Follow Me: Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

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Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

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Many Bible students have taken note of Jesus Christ’s “I am” revelations about Himself in the Gospel of John. He said, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the door [or gate],” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the true vine,” “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and, even more profoundly, simply “I AM” (John 6:35 John 6:35And Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes on me shall never thirst.
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; John 8:12 John 8:12Then spoke Jesus again to them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
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; John 8:58 John 8:58Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am.
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; John 15:1 John 15:1I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer.
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; John 10:7 John 10:7Then said Jesus to them again, Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
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; John 10:11 John 10:11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.
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; John 10:14 John 10:14I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
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; John 11:25 John 11:25Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
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; John 14:6 John 14:6Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.
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).

But He also gave important self-disclosures in third person, such as this one in Mark’s Gospel: “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 Mark 2:28Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
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). The Greek word for Lord here is kurios, meaning one who has power, authority and ownership in a matter.

The matter addressed is the seventh-day Sabbath, the term originating in a Hebrew verb meaning to cease or desist. God had given a loving command to pause from six days of work and personal pursuits and transition into a unique 24-hour realm of time, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, that He created for our spiritual, mental, emotional and physical well-being (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 [8] Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. [9] Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: [10] But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: [11] For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
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; Mark 2:27 Mark 2:27And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
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).

Yet most professing followers of Jesus do not observe the weekly Holy Day He observed and proclaims as His to oversee. Did you realize that the four Gospel writers devote more space to what Christ taught regarding the Sabbath than to any other particular subject?

Rather than abolishing the Sabbath commandment or transitioning its observance to another weekday, as so many think, Jesus displayed how God in human flesh would observe such holy time—in line with His declaration that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 Mark 2:27And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
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). He was at that time correcting the misuse of the Sabbath. Religious leaders had added nonbiblical regulations that made it burdensome rather than the loving blessing God intended it to be.

A New Covenant disciple will grow in understanding that observing the seventh-day Sabbath is connected to Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” How many people have simply lost their way in life? The seventh-day Sabbath provides us a compass to point to what God has done in the past and why, what He is currently doing in the present and how, and the incredible future He has planned for everyone made in His image and likeness.

God grants us this grace-filled compass of time to anchor us in the shifting sands of society and our personal lives, helping us to stay on course in heeding Christ’s call of “Follow Me.”

Remembering and identifying with our Creator

The seventh-day Sabbath reminds us of where we came from and by Whom. Where the Ten Commandments are listed in Exodus 20, the fourth (in verses Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 [8] Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. [9] Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: [10] But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: [11] For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
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) states: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you nor [others under your authority] . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them [including human beings in His image (Genesis 1:26-27 Genesis 1:26-27 [26] And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. [27] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
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)], and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and hallowed it.”

This divinely designated time of the week takes us back to our roots, reminding us that we were created for a purpose and not merely by accident of evolution. It calls to mind the truth that we are not alone, that we worship an awesome and loving Creator who doesn’t want us to live accidentally but with design and purpose to honor and glorify Him and love our fellow man.

With the Old Testament origins of the Sabbath, some say, “Well that was then, and this is now.” But who is the great “I Am” (Exodus 3:13-15 Exodus 3:13-15 [13] And Moses said to God, Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and shall say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say to them? [14] And God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you. [15] And God said moreover to Moses, Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, the LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial to all generations.
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) who gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments? The answer is given in John’s Gospel, where Jesus said He is the “I Am” (John 8:58 John 8:58Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Before Abraham was, I am.
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)—besides His cavalcade of other “I Am” declarations.

Further, John opened His Gospel by taking us back to the beginning of creation, where we see two divine Beings, God and the Word who was also God—later to be known as God the Father and Jesus Christ—and also that everything was made through the Word who became Christ (John 1:1-3 John 1:1-3 [1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
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; John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
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). The apostle Paul adds that “all things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16 Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
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)—which includes the Sabbath!

Jesus was the God who gave us the Sabbath

Thus, Jesus is the very Creator of the Sabbath on behalf of the Father—and He’s also the one who commanded Israel to observe it at Mt. Sinai. As Paul stated regarding the people’s reliance on God as their Rock and Deliverer: “All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that went with them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 [3] And did all eat the same spiritual meat; [4] And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
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, God’s Word Translation).

The preincarnate Christ was giving a liberated people more than simply physical food and water. He was providing them with spiritual sustenance to link them with the Creator God, who had a purpose for them.

And this wasn’t just for the ancient Israelites. Have you ever considered that when God initially created the Sabbath and gave it to Adam and Eve, there was no Israelite, no Jew, no gentile? There were simply two human beings made in His image, and He gave them a gift—a piece of Himself. Genesis 2:3 Genesis 2:3And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
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tells us: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it [set it apart as sacred], because in it He rested [Hebrew shabath, meaning “cease, rest”] from all His work which God had created and made.” It’s also forward looking, as we will see.

The prolific religious writer N.T. Wright described it this way in his book Simply Jesus: “The sabbath was the day when human time and God’s time met, when the day-to-day succession of tasks and sorrows was set aside and one entered a different sort of time, celebrating the original sabbath and looking forward to the ultimate one.

“This was the natural moment to celebrate, to worship, to pray, to study God’s law. The sabbath was the moment during which one sensed the onward movement of history from its first foundations to its ultimate resolution. If the Temple was the space in which God’s sphere and the human sphere met, the sabbath was the time when God’s time and human time coincided. Sabbath was to time what Temple was to space” (2011, p. 136, emphasis in original).

Those who understood that a holy God had given a holy people a holy day for a holy purpose would understand that the seventh-day Sabbath was an identifying symbol of a relationship between the God of creation and a called-out and delivered people. They would embrace the power and wonder of Exodus 31:13 Exodus 31:13Speak you also to the children of Israel, saying, Truly my sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the LORD that does sanctify you.
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, where God told Moses, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.’”

Only God can make things holy, but—as the Fourth Commandment prescribes—we are to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” as we seek to experience God’s presence within this temple in time.

Defining the present life of a Christian

The seventh-day Sabbath not only reminds us of God’s formation and ordering of His physical creation, but it refocuses us on what He’s doing here and now in a current and awesome spiritual creation, which is yet to come to full fruition. The Fourth Commandment ultimately speaks to plural creations—yet in motion towards a common future.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Deuteronomy 5:12-15 [12] Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD your God has commanded you. [13] Six days you shall labor, and do all your work: [14] But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. [15] And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
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is instructive in this regard. Here, in a reiterated listing of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath commandment is not tied alone to the original creation, but to a deliverer God who not only brought the cosmos into being but continues to interrupt human history, now to liberate an enslaved people, granting them freedom and making them new and holy to Him (see Leviticus 11:44 Leviticus 11:44For I am the LORD your God: you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
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).

And here He reminds Israel of old as well as those within the Body of Christ, “the Israel of God” today (Galatians 6:16 Galatians 6:16And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and on the Israel of God.
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), “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out . . .” (Deuteronomy 5:15 Deuteronomy 5:15And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
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). Observance of this commandment is a weekly reminder of the time of transition from a “living death” to living fully for an intervening Creator who is not merely a “First Cause” but the ongoing Sustainer of His divine purpose for humanity.

Christ’s followers have been set free from their pasts, Scripture describing a converted person as “a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 2 Corinthians 5:17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
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). Paul speaks of this further in Romans 6:17-18 Romans 6:17-18 [17] But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. [18] Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
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: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, is now our Master, and we are now liberated from the penalty of sin, from the dominance of Satan’s influence, free to love God and those made in His image, free to utilize the God-given spiritual tools of His guiding Spirit—a new heart and mind (Hebrews 8:8 Hebrews 8:8For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
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)—to maintain freedom from the pulls of our human nature and the siren song of human society.

Every seventh day, once a week, we are able to rest from our physical labors and the stress-filled stranglehold of society and take time to be nourished by God’s Word and to appear before Him in worship, praise and song, as was the regular custom of Jesus and the apostle Paul in obedience to the Fourth Commandment (see Luke 4:16 Luke 4:16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
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; Acts 17:2 Acts 17:2And Paul, as his manner was, went in to them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
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).

Pointing to a better future for all humanity

The apostle Paul in Romans 8:22 Romans 8:22For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.
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gives voice to the cries of the initial creation gone astray that “groans and labors” under “the curse” humanity brought on itself in Eden (Genesis 3:13-19 Genesis 3:13-19 [13] And the LORD God said to the woman, What is this that you have done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. [14] And the LORD God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, you are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; on your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life: [15] And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. [16] To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you. [17] And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it: cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life; [18] Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field; [19] In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and to dust shall you return.
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). And yet, God is going to again intervene and establish His peace on earth. The seventh-day Sabbath is a weekly reminder and signpost to that eventful time yet ahead.

It is of note that Hippolytus of Rome in the early third century wrote the following in a commentary on the book of Daniel: “And 6,000 years must needs be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come . . . For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when ‘they shall reign with Christ,’ when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse.” It was understood early on that the seventh-day Sabbath provides a small picture of God’s Kingdom.

The initial six days of the working week expressed the vast difference between man’s restless world and the perfection of God’s day—the seventh day, symbolizing the world yet to come—a return to Eden. The Sabbath represents the 1,000-year period mentioned in Revelation 20:4-5 Revelation 20:4-5 [4] And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. [5] But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
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, thus connecting the first book of the Bible with the final one in presenting a God who never ceases His spiritual work to redeem humanity!

When Jesus says, “I am . . . the life” (John 14:6 John 14:6Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.
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), this is the liberating life that the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7 Isaiah 9:6-7 [6] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [7] Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from now on even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
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), the Lord of the Sabbath, will bring for all people when His intervening Kingdom interrupts and replaces the kingdoms of man (Daniel 2:44 Daniel 2:44And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
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; Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
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).

When Jesus offers us the incredible privilege of personal discipleship in calling to us, “Follow Me,” He offers an important parameter in John 8:31-32 John 8:31-32 [31] Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; [32] And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
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: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Abiding in His words is not merely sticking our noses in the Bible, but obeying His words and following His example as the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Lord of the Sabbath. As the great “I Am” of Scripture, He inspired Moses to write, “Whatsoever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32 Deuteronomy 12:32What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
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).

What will you do now that you have read this column and have come to discover that a holy God has given a holy people a holy day for a holy purpose?