[Note: This is the second part of a continuing series on the purposes and meaning of the Sabbath day. The first part of this message can be found here: https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/the-purposes-of-the-sabbath-part-one/ The first part of this series talked about the different parts of the Sabbath commandment. This day talks about some of the purposes of it in our lives.]
In my last sermon, I discussed the five parts of the Sabbath commandment, looking at the weekly Sabbath, the monthly new moon, the annual holy days, the Sabbath year, and the Jubilee year. We saw how the Sabbath is far more than just a weekly rest, but also involves letting the land rest and forgiving debts, issues that we do not generally connect to the Sabbath as Sabbathkeepers. The fact that the Sabbath is larger than we usually think suggests that it has a greater purpose and design for God than we may often realize. In a future message I would like to briefly cover the Holy Day plan of God, but today I would like to discuss some of the purposes of the Sabbath so that we can learn from how the Sabbath is discussed in the Bible. I do not pretend to know all of God’s purposes for the Sabbath. Nonetheless, I would like to talk about some of those purposes so we can better understand why the Sabbath is so important to God, so that it may be just as important to us.
The Sabbath Points To Creation
One of the most obvious purposes of the Sabbath is to remind believers of the Creation and of God’s role as the Creator. This purpose of the Sabbath is discussed in Exodus 20:8-11. Let us turn there. Exodus 20:8-11 reads: “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 male servant, nor your female servant, 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.”
This means something more than we often understand, and I will talk about this in a little bit. But let us point out here that God commanded the seventh day Sabbath in part because every week is to remind us of the Creation week. God did His work in six days and rested on the seventh day, and he gives us the same freedom and rest that he allowed Himself, not because he was tired after six days of work, but because He wanted to make a point. Mankind needs rest, and so God created a unit of time of the week set apart by His Sabbath to give rest to humanity. Our seven day week reflects a recognition, whether we know it or not, of God’s authority over the earth as the Creator. By keeping God’s Sabbath, and by giving that same rest to everyone who is within our power and authority, we recognize that God is the ruler over time, and not we ourselves, by virtue of being our Creator and the Creator of our world.
Let us look at what the Bible says about God’s rest on the Sabbath and then try to examine what it means. We find the record of God’s rest on the seventh day of Creation in Genesis 2:1-3. Genesis 2:1-3 reads: “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. 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.”
Some aspects of God’s time cycles are easy for us to see and recognize. According to God, a day goes from evening to evening, sunset to sunset. We can look at the sky and see the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening. We can look at the night sky and see the moon start from a little tiny sliver, and then grow to a full moon and then shrink again into darkness month after month after month. We can look up at the stars at night and see their procession through the night sky, look at the creation around us and see the seasons pass year after year. God gives us the daily, monthly, and annual cycles according to the light and darkness of the sun, the phases of the moon, and the passage of the stars and the seasons. But the week is not like that. Whether we are talking about a week of seven days or of seven years, there is no obvious sign in the heavens or on the earth that we can look at that will tell us that it is the Sabbath day or year. By obeying the Sabbath weekly and every seven years we accept God’s rule over time and let people and the land rest as God has commanded.
After all, God did give us signs for some parts of the Sabbath commandment. Let us look at Genesis 1:14-18. Genesis 1:14-18 gives us some information about the purpose of the sun and moon and stars in the heavens: “Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.”
Here we see that God designed the sun and moon and stars to be seen by mankind and to set the cycles for the day and month and year. We are intended to look at creation and to look in the heavens and seek to learn from what God has made. We are supposed to count days in a week, have a basic understanding of the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars, and to have some kind of mathematical and scientific understanding springing from our belief in God and our desire to understand the meaning and importance of what He has made. Paying attention to creation gives us insight on the plans and approach of the Creator.
The Sabbath Points To Freedom Through Election
One of the most consistent but neglected purposes of the Sabbath is for freedom for God’s chosen people. Let us look at some of the types of freedom that the various parts of the Sabbath offer to believers so that we may understand and show gratitude for God for His freedom rather than believe those wicked evildoers who claim that the Sabbath is a burden. One of the most obvious indications of the Sabbath being a sign of freedom and liberty for God’s elect is in Deuteronomy 5:12-15. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 reads: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days shall you 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 male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor the stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
This is a remarkable passage, even if it is often neglected when we think about the Sabbath. One of the reasons for God’s Sabbath commandment was because God gave freedom to Israel from the exploitation of slavery, and so Israel was commanded not only to rest on the Sabbath day, but to give their children and their animals and their servants and even foreigners freedom from economic exploitation on that day. The same grace and freedom that God gives us is to be shared with everyone else. Freedom and liberty are not a gift from God that we are to hoard for ourselves, to brag about how special and privileged we are to enjoy them, but they are a gift to be shared with all mankind, and even with animals, to let even the land rest every seven years, so that we exploit and take advantage of nothing, but rather let all mankind and all the earth enjoy the freedom of rest to honor and worship God.
What other kinds of freedom are given by the Sabbath? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 gives us some indication. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reads: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s?” What is the price of our freedom from sin? It was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as our Passover lamb that set us free from slavery to sin and allowed us to be free to worship obey God without the death penalty hanging over our heads. We were freed to live obediently according to God’s laws and we are forgiven of our sins because Jesus Christ died for us, a day we keep as a memorial every Passover. So, as a result of the holy days God’s chosen people are freed from sin as well.
Nor is this all of the freedom we have thanks to God’s Sabbaths. Deuteronomy 15:1-5 tells us that the debts of believers are to be forgiven every seven years. Deuteronomy 15:1-5 reads: “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release; every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you; for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance—only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today.”
Here we see that part of the freedom that was given in the Sabbath year was a forgiveness of debts to believers, so that they could start again free from the burden of debt. This is not a freedom we simply enjoy for ourselves, but it is a freedom we must also give to others. As Jesus Christ says we are to pray in Matthew 6:12: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Just as God gives us through His Sabbaths freedom from our sins and freedom from our debts (and sin is a spiritual debt), so we also are commanded to forgive others of their debts and their sins against us. Just as God forgives us, we are to forgive others. We too must set others free from their burdens because of obligations to us, so that God will do the same for our debts to Him.
Additionally, God’s freedom includes freedom from slavery, as we read in Leviticus 25:39-43. Leviticus 25:39-43 prohibits believers from considering other believers to be their property. It reads: “And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. As a hired servant and as a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the year of Jubilee. And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers. For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over them rigor, but you shall fear your God.” Here we see that part of the freedom of the Sabbath was a freedom from slavery, from permanent servitude. God’s people were forbidden in the law from treating their brethren as property, but were commanded every Jubilee year to set free all their servants with their families so that they could return to their home and be free once again. The freedom of the Sabbath is on all levels—physical and spiritual, and instead of being a burden it is designed to set mankind free from all of our burdens.
The Sabbath Points To Reconciliation And Restoration
Finally, God’s Sabbaths point to reconciliation and restoration. Through recognizing God’s role as Lord and Creator, owner of all heaven and earth, and through freeing others of their burdens as God sets us free from ours, God’s Sabbaths also picture the reconciliation of ourselves with others and with God, and the restoration of our world to how it was before death and sin reigned over us all. The third purpose of the Sabbath is to picture the reconciliation and restoration that God provides for us and for the heavens and the earth.
God cannot dwell with a sinful people, and so there must be an atonement for those sins that are committed by God’s people. Let us turn to Leviticus 16:29-34 to see a little bit about how this atonement was done in ancient Israel. Leviticus 16:29-34 reads: “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever. And the priest, who is anointed and consecrated to minister as priest in his father’s place, shall make atonement, and put on the linen clothes, the holy garments; then he shall make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tabernacle of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.” And he did as the Lord commanded Moses.
Here we see that God provided through His holy days a day specifically devoted to fasting and praying for forgiveness and for atonement for our sins, so that we may be brought back into harmony with God. Not coincidentally, the Jubilee year, which freed all believing servants from their servitude and freed all people to return back to the land, was celebrated on this day. Reconciliation and restoration does not only mean a forgiveness of what was in the past, but also a restoration of someone to their original state, as if the sins and mistakes of the past had never happened at all.
We see that God periodically reset the clock at the Jubilee year to give every family a chance to start again as landowners. We find this in Leviticus 25:8-17. Leviticus 25:8-17 reads: “And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field. In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.”
Here we see clearly that part of the purpose of the Sabbath was to restore people to their original state as landowners, to prevent children and grandchildren from suffering for the mistakes of their fathers. God wanted to prevent some people from having a permanent status as elites by exploiting the poverty of their neighbors, so every 49 years he would reset the clock, give everyone their land back to start again, restored to their original dignity and respect as owners of the land, hopefully a bit wiser because of their experiences for the next time. No sale of farmland was permanent, because God was the owner of the land and He did not want to see a permanent class of plantation owners with a permanent class of poor tenant farmers or slaves working the land for the profit of some selfish and greedy elites. That was not His design, and so God periodically commanded that the land be given back to its original families so that it could be for small independent farmers once again.
Nor is that the only sort of restoration we find in scripture. God will once again restore property and dignity to all believers at the return of Christ. We see this promise of restoration in Micah 4:1-8, symbolized by the Feast of Tabernacles. Micah 4:1-8 reads: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. For all people walk each in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. “In that day,” says the Lord, “I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted; I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever. And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”
So, what is restored here? First, God’s authority is restored over all the earth—no more will mankind rebel against God’s rule or God’s laws, but God will teach them His laws and they will come as willing students to learn and obey. Second, God will restore peace to the world by removing the world’s weapons and knowledge of war, so that nations will be peaceful neighbors with each other under God’s rule. Third, God will restore property to the people at large, so that the people will own their own land and means of production, and not be exploited by the rich and powerful as happens in this wicked world. In addition, God will restore the glory of Israel, so that it will have its former rule and dominion over the world as a godly and obedient people, restored not only to wealth and power and respect, but also obedience and peace of mind.
Finally, the ultimate restoration pictured by the Sabbath is celebrated by the Eighth Day, the day after the week-long Feast of Tabernacles, in the new heavens and the new earth. We see this restoration in Revelation 21:1-4. Revelation 21:1-4 reads: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also, there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, more sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Here we see that part of the restoration pictured by the Sabbath that has not happened yet is the restoration of the heavens and the earth to a state before sin and death and sorrow and suffering filled our lives. God wants to restore all things to an eternity of joy and love and fellowship, without any sorrow, any sin, or any death to ruin the enjoyment and happiness of an eternity spent with God and with our fellow brethren. This is the ultimate restoration pictured by the Sabbath of God, a time when we will be able to fellowship with Him for all time, an eternal Sabbath that we cannot imagine or relate to as human beings in this present evil world. But we will be restored to an Eden-like paradise without sin or suffering or death or misery, where God is reconciled to believers in the holy city, the New Jerusalem, where there is no thought or memory of evil. May we all be counted worthy to enjoy that Sabbath.
In conclusion for today, let us review the purposes of the Sabbath as we see in scripture. First, the Sabbath points to Creation. God is the lord and owner of all people and all the universe because He created it in the first place and chose the Sabbath day to rest so that we could enjoy His all of His Sabbaths in honor to Him, as well as giving the same rest to everyone and everything else under our control. Second, the Sabbath points to freedom as God’s chosen people: freedom from exploitation, freedom from debt, freedom from slavery and sin. The Sabbath, far from being a burden, is designed to free mankind of every burden that saps the joy and worth out of life. Finally, the Sabbath points to reconciliation and restoration, where we are reconciled to God and each other through the forgiveness of sin, and where God restores His people to their land, to their dignity and honor, and ultimately to an eternity of joy and fellowship spent with Him and with the rest of His family. May we all worship God’s Sabbaths in spirit and in truth, in the hope of enjoying the eternal life promised to those who believe in God and walk in faith and obedience.