Sabbath: A Day of Freedom
Every week or so, I take my wife out on a "date." It's usually out to dinner, but the intent is to spend quality time with her, for we both live such busy lives that we crave some time just to be together. It's my way of telling her how special she is to me, and how much I want that time with her.
Our Lesson Study this week is on a familiar topic, the Sabbath. I suspect that many feel like "oh, we Adventists obsess on the Sabbath." I think when you understand the Sabbath correctly, it will contribute to an entirely different experience, and you will ache for that day, and the experience God wants you to have on that day. In the course of this commentary, I am going to share an experience I had yesterday, a remarkable one, that is going to influence me for the rest of my life, and not just on the Sabbath, but every day, because of the need that demands it, and the one who has that need. It brought me to tears, tears of sadness, tears of joy, and tears of almost impatient expectation for what I began to realize I could fully have as a Christian. I am like you, a person growing, a person overcoming, a person healing.
God created the Sabbath as the final act of the Creation week. It has been said that on the seventh day, God not only rested, but He created rest as an integral part of the way that the world was to be. The Sabbath was a demonstration of how we were created to interact with God and with each other. We need to understand the integral role that the Sabbath was designed to play in the world and in the lives of God’s people as a symbol of God’s grace and provision.
The Sabbath was created not only to meet man's needs, but due to the heart of God Himself, and His desire to spend time with His creation. I pray that as you study this lesson, you will discover something that I discovered, and it came in part through a prayer, through the National Conference I just attended, and a remarkable discovery while reading some of the 1888 resource materials. It really has to do with the "higher motivation" that a full understanding of the 1888 Message is to bring to your mind and heart, and thus, spiritual experience.
We are to see a marvelous truth in the account of the giving of the manna in Exodus 16. It is to teach us several truths about our relationship to God.
The lesson for the Israelites, and us, was that God has provided sufficiently for His people and His creation. If we take only what we need and are prepared to share our excess with others, all will be cared for and provided for. Taking only enough for the day required the people to trust that there would be more the following day. Oppressed people, such as the Israelite slaves, tend to focus on their own survival, but God wanted to demonstrate to them a life of trust, generosity, and sharing.
But there was also another, more remarkable, dimension to this practice. Each Friday a double portion of manna appeared on the ground, and on that day—and only that day—the people were to collect the extra manna in preparation for the Sabbath. The special provision for the Sabbath became an additional way for them to learn to trust the Lord for all their needs. This extra portion of manna, an act of grace on God’s part, enabled them to enjoy even more fully the rest that God has promised them on the seventh-day Sabbath.
What are we to prepare for, and what is the portion we are to give away, ultimately? You may be thinking that we are to give to others, in witnessing. Certainly, that is true, but there is something far more important that I wish to discuss today. It has to do with the ache of a heart.
The Sabbath plays a double role of creation and redemption, of relationship and restoring of that relationship. Sin interrupted the full relationship that we had with God. But did we ever think that it interrupted the relationship that God had, and wants again, with us? God experienced a divorce, from us, that was not His will or doing, and the pain must have been incredible. Certainly He foresaw it and made provision for it, but have you ever prepared for the death of a loved one, and then found out when it occurred that you really were not fully prepared, or that the pain was even more than you anticipated? I wonder if we see God that way. Is that possible for God to have gone through much more than we think?
In the Exodus 20 version of the fourth commandment, God as our Creator is revealed most clearly.
By contrast, their rescue, redemption, and salvation is the focus of the fourth commandment in Deuteronomy 5. This was a story that the Israelites were to retell regularly; they could reconnect with it especially every Sabbath. Their first story was one of actual, physical rescue from slavery in Egypt, but as their understanding of God and His salvation grew, Sabbath would also become a weekly symbol and celebration of their spiritual salvation.
Both of these motivations for Sabbath were about restoring the relationship between God and His people: “I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy” (Ezekiel 20:12, NIV). And, as we have seen, this was never about this group of people only. On the foundation of this relationship, they were to establish a new kind of society, one that was kind to outsiders and a blessing to the wider world.
“Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15, NIV). By keeping the Sabbath as a way of remembering and celebrating both our Creation and Redemption, we can continue to grow in our relationship, not only with the Lord but with those around us. God is gracious to us; therefore, we need to be gracious to others.
The Sabbath should make us more compassionate and loving people. But how does that happen? We know this, we have read this, but many people are broken, afraid of people, frozen in their emotions, and in that state, its harder to minister to others, for one broken person has a difficult time dealing with other broken people. It can cause a disconnect, unless empathy and sensitivity has been aroused. The concept of Biblical justice is one discussed at the National Conference, and as I reflected upon it, I saw something that helped my brokenness. I will share that in this lesson.
Creation and redemption are concepts. They are cognitive, intellectual, conceptual, and perhaps, merely clichés. Does Creator and Redeemer touch your heart? If not, I think I understand something, at least that was true for me, that may help.
There is a famous story in the 19th Century on the East Side of London. A child was born who was hideous in his appearance, and as he grew, he became more hideous and deformed. He was abandoned by his parents, sold into a circus freak show, where he often experienced people laughing at him, and one day, they chased him into an alley, throwing rocks at him. He wore a bag over his head, to avoid the direct exposure of his appearance. He turned to them and screamed out in an almost primeval cry of the heart, "I am not an animal, I am a human being." He, of course, was the Elephant Man. Have you ever felt that way, broken, abandoned, rejected, a bit "strange" because of the scars of sin, and craving for love, acceptance, and relationship. Then you know more about your Creator, and how He knows what you feel, what you crave, and what redemption is desiring to heal. You see, He felt abandoned, rejected, scorned, and was "wounded in the house of His friends." God is not at all unfamiliar with the human experience, the shatteredness of what we are and feel, for He came to be one with us, and to lead us home again. Do you have a bag over your head? Are you afraid of God, afraid of rejection, afraid of exposure? Walk further in this study.
The Sabbath Commandment has some very unique, and often unappreciated aspects to it. Notable among these Sabbath details is the focus on others. Sigve K. Tonstad argues that this kind of command is unique among all the cultures of the world. The Sabbath commandment, he explains, “prioritizes from the bottom up and not from the top looking down, giving first considerations to the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. Those who need rest the most—the slave, the resident alien, and the beast of burden—are singled out for special mention. In the rest of the seventh day the underprivileged, even mute animals, find an ally”. – The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day (Michigan: Andrews University Press, 2009), pp. 126, 127.
"Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." I have learned in my life as a psychologist, a pastor, and a medical missionary that there is ONE thing that people crave, every one of you that are reading this lesson. You want PEACE. You ache for it, you long for it, at times you have cried about it. When the head moves to the heart you want what all of the Bible, all of the doctrines, all of the concepts of the 1888 Message discuss, and you hate the times it is all "heady" and has no impact. You want God in the heart. The sabbath commandment reveals that God wants that for you, and for everyone. The Sabbath is one great equalizer, for God is there for everyone, He created all, He died for all, and then............there is something else, which we need to eventually see. It is the higher motivation, but it is also the higher antidote to bring the mind to the heart. God gave me something yesterday that I believe we all need to see, and I discovered it in a remarkable way. I cried over it.
God gave the Sabbath in part to remind us all that we are equal, in spite of differences in intelligence, giftedness, or level of spirituality. We are equal in need, in hope, and in destiny, if we will grasp it all by faith. Lest ye be like a little child. Think about that.
Jesus confirmed that the Sabbath is important. We need to put boundaries around Sabbath time to keep it special and to allow this weekly time to be opportunity to grow our relationships with God, our families, our church, and our community. But Sabbath keeping should not be selfishly about just us. As Jesus said, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, NKJV).
Many church members do much good work to care for others. But many of us also feel that we should do more to help. We know God cares about those who are hurting, oppressed, or forgotten, and that we should care, too. Because we are commanded not to pursue our regular work and are freed from the pressures of the week, on Sabbath we are given time to focus on this concern for others as one of the ways of true and active Sabbath keeping: “According to the fourth commandment the Sabbath was dedicated to rest and religious worship. All secular employment was to be suspended, but works of mercy and benevolence were in accordance with the purpose of the Lord … To relieve the afflicted, to comfort the sorrowing, is a labor of love that does honor to God’s holy day”. – Ellen G. White, Welfare Ministry, p. 77.
Yes, on the Sabbath, a day for healing, a day for relieving the afflicted, the oppressed, the forgotten, the lonely, we need to grasp something that will make a difference in our relationship with God, and in our response to God. I mentioned to one of the board members of the Committee that in terms of Biblical Justice, there is something we need to see, that really is at the heart of the Great Controversy, and will assist to bring true healing.
Isaiah:53:4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.
Do we care about that? Yes, we are grateful that He suffered and died out of His Agape for us all, but do we care that He went through that? Have we forgotten about salvation for a moment, or the cross in relation to us, and just got into touch with what He felt? Why hast Thou forsaken Me? Have you ever felt totally alone? Have you ever been abused, scorned? Do you care that your Creator went through that? It should cause us pause and to do more than thank Him. Feel with Him, care about Him, love Him for being the kind of God He is. But there is more.
There is the Sabbath rest of the land, a time to teach total trust that God will provide. Jehovah Jireh. What an act of faith to NOT plant for a year, believing, just as in the sixth day of gathering the manna, God will provide over a long period of time. God is faithful, everlasting. What does that mean in terms of His heart? Has God had to remain faithful, over the centuries, in the midst of the constant rebellion, apostasy, abuse, agony, that sin has caused people, and ultimately the heart of God himself?
Those who think of the result of hastening or hindering the gospel think of it in relation to themselves and to the world. Few think of its relation to God. Few give thought to the suffering that sin has caused our Creator. All heaven suffered in Christ's agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity. The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him. When there came upon Israel the calamities that were the sure result of separation from God,—subjugation by their enemies, cruelty, and death,—it is said that "His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel." "In all their affliction He was afflicted: ... and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old." Judges 10:16; Isaiah 63:9.
His Spirit "maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." As the "whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together" (Romans 8:26, 22), the heart of the infinite Father is pained in sympathy. Education, 264. Our world is a vast lazar house, a scene of misery that we dare not allow even our thoughts to dwell upon. Did we realize it as it is, the burden would be too terrible. Yet God feels it all. In order to destroy sin and its results He gave His best Beloved, and He has put it in our power, through co-operation with Him, to bring this scene of misery to an end. "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." Matthew 24:14. Education, 263-4.
Did you hear what that quote said? Every sin brings GRIEF to Him. In all our affliction He WAS AFFLICTED. The heart of the infinite FATHER is pained in sympathy. God "feels it all." The Sabbath will never be experienced until we realize who we are walking with. There is more yet.
God does not want us to have pain. He knows more than we the pain that sin has caused. He gave us a day of rest for just that, rest. Rest from our works, rest from the agony of human existence, to find quality time with Him. Who is He? Salvation is to "know God." Who is He? Dee Casper talked, in his one sermon, about God being lonely for us, missing His time with us. When we are too busy for God in our life, missing out on communion and fellowship with Him, it brings Him the uttermost grief, for He craves fellowship. I was reading on the 1888 Message Study Committee resource list, and I found one article about the Book of Hosea, and the issue of Love and Judgment. I remembered my thought during the National Conference that in terms of Biblical Justice, the one person who has been treated the most unjustly and cruelly is God, and the cries of the saints in Revelation 15, that God is just and fair, will bring a balm to His soul, and the universe finally will have learned the truth that God is love. The article I read described God, in one respect, as having a heart like a little child, innocent, pure, vulnerable, sensitive, kind, longing for love and fellowship, gentle. "Come learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." During the conference, I prayed for God to heal my limbic system in the brain. Why? It is the center that controls emotionality. I have struggled with that part of me, for I was savagely beaten as a child, almost killed, and I went through post-traumatic stress for many years. I have had other very traumatic experiences, cruelties, of course like many others have had also. I struggled to go from the head to the heart. As I read this description of the Heart of God, I cried, for I got in touch with my Creator, the heart of the universe, and how I had seen him as some mature, aristocratic, computer like brain who was far above me, and yet, He made us in His image, and He wants us to be like little children, and to be pure in heart, meek and lowly, innocent, as He is. God has a heart longing for us to be with Him, to love Him, to care for Him and each other, to have our hearts united. Then I looked at the bottom of the article, as I wanted to thank the one who wrote that insight into the heart of God. I will probably never forget what I saw. It was from a SS Quarterly article in 2013. It was I who wrote the article, and God used an article 6 years ago, that He inspired me to write, to minister to my own heart and soul, at a time I was more ready to feel it, not just "know" it.
Enjoy your Sabbath. God wants a date with you. He is the lover, wooing HIs bride. He is the paternal father, who aches to be with His children. He has the heart of a Child, pure, innocent, vulnerable. I urge you to enjoy that date, and minister to the heart of the One Who every day, during this time of sin, suffers infinite agony. There is coming a day soon, when sin and suffering will be no more, for us. However, God for all eternity will miss the ones who spurned His love. I urge you to love Him, and the two of you walk hand in hand, and as Jesus said, always do those things that please your Father. God bless you.
O let me walk with Thee, my God,
As Enoch walked in days of old;
Place Thou my trembling hand in Thine,
And sweet communion with me hold;
E’en though the path I may not see,
Yet, Jesus, let me walk with Thee.
I cannot, dare not, walk alone;
The tempest rages in the sky,
A thousand snares beset my feet,
A thousand foes are lurking nigh.
Still Thou the raging of the sea,
O Master! let me walk with Thee.
If I may rest my hand in Thine,
I’ll count the joys of earth but loss,
And firmly, bravely journey on;
I’ll bear the banner of the cross
Till Zion’s glorious gates I see;
Yet, Savior, let me walk with Thee.
God wants to become married to us again. He wants the walk He misses so much, the walk Adam and Eve had in the Garden, so long ago. I urge you to walk with Him.
~Pastor Thomas Cusack