|Principle 2: The Sabbath is a day exclusively set apart for physical, mental, and spiritual renewal.
The Israelites drifted away from God when they defiled the Sabbath. In the days of Nehemiah the prophet, the common activities of life crowded out the sacredness of the Sabbath. The Israelites were influenced by their heathen neighbors. Nehemiah describes the scene this way: “In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions” (Nehemiah 13:15).
Nehemiah was concerned. God’s Sabbath became a common, ordinary day. The day our Creator set aside for spiritual, physical, and mental renewal became a day of exhausting toil. The day of liberation from the bondage of buying and selling, working and earning, had deteriorated into a business-as-usual day. Nehemiah could not keep silent. His words echoed like thunder through the streets of Jerusalem. “Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, ‘What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day?’ ” (verse 17). The principle is plain. When we become so absorbed in the earthly that we forget the eternal, we defile the Sabbath. The book of Isaiah adds this insight:
“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth” (58:13, 14).
In other words, we will be abundantly blessed.
A personal testimony
When I became a Christian, I was playing basketball on a YMCA high school sports team in Norwich, Connecticut. Our team qualified for the New England championship. This was an exciting thing for a group of teenage boys from a small town. The tournament was scheduled Thursday through Sunday in Springfield, Massachusetts, which meant playing basketball all day Sabbath and, of course, missing worship. I had recently begun to understand the significance of the Bible Sabbath and attend church on Sabbath. For me to break the Sabbath was to be disobedient to Christ.
The Sabbath was a symbol of my allegiance to the God I served. I faced an extremely difficult decision. Should I stay home and keep the Sabbath, or travel with the basketball team and do what I naturally wanted to do? My mind began to rationalize. What’s wrong with playing just this one time? But deep within the fabric of my being, I knew that traveling to the basketball tournament and disregarding the Sabbath as the Lord’s Day would be a violation of my conscience.
I wanted to go badly, but one question continued to echo in my mind: What is more important, basketball or Jesus? In my anguish, I called a godly Christian woman who had become sort of a spiritual mentor. When I asked her for her counsel, she put it in very simple terms: “Mark, be faithful to Jesus.” Based on her advice and my inner conviction, I made a decision not to go to the tournament. It seemed that I had just ruined my chances to travel, sleep in a hotel, eat in restaurants, and see the world.
As I look back on this experience, I have to smile. Today I have had the opportunity to travel to countries around the world sharing God’s love and truth. I have had the indescribable thrill of seeing people come to Christ from Montreal to Moscow, from Russia to Rwanda, from Chile to China. God has immeasurably enriched my life since I made that initial commitment. Giving up my dreams enabled me to follow God’s dreams for my life. We may think that we are making great sacrifices to follow God, but He gives us much more in return.
The apostle Peter said to Jesus, “ ‘See, we have left all and followed You’ ” (Mark 10:28). You can almost hear Peter wondering aloud, “What will we receive in return?” Jesus gives Peter a remarkable response: “ ‘Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life’ ” (Mark 10:29, 30). In other words, Jesus says, “Yes, there will be challenges if you commit your life to Me, but whatever you give up, I will give you one hundred times more in blessings.” When we make a decision to follow Jesus, He pledges to meet our needs and to fill our lives with joy, peace, satisfaction, and purpose. I can certainly testify that God faithfully fulfills His Word.
One of the great blessings God gives us is Sabbath rest. How can we put a price on the renewed physical, mental, and spiritual rest Jesus gives us as we keep His Sabbath? I cannot put a value on the blessing of God’s Sabbath to me. Believe me, this time of spiritual rest is an essential part of my life. It keeps me going in my hectic schedule. It has helped to strengthen my bond with my family. This leads to the third great biblical principle regarding the Sabbath.