that for a while and reasoned why it’s an important thing for us to practice because, by the time Jesus stepped onto the scene of human history, Sabbath-keeping is an issue that keeps coming up.

Over and over again, JESUS is answering questions, providing new teachings, handling complaints, and the SABBATH is one of the main points of argument between himself and the religious leaders of the day.

If Sabbath-keeping was something Jesus talked about a lot, it must be a pretty important thing for us to understand.

My whole purpose of this exploration of “Keeping the Sabbath” is to challenge and to inspire us all to a greater appreciation…a deeper understanding…a stronger commitment to Sabbath-keeping.  And by-the-way, I had to do some soul-searching as I hope you will also, in getting a clearer picture.

We may find some stuff that has been working beneath the surface,…that really has held us back to embrace the GIFT of the Sabbath.  When we don’t observe the Sabbath,…we are really subjecting ourselves to BONDAGE–SLAVERY!  Does that sound pretty harsh?  Well…it is!

But as Galatians 5, verse 1 says:  “IN [this] freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off].”  (Amplified Bible)

SABBATH-KEEPING IS A BIG PART OF EXPERIENCING FREEDOM IN CHRIST  (Luke 6:1-10):

TWO incidents happen…involving JESUS and those who were considered “religious leaders” of the day.

The FIRST involved picking and eating some grain (verse 1); the SECOND involved healing a crippled man’s hand (verse 10).

Both times, Jesus was put on the spot.

Both times, the implications was:  JESUS was breaking the Sabbath command.

Both times, Jesus used the opportunity to shed new light on what Sabbath-keeping was really supposed to be about.

Giving the Pharisees the Benefit of the Doubt –

The prize of the Ten Commandments was their greatest desire and not to break any of God’s commands.  And so, in order to protect the commandments, they designed an elaborate and detailed system of additional RULES,…not so much because they liked a bunch of rules, but because they really didn’t want to break the BIG ONE!

Look at some of the RULES that we’ve come up with at home.  We don’t want our children to get their hand burned by touching a hot stove.  But, we add RULES so they are protected from ever getting close enough to the stove to get burned.

So we tell the children they can’t come into the kitchen when Mom is cooking.  The KITCHEN is off-limits!

Is the kitchen such a bad place for kids that we have a RULE saying they would have to stay out?!  NO!  The only reason why the kids must stay out of the kitchen is to make sure they don’t break the really big rule:  “Don’t touch a hot stove!”

That’s the kind of attitude that the Pharisees had.  They started coming up with layers and layers of RULES & TRADITIONS.

And so, when we read about them getting their feathers all ruffled with Jesus picking grain, or healing a man’s crippled right hand on the Sabbath…we must realize that they had developed these extensive, and elaborate rules to guard against breaking the Sabbath Command!

If you pick a handful of grain as you walk through the fields, the next thing you know, you’ll break out the combines and open a 24-hour bakery on the Sabbath!

If you heal one crippled hand on the Sabbath, the next thing you know, you’ll open an emergency care clinic on the Sabbath!

The Pharisees saw it all as a slippery slope.

They weren’t going to stand for Jesus and His disciples flaunting their “disregard” to the traditions and the laws of their fathers!

In their efforts to protect and preserve the LAW, the religious leaders added greater burdens that obscured the BLESSINGS that God wanted to give through the covenantal Law.  Their intentions were initially good. But, over time, the pharisaical restrictions…their interpretations became the focus, rather than the HEART of the Law.  And because they had lost focus, they ended up arguing with and despising Jesus.

So was Jesus then a RULE BREAKER?

Was He a trouble making, rabble-rouser?  Did He snub His nose at the good rules that had been in place for generations?  Did Jesus think He and His disciples were better than them?

Keep in mind that JESUS came to fulfill the LAW, not to abolish it!  (Matthew 5:17)

So how do we understand these events, and particularly Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath?

JESUS GIVES US THE BOTTOM LINE.

He says that He is the “Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 5).  In other words, the SABBATH is all about Him!

Keeping the Sabbath is all about walking with Him; it’s about submitting to His Lordship.  So, whatever else it means to “keep the Sabbath”, this we can be sure of:  JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE DAY, He is the focus!

JESUS IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT.  It is a “holy” day because we treat it differently from all the rest!

IT’S A “HOLY” DAY BECAUSE GOD, MADE IT HOLY (Exodus 20:8-11):

AND…that’s why we should treat it differently from all the rest.

We keep it HOLY when it is distinct from every other day.  It has a HOLY origin…really going back to the SEVENTH DAY of Creation:

It is a HOLY day, …with HOLY beginnings, …and a HOLY purpose.

And, Keeping It Holy!

So back to my earlier question:  “Was Jesus a rule breaker?”  Well, if you’re talking about man-made rules and traditions…I guess He was.

But when it comes down to it, how can He, …be a Sabbath-breaker, if He is the ‘Lord of the Sabbath’, as Scripture tells us?

It begins with Him; it focuses on Him, and it ends with Him.

The Pharisees had done the old ‘switcheroo’!  Instead of putting the emphasis on the One who instituted and established the SABBATH, instead of focusing on the One who gave humanity this gift, instead, their focus had shifted to man-made rules and regulations and traditions.

Those things are fine for what they are.  We all set up these kinds of things in our lives, in our households, and in our work ethics.

BUT, our RULES, TRADITIONS, AND REGULATIONS…

Being more specific…the particular ways that we practice Sabbath-keeping are not more important than the One who gave us the SABBATH and blessed it!

MY MESSAGE in this Post regarding the SABBATH is a simple one:

#1.  It is to get our focus in the right place…or better yet, on the right Person!

We start exactly where we need to start:  on the Lord Jesus!

We don’t start with man-made rules or traditions.  We don’t start with our own personal preferences.

We start with the Lord…the Lord of the SABBATH!

The SABBATH is a gift from God for us to enjoy.  So let’s CELEBRATE the Giver of this good gift;

Let’s CELEBRATE the Lord of the SABBATH!!

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CREDITS & SOURCES:

The Seattle Times:  Change Comes to Lynden by Robert T. Nelson.

Lynden History Museum.

The NIV Complete Concordance by Edward W. Goodrick & John R. Kohlenberger III

PHOTOS:  Google Image Search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP), except where noted.