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The Sabbath

Leviticus 23:1-3



        The following true story is from the life of Louis XIV of France:  One Sunday when he and his royal party arrived at church, no one was there except Archbishop Fenelon, the court preacher.  Surprised to see all the vacant seats, the King inquired, "Where is everybody?  Why isn't anyone else present this morning?"  The minister answered, "I announced that Your Majesty would not be here today, because I wanted you to see who came to the service just to flatter you and who came to worship God."

        I wonder how many of us come to church for some other reason than to worship God?  One of the main reasons that God created mankind and one of the main things that God wants from mankind is worship, yet worship is little understood by modern Christians!!!  So, I believe that God has impressed me to do some teaching on celebration.  But I can't teach about celebration, until we review some basic ideas and definitions concerning the concept of worship.

(So, let's get going!)

1.      The English word worship comes from the Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe (weorth, "worthy," "honorable"; and scipe, "ship").  This later developed into worthship, and finally worship.  It means "to attribute worth" to an object.  To worship God is thus to ascribe to Him the supreme worth to which He alone is worthy.

1 Chronicles 16:29, "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him; worship the Lord in holy array."

2.      The meaning of the basic biblical words for worship are to prostrate or humbly submit oneself to God, to fear, reverence or be in awe of God, and to render service unto God.

        Our God is an awesome God!  He is to be treated with respect, reverence, awe, and fear.


Deuteronomy 6:24, "So the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today."

3.      Vine says that worship "broadly may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the out-going of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deeds done in such acknowledgment."

        Andrew W. Blackwood said, "Worship is man's response to God's revelation of Himself."[1]

(But worship entails even more than this!)

4.      True worship is the sincere expression of devotion to God.  As such, it can only issue from the depth's of one's innermost being.  True worship is the direct communion of persons from the depth of their beings.  Vincent says, "True worship includes a spiritual sense of the object worshipped, and a spiritual communion with it; the manifestation of the moral consciousness in feelings, motions of the will, `moods of elevation, excitements,' etc."  This is the communion of God, who is Spirit, with Man’s spirit!!!

        Although the information that we have covered thus far tends to point towards specific observances or rituals of worship, an examination of the NT. words of worship will reveal that they were used for the believer's total life which is lived to the praise and glory of God.  Thus, worship is not restricted for NT. priests to certain ritual practices performed at certain places on specified days.  Worship is an every day affair!!!

(As I have already stated, I believe that God has impressed me to do some teaching on celebration.  What is celebration, and how are celebration and worhip connected?)

        Well celebration is actually a synonym for worship, i.e. a word which has the same or nearly the same meaning.  But the word "worship" deals much more with the substance of worship, while the word "celebration" deals much more with the outward observances, rituals, and ceremonies of worship.  The word "celebration" also denotes the festive, merrymaking, grateful, happy aspects of worship.

  God has been showing me that humanity needs celebration.

  He has been showing me that celebration is a very important part of the Christian life!

  He has been showing me that celebration is of special significance and importance to African-American Christians.

        Life is a struggle for everybody, no matter what your color or nationality, but for African-American people life is even more of a struggle because of the residual effects of slavery.  We must face more than the other races in terms of subtle discrimination, economic reprisals, educational stereotyping, etc.  After we have been beat up and beat down all week; after we have struggled and striven to achieve life through material and earthly means, we need to take a break from the rat race and return to the human race by entering God's presence for a time of celebration.  Evelyn B. Dandy says in her book, Black Communications, that in the traditional Baptist church "the service is upbeat.  Church is often viewed as a place where people assembled to recharge their batteries so that they can deal with their daily problems throughout the following week.  Mbiti (1990, p. 72) reports that group gatherings to solicit God's help serve to strengthen, encourage, and make suffering easier to bear."[2]  This would give traditional Black services a strong air of celebration.

        The importance of celebration is illustrated in the Old Testament in Leviticus the 23rd chapter.  This chapter “contains in typical language, a record of God’s dealings with man in grace, from the death of Christ, to His millennial kingdom, and to the eternal glory and rest, which lie beyond it.”[3]

        In Leviticus 23, Moses lists eight feasts which God commanded Israel to celebrate.  You can see them, if you would please open your bulletin to the middle section.  These feasts or festivals were celebrations that God ordained for the life of Israel.  It is somewhat of a misnomer to call them feasts, because all of them did not include eating.  One feast, The Day of Atonement, actually involved fasting.  So, a better English translation would probably be "festival."  These eight festivals were not a calendar list of feasts or a completion of the directions concerning the feasts, but a list of the festal days and periods of the year at which holy meetings were to be held.

        "We are all captives of time.  Day by day and hour by hour we look at our watches and our clocks or we consult the calendar.  We plan for the future, and we set dates.  Many of us carry datebooks to help us remember appointments or special days.  All of us are captives of time.

        But God is not shackled by time.  God is eternal; God lives above time.  However God does have a calendar, and it is important that you and I understand God's calendar.  When we understand God's calendar, we will know what God is doing in this world, and we will know what is really important in life.  Many Christians are wasting time, money, and energy on things that are not on God's calendar!

        God's calendar was given originally to the Jewish nation, and it is found in Leviticus 23.  These festivals make up God's calendar."[4]

        These festivals were also called convocations.  A convocation is "An assembly or meeting of people who have been summoned" (Webster's Third New World Dictionary).  Today they would be referred to as conventions, when the people of the Lord meet together in fellowship with each other, and feast together in the exposition of His Word and the other spiritual blessings that are shared.[5]

        Some of these feasts, or festivals, actually overlapped, which yielded three times a year that all males were to appear before the Lord.

Exodus 23:14, "Three times a year you shall celebrate (2287 chagag) a feast to Me."

This represented a great assembly of men.  We know that there were about 600,000 men who left Egypt in the Exodus.  So, even though there was a whole new generation at the giving of the second law, there probably still numbered 600,000 or more men.

        Carl George, architect of the Meta-model, a tool for diagnosing the problems of church infrastructure, stated that research shows celebration to be tied to the number of people present.  Celebration being defined as the outward observances, rituals, and ceremonies of worship, which are attended by festivity, merrymaking, thankfulness, happiness, excitement, awe, etc.  He stated that you need a minimum of 100 people to celebrate.  If you have less than 100 you may have fellowship and other kinds of interactions, but you need a certain number of people to celebrate.  He went on to state that the more people you have the more exciting the celebration can be.  Hence, we have celebrations of football, i.e. football games, where 100,000 people pack into stadiums to celebrate.  Now you will better understand the phrase:  "Large enough to celebrate..."  We have enough people to celebrate every time we meet for worship.  We have enough people for a feast, festival, convocation, or convention every time we meet.  No wonder God forbids His people to forsake the assembling together that was the habit of some.  Yet, how often a problem, a headache, a worry, or some pleasure keeps us from gathering together with God’s people in worship.

        Some of you are thinking, "Does this mean that we need to go back and reenact the festivals of Israel?"  No, We don't need to keep the ritual of these Old Testament feasts, but we do need to celebrate the meaning, principles, and spirit of the feasts or festivals.  You need a Scripture for that, don't you?  Well the word celebrate only occurs one time in the New Testament, in the NASB, and that is in:

1 Corinthians 5:7-8, "Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.  For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

The particular feast that is under consideration in this particular Scripture is the Feast of the Passover.  The Feast of the Passover celebrates the deliverance of the Children of Israel from Egypt, effected by the power of the Holy Spirit, based upon the blood of slain lambs.  They were not to celebrate the Passover they had in slain lambs, but the Passover they had through the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world:  Jesus Christ.

        In the Feast of the Passover, the Hebrewes were to eat unleavened bread.  The Corinthians were not to celebrate the Passover with real unleavened bread, but their worship was to be according to reason, or spiritual as He talked about in Romans 12:1-2.  They were to rid themselves of the leaven of malice and wickedness, and celebrate the spiritual Passover in Christ with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

        Therefore, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to celebrate the feast of the Passover - not the ritual feast of the Passover, but the typical, spiritual feast of the Passover.  They were not to celebrate the literal Passover, but the Passover they had in Christ!

        This stretches through the Corinthians down to us, and this applies to all the feasts, not just the Feast of the Passover.  We should celebrate, in some way, the typical meaning of all these Old Testament feasts or festivals.  We should not celebrate the feasts according to the letter of the law, but according to the sincerity and truth of the Spirit.  In short, we need to fellowship together in festive celebration commemorating what Jesus did for us on the cross, and feast on the Word of God!!!  There also remains one festival that we should keep until Christ returns:  The Lord’s Supper.  It typically speaks of all that is contained in these feasts.

        As I began to survey the 23rd chapter of the book of Leviticus, I could see eight rudiments of celebration.  Rudiments are fundamental skills taught or learned.  God prescribed a ritual of celebration with respect to each festival (i.e. the prescribed order or words of a religious ceremony), and I want to distill from these rituals, that were imposed only upon Israel, the principles of celebration that we can learn and employ.

        When you review the 23rd chapter of Leviticus, some scholars see only seven festivals here instead of eight, because they don't count the Sabbath as a festival in the same category as the others.  But I see the Sabbath as a festival like unto the other seven.

        We will spend the next nine messages exploring the eight rudiments of celebration.  Today we shall begin with the Sabbath.

(Would you notice with me please Leviticus 23:1-3.  In this passage of Scripture, I want to point out the first rudiment of celebration.  The first major rudiment of celebration is:)

I.      RESTING.

Although all of these feasts are called "feasts of Jehovah," the Sabbath was technically differentiated from the rest of the feasts.  The writer deals with the Sabbath first in verses one through three, and then seems to start over again in verse four.  The Sabbath is also differentiated from the other feasts by the fact that all the other feasts were yearly feasts, but the Sabbath was a weekly feast or festival.  “Although the Sabbath is the first mentioned, it is last in being fulfilled.  The rest of the feasts have their fulfillment, in time, while all that the Sabbath stands for, can only be known in its fullness in Eternity.”[6]  Therefore the Sabbath speaks of eternal rest before God’s dealing with man, and eternal rest when He has completed His working with man.

        Yet, it is still a feast or festival of Jehovah.  Notice these were not feasts of Israel or feasts of the people or holy times appointed by the people.  No, these were feasts of Jehovah, holy times appointed by Jehovah God.

        It is easy for some superficial Bible studiers to point out in cases like these, "That is for the Old Testament alone and not for the New Testament."  Certainly the rituals of these feasts were imposed upon Israel alone, not upon the Church; but the principles go far beyond Israel.  The importance of the Sabbath is not only apparent in the Old Testament, but can also be seen in the New Testament.  When Jesus and His disciples were walking through some grain fields on the Sabbath, His disciples began to pick some heads of grain.  Consequently, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the law of the Sabbath.  Jesus words to them are very instructive for us, even today.

Mark 2:27, "And He was saying to them, `The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.'"

The most important thing about the Sabbath is not the law, but humanity.  Man was not made to serve or observe the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made to serve man.  There is the overriding principle of Sabbath keeping that we should learn from the rudiment of resting:  there is something about keeping the Sabbath that benefits mankind.  What is that?  We shall answer that question in a number of ways, as we continue our inquiry into the festival of the Sabbath which was invoked upon the Jews.

        Let me suggest the first way that the Sabbath was made for man, or that the Sabbath benefits man:

1.      The keeping of the Sabbath provided the Jews with a day of rest.

"For generations untold, the Sabbath has been to the Jew the Queen and Bride of the soul, a God-appointed day of rest and worship."[7]  Jehovah created the universe in six days, but on the seventh day He rested.  There are many reasons why these had to be literal, 24 hour days, but surely one reason is to be an example for us.  In keeping with that fact, the Sabbath was observed through an entire cessation of work (Unger's Bible Dictionary).  This was a Sabbath of complete rest.  This was rest from the material world to cultivate and contemplate the mental and the spiritual.

        Even though we are no longer under the law and do not keep the Sabbath, the principle of the Sabbath is still very important to humanity.  Humanity needs a day to rest - a day to turn aside from the futile pursuits of this life to cultivate the spiritual aspects of life.  We have six days to labor, strive, conflict, and be preoccupied with the material world.  We need one day in seven to turn aside from the world and occupy ourselves with God and the rest that He provides. Therefore, I believe that Sunday is a very important day for Christians, even as the Sabbath was a very important day for the Jews.  Every Sunday service ought to be a celebration of Jesus Christ and a sabbatical from the futility of the world.

        "He who wants to enter the holiness of the day (i.e. the Sabbath) must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil.  He must go away...from the nervousness and fury of acquiring things and the betrayal of embezzling his own life.  He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.  Six days a week we wrestle with this world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul."[8]  This material world will melt with fervent heat and pass away, but our souls are eternal.  Let's not lift the work of our hands, about the development of our souls.  "The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.  Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate self."[9]

        "Six days a week the spirit is alone, disregarded, forsaken, forgotten.  Working under strain, beset with worries, enmeshed in anxieties, man has no mind for ethereal beauty.  But the spirit is waiting for man to join it.

        Then comes the sixth day.  Anxiety and tension give place to the excitement that precedes a great event.  The Sabbath has not yet arrived, but the thought of its imminent arrival stirs in the heart a passionate eagerness to be ready and worthy to receive it."[10]  That is what we ought to feel, and that is what I feel on Saturday.  I do very few things on Saturday, because on Saturday I begin the passionate, eager anticipation of the Lord's Day!!!  I begin to anticipate the embellishment of my spirit.

        "Lest anyone should say that this is Jewish or it was under the law, let it be understood that, while details sometimes change, principles never alter.  The principle is that God demanded one day in seven, nature demands periodical rest, animals require rest and sleep, and even machinery functions better and wears longer when it has periodical rest.  The fact that the Jews kept the seventh day and we the first is detail.  Under law God demanded it, under grace He desires it.  If we love certain people we seek to fulfill their desires and submit to their wishes because we know that, by so doing, we please them.  Therefore, if God sought certain things under law, then it is so much more under grace."[11]

        Finally, the Sabbath points forward to the perfect rest of God that remains for those of us who have placed our faith in Him.  There are 12 Greek words translated rest in the NASB, but the word sabbatismos is used only one time in the Bible in:

Hebrew 4:9, "There remains therefore a Sabbath rest (sabbatismos) for the people of God."

There is a complete, perfect, final, Sabbath rest from all toil with respect to salvation, which God is going to bring about for His people.  There will be significant, fulfilling work, done through the power of the Holy Spirit in heaven, but there will be no toil, weariness,  frustrating enterprises, or selfish endeavors in heaven.  We used to sing this song:

The wicked shall cease from troubling;

The weary shall be at rest.

All of the saints and God's children,

Shall sit at His feet and be blest.

        So, I pray that you can see the importance of celebration to humanity, to the Children of Israel, to the New Testament local church, and to African American Christians in particular.  I pray that you see the importance of celebrating what God has done for us.  I pray that you will become familiar with all the principles of celebration, which we draw from the OT. rudiments of celebration.  The first principle of celebration is resting from our worldly labors.

   Celebrating the cross of Christ, through resting from worldly labor, adds vibrancy to life!

   Celebrating the cross of Christ, through resting from worldly labor, adds meaning to life!!

   Celebrating the cross of Christ, through resting from worldly labor, adds dignity to life!!!

        In keeping with the importance of worship and celebration, The Worship Division of The House of the Lord, has written a purpose statement in an attempt to capture the purpose of our celebration services.


We purpose, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to facilitate celebration, i.e. adoration, awe, reverence, piety, thankfulness toward God, spiritual healing, a sharing community and evangelization in our actions and attitudes at The House of the Lord, as a way of life through the centrality of the Word of God in preaching, teaching, public reading, prayer, praise, singing, drama, thanksgiving, serving, giving, baptism and the Lord's Supper.

O come and magnify the Lord with me in joyous celebration through giving, singing, teaching, preaching, praise, etc., with reverence, awe, excitement, festivity, and thanksgiving!!!

(Now is the day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] Harold L. Willmington, Willmington's Guide To The Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 1981, p. 713.

[2] Evelyn B. Dandy, Black Communication, African American Images, 1991, Chicago, Illinois, pp. 33-34.

[3]John Ritchie, Feasts Of Jehovah, Kregal Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982, p. 9.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be God's Guest, Back to the Bible, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1982, p. 7.

[5] C. W. Slemming, Thus Shalt Thou Serve, Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1974, pp. 76-78.

[6]John Ritchie, Feasts Of Jehovah, Kregal Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982, p. 19.

[7] Victor Buksbazen, The Gospel In The Feasts Of Israel, The Friends of Israal, W. Collingswood, New Jersey, 1954, p. 78.

[8] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, HarperCollins, CanadaLtd, United States, 1951, p. 13.

[9] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, HarperCollins, CanadaLtd, United States, 1951, p. 13.

[10] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, HarperCollins, CanadaLtd, United States, 1951, p. 65.

[11] Charles W. Slemming, Thus Shalt Thou Serve, Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, 1955, p. 80.

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