A REMINDER OF THE EVIDENCE
Right in the heart of the “royal law of liberty” is a command to remember the Sabbath. Is this perhaps one instance where God has placed an arbitrary requirement upon his people, just to show his authority and test their willingness to obey? But the whole message of Scripture is that there is no arbitrariness in God. Paul has explained that God’s laws were given to help us, to protect us in our ignorance and immaturity, to lead us back to faith.
The first angel of Revelation 14 calls on us to worship God our Creator. This reminds us that the first mention of the Sabbath in the Bible is at the end of creation week.
How easily God could have created our world in a single instant of time! Instead, with the universe looking on, he chose to do it in six twenty-four-hour days. On the first day it was just “Let there be light.” Then the second day, the third, the fourth, the fifth, as God in unhurried drama and majesty unfolded his plans for our earth.
By the sixth day this world was a beautiful place.
Where now were Satan’s charges that God was selfish and severe? And look at the freedom he gave Adam and Eve, creating them in his own image, with individuality, power to think and to do. He created them able to love and trust—or to rebel and spit in his face!
God even gave Satan an opportunity to approach our first parents at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And God did not hide that tree in some dark corner of Eden. He placed it in the middle of the garden so that Adam and Eve would see it every time they came to eat at the tree of life (see Genesis 2:9; 3:2). Of course we could trust God not to allow his children to be tempted beyond their power to resist (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). So Satan’s approaches were limited to the tree, and Adam and Eve were warned not to risk a confrontation with the wily foe.
Then God shared with us—as much as he could with created beings—some of his own creative power. He so designed it that when a man and a woman come together in love, they can give life to other beings—little people formed in the image of their human parents! “Have many children,” the Creator said, “so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control” (Genesis 1:28, gnt).
The universe saw that everything was very good. Love and admiration for God must have known no bounds. Where now were Satan’s charges that God had no respect for freedom or that he made selfish use of his authority and power?
“On the sixth day God completed all the work he had been doing, and on the seventh day he ceased from all his work. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he ceased from all the work he had set himself to do” (Genesis 2:2, 3, neb).
So God and his universe celebrated the first seventh-day Sabbath. It was not man’s seventh day. It was only his second. If the main purpose of the Sabbath is to provide a day of rest each week since our creation, we should be keeping Sabbath every Thursday! But that first Sabbath was God’s seventh day. It was a day when the Creator called on the universe to celebrate with him the meaning of what he had done, to reflect on the truth that had been revealed and the falseness of Satan’s charges.
It must have seemed to the angels that the great controversy had now been won. But Satan’s most serious charge had yet to be denied. He had accused God of being a liar when the Creator had warned his creatures that death is the consequence of sin. The events of creation week had not dealt with this accusation. For thousands of years God waited to give his reply.
Then, at the most auspicious time, God sacrificed himself in his Son to prove the truthfulness of his word. “It is finished,” Jesus cried. By Friday evening of crucifixion week, all questions in the great controversy had been fully answered. The most damaging of Satan’s charges had been fully met.
And the next day was another Sabbath. As the Son of God lay resting in the tomb the whole onlooking universe paused to reflect on the truth that had been revealed during that last week of Jesus’ life and to celebrate the costly victory that had been won on Calvary. Satan at last had been completely exposed. The trustworthiness of God had been eternally confirmed.
This is the Sabbath God told his people to remember. He knew we needed to pause each week to be reminded of the truth the Sabbath represents. The Sabbath is no mere test of our obedience. Caught up in the great controversy as we are, we need the message of the seventh day. As Jesus said to his disciples, “The Sabbath was made for the good of man” (Mark 2:27, gnt).
All through the Bible the meaning of the Sabbath is repeated and enlarged. When God gave the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, he presented the Sabbath as a memorial of creation week, a reminder that he is our Creator and we are his created beings.
But, as John and Paul explain, the One who created us was none other than Christ himself (see John 1:1–3; Colossians 1:16). The Sabbath reminds us every week that the One who came to save us is the One who made us in the beginning. The gentle Jesus who died on Calvary is also the supreme, all-powerful Creator of the universe. God did not send some subordinate to die for us. The Creator came himself, the One who is equal with God, for he is God. By keeping holy the Sabbath of creation week we acknowledge our faith in Jesus as not only our Saviour but also our Creator and our God.
What kind of person, then, is our God? Could he be as gracious and respectful of our freedom as is the Son? The reply comes every Sabbath: God is just like Christ, for Christ is God.
Many Christians observe the first day of the week as a memorial of Christ’s resurrection. Surely it is a good thought on a Sunday morning to remember, This is the day on which Christ rose from the grave. And on Friday would it not be well to reflect, This is the day on which Christ was crucified? And on Thursday evening, This is the time when Christ met with his disciples in the upper room?
But the only weekly Sabbath of which the Bible speaks is the day set apart to remind us that the Person who lived among us as such a gentle man, the One who gave his life for us, is himself the One who made us, for he too is God.
Our salvation includes not just forgiveness but the healing of the damage sin has done. It is no less a miracle of creation to restore fallen human beings than it was to create them perfect in the beginning. No wonder David prayed as he did after his sad experience with Bathsheba, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).
When Moses repeated the Ten Commandments in the book of Deuteronomy, he mentioned the exodus rather than the creation as the reason for Sabbath observance: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God brought you out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and for that reason the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15, neb).
This is no discrepancy in Scripture, nor a lapse of the great leader’s memory. The purpose of the Sabbath is to remind us of the truth about God. He is not only our Creator but our Saviour and Redeemer as well. The One who created us free in the beginning is now exercising his creative power to release us from any kind of bondage and give us back our freedom once again.
Another way in which the Sabbath serves to remind us of the truth and to strengthen our faith in God is mentioned in Hebrews 4. There the Sabbath is described as a type and foretaste of the final rest and restoration to come. Just as God rested from his labors at the end of creation week, so there remains a “Sabbath-like rest” for the people of God.
When the children of Israel marched into the land of Canaan, they failed to enter God’s rest because of lack of faith. They possessed the Promised Land, but they did not enjoy the Sabbath-like rest that trust in God can bring. Today, if we maintain our faith in God, we may begin to enjoy this rest even in this life. And we shall fully enter the Sabbath-like rest when we are admitted to the heavenly kingdom and Eden is restored.
These meanings of the Sabbath answer the great questions that stir the minds of thinking people, the basic questions of philosophy: Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after we die? And the overriding question, Is there a God? If so, what is he like? And what does he want of us people?
Where have we come from? The Sabbath has always reminded us that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Why are we here? What is the great purpose of life? How do we attain to the greatest good in life? The Sabbath has always reminded us that the great purpose of life is our salvation, our restoration to the image of God by faith in the One who made us perfect in the beginning.
Where do we go after we die? The Sabbath points forward to the second coming of Christ, the final rest and restoration to come.
Is there a God? Do we know what he is like and what he wants of us people? The Sabbath reminds us of how God has revealed himself—in so many ways, but especially in his Son.
Since the Sabbath is so significant, it was only natural that the great adversary would seek to destroy it. Satan’s purpose is to destroy faith in Christ, to undermine our confidence in him as the Creator, and thus nullify the testimony of Jesus to the truth about his Father. But Satan could hardly hope to accomplish this as long as men continue to recognize all that is represented by the Sabbath. Therefore he lent his influence to the neglect of the Sabbath or to the distortion of its meaning.
I like the way Moffatt has interpreted Ezekiel 20:12: “I gave them my sabbath, to mark the tie between me and them, to teach them that it is I, the Eternal, who sets them apart.” God’s last message to the world is the restoration of this tie. It is not a message of legalism; it is not warning people that they must keep the Sabbath and the other commandments or else they will be destroyed. On the contrary, it is a message of love and faith. And God gave us the Sabbath to remind us every week of the convincing evidence that is the basis for such trust.
God has promised to restore our world, to give it back to his people again. As Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “How blest are those of a gentle spirit; they shall have the earth for their possession” (Matthew 5:4, neb). But before they can receive their inheritance, our earth must first pass through the fire described in the third angel’s message. This “eternal” fire (see Jude 7) is so intense that Peter says “the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10, kjv).
When the fire has completed the purification of our globe, God will re-create the world. Just as “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” so in the end he will create again. John said that he saw “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1).
In imagination I have pictured God creating our new world. How do you think he will do it this time? Of course, just as in the beginning, he could create in an instant of time. But what if he should repeat the unhurried, majestic drama of that first creation week! The great controversy is over. No need now to answer Satan’s charges. But, patient teacher that he is, might God want to answer questions anyone may have about that simple Genesis account?
Whatever way he chooses, one thing at least will be different. No need this time for God to create an Adam and Eve—just to throw open the gates of the City and welcome his children back to their Eden home (see Revelation 21, 22).
The prophet Isaiah looked forward to the day when God would create “new heavens and a new earth,” and he pictures God’s happy people assembling to worship their Creator “from one sabbath to another” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:23, kjv).
If on the first Sabbath in the new earth God should invite us to join with him and the onlooking universe in celebrating all that has been done, would we complain? Would we object that Sabbathkeeping is an arbitrary requirement just to show God’s authority and test our willingness to obey?
Think of all there will be to remember! And for eternity the Sabbath will continue to remind us of the evidence.