Lesson for September 6-12, 2014
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, religious leaders heavily challenged His Sabbath observance. Their view of “correct” observance did not seem to mesh with His. This week we’ll attempt to take a plain look at some of the Sabbath activities and statements made by our Lord, and try to discover how He would want this day to be kept.
Over the centuries, there has been constant conflict about not just how the day should be kept, but even which day is to be kept. And many Christians now believe that it’s not important that any day be kept holy, even further eroding the Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue. The description of the little horn power in Daniel 7:25 that states that he will “intend to change times and laws” (NKJV) makes us wonder even more how this change came about.
For our study this week, however, we will focus on:
- the origin and lordship of the Sabbath,
- how Jesus observed the Sabbath Himself while on earth, and
- the example left by the disciples after the Resurrection.
Key Text: “And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath’ “ Mark 2:27, 28 NKJV
This is a wonderful verse to help us maintain a healthy Sabbath attitude.
- First, the day was not made to be a burden to man, but a benefit–an argument against legalistic observance (“the Sabbath was made for man”).
- And secondly, God must be the main character in our Sabbath worship; it’s not about us–an argument against lax observance (He is “Lord of the Sabbath”).
Sunday: Christ, the Creator of the Sabbath
In order to understand Christ and the Sabbath, we must see how He participated in the Creation of this earth. If He claims to be Lord of the Sabbath, which is a memorial of Creation, one would expect Him to be heavily involved in the Genesis event. In fact several familiar Bible passages point to His creative powers.
- John 1:3 “All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” NKJV
- Colossians 1:16 “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible…” NKJV
- Hebrews 1:2 “…through whom also He made the worlds;” NKJV
What a marvelous thought: that Jesus was not just our Redeemer, but also our Creator. He created us in the beginning, but also re-created us as His newly-fashioned disciples.
- After creating the world, He rested on the Sabbath day, not because of any tiredness on His part, but to bless and sanctify the day for us and give us an example to follow.
- After He finished redeeming us by dying on the cross, He also rested in the tomb over the Sabbath hours, not because He needed to, but in order to confirm the perpetual value of the Sabbath.
Discussion Questions: Although the Sabbath has played a major part in the Creation of our world and in the creation of God’s nation Israel, discuss the value of keeping the Sabbath in today’s world. What seems to be its major purpose?
Read Revelation 14:7. What implications does this hold for today’s Christian? As we are drawn to the Creation week in earth’s final days, are we to assume this includes Sabbath observance?
Monday: Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus’ hungry disciples were not breaking any laws against theft by plucking ears of grain from the fields they were passing through one Sabbath day. In Deuteronomy 23:25, people were given permission to pluck a neighbor’s grain with their hands, so long as a sickle wasn’t used. But as we read the story in Matthew 12:1-7 we discover their mistake, according to the Pharisees, was to do it on the Sabbath.
Jesus’ reply to their charges was very plain. Their man-made requirements for Sabbath-keeping were irrelevant in the face of God Himself, the Creator of the Sabbath. Jesus even reminded them of a story of how David and his soldiers, when their lives were in danger, were allowed to eat the holy bread that was meant for the priests (I Samuel 21:1-6).
Jesus tried to make them understand that their burdensome requirements for Sabbath observance were not what God had in mind for His people. The Sabbath God created was for man’s well-being, a day to draw closer to Him.
But Jesus’ answer forcefully revealed that they didn’t even realize who God was by not recognizing His Son, standing right before them. Their methods of Sabbath-keeping missed the whole point, which was to develop a relationship with Him.
Discussion Questions: Should the church teach specific do’s and don’ts in regard to ways the Sabbath should be kept? What are the main principles that should be maintained?
Remembering that the Lord is Lord of the Sabbath, not us, must be taken into consideration as we prayerfully minister to and nurture the spiritual growth of our fellow believers. How can Christians be lovingly approached when Sabbath breaking is clearly taking place? Who, how, when, and where might some intervention be necessary?
Tuesday: The Example of Jesus
Luke 4:16 is often cited as verifying that it was Jesus’ custom to be in the synagogue on Sabbath. It tells us:
“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” NKJV
What we must remember is that this was not just a one-time occurrence. Evidently He continued this practice, or custom, throughout His ministry. We find Him in the synagogue many other times on the Sabbath, according to the Gospel of Luke: Luke 4:31–in the town of Capernaum, Luke 6:6–when He healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, Luke 13:10–where He healed a woman once again on the Sabbath.
We have no reason to believe that the other Gospel writers did not agree with this observation. John states plainly in John 15:10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” NKJV If He kept nine of the Ten Commandments, we have no evidence that He didn’t keep the Sabbath commandment as well. Jesus Himself claimed that He kept them out of love.
Let’s get back to the story in Luke 4. Here’s what Jesus stood up and read to His fellow worshipers that day:
” ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor: He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed: To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ “ Luke 4:18 NKJV
This quote from Isaiah 61:1, 2 sums up the Messiah’s mission. It also makes mention of “the acceptable year of the Lord”, a reference according to Strong’s Concordance, of the Year of the Jubilee, or Sabbatical year. The seventh year was declared the year of the Jubilee. During this year, the land was laid to rest, slaves were freed, and debts were forgiven. Fitting activities to represent what the Lord does for us when we accept Him as our Redeemer and Lord.
Discussion Question: Read Matthew 11:28-30. Could these verses include Sabbath rest? How does this impact the charge that keeping the Sabbath is a burden? When is the Sabbath a burden, and when is it true rest for our souls?
Wednesday: Miracles on the Sabbath
There are numerous times when Jesus healed people on the Sabbath. In many cases, He seems to take the initiative in the finding and healing; He doesn’t wait to have someone brought to Him. We almost have the impression that He was deliberately showing us that it’s permissible to do good on the Sabbath. It really shouldn’t be a day of total idleness, as the Pharisees were making it.
In giving the example of pulling a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath, He concludes by saying, “…Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:12 NKJV Setting aside our own interests and pleasures, as it depicts in Isaiah 58:13, we can still find rewarding work to do in helping others on this day.
Discussion Questions: Tuesday’s study led us to the conclusion that corporate worship was an acceptable Sabbath activity, as Jesus Himself regularly attended Sabbath services at the synagogue. What can we conclude about His healing miracles on the Sabbath? What other activities does this suggest would be appropriate on Sabbath?
Read Isaiah 58:13. How limiting or expansive is this principle of Sabbath observance? Why might it vary from person to person?
Why must we be careful in our response to how others keep the Sabbath? [Remember the Pharisees’ accusations of Jesus.]
Thursday: The Sabbath After the Resurrection
We find in Acts 17:2 that it was Paul’s custom to be in the synagogue on Sabbath, just like the example left us by the Lord.
“Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” NKJV
One might reason that Paul met with the Jews on that day, because he was trying to fit into their schedules. But other verses do not substantiate that any other day was considered a substitute for the Sabbath, the one already being kept for centuries.
- Acts 14:42 says, “So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.” NKJV
- Acts 14:1 continues with “Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.” NKJV
Discussion Questions: Why is it important to keep the seventh day holy, as opposed to any other day? Why did God specify a certain day for worship at all? Shouldn’t we worship Him every day?
Why do you think Sunday worship has become accepted in most Christian churches? Why has its observance waned over the last decades and what signs do you see that it might one day become a defining point for Christians, as opposed to other world faiths?
Christ, the Creator of the World, made Sabbath for man’s physical and spiritual rejuvenation. Nothing in the Bible, even the New Testament, indicates that any other day but the seventh be kept for this purpose.
Here are Scriptural principles of Sabbath observance, based on Christ’s earthly ministry and His work in the beginning as Creator and Lawgiver:
- church attendance (Luke 4:16-21, Jesus read in the synagogue)
- enjoyment of nature (Matthew 12:1-8, walking through a field with the disciples, Psalm 33:8, 9; 34:8)
- relief of human or animal suffering (Matthew :12:9-14, Luke 13:15-16, John 5:16, 17, healing miracles on the Sabbath)
- rest from work (Genesis 2:1-3, even the work of creating the world, Mark 16:1)
- refrain from business as usual, including shopping and some forms of entertainment (Nehemiah 13:15-22, Isaiah 58:13, 14)
- use of Friday, the sixth day, to prepare for the Sabbath (Luke 23:54, John 19:42, Jesus was laid in the tomb on the Preparation Day)
- Is your present Sabbath-keeping making you a more compassionate, loving, and caring person?
- Use the numbered list of principles in the Summary as you examine your own practices.
- Devise some ways for you personally to have a deeper and richer experience with the Lord on Sabbath.
Next week: Death and Resurrection
To read the Sabbath School lesson or to visit other resources, see www.ssnet.org
To view a very informative documentary series on this topic of the Sabbath, narrated by Hal Holbrook, see “The Seventh Day”