Lesson 12

Sabbath: Experiencing and Living the Character of God

(Genesis 2, Exodus 16 & 20, Isaiah 58, Mark 2)
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Introduction: Very few people seem to take the Sabbath seriously. Most Christians don’t even worship on Sabbath, they worship on Sunday. Even on Sunday, the only special time is when they are in church. The rest of the day is like any other. Is this what God has in mind? What is His “best practice” for Sabbath? As we will study, the Bible tells us that the Sabbath should be a delight. On the other hand, another Sabbath text we will study sounds like God’s people were under house arrest. Now that I’m old, I know stories of parents who were very strict with their children about keeping the Sabbath, and those children learned rebellion, not delight. Let’s look at what the Bible says about the Sabbath and see what truth God has for us!

  1.         The Origin of the Sabbath

  1.         Read Genesis 2:1-3. If you were to pick our the most important element of Sabbath from these verses, what would it be? (Rest from work.)

  1.         Notice that the seventh day is made “holy.” Is the Sabbath holy because it is not for work? Or, is “holy” an additional characteristic of the Sabbath? (“Holy” means “dedicated,” but in a way that results in being morally clean. That suggests “holy” is an additional characteristic.)

  1.         Read Exodus 20:8-10. What point does the word “remember” make? (This is a commandment that goes back to Genesis.)

  1.         As you look at these verses, what appears to be the most important element of the Sabbath? (Not working.)

  1.         Why would this apply to animals who are unable to worship God? (This reinforces the “no work” aspect of Sabbath.)

  1.         Read Exodus 20:11. Again we are told that the Sabbath is blessed and holy. Do you think God is talking about the day or talking about our attitude about the day?

  1.         If God is talking about the day, should that affect our attitude about the day?

  1.         Theoretical Application of the Sabbath

  1.         Read Isaiah 58:13-14. Let’s first focus on verse 13. We are told twice not to do our “own pleasure” on Sabbath. The word translated “pleasure” can mean “delight.” At the same time we are told to call the Sabbath a delight. Are we calling it something that cannot be true - because we should not do what delights us on Sabbath? (The only logical conclusion is that there are two kinds of delights - one that is appropriate for Sabbath and one that is not.)

  1.         The texts that we previously studied seemed focused on refraining from work.  Is it work-related delight that is being targeted here?

  1.         The texts we previously studied also had a focus on the holy nature of the Sabbath. Is that a guide to sorting out delights - that if the delight promotes us or humans it is not appropriate, but if it promotes God, it is appropriate?

  1.         Now let’s focus on verse 14. We see the word “delight” again. Does this help us to better understand verse 13 by saying that this delight is “in the Lord?”  Does this clearly separate delighting in God and delighting in us?

  1.         Read Mark 2:27. If the Sabbath was “made for man,” how can the distinction I just suggested be correct? (This tells us that we were not created to promote the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath was created to promote our welfare.)

  1.         Has Jesus reversed the Sabbath rule? Is delight in what we want to do now the goal?

  1.         Or, has Jesus simply clarified the rule?

  1.         Would delighting in the Lord benefit humans?

  1.         Practical Application

  1.         Read Exodus 16:27-29. The context is the manna God sent to feed His people. If you were an observer to this situation, what would you conclude God is trying to teach His people? (His Sabbath commandment means we should not be working for food on Sabbath.)

  1.         Look at verse 29 which says “Remain each of you in his place.” Albert Barnes commentary says this literally means “under himself.” The word picture is that the “Oriental sits with his legs drawn under him.” Do you think God has in mind something like house arrest? (As we will see, Jesus did not remain in a house on Sabbath. Thus, the sense of this is to relax in your home, don’t go out working for food.)

  1.         Read Mark 2:23-24. We instantly see that Jesus does not view the Sabbath as involving “house arrest.” However, when you think about our manna discussion, the Pharisees seem to have it exactly right, Jesus’ disciples are out gathering food on the Sabbath!  Do you agree that the complaint of the Pharisees is based on a reasonable reading of Exodus 16:27-29?

  1.         Read Mark 2:25-26. Put yourself in David’s place and make the distinction I suggested earlier - would eating the temple bread delight in God or delight in man? (Jesus described David and his men as “hungry,” not ready to die from starvation. This is example puts the delight of humans above delight in the holy on Sabbath.)

  1.         Re-read Mark 2:27. Now that we see Jesus’ practical application of the Sabbath rule, should we conclude (as we did in the earlier texts we read) that the main rule of Sabbath is to rest - and not work for food?

  1.         Read Mark 2:28. We have discussed what I think is a tension (some might say “conflict”) between the Old Testament references to Sabbath observance and Jesus’ statements about it in Mark 2. If there is conflict, how does Mark 2:28 say it should be resolved? (Jesus says that He gets to make the authoritative statement about Sabbath observance because He is “Lord” over the Sabbath.)

  1.         Let’s drill down a little more on this conflict issue. How does Jesus characterize the actions of David? (He calls them “not lawful.”)

  1.         What does that teach us? That we can be involved in activities on the Sabbath that are “not lawful” under the Old Testament rules?

  1.         Additional details about this story are found in Matthew 12. Read Matthew 12:6. Does Matthew record a different reason to defend the food gathering by the disciples on Sabbath? (I think this is a different argument.  If David can gather food in the temple, the disciples can gather food in the presence of Jesus. Jesus is greater than the temple - and Jesus approves.)

  1.         Read Matthew 12:7. Is this another new reason given by Jesus? (Yes. Jesus says “mercy” is elevated over the “sacrifice” required by strict Sabbath observance.)

  1.         What is the “mercy” involved in this example? (Feeding hungry people.)

  1.         Let’s drill down on this. Could the disciples have prepared a little food (snacks) on Friday before the Sabbath?  Would that have been difficult? (Of course they could, with little difficulty.)

  1.         If this is true, what kind of “mercy” is Jesus talking about? (Not making the Sabbath a pain! Yes, the disciples could have done this better. But, if the Sabbath is made for man, if the Sabbath is to be a delight, then mercy (even for unlawful things under Old Testament standards)is the appropriate standard.)

  1.         Do you think this discussion is irrelevant? That God does not care about how we approach the Sabbath? (These texts (and others) show that Jesus thought instruction about the proper approach to Sabbath was important. As a baseline conclusion, we should not treat the Sabbath as any other day. At the same time, it was made for us, it was made to be a delight, it is holy, and it was made with an eye to mercy.)

  1.         Friend, will you examine your relationship to the Sabbath?  Why not ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what Jesus says about Sabbath-keeping?

  1.         Next week: Heaven, Education, and Eternal Learning.  

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