Saturday, February 15, 2014

We Need to Keep the Sabbath 

I am not a Sabbatarian.  By that I mean that I do not believe that the religious observance of days is mandated in Scripture for New Testament believers.  I believe we are called together to worship at times and places decided by the church, and we should be there.  But I do not see any mandated schedule for that in the New Testament.

That being said, the Sabbath was always about a lot more than the observance of a day.  That was only an outward sign of something much bigger.  In Exodus 31:13 (repeated in Ezekiel 20) God tells them that the Sabbaths were given to the children of Israel as a sign that "I am the Lord who sanctifies you."  To "sanctify" means to be made holy, to set apart, to bless, to save.  He was calling them to deliberately give up some of their productive labor as a recognition of the fact that their productive labor was not the source of their blessed state.  In Deuteronomy 5, in the second giving of the Ten Commandments, God uses their deliverance from Egypt as the reason for the Sabbath commandment- they had worked for 400 years without a day off in Egypt and had nothing at all to show for it.  Their blessing came from God, not their labor, and the deliberate restriction on labor was there to teach them that.

Far too many Israelites turned right around and made a different kind of work out of the Sabbath.  They thought that through their scrupulous keeping of the Sabbath day that God would be bound to bless them.  To this day many Orthodox Jews believe that the proper observance of two Sabbaths in a row will result in the coming of the Messiah and the Blessed Age.

It is ironic to me that too many today who continue to believe in the observance of one day in seven as a holy day view it as a way to secure God's blessing.  "If we just obey the law properly, then God will bless us."  But this is the very opposite of the meaning of the day, which is that God's blessing to us is free and independent of our own obedience.  Our obedience always follows His blessing- He sanctifies us.

But the even larger problem is the great many Christians who are so busy chasing after the blessed state in this life that they never leave themselves any time at all to quietly meditate on the things of God, whether individually, in their families or in their church.  We spend our time running after money because we believe that money will give us the blessed life.  We are so busy in our family life that we neglect the thing our children really need, which is a real relationship with the God who saves.  We pour our time and energy into exercise and diet thinking that good health is the key.  We spend our time and money on entertainment, on vacations, on food and drink.  We never have a second to stop and relax, to simply love others, to peacefully meditate on God's word.

In this mindset, balance is always impossible.  Every individual will have their own god, their own idol, their own vain lie about what or what combination of things will give them what they want.  Money, pleasure, health, family, community, politics, religious activity, academic pursuits- everyone will pick one or two or three of those things and pursue them to the detriment of the others.  When religious importance is attached to the things of this world, moderation is not possible.  Idols always demand total devotion.  So we get the glutton, the drunkard, the fornicator, the workaholic, the greedy, the wrathful, the miser, all of them trying to eat things that aren't bread.  We get the ascetic, the man trying to discipline his body in a hermit's cave or in a health club in order to achieve that blessed state.

"Why do you labor for that which is not bread?"  the prophet asks the people of Israel.  Why do they spend their time and effort chasing after foreign gods that cannot save them any more than they save these other nations?  Israel looked at Assyria with their fearsome chariots, or Babylon with their great wealth, or Egypt with their fine luxuries, and said, "We want what they have," and adopted their ways and religions in an attempt to get it.  But they had something so much greater.  They had the God who saves.  Where are the Assyrian and Babylonian and Egyptian empires today?  And yet the people of God go on, while the great empires of the past are relics for archaeologists to study and children to be bored by in museums.

We need to just stop.  Stop our busy schedules.  Stop running around.  Stop trying to achieve the blessed state through our own works.  It will never happen because we cannot bless ourselves.  God saves us.  We need to take a Sabbath, a Sabbath in our hearts, to remind us of that.  We will never be able to get enough money, have good enough health, have the perfect vacation, watch the perfect TV show, build the perfect church, to achieve the blessed state we want.  We can't.  It's a cursed and fallen world and no effort of ours will ever overcome the effects of that curse on the world.

This is the whole message of the cross.  The cross is what was necessary to save us.  And how can we add anything to that?  We're like Israelites in slavery thinking that if we just work a little harder maybe our slavemasters will let us go.  We don't need to work harder, or smarter.  We need to be saved.

Then we can simply, quietly, peacefully, rest in that salvation, in the knowledge that Jesus paid it all.  Then we can, coming from that place of rest, begin to get busy doing the work God has given us to do- caring for our families, working at our jobs, taking care of our bodies, enjoying God's beautiful earth, loving other people, not because we think we will add so much as one minute to our lifespans by doing so, but out of that thankful and peaceful love that flows from the knowledge that all the work is done already, and has been for two thousand years.  The blessed state is already achieved, and all there is left for us to do is to learn how to enjoy it.

So on second thought, I am a Sabbatarian, a New Testament Sabbatarian.  Every Christian desperately needs to stop their vain attempts to secure their own happiness through their works, and rest in Christ.  Take time out from your too-busy schedules to read your Bibles, to pray, to love your families and your churches- not on any particular schedule, but every day of your lives.  At your workplace- rest in the knowledge that God puts the bread on your table.  At play- rest in the knowledge that God is your joy and your pleasure.  At the gym, know that your health is in God's hands and you won't live a minute longer or have any better quality of life than He gives you, and that in the blood of Christ your bodies will be raised to glorious eternal incorruptibility.  On vacation- rest in the knowledge that all the joys of heaven are yours, after you have suffered a little while.  Let the Sabbath principle infuse every breath you take and every work you do.

The Sabbath principle will make the difference between the mad and desperate scrambling that characterizes so many lives, the destructive and miserable pursuit of the lying temptations of this world that is ruining our families, our churches, our nation- and the peaceful and joyful working at whatever God puts in front of us to do.  The Sabbath principle will give us that long-sought-after balance, enabling us to start to understand how to work as much as is right, to play as much as is right, to rest and pray as much as is right, to study as much as is right, all done in the desire to thankfully and peacefully experience all the blessings God is giving His people.  Once we realize that He doesn't need our work to bless us any more than He needed the Israelites' input to free them from Egypt, then we can rest in Christ's perfect and finished work every day and every minute of our lives.  We can give up any vain dream of blessing ourselves through our own efforts, and seek simply to serve Him in thankfulness, peace and joy, to experience the fullness of His salvation.

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