Here in the Antipodes we begin our week on Sunday, the time-honoured first day of the week. But did you know that some countries such as Germany and France start their week on a Monday? Some business calendars, including airlines, also make Monday the first day of the week for convenience. It’s no wonder that the day described in the Bible as being the seventh day of the week has become blurred in the present day. No-one knows when it is!
The “book of Beginnings” in the Bible, Genesis, states that God set aside one full day for the really important thing in our life: Himself. After He’d worked six days at creating our world, He added a seventh day that He designated as a day of rest (see Genesis 2:2, 3). He also did something special to this day that He didn’t do to the other six—He blessed it. He made it holy, setting it aside, giving it to humankind as a special rest day, which He called the Sabbath. The Sabbath rest day was created for all humanity to enjoy.
The Sabbath is a God-scheduled rest day. Our loving Father knows that we need a break from life’s busy-ness. Which to a large part is what the Sabbath is about. Although it is also about worshipping Him, it’s about rest, family and spiritual renewal. These are vital components of a healthy, balanced life.
The Sabbath offers us an opportunity to divert our thoughts from the hustle and bustle of today’s world. It bonds us to a timeless renewal that rejuvenates and refreshes us, so that we can cope when we re-enter the busy round of the work week.
We live in a world of rules, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rules help us live in harmony with each other and keep us safe. The Bible also outlines a few dos and don’ts when it comes to enjoying the Sabbath. These guidelines ensure that we will experience the maximum satisfaction that the day offers. Jesus said He was “Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5), so it’s helpful to see what He did on this special day.
When God made the Sabbath at Creation, He blessed it and made it holy (Genesis 2:3). The Sabbath is also embedded in the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” But what does it mean for something to be holy? What does it mean to regard something as holy?
The Bible tells us that God is holy and one of the ways we are to respect His holiness is by being careful how we use His name. The third commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:7).
Christians generally regard their church sanctuary as a “holy” place, and they treat it with special respect. The Bible says, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).
Another meaning of the word is that “holy” things are set apart for a special use. That’s why the church, and especially the sanctuary portion of the church, is reserved for proclaiming the Gospel. We don’t use the church and the sanctuary for ordinary activities.
Applying these principles to the Sabbath, we can say that the Sabbath, then, is a day that deserves our special respect and we should set it aside for a special use. The fourth commandment says that we should not do our ordinary work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10), whether that’s the job by which we earn our living or housekeeping and yard work.
However, in the Gospels, we do observe Christ giving a much more liberal interpretation of what is appropriate on the day, than those of the contemporary church. His rule of thumb was that it should be a “delight” (Isaiah 58:13) to enjoy, as it “was made for man” (Mark 2:27) and should not be an onorous imposition.
Saturday or Sunday?
The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. . . . The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8, 10). But is the seventh day Saturday or Sunday?
The internationally accepted calendar is the Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The Gregorian calendar is essentially a reform of the Julian one, introduced in 45 B.C. by Julius Caesar.
While the names of the days of the week have varied through the ages, the seven-day week cycle has been continuously maintained since the establishment of ancient cultures.
So while certain countries may start their week on a Monday, Saturday is still the seventh day of the week, therefore making it the biblical Sabbath.
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Unfortunately, in our fast-paced world, many of us just do not have time to help others. Not so with Jesus. He used the Sabbath to bless the people around Him. Many of Christ’s healing miracles were performed on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:9–13; John 5:1–9). Think of the blessings we could be for suffering humanity if we all kept the Sabbath as Jesus did.
Jesus also took time out to socialise on the Sabbath. The Bible tells us of a time when He went to someone’s home on the Sabbath to share a meal with him (Luke 14:1). Spending time with family and friends on the Sabbath day is important. It’s a time to catch up and renew family ties. The Sabbath can be a special time for the entire family to thank God for giving us precious family time for worship and communion with loved ones.
Perhaps the most important blessing of the Sabbath day is spending time with the Creator. It reminds us that we were created by God’s loving hands, for He worked for six days creating us and the world we live in, and then He rested on the seventh.
In a special way, the Sabbath reminds us Who to worship, how to worship and how to live throughout time. It’s also a day for appreciating the natural world that God created. The Sabbath encourages us to be stewards of God’s creation.
It was Jesus’ habit to go to church (the synagogue) on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16). No doubt He mingled with family and friends while He was there, but primarily, He went to read and hear the Word of God. Sabbath is a day to learn more about our Saviour and come closer to Him. Of course, we should do this on other days as well, but He has blessed the seventh day above all other days, so that we commune and fellowship exclusively with Him.
The Sabbath reminds us of the eternal rest God has prepared for His people. Today, many people live without hope. The Sabbath day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on and remember the hope Jesus promised when He said, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
God has given us a whole day for a time-out from our busy schedules. The Sabbath day is a time that gives purpose to all humanity regardless of race, gender or creed. Properly appreciated, it provides us with knowledge of our planet’s beginning, where we have gone wrong and a focal point for getting back on track.
Sabbath is God’s gift to the human race. When we are careful to use it the way He intended when He created us, we demonstrate our loyalty to Him, and, just as important, we receive the blessing that He intended us to have when He gave it to us.