The Sabbath Day

Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Satellite Broadcast • August 4, 2015


 

It is a pleasure to be with you today and to have been so well taught so far. It is really a joy to be here. I hope you all know of my love for you and my deep appreciation and respect for each of you and for all that you do. It is especially a pleasure to be joined by my wife, Kristi. Today is our 25th wedding anniversary, so we thought it would be fun to celebrate it with 98,000 of our closest friends. It really is a remarkable thing what you and your spouses do in this organization. Thank you all for your contributions, and thank you for being here. It is wonderful to be a part of this work with all of you.

Associated with the most recent general conference of the Church, training for General Authorities was provided on keeping the Sabbath and making it a delight. The presiding quorums of the Church are united in a significant worldwide effort to teach the importance of Sabbath day observance at church and in the home. It has been taught in area, coordinating, and stake councils. Stake presidents have trained bishops, and together they will continue to teach their stake and ward members.

Training Provided to Leaders of the Church

A number of video clips from that General Authority training have been made available and will be placed on our website.1 I hope you will carefully view, review, and use these important resources. Today I would like you to see portions of two presentations from that training. First you will hear from President Russell M. Nelson. He will be followed by Elder M. Russell Ballard.

President Russell M. Nelson: “Dear sisters and brethren, I express my deep love and admiration for each of you. … The First Presidency has focused this morning on the great concern we all have for those who are lost, unknown, less active. As we focus on that problem, we would like to focus on the prevention of those kinds of problems. And so, we are going to focus in today’s and tomorrow’s sessions a lot on building faith in God, building faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, building faith in His Atonement. … As one of His ordained Apostles, I am truly grateful for this assignment that they have given to me to speak to this topic. The Lord’s commandment to hallow the Sabbath day and to keep it holy is a charge that we take very seriously and literally. If we can really do that—if we can really do that—we will help our members to build faith in the Lord and deepen their conversion to Him and to His Church. … As we learn better how to hallow the Sabbath day, faith will increase across the world.”

Elder M. Russell Ballard: “Well, brothers and sisters, we certainly welcome you to this important general conference training. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have spent many hours during the past several months reviewing the research that’s available regarding Church doctrine and principles that increase faith in our Heavenly Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement. As you are aware, we continue to be concerned about lasting conversion, covenant keeping, multigenerational families, and spiritually strengthened members of the Church. Of all of the organizational or policy changes or doctrinal training that could hasten the work of salvation at this time, we have determined that elevating the spirit and power of the Sabbath day would be most influential in drawing members and families closer to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

President Nelson cited a concern about inactivity and a need to strengthen faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement. He promised that “as we learn better how to hallow the Sabbath day, faith will increase across the world.”

I’m sure you also noticed that Elder Ballard said, “Of all of the organizational or policy changes or doctrinal training that could hasten the work of salvation at this time, we have determined that elevating the spirit and power of the Sabbath day would be most influential in drawing members and families closer to the Lord Jesus Christ.”2

The Role of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion

In this worldwide effort, Seminaries and Institutes of Religion has been specifically directed by the Church Board of Education to assist by renewing our focus on teaching the principle of Sabbath-day observance and the doctrine associated with the sacrament and to enlist the youth and young adults of the Church to strive to better understand and live these principles. We are to do that by emphasizing these principles as they naturally appear in our sequential teaching of the scriptures and in our course outlines. What a wonderful opportunity we have to unite our efforts with those commissioned to lead us as prophets, seers, and revelators. And by doing so, we will better fulfill our objective of helping youth and young adults to understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ.

To illustrate how we might teach principles regarding the Sabbath and the sacrament in a way that will increase faith in Jesus Christ, I have selected examples primarily from the Old Testament because many of you will be teaching the Old Testament in the coming months.

The Sabbath Day

1. The Sabbath is a sign from the Lord to us

One significant principle regarding the Sabbath day comes from Exodus 31:

“My sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. …

“Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath … for a perpetual covenant.”3

The idea that the Sabbath is a sign of God’s covenant to us is significant because each of us faces a dilemma, which is that “no unclean thing can dwell with God,”4 and we know that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”5 The solution, as stated in Doctrine and Covenants 60:7, is, “I am able to make you holy.” And that is done, of course, through Jesus Christ, the central figure in the Father’s plan of redemption. Or, as the Apostle Paul taught, “[We] are bought with a price.”6

That price was the life, suffering, and death of the perfect Son of God. And what is the proof of purchase? What is the bill of receipt? The Sabbath is a perpetual sign of the fulfillment of God’s covenant with His children, the sign that He is able to make us holy.

2. The Sabbath is a sign from us to the Lord

Not only is the Sabbath the proof of purchase, the sign that the Lord will sanctify us. It is also a sign from us to Him about how we feel about what He has done for us—how we feel about His sacrifice and how we feel about our covenants.

President Nelson, in the most recent general conference of the Church, taught: “In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that 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.”7

Each choice regarding the Sabbath is personal; it is an individual offering, a sign of our gratitude that He is willing to make us holy. Without intending to suggest a list of dos and don’ts, I would like to say that I have witnessed youth and young adults all over the world who chose to keep the Sabbath holy. Many have chosen not to work on Sunday; others have set the goal not to study on Sunday. A young woman in Thailand risked losing friends because she chose not to attend social activities on the Sabbath (a concept her friends had not heard of before). I know of an aspiring soccer player in California who, against great pressure from peers and coaches and putting at risk valuable scholarship possibilities, has determined not to participate in organized sporting events on the Sabbath.

I am confident that the Lord will honor these wonderful young people because they have honored Him by choosing to keep His day holy. We can teach our students that our attitudes and actions on the Sabbath are a sign to the Lord about how we feel about our covenants and that “keeping a true Sabbath is symbolic of keeping the whole covenant.”8

3. The Sabbath is a delight

Another principle from the Old Testament:

“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.”9

Exodus 16 is a beautiful illustration of this principle. When the children of Israel complained about their hunger and wanted to return to the “flesh pots” of Egypt, the Lord said:

“I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.

“And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.”10

There are at least two additional principles in those verses. One is that the Lord is testing our obedience on the Sabbath. The other is that the Lord preserves and prepares a way for us to be able to keep His commandments. Think about how that fulfills the promise of the Sabbath being a delight. If you labored every day, gathering manna to stay alive, and on one day the Lord said, “You don’t have to work today, but I’ll still feed you as if you had,” wouldn’t that be a delight?

I heard a modern version of this story told by Sister and Elder Beecher, a missionary couple who served in Africa. They wrote:

“We live in a very poor part of Kenya on the border of Uganda. One of our branch presidents … is a farmer living on an extended family compound. He is a young man with a small family. …

“… He has members of his branch who tell him … that they cannot come to Church on Sunday because … they are afraid to leave their homes for fear their neighbors will steal their crops. … [This] is a very REAL concern. … In fact, people … wait to plant when the other neighbors plant, so they lessen the chance for their early harvest to be taken. …”

“[They also say] they cannot come to Church on Sunday because they must work … because they are so poor.”

“[The branch president] continued, ‘I tell them, “I leave my home every Sunday and stay at Church for long hours of the day. I do not work on the Sabbath. When I return home, I have often found that my neighbors have stolen my [corn], my chickens, their eggs, my fruit because they are hungry and they have no food. Still, I find that when it comes time for harvest, I am blessed because my land produces more than theirs—even though they work each Sunday. My land produces more, and I am blessed because I keep the Sabbath Day holy.”’

“Hearing [this branch president’s] comment, [another branch president] said, ‘I can attest to the same thing. I have 2 acres of [corn]. My neighbor works 10 acres. He works every Sunday. I do not. When it comes time to harvest, I have plenty. My neighbor comes to me for food because he hasn’t enough. I, too, am blessed for living the law of the Sabbath.’”11

The Lord’s ways are higher than our ways—and so is His arithmetic. It is different than ours. It is true of tithing, isn’t it? With tithing, 10 minus 1 does not equal 9. The Lord blesses us with what we need and more. That is also true of the Sabbath. There are seven days in a week, but working six of seven days actually provides us with more, not less, of the things we truly need. You can almost hear the Lord say, “Prove me now herewith … if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”12

Not only is the Sabbath a day of rest from physical labors, it is also a day of spiritual refreshment. It is a day of rest from the cares of the world.

President Joseph F. Smith taught that the rest of the Lord “means entering into the knowledge and love of God, having faith in his purpose and in his plan, … not disturbed by every wind of doctrine, or by the cunning and craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive.”13 (Think of the power of that promise in relation to our priority to help our students to seek truth and to discern truth from error.)

And I must mention one other blessing of extreme significance from these scriptural references. Exodus 31 uses the phrase “throughout your generations,”14 and Isaiah 58 makes the promise that the Lord will “feed thee with the heritage of Jacob.”15 As you study these verses and the training provided by our Church leaders, you will recognize that one of the greatest blessings of keeping the Sabbath holy will be for your children and your grandchildren. Each Sunday is an opportunity to teach your children what you prioritize in life and that you are willing to sacrifice personal aspirations in order to keep the Lord’s commandments.

What a blessing that will be to them. It will help create multigenerational families of faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Knowing these and other blessings associated with the Sabbath, how can it not become a delight?

4. The Sabbath keeps us unspotted from the world

Another principle regarding the Sabbath day is found in Doctrine and Covenants section 59: “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.”16

There are many opportunities in the Old Testament to teach this principle. For example, as you teach the Abrahamic covenant you will have a chance to teach our youth to be in the world but not of the world. Another opportunity will come as you teach 1 Samuel 8.

President Spencer W. Kimball used this chapter to teach a profound lesson. He said:

“The Lord and his prophet Samuel were disappointed and grieved. … But the people clamored for a king ‘that we may be like all the nations.’ …

“Not so different are we today! We want the glamor and frothiness of the world, not always realizing the penalties of our folly. The non-member [seeks entertainment on the Sabbath; we want to be entertained] even though, in many instances, it means abandonment of Sabbath activities and the breaking of the Lord’s holy day. Our contemporaries have pagan weddings—we must adopt their every style and pattern, even though it glamorizes the world and loses sight of the solemnity of true marriage. …

“Styles are created by the vulgar and money-mad and run from one extreme to the other to out-date present wardrobes. … We would rather die than be ‘not up to date.’ … ‘We must have a king like unto other nations!’

“The Lord says he will have a peculiar people but we do not wish to be peculiar. …

“When, oh when, will our Latter-day Saints stand firm on their own feet, establish their own standards, follow proper patterns and live their own glorious lives in accordance with Gospel inspired patterns.”17

As our youth struggle with worldly philosophies and traditions and with the world’s standards and styles, help them to see that we are to be a peculiar people, free of the influences of the world.18 Help them to see that keeping the Sabbath holy is a way to do that, a way to keep themselves unspotted from the world.

The Sacrament

The purposes of the sacrament

May we now transition and speak for a few minutes regarding the purposes of the sacrament?

We partake of the sacrament in remembrance of the body and blood of the Son. This is the reason the Lord Himself gave for the sacrament as He personally instituted it both in the Holy Land and in the Americas.19 This should be a significant part of our experience each week. The sacrament is an opportunity to remember Him and all that His body and His blood represent regarding the literal Resurrection, the redemption from our sins, and the grace that is sufficient to face all of life’s challenges.

We witness unto God, the Eternal Father, that we are willing to take upon us the name of His Son and keep His commandments, thereby renewing all of our covenants. Can you imagine if each of us sincerely did that every week? Sacrament meeting would be a spiritual feast, culminating with the Lord’s promise that we will “have his Spirit to be with us,” bringing hope, healing, strength, comfort, and forgiveness.20

We all need forgiveness and healing, and some of us need to forgive and to let go of bitter feelings that we have held on to for too long. The Atonement and the sacrament gives us an opportunity to do that now.

There are opportunities to teach the purposes of the sacrament throughout the scriptures and in all of our courses. I would suggest that we look for at least two specific ways to do this. One, any time we teach a type or symbol of the Savior, we have an opportunity to teach the purposes of the sacrament. And two, whenever we teach principles associated with covenants, we have an opportunity to apply those principles to the sacrament.

May I share just one example of each of these two types of opportunities (again, from the Old Testament)?

1. Types and symbols point us to Jesus Christ

The first example, which illustrates using types and symbols of the Savior, is from Leviticus chapter 1. There the Lord teaches the children of Israel to voluntarily bring an offering unto the Lord. The offering was an animal which was to be a male without blemish, which would be accepted to make atonement for the person who came to worship. The person then killed the animal, and the priests would sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar.21

It is easy to see the symbolism and its ties to the sacrament and to recognize that while the person was being made holy, the Lord Himself would bear his or her afflictions, sorrows, and sins. I think it is a striking paradox that the righteous are those “whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb.”22 But “the Lord shall be red in his apparel.” For, as He said, “Their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment.”23

What a sight—to see the Lord in red, surrounded by angels clothed in white. Because of the suffering of Jesus Christ, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”24

Next, the offering was cut into pieces—the head, the inwards, the legs, and the fat.25 The head represented our thoughts; the inwards our heart, our feelings; and the legs, our actions. The symbolism reminds us of the sacrament as we commit to love God “with all [our] heart, might, mind and strength.”26

In other words, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!”27

We can also use the role of the priests, Aaron’s sons,28 to teach our young men the significance of the role they perform during the sacrament. Teach our priests that they are the sons of Aaron, that they must be set apart from the world, that they represent the Savior. Teach the teachers of the Aaronic Priesthood that they stand in the place of Joseph of Arimathea, preparing the body of Christ. (Some of you have had the sacred experience of preparing a body for burial. Can you imagine the sacred experience of Joseph of Arimathea?29) Help our young men to understand that sacrament meeting is a memorial service in remembrance of the Savior.

A stake president taught this idea to a quorum of teachers. Now their 15-year-old teachers quorum president has his entire quorum come 30 minutes before sacrament meeting every Sunday, where they read from the scriptures and pray together, and then as a quorum they prepare the sacrament.

We can also teach our deacons the role they perform. Can you imagine being a pallbearer at the memorial service for the Savior?

Help all of them to know that they are honoring their priesthood in ways that help each of us to access the blood of Gethsemane and to receive the forgiveness and healing it provides.

2. Teaching about covenants gives us a chance to teach the sacrament

Another opportunity will be teaching the sacrament as we teach the principles related to covenants.

One example of this is found in the book of Hosea, which uses the symbols of a husband, his bride, her betrayal, and a test of marriage covenants in order to teach our covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father. The Lord told Hosea to “take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms.”30 So Hosea took Gomer as his wife. But after he took her in, provided for her, and showed his love for her, she returned to her former lifestyle and betrayed him.

How would you feel if you were Hosea? And yet, listen to how Hosea reacts to this betrayal:

“I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.

“And I will give her her vineyards.”31

And then in the scriptural account a shift occurs from Hosea and Gomer to the Lord and covenant Israel as He says to us: “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.”32

To see the way Hosea felt about his covenants, and to realize that is the way the Lord feels about His covenants with us, has greatly blessed me.

I first learned to love this story because of a talk by President Henry B. Eyring. Some of you would have been there when he said this about his experience teaching the Old Testament in seminary: “For more reasons than I can explain, during those days teaching Hosea, I felt something new, something more powerful. This was not a story about a business deal between partners. … This was a love story. This was a story of a marriage covenant bound by love, by steadfast love. What I felt then, and it has increased over the years, was that the Lord, with whom I am blessed to have made covenants, loves me, and you, and those we teach, with a steadfastness about which I continually marvel and which I want with all my heart to emulate.”33

There is so much more to the story, but I will leave it for you to review President Eyring’s incredible talk, given in the CES symposium in 1995. My point is that we have an opportunity to teach covenants. And when we do, let’s help our students to feel what President Eyring felt: that God loves us and that He delights to bless us through our covenants. When we come to understand that ordinances and covenants are symbols of God’s love and desire to exalt us, we are forever changed by the sacrament.

Conclusion

Can you imagine what would happen if the youth and young adults of the Church attended sacrament meeting every week and truly remembered the Savior, feeling gratitude for His Atonement, witnessing to the Father that they would carry the Savior’s name each day and strive to keep His commandments and to live worthy of the gift of the Holy Ghost? And then, during the week, they attended seminary and institute classes that were focused on the Savior’s central role in the plan of our loving Heavenly Father and reminded them of their commitment to be disciples of Jesus Christ? And if in their homes they talked about these things with their parents and together planned to make the Sabbath the center of their week?34 We can hardly imagine the blessings the Lord has waiting for us.

May I close with my testimony that if we are to teach this doctrine with power, we must first live it. If we will keep the Sabbath day holy and remember the Savior as we renew our covenants each Sunday, the Sabbath will become a delight to us and will bless us and our families for generations. And it will significantly strengthen our ability to inspire our beloved students to recognize how keeping the Sabbath day holy will help them to understand and rely on the teachings and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It will deepen their appreciation and commitment to their covenants as disciples of the Savior of the world.

May we always remember Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.