God's Special Sign
4 Nov 2006, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
GOD'S SPECIAL SIGN
Six days had passed since God began to make our world - A world that we call planet earth. It was to be on this sixth day that creation was to reach its climax and, with every detail complete and perfect, God, in Genesis 1: 31 was now to pronounce His work as being 'very good' (Jemison, 1959: 279).
Then God rested.
He ceases the work He had been engaged in, but then He does something very special. Let's read about it in Genesis 2: 2,3. (NIV)
'By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all his work. (V3) And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.' God blessed the seventh day and made it holy
It is interesting that the first thing God declared holy was not to be a place or an inanimate object, but a 24 hour block of time that He was to call the seventh day.
It is also interesting to note that the cycles of time marked on the earth are mainly determined by astronomical happenings. A day is measured by how long it takes the earth to rotate on its axis. A month is determined by the cycle of the moon. A year is measured by how long the earth takes to revolve around the sun (Shelton, 2001: 7).
It is only the weekly cycle that has no anchor in astronomical time (Ibid). It is entirely independent of celestial activity. Nothing in nature gives the seventh day any practical significance over any other day. It exists simply because God declared it to be so.
It was time, not space, that God first made holy and because of this special arrangement no one has to seek for it. The seventh day always comes every week and without exception.
While earthly things such as those created on the first six days can exist in space and time, they can also be destroyed. Man's creations involving shrines and holy places can perish, but the seventh day is firmly locked into time. People can avoid holy things and holy places, but the seventh day, with everything it contains, will always be there. It becomes, as Jewish theologian Abraham Hesschel calls it, a cathedral in time.
It is also significant to recognise that in Genesis 2: 2, 3 the Lord makes no reference to the seventh-day as being the Sabbath. The emphasis in these verses is on His rest particularly as it relates to the specified seventh day.
It is only later that we discover in Exodus 20: 11 that the Sabbath is clearly identified with this day. Here, it says that God 'rested on the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.'
God, in Genesis 1: 28, had already blessed man, and now He was to bless a particular day for man's benefit and happiness. This fact was to be reinforced by Jesus some centuries later in Mark 2: 27, when he declared that 'the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath'.
The Sabbath not only stands as an indestructible memorial of God's creative work, but also highlights His work of redemption or re-creation for the entire human race. The Sabbath, as a 24-hour block of time, constantly reminds us of who we are, why we are here, and where we will ultimately be going. Every single week the Lord wants to remind us that we are not here by chance or by accident, but we are here because he created us.
So important is this message that we are commanded to dedicate one seventh of our lives in remembering it.
As long as we keep the Sabbath the way He intended, we are never in danger of forgetting our historical roots.
Rightly observed, the Sabbath provides fellowship with God and reminds us of the cross and the resurrection. Ultimately, our positive response to this day draws us into holiness and obedience (Hyde, 1982: 41)
It is interesting that after the creation account of the Sabbath in Genesis chapter 2, it is not mentioned again throughout the remaining pages of this introductory book. This has given rise to the view by some that the Sabbath was not observed or made obligatory until the giving of the law at the time of the Exodus.
However, Exodus 16 reveals that the next recorded incident regarding the Sabbath, after the Genesis account, was to take place in the second month after the Israelites left Egypt. It was during this period that the Lord was to test the Hebrews on the point of Sabbath observance and it was this important and challenging process that was to continue with them for a further forty years.
Let's read what it says in Exodus 16 and I would like to commence with verse 4. (NIV)
V4 'Then the Lord said to Moses, I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.' (NIV)
This miraculous provision of food was, according to these verses, to train and educate the people to respect and obey God's holy law.
V22-23, 26 'On the sixth day they gathered twice as much - two omers for each person- and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, "This is what the Lord commanded, Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning. The KJV makes God's words very clear when He says in verse 26 that 'Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none".
These verses imply that the people already knew about the Sabbath, but during their period of captivity they had obviously grown careless in its observance. God now renews the Sabbath command with them and reinforces its observance as a holy day.
As usual, there were some who either did not believe what Moses had said and wanted to see for themselves whether manna had fallen, or they intentionally were prepared to violate the commandment out of a stubborn desire to have their own way (Nichol, 1953: 581).
V27-30 'Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, "How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day He gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out. So the people rested on the seventh day."
All this took place nearly a month before the law was given on Mount Sinai (Ex 19: 1).
However, while the testing of Sabbath observance at this time was only being applied to the Jewish nation, we need to be reminded again of Jesus words in Mark 2: 27 that the Sabbath was made for man. This was a generic term to include all mankind, both male and female, both Jew and Gentile. The institution of the Sabbath, that took place some two thousand five hundred years before the Jewish nation came into being, was designed for all of God's created beings.
The Jewish Philosopher, Martin Buber once wrote that because the Sabbath is 'rooted in the very beginning of the world itself', it 'is the common property of all, and all ought to enjoy it without restriction.' (Goldstein, 2001: 16).
In a general review of the Bible Sabbath, author Ned Ashton (Ashton, ND: 8) made the following statement. He says: [The fact]'That the seventh day of the week was [to be] observed as the Sabbath by all who worshipped the true God during the Old Testament period is not a disputed question.
By patriarchs and prophets and holy men of old the Sabbath was regarded as a most sacred institution, and under the theocracy of Israel was punishable even by death. The importance and sacredness with which the Lord regarded the observance of the Sabbath can be seen in the words He spoke to Israel in Ex. 31: 13 where He says to Moses:
'Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, [Why?] so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy (or sanctifies you).' The Sabbath was to be God's special sign.
Ex 31: 17 was to further remind them that the Sabbath was closely tied to the creation week. In the following words it says: 'It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
The Sabbath has been given to the world as a sign that not only is God the Creator, but also He is your Redeemer and Sanctifier. The power that created all things is the power that recreates all mankind in God's own likeness. The Sabbath day is the sign of true sanctification to those who keep it holy. This involves being set apart for God's service and receiving power to live in harmony with Him. The keeping of the Sabbath also becomes a sign of allegiance to God by those, who, from the heart, obey the fourth commandment. However, in all this, we need to recognise that it is obedience to all the commandments of God that shows the true sign of sanctification or holiness (Nichol, 1957: 908).
From this information there would seem to be two ways in which we are sanctified. First by being united with God by faith. Hebrews 12: 14 suggests that without this '…no man shall see the Lord.' The second way is by entering into God's holy presence in holy time.
We need to remember that it is the presence of God that sanctifies and it is during the Sabbath hours that we are especially set apart.
The Sabbath is a sign of Christ's power to make us holy (White, 1940: 288).
However, unless a Christian willingly and gladly observes the Sabbath and truly calls it a delight, keeping the Sabbath cannot always be seen as a sign of His sanctification. 1 Samuel 15 outlines to us that we cannot profess wholehearted love for God while the bleating of the sheep of our Sabbath violations is sounding in His ear!
It would seem that only a holy person could keep a holy day (Ibid: 289). This was to refer to those who have truly accepted the Lord unconditionally into their lives.
As we have already noted, the Sabbath was originally created for all humanity, but through apostasy it was lost. So, when the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, the Sabbath was to become a specific sign between himself and the Hebrew people.
At the same time, Israel was given the responsibility to proclaim the truth about God to the world and this message was to include the truth about the Sabbath.
The Sabbath was a sign between God and His people, that they might know that He was the only true and living God. By it, perhaps more than any other institution, was the knowledge of the true God to be made known to all the peoples of the world.
If this is true, no wonder that the Devil would try to do everything in his power to destroy it and to this end today it would seem that he has been very successful.
After years of Israel's apostasy, the prophet Ezekiel in Ez. 20: 13,16,21,24 points out that their continual violation of the Sabbath was to be a major sign of their refusal to acknowledge God as their Lord, their Saviour and their protector. The prophet also connects their progressive spiritual decline with their breaking of the Sabbath. The transgression of this day, in effect, was saying to God that they no longer wished to belong to Him (Nelson, 1999: 16).
Dear friends, how we relate to the Sabbath can be symptomatic of how we relate to God and what he says.
In the words of the great Augsburg Confession, article XXVII (27) we are told that 'In neglecting the memorial of creation, the Sabbath, men are liable to forget both the God of creation and creation itself' (Ibid: 17). This is affirmed by author Ellen White, when she suggests in Great Controversy page 438, that 'Had the Sabbath been universally kept, man's thoughts and affections would have been led to the Creator as the object of reverence and worship, and there would never have been an idolater, an atheist, or an infidel' (White, 1950: 438).
This is why God places so much value on the Sabbath because this day is His gracious gift in providing a hedge of protection against unfaithfulness and ultimately provides for our overall happiness.
The fact that the seventh day Sabbath was kept by Jesus Christ while He was on earth and then by the apostles throughout the period of the early church also reinforces for us the importance and significance of this special day.
We are to keep this day holy for the simple reason that God asks us to and therefore it becomes a test of our obedience to him. Consequently, this Sabbath command has challenged man's thinking from Old and New Testament times to our modern day.
However, the Sabbath's ultimate importance is best shown by the way God uses it as a sign of divine approval on those who shall enter His eternal kingdom. We know at conversion God's approval rests upon the believer when they are said to be sealed by the Holy Spirit. We can read this in Ephesians 1: 13.
'And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.'
However, this event does not mean your experience cannot change. It is possible for a person eventually to turn away from God if he so chooses. But near the end of time we discover that there will be another call for a decision by God's people and it is through this process that our loyalty to God will again be tested, as were the Israelites of old. God's final approval of His people is referred to in the book of Revelation 7: 2 as 'the seal of the living God'.
To understand this concept more fully we need to come back to the Law of God.
Within the fourth Commandment we find something of great importance that is not found in the other nine. This is the only commandment that plainly identifies its author and makes clear that he is the Lord who 'made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is.' He is the creator God, the God of the universe, the great I Am.
If we examine the Ten Commandments we find that they are divided into two parts. By obeying the first four we show our love to God. When we obey the last six we show our love for our fellow man. However, the fourth commandment is the only one which tells us which God to serve, and that is our Creator God. Without this commandment we don't know which God deserves our loyalty.
Also within the fourth commandment we find the seal of God. This is a seal similar to that used by earthly kings and rulers and consists of a name, a title and a territory. In God's seal the name is written as 'the Lord thy God'. The title is 'Creator' or 'Maker' and the territory is all 'heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them'. The issue raised here then is not just about a day but it's about our allegiance. Who are we going to serve? The Scriptures make abundantly clear that Satan is continually endeavouring to take away God's seal involving His authority by diminishing or changing the day God originally set aside as holy in the creation week.
Is God particular? You can bet your life He is.
We see this in the Biblical stories of Cain and Abel and the issue over their Sacrifices in Gen 4: 3-5. We see this in the story of Uzzah, the priest whose life is taken when he touches the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Sam 6: 6,7. We see this in the story of Moses when, in anger, he strikes the rock more than once in Num 20: 7-12. All received negative consequences because of their deliberate disobedience to God's commands.
However, the test of obedience to God's commands is particularly found in reference to the fourth commandment.
The challenge to God's people in this area could not be better illustrated than in the life of a little girl called Mary Walsh who was born just before the turn of the twentieth century to devout Roman Catholic parents in the beautiful country of Ireland. To the best of their ability this faithful couple trained this little girl in the faith of their fathers. Mary became familiar with all the stories associated with those miracles wrought by pilgrimages, novenas, amulets, canonicals, monastic vows and those sacred articles such as relics, rosary beads, the cross and the blessed crucifix. While she had never witnessed a miracle it did not stop her from availing herself of all the indulgences offered through the mediums of the Church. However, none of these offerings were to release her from the growing fear in her mind of an unapproachable God.
On the first day of her life, Mary was taken by her Godparents to the local parish church to be christened, and to receive the sacrament of baptism. Through this special rite Mary was to be led into the Church that was to eventually bind her to its code of doctrines.
From early childhood she was instructed in the teachings of the Church learning about the seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, holy orders and matrimony. She was taught that adherence to these prescribed teachings was the only way to salvation. Being allowed no other instruction, she received no choice in this matter.
However, her religious teaching covered two schools of thought that she couldn't reconcile. One group of friars centred their teachings on the regions of hell, while another class preached on the love of God. Were there two Gods or just a God with a dual personality? These unanswered questions were the source of much of her mental torment throughout the early part of her life.
After receiving four of the sacraments Mary believed that she should have found the peace and joy that she so dearly wished for in her life. As she continued to listen to the teachings of the Redemptorist order that provided legends of God's punishment for those who were disobedient to the church, she wished she had never been born. She feared to live, but dreaded to die.
As she grew to young womanhood, she developed the desire to travel. Much against her parents wishes because she was under age, she made plans to visit the United States of America. When she set foot on the shores of this land of freedom, she little realised that it would be here that she would find the message that would eventually liberate her soul from the bondage of superstition that had become the source of her torment.
Shortly after her arrival, a friend presented her with her first copy of the Holy Scriptures. Here she was directed to the second commandment of the Decalogue where it spoke about its violation through the worship of images. Not brought up to believe the Bible, and the fact that the infallible Church was placed above it, Mary found herself becoming hostile to its writings. However, the Spirit of God continued to work within her life.
With the onset of World War I, Mary found herself responding to an advertisement announcing a topical lecture on the future of the world in that generation.
Listening to the words of Scripture that unfolded the prophecies of the Bible relating to the Second Coming of Christ, Mary became convinced of its inspiration. Yielding to God's spirit her whole horizon was being changed as the bright rays of truth cut through the darkness of superstition that had been part of her life for so long.
Mary was to be faced with many spiritual battles as her attendance at protestant meetings, and particularly Adventist meetings, meant strong opposition from her own church.
The crisis of her life had come. Her friends, both protestant and Catholic were bitterly opposed to her course and had already ostracized her from their gatherings. With no human help available, Mary believed it was the Holy Spirit that sustained her during that terrible time.
As she continued her search for truth, her attention was being continually drawn to the fourth commandment.
Because Mary had accepted that this was part of God's commandments spoken from His Word, she accepted it without question. The acceptance of this belief was to result in the loss of her position at work and she was told that she would starve to death because other work at that time was not readily available.
By faith, Mary took her stand and while this was a testing time to prove her loyalty to God, He stood by her and it was this experience that made God more real and personal to her.
Today, as a faithful member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Mary salutes the Holy Bible as the instrument that God used in her conversion and she commends it to all who are seeking after truth (Tippett, 1957: 15-22).
Dear Friends, the Bible indicates that as we get nearer and nearer to the end of earth's history, this matter of loyalty to God will become even more pronounced and more important. The dividing issue will be all about whom we worship - The Creator or the created. Because the Sabbath was instituted to remind us of our heritage and who it was that created us, it is not unreasonable to suggest that this day will play a big role in the final climactic events of earth's history.
We are reminded in the book 'Great Controversy' page 605 that 'The Sabbath will be the great test of loyalty, for it is the point of truth especially controverted. When the final test shall be brought to bear upon men, then the line of distinction will be drawn between those who serve God and those who serve Him not.'
The Fourth Commandment begins with the word remember and every week we are reminded that god loves us and hasn't forgotten us.
It is the Sabbath that will link us in an unbroken succession from our Eden home across the pages of history to the New Earth. A place that is commonly referred to in the literature of our day as Eden restored (Davidson, 1988: 110).
Dear friends, we have seen this morning that the Sabbath is an opportunity to experience the presence of God, making the day holy. We have also seen that God makes those who worship on that day holy as they enter into that precious Sabbath fellowship (Ibid).
With sin interrupting our original face-to-face communion with Him, God has used the Sabbath as a vital link in divine-human fellowship and so by faith we make our weekly appointment with Him (Ibid).
We need to remember that the short time we spend on planet earth is just a testing period during which time we decide where we want to spend eternity. You can be assured that no one will be accidentally lost. However, God holds us all responsible for that which we have had an opportunity to learn and understand (Shelton, ND: 40).
Author Oswald Chambers once wrote that: 'There is only one thing God wants of us, and that is our unconditional surrender…' (Nelson, 1999: 15) and this is all about loving and obeying God to the best of our ability.
My prayer this morning is that we will take advantage of the wonderful opportunity God has given to us to commune with Him and partake of His holiness on this special day - A day that becomes a symbol or special sign of our deliverance, a sign of our justification, of our sanctification and of our loyalty to Him.
Ashton, N. (ND) The Bible Sabbath: A General review of the Sabbath Controversy. Hagerstown: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Davidson, R. M. (1988) A Love Song for the Sabbath. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Goldstein, C. (2001) The Pillars of our Faith. Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. Warburton: Signs Publishing Co.
Hyde, G. M (1982) Law, Love and Life. Adult Sabbath School Lessons. Warburton: Signs Publishing Co.
Jemison, T. H. (1959) Christian Beliefs. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Nelson, G. (1999) A Touch of Heaven: Finding New Meaning in Sabbath Rest. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Nichol, F. D. (1953) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Vol 1. Washington DC: Review and herald Publishing Association
Shelton, D. (2001) The Forgotten Commandment. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Tippett, H. M. (1957) I Became a Seventh-day Adventist. Washington DC: Review and herald Publishing Association.
White E. G. (1950) The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
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