Saturday, November 21, 2015

Seven Critical Lessons of the Seventh Day

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. He created the light and divided it from the darkness. He created the atmosphere and the clouds, the dry land and plants to cover it, and the sun and the moon and the stars. He made every living creature. He made mankind in his image and gave them dominion over the whole earth. And God saw everything that he had made that it was very good (Genesis 1).

In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. And he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:11, Genesis 2:2-3).

As with all the works of Christ, our Great Exemplar, the events of the creation provide patterns and doctrines intended to help guide our lives. Among these are what I call the Seven Critical Lessons of the Seventh Day.

The scriptures state that the Lord rested from all his work on the seventh day. This is the First Critical Lesson. President Spencer W. Kimball once observed that “sometimes Sabbath observance is characterized as a matter of sacrifice and self-denial, but it is not so. It is merely a matter of shifting times and choosing seasons. There is time enough, particularly in our era of the world’s history, during the six days of the week in which to do our work and play”.

Though we live in the world, it is critical for our spiritual health to rest each Sabbath from the profane, secular, temporal and worldly things that are in constant competition for our attention and priorities. President Kimball taught:

We have become largely a world of Sabbath breakers. On the Sabbath the lakes are full of boats, the beaches are crowded, the shows have their best attendance, the golf links are dotted with players. The Sabbath is the preferred day for rodeos, conventions, family picnics; even ball games are played on the sacred day… To many, Sabbath-breaking is a matter of little moment, but to our Heavenly Father it is disobedience to one of the principal commandments.

The Lord invites us to find a safe port from the storms of life by following his example and resting from our daily cares on the Sabbath day.

But we should know that the rest of the Lord is different from simply dropping anchor for a long nap. The scriptures say that the spirits of the righteous, after they die, are “received into a state of rest” (Alma 40:12). Yet, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that such are “exalted to a greater and more glorious work” and President Brigham Young taught that “there is an almighty work to perform in the spirit world” (Teachings, 326; JD, 4:285). Though we rest from the things of the world, when engaged in the work of the Lord the Sabbath day may sometimes be our busiest.

Again quoting President Kimball, “If one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it.” Rather, the Lord has said:

And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors and to pay thy devotions unto the most high. Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times; But remember that on this, the Lord's day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord. And on this day thou shalt do none other thing...

The word "sacraments" originates from the Latin words for "solemn oath" and "sacred". Oblations are our gifts to God; he asks for a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and also that we devote our time and talents to building up his kingdom on the earth. We may not have a great deal of time to seek forgiveness of our sins, prepare to renew our covenants, build our faith through gospel study or serve others during the week, but these are all things we can do as we rest from worldly cares on the Sabbath. That we should be anxiously engaged in a good cause on the Sabbath is the Second Critical Lesson.

The Third Critical Lesson is to remember the Lord has blessed the Sabbath day and he blesses us for observing it. Christ taught his disciples that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In the same breath that the Lord admonishes us to attend church he promises that so doing will help us keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Later in that same chapter, he says:

And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances... Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours... But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come 
(D&C 59:5-23).

Observing the Sabbath is not a sacrifice but rather the path to individual and collective peace and prosperity. To the children of Israel, the Lord promised that if they would keep the Sabbath day holy:

Then will I give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit… and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land (Leviticus 26:2-6).

These blessings are readily available to us if we will honor the Sabbath day.

Fourth, the Lord hallowed the Sabbath day. In the same way church buildings and temples are dedicated spaces for the Lord’s work, the Sabbath day is time that has been sanctified and consecrated to the work and glory of God. Just as temples are holy places, the Lord has commanded the faithful in every dispensation to, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

Our willingness to forego worldly things and focus only on holy activities is an indication to the Lord that we’re willing to keep the covenants we have made with him. President Russell M. Nelson has taught:

I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, ‘What sign do I want to give to God?’ That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear (“The Sabbath is a Delight”, April 2015).

The Fifth Critical Lesson is to notice the symbolism of the seventh day. In Hebrew, the number seven is symbolic of completion and perfection. The tabernacle was built in six days and dedicated on the seventh, likewise heaven and earth were made over six creative periods and sanctified on the seventh. The Sabbath day completed the Creation and made the work that had been done acceptable before a God that is and must be intolerable of the least degree of imperfection.

This pattern is repeated throughout the Lord’s plan of happiness. In the Book of Moses, the Lord reminds us that the creation story of Genesis refers to the spiritual creation of heaven and earth:

For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air; (Moses 3:5)

It was on the seventh day that the Lord finished his work, watering the face of the ground, providing physical bodies for Adam and Eve and placing them in the Garden of Eden. It was on the seventh day that the creation was made completely perfect and perfectly complete.

The conclusion of this first Sabbath day ushered in six thousand years of mortality. At the end of these six thousand years will come the Millennial day of rest. Joseph Smith, clarifying a scripture in Revelation chapter 8, taught:

As God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it, and also formed man out of the dust of the earth, even so, in the beginning of the seventh thousand years will the Lord God sanctify the earth, and complete the salvation of man, and judge all things, and shall redeem all things (D&C 77:12).

This second great Sabbath day we will rest from the temptations of the evil one, complete the missionary and temple work to be done, and be resurrected from mortality to immortality. The next seventh day, the Millennial Sabbath, will complete and perfect the work of mortality.

With so much emphasis on the seventh day, which is actually Saturday, the Sixth Critical Lesson addresses briefly why most Christians now worship on Sunday, which is the first day of the week.

The short answer is that they don’t. Christians don’t worship on the first day of the week, but rather on the eighth day of the week. Let me explain:

Until the Atonement of Christ was complete, the faithful worshipped on the seventh day of the week. Then something happened. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, died for us on a Friday, the sixth day of the week symbolic of man and rebellion (i.e. Adam and Eve’s creation on the sixth day). On the seventh day, the Savior rested and visited the spirit world. On the next day, the eighth day, a Sunday, Christ was resurrected.

The number eight is symbolic of covenants and new beginnings. It’s symbolic of resurrection and salvation. Israelite males were circumcised at eight days old as a sign of God's covenant with them. We are eight years old when we may be baptized or “reborn”. And, through the ordinance of the sacrament administered on the eighth day of each week, we renew our covenants with God and his promise to forgive us our sins, allowing us to be reborn again on this eighth day of every week.

The pattern of going from seven to eight is also frequently repeated in scripture. The desert tabernacle had seven pieces of furniture while Solomon’s temple had eight. There are seven covenants in the Old Testament and an eighth in the New Testament.

Finally, the Seventh Critical Lesson is to recognize that all of this has been meticulously planned and perfectly executed as an example for you and I. The Savior wants us to come unto him and partake of his rest each week. He wants us to renew our covenants and begin each week without the weight of the last. He wants us to stay unspotted from the world and enjoy peace and prosperity. He offers to give us greater light and knowledge from heaven if we take the time to seek it.

If we are going to heed his command to, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), we are going to need a day to complete our most important work, to dedicate ourselves and to be sanctified and made acceptable to God. This is why, after the Lord who labors for our immortality and eternal life created the light and the atmosphere and the plants and animals and Adam and Eve, as a capstone to his creation, on the seventh day the Lord made the Sabbath.

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