Lesson 4

Keeping the Sabbath Holy

(Exodus 20&34, Leviticus 25, Isaiah 58, Mark 2)
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Introduction: If I asked you to describe a specific man or woman, would you do it by saying what that person is not? "She is not short, not fat, not blond, not beautiful, not dark and not big boned." Would that description help? Wouldn't you rather have a positive description? One of the problems with describing how to keep the Sabbath holy is that the Bible contains several statements(that we often repeat and expand upon)about what we should NOT be doing on that day. This week we will attempt to positively describe the Sabbath. Let's jump in.

  1. Work


    1. Read Exodus 20:8-11. This text tells us what we should not do on the Sabbath - work. But it also directly and indirectly tells us some positive things. What are they? Let's list them.


      1. "Remember the Sabbath." What does that suggest we do? (It tells us that we should mentally set the Sabbath time apart from other time.)


      2. "Keep the Sabbath holy." What does that mean? (It is not described here except in the context of not working (or having any of our family or household work) because God rested from His work of creation.)


        1. What positive message can you find about Sabbath holiness in this idea of resting because God rested from His work of creation? (This suggests that we should do things that remind us of God as the Creator.)


        2. What positive idea comes from the fact that no one in your household should be working -- even your animals? (This seems to be a complete shut down of normal household activities. The tone of the day is obviously much different than other days.)


        3. Read Leviticus 25:4-7. In addition to your animals, what else gets a Sabbath rest? (Your land!)


          1. How does this make any sense? (In fact, the idea of rotating crops - giving the land a rest from a certain crop is an established agricultural practice.)


          2. If the ground can be shown to grow better crops if it gets a Sabbath rest, what about you? Do you work more efficiently if you have a Sabbath rest each week?


          1. Notice that the owner of the land could not "reap" the land, but could eat whatever grew on it and give it to the members of his household. Is there a Sabbath practice lesson in this? (This infers that commercial activities are inconsistent with the Sabbath, but activities to benefit the family are consistent with the Sabbath. (Note, however, they would not be picking what grew on the weekly Sabbath - see Exodus 16:26.)


    1. Read Exodus 34:21. Are there practical exceptions to keeping the Sabbath? (We will discuss later how Jesus kept the Sabbath and look at what the Pharisees thought were "exceptions" to Sabbath keeping. This text suggests that even if we have a lot of work which needs to be done, we are not authorized to work on Sabbath. The positive aspects of refraining from work continue even when we have lots to do!)


    2. Do these texts in Exodus mean that all work is prohibited on the Sabbath?


      1. Read Matthew 12:5. What does Jesus mean when He says, "the priests in the temple desecrate the [Sabbath] yet are innocent?" (The worship service was work, yet it was a permitted (required) work on the Sabbath.)


      2. Let's turn next to the issue of enjoyment and the Sabbath.


  1. Delight


    1. Read Isaiah 58:13-14. What do these verses say is the reward for Sabbath-keeping? (I think this means (v.14) that you will have health, wealth and happiness! That is positive!)


      1. Let's look at how we get to joy, health and wealth. How do we keep "our feet" from breaking the Sabbath? I thought this was a matter for the other end of the body! (Isaiah uses the word "feet" to refer to intentional activity. For example, Isaiah 59:7 says (using the same Hebrew word), "their feet rush into sin." Obviously, "feet" do not sin, so this refers to a person's activities. Our activities need to be consistent with the nature of the Sabbath.)


      2. We are told to "call" the Sabbath a delight. If it is not a delight, why should we lie about it? (What we say has an effect on what we think. God calls on us to have a positive view of the Sabbath. To say good things and not bad things about it.)


      3. What does it mean to give "honor" to the Sabbath?


      4. How can you reconcile the Sabbath being a joy and a delight when you are not allowed to "do as you please?" (The text does not require us to do unpleasant things. It simply says that our unfettered will is not the standard for keeping the Sabbath holy. We can do things that are consistent with God's will for the Sabbath and are fun!)


  2. Attending Church


    1. Is attending church on Sabbath an important, positive activity? (Remember the last two weeks we have learned the Sabbath is a memorial to God as our Creator and our Redeemer. What more appropriate activity could we engage in than worshiping Him on His "memorial day?" If there is any doubt, the following texts show that both Jesus and His disciples attended "church" on the Sabbath. Acts 13:14, Mark 6:2, Luke 4:16&31, Luke 6:6)


  3. Jesus' Positive Examples


    1. Read Mark 2:23-24. Remember in Exodus 16:26 the people were not allowed to pick up Manna on the Sabbath. With this example in mind, what do you say about what the disciples are doing? Do the Pharisees have a point?


    2. Read Mark 2:25-27. What is Jesus saying? If you are hungry, you can break the Sabbath?


      1. If the disciples were properly keeping the Sabbath, wouldn't they have prepared for it by making sure they had enough food on Friday -- just like God's people in the wilderness were instructed to gather double the manna on Friday? (Something dramatic is being said here. If we simply looked at the facts - casual gathering of grain as the disciples were walking along - you could conclude that the Pharisees were being ridiculous. But Jesus' response is not "You are being ridiculous." His response goes far beyond the technical. He seems to say that part of the purpose of the Sabbath is to meet our needs. This means not only rest, but also food.)


      2. Jesus refers to a story found in 1 Samuel 21. In this story, King David lied to the priest about his situation (v.2), told the priest he needed bread (v.3), and then took some of the old bread that had been in the sanctuary, but was now replaced. (v.6). This bread was to be eaten only by the High Priest and his family and it was to be eaten only in a special way. See Leviticus 24:5-9. A lot of rules got "bent" in this story. What lesson about the Sabbath do you draw from Jesus' reference to this story of David and the holy bread? (Meeting man's needs is one of the most important reasons for the Sabbath.)


    3. This story (in Mark 2) is immediately followed by another story about the Sabbath. Read Mark 3:1-4. What is your answer to Jesus' question? (If you don't get this right, it seems that Jesus(v.5) will not be pleased! The answer is that it is always lawful to do good on the Sabbath.)


      1. Read Mark 3:5. Did Jesus need to heal this man on the Sabbath - in the synagogue even? (No!)


      2. What positive thing does Jesus teach about the Sabbath through this example? (Ask yourself, "What is really going on in this story?" Jesus is not working. He is simply invoking the power of God (available to us, too) to combat the effect of sin on another person. That should be prime, positive, Sabbath activity.)


      3. The teacher's helps to our lesson refer to a plumber who went around fixing the plumbing of the poor for free on the Sabbath. This activity is applauded. Does that come within Jesus' example in Mark 3? (I've got some doubts. I could go to a "poor peoples" legal clinic on Sabbath and give free advice. But I don't think I would feel like I was promoting the kingdom so much as just plain working.)


    4. Read Luke 13:10-14. Was the healing of this woman some sort of emergency? (No! Her life was not threatened. She had been like this for 18 years. One more day would not have made any difference.)


      1. Was the synagogue ruler right? (If I had been sitting there, I would have voted with him if I hadn't just read the Mark 3 shriveled hand story.)


      2. Read Luke 13:15-17. What do you think about Jesus' response? Do you agree that giving your animal water is like healing someone who has been crippled for 18 years? (At first blush, these situations seem not the least comparable. Your animal needs to be watered every day. However, consider this: your animal is getting released for good purpose (drinking) on the Sabbath. This woman was being "released" for good purpose on the Sabbath. Her situation was more compelling in that she had been "tied" for 18 years.)


        1. What is Jesus teaching us about the Sabbath in this story? (I think He is teaching two things. First, the lesson from Mark 3 that invoking God's power for good is the essence of the Sabbath. Second, Jesus elevates the comfort and well-being of people over the "technical" arguments about the Sabbath.)


    5. Friend, God calls on us to keep the Sabbath holy. Will you determine to set it apart from the rest of the week?


  4. Next Week: The First Angel's Message.


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