What does it really mean when God commands us to keep the Sabbath day holy?
In understanding our answer, and the true intent of God's word, it doesn't matter whether we celebrate the Sabbath on the last day of the week or the first day of the week.
We also need to remember that there were no calendars when God created the heavens and the earth.
Perhaps He may have begun on a Wednesday and ended the following Monday.
It is only from our tradition that we assume that God started His creation process on Sunday and ended on Friday.
Don't let the "day" become more important than the "intent".
If we look at the portion of the Ten Commandments which refers to this, Exodus 20:8-11, it seems to be very specific.
8. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10. but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
11. "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
The Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
For our part, we are commanded to keep it holy.
But what does that really mean?
Well, basically, it seems to mean that we are not to do any work ourselves, or cause others to work for our benefit.
But does that in itself keep the day holy?
When we read verses 8 through the first part of verse 11, we come to understand that work is basically referring to that which we do to earn a living, or in working around the house, or any labor we participate in daily.
So, if we cease doing these things, does it keep the day holy?
No, it doesn't.
For if it does, then every lazy person, who does nothing during the week and continues doing nothing into the Sabbath day, would be keeping the day holy, too.
And this absolutely is not being holy.
In various places in the Bible we are told of our need to work, for in our work we honor God.
Note what we are told in Proverbs 6:6-11:
6. Go to the ant, O sluggard,
Observe her ways and be wise,
7. Which, having no chief,
Officer or ruler,
8. Prepares her food in the summer,
And gathers her provision in the harvest.
It is obvious that one who is diligent, even an ant, honors God.
To compare a lazy person to a little ant, and to have such a person ranked lower than an ant and ordered to learn from the ant, is a clear indication that laziness dishonors God. This is amplified in the next verses.
9. How long will you lie down, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10. "A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest"--
11. And your poverty will come in like a vagabond,
And your need like an armed man.
So, to what extent does it mean to cease work, that we will keep the day holy?
All regular work: all work that is done to earn a living or for our personal benefit.
Some people carry this to such an extent that they won't even turn on an electric switch, or cook.
But then the housewife will serve previously prepared food to her family.
Wasnít part of her daily work doing just that?
Donít rabbis or priests or pastors continue in their daily work on the Sabbath day?
Of course they do; and in their true service, they both honor God and keep the Sabbath day holy.
So, the auto mechanic, the bus driver, the secretary, the bank president, all honor God through their diligent work during the week; and yet if they continue doing such work on the Sabbath, they dishonor God.
But, as we consider the intent, don't forget about people who work in a hospital where care giving is required seven days a week, or those who rescue animals that need the same kinds of care.
Now if the minister of God does not dishonor God by doing the same, what is the difference?
The difference is the intent.
The first example is meant to earn a living or provide for our personal needs, alone; the latter two examples meant to serve the Lord and others in their needs.
And this is exactly why Jesus performed so many of His healings on the Sabbath day.
He did it to show the people the difference.
Let's look at a couple of examples in Mark.
The first is from 1:29-31:
29. And immediately after they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
30. Now Simon's mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Him about her.
31. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.
Not only did Jesus heal Simon Peter's mother-in-law on the Sabbath day, but then, she in turn waited on them. She served them their meal.
We know that Jesus wouldn't do anything to dishonor Himself or His Father, and yet He is taking part in this Sabbath day's work.
What's the difference?
The act of healing a person in this manner dramatically shows the power and glory of God.
And the serving is a type of thank offering to the Lord.
Think of us here this morning.
In essence, we all did some work in coming here.
Isnít my work at this very moment a work of hopefully healing the soul and spirit of all of us who have gathered together?
And when I finish, two of you are going to serve the Lord's supper to the rest of us.
Is what we are doing very different from what took place in Peter's house?
No, it isn't.
What we are doing is very much the same.
Is it the same as going to a pancake breakfast at the firehouse on Sunday morning?
No, it is quite different, for the intent is different.
But to fight a house fire on the Sabbath day both honors God and keeps the Sabbath day holy.
It's this intent in doing our work that can either dishonor God, or keep the Sabbath day holy.
Now let's look at Mark 3:1-6:
1. And He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there with a withered hand.
2. And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they might accuse Him.
Jesus' work was one of love and compassion: a work that would both honor God and keep the Sabbath holy, for it would cause people to praise and worship God.
The work of the people in the synagogue was one of dishonor.
They were working at ways of bringing harm.
They had neither love nor compassion.
3. And He said to the man with the withered hand, "Rise and come forward!"
4. And He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?" But they kept silent.
Here's the key: is it lawful to do good and save a life on the Sabbath?
They kept silent because in them there was no love of God or of their fellow man.
They lived of pretense of being holy.
5. And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
6. And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
If we look around our community, and the world, we find many people just like those so-called religious leaders and politicians.
The intent of their heart is only self-serving and evil.
So the question comes back to us: what do we, as individuals, have to do to keep the Sabbath day holy?
We have to analyze our own heart and soul, and the intent of our own thoughts, to see if we are really honoring God.
Is our labor a labor of love and compassion that both honors the Lord Jesus and serves the people of God?
If our answer is "yes" we are keeping the Sabbath day holy.