ITTLE KIDS HATE LONG CAR RIDES, and I was no exception. My parents were driving from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco and had reached the desert of Arizona. There seemed to be no end to the road in front, and I was as bored and as restless as any 6-year-old boy could be.
Suddenly, someone mentioned the day’s date—June 18. I sat bolt upright. “It’s my birthday,” I screamed. “It’s my birthday! I am 7 years old today. Why didn’t someone wish me happy birthday?”
My parents explained that they had said nothing because they could not give me a party and hoped that I would not realize what day it was. They promised me a party and presents when we arrived in San Francisco. I have remembered that nonbirthday more than all the other birthdays in my life.
Birthdays are very important to children. They tell us that we are special, that we are important. That is why even as adults we feel disappointed when someone we love forgets our birthday. Birthdays remind us of our uniqueness. And by celebrating them, our loved ones indirectly are saying to us: “We are glad you came into the world. We’re glad you’re alive. We treasure you.”
Birthday of the World
God created the earth in six days, and when He finished He celebrated its birth on the seventh day. God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Gen. 2:1, 2).* God celebrated. God rejoiced. God delighted in what He had made. It was the birthday of the world.
When God enshrined the Sabbath in the fourth commandment, He linked it with the birthday of the world. “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:11).
God wanted us to remember who created the world. Could it be that our neglect of the Sabbath as a reminder of who created the world has contributed to the agnosticism and atheism that many people profess?
Human beings were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 27), the only part of God’s creation ever given that description. The Sabbath, as the memorial of Creation, tells us that human beings are very special to God, that we are important, that we are special, that we are treasured.
Birthday of Freedom
There is a second reason for celebrating the Sabbath. The fourth commandment tells us to celebrate in honor of life being created. But when Moses repeats the same commandment in the book of Deuteronomy, he omits the link with Creation and adds the link with salvation from Egyptian slavery. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your
God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15).
Thus the Sabbath, while it is a remembrance of our original creation, it is also a remembrance of freedom, of deliverance from evil, of rescue from oppressive powers. While the Sabbath had special significance for the Israelites, who were redeemed from oppression, it is not limited only to them. We, too, can see it as a symbol of our release from anything that might oppress us.
Our Spiritual Birthday
There is an even more important birthday than your own (physical) birthday. Your new birth in Jesus is the most important birthday you can celebrate. The Bible tells us that anyone who wants to be in heaven has to be born again. “Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’” (John 3:3).
The foundation of that birth was laid 2,000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. . . . For God so loved the world that he gave his . . . only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14, 16).
Jesus is the Creator (John 1:1-30). He created the world and us. Jesus was present in the beginning with His Father creating the wonderful creatures and things of this planet. But sin spoiled this paradise. Sin stole this world away from God. And unless something drastic happened, people would have no hope. So God instituted the plan of salvation through which He redeems this fallen world, recreates His creatures, and makes it possible to live forever as He originally intended (Rev. 13:8).
Jesus was condemned to die on a Friday, on the sixth day of the week. On that day as He hung outstretched on the cross, giving His life that we might live, He cried out: “‘It is finished’” (John 19:30)—and He died. The great plan of redemption had been completed.
It was not by accident that He died on a Friday, that He completed His great work of restoration on the sixth day of the week, for He had also completed His great work of Creation on the sixth day of the week.
On the sixth day Adam slept while God took a rib and fashioned a bride, Eve, for him. On the sixth day the Second Adam entered the sleep of death and had His side pierced between His ribs that He might receive a bride, the church.
Adam and Eve began their lives at the end of Creation week, on the sixth day, so their first full day alive was the Sabbath. They rested before they worked. Jesus ended His life at the end of the week. Then He “rested” over the Sabbath after He had “worked” to save us.
Jesus could have risen on Saturday morning. But He honored the day that He had set aside from the beginning. Then He rose in majestic triumph on the first day of the week.
Christ gave us the Lord’s Supper and baptism to remind us of His death and resurrection. But the third great symbol of salvation, the Sabbath, depends on no material objects to remind us of salvation. The Sabbath is a gift in time. We can celebrate it anywhere. It cannot be stretched, compressed, remade, or abolished.
When God makes a place holy you must travel to that place to experience its holiness. But when God makes time holy, it travels with you. It is always there for you, anywhere.
Memorial of Grace
The Sabbath is a personal reminder that we are saved by the work of Jesus and not by our own works. As we give up the work of the week and rest on the Sabbath we are reminded that we are to give up any thought of working our way to heaven. Each Sabbath reminds us of the finished work of Jesus. Our human nature naturally inclines us to do something. We are suspicious of gifts, of something free.
To impress on us that salvation is free, that we can add nothing to it, God gave us the Sabbath to be a powerful symbol of our freedom in Christ. It is a mighty object lesson that reminds us continually that our works have nothing to do with why God takes us to heaven. As we rest from our regular work we rest in the finished work of Jesus.
The Sabbath becomes our birthday, our spiritual birthday that tells us we are doubly important, valued, and treasured by God. Just as we receive gifts on our physical birthday, so we are reminded every seven days of the fact that we have received the greatest gift ever—the gift of eternal life. This is why it is so important to refrain from our normal work on the Sabbath. When we work we destroy the wonderful symbolism that God has given. We cloud the relationship between faith and works.
How do we prepare for a birthday party? We prepare the food, bake the cake, blow up the balloons, and clean the house before the guests arrive. Why? So we can have more time with our guests. It is the same with the Sabbath as a birthday. We prepare the food, clean the house, get everything ready before the Sabbath—not because we have to but because we want to spend the Sabbath time in celebration with God and with our friends.
The Jews lost the true meaning of the Sabbath. They filled it with hundreds of rules. Many well-meaning Christians have done the same today. Jesus came not only to redeem us, but to demonstrate the true meaning of the Sabbath. That is why He said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27, 28, NRSV).† God did not give the Sabbath only to the Jews. It was given to the human race. It was given for our enjoyment, our blessing. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath because He is our Redeemer, sharing the Sabbath with us.
The Sabbath reminds us of our origin(s)—creation by the Creator God. The Sabbath reminds us of deliverance from evil—that God is stronger than any nation. The Sabbath reminds us of deliverance from spiritual bondage—Christ’s death on the cross.
Our physical birthday will always be special, but our spiritual birthday reminder is even more special. It tells us that we are so important, so valued, so loved, that the Creator, the God of the universe, gave His life for us. We are special. We are loved. We are treasured.
*All Bible references, unless otherwise specified, are from the New International Version.
†Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
J. David Newman is the senior pastor of New Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fulton, Maryland.