“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy…” (Exodus 20:8 KJV).
God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, and what God has blessed is blessed forever (Gen 2:3, 1 Chron 17:27). So why did God command us to keep holy the Sabbath day? Since He made it holy, won’t it continue to be holy regardless of how we relate to it? The answer is found in a simple natural law. What happens when a dirty or contaminated object touches something clean? God told Hagai to ask the priests a similar question:
Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ask now the priests [concerning] the law, saying, If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No. Then said Haggai, If [one that is] unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean (Hagai 2:11-13 KJV).
When I remember that in my flesh there is no good thing, and that even my best deeds are dirty rags, it would seem I am doomed to pollute the Sabbath (Rom 7:18, Isa 64:6). Perhaps the best way to “keep the Sabbath holy” would be to forget about it, and never even touch it. Except there’s a slight problem. God said “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” He also said the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27), and he placed it in time where everyone with a heartbeat is obliged to touch it. Be that as it may, contact with the Sabbath will never make anyone holy, not even if we wrap ourselves up in it, and become the most conscienteous Seventh-day Adventist to ever sing “Don’t Forget the Sabbath” on a Friday night.
So why does God ask us to do the impossible? Praise God, there is a solution to this conundrum. There has only ever been one exception to the rule of contamination: Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, who with His touch healed lepers and raised the dead. “‘He came and touched the bier,’ to Him even contact with death could impart no defilement” (Desire of Ages 318.4). “Being found in fashion as a man,” “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” He was touched with every trial, temptation, and “feeling of infirmity” possible to man, and yet He remained “without sin” (Phil 2:7, Rom 8:3, Heb 4:15). Moreover, when we reach out to touch Christ in faith, or respond in faith to His touch, we are made clean while He remains as pure as ever (Luke 8:44-48, Mat 20:33-34, Mark 1:41-42). What a marvelous mystery! What an astonishing miracle of grace!
Thus it is clear that when God tells us to keep the Sabbath holy, He is asking that we allow Him to touch us and make us holy. Otherwise, we would automatically desecrate the Sabbath. Only as God keeps me holy can I keep the Sabbath holy. The Lord’s messenger puts it this way: “But in order to keep the Sabbath holy, men must themselves be holy. Through faith they must become partakers of the righteousness of Christ” (Desire of Ages 283.2).
Despite the opposition of the Pharisees, Jesus did many of His miracles of healing on the Sabbath day to illustrate this very point. He wasn’t picking a fight or pulling a publicity stunt. Rather, as He restored sick and suffering sinners, He also restored the Sabbath. Broken people who exercised faith in the Redeemer found physical and spiritual health and were clothed in the righteousness of Christ. They found the Sabbath a delight, full of special meaning, and restorative power. With His touch, Christ reversed the Jew’s perversion of the Sabbath. Inspiration testifies:
As the Jews departed from God, and failed to make the righteousness of Christ their own by faith, the Sabbath lost its significance to them. Satan was seeking to exalt himself and to draw men away from Christ, and he worked to pervert the Sabbath, because it is the sign of the power of Christ” (Desire of Ages 283.3).
The Sabbath is a sign of Christ’s power to “preserve blameless” and “keep you from falling” (1 Thes 5:23-24, Jude 1:24). Hence, “when the command was given to Israel, ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,’ the Lord said also to them, ‘Ye shall be holy men unto Me’ (Exodus 20:8; 22:31). Only thus could the Sabbath distinguish Israel as the worshipers of God (Desire of Ages 283.2).
Even if I go to church on the seventh day of the week, know the history of the change of the Sabbath and the definition of the mark of the beast, none of that will distinguish me as a true worshiper of the Creator as long as I do not allow His creative power to make my life holy. The 58th chapter of Isaiah confirms that in order to keep the Sabbath holy we must die a complete death to self and live to love and serve others. Our Lord’s reputation and character as a Holy God who makes us holy is on the line, specifically because most of us have either forgotten what the Sabbath is all about, or refuse to experience and transmit the soul healing that the Lord of the Sabbath came to impart.
But the seventh day [is] the sabbath of the LORD thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work […] And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and [that] the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:14-15).
Notice the language here: we were servants in Egypt, but God has redeemed us by His mighty power, and for that reason He commands us to keep the Sabbath. The word “therefore” establishes a cause and effect relationship. The only reason we can keep the Sabbath is because the Lord of the Sabbath is also the Lord our God, and He has freed us from sin and death in spectacular fashion. That is good news! As God put it to Ezekiel, “Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them” (20:12).
The Sabbath is a sign designed to showcase God’s sanctifying power. Do we read what the sign really says and let it have its proper impact on our spiritual journey? Or do we think that we respect the sign by sitting in church every seventh day of the week? By it’s very shape and color the Sabbath sends a clear message: the entire length of the Narrow Way is a no parking zone.
To rest on the seventh day is to desist from our works, and enter into His. The Sabbath signals God’s power to sanctify us, and in observing the Sabbath according to the Scriptures, we exercise faith in that sanctifying power. Indeed, only the sanctifying power that hallowed the Sabbath in the first place can transform and enable me to keep the Sabbath the way our Lord desires: to keep it holy.