you choose Q: what does it mean to keep the sabbath day holy?
Q: What does it mean to keep the sabbath day holy or observing the sabbath? Besides going to church does it mean that I cannot eat out in a restaurant on sabbath hence causing one to break the sabbath? Can I not give my dog a bath on that day? —Kit
A: To truly observe the sabbath would require you to do a lot more than just worshipping on a Saturday. For example, you are not allowed to work (Exodus 31:15, 35:2). You are to stay put in your home and not travel (Exodus 16:29) or buy and sell things (Jeremiah 17:21). At home, you’re not to prepare food, light a fire (Exodus 35:3) to cook, bake, or boil water (Exodus 16:23). It’s a “day of complete rest” (Exodus 16:23, Leviticus 23:3). For some special sabbaths, you have to “deny yourself,” usually understood to include fasting and other abstinence, for a full day! (Leviticus 16:31, 23:32). Not keeping the sabbath is a capital offense. You could be executed for carrying sticks on the sabbath!
Thankfully, sabbath-keeping was part of a covenant God made with the ancient nation of Israel. Christians today are not required to keep the sabbath as specified in the Old Testament. The Jews were in a special covenant relationship with God. And God stipulated 2 signs of that covenant: circumcision (Genesis 17:11) and the sabbath. Twice, God told the Jews “the sabbath is a sign of the covenant” (Exodus 31:13), “a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel” (Exodus 31:17). Keeping the sabbath holy was the covenantal sign that the Jews were God’s redeemed people (Deuteronomy 5:15).
In its infancy, the Church was predominantly Jewish. Jewish Christians continue to meet on the sabbath in the Temple and synagogues as a matter of habit and convenience. Christianity was seen as a “continuation off-shoot” of Judaism. Concurrently and progressively, the Jewish believers began to meet on Sundays. Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday (Matthew 28:1). On that same evening, the disciples met (John 20:19). They did so again the following Sunday (John 20:26). The Bible (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2) shows that the primary day for worship in the Christian Church was the first day of the week. Meeting on Sunday in celebration and commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection was a totally new thing, not a replacement for sabbath. Soon, Sunday was known as the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10).
Today, some Christians choose to worship on Saturdays. This is an exercise of freedom of how they want to practice their Christian faith. But merely worshiping on a Saturday is not the same as “keeping the sabbath.” Observing the sabbath demands much more than that.
There are no commandments or exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to keep the sabbath. It’s noteworthy that the apostles at the 1st Church Council of Jerusalem (AD 49-50, Acts 15:1-3) did not require the Gentile believers to keep the sabbath (Acts 15:28-29). The apostle Paul went further: “So don’t let anyone condemn you . . . for not celebrating certain holy days . . . or sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality” (Colossians 2:16-17). The Mosaic system that was given to Israel culminated and ended at the Cross (Hebrew 8:7-13, 10:1-18).
God ordained that one day in seven be restful (Genesis 2:2; Exodus 20:11). That’s God’s provision for our well-being, for our good (Mark 2:27). There are profound spiritual, physical, and emotional benefits in setting aside a day each week to rest in order to honor God. It could be Saturday, Sunday or every day! (Acts 2:46). But Christians are not required to keep the sabbath as specified in the Old Testament.
Paul gives us the last word: “Some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike (i.e. holy). You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor Him” (Romans 14:5-6). That should be our motivation and purpose. —K.T. Sim
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