Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Sabbath Puzzle

[Warning: This post contains theological details that some readers may find boring and unreasonably nit-picky. Don't say I didn't warn you!]

I’m in my 40s, and only a couple of weeks ago, I believe I finally, finally came to a full, satisfying understanding of what the Sabbath means. This is an issue I’ve been struggling with for decades, honestly ever since I began to think seriously of my own faith. Let me see if I can summarize my frustrations, such as they were: If the Old Testament law states that the Sabbath ordinance is an ETERNAL covenant agreement between God and His people, why does the modern church take such a lax attitude toward observing the Sabbath? Conversely, if the Old Testament law was totally fulfilled in Christ, as the New Testament says, and if (as Christ Himself states) the Sabbath was made for man’s sake, and not the other way around, then why do we still observe it at all?

And there are plenty of folks on both sides of that argument who can talk you into the ground on obedience to God’s Word, or on the wonder of our Christian liberty and freedom from the law. Sigh. I found myself in both camps and came away very confused.

So, for years, I observed a muddy middle, kind of setting aside Sundays as a special day for church, but not wanting to be a legalist. We took naps and watched football, avoided eating out or traveling, but would do it in a pinch. But honestly, what’s the good of half-baked obedience? I wasn’t really sure what God wanted me to do with my Sundays.

And then there was the whole issue of Sunday in the first place. Why Sunday? What is a Sabbath anyway, but a day of REST after WORK? So, if we observe a Sabbath at all, shouldn’t we be doing it on the 7th day of the week, at the end of our work? If our Sabbath observance is supposed to pattern God’s in any way, shouldn’t it reflect His rest after His work? Why were we “resting” at the beginning of the week? More confusion!! The Sabbath was a huge puzzle.

And then I heard Pastor Love preach one Sunday, and he started putting my puzzle together for me. His emphasis in this sermon was on explaining to me what the Lord’s Day is – in other words, WHY we do what we do on Sundays.

And it was VERY informative! I never realized how many things the New Testament church did on the first day of the week! They clearing designated this day, Sunday, the FIRST day, as the one they chose for worship, fellowship, eating together, taking offerings, doing good in service, etc. Rev. Love led me through all those incidents in Acts and other passages. I understood what the Lord’s Day was – yes! And from then on, I determined to call Sunday the Lord’s Day, and with a full and happy heart, realized that on Sundays I was celebrating Christ’s resurrection day as those early Christians did.

Great. So, what was this Sabbath stuff that we still toss around? If Sundays were the Lord’s Day, why do some still call them a Sabbath? How were those early Christians “resting”? This still made no sense to me, and I came perilously close to jettisoning all inclination toward any “Sabbath” observance right out my theological window.

But those Old Testament passages haunted me. I could hear God telling Moses and the Israelites that this was an everlasting ordinance, to be followed by their generations forever. What did God mean? I even considered, in terror, the horrible sinking idea that perhaps we should be observing a Sabbath on Saturday, and then the Lord’s Day on Sunday. But NOBODY does that!! I must be insane.

Until this year, when we began studying heaven. And we dug back into those wonderful Old Testament passages in which God makes His covenant with Abraham and gives him His promises – eternal promises. Promises of a plenteous people, and of LAND, and to be their God. Hebrews tells us that Abraham left his home, and traveled to a land he didn’t know, NOT so that he could possess some dirt in the Middle East as his promised land, but because he – Abraham! – understood that the LAND God promised to him was an eternal land, a heavenly land, the New Earth.

And I understood that much of what God was covenanting with Abraham were eternal things – things that are fulfilled in heaven.

I spent time reading and rereading Hebrews 4 and corresponding passages. I contemplated on “Rest.” God’s rest after creation, the believer’s rest after this life, the weekly rest, and Christ’s rest after his work was accomplished. And one passage from Grady’s sermon (the notes of which I’ve kept for years in my Bible) drew me back. I even found some of the source material Grady used, and dug back into a 19th century sermon given by one Rev. Waldegrave. Here’s what he said, and I warn you – it was revolutionary for me:

“This [Christ’s] entrance into rest, was in, by, and at his resurrection from the dead … Then, and therein, were all types, all prophecies and predictions fulfilled, that concerned the work of our redemption. … There did the Lord Christ enter into his rest, after he had finished, and ceased from his works, on the morning of the first day of the week, when he arose from the dead, the foundation of the new creation being laid and perfected.

“Here lieth the foundation of our sabbatizing, of the sabbatism that remains for the people of God. This reason doth the apostle give of it. He had before asserted it; and there remained no more for him to do, but to manifest, that as those other rests which were passed, the one at the beginning of the world, the other at the giving of the law, had their foundation in the works and rests of God, whence a day of rest was given out to the church; so had this new rest a foundation in the works and rest of Christ, who built all these things and is God, determining a day for our use, in and by that whereon himself entered into his rest, that is the first day of the week.”

Okay, let me summarize Rev. Waldegrave for you. Do we observe the Sabbath? YES!! Why? Because Christ, upon the moment of His resurrection on Sunday morning, entered into HIS rest. He is, right now, in His rest, because His great work of salvation is completed. We observe a SUNDAY Sabbath because that was the day that Christ entered into his eternal rest. This is the reason we observe a Sabbath – not because of some left-over Old Testament legalism, but because of a wonderful Old Testament covenant, that God would give us eternal rest. Our Sabbath isn’t a rest from weekly work, but an eternal one – we’re participating in Christ’s rest with him, right now!

Now, I cannot tell you how excited it makes me to realize that the eternal rest has already started! I feel like a Heavenly Party has begun, and I get to participate each week! I feel that, each Sunday, I’m participating in a wonderful event, one which is personal and precious to me – a celebration of Christ’s finished work, and the solid promise of a bodily resurrection that THAT Sunday stands for. Every Sunday, I’m avowing that I look in eagerness for heaven, and my friend, oh, I do!!

If you figured all this out years ago, more blessed are you ☺ But how happy I am to realize all of this, at last.

2 comments:

  1. I came here from asteroid B612. Thanks for this wonderful message! I needed to hear it today. Blessed Lord's day to you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I LOVE that line!! "I came here from asteroid B612." Awesome :) Who else can say that?

    ReplyDelete

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