WHEN CAN WE
“Call The Sabbath A Delight”?
“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: (14) Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”
-- Isaiah 58:13-14
Isaiah 58 is a difficult chapter for many to understand; but there is no need for the difficulty. Without question, this chapter was particularly addressed to the Jews during the time of their Babylonian captivity. In it God gave his people some much needed instruction about worship. But, if we limit the text and its interpretation to the Jews, it is meaningless to anyone today. So, that certainly is not the full scope of the chapter. It was written for us (Rom. 15:4).
In these fourteen verses the Lord God gives us crystal clear instructions about worship today. Indeed, the promises made in verses 8-14 cannot be fully applicable to anyone other than the saints of God in this gospel age who “worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
Verses 1-4 show us the sin and folly of empty religious rituals and ceremonies without faith in Christ, the abomination of a mere form of godliness without the power of it.
“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.”
Here, the Lord God charges lost religionists with exercising religious ceremonies and rituals for the mere gratification of the flesh! Multitudes there are to whom the charge is applicable. Let us not be numbered among them. That person whose religious exercises, no matter how devout they appear to be, results in them sitting in judgment over others, debating and striving with the fist of wickedness, endeavoring to gain favor with God, perform their religious duties only for the gratification of their own lusts.
Verses 5-7 show us that the essence of worship is heart and spirit, mercy and grace, kindness and love. These are the marks of true and pure religion, the evidences of genuine humility and faith.
“Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”
True religion is merciful, gracious, and kind (James 1:26-27). True worshippers, even in the legal dispensation, worshipped God in the Spirit and in truth, seeking to honor him and endeavoring to serve the needs of others by doing them good. Grace experienced makes people gracious, not harsh and demanding, but kind and forgiving. True faith always “worketh by love.”
Verses 8-12 display the blessedness of faith in Christ and obedience to the gospel.
“Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day: And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”
The light and life of free, sure, and everlasting grace (v. 8), the blessed satisfaction and contentment of faith toward God (v. 9; Phil. 4:12; 1 John 5:14), and the delightful privilege of usefulness as instruments of mercy and grace in the hands of God (vv. 10-12) are things belonging to God’s saints in every age in this world. It is promised to Abraham and his children, “Thou shalt be a blessing!” (Gen. 12:2). Those who are blessed of God are made a blessing to others.
In verses 13 and 14 the prophet of God, with the inspired vision of prophecy, looks beyond the carnal, Jewish sabbath and sees in it a picture of Christ, who is the true Sabbath, and the blessed rest of faith in him.
“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”
When can we, when do we, “Call the sabbath a delight.” -- We can and do call the sabbath a delight only when we are brought to the blessed rest of faith in Christ, who is our Sabbath, -- when we keep the sabbath of faith, ceasing from our own works and resting in Christ alone for our entire acceptance with God.
When a person turns from his way, from his sin, from the pleasure of his depraved heart, and from this world to the Lord Jesus Christ, finding rest in him, he finds that Christ, in whom he rests, is a delight, a luxury, and that faith in him is an honor. Indeed, all who trust Christ delight themselves in him, triumph over all their foes in him, and shall at last obtain the full heritage of the heavenly Canaan, called here “the heritage of Jacob.” “For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
The Legal Sabbath
We need to understand that the sabbath which God required the Jews to keep was only a temporary, typical ordinance, which represented Christ and our redemption by him. When the Lord God instituted sabbath keeping to the Jews in the legal dispensation, he gave two reasons for it.
First, the sabbath was to be kept as a symbol of God’s rest (Ex. 20:8-11). It represented the completion of God’s creation and the satisfaction of God in his work. Though God’s work of creation has been marred by the sin and fall of our race, the sabbath day portrayed a blessed day of glorious rest called “the times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21; Col. 1:20; Eph. 1:10), when all things shall be restored to God.
Second, the sabbath day was a constant reminder of Israel’s redemption out of Egypt. Hence, it was a picture of our redemption by Christ - (Deut. 5:15). In other words, the sabbath day, like all other aspects of the Mosaic law, was a picture prophecy of our perfect redemption by Christ. As the Jews rested on the seventh day of the week from all their works, so believers find perfect rest and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ Our Sabbath
We can and will call the sabbath a delight only when we understand that Christ is our Sabbath. We do not observe a literal, legal sabbath day, because Christ is our Sabbath, and we rest in him. I know many who pretend to keep a literal sabbath day. Many try their best to delight in legal sabbath work. But I do not know a sabbatarian in the world who really delights in his attempts at sabbath keeping, not a single one. Every sabbatarian I know finds the yoke of their legal observance oppressive and galling. It is a spiritual flagellation they feel they must perform in order to be holy.
Sabbath keeping, like animal sacrifices, was a part of the Old Testament law. It has nothing to do with New Testament worship. I know that the sabbath day is frequently mentioned in the four gospels and the Book of Acts, during that transitional period in which the church of God passed from the Old Testament era into the New. However, it is always mentioned in connection with the Jews and Jewish worship in the temple, or in their synagogues. But it is mentioned only two times in all the Epistles (Romans through Revelation).
In Colossians 2:16-17 we read, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Here the apostle Paul forbids the observance of legal sabbath days in any form. He does so on the basis of the fact that in Christ God’s elect are entirely free from the law (Rom. 7:4; 10:4).
In Hebrews 4:3-4, 9-11 the sabbath that remains in this gospel age is called “rest.” Here the Apostle shows us that all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ keep the sabbath in a spiritual way. That is to say, they and they only truly keep the sabbath by faith in him, by resting in him.
We can an will call the sabbath a delight when we realize that our all glorious Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Mediator, has entered into his rest, and his rest is glorious, because he has finished his work (Heb. 4:10; Isa. 11:10). Our Savior’s rest in heaven is glorious and it is his glory -- “His rest shall be glory!” As God rested on the seventh day, because his work of creation was finished, so the God-man our Mediator has entered into his rest in heaven, because he has made all things new for his people, having finished his work of redemption (Rom. 8:34; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Heb. 10:10-14).
Behold our exalted Savior! Do you see him seated upon his throne in heaven? There he sits in undisturbed and undisturbable sovereign serenity! His rest is his glory (John 17:2; Phil. 2:9-11). That exalted God-man, as our divinely appointed Representative, has fulfilled all the legal sabbath requirements for us, even as he did all the other requirements of the law. Now, in heaven, he is keeping an everlasting sabbath rest (Isa. 53:10-12). And his rest, which is his glory, tells us that he has finished his work (John 17:4; 19:30), the salvation of his people is certain (Heb. 9:12), and all his enemies shall soon be made his footstool (Heb. 10:13). There is no more work to be done. Christ did it all! And when all the work was done for us, our blessed Savior entered into his rest. Now, all who find rest in him call that sabbath a delight!
All who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ keep the sabbath by faith (Heb. 4:3), because we have entered into his rest; and we call this blessed sabbath rest of faith in Christ a delight, the delight of our souls. We do not yet keep the sabbath perfectly, because we do not yet trust our Savior as we should. We do not yet trust him perfectly. But we do keep the sabbath truly and sincerely by faith. Our sabbath observance is not a carnal, literal thing. We do not keep a sabbath day. God forbids that (Col. 2:16-17). We keep the sabbath spiritually by faith.
Remember, the sabbath day was ordained by God in the ceremonial worship of the Jews in the Old Testament as a symbol of God’s rest after creation and as a reminder of the Jews redemption out of Egypt. The essence of sabbath observation was self-denial and consecration to God. Anything personally profitable or pleasurable was expressly forbidden (Isa. 56:2; 58:13; Ezek. 20:12, 21). Sabbath observance was, in its essence, an unconditional, all-encompassing, self-denial. It was a renunciation of self and a dedication of one’s self to God. That is exactly the way we observe the sabbath spiritually by faith in Christ, not one day in seven, but all the days of our lives. The believer’s life is a perpetual keeping of the sabbath!
The Lord Jesus Christ gives rest to every sinner who comes to him in faith. He says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Are you laboring and heavy-laden under the load of sin and guilt? Do you long for rest? In your inmost soul do you struggle hard with sin, longing to find peace with God? Will you hear what the Lord Jesus says? “Come” -- That is: believe, trust, rely upon me. “Come unto me!” -- Not to the preacher. Not to my church. Not even to my doctrine. But “Come unto me, and I will give you rest!” When a sinner comes to Christ, he quits working for God’s favor, because he rests his soul upon the finished work of his Substitute (1 Cor. 1:30-31).
Yet, this sabbath of faith involves more than a ceasing from our works and the remembrance of our redemption by Christ. It also involves, in its very essence, the consecration of our lives to our dear Savior (Matt. 11:29-30). We keep the sabbath of faith and find rest unto our souls as we willfully, deliberately, wholeheartedly surrender to Christ as our Lord. If we would keep the sabbath, truly keep the sabbath, it will take considerably more than going to church on Sunday and reserving one day a week for religious exercises! We keep the sabbath by putting ourselves under the yoke of Christ’s dominion, submitting to his will in all things,, learning of him what to believe, how to live, and how to honor God. As we do, we find that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. When we submit to Christ’s dominion, when we bow to his will, we find rest for our souls and “call the sabbath a delight!”
 This becomes obvious when we observe that Isaiah’s exhortation - “Call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord,” should read, “Call the sabbath a delight the Holy One of the Lord.”