What I Want My Kids to Know About the Sabbath | Pastor Mike Fortune | March 5, 2011


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by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 5, 2011

Missing the Joy [00:00 - 03:08 + 06:22 - end] 

  1. Kept right, it’s a delight [Isaiah 58:13-14; Mark 1:29-32; Mark 3:1-5]
  2. It reminds us to rest in the finished work of Jesus [Genesis 2:1-3; Hebrews 4:9-11]
  3. It is meant to be shared [Revelation 14:6-7; Isaiah 56:1-7]

In that intro video was Marva Dawn, theologian and Christian author of some really good books about the Sabbath like Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting (Eerdmans, 1989) and The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, and the World (Eerdmans, 2006). Though she is not a Seventh-day Adventist, as you can see, she has become quite the authority on how to explain the significance and blessing of Sabbath. More so than at any other time I can recall, there are Christians and even people of no faith at all that are beginning to see the significance and value in keeping the Sabbath. While most of them still think of it in terms of Sunday and not Saturday, there is nonetheless an increased appetite for information about it. Scan the book titles by topic on Amazon if you don’t believe me. I just ordered a book entitled, “A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom, and Joy on the Sabbath.” Looking forward to reading that.


But the Sabbath does not become holy because we “keep” it. Jesus said nobody was doing so in His day [cf. John 7:19] so nobody will today no matter how many books we write about it. No, the Sabbath is holy not because of what we know about it or do during it. It is holy because of what God did to it. As Jewish authority and famous writer Abraham Heschel says in his seminal work Sabbath: The Day of Delight, “Even when men forsake the Sabbath, its holiness remains” (Harper and Row, 1951). As we’ll see today, the Sabbath is holy because God has made it holy. Kept right, it’s a delight. It reminds us to rest in the finished work of Jesus. And it was always meant to be shared by all nations. Hopefully, you’ll see these points become clear from Scripture. To begin, let’s turn in our Bibles to Isaiah. The series we’re starting today is called “What I Want My Kids to Know” and the first specific topic we’re going to study is subtitled “About the Sabbath.” Isaiah 58:13-14, “13Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don't pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the LORD's holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don't follow your own desires or talk idly. 14Then the LORD will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the LORD, have spoken!”


As great as this passage is, it is full of easily misunderstood English words. Like the first phrase I already alluded to. “Keep the Sabbath day holy.” As if our keeping of it makes it holy. Which none of us can perfectly do no matter how closely we guard the edges of it. And even if we could, nothing we do or don’t do during it or for God can make it holy. Why? Because only God is holy. Hebrews 10:14 says saints are in the process of being made holy, but we are not holy yet! The Sabbath is holy because God sanctified the 7th day making it holy. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.


Yes, the Lord has a day. This is also clear from verse 13. And contrary to the conclusions of John Paul II in his encyclical before he died entitled The Lord’s Day referring to Sunday, Isaiah says the Lord’s Day is Saturday. The word for Sabbath in Hebrew is Shabbat. Which sounds a lot like Sabbath don’t you think? In fact, even if you don’t know Hebrew and aren’t Christian, you could probably figure out which day is the Sabbath just by the sound of the word in your own language because in at least 108 languages from around the world, the seventh day on the calendar is still “sabbath”. Did you know that? In Russian, it is Subbota. In French, it is called Sabbat. In Spanish, it is simply Sabado. Yeah, we’ve had calendar changes and numbers of days change, but who cares about that because all you need to know is the 7 day cycle of the week has never changed and even more significant, it has no known historical, scientific, or extra-Biblical origin or explanation other than the Bible. 


The next part of Isaiah’s passage which says, “Don’t pursue your own interests on that day” can also be misunderstood. Other versions say, “Keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath” or “Doing your own pleasure.” The result being that generations of sincere people have been raised thinking the Sabbath was not for pleasure. Seriously. They conclude this even though a few phrases later Isaiah shares with us point number one: Kept right, it’s a delight. Right after not pursuing your own interests, he says in verse 13, “Speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.” And then again in verse 14, “Then the Lord will be your delight.”  So rightly understood, this passage isn’t against pleasure. The word really means “purpose”, business”, “affair”, or “matter” as Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 17 describes using the same word in Hebrew. One of the most reputable and universally lauded research tools in seminary across the planet called the Brown, Drivers, and Briggs translation of this verse says this phrase is most accurately translated, “Doing thy affairs.” And there are several modern translations that have recognized this including The Goodspeed, Berkeley Version, the New English Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, and perhaps most accepted, the Tanakh which is a Jewish version all say so.


So what’s the point? The point is the Sabbath kept right, is a delight! Point number one. It is not for business as usual. For finding business. Or looking for clients and customers. It is for pleasure. For delight in the Lord. The Hebrew word for delight in this passage [oneg] can literally be translated “exquisite delight” and is used elsewhere in the Old Testament only in conjunction with enjoying the pleasures of kings and royalty. It reminds us that Sabbath is an all day date with the King. Luxurious delight and merry hearts are not forbidden! Extravagant meals with the finest china and tastiest desserts is what royalty is all about. Special time with and God and families. Where kids and adults look forward to sharing is what Isaiah is talking about. Kept right, it’s a delight! What some versions describe as “turning your feet” is simply an old English idiom translators put on the text which meant turn or repent. Do a 180. Change your mind. It’s not about you. And your holiness. It’s about God. And His. What I tell my kids is it is designed to be spent with the Lord, your family, and others who need the Lord.


Isn’t it ironic that the Sabbath kept right is a delight, but some of us were taught not to find pleasure in it? The Talmud is a Jewish commentary on the Mishnah which in turn codifies all the laws governing how Jews should live. Since the BIble doesn’t go into great detail about how to worship or keep Sabbath holy, aside from some general principles I’ll share with you, the rabbis codified in the Talmud 1,547 rules for keeping the Sabbath. Here are just a few. On the Sabbath you may remove from the table crumbs less than the size of olive but not larger. On the Sabbath if you get a toothache, you cannot sip vinegar because this is healing and forbidden on Sabbath. However you may dip bread in vinegar and suck on it because this is eating. You cannot travel more than half a mile on the Sabbath. If however, you were delayed in getting home and sundown was approaching, you could look for a tree or wall in front of you and say, “Let my Sabbath base be at its root” and then you could walk another half a mile.”


Can you imagine how exhausting the Sabbath would be? Sadly, I know many of you, like me, can. Because you too were raised with your own rules about wading not swimming on Sabbath. About looking at birds with binoculars, but not at fish with a mask and snorkel. We could read the Bible but not the newspaper. Some folks could walk but not ride bikes. Throw a frisbee but not a ball. And the list goes on and on. All because we sincerely want to keep Sabbath holy or sanctified or special like God made it. But in our attempts to keep it holy, sanctified, and special, if we don’t also make it delightful for each generation, guess what! We have messed it up! Just like the folks in Isaiah’s day. Have you read the way Isaiah 58 begins? Listen to a few highlights. “Tell my people Israel of their sins! They act so pious and seem delighted to learn about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God.” And Adventists usually stop right there and start quoting the Pope or historians about how the Sabbath has been changed from Saturday to Sunday. And it has. Regardless of what the calendars around the world say. But in context, they hadn’t abandoned Saturday Sabbath keeping for another day. They were just screwing up the way.


They were fasting and being pious and making a bunch of rules to keep it holy, but God’s big problem with them was they were simultaneously oppressing workers. They weren’t freeing the slaves and imprisoned. They weren’t sharing their food with the hungry. They weren’t giving shelter to the homeless. Clothes to those in need. I love this one in verse 7. They were even hiding from their relatives who needed help! Verse 9 says, “Stop pointing fingers and spreading vicious rumors!” Why? Because the Sabbath kept right is a delight! Donna Schaper, a United Church of Christ minister in her book Sabbath Keeping says, “It is an invitation to a party, not a hanging. Sabbath keeping is not one more thing to add to our already long lists. Sabbath keeping is lightness, not heaviness” (Donna Schaper, Sabbath Keeping, Boston: Cowley Publicaitons, 1999) p.7.


So if Sabbath is for pleasure but not business, what kinds of pleasures please God? How should we keep it? What is the right way for the right day? Well, anything that helps others and builds others up and heals brokeness is good place to start. Mark 1:29-32 describes another. Mark 1:29-32 says, “29After Jesus left the synagogue with James and John, they went to Simon and Andrew's home. 30Now Simon's mother-in-law was sick in bed with a high fever. They told Jesus about her right away. 31So he went to her bedside, took her by the hand, and helped her sit up. Then the fever left her, and she prepared a meal for them. 32That evening after sunset, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus.”


Now if we take what we just read in Isaiah 58:1-7 about how God wants people to free the oppressed and feed the hungry and not hide from those in need, do you think the people needed to wait until after sundown for Jesus to heal them? No! But because Jesus meets everyone wherever they are, bad theology about the Sabbath included, he starts healing them after the sun goes down. But don’t you think He would have done so before? We know waiting probably frustrated him because in a similar story about healing on the Sabbath, Mark 3:1-5 describes how he got mad about it. Mark 3:1-5 says, “1Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus' enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man's hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. 3Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, "Come and stand in front of everyone." 4Then he turned to his critics and asked, "Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?" But they wouldn't answer him. 5He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, "Hold out your hand." So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! 6At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.” Adventists haven’t abandoned the day. Just the way. Other Christians [like the Ohio Amish or the Christian Reformed in western Michigan who try to keep all day Sunday special] haven’t abandoned the way. Just the day. When will we get our act together? I don’t know.


So how should we keep the Sabbath? People used to ask Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, one of my undergrad professors, this question all the time. And in his book Sabbath in the New Testament, he actually answers. He says, “No standard formula can be given to determine which activities are appropriate or inappropriate on the Sabbath. Thus, rather than prescribing a standard formula, I will submit three simple guidelines that can help in determining suitable Sabbath recreational activities. Sabbath activities should be first of all God centered. They should be a means of delighting in the Lord. A second guideline is that Sabbath activities should ensure freedom and joy of everybody. A third guideline is that Sabbath activities should contribute to our restoration not exhaustion. Thus, any Sabbath activity which leaves a person exhausted and with a hangover on the following day fails to conform to God’s intended use” [pp.213-214].


When we were little kid, we used to sing this song called, “Sabbath is a happy day, happy day, happy day” remember that? But if we neglect these principles, and misunderstand that God is not forbidding pleasure, we mess up the way of the day and personally, I think doing so makes God mad. How dare we turn his delightful day into a dreadfully boring one for our own kids and grandkids! How dare we not make it a blessing to others who are lonely and broken and hurting and need the Lord! Nobody should be counting down the hours until Sabbath is over. They should be counting down the days until it begins! Which is why I hate sun down calendars. I wish we could ban them. Do we really need to know when its dark? Can’t we just tell? In some places, I know it never gets light. So I suppose if you live in northern Norway or outer space, they could come in handy. But for the vast majority of the rest of us, who needs them?


In our family, Jackie and I are teaching our kids that the Sabbath activities have to be about God, with others so no solo things like video games you can play all by yourself in your room. But sometimes on really cold winter days, part of the time we spend with them is playing their video games with them so it’s something we do together. Our guidelines we look at is it must be done something we could do with Jesus sitting by our side, with others far and near from God, and is delightful for their age.


I gained a ton of respect for Bacchiocchi when I read that when he was on a speaking tour in Italy, on Sabbath afternoon with a group of theology students at Villa Aurora near Florence, Italy he played soccer [cited in Ed Christian’s book Joyful Noise, Review and Herald Publishing, p.165]. This champion of the Sabbath understood the guidelines he wrote about even when many of his readers do not. That’s why during our Toledo First Church Picnics with Purpose we break out the corn hole and frisbees and bikes and balls. We’re there with God. For others. Including our kids. This is the day. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! I don’t think we’ll be joining a league and buying uniforms making it all about the scoreboard and standings, but we aren’t afraid to work up a sweat whether we’re hiking or playing. My brothers and I had some pretty fierce croquet games on Sabbath all over our neighbors yards and across the street growing up where the one who lost was about as upset as the one who didn’t get from Egypt to Canaan on the board game we also were allowed to play but caused just as much division...


But what have we to be glad about on the Sabbath? Plenty! We don’t have to feel guilty about losing clients or growing our business. God’s the one in charge of that. If you’re in school, even med school or law school, you don’t have to crack open a book. If you go the Key West Adventist Church in Florida, you don’t even have to wake up early to go to church! Because they don’t meet until 3pm for street ministry and until 5pm for worship and game night. Every week! You’re aware that 11am on Sabbath is simply the best time farmers could make it to church after feeding their cows right? There is nothing holy about this time of day more than any other. Honestly, this pastor wouldn’t mind sleeping in on Sabbath morning and having brunch with my family and rolling to church later in the day. But I digress...


These are all silly bonus reasons. A really significant reason to be glad about the Sabbath is because it reminds us to rest in the finished work of Jesus. Which is point number two. Genesis 2:1-3 says, “1So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” Who made the seventh day holy? God! On the sixth day Adam was out cold while God took a rib and fashioned a bride, Eve, for him. So Adam and Eve began their lives at the end of the creation week, on the sixth day, so their first full day alive was the Sabbath. They hadn’t even done any work yet, but still they rested first. Why? Because the Sabbath is a reminder that we are saved by the works of Jesus not our works! Colossians 1, John 1, and Hebrews 1 all specifically say it was Jesus who created the world. So Jesus rested from his work of creating on the Sabbath. And when we rest on the Sabbath, we’re reminded that we’re saved by Jesus’ work as well.


It’s ironic and very sad that people like Dale Ratzlaff, a former Adventist minister, says that Adventists believe keeping Sabbath saves us when the word itself is about ceasing and not working for our salvation. Like the Jews of old, we still mess up the way. But just because something has been abused, that doesn’t mean it’s been abandoned! And that’s what Ratzlaff in his sincere efforts to understand the Sabbath and specifically the New Covenant have done. See me after for more info on this, but contrary to what some Christians say, Hebrews 4:9-11 means the Sabbath way and literal day still remains. “9So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God 10For all who have entered into God's rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. 11So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.”


Some people like Ratzlaff say this sabbatismos in this verse or Sabbath keeping has been abandoned in the New Testament in favor of “today.” They say the writer of Hebrews quoting Psalm 95:7 which says “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” meant to change the day from Saturday or Sabbath to today. To every day. Which does injustice to the context of this passage and the common sense usage of the very term sabbatismos which was commonly understood inside and outside the pages of Scripture in the first century to refer to Saturday Sabbath keeping. If Ratzlaff’s and other Christians interpretations of the “today” in Hebrews 4 were correct, then already at the time of David in Psalm 95, God had replaced the literal observance of the Sabbath with a spiritual experience of rest in His finished work. Which simply isn’t the case as every Jew knows. No, the point of this passage is to affirm the way and literal day resting in the finished work of Jesus brings. The Jews by faith in God got the day right, but not the way as Isaiah 58 explained. And Adventists, have much the same problem now. Other Christians who spend an entire Sunday as sacred and special and delightful get the way right but not the day. So we all have work to do. If we’re honest. To better appreciate and understand the blessing of resting in the finished work of Jesus. And we should because the Lord’s Sabbath Day is important to the Lord. He wants it to be shared and embraced. Because time with Him helps us abide in Him and know Him.


Which is point number three. That’s why I think Revelation 14:6-7 says, “6And I saw another angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7"Fear God," he shouted. "Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.” Non-Adventist scholars in a book entitled Index of Allusions and Verbal Parallels published by the United Bible Societies says this last part of Revelation 14:7 about “worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” refers to the phrase found in the 4th commandmentIsaiah of Exodus 20:11, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” Which itself is the only commandment with the word “remember” because it the Sabbath was already made during Creation hundreds or thousands of years before Moses arrived Sinai. That’s why Jesus says in Mark 2 that the Sabbath was made for humanity. He uses a specific word that refers to mankind not just Jewish men. Jesus made the Sabbath to be shared by the whole world from the very beginning of the whole world as we know it.


Additional proof of this can be found in Isaiah 56:1-7. Listen to what God longs for. “1This is what the LORD says: ‘Be just and fair to all. Do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you and to display my righteousness among you. 2Blessed are all those who are careful to do this. Blessed are those who honor my Sabbath days of rest and keep themselves from doing wrong. 3"Don't let foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD say, 'The LORD will never let me be part of his people.' And don't let the eunuchs say, 'I'm a dried-up tree with no children and no future.' 4For this is what the LORD says: I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me. 5I will give them—within the walls of my house—a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear! 6 "I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. 7 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Keeping the Sabbath is not about legalism. It’s about realism!


Point number three: the Sabbath is meant to be shared. By all nations. Maybe if we make it a delight, people will want to sincerely keep it every day but especially on the seventh. Which is the only day God set apart and made holy. It’s our date with royalty. The King of Kings. So let us rejoice and be glad in it. Let us share it with everyone God loves like crazy. Starting with our own kids and grandkids. So they will learn to love the Lord of it. Whom knowing is eternal life. Amen.