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Why I Keep The Sabbath,
An Essay

by Kenneth V. Ryland

In a world oriented toward going to church on Sunday, why would anyone want to observe a Saturday Sabbath? This oft-asked question is one which I and many other Sabbath-keepers have wrestled with.

My initial response to the question would be, "Why not?" Does it say anywhere that I cannot or should not keep the Sabbath? Because the Savior has liberated me from sin and death, am I not now free in Christ to enjoy the blessings of Creation in their fullest intent? Communion with my Father through Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, has been restored so that the intimacy of that communion might grow as was the intent of the Creator's heart when He set the original Adam in the garden.

When he descended the mountain carrying two stone tablets inscribed by the same hand that scooped the mud to sculpt a man, Moses was not just binding laws on the people of Israel. Neither were the commandments written on those stones some new governmental philosophy conjured up in the imaginations of Moses and his brother Aaron. In fact, God Himself initially spoke the commandments to the people, but they could not bear to hear the Creator's voice, so they sent Moses up the mountain to find out what He wanted of them.

Now the importance of the words written on the two tablets of stone was not that they were pertinent only to Moses and Israel during their time in history, but that they were the pronouncements of One who stands outside of time conveying His standards for mankind to a group of people whom He had called out for the purpose of leading all nations back to the One True God. They were to be such an example that foreigners would say, "Is there any people on earth with laws more righteous than these or anyone more blessed than this nation?" Of course, for anyone to make such an observation presupposes that God's chosen people would be living by those righteous laws. For though the law condemns those who violate it, the purpose of its righteousness is to cause us to look to its righteous Giver.

So, which of the Ten Commandments would you eliminate? Am I now free to bear false witness? May I now possess idols? Does God no longer care if I have another God in place of Him, or if I commit adultery with my neighbor's wife? Or, is the commandment to labor six days and rest on the seventh the only one which was so deficient that it had to be changed? But, who can show me where God demands (or even suggests) that I now abandon the mistaken notion of Sabbath worship and start meeting with His people on Sunday?

However, rather than becoming bogged down in the details of how the Sabbath was replaced by Sunday worship, I would like to return to the broader perspective of how Sabbath worship is consistent throughout God's design for mankind.

When the Eternal spoke to Israel from Mt. Sinai, He drew their attention back to Creation as justification for His demand that they keep the Sabbath holy. Because He worked six days and rested on the seventh, blessing it, the people were required to do likewise. They were to be like their Creator and Redeemer. What He did, they were to do also.

Some will argue that this whole line of reasoning is irrelevant since we are now dead to the Law and do not live by commandments written on tablets of stone but by the leading of the Spirit of Christ. This is true as far as it goes, but to be led by the Spirit means that the Spirit will lead us to do certain physical acts, to think a certain way, and to respond to God and man after the manner of Jesus Christ. It does not mean that we are now free to do whatever we might imagine. Even though we are not under the Law but under grace in Christ, we are constrained to live within the physical and spiritual limits that the Spirit imposes. So, it is true that we do not strive to obey written codes by dint of human will. Rather, we live so that Christ might complete in every one of us the righteousness that made each of the Commandments possible -- including commandment number four.

God clearly has the right to decide when and how He is to be worshipped. He did not gift believers with the prerogative of deciding all customs of worship. As a disciple of the Lord my need is to follow Him in complete submission, not to sit in judgment of His offerings in order to decide which I will accept, reject, or change to something more convenient for me. If I accept Sunday as my day of worship, I am embracing a convention of mankind, regardless of how noble the custom. Further, I can accept Sunday only if I contend that the Sabbath, as God created it, has no value -- that His pronouncements at Creation and at Mt. Sinai are void. In spite of the fidgeting this statement may evoke, that is the nature of the Creator's syllogism. If one day was blessed and hallowed, the next day cannot be.

Some will contend that to the Christian all days are alike. For once we enter into spiritual rest in the Lord, we are truly seated with Him in heavenly places and through Him we have full, unfettered access to our Father's throne (and ear).

However, though our identity is in Christ, we continue to live in the world, and we need (yea, we are commanded) to commune with other believers. Our Father knew that we needed such fellowship and provided for it. The Sabbath stands as a token of His love and is His guarantee that His children may set aside their worldly concerns and meet together in His presence on that one day which He created for that purpose.

The point I am compelled to make time and again is that the Sabbath was God's idea, not man's. Its purpose was to bless and free man, not burden him. If the Sabbath seems a burden, it is because men have made it so. Jesus disputed often with the religious leaders of his day over the Sabbath. He lifted the burdens which the religious leaders had heaped upon the backs of the people and declared that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Sabbath which God created was to free mankind, not enslave him.

The Ten Commandments detail specific principles, which when broken, subvert all relationships between man and man, and God and man. One of the ten, the fourth, provides a unique means for healing those broken relationships or once healed, for maintaining an intimate relationship. It beckons all to come together humbly and peaceably in the presence of the One who lowers the proud and lifts the lowly. The message of the Sabbath is the message of salvation. It calls us to appear before Him in a spirit of repentance to seek His forgiveness and healing. He binds our wounds and sets us on our feet in His path. He is the center of our worshipful assembly. He is Lord even of the Sabbath.

As I muse on the millennial kingdom which our Lord will set in place at his coming, I see in it rest for mankind and the restitution of Eden in every nation. Though now I can only sample a foretaste of what life will be like in a world governed with justice, mercy, and righteousness, then I will enter fully into that rest.

When the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews drew from the Sabbath the analogy of entering into God's rest, he was assuming the validity of the Sabbath's call to rest and worship. If the readers of the epistle could understand the meaning of the Sabbath, they could understand the meaning of entering into God's rest.

The Apostle Paul stated that the eternal glory and power of the invisible God could be seen in the things made. But of the things which were made during the week of creation, the seventh day was elevated to a status so special that it was to be hallowed because God ceased from His labor on that day. All other days of Creation were "common" by comparison. Only the seventh day was given special significance -- not by the decree of man, but by the Creator Himself.

In spite of the fact that the Christian world has invested Sunday with all the trappings of worship so that it might serve as that "special day" for Christians, it remains a custom of man, inspired and created by man. Nowhere is Sunday ever stamped with the divine imprimatur.

The Sabbath is an emblem of God's glory -- past, present, and future. It is a weekly reminder of His creation, His grace and liberation, and His future kingdom. The writer of Hebrews states that Joshua was unable to give God's people rest. For that reason there still remains a Sabbath for the people of God. That is why we strive to enter into His divine rest. As we cease from our labor and rest each Sabbath, we enjoy a foretaste of the divine Sabbath, the Kingdom of God, which will fill the whole earth at Christ's return.

The Sabbath has from time immemorial been a reminder of the coming Messianic kingdom, which the people of God have longed for in every age. God's message to Isaiah was that at that future time in the new heaven and new earth all flesh (not just the Jew) shall worship the Lord from Sabbath to Sabbath.

The Creator made a divine appointment with mankind on the seventh day of Creation. That appointment was to be kept every seventh day thereafter. This is not to say that God is out of town if we try to contact Him on any other day. Rather, He let it be known that the seventh day was blessed and hallowed in a way that the other six were not. He declared through Isaiah that if we call His Sabbath a delight and a holy day unto the Lord, He will indeed bless us. There are blessings that come with meeting Him on the day of His choice, not our own. After years of trial and error I have concluded that man is never more blessed than when he communes with his Maker on His terms at His appointed time.

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