Sabbath Series – part 3 of 4
Two weeks ago Rachel and I decided to begin setting one day aside each week – from the time the boys go to bed on Monday night, until they go to bed on Tuesday – as a Sabbath. We discussed that on this day I would not work on classes, sermons or church stuff, in fact I won’t even turn on my computer to check email. Rachel is going to set aside her normal routine of housework and cleaning. We are going to spend this day doing things together as a family, taking afternoon naps and leisurely walks, and spending time alone with God. We have been very excited about the possibilities.
The first week we had a wonderful morning. We took our time getting up and then went to the park and watched the boys play. We went home and had a nice simple lunch and then just sat around the house for a while. But then the boys started getting restless, and Rachel wanted to do a few dishes so that the work wouldn’t pile up for Wednesday, and I started feeling guilty for not doing anything…
This week the boys were at their grandparents’ house so we figured Tuesday would be completely relaxing. We again took our time getting up and after eating a late breakfast decided to get out of the house for a while. But then the van started acting funny and the check engine light came on. So we got in a fight about whether or not taking the van to the shop was something that violated our Sabbath…
I don’t know if any of you have been reevaluating your use of time over the last couple weeks – I’m still challenging you to do so if you haven’t yet. Maybe you already have a regular Sabbath routine. Great! This is the perfect time for you to reevaluate and consider the way you celebrate this day. Remember one of the enemies we discussed in the last past is that of just going through the motions; a checklist approach to your relationship with God. Isaiah 56 – 58 provides a great look into God’s disappointment with our religious roboticism.
If you’ve just begun setting aside a day and have found it difficult to give up that time; if it seems that the demands of your week won’t relinquish control of that day; if you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished enough to justify a day off, rest assured that you are not alone. This has not been an easy task for us, but I am more convinced than ever that this is a vital endeavor that our souls are starving for and I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that yours are too.
I recently had it pointed out to me that when we read the Genesis account of creation we need to take notice of when Sabbath occurred. It says that on the sixth day God created humans. On the seventh day God – and his creation – rested. The first full day of life for Adam and Eve was a day of rest; a day to remember the Lord. The first people were given the blessing of realizing that the Sabbath wasn’t something that they’d earned – it emanated from God. Before you try to argue that you haven’t gotten enough done to take a day off, remember that in God’s design, resting in him was the first full day’s activity for humanity. You don’t need to justify or earn your rest in God. The Sabbath reminds us that it is in God that we find completion and wholeness – not in our accomplishments.
For the last two posts we’ve been talking about things we avoid on Sabbath – be it the good things we cease doing or the dangerous enemies that we avoid. But Sabbath is not just about giving things up or ceasing. It is also about embracing. So what is it that we embrace?
A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day.
1 It is good to praise the LORD
and make music to your name, O Most High,
2 to proclaim your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,
3 to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
and the melody of the harp.
4 For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD;
I sing for joy at the works of your hands.
It is good to worship God on in your Sabbath. This is something that we embrace wholeheartedly. There is good reason why for so long many people have referred to Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. No it isn’t commanded, it isn’t a legalistic part of our covenant with Christ – but it is good.
5 How great are your works, O LORD,
how profound your thoughts!
6 The senseless man does not know,
fools do not understand,
7 that though the wicked spring up like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they will be forever destroyed.
8 But you, O LORD, are exalted forever.
On the Sabbath, it is good to be intentional about taking a larger view of life. All these things are good for everyday – focusing with intentionality on the Sabbath helps us continue the trend all week. We are intentional about what we do and what we don’t do. We notice here that even temporary success and gain for the wicked is tempered by the long reaching power and victory of God.
9 For surely your enemies, O LORD,
surely your enemies will perish;
all evildoers will be scattered.
10 You have exalted my horn [a] like that of a wild ox;
fine oils have been poured upon me.
11 My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries;
my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes.
12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the LORD,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, “The LORD is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
It is good to be filled with hope on the Sabbath. We embrace a time to proclaim the good news of God’s vision for humanity. Many people are surrounded by the victimization culture that treats hope like a dangerous, naïve or foolish concept. The Sabbath reminds us to carry hope throughout our lives. It is good to intentionally remember that the Lord is upright and that he will redeem all creation to himself. Hope should always be a part of our Sabbath celebration.
Or consider these passages from the gospels:
Mark 1:21 – They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.
Luke 4:16 – He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.
Luke 13:14-15 – Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?
Luke 14:1-6 – One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” And they had nothing to say.
John 5:9-11 – At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk'”.
Matthew 12:9-12 – Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Notice how often Jesus is reported to be teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath. It is obvious that he honored the Sabbath; there’s no denying that Jesus, the Son of God, took the day to remember. It is obvious that what he embraced is the worship of God and doing good.
While I want to set aside a day each week to rest, it would not only be foolish, but unfaithful of me to set that day aside so fully that I failed to offer aid to someone, or refused to go out of my way to do good. I should be no less likely to hold the door open for the person behind me on the Sabbath…if anything I should be more likely. I should not be less likely to stop and help someone whose car is broken down, or to help my neighbor carry some trash to the curb.
We noted in Psalm 92 that it is good to be intentional. I should be intentional about offering rest to someone I encounter on the Sabbath – if someone comes over dinner, it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to go into the kitchen and wash dishes. But that intentionality looses its benefit when it becomes an excuse to do evil by refusing to do good.
Reading these passages from the Gospels gives us the impression that perhaps many of the things we do on Sunday are exactly the kinds of things that should be embraced in Sabbath keeping. They are!
Look at Acts 2:42-47 –
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Worship, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer, giving to one another and sharing meals together. These types of things are exactly what we embrace in Sabbath keeping. We embrace the nature of community. Even in our quiet time with God, we are seeking community with him. If it’s just our family – the importance of special meals together cannot be overstated. Times to worship together, study together, to give gifts to one another…these are all a part of the peace and Sabbath rest of God.
Some people seem to think that Sabbath is a somber thing – silence, no smiles, no playing around. This isn’t good! Embrace play! Embrace celebration! Embrace joy! God has given rest for your soul – let your soul rejoice and be glad! Whether your Sabbath is on Sunday or some other day, we should be intentional about embrace these things. Worship, goodness, hope, joy…all of these provide rest and recreation for our spirits. In the next post I want to take this conversation a step further and specifically address the issue of feasting and celebrating on the Sabbath.