While there are some questions I have always had about our observance of the Sabbath, this is not a platform I am going to use to debate which day is the true Sabbath. Because, honestly, it doesn't really matter. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 lays the foundation on which we base the Sabbath. If we read these four verses, a very simple understanding of the Sabbath comes to light. The Hebrew word translated as Sabbath literally means "the day of rest." It is that simple translation that gives significance to the Sabbath. It is to be set aside as a day of rest. I know, this is rocket science right? Come on, it doesn't take a scholar to come to that conclusion. Yet, that simple design for the Sabbath still seems to evade most of us.
It's interesting to note here that despite all the warnings about honoring the Sabbath, God himself rarely gives examples of what constitutes 'work.' But, as is usually a given with humanity, we took it upon ourselves to take the place of God by try to define what exactly was meant. Back in the day, the Pharisees were no exception to this rule. They took it upon themselves to take God's original decree 'to honor the Sabbath' one step further. Actually, they took it 'forty minus one' steps further (so there's no misunderstanding, that's a religious way of saying 39). From that one command, they established 39 rules that must be followed in order to maintain the integrity of keeping the Sabbath holy. In doing see today, it seems we came up with quite a burdensome list ourselves. The result has been that today, we inadvertently associate all of these unspoken 'rules' with the Sabbath.
At the heart of Jesus' teaching about the Sabbath in Matthew 12 (along with a few other passages), we find that in the scheme of things, Sunday should really be no different from any other day. Well, I guess the exception to that is that we take advantage of the rest it offers. There is nothing special, sacred, or even holy about Sunday. Jesus himself said no day was more holy than another. When then do we make such a big deal about this particular day?
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying we abandon church, our worship services, or other important things we do on the Sabbath. What I am saying is this: Let's keep the main thing, the main thing! It's time we shy away from making it about appearances. Does God really care if I'm clean-shaven, wear my Sunday best, have the car washed, or heaven forbid mow my lawn? It's as if we think doing certain things or avoiding other things only on Sunday will make us more spiritual. To think that is what is at the heart of the message God has given us with the Sabbath is to miss the point. None of the things I mentioned will make us more or less holy. Nor will they offend God. God will not strike anyone with lightning for mowing their lawn after church...maybe (He is God so I can't give you money back guarantees).
All of these associated rules with the Sabbath might fool ourselves. Shoot, it might even fool a few others, but we aren't slipping anything past God. He will never be fooled with our facades, because "man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart."
During my sophomore year of college, I volunteered at the homeless shelter. On one occasion I sat down to have dinner with one of the men staying there. After a bit of small talk, we started to open up to each other quite a bit. He began sharing his life story and pouring his heart out to me over an overcooked pork-chop, some lukewarm beans and watered down pink lemonade. Over the course of the next 45 minutes, I discovered how he had been laid off from a well paying job several years ago. The short version of everything else that happened is as follows: the income his family depended on dwindled away since he was driven into a state of depression and found it difficult to find work; inevitably his family packed their things up and left him.
Even while all of this transpired, this man informed me that through the whole ordeal, he never lost his faith. He continued to attend church until he began to see it in a much different light. Because of his tattered clothes, unkempt beard, and God forbid the smell, he felt shunned. This homeless wandered no longer fit in at church. You see, he had a job working for Boeing--the company that makes airplanes--that paid quite well. Without that income, he could no longer afford a shower or food, let alone the three-piece suits, fine jewelry, and nice cars everyone else at the church could. The point to all of this is that the Sabbath is not about appearances. God is not impressed by the name brand clothes we wear or the BMW's we drive (yes, that was a jab at myself). It has never been about cleaning ourselves up and coming to meet with God! Instead of striving to change our outward appearance, we should focus on transforming the state of our heart.
Furthermore, we should begin striving to change every other day of the week to look more like the Sabbath (minus that whole resting thing because work needs done and bills need paid). As I said earlier (and to be quite honest, Jesus said it first thousands of years ago) it's time we quit turning the Sabbath into a show. How about we make every other day of the week look more like the Sabbath, rather than struggling to make it different from every other day of the week.