or nearly three years I’ve been attending a nondenominational men’s Bible study group. Over the past few years these guys have not only been great study partners—they’ve become some of my best friends. This past summer the group leader decided to go to school in Los Angeles. With his departure I was asked to step into the leadership role.
Naturally, my Adventist beliefs are no secret to anyone. I was immediately challenged to maintain an edifying study while staying true to the biblical principles that guide my life. For the first few months I walked the line pretty well. But if you compare the beliefs of the evangelical world with those of Adventism, differences inevitably arise.
After years of peripheral conversations, I finally had the chance to lead a Bible study about the Sabbath. As I announced the topic on a mid-January Monday, I was immediately met with looks of skepticism. For the next two hours I presented a rigorous defense of Saturday’s sanctity through both the Bible and history. Unfortunately, those skeptical looks became defensive words, and our study grew more contentious by the minute.
I realized that despite my good intentions, my approach resembled an attorney defending the innocence of his client. And unless I missed something, the Sabbath isn’t on trial.
The Sabbath Truth
I recently had the opportunity to present the Sabbath again, this time in Sabbath school. As I prepared for the class, I realized that the vast majority of our evangelistic efforts focus on convincing others that Saturday is God’s day. Certainly the seventh day is where we must begin; but that’s only the starting point. The true power of the Sabbath comes when we have a biblical understanding of why
we keep it and how
God desires us to spend it. Despite going to Adventist schools for 16 years, writing for the Adventist Review
, working at an Adventist hospital, and leading a Sabbath school class, I can honestly say that my Sabbath experience has simply skimmed the surface.
In Genesis 2:3 God sanctified the Sabbath, meaning that He set it aside for a holy purpose. Certainly, resting from physical labor is part of this purpose. But it’s important to realize that the Sabbath was implemented in paradise prior to sin entering the world. The idea of rest as we understand it today was completely different in Eden.* Thus true rest has to mean more than simply taking a day off from our jobs.
In Exodus 20:11 and Deuteronomy 5:14—two places the Sabbath commandment is given—we gain some insight. In Exodus the commandment to rest is given as a memorial of Creation; in Deuteronomy the Israelites are commanded to observe the Sabbath in remembrance of their delivery from Egypt. We also find this sentiment conveyed in the actions of Jesus. In Eden He finished His work of creation on the sixth day and rested on the seventh. Similarly, in His last moments on the cross Jesus uttered the words “It is finished” and died on the sixth day. He then rested on the seventh day.
In Hebrews we are urged to follow this example: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Heb. 4:9, 10).
The Sabbath is more than physical rest; it’s about resting from our “works” by focusing on what Jesus has done for us. Read the rest of Hebrews 4 for a link between Sabbath rest and overcoming temptation. The logic is sound: When we set aside our interests and use the Sabbath to focus on Jesus, we stop trying to be conquerors by our own efforts.
What would happen if we infused our outreach efforts with this Sabbath truth? Our approach would be transformed from a defense of a day into sharing the joy of a weekly celebration of rest with our Creator and Redeemer.
* I highly recommend reading Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 47, 48, for more on this.
Jimmy Phillips (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Bakersfield, California, where he is electronic media coordinator for San Joaquin Community Hospital. Visit his Web site at www.introducingthewhy.com. This article was published April 12, 2012