Tag Archives: the Sabbath

Questions and Answers (10:1)

In the original lecture series done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night followed by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the tenth presentation, “The Reminder of the Evidence.”

Lou: You’ve laid a great deal of emphasis upon the fact that you don’t see the Sabbath as arbitrary, something imposed as a kind of test. And you’ve certainly provided a great deal of meaning to the Sabbath. But I’ve heard people raise this question: All of that may be true, but if so, why couldn’t one keep the Sabbath on another day? Does it really matter? Everyone agrees that nine of the commandments are important because if you really love God and your fellow human beings, that’s the way you’re going to act. But why the seventh day in particular?”
Graham: The word arbitrary suggests that there is no reason, that God ordered it just because He wanted to, just to show His authority. I would say if it really were arbitrary, it could be any day. But it’s the seventh day because it’s so loaded with reasons. Did you ever try on Marjorie (Lou’s wife), “It doesn’t matter when we celebrate our anniversary this year, why don’t we have it some other day?” I don’t think she’d go for it.
On top of that the Bible adds meaning after meaning and reason after reason for the seventh day, which makes it less and less arbitrary. It seems to me that no other of God’s commands is associated with so many meanings. It is the least arbitrary of them all. What bothers me most about considering it as arbitrary is the thought that if it is arbitrary, the only reason why we keep it is to prove that we are God’s good people. We are the only ones who obey. Whereas I understand the purpose of the Sabbath is to say something about Him. But those who keep the Sabbath as meeting an arbitrary requirement are simply saying to the world, “Look, there aren’t many in the world who are good, but we keep the seventh day. The seventh day is not to say something about us. It is to say something about God. So that is an important difference.
Lou: So the meaning inherent in the seventh day makes that the Sabbath day?
Graham: Yes, because He chose to create the world the way He did. Now He did make a decision to do it slowly, but I think to do it slowly is not arbitrary. The universe was watching. The charges had to be met. And God in His own good time and in that very dramatic way unfolded His plans for our world. And every day was saying more of the truth about Him, and the falsity of Satan’s charges. That was a dramatic week!

Lou: I can hear one of our friends asking, “In the light of all this, do I have to keep the Sabbath to be saved? If I don’t keep the Sabbath, am I going to be lost?
Graham: Ah, that reflects on our discussion earlier of what sin is (Chapter Two). If you think of sin as just breaking the rules, then one might follow that line of thought: If I break that rule, I’ll be lost. It all depends whether there is a distrust and a rebelliousness involved in a failure to keep the Sabbath. I think, rather, the Sabbath was made to be a great benefit to us. If I don’t observe it, I lose. If I don’t take my medicine, I lose. God offers it to us. There are some who have never heard of it. I don’t think the thief on the cross ever kept one. But in the legal model, if you violate that rule like any other, then you’re out, because sin is a breaking of the rules. But in my view, sin is internal distrust, rebelliousness and unwillingness to listen. If the gift God has given us inspires a hostility within you, a rebelliousness within you, an unwillingness to listen, that would be a serious thing.
Lou: Because that’s where the problem began.
Graham: Exactly.

The True Meaning of the Sabbath

The Sabbath has answered the basic questions of thoughtful people through the years. Questions such as: Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go in the future? And above all, what kind of a Person is our God, and what does He want of His children? The Sabbath all through the years has answered those four questions. Where have we come from? We were made in the image of God at Creation. Why are we here? How do we attain to the greatest good in life? Our whole purpose in the present is restoration of the damage done by sin, through faith in God. The Sabbath encourages us to rest from our futile striving to heal ourselves. Instead, all good things will come to those who trust God. And where do we go in the future? The Sabbath has always pointed forward to the second coming and the earth made new. And what about our God? Every Sabbath we are reminded that God is just like Christ our Creator, for Christ is God.

Is there any information Satan would like to hide more than this? No surprise then, that Satan seeks to confuse the meaning of the Sabbath day. Notice Moffatt’s rendering of that Exodus 20:12 text: “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.” Most of the world has broken that tie. The last message of God to the world is the restoration of that tie. It’s a message of love and trust.

Keeping the Sabbath is not legalism: It is not God saying “If you don’t keep this day, I will kill you.” Rather, whenever we preach Christ as our Creator, our Saviour, and the One who is coming again, whenever we preach that God is like His Son, we are preaching the message of the seventh day. According to the sixty-sixth book, the world will be divided into two sides at the very end. Revelation 13 speaks of Satan’s final campaign, and that the whole world will be worshiping him, except the few described in Revelation 14:12: “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” (GNB). In that day, the intelligent, wholehearted observance of the seventh-day Sabbath will represent this very faithfulness and loyalty to Jesus. There will be a group who still worship Jesus as their Creator and their God.

Notice that the Sabbath is really not about us. It is about God. I like to think that is why we put it in our name: Seventh-day Adventists. We didn’t put it in there to say something good about us, but to say that we have taken a position about God. I believe a real Seventh-day Adventist is a Christian who accepts and believes all that the Sabbath has to say about our God. I wish it always meant that.

Someday God will recreate our world and give it to His trusting saints. We know that the world as we know it has to be purified by fire: “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). A burned up earth would be no place to live, so after that there will be a re-creation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev 21:1, RSV). And Isaiah adds: “Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17, NIV).

How do you think God will create our world the next time? He, of course, could do it in an instant, as He could have during creation week. But patient Teacher that He is, is it possible that He might do it in days one, two, three, four, five, and six again? Just to say something to saints that have questions about that simple Genesis account. I can see Him doing it like that and smiling the whole week. But there will be one difference between the creation and the re-creation. There will be no need to create another Adam and Eve. He will just open the pearly gates and welcome His children home.

Isaiah describes how in the new earth we will be delighted to meet and worship our God. Isaiah 66:23: “Month by month at the new moon, week by week on the Sabbath, all mankind shall come to bow down before me, says the Lord” (NEB). If on the first Sabbath in the new earth, God should say, “Children, would you like to join with me in celebrating? I’d like to keep this first Sabbath as the most special one we have ever had.” Would you say, “Oh, no! There we go—back under the law again. Why do you need to put an arbitrary test of our obedience upon us? Haven’t we proved that we can be trusted? How could you talk about the Sabbath still?”

Would you say that to God? Think of all there would be to remember. Can you imagine the first twenty-four hour Sabbath in the new earth? What a celebration! And if at the end of that first happy Sabbath, God would say “I have enjoyed this so much, I would like to do this again every week from here on,” would you say, “Well, one is surely enough. Do we have to do it again and again?” No, Isaiah says it will be our delight to meet and celebrate with God.

Summing up. Is Sabbath-keeping arbitrary legalism? It can be. And it was on that sad Friday 1900 years ago. But as God designed it, it is supposed to be a monument to freedom. It is supposed to remind us of the evidence; that infinitely costly evidence, that God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be. He is not arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving and severe. He gave us the Sabbath to remind us of that everlasting truth. He designed it to be a day of freedom, peace, love and trust. But most of all, it is a day to remember and be with our God.

The Sabbath in All Sixty-Six

As you read through the sixty-six books, the meaning of the Sabbath is repeated and enlarged. For example, at Sinai, in the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is connected with creation (Exod 20:11). Then when you read on, John and Paul make it plain that the One who created us, was none other than Jesus Christ. John wrote: “Through Him, all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3, NIV). Combine that with Paul’s comment in Colossians 1:16:

“For by him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by him and for him” (NIV).

Think of the significance of that. The One who came to save us is the One who made us in the beginning. And who would know better how to heal the damage done by sin? The gentle Jesus who walked so softly among men and then died the way He did on Calvary, is not some weak person. He is the supreme all-powerful Creator of the whole vast universe. That’s the One who died on Calvary. Nor did God send some subordinate person; not even the leader of His angels. The Creator Himself, the One who is equal with God, came, for He actually is God (John 1:1).

Every time we observe the seventh-day Sabbath we are publicly acknowledging to God, to our friends, and to ourselves, that we have faith in Jesus as our Saviour, our Creator, and our God. So when you raise the question about what kind of person our God is, the reply comes every Sabbath. God the Father is just as gracious as the Son is. If Christ is Creator God, and we want to know what our God is like, all we have to do is look at Christ. In pointing to Jesus and creation, every Sabbath reminds us also of what the Father is like.

There are other ways in which the Sabbath helps strengthen our faith. God Himself speaks in Exodus 31:13: “Keep the Sabbath, my day of rest, because it is a sign between you and me for all time to come, to show that I, the Lord, have made you my own people” (GNB). And in Ezekiel 20:20 He says: “Make the Sabbath a holy day, so that it will be a sign of the covenant we made, and will remind you that I am the Lord your God” (GNB). In Ezekiel 20:12 He also says: “I made the keeping of the Sabbath a sign of the agreement between us, to remind them that I, the Lord, make them holy” (GNB).

Note that the Sabbath is a reminder of a very important truth about the Lord our God and His relationship with His people. His people are an unholy, sinful bunch! Yet God is saying to them, “I have not abandoned you. I am still working to save and heal you. I still regard you as my people.” Salvation is not merely forgiveness, but also the healing of the damage done, making us holy people. Some of us, therefore, keep the seventh day Sabbath to show that only the Creator can heal the damage done. Only the One who made us in the beginning could restore us to what we used to be. He has the creative power, and it requires creative power. Surely it’s no less a miracle to take damaged merchandise and restore it than to create it perfectly in the beginning! That is why when David prayed in Psalm 51:10, he said: “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (KJV). The very same creative power is necessary now to make us trustworthy, holy children of God. Now, we cannot do this by ourselves. Some try by self-discipline and restraint. But it is only by faith and trust in our Creator that all the damage can be perfectly restored.

There are other aspects of the Sabbath mentioned in the Bible. When Moses repeated the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy, he gave a different reason for keeping the Sabbath than the one he gave in Exodus.

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God brought you out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for that reason the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:15, NEB).

Now that’s no contradiction or lapse of memory on the part of the elderly leader. The Sabbath is about God. He created us free in the beginning. But when we lost our freedom, He used His creative power to set us free again. Note that the Sabbath is always connected with freedom.

There is another aspect of the Sabbath mentioned in Hebrews 4. The Sabbath there is described as a type and a foretaste of the rest to come. The apostle says that when Israel entered Canaan, they physically entered the Promised Land, but they certainly didn’t enter God’s rest; because they didn’t trust Him. “There remains, therefore, a Sabbath-like rest to the people of God” (based on Heb 4:9). That is, if we have been led to really trust God, we begin to enter into that Sabbath-like rest now. But certainly in the earth made new, we will know completely what that Sabbath-like rest is all about. “So there must still be a promised Sabbath of Rest for God’s people” (Heb 4:9). That was Goodspeed’s translation. But look at the one in The Jerusalem Bible: “There must still be, therefore, a place of rest reserved for God’s people, the seventh-day rest.”

The Sabbath and the Cross

God waited thousands of years to definitively answer the question whether sin truly leads naturally to death. Finally, in the fullness of time, God sacrificed Himself in the Son, to demonstrate the truthfulness of His word. He did not ask us to prove the truthfulness of His word. He could have, by leaving us to die. Instead, He Himself came and died that awful death. And Jesus knew why He was dying. He saw it all in the larger context of the great controversy. He knew about Satan’s charges. So as He died, He said “It is finished” (John 19:30, KJV). Just as God, at the end of creation week, said “I’ve finished the work of creation” (Gen 2:2-3).

When Jesus died on the cross, then, He was saying, “We finished it all.” The most important answer to the most devastating accusation had been given at infinite cost. But what exactly was finished? Look at John 17:4: “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (NKJV). His work was to reveal the character of God to angels and to men (John 1:18; 12:31-32; 14:6-9; 15:10). On Friday evening, when Jesus died at the end of crucifixion week, all the major questions in the great controversy had been answered and all of Satan’s charges against God had been met. And how significant it is that the next day was the seventh-day Sabbath. Jesus could have gone to heaven on Friday to hear the universe tell Him that it was more than enough; everything was clear. Instead He waited over the Sabbath hours.

Can you imagine what the universe was doing during those Sabbath hours? Surely the whole universe paused to reflect on the significance of what they had seen. They joined with the Father in celebrating the costly victory that had been won, and in thanking Him for the costly evidence that had been presented. Because of the cross, they knew that the universe was secure for eternity. As I understand it, this is the Sabbath God asks us to remember. We need to pause and be reminded of those truths in which the angels rejoice. This is certainly no mere test of our obedience. Caught up in the great controversy as we are, we need the message of the seventh day. Surely that is what Jesus meant when He said “The Sabbath was made for the good of man” (Mark 2:27, GNB). So were all of God’s laws!

The Sabbath and Creation

Now when we read that first angel’s message to “worship the Creator of heaven and earth. The Creator of the sea and springs,” we are reminded that the first mention of the Sabbath comes in the Bible at the end of creation week. Think back in imagination to the very dramatic events of that first week of this earth’s history. The war had begun already in heaven. Satan had already leveled his charges and his accusations. One third of the angels had already agreed with him that God is not worthy of our love and our trust.

Right in the middle of that devastating crisis, God invites His family to watch Him as He creates yet another world—this time, ours. How easily He could have created our world with a snap of His fingers, in just an instant of time. But in the dramatic and significant setting of the great controversy, He chose instead to do it in six twenty-four hour days. On the first day, all He said was “Let there be light.” That’s all. And then on days two, three, four, and five, God in unhurried majesty and drama unfolded His plans for our earth. By the sixth day, what a beautiful place this was! Where now were Satan’s charges that God was selfish?

The most unselfish of God’s gifts in creation was freedom. He created us in His own image with power to think and to do. And we know from human history that He created us free to either love and trust Him, or hate Him and spit in His face, because both of them have, in fact, happened. He created us able to do it! God even allowed Satan to approach our first parents at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And He didn’t hide that tree in some dark corner of the garden; He put it right in the middle near the Tree of Life, so that Adam and Eve would see it every time they came to that other tree. “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9, NIV).

Now the God we know could be trusted not to allow our first inexperienced parents to be tested more than they were able to resist. You know He would not do that. And so Satan was only allowed to approach them at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were warned not to risk a confrontation with their wily foe. In that warning God was already demonstrating the meaning of that famous key text, 1 Corinthians 10:13: “But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm” (GNB). Paul could have said instead, “God can be trusted. . . ,” that’s what God keeping His promises is all about.

You see, that tree was not put there as an arbitrary test of obedience. That tree was put there to help them, to protect them. What is not directly stated in Genesis is that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not placed there before sin, but after sin. The war had already begun. The Enemy was already on the loose. If the tree had been placed in the garden before sin, it would have been an arbitrary test. But coming after sin, it was there to help them and protect them like every other one of God’s gracious laws. Then God stunned the universe by sharing with us some of His own marvelous creative power. God so designed it that when a man and a woman come together in love, they are able to share life with little people; to create little people in their own image.

Isn’t it interesting to watch our children and our grandchildren? They look so much like us. They behave like us, at our best points and at our worst points. Truly, they do reflect our image and God designed it to be this way. You may recall God’s words in Genesis 1:28: “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control” (GNB). That was His original plan. The Song of Solomon right in the middle of the Bible reminds us that this whole thing was God’s idea. That we should be male and female and feel the way we do about each other, and say the things we do to each other, and come together in love, and create little people in our own image. He thought that all up Himself.

He could have created us to look like E.T. or maybe little green people with antennae. And babies could have come in test tubes. But that is not the way that God designed it. That worries some people. “What kind of a God must He be to think it up this way?” And then to put a whole book in the middle of the Bible that confuses some people and delights others? Think what The Song of Solomon says about our God; reminding us of the original creation week and of the Sabbath that came at the end of it. The universe watched all this, the universe that had heard the charges against God. And when creation was over, they said “That’s very good.” Love and admiration for God must have known no bounds. Where now were Satan’s charges that God does not respect the freedom of His creatures? Or that He’s very selfish in His use of authority and power?

The climax of the creation story comes in Genesis 2:2, 3:

On the sixth day God completed all the work he had been doing, and on the seventh day he ceased. 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 (NEB).

When the text tells us that God “rested,” it does not mean that He was tired. It was more like an attorney saying, “I have presented all my evidence. I now ‘rest’ my case.” God ceased from all His work. Can you imagine how the universe spent the next twenty-four hours as they celebrated with God the first seventh-day Sabbath?

Now this Sabbath was not Adam and Eve’s seventh day. It was their second day. And if the Sabbath were designed to give us a rest every seventh day since our creation, we should be observing Thursday. The first Sabbath was God’s day of celebration. He called on His family throughout the universe to join with Him in reflecting on the significance of what had been done; the answers He had given to Satan’s charges, the falsity of Satan’s accusations, and the truth about freedom, love, and generosity on the part of our gracious Heavenly Father.

You see, the Sabbath was given after sin, not before. If it was given before, we might think of it as an arbitrary test of our obedience. But it was given after sin, because we needed it. It must have seemed to the universe looking on that the great controversy had been won that Friday night. But no event of creation week had answered Satan’s most serious charge, the charge that God had lied to His children when He warned that the consequence of sin is death. Nothing during creation week, eloquent as it was, spoke to that issue.

Chapter 10: “The Reminder of the Evidence”

This blog begins chapter ten of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures by Graham Maxwell in 1984. After each lecture Maxwell took written questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church at the time, Lou Venden. This marvelous series has never been put into book form, so I am attempting to do so and sharing the results in progress here with permission from the Maxwell family. The words that follow are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

This is the tenth chapter in a series of conversations about God; looking at our Heavenly Father in the larger setting of the great controversy over His character and government. The subject for our conversation this time is “The Reminder of The Evidence.” The title was chosen to suggest the important meaning and purpose of yet another of God’s provisions to help us during this crisis of distrust.

Unfortunately, the Sabbath has been widely misunderstood in a way that supports Satan’s charges that God is arbitrary, exacting, and severe. Even among devout observers of the seventh day, the Sabbath has often been misrepresented, as was the case on that very sad Friday 1900 years ago. But if we put the Sabbath in the setting of all sixty-six Bible books and in the larger setting of the great controversy over the character and government of God, I believe that all arbitrariness evaporates.

The best known biblical statement about the Sabbath is in Exodus 20, right in the middle of the Ten Commandments. The commandment runs from verse 8 to verse 11, but we will emphasize two portions of the passage:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Exod 20:8, 11, RSV).

It is significant to note that in the New Testament, James called the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) the “royal law of liberty” (Jam 1:25; 2:12). Not the “royal law of subjugation, surrender, and bondage,” but the “royal law of freedom.” Yet a first reading of this particular commandment could seem somewhat arbitrary, couldn’t it? Is God laying upon His children an arbitrary requirement, just to show His authority and test their willingness to obey? But the message of all sixty-six books, and certainly of these conversations about God, is that there is no arbitrariness in our God. Rather He paid a high price to deny any trace of arbitrariness! We’ll come back to this larger theme in the later chapters entitled “God’s Law Is no Threat to Our Freedom” (Chapter Twelve) and “God’s Emergency Measures” (Chapter Eleven).

God’s laws were not given to be a burden or to restrict us. They were given to help us, to protect us in the days of our ignorance and immaturity, and to lead us back to trust and freedom. God values nothing higher than our freedom. When you go through all the sixty-six books and you come to the last one, the book of Revelation, you note that God is still asking us to remember Him as our Creator. The first angel of Revelation 14 says: “Honor God and give him glory, for his time has come to sit in judgment. Worship the Creator of heaven and earth. The Creator of the sea and the springs” (Rev 14:7, NAB). Note how this excellent Catholic translation renders the opening phrase “honor God” instead of “fear God.”