The scriptures give the commandment concerning the Sabbath day, which Abinadi reiterated in the Book of Mormon:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work;
But the seventh day, the sabbath of the Lord thy God, thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates;
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Mosiah 13:16-19).
Breaking the Sabbath used to be a capital crime. A person could be sentenced to death for violating it.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily 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. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:13).
Why such a serious offense?
The Lord explained it best when he said “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Therefore, a day of rest and peace is intended to be one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind in this fallen world. It would follow that the logic surrounding the death penalty for its abuse would be geared towards protecting the innocent worker. Since the commandment includes not asking your servants to work on the Sabbath either, than it seems that the Lord is saying He really intends to prevent abuse of the innocent. He will make sure no one is forced to work this day, if it means that He has to implement death for the employers who so spite Him. It is obvious in the New Testament that a poor worker who finds his ox in the mire is not in violation of the Sabbath when he proceeds to pull him out (Luke 14:3-6). The intent of the commandment, therefore, seems clear.
Following this logic, it becomes clearer which statement in the Sermon on the Mount is potentially Jesus expounding on the importance of the spirit of Sabbath worship. Without mentioning the Sabbath, Jesus seems to be assuming it is well known what kind of activity goes on on that day, knowing that His hearers will know what He is talking about. We are so fallen into secular blindness that we don’t relate to His sayings that well these days, but the connection is nevertheless clearer after walking through it as we have above:
Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor; but take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven. Therefore, when ye shall do your alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as will hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. (3 Nephi 13:1-2).
The Sabbath is a day of peace for all, a day of brotherhood, and of forgiving of debts; a day to give alms to the poor; a day to return to the Garden of Eden and its innocence. What do the employers do if they can’t, under penalty of death, force their employees to work on the Sabbath? They go to the opposite extreme and give large gifts to charity, but only for the purpose of networking and making themselves look to be a profitable employer to work for, and thus still pervert sincere intent. These corrupted organizations and individuals still can’t keep the Sabbath even when they participate in the almsgiving of that day. They remain hypocrites. What will they do when the whole workweek becomes a holy day and we enter into the rest of the Lord (Alma 34:33; JST Luke 12:44; Matthew 25:6)? They will go their own way, not interested in the party, where there will be found weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (D&C 63:54) for these oppressors who hate a God who gives gifts to the poor in spirit (3 Nephi 12:3).
Even after being chastened in Babylon for seventy years, many Jews returned to Israel with a culture against Sabbath worship. Nehemiah proclaimed:
In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. (Nehemiah 13:15).
Instead, our God delivers from bondage, and frees us from labor on the Sabbath in commemoration of his promise of mercy and redemption. The purpose of deliverance from labor on the Sabbath seems to be a symbol of deliverance from sin (Mosiah 25:16).
It is to this end that the following scriptures elaborate on individual Sabbath worship:
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. (Isaiah 58:13-14).
And the following:
I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God. (Ezekiel 20:19-20).
After reviewing the way the scriptures describe the Lord’s original intent for keeping the Sabbath holy, it should be obvious that even devoted church service can brake the Sabbath day. Ask yourselves, does the institution I belong to posture their church service opportunities on the Sabbath as a means to network, prove their institution is worth working for and being loyal to, sound a trumpet about their charitable acts in the name of marketing their brand of religion, or promote greetings in the marketplace and competitive habits concerning piety, dress, or codes of conduct (see Luke 20:46)? If so, you may be looking at a business conglomerate masquerading as a religion, hypocritical in their pretenses of promoting the very commandment they cause their members to break through excessive and vain meetings and busy-work callings.
On the other hand, the sincere in heart can always find ways to be of true service to their fellow beings, even if they find themselves in the midst of corruption and spiritual wickedness in high places (see Ephesians 6:12). Even still, good advice concerning the Sabbath comes from churches that have self-preservation as an interest; and not all leadership, direction, callings, or Sabbath-day meetings are faulty.
For those who don’t have a church to attend, but only fellowship amongst close family and friends, the spirit of the Sabbath is easy to discover in the scriptures quoted above. Are your activities on the Sabbath a sign to the Lord of your remembrance of his statutes and judgments, and that you wish to know that He is the Lord your God? Said the Lord, “And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you” (3 Nephi 18:7).