What makes the Sabbath unique, is that unlike the annual appointed times, Shabbat is something that takes place every week. Like many who grew up in evangelical Protestant homes, we had not thought too much about the Sabbath in our previous Christian experiences, and simply assumed that we were keeping the Sabbath—at least in spirit—by going to Church on Sunday. While Christian fellowship and worship on Sunday were edifying experiences—at least for us during the 1980s and early 1990s—once a person experiences his or her first Messianic Jewish Shabbat service, you begin to be stimulated in ways you never realized.
Today the Mah Tovu is a traditional prayer which is used in the Jewish liturgy of the morning Shabbat service. These words, of a pagan non-Israelite—speaking of the goodness of Israel’s ancient tents and dwellings—reminds pious Jews every week of the harmony that should be present in their lives on the Sabbath.
How the Messianic community is to properly keep Shabbat, or any Biblical commandment for that matter, is a mystery for many. There are many issues and questions that have to be weighed and taken into consideration when establishing a proper halachic orthopraxy for oneself, one’s congregation, and the movement as a whole. In the Jewish community, whether you are Orthodox or Conservative, keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is an important sign of who you are as a Jew. It is the sign that God gave the people of Israel from Mount Sinai to distinguish them from the world.
When many of us think about some of the most significant theological debates of the past three or five decades, we are probably immediately drawn into thinking about conservatives and liberals sparring over the reliability of the Holy Scriptures, creationists and evolutionists fighting about the origins of humankind, Scripturalists and cultists warring over the Divinity of Yeshua, and most recently the controversy that has been rising up over homosexuality and gay marriage. How many of us are consciously aware that there has been a debate ensuing among evangelical Christians, and various others, for over three decades surrounding the Sabbath?
We as Messianic Believers come into direct contrast with many Christians because we do not observe this “Lord’s Day,” as they call it. We keep the Biblical seventh-day Sabbath or Shabbat, the day of rest that God established for His people going back to the start of human history (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:11).
Mark Huey of Outreach Israel Ministries goes through some of the Biblical reasons why many of today’s Believers are finding remembrance of the weekly Sabbath a great joy and delight.
If there is any area where today’s Messianic movement tends to absolutely excel, it is with integrating a wide selection of the mainline Jewish traditions and customs for observing the Sabbath. Regardless of their background before coming to Messiah faith, religious or secular, today’s Messianic Jews tend to remember Shabbat with the common elements of lighting candles, breaking challah, drinking wine, and attending synagogue services with traditional liturgy and Torah readings. Non-Jewish Believers who have been led by the Lord into the Messianic movement, seeking to embrace more of the Hebraic and Jewish Roots of their faith, have also taken a hold of Shabbat, the opportunity for rest it offers to the people of God, and many of the significant traditions that can make the Sabbath a very holy and sanctified time.
According to Revelation 12:17 and 14:12, the end-time saints or holy ones will keep God’s commandments and hold to faith in Yeshua. Many in the Torah movement think that because they keep the seventh-day Sabbath/Shabbat, remember the appointed times of Leviticus 23, and eat a kosher-style of diet—that the Lord will give them special protection in the Last Days.