Several years ago I had the opportunity to share my testimony informally on one of the California State University campuses. Ted, a sophomore art student, wanted to know why he had to become a Christian to be saved. "Hindus and Buddhists have high moral standards," he argued. "Muslims and Jews worship a personal God. Jesus was a great leader, all right, but couldn't we just appreciate Him as one of the world's great gurus and remain outside of Christianity?"
"Here's what Christianity offers that's unique," I suggested. "Although many world religions value Christ as a teacher and worthy example, only Christianity honors Him as the unique Saviour of the world." I proceeded to explain that God has high standards that none of us can meet; our only hope of doing business with Him is through the One who is our Saviour as well as our Creator.
These twin facts of life─creation and salvation─not only form the foundation of Christianity but also motivate our worship. That's where the Sabbath comes in. Through the weekly day of worship God has chosen to memorialize both Creation and salvation.
To appreciate the meaning of Sabbath rest, we must go back to the Garden of Eden. After Jesus finished His work of Creation on Friday afternoon He proceeded to rest on the Sabbath. Then He invited Adam and Eve to join the celebration of His work─even though they had done no work themselves to earn the right to rest.
This essential meaning of the Sabbath─resting in Christ's accomplishments and not our own─is reinforced by Calvary. On that fatal Friday afternoon, Jesus once again completed a work on our behalf. With His dying breath He cried, "It is finished!" Mission accomplished! As the sun began to set, the friens of Jesus laid Him to rest inside a tomb, where He remained over the Sabbath hours to memorialize His completed work of salvation. After His quiet Sabbath repose Jesus came forth and ascended to heaven's throne.
Because of His two great accomplishments of Creation and Calvary, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. We express our faith in Him as our Maker and Redeemer by sharing the Sabbath rest He earned by His work. In keeping the Sabbath we contribute nothing of our own─we only accept God's gift of life and new life in Christ. The Sabbath is much like baptism: both are important observances that signify our acceptance of what Jesus has done for us. While baptism is a one-time event, the Sabbath is a weekly experience of celebrating Christ's accomplishments.
Our own feeble accomplishments cannot impress a holy God. He appreciates sincerity, but His uncompromising law demands a finished work of perfection: "Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work" (Ex. 20:9). But tell me, have you ever finished all there was to do when Sabbath came? I haven't either! Often I'm like a hamster in the pet shop spinning inside one of those little wheels. Always moving, always striving, but never making it to the top where the law requires me to be. The Sabbath offers refuge in the completed work of Jesus from the hamster wheels of our own accomplishments.
Complete in Christ─this is the message of the Sabbath. What therapy for legalism! The enemy of souls well knows that many who try to please God wind up trusting in their own works for salvation. Misguided souls who rummage around in their lives looking for evidence that they deserve to go to heaven must lament, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" The Sabbath is designed by God to prevent such spiritual discouragement. Week by week it comforts the conscience, assuring us that despite our unfinished characters we stand complete in Christ. His accomplishment at Calvary counts as our atonement.
Many Christians mistakenly regard God's day of rest as an ancient Jewish relic with no meaning for modern Christians. Some even consider Sabbathkeeping an attempt to gain salvation by works. Yet nothing could be further from the truth: the word "Sabbath" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "to cease, desist, rest"─the very opposite of works. Of course, works of love are essential in Christian living; it's just that we don't depend upon them for salvation. In appreciation for salvation by grace, genuine faith leads us to be faithful and obedient. Yes, we need God's law to convict us of sin─but we are not saved through that law. We're saved by trusting in Jesus. This is the message of the Sabbath.
You may have noticed how the Sabbath commandment differs from the other nine. All the other commandments tell us what we must do for God and neighbor. But the Sabbath points us away from human works and forward to rest in God's work for us. Therein lies our salvation! Without Sabbath rest our obedience to God would indeed be legalism.
I believe the Sabbath is the greatest teaching tool of the gospel. It's the brightest of billboards proclaiming Calvary's freedom. Week by week the seventh day comes around to remind us we can't save ourselves─we must trust Jesus. And in this world where atheism abounds, the Sabbath testifies that we didn't evolve by chance. God made us as His children.
Unfortunately, we Adventists have traditionally presented the Sabbath as an attempt to fulfill the law rather than as rest in the accomplishments of Christ. No wonder fellow Christians who know God's grace have not been overly impressed by Adventist evangelism. Thank God we are repenting of legalism and beginning to preach the truth as it is in Jesus.
So let us call the world to worship God at Calvary, not at Sinai. Only then can we honor the gospel and complete our Global Mission.
Martin Weber is associate editor of Ministry, an international journal for clergy published by the Ministerial Association of the General Conference, Silver Spring, Maryland. This article appeared as an editorial in the November 1992 issue of Ministry.