Sabbath Rest

In Sermon Manuscripts by Rachel Schultz

Sabbath Rest

Key Passage: Isaiah 58:13
Key Thought:
Delight in the Sabbath? It can be done. In fact, God gave us the Sabbath that it would be a delight. Practical Biblical suggestions to bring delight to God’s holy day.

The Jewish Talmud is an interpretation and application of the scriptures, and is viewed by most Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, as valuable instruction for daily living. Yet a careful reading of the hundreds of pages of instruction gives us what seems to be very curious advice regarding the keeping of the Sabbath. For example, knot-tying would be prohibited on the Sabbath day. Writing would also be seen as an inappropriate Sabbath activity.

Certainly lighting a fire would be wrong. Remember, in the Old Testament there were severe penalties for those who gathered sticks and rubbed them together on God’s holy day. Today, however, this includes turning on light switches or starting a car, because both of these are examples of lighting a fire, of sorts.

When visiting in Jerusalem a few years ago, we discovered that the Orthodox Jews had felt so strongly about this rule that they would throw rocks at vehicles driving near their residences, and the problem became such that the local government decided to build rather tall stone fences to keep from getting so many vehicles damaged by those living in the Orthodox sector of Jerusalem!

A Sabbath day’s journey has been interpreted as about 2/3 of a mile, so walking should not exceed this distance.

One curious law involves what to do with eggs that a Jewish hen might “work” to produce on the Sabbath. It is written that it would be unlawful for a Jew to eat the product of the hen’s Sabbath work, but it would be acceptable to sell such a product to a Gentile!

Satan has used many schemes over the course of human history to attack and destroy our relationship with God. Several of these schemes include: the pursuit of pleasure, serving other Gods, legalism, Roman paganism, and false teachings within the church. Of the various attacks, there are a number of issues regarding legalism, and the many rules that were in place during the life of Christ regarding Sabbath observance.

I suspect the discussion about legalism touched a responsive chord because Seventh-day Adventists have their own subculture, with regulations about how to live, particularly on the Sabbath. Many long-standing Adventists will readily relate with some of these “You might be an SDA if…” lines:

You know how to play poker with Bible Answer cards and wheat thins.
You have all the Egypt to Canaan answers memorized.
You won’t watch a movie until it comes out on video.
You won’t play poker but stay up in the wee hours of the night playing Rook or Make a Million.
You still feel guilty if you shower on Sabbath.
You find yourself telling your kids, “You can wade, but you can’t swim.”
You find yourself counting down seconds before Saturday evening.
You can turn any sport into a Sabbath sport; for example, if you want to play basketball, whoever gets a basket has to quote a Bible verse. (Jesus wept can only be used once.)
You go to Sizzler’s Friday to pay for Sabbath dinner.
You go out for lunch after church and put it on your credit card so you aren’t really paying for your meal on Sabbath.
You wonder if taping a game on Sabbath and watching it later constitutes a sin

We smile and even laugh as we think about our habits and somewhat legalistic baggage, and yet the truth is, many are not just smiling. Many are saying, “I’ve had enough of this nonsense. I’m leaving the church.” In recent years, due to New Covenant theology, entire congregations which have become independent of the organized church have now abandoned the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath, and I’ll have to admit, my heart is heavy as I see it happening!

Back in 1994 the Worldwide Church of God took the same incredible course. Sabbath-keeping was deemed optional for church members. One-third to one-half of its membership left the denomination. Some dear friends of mine who were faithful members of that church were caught in the fallout as they wanted to remain faithful to their God and their convictions about Sabbath observance.

The incredible irony that I see here is that there is a growing multitude that is just now discovering the Sabbath from their study of scripture, and literally hundreds of groups are actively promoting the importance of honoring the seventh-day Sabbath, and recognize this special day as God’s answer for a stress-torn, production-driven society.

Could it be that in our efforts to rediscover a grace-oriented relationship with God, that some of us, in abandoning the Sabbath, are losing the greatest gift of grace that God has given the human race? Our tension-filled and anguished, compressed lives long for rest. One in four men in North America will die from a heart attack before the age of 60. The heart specialist or family physician who detects high blood pressure in a patient will often give the admonition: “You need to slow down and rest.” Yet, how difficult it is to work off tension, to quiet restlessness! Some join health clubs, others meditation groups. Still others seek release from their tension by taking vacations, tranquilizers, drugs or alcohol. Experience tells us, however, that even fabulous vacations or magic pills provide at best only a temporary evasion but not a permanent quieting of inner tension and restlessness. How then can our restless lives experience perfect rest and peace?

In the opening paragraph of his autobiography entitled Confessions, Augustine points to the real solution to the problem of human restlessness, when he says, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

True rest is to be found not in places or through pills but rather in a right relationship with a Person, the Person of the Savior who says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew11:28; NIV). Perfect rest and peace are not a human achievement but a divine gift. It is an experience that comes to us when we allow Christ to harmonize our lives (“I will give you rest”).

Many people today view God’s Holy Day as a time to seek for personal profit and pleasurerather than for divine power and presence.

The story is told of a pastor calling upon a member who had missed church services for several weeks. The pastor asked him, “What keeps you away, friend?” To this the member replied, “I’d rather be in bed on Sunday morning thinking about the church than in the church thinking about my bed. At least my mind is in the right place.” Indeed, for many, the right place to be on their “Lord’s Day” is not in God’s sanctuary but rather in the sanctuary of a bed, a boat, a car, a restaurant, a football field, a cinema, a shopping mall, etc. Even those Christians who attend morning church services will often revert in the afternoon to places of business or entertainment. This is hardly reflective of what the Bible teaches about the purpose and meaning of the Sabbath.

The Bible teaches that the Sabbath is a day set apart to experience God’s restful presence in our restless lives.

Review the Bible passages regarding SabbathGenesis 2:2-3.

Numbers 15:30-36. Why did God punish with the death penalty?

Possible answers:

Israel had been in bondage for 400 years in Egypt and had little concept of God, His holiness, or His law. They hadn’t learned to respect or know Him. Over the course of time, however, His people became very rigid in their Sabbath observance. The pendulum swung too far, and the Lord spoke through Isaiah the prophet to help them get back on track in understanding the purpose of the Sabbath. In Isaiah 58 the fast that God chose for His people had nothing to do with food.

Helping people who are in real need is a wonderful way to enjoy the blessing of God’s holy day.
Notice vs. 13-14. Notice God’s plan for us on the Sabbath delight.

It is interesting to examine the gospel writings and list all the things that we find Jesus doing on the Sabbath: He healed and performed acts of mercy; He ate; He taught; He worshiped.

Seventh-day Adventists generally appreciate the counsel of Ellen White, and I looked to see what I could discover in her writings that could help us with the issue of Sabbath observance. I was somewhat startled, and some of you will probably be fascinated with something I found in an article she wrote in the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, the May 30, 1871 edition. The article is titled “How Shall We Keep the Sabbath?”

“In order to keep the Sabbath holy, it is not necessary that we enclose ourselves in walls, shut away from the beautiful scenes of nature, and also deprive ourselves of the free, invigorating air of heaven. We should in no case allow burdens and business transactions to divert our minds upon the Sabbath of the Lord which he has sanctified.

“We should not allow even our minds to dwell upon things of a worldly character. The mind cannot be refreshed, enlivened, and elevated, by being confined nearly all the Sabbath hours within walls, listening to long sermons and tedious, formal prayers. The Sabbath of the Lord has been put to a wrong use, if thus celebrated.

“The object is not attained for which the Sabbath was instituted. The Sabbath was made for man, to be a blessing to him, by calling his mind from secular labor, to contemplate the goodness and glory of God. It is necessary that the people of God assemble to talk of Him, to interchange thoughts and ideas in regard to the truths contained in the word of God, and to devote a portion of time to appropriate prayer.

“But these seasons, even upon the Sabbath, should not be made tedious by their length and lack of interest. During a portion of the day, all should have an opportunity to be out of doors.” –Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, “How Shall We Keep the Sabbath?” May 30, 1871.

Practical application

What blesses you on the Sabbath might totally bore me! We all approach the Sabbath with different needs. If you are a 50 year old brick mason by trade, you might not get excited about taking a hike up a mountain with a group of teenagers! By the same token, if you’re 14 years old, you might not get excited about spending a large part of the day in an easy chair doing Bible study. But Sabbath was designed by God to bring blessing to all who seek Him and wish to delight in Him.

Illustration: Pastor Glenn Holland told his congregation in Norfolk, VA, about his personal experience with Sabbath-keeping. Perhaps some of you can relate to this, because it reflects the truth that what may be perfectly fine to do on Sabbath at one time in your life may be totally inappropriate at another.

As Pastor Holland explained, he became fascinated with 35mm photography while a student in college. He purchased a camera, and found great blessing in taking close-up photos of flowers on Sabbath afternoon. He discovered that the closer you look at flowers, the better they look, and this is actually a truth about the things that God has made. However, if you look closely at man-made things, the closer you look, the more distortion you can find.

Anyway, there came a time when Pastor Holland became so engrossed with f-stops, lighting, shutter speeds, etc., that he determined that photography was no longer providing the same Sabbath blessing. Now determined to produce outstanding nature photos, the production of photos became more important than the discovery of the awesome reflection of God in nature, and was therefore no longer an appropriate Sabbath activity!

We could conclude, therefore, that the blessing of the Sabbath is not primarily determined by what we do, but by delighting in our Creator.

Illustration: Does it really matter that I honor Sabbath on Saturday? I really like the illustration Pastor Dan Smith shared along this line:

He tells of a bored little girl on a rainy day wondering what she could do. Her mother, trying to be helpful, suggested that she color a picture of herself with a red crayon and bring it to her when she was finished. A few minutes later the girl returned with the picture, but instead of being red, it was blue. Now let me ask you – did the mother still love that little girl? Did she still accept the picture, even though it was in a different color than she had requested? Was something going on in that little girl’s heart to cause her to use a different color crayon? I suspect there is quite a story behind that, and I expect the mother realized she had bigger issues to deal with in that relationship that had nothing to do with the color of crayons!

By the same token, when we understand what God desires for our relationship with Him on the Sabbath, and we choose to go a different way, or worship on another day, He still loves us; He still seeks relationship with us, but He knows we’re dealing with relationship issues far bigger than the symptoms that are obvious!

How is it with you today? Are you finding delight with your Lord on Sabbath? It is my prayer that it can happen with each of us… Today!

Another sermon that can proceed or follow this one is: Sabbath Wrest

Submitted by Glenn Holland. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelinesThis sermon is also available with PowerPoint slides! For information, see or send an email requesting information directly to the author, Glenn Holland.