"And He said unto them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.'" Mark 2:27, 28
Have you ever been to somebody's house that was really fussy? As you arrive, you see their lawn mowed meticulously with not a single weed in the flower beds. You step onto the porch and notice even the welcome mat is clean. Inside, no particle of dust or hint of any cobwebs can be seen. Everything is absolutely beautiful, perfect.
You begin to look at your hands and your clothes. "Woe is me," you think, "if I brought any dirt into this house!" You find your assigned chair, and you quietly sit up straight with hands folded in your lap, so perfectly neat and clean and nice that you are miserable.
Houses are not made primarily to be kept clean. It may indeed be easier to live in a neatly kept house. But if your house becomes the type of place where the chief objective is to keep it clean, the house begins to exercise a kind of tyranny. The house isn't there for you; you are there for the house.
It's not too much different from the experience of Sabbath-keeping. Certainly the Bible says we must keep the Sabbath holy. But, as Jesus reminds us in that well-known passage from Mark 2, the primary purpose of the Sabbath is not for us to keep it holy. It is instead found in what God has to offer us on that day. Let me illustrate.
In the evening, you rush in from work and want to catch the television news headlines from Bryan Williams. You quickly heat up some Campbell's Chunky vegetable soup and fill your bowl right up to the brim. You gingerly walk on the new carpet to the TV, being extra watchful to keep any of that soup from spilling on the carpet. As you settle into your seat, you look up and see your little boy nervously following in your footsteps carrying his own bowl of Campbell's Chunky vegetable soup filled right to the brim.
I'll graciously draw a curtain there.
Some of us have treated the Sabbath like a bowl brim-full of soup. We're constantly watching, lest the slightest misstep spill that precious soup. Well, that takes all the joy out of both the soup and the Sabbath!
The primary purpose of soup is not to be preserved in a bowl but to be eaten and enjoyed for the nourishment it provides. That's not so far different from the Sabbath, the primary purpose of which is an amazing gift from God.
Then what does the seventh-day Sabbath offer to us as Seventh-day Adventist Christians?
An Antidote to Pride
First, the Sabbath is God's great antidote to our human pride. In the garden at the beginning of all things, Eve fell because she wanted to be like God. And the truth of the matter is that we, just like Eve, want to be the big shot. We want to be autonomous creatures living in the universe acting like little gods.
Yet, the Sabbath offers true Sabbath keepers a perspective that is shattering to human pride. For all our intelligence, for all our good looks, for all our money, for all our education, we are still creatures.
A Lesson in Rest
Secondly, God created man on the sixth day, and perhaps even in the afternoon after all the other animals. The next day was the seventh, the Sabbath. The very first lesson Adam had to learn was not how to work but how to rest. The most important thing in our spiritual life is not that we learn how to work for God but that we learn how to rest in God.
A Promise of Victory
Here's a third blessing of the Sabbath. In Deuteronomy 5:15, God instructs the people of Israel: "And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: Therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day."
The Sabbath, then, is not simply a memorial to creation. It's also a symbol of the fact that God leads people out of the bondage of sin and into victory through Jesus Christ. I wonder how many Seventh-day Adventists view their Christianity as bondage instead of victory. Some think the more God shows them, the harder it becomes to be saved. But that's a satanic lie, just as surely as what he told Eve. Would you rather spend the night lost in the woods looking for your camp with a little birthday candle flickering in the breeze or with a mighty searchlight in front of you? I know what I would want — the biggest, brightest light available.
A Symbol of Dependency
And finally a fourth gift, another amazing blessing of the Sabbath from God's own words in Exodus 31:13 is: "Speak thou also unto the children of Israel saying, ‘Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: For it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.’"
This indeed is a hard lesson for some of us to learn. Many Adventists believe in justification by faith and sanctification by works. But you cannot nail yourself to a cross. We must let God put us on the cross. Our whole life is one of dependency on Christ, and the Sabbath tells us it is a sign between God and us that the Lord sanctifies us.
I've observed there are two kinds of Christians. There are Christians who know they have things to give up, and so they give up alcohol and they give up smoking. And they give up the late, late movie, and maybe they give up meat, and they give up all the things they SHOULD give up. And by the time they've given everything up, they're shriveled, ugly people. Even though they may be technically right, when you are with them you feel uncomfortable.
And you say to yourself, "Is that what Christianity really means?"
But thank God there are Christians who give things up not because they are shriveling up but because the Holy Spirit is making room for bigger and better things in their lives.
This, for me, is the message of the Sabbath. It is not a call to your Sealy Posturepedic mattress or your new waterbed, or an invitation to a gorgeous lunch with your friends. It isn't even primarily a reason to go out and distribute literature. All these things MAY enter into the Sabbath, but the chief purpose of the Sabbath is a call from Him who says: "Come unto me all ye that labor, and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." Those who do will truly understand the joy of the Psalmist when he exclaimed, "Oh taste and see that the Lord is good," (Psalm 34:8).
And if you don't meet Jesus on the Sabbath day, you have totally missed the point. You've tried your best to keep that full bowl of soup from spilling. But you haven't yet tasted the soup.
Listen to the full version of the devotional "A New Look at the Sabbath," presented by Max Torkelsen, North Pacific Union Conference president, during the Northwest Adventist Leadership Convention in College Place, Washington. Go online to http://www.npuc.org/article.php?id=441 or via the GLEANER on the Go mobile code on the previous page. Some illustrations were adapted from Smuts van Rooyen, Vallejo Drive Church (Glendale, California) pastor.
Pull quote: Taste and see that the Sabbath is good. The primary purpose of soup is not to be preserved in a bowl but to be eaten and enjoyed for the nourishment it provides. That's not so far different from the Sabbath, the primary purpose of which is an amazing gift from God.