The Good Word  

 June 1993

Each day as God worked the magic of creation he stood back, as an artist from his easel, to appraise his handiwork.  And each day the verdict was the same: "And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning - the . . . day." (Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31)  His satisfaction was crowned by the first family: first Adam and then Eve.  We were all there in the loins of our ancestors, "gods in the chrysalis."  We were waiting for time, procreation and the blessing of God to actualize us.

At last the sun set on the finished work of God.  When the new day dawned on the creation God rested from his work. (Genesis 2:1)  Man, too, was invited to share in God's rest. (Exodus 20:8)

What was this rest?  Was God tired, as we might reckon?  Not likely.  God's rest was more of an active celebration.  When we are weary from months of grinding effort we can be rejuvenated by a vacation.  The vacation might involve lively sports or arduous activities, the effect of which is to recharge our batteries.
So, too, ancient Israel spent vigorous days in celebration as part of both short and long cycles of labor and drudge. (Deuteronomy 14:26)

It is not possible to say exactly what God's rest was, nor the exact manner of man's joining him in it.  But we do know that it tragically ended.  We don't know when it ended, but it was probably not at the end of the seventh day.  Two points:

 * When the seventh day ended, no one said, "And there was evening and there was morning - the seventh day." (Genesis 2:1 ff)  This is because the rest that began with the finish of creation was to continue.

 * Nothing in the Biblical account suggests that Adam and Eve sinned the day after they were created.  That's right.  The rest that our primal parents entered continued until it was broken by sin.

Do you remember how, after the debacle of the serpent, tree and fruit, Adam and Eve were driven from the garden of Eden?  Did you notice that it was at that time that the rest was broken?  In unmistakable terms God ordained Eve to pain and suffering in the labor (work) of childbirth.  And henceforth, Adam was to labor (work) to earn his living "by the sweat of your brow." (Genesis 3:19)

In this way, all of mankind (for we were there) entered the vale of unrest and tears.  Salvation is nought but a return to the restful, celebratory state God intended for us from the beginning.

It is the serpent of sin that hinders us in our return.  None of Adam's children achieved the restful state of peace and bliss for which we long.  Each has, in turn, fallen to the enemy, death.

But we are not without hope.  For each of us stands around the garden tree and hears the damnation of the serpent.  God declares, "I will put enmity [hatred] between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.  You shall bruise her heel but she shall bruise your head." (Genesis 3:15)  This seed of the woman is none other than Jesus, the creator himself. (Galatians 3:16,19; John 1:1-3)

As God (Jesus) completed his work once, in creation, so he would complete it again in re-creation.  This new work of God was none other than the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It was a successful retracing of the path intended for Adam.  It was a retracing that gave us a new father (Jesus) and a new legacy (righteousness and eternal life).

It is not an accident that as Jesus prepared for his death he prayed to his father: "I have finished the work you gave me to do." (John 17:4)  Again, as he hung on the cross he cried, "It is finished." (John 19:30)

As the first father and mother entered God's rest at creation, so it is our privilege to enter a "new" rest, the rest of accepting Christ's work as our own.  As they celebrated God's completed work of creation, it is our privilege to celebrate Christ's completed work of salvation (re-creation).

As they ought to have continued their "rest" and celebration, so ought we to continue our rest in the finished works of Jesus.  It is not a one-day-a-week rest but a continual rest.  We ought to continuously celebrate Christ's triumph as our own.  This is the meaning of the sabbath (or rest) of the fourth commandment.

Where the first commandment calls us to single attention and worship of God, the second explicitly forbids attaching value to ourselves, or any of creation.  The third shows us that focusing on God and turning from ourselves will not result in careless behavior (else we be called Christian in vain).  The fourth crowns the first three (and the relation between God and man) by calling us to the continuing Edenic condition of rest from our own works.

No wonder the New Testament is so insistent on denying "works" as a part of salvation: "For by grace you are saved, not by works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9)  It is "not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace." (2 Timothy 1:9)

Work is the opposite of rest.  Salvation is a matter of continual resting, not working.  When Christians insist on salvation by God's mercy alone, not our deeds (including sabbath keeping), they reaffirm the fourth commandment.  Christians are not weak on the law.

This issue of The CHRISTIAN is intended to provide a proper Christian perspective to the sabbath of the fourth commandment.  This commandment has been divisive to some in the Christian community.  This division springs from two causes: First and foremost is a general lack of understanding of the principles of salvation by grace.  These principles are the heart of the apostle Paul's message and were brilliantly rediscovered and expounded by Luther and the reformers.

This charge of indifference to Christ by Christians may seem to be an insulting claim, but I intend no gratuitous insult.  In my associations on both sides of the sabbatarian issue I have found little interest in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Both sides are obsessed with their own inner spiritual lives.  Christ is only of value to them as an amulet or superstitious totem to help them in their spiritual journey to heaven.  Unless the grace and mercy of God dominates the perspective, the fourth commandment can never shine in its clarity and splendor.

The second cause is the sincere desire to do what is right.  Many have thought that if they will only do what is right, they will meet with God's approval.  But the wise man said, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12)  That's right, doing what seems right leads to hell (death).  Grace and mercy are the way to life and happiness, not doing.

Finally, two additional perspectives on "THE SABBATH".  The book of Hebrews deals explicitly with the seventh day sabbath. (Hebrews 4)  The entire book is one of compare and contrast: Christ is like, but better than the Old Testament priests.  The heavenly sanctuary is like, but better than the earthly sanctuary.  The new promises are like, but better than the old covenant.  How can we miss that the sabbath we are intended to have is "like, but better than the old sabbath?"  In every case in Hebrews, one of the deficiencies of the "old" is the need for repeating the "type" over and over.  The yearly day of (final) atonement was never final.  It always had to be repeated again the next year.  Priests had to be replaced because they died.  The seventh day sabbath had to be repeated every week because sin (and the necessity for work) ensued each first day.  The only fault with these Old Testament types was that they were only symbols of the reality.  Their repetitious nature was a natural consequence of their being symbols only.  The rest that Joshua was never able to give the children of Israel is the true sabbath rest that Christ gives us (and does not take away).  Away with the blasphemy that we must somehow "keep" a repetitious weekly sabbath (of any day).

How to keep the Lord's day on a round world is another troubling issue in sabbatarianism.  What if you're on the moon?  or at the North Pole?  What day it is at any particular point on the world is strictly a matter of human choice and authority.  It was man, not God, who established Greenwich, England as the starting point for all time zones.  This, in turn, established the international date line, on the opposite side of the world.  It is this line that divides one day from another on this round world.  Every week, for 24 hours, on one side of the line it is Saturday and on the other side it is Sunday.  Since Greenwich was the common port of sailing from England, it became standard to treat it as ground zero in the scheme of time (zero degrees longitude).  If Sydney, Australia, had been the center of the British empire, the dateline would have fallen elsewhere and the days of the week would have been different for much of the world.  This seems like an obscure point to many people.  But for a strict sabbatarian it is a major issue.  One possible resolution is to ignore all human dates and times and use "Jerusalem time" throughout the universe.  This is based on the acknowledgment that there is no revealed "divine" definition of the days of the week.  But since Jesus must have known God's will and he lived in and about Jerusalem, whatever time he kept must have been the right time.  As sincere as some may be in adopting this approach, there is no scriptural support for it.  The absurdity is rejected by the more practical, Laodicean sabbatarians.  It is a non-issue to non-cultic Christians.

Your friend, Herb Sorensen