There are at least two dangers facing us with regard to Sabbath-keeping today. The first concerns the fact that we live in a multi-faith society in which various religions have different holy days. It is possible for many to assume that Sunday is the Christian holy day in the same way as Friday is the Moslem holy day and Saturday the Jewish holy day. Instead Christians should regard the Sabbath as holy, but they should do so because it is God’s day, the one day of the week that he has chosen for himself.
The second danger facing us is that we choose tradition rather than the Bible as our guide for how to keep fourth commandment. This is not a new method; the Saviour had to confront a similar outlook among the religious people of his time. It was also the outlook that Isaiah rebuked in Isaiah 58, a chapter in which the Lord through the prophet rebuked his listeners because they used the Sabbath for their own ends, even although they were engaged in religious activities. In that chapter Isaiah points out that true Sabbath-keeping does not involve putting on an outward appearance of repentance. Instead it demands that God’s people help the needy by acts of compassion (he mentions, for example, that it is an occasion for feeding the poor at one’s own table). It is amazing, when we read the Gospels, to discover that the religious authorities rebuked Jesus for doing acts of compassion on the Sabbath. They had been blinded to God’s requirements by their own rituals.
What are appropriate attitudes to have on the Sabbath? There are many things that could be said in addition to doing works of mercy. One attitude that should be expressed is joyful gratitude to the Saviour for coming to our aid when he died on the cross. The Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, was the day on which he arose from the dead, and it has become a weekly reminder of the victory he obtained. The Sabbath is a day for celebrating with others the triumph of the Saviour.
Each Sabbath is also an opportunity for getting things into perspective again. During the week we are taken up with other matters and sometimes they can divert us from focussing on God. The Sabbath is an opportunity to review the previous week from a spiritual perspective and assess whether or not we were dedicated to the Lord in what we did in our homes, in our work, in our pleasures etc. It is also an opportunity to ask for grace for the coming week’s activities so that we will do them for the glory of God. If we conclude that there are some things that we could not do for his glory, then we should not do them.
Isaiah 58:8-14 contains great promises for those who keep the Sabbath in a proper manner: answered prayer, spiritual vitality, spiritual growth and recovery, increased fellowship with the Lord. May it not be the case that the cause of the low level of spiritual life found throughout Christian circles in our country today is a failure to keep the Sabbath as God wants it to be done. It may help us if we were to meditate on Isaiah 58 for a few minutes every Sunday.