We have compared the Sabbath temptations we face today with Jesus’ wilderness experience, tracing Sabbath through Old and New Testaments. Having sought out the basic themes for Sabbath-keeping, now we tie it all together, looking at specifics for Christians in the end-time. In question is how shall we observe the holy day that Jesus kept.
What God looks for in us is not a cold, legal attitude, but the warm-hearted spirit of loving reform. Interacting with Him changes us. He seeks those who will worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23, 24)—not whose lips draw near but hearts remain far from Him (Isaiah 29:13). When His people have departed, they need to reform and return. Moses saw eventual hope. Although Israel would depart from God and suffer scattering, later would come renewal.
From there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 4:29).
The benefit and result of all reform must meet in the last generation. These are the Christians who finally show in their lives the fullness of the gospel. In all the history of planet earth, if ever any church was raised up to demonstrate what is the result of following Jesus fully, this is it.
Turning our attention to the holy day that Jesus kept, we realize that behaviors we have engaged in on God’s holy day are either:
To be avoided during Sabbath, or
Not to be done during Sabbath
And so, let’s address very plainly some specifics.
Sabbath and Travel
In earlier times, believers usually could walk to the worship center. Travel by automobile and rail created a new situation. Population has also shifted from rural to urban. In some cases, participation in worship events during Sabbath hours would be impossible without for-pay public transportation. Our travel needs fit into two categories:
local, limited, covenant community-related travel
Our goal during the Sabbath should be to limit local travel. If possible we should avoid situations where we must pay tolls, fares, or parking fees, and should seek to minimize labor for ourselves and others. If it is too far to church for us to walk, we may be able to arrange to ride with someone. A last resort would be the use of public transportation. If this is your only option, try to purchase a pass before the Sabbath. This doesn’t remove the labor of the driver, but because it is public transportation, he would be driving whether you took the bus or not. You have not initiated his labor.
Distant travel is a different category. This means means driving or flying long distances during Sabbath. While honoring God and His Sabbath may make matters inconvenient, such travel can almost always can be avoided if one is determined to honor the holy day that Jesus kept.
We should be careful about driving automobiles on Sabbath. Doing so can create special needs (mechanical repair, towing, purchasing fuel). Drivers must maintain a certain measure of concentration. There is a labor in driving. Energy used this way cannot be devoted to worshiping God. Many must drive an automobile in order to travel to church, and this is understood. This is limited local, covenant community-related travel. But distant travel should be avoided.
Sabbath and Food Preparation
If we engage in unnecessarily elaborate preparation of food during the Sabbath hours, we contradict its spirit. Exodus 16 is clear. Preparing food by means such as boiling or baking is considered excessive labor.
Have we forgotten so soon the lesson Jesus taught Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42)? Martha was busy in the kitchen preparing food; Mary was listening to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus gently reproved Martha and approved Mary’s choice. This incident may not have involved a Sabbath, but the principle remains. Sabbath is a time to simplify. Prepare your food ahead of time.
When we eat during the Sabbath hours, we need to be thoughtful. In order to set the Sabbath apart, we want to limit our eating to:
the simplest foods
These foods require but minimal time and energy in order to prepare; labor intensity is minimum. Rewarming food in the microwave oven involves minimum labor.
It is common for the women in our churches to do much of the food preparation. But we must not think that somehow women have less need to participate in the worship of the covenant community. If there is a community meal on Sabbath (for example, one immediately following the Sabbath worship service), those who prepare it can accomplish the needed activity without needing to miss the last portion of the worship event. Let our sisters remain with the congregation until the worship event concludes. Afterward, limited meal preparations can be made.
The Sabbath in Relation to Various Activities
Eating in Restaurant
What about eating in a restaurant during the Sabbath? What if we enter but do not pay for our meal until after the Sabbath has ended? Then money is not changing hands on the Sabbath. But those preparing the meal are serving us for pay. This takes place during Sabbath hours. Then our behavior is exactly opposite the fourth commandment, which says that during the Sabbath, neither we nor our servants are to work for us. Here may be an opportunity for immediate reform.
Setting the Sabbath apart as a holy day means cessation from work. Of course, we will not engage in secular work in any form on Sabbath. We are the one religious body in particular that God has raised up to highlight the seventh day Sabbath. Under no circumstances is one permitted to become a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church if he is not committed to faithful observance of the Sabbath. He will not engage in secular employment during the Sabbath hours. Such behavior is grounds for removal from membership from the covenant community.
We should labor in a loving-manner with the offender and pray that God will strengthen him to repent. Many violate the Sabbath who are not engaged in intentional rebellion; many simply have not been shown the way. Jesus loves us and is ready to help. We must not turn our backs on Jesus now—not when we are so close to His Second Coming!
Study and Exams on Sabbath
We are not to engage in doing classwork, studying for class, or taking examinations for credit during the holy day that Jesus kept. We may be tempted to study on Sabbath but this is time for fellowship with brother and sister believers. If there is study, it should be kept to investigation of the Scriptures. Arrangements may be made so that examinations may be held at some time other than the Sabbath.
Shopping and Hanging Out
Shopping during the Sabbath violates the prohibition against engaging in commerce (buying and selling). This is the open treatment of Sabbath as one of the six working days. Remember, when we ignore the Sabbath, we are undermining remembrance of God as Creator. Our lives testify for the sacredness of Jesus’ Sabbath day when we faithfully refrain from buying and selling on Sabbath. In this way, every Sabbath provides practice in preparing to be faithful in the time of final conflict when none can buy or sell but those who have chosen to receive the mark of the beast (Revelation 13). Nor should we loiter in places of business during the Sabbath. These businesses are violating God’s holy day, prompting people to sin. Our presence in such settings would suggest to others that we are engaged in activity that is not Sabbath-appropriate.
Sabbath is a time for communion with God and for the blessing of our meeting together in holy convocation with fellow believers. Sometimes we find ourselves weary during the Sabbath day, and we may feel like sleeping. This should alert us that we are working too hard during the week. We should not so exhaust ourselves during the six working days that we can hardly stay awake during the daylight Sabbath hours. Slow down. Be human. Come into the Sabbath hours ready to worship the holy God with energy!
We have labor-saving devices that accomplish for us what otherwise would have to be done by our physical labor. But a machine running during Sabbath is still humming in the background. The use of such machines can distract. These are holy hours. Not only should we permit our animals to rest, but most will experience a closer Sabbath time with Jesus when we begin to turn off our electronic devices.
Sabbath and Sports Activities
God’s Word urges us to set apart the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. It urges us to avoid doing our own things, business or pleasure, on His holy day. Activities such as soccer or other sport ought not be engaged in during the Sabbath. Even friendly physical competitions are inevitably distracting. They do not draw to God on Sabbath but turn hearts from Him. Let Sabbath be a time for communion with God.
Sabbath and National Holidays
There are three kinds of observance: (1) the holy day that God instituted for all time; (2) holy days that God instituted until Jesus’ death on the cross, and (3) other. In the “other” column is Sunday observance, along with all national “holidays” etc. These are observances instituted by men.
The world-system will always suggest that we engage in the observance of traditions. But how we treat Sabbath is the clear indicator who we are really worshiping. God reminded His people,
And I said to their children in the wilderness, Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor keep their rules, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God (Ezekiel 20:18-20).
Jesus, referring to the traditions of the Pharisees, says, “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). We should have crystal clear vision about days that are holy and days that are not.
Holding Organizational Meetings
We have a responsibility to be faithful stewards over the tithes and offerings God receives through His church. In such meetings we go over the monthly financial report. We plan how we will spend the moneys, some for common maintenance, some for expansion, some for paying bills, some for evangelistic fliers to be mailed out. We deal with the furnace problem, the parking lot expansion, the latest rules that the government expects the church to comply with. We deal with repairs that must be made and equipment to be purchased. There is no way to handle these topics on the Sabbath without jeopardizing our sense of its holiness.
Sometimes there will be a true emergency and we may need to hold a church board meeting on the Sabbath. But our regular organizational meetings should not be held on Sabbath. When we have a board meeting, we will almost always find ourselves discussing something that has to do with the world system that is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31). Jesus warned us that we cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).
Preparation and Simplicity
Sabbath is not just about what we cannot do on the seventh day, but includes our positive stewardship over the week God has given. Preparation for proper Sabbath observance begins, not at sunset on Friday evening, but sunset Saturday night. It starts with the first day following Sabbath.
Paul helps us understand this. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 an offering is being taken to provide relief to believers in Jerusalem. He asks that those who contribute set aside their offering on the first day of the week so that neither the details nor physical labor involved need be addressed on Sabbath.
The week is divided into three portions. The first through fifth are working days. The sixth is set apart especially for Sabbath preparation. Six times in the Bible the sixth day is called the PARASKEVAZO (the preparation) (Matthew 27.62; Mark 15.42; Luke 23.54; John 19.14, 31, 42). God took time during six days to prepare to meet with humans; we are to take time during six days to prepare to meet with God.
From the Wilderness into the End-times
Recalling our first presentation, the three testings that Jesus faced, applied to the Sabbath, were
the material over the spiritualâ€”choosing outright violation of the Sabbath
the spiritual on our own termsâ€”selectively observing the Sabbath
compromise—intentionally avoiding one’s cross, presenting a form of godliness with reference to the Sabbath
Self-deception is seen in all three approaches. The first is the temptation to believe that we really do not need to keep the Sabbath. The second is still partial self-deception, thinking that we may decide how to observe it. Under the third deception, compromise is out in the open. The trend is clear; the person is aligning his character in opposition to God’s law.
Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, our Recreator, went out into the wilderness to reprise Israel’s wilderness failure and come off victorious. Moreover, His experience has a direct relationship to us. He knew that in the end-time, we too would face an extraordinary test. We shall be prevented from buying and selling. Food will be withheld. The ultimate question will be whether we love Jesus enough to let Him be Lord of the Sabbath for us. As Lord of the Sabbath, He has marked out an intelligent path of Sabbath-observance for His people. He did not loosen but clarified our obligation.
The three temptations He met are those that we now face. Satan urgently desires to destroy us, so he tries to cloud our vision. His special ploys for us are to turn us into materialists, or to provoke us obey but selectively our own way, and most dangerous of all, the temptation to compromise. Jesus has shown how we are to resist all three temptations. In the strength and counsel of God, His pattern must become ours.
The Sabbath is a mirror. Unlike beliefs which might seem to be mostly points of intellectual agreement, obedience to Jesus according to His Sabbath commandment is not falsifiable. In the end, the Sabbath reveals what we are. For this reason, it is the key to Christian reform. We keep it holy because this reminds us that God is making us holy.