THE NEW COVENANT SABBATH

In our review of the scriptures, we learned that the Sabbath  was created for the benefit of humanity. We  also learned that it was observed  under  the Old Covenant, it was observed by  the  early church, and  will be observed after Christ returns to  rule  the earth.  Therefore, there are two primary questions which need  to be  answered  for those who desire to worship God the Father and follow the example of Jesus Christ in this present age:

1. How  does one observe the Sabbath in today's world in  a  way that is pleasing to God the Father?

2. How  does  one observe the Sabbath in order  to  receive  its  benefits?

In  order to find accurate, logical, and helpful  answers to  the  above questions, we need to explore the four main themes of Sabbath observance:

1. Remembering the Sabbath and  keeping it holy.

2. Resting  from one's normal everyday work by which  one  earns a living or increases  wealth.

3. Celebrating the Sabbath day by rejoicing before God.

4. Coming before God to worship him and fellowship with him and  his people.

REMEMBRANCE AND SACREDNESS

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex.20:8 KJV).

The human mind was made with a tremendous ability to store and recall information, and this  mental process is structured  so  that  some information is automatically prioritized and used for our physical survival, while other information is dependent upon  a  conscious effort on our part to keep it current and accessible.  The latter case is the way we deal with information  that pertains to our spiritual walk with God.

The English word 'remember' in verse 20 is the Hebrew word 'zakar', which means 'to think (about)', 'meditate (upon)', 'pay attention  (to)', 'remember',  'recollect',  'mention', 'declare',  'recite', 'proclaim',  and 'invoke'.  The very nature of the Hebrew word 'zakar' demands  that action be taken and effort be expended toward being aware of  the Sabbath and its importance.

King  David who  diligently sought after the way  of  God  (Acts 13: 22) reveals to us an easy and effective way to keep the important things of God in the forefront of the mind:

"Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor  stands  in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat  of  the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night" (Psa.1:1-2 KJV).

"O  how  love  I  your law! it is  my  meditation  all  the  day" (Psa.119:97 KJV).

Keep It Holy

The  English  word translated 'holy' in Exodus 20:8 is  from  the Hebrew 'qadash', which connotes the state that belongs to the sphere of the sacred.

Remember  that  only God can make a thing holy, and  because  the Sabbath  is holy time, it belongs to God. No thought, action,  or desire of any individual can make the Sabbath any holier than  it already is. The instruction is to keep the Sabbath holy, but  how does one keep something holy?

In  the book of the law and the prophets, there are many  examples of  how the priesthood were to keep themselves and the things  of God holy. One of these instructions had to do with their personal behavior and mental alertness while they officiated in the tabernacle:

"Do not drink wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when  you  go into the tabernacle of the congregation,  lest  you die:  it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations: And that you may put a difference between holy and  unholy,  and between clean and unclean" (Lev.10:9-10). See also Lev.11:43-47; 20:25-26.

Alcoholic  beverages  alone are not evil; however, even  a  small amount can affect  one's  judgment and physical performance.  The performance  of  the priesthood's duties required  that  they  be mentally alert as well as physically fit. It was a gross error in judgment concerning holy and unholy things that led to the pollution  of  the  tabernacle  and the   death  of  Nadab  and  Abihu (Lev.10:1-12).

Nadab  and Abihu polluted the holy things of God with their  lack of respect for his law; they did not keep holy things holy, and they did not make a difference between the holy and the unholy. See also Lev.6:14-23; 21:6-23;  Mal.1:6-7.

Pollution Of The Sabbath

The  prophet Ezekiel records the process by which one is able  to keep the Sabbath holy and the process by which it can be  polluted:

"And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them. Moreover I also gave them  my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctifies them. But the house of  Israel rebelled against  me in the wilderness: they walked  not  in  my statutes,  and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall  even live in them; and my Sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, and consume them" (Ezk.20:11-13 KJV).

It  is  rebellion against God and a refusal to do as he  has  instructed that constitutes the pollution of his sacred time.

"There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls;  they have  taken the treasure and precious things; they have made  her many widows in the   midst thereof. Her priests have violated  my law, and have profaned my holy things:  they have put no  difference  between the holy and profane, neither have they showed  the difference between the clean and unclean, and have hid their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them!" (Ezk.22:25-26 KJV).

Because it is the violation of God's law that is the root cause  of polluting  things that are holy, logic tells us that in order  to keep  the Sabbath holy, one must follow God's  instructions  concerning how to keep it holy.

Remembering the Sabbath not only means being conscious of the day of  the  week on which the Sabbath occurs but  also  bringing to mind all that the Sabbath is: understanding  its  creation, its purpose for humanity, and  its  symbolic, contemporary, and prophetic meanings.

In  order  to keep the Sabbath holy, one must observe  it  with  a proper  attitude,  along with obedience  to  God's  instruction pertaining to its observance.

PHYSICAL REST

"You  shall  keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy  to  you: every  one  that  defiles it shall surely be put  to  death:  for whosoever does any work therein, shall be cut off from among his people. Six  days may work be done; but in the  seventh  is  the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever does any work in the Sabbath  day,  he  shall surely be  put  to  death" (Ex.31:14-15 KJV).

God instructs that the first six days of the week may be  devoted to  one's personal work; however, the Sabbath day is  holy  time, which  belongs to God. On the Sabbath day one's personal work  is prohibited.  Notice that this pollution of the holy Sabbath is  a capital crime that is punishable by death.

The  prophet  Jeremiah records that  working on the Sabbath pollutes the sacredness  of  this holy time.

Jeremiah 17:19-24; 27, Good News Bible

"The Lord said to me, Jeremiah, go and announce my message at the People's  Gate, through which the kings of Judah enter and  leave the city; then go to all the other gates of Jerusalem. Tell  the kings  and  all  the people of Judah and everyone  who  lives  in Jerusalem and enters these gates, to listen to what I say" (vs.19-20).

"Tell them that if they love their lives, they must not carry any load on the Sabbath: they must not carry  anything in through the gates of Jerusalem,  or carry anything out of their houses on the Sabbath.  They must not work on the Sabbath; they must observe it as a sacred day, as I commanded their ancestors. Their  ancestors did not listen to me or pay any attention. Instead, they  became stubborn; they would not obey me or learn from me" (vs.21-23).

"Tell  these  people that they must obey all my  commands.   They must not carry any load in through the gates of this city on  the Sabbath.  They must observe the Sabbath as a sacred day and  must not do any work at all" (v24).

"They must obey me and observe the Sabbath as a sacred  day.  They  must not carry any load through the gates of  Jerusalem  on that  day; for if they do, I will set the gates of Jerusalem  on fire.   Fire will burn down the palaces of Jerusalem, and no  one will be able to put it out" (v27).

What Is Work?

Because ceasing one's work is a major  aspect of   keeping  the Sabbath holy (Ex.20:9-10; 31:14-15), it is important  to understand  exactly  what kind of work God prohibits on his Sabbath day.

Physical Work

In the purest sense, physical work is defined as expending physical  energy  in order to cause an action to take  place  in  this physical dimension of existence.

What  one does to earn a living, including  a person's  occupation, trade or profession,  or what one does to  increase one's  wealth  is  defined as work in scripture, and it is prohibited on  the  Sabbath. However, as we will see, under certain circumstances physical work may be considered spiritual work if it is done for a righteous reason.

Spiritual Work

In  the purest sense, spiritual work is work that is  done  using  spirit energy for spiritual reasons. There is no  prohibition against the performance of spiritual work on the Sabbath  or the  annual observances. As we will see, spiritual work  is  not only allowed on the Sabbath, it may be required under some circumstances in order to keep  the Sabbath holy.

HARVESTING ON THE SABBATH

"One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as  his disciples  walked along, they began to pick some heads of  grain. The  Pharisees  said to him, 'Look, why are they doing  what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" (Mk.2:23-24 NIV).

It  is  important to note that there is no law that  prohibits  a person from eating on the Sabbath. The law that the Pharisees referred to is their law, not God's law. What the Pharisees  accused Jesus and his disciples of was harvesting on the Sabbath (i.e.,  working on the Sabbath), and harvesting on the Sabbath does violate the  Sabbath.

Christ  answered  the Pharisees with the example of  David  going into the house of God and eating the consecrated bread that was only lawful for priests to eat (Mk.2:25-26). Then he said  to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mk.2:27-28 NIV).

There  are  at least four things that can be  learned  from  this account in Mark 2:23-27:

1. Human rules can never alter, replace, or supersede the law  of God.

2. Christ and the disciples were not harvesting; they  were  not working in order to earn a living or increase their wealth. They merely  picked   the grain because they wanted something  to eat. Eating on the Sabbath is permissible and it is not considered work.

3. It is permissible to set aside certain rules in order to  take care  of human needs. David and the High priest  both  understood this principle;  therefore, David and his men were  given  bread from the tabernacle. See 1.Sam.21:1-6.

4. Jesus who is the Creator of the Sabbath knew how to keep  the Sabbath holy, and he has the authority to say what can and  cannot be done on this day.

Emergencies And Humanitarian Work

The religious leaders of Christ's day were constantly criticizing Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath. In reply to this  criticism, he often admonished them for their hard-heartedness and  he sometimes said that they were kinder to animals than they were to their fellow men:

"You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to  watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond  on the Sabbath day?" (Lk.13:15-16 KJV).

"And  behold , there was a certain man before him which  had  the dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying,  Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? . . . And he took him,  and healed  him. . . Which one of you shall have an ass  or  an  ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightaway pull him out on  the Sabbath day?" (Lk.14:2-5 KJV).

There are a number of basic principles that can be learned from these two accounts:

Was  Jesus  working on the Sabbath when he  healed  people?  Yes, Jesus was working on the Sabbath when he performed these acts  of compassion  (Jn.5:17; 10:32). However, he was not performing  the kind  of  work  that was prohibited (i.e., earning  a  living  or gaining  physical wealth).  Jesus  was  doing   spiritual work, which is lawful to do on the Sabbath.

Physical Or Spiritual Work?

When  does  physical work become spiritual  work?  Physical  work becomes  spiritual work when it is done for a  righteous  reason. The  basis  for these righteous reasons can be found in  the  two great  commands of the law:

"Then  one of them which was a lawyer, asked . . . Master which  is the  great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him,  You  shall love  the  Lord your God with all your heart, and with  all  your soul,  and with all your mind. This is the first and  great  commandment.  And the  second is like to it, You  shall  love  your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the  law and the prophets" (Matt.22:35-40 KJV).

The  law to love God includes the way one should conduct their entire  life in relationship to God and man. If we love God, we will also love our  neighbors.  Therefore, performing work in order  to help a fellow human in the event of a real emergency or an extreme  need is a part of spiritual work and worship on the Sabbath.

For  further  details concerning types of work,  professions,  and  occupations that are legal to pursue on the Sabbath, see our study, Questions, Answers, And Comments About The Sabbath.

CELEBRATE THE SABBATH

God intended that the Sabbath be a festive day on which one would come  before him and rejoice because of their  relationship  with him:

"And  the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the  children  of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which you  shall  proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are  my feasts.  Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is  the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein:  it  is  the   Sabbath of the Lord  in  all your  dwellings" (Lev.23:1-3 KJV).

Just  because one is commanded to cease from one's labor on  this day does not mean that the day is to be one of total  inactivity. God intended just the opposite. This day is holy time, which  God has specifically set aside for humanity's enjoyment and benefit.

Over  the centuries, many  have taught that Isaiah  58:13-14  says that  no personal pleasure, entertainment, or strenuous  physical activity is allowed on the Sabbath; however, this is not true.

Isaiah 58:13-14 KJV

"If  you  will turn away your foot from the Sabbath,  from  doing your own pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the  holy of the Lord, honorable; and shall honor him, not  doing your  own ways, not finding your own pleasure, nor speaking  your own words:  Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord;  and  I will  cause  you to ride upon the high places of the  earth,  and feed  you with the heritage of Jacob your father: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it."

If  the King James translation of verses 13-14 is  correct, the  logic  of  this text is flawed, because it would  be   very difficult, if not impossible, to call the Sabbath a 'delight'  if one  could do nothing pleasurable or delightful on  it.  However, the  Bible  is a very logical book without  any contradictions; therefore, there must be an error in the  King James translation.

The  first  verse  of Isaiah 58 shows the context  of  the  whole chapter  to  be  a condemnation of Israel  for  their  rebellion against God and their violation of his law,  including the breaking of the Sabbath:

"Cry  aloud,  spare not, lift up your voice like a  trumpet,  and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob  their sins" (Isa.58:1 Para.).

The  problem in understanding what Isaiah recorded  comes from  a mistranslation  of  the Hebrew word 'hepes',  which  is  rendered 'pleasure'  in the King James translation. The word  'hepes'  can also be translated 'desire, purpose, or will', as in Isaiah 44:28:   He says of Cyrus, he is my shepherd;  and he  will fulfill my will. See also Isa.46:10.

The  Jewish translation of Isaiah 58:13 says, "If you  turn  away your foot because of the Sabbath, from pursuing your  business on My holy day. . . nor pursuing your business, nor speaking thereof."

The  New English Bible says,  "If you cease to tread the  Sabbath underfoot,  and  keep my holy day free from your own affairs,  if you  call  the  Sabbath a day of joy. . . if you honor  it  by not plying your trade, not seeking your own interest or attending  to your own affairs."

The Hebrew word 'hepes', which is translated 'pleasure' in the King James version of the Bible, should be rendered  'will'  or  'purpose' in verse  13,  because  the  word 'hepes'  has nothing to do with a celebration, entertainment,  or recreation. The admonition is to refrain from doing one's own will or purpose on the Sabbath day. In verses 2 and 3 of this chapter, we see that, even in fasting, these people are pursuing their own selfish interests and business. See Isa.58:2-3.

The instruction in verse 14 is to make the Sabbath a delight and a  pleasurable experience by turning one's attention  toward  God and  his  great and awesome purpose for humanity. When  a  person observes the Sabbath the way God intended, they will reap tremendous blessings.

Isaiah 56:1-2, 4-6 KJV

"Thus  says the Lord, Keep your judgment and do justice:  for  my salvation  is near to come, and my righteousness to be  revealed. Blessed  is the man that does this, and the son of man that  lays hold  on it: that keeps the Sabbath from polluting it, and  keeps his hand from doing any evil" (vs.1-2).

Here, God speaks of his plan of salvation and says that those who take  hold  of  the  Sabbath and observe  it  correctly  will  be blessed. As we have noted already, the opposite of polluting  the Sabbath is  observing it the way God has instructed it to be observed.

"For thus says the Lord to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose  the things that please me, and take hold of my  covenant. Even to them will I give in my house  and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting  name, that shall not be cut off"  (vs.4-5).  See also Rev.2:17; 3:12.

This  part of the prophecy is directed at the elect  of God  who have made a conscious decision to keep the  Sabbath holy  and do the things that please God. Obviously, if one takes pleasure in the Sabbath and rejoices in it, this pleases God:

"Also  to the sons of the stranger, that join themselves  to  the Lord,  to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be  his servants, every one that keeps the Sabbath from polluting it, and takes hold of my covenant" (v6).

Part of one's love for God is  expressed in how one observes the Sabbath, which was made for mankind to  enjoy and to receive  spiritual and physical benefits from  its observance.

Isaiah  58:13-14  has nothing to do with  prohibiting  pleasure, entertainment, or recreation on the Sabbath. The admonition is to refrain   from  violating the Sabbath by  working  and/or  having one's thoughts focused on one's occupation, trade, profession, or whatever one does to  earn a living or increase one's wealth.  We should instead make the Sabbath a delight by observing it as  God intended.

Pleasure And The Sabbath

Because  God says to rejoice on the Sabbath, does it  mean we should fill our whole day with the pleasures of this life?  God's instruction  to rejoice on the Sabbath does not cancel  one's responsibility to keep the Sabbath holy and commune with  him on this day.

In addition to the worship of God on the Sabbath, there are  many other  things that one can do on the Sabbath that will help  make it  a delightful day. For example, there is no prohibition  against swimming, tennis, fishing, gardening, sewing, artwork, picnicking, playing ball, or fellow-shipping with friends and neighbors.

The  Sabbath  should be a delight for ourselves, our family,  and our  friends. It should have no more restrictions than on  any other day, except those things specifically prohibited by the  Sabbath law.  It would seem that if some type of pleasure is  sin on  the  Sabbath, it is also sin on any other day  of the  week.   God  intended the Sabbath day to be the happiest day  of  the week for humanity.

Christ  came  to  teach us the spiritual things of  the  law.   A converted  mind seeks the wisdom of the spirit  of  the law (Jms.1:5)  and  not the letter of the law. A  truly  converted   person should not need a long list of things that are  and  are  not permitted on the Sabbath, because the basic theme of the  Sabbath is  to  worship God, fellowship with other people,  and  enjoy life:

WORSHIP AND FELLOWSHIP

"And  the  Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the  children  of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which you  shall  proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are  my feasts . . . but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an  holy convocation;. . ." (Lev.23:1-3 KJV).

Not  only is the Sabbath to be a day of festivity but also a  day on which people assemble together to  worship God. It is a day of  holy convocation, and a commanded  assembly. God,  the  Creator of time, made this specific  period  of  time  holy  and  proclaims that it is his and is to be  used  for his divine purpose. See also Num.chp.28;29; Deut.ch.16.

Why is an assembly commanded? One of the major  reasons  for the  commanded  assembly  was so that people could attend  the  formal worship at the temple in order to commune with God through the sacrificial system.  Because a child of God under the New Covenant is a  temple of  God where the presence of God's holy spirit dwells, there  is no  need to assemble at a specific location in order  to worship God.  However, there are still many benefits from assembling together on the Sabbath as noted by the writer to  the Hebrews:

"Let  us hold fast the profession of our faith without  wavering; (for he is faithful who promised;) And let us consider one another  to provoke to love and good works: Not forsaking  the  assembling of ourselves together, as some is; but exhorting one another: and so much more, as you see the day approaching" (Heb.10:23-25 KJV). See also Mal.3:16-18.

A  major  factor that should contribute to  one's  enjoyment  and spiritual  growth is  that of being with others  whom  God  has called to salvation:

"Iron  sharpens  Iron; so a man sharpens the countenance  of  his friend" (Pro.27:17 KJV).

Assembling together to share experiences, build friendships, sing praises  to  God, and learn his truth and ways  in  a  formal, structured setting can be extremely enjoyable and rewarding.

First Things First:

On  the Sabbath, one should set one's mind to think  about  God, his love, and his plan and purpose for humanity. One should  plan to  speak  to him in prayer, study his word,  and  examine  one's spiritual  condition  while  seeking to please  him  with  one's spiritual growth and development. If one does these things,  one  will be keeping the spirit of the Sabbath. 

Finding The Balance

If  one places their energy and thoughts selfishly  toward  their own business, entertainment, and recreation, above  the spiritual intent  of  the Sabbath, they are missing the  blessings  of  the Sabbath.

One should be at peace in their mind on God's holy Sabbath day.  Remember  that the law of God is not a law of bondage; it is the law of liberty that brings true freedom.

The Sabbath should be a positive experience, both physically  and spiritually.  One should work hard at making the Sabbath day  the happiest day of the week.  When the Sabbath day ends, one  should be  both spiritually and physically refreshed and ready to  meet the challenges of another week.

The Sabbath is a day to rejuvenate both one's physical and  spiritual  life. Remember that the commandment is not to  cease  from all work—it is to stop making your living on the Sabbath day.

 The key to enjoying the Sabbath is to balance physical and  spiritual  activities, so that the  Sabbath is truly a beneficial  and uplifting experience.

The  fact that there is a problem finding a balance is  the  very reason the Pharisees felt they had to legislate many  restrictive rules  concerning Sabbath observance.  These people did not  have God's spirit to give them the wisdom they needed to  make  judgments  about what was right and what was not, but a child of  God does have this ability; it only needs to be exercised to accomplish a positive outcome. See 1.Cor.4:10; 10:14-15; 12:7-8; Jms.1:5.

PREPARATION FOR THE SABBATH

In  order  to receive the maximum benefit from  the  Sabbath,  one should  prioritize their activities for the day.  The Sabbath  is  holy time; therefore, the first priority  should  be things  that are spiritual in nature: Commune  with  God,  pray, study, and attend formal Sabbath services if possible. If  these things are our priorities, we will be observing the  Sabbath as God intended.

From  the few instructions given in scripture concerning  how  to observe  the  Sabbath, is clear that this day  should  be prepared  for in order to eliminate or at least minimize  activities  that would tend to distract one from the  intended  purpose of the Sabbath.

The  first indication that one should prepare for the Sabbath  is recorded  in Exodus 16:4-5; 23-30 where the children  of  Israel were  instructed on  gathering manna in  preparation  for  the Sabbath day.

In the New Testament account of the crucifixion of Jesus, we  see a  number of references that show that, at the time of Christ,  the sixth  day of the week was being used to prepare for the Sabbath (Mk.15:42-46;  Lk.23:53-54).  See our study concerning the preparation day and Christ's crucifixion.

Preparation for the Sabbath is an important part of being able to make the day enjoyable and beneficial, both physically and  spiritually.  If one plans for the Sabbath by taking care  of  normal everyday  chores  on Friday, one will be  free  to pursue activities that rejuvenate the body and mind on the Sabbath.

SUMMARY

Obviously  there were many aspects of the Sabbath that  were  not covered in this short study; however, any aspects that were not covered  can  be understood through  diligent  prayer  and Bible study.

Because Sabbath observance is an individual as well as a  collective  matter,  each person must decide what  constitutes  proper behavior  on the Sabbath. Not only should one consider their  own relationship with God, one should also consider how their  behavior affects others. Using the word of God as a guide, each person can  and  must  make their own decision as  to  what  constitutes proper Sabbath observance.

By B. L. Cocherell, file b5w4