Thursday, November 19, 2009

Extra Blessings of Keeping the Sabbath Holy

Keeping the Sabbath Holy Qualifies and Prepares Us For Temple Blessings and Eternal Life

4 For thus saith the LORD
unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths,
and choose the things that please me,
and take hold of my covenant;
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house
and within my walls a place
and a name better than of sons and of daughters:
I will give them an everlasting name,
that shall not be cut off.
6 Also the sons of the stranger,
that join themselves to the LORD,
to serve him,
and to love the name of the LORD,
to be his servants,
every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it,
and taketh hold of my covenant;
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer:
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar;
for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
(Isaiah 56:4-7)
Something that is special about these verses is that Isaiah promises eunuchs (those physically unable to have children) that if they keep the Sabbath, they will be given a name better than having children. Those who can’t bear children lament that once they are dead, their family name ends with them. Isaiah promises these people that if they are faithful, they will have an everlasting name that will never end. This is how Isaiah brings the idea of eternal life home to them. Today we also know that eternal life means eternal posterity as well.

Another thing that is special about these verses is that Isaiah promises those foreigners who join themselves to the house of Israel (which would mean they had accepted the everlasting covenant) that they will also be able to participate in the temple. In Isaiah’s day, non-Israelites could not enter the temple courts past the court of the gentiles. Isaiah promises them that if the strangers will join themselves to the Lord, serve Him, love Him, keep the Sabbath, and keep the everlasting covenant, that they too will be able to offer sacrifices on the altar; they will be allowed further into the temple precincts, as the Lord wants His house to be a house of prayer for all his covenant people, no matter what nation they are from.

Something that sticks out from this scripture is that no matter who we are or where we live, keeping the Sabbath holy is one of the specific things we can do to prepare to go to the temple. It took me a while to figure out how those two things are connected. It required some gospel-based reasoning.

The world doesn’t think “time” can be holy. They think one slice of time is just the same as another slice of time. We know differently. We know the Sabbath is a holy day, because God hallowed it. (To “hallow” something means to make it sacred. You could say God made the Sabbath wholly holy.)

Because the world doesn’t think a time can be holy, you can be sure they wouldn’t think a place could be holy either. If they pollute a holy time that is accessible to everyone and do it without a second thought, you can be sure they would also pollute a holy place without a second thought. So the temple is made inaccessible to them.

We, on the other hand, show by keeping the Sabbath holy that we are able to keep the temple holy too. And really, if you can keep an entire day holy, keeping a place holy is a cinch!

One way we keep the Sabbath holy is by learning how to serve God and practicing what we learn. If the Sabbath prepares us for the temple, can you guess that temple worship involves learning to serving God and practicing what we learn.

The world at large has a really hard time serving God, because they don’t know what work God considers most important. At best they have a vague idea that God would want them to help people, but they find this so difficult to do (since the natural man gets in the way) that they simply bag it and serve themselves instead, because they understand perfectly how to do that.

We, on the other hand, know exactly how to serve God. We know His work is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39), so we serve him when we teach the gospel and administer saving ordinances to people. On the Sabbath, we do this by instructing and strengthening each other in the gospel. We serve each other in church callings. Guys are particularly of service when they use their priesthood authority to administer the sacrament. If it becomes natural to us to serve during the Sabbath, it will become natural to serve in the temple. The only difference is that in the temple you serve people whom the world thinks are “beyond help”. Namely, the dead. (If the world can’t serve God, who they think is “out-of-sight-out-of-mind”, they would have an equally hard time serving the “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” dead.)

Another way we keep the Sabbath holy is by worshipping God. If the Sabbath helps us prepare for the temple, you can probably guess what happens in the temple - the worship of God.

The world has a hard time worshipping God. They think the character of God is an unknowable mystery, and of course it is difficult to worship someone who you are told you can never know. (Naturally, they find our assertion “man can become like God” to be equally incomprehensible.) They also think that nobody is perfect, so they believe this dooms to impossibility any prospect of achieving a perfectly holy state similar to that of God’s. Because of this, they think God will excuse all kinds of bad behavior.

We, on the other hand, know exactly how to worship God. We worship God best by trying to become like Him. (I said it before and I’ll say it again; imitation is the sincerest form of worship.) We do this by doing three things: 1) we use Christ’s atonement to have our sins taken away, 2) we resist temptation, and 3) we work to develop Christ-like attributes by depending upon God’s grace.

The Sabbath is a special day to worship God, because we get the chance to worthily take the sacrament, which makes us holy, sanctified, just like Christ is holy. Becoming and staying sanctified prepares us to further imitate Christ in the temple. Just like Christ is our Savior, we can become saviors on Mount Zion (in the temple) by doing vicarious ordinance work that saves our dead from spirit prison. And just like participating in the sacrament worthily sanctifies us as we remember Christ’s sacrifice, participating at the temple worthily will sanctify us as we remember Christ’s sacrifice.

Now we see how keeping the Sabbath holy gives us valuable experience and practice at keeping something holy, serving God by serving each other, and worshipping God, all of which is also done in the temple. Now that we’ve figured all this stuff out, it’s time to go back to those verses of Isaiah and review the promises the Lord gives to those who keep the Sabbath holy.
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house
and within my walls
a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters:
I will give them an everlasting name,
that shall not be cut off. . . .
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer:
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar;
for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
(Isaiah 56:5,7)
[U]nto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off - Now I can see that these two things mean essentially the same thing, but it can be read in two different ways.

First, the name we’ll be given is that of Christ. We take this name upon us at baptism, and we renew it when we take the sacrament. In the temple, the name becomes even more important. According to Isaiah, being called a child of Christ is better than having sons or daughters that are called after us. (I think he is saying this based upon if we had to choose between having the gospel and having children.) If we’re called by that name, then we’ll be worthy of receiving eternal life, and as an immortal, exalted being, our name will truly never die. We’ll be able to have our own spirit sons and daughters that will be called by our names.

Second, in the temple we become sealed to our families for eternity, and that makes our family (with all its names) survive beyond the grave. It becomes an eternal family “that shall not be cut off”.

Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer – If we practice serving and worshipping God on the Sabbath, we will be ready to do the same in the temple. If we enjoy serving and worshipping God on the Sabbath, we will also enjoy serving and worshipping God in the temple.

[T]heir burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar - The modern version of this is that our broken hearts and contrite spirits will be offerings the Lord accepts. If so, then we will know that our subsequent offerings of service in the temple will also be acceptable and pleasing to God.

Keeping the Sabbath Helps Us Stay Active in the Church
13 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)
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath - This is a peculiar expression. You probably sense what it means in the same way that I do... that it means to not do something on the Sabbath, but what that is in particular we don’t know. Isaiah is nice enough to clue us in at the very end of the very same verse that “turn away thy foot from the sabbath” means “not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words”. It’s the Lord’s day, so you do the Lord’s ways, you find the Lord’s pleasure, and you speak the Lord’s words instead of your own. OR... even better, you can change yourself so that the things the Lord loves, you love, the things the Lord likes to do, you like to do, and the things the Lord likes to say, you like to say. That would definitely make the Sabbath more fun. In fact, it would make the Sabbath into your favorite day!

[C]all the sabbath a delight - Isaiah advises us to start by calling the Sabbath a “delight”. One of the strange, yet cool things about this is that it actually works! (I know because I tried it.) If you say, “Yippeee! Tomorrow’s the Sabbath! I get to rest!” in an enthusiastic, excited way, somehow you will start to actually feel enthusiastic and excited about the Sabbath. Try it on Saturday night; see what happens.

But why should we call the Sabbath a delight? I can think of several reasons.
  1. The Lord enjoys the Sabbath. I know this by the Spirit. If the Lord enjoys something, then that should tell us that we need to enjoy it too in order to become like Him.
  2. The Sabbath is made for man. It’s a gift! If we didn’t have God’s permission to rest one day out of every seven, think how overworked we would be!
Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD - This is the real purpose of the Sabbath, to delight in the Lord and to worship Him. Just how do we best worship the Lord? First, by taking the sacrament, because that helps us remember Him and the Atonement He worked out for us. Secondly, by imitating Him as best we can. Imitation is the sincerest form of worship. (It’s also the kind of worship of God that we should not confine to just the Sabbath.)

[A]nd I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth – This is one of those phrases of Isaiah that sounds really cool but which we aren’t quite sure what it means. Several key words in this phrase, however, can give us a clue. The “high places” can mean the temple, since it is the mountain of the Lord and the highest and holiest place. Riding something evokes the image of being carried by an animal, and when we associate riding with the temple, it shows us that temple worship carries us through the hard times. Also, temple worship expands our vision of the purpose of earth life and we depend upon that vision to make proper decisions, so in a sense that vision from the temples’ “high place” also carries us.

[A]nd feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father – One important word in this phrase is “feed”. The other important part is “the heritage of Jacob”. This gives us a clue to the meaning. It has to be some kind of special meal that Israelites had in Isaiah’s day. My guess is that it is referring to the Passover meal. Since the Mosiac law also involved a number of festivals with various meals, we can interpret this phrase to mean that someone who kept the Sabbath holy would also participate in the other sacred festivals that faithful Israelites practiced, which in a certain sense means that a person who keeps the Sabbath will not go inactive. Christ replaced the Passover with the sacrament, as a sacred meal. It is certainly true that someone who really wants to keep the Sabbath holy will also take the sacrament with other members of the church who are the modern heritage of Jacob and part of the house of Israel.

In 2004, I decided I had not been keeping the Sabbath as well as I had been taught when I lived with my parents. At my parents’ house, there were plenty of church movies to watch and church books to read, but my husband and I had not yet started to build ourselves a library of church books, and because I thought I didn’t have anything to read on Sunday afternoons I had fallen into the habit of reading my other books. So I made a decision to change my ways and read only church books on Sunday. The next Sunday, I read through my relief society manual. The Sunday after that I read the Brigham Young manual through. The Sunday after that, I read another one of those manuals through. I studied them carefully, and boy, did it work my brain! I pulled out my Sunday school study guide and made sure to look over the material ahead of time so that I could be prepared to participate in the lesson. I wrote in my journal some things I discovered in the scriptures. I also decided to try to write poetry about different aspects of the gospel.

Some other things I like to do during the Sabbath are the following: go to choir practice, go to firesides, play church music, talk to my family, take a nap, and watch church movies.

I found myself really enjoying the Sabbath, and discovered that the gospel was satisfying my soul more than it ever had before. I wanted to pray more often for help with the things I intended to do, even with things that I thought I already knew how to do because I had a new conviction of my own ignorance and nothingness in comparison with the Lord. I felt the influence of the Spirit more strongly.

If recommitting to keep the Sabbath helped me, it will help you too.

5 comments:

Rebecca Irvine said...

Thanks for such a great reminder. I love the way you think and admire you for your dedication to keep the Sabbath Day holy.

Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks! I felt inspired to blog on this topic after substitute-taught a primary lesson to the 11-12 year old girls about keeping the Sabbath.

I'm so thankful that Heavenly Father helps me figure these things out.

thatgoodpart said...

Great post. I love how thoughtful you are about the scriptures. I love how you really analyze them and apply them. - or - as you put it "Gospel Reasoning."

Keeping the sabbath day holy can give us so many blessings.

Thanks for the lesson and the reminder! :)
-chococatania

Tony said...

Another awesome post filled with light and truth. Thank you.

Tony said...

Oh, and I always have wondered what those scriptures meant!