“to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.” Second Chronicles 36:21
There’s a debate among some theologians about the relevance of Old Covenant laws for New Covenant believers. One of the most contested aspects of the Old Testament’s moral law is how we should understand the sabbath. On the one hand, there are those who point out that where an Old Testament law is not repeated—or is actually repealed—in the New Testament, it is not binding on the New Covenant believer, and the sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament (and arguably it is repealed). This also includes the Old Covenant’s food laws, Israel’s civil laws, and the priestly ceremonial laws. Added to this, it is pointed out that the Old Covenant was made with Israel, not other nations, and therefore it has never applied to non-Jews.
But on the other hand, there are theologians who point out that the Old Covenant was an invitation for other people from other nations to enter into which many did — we think of: Rahab (Matt. 1:5), Ruth (Ruth 1:1ff), the 600 Gittites who went with David from Gath (2Sam. 15:18), Uriah the Hittite (2Sam. 11:2), as examples of Gentiles who became proselytes of Judaism. Added to this, it is argued that the Old Covenant laws form principles for New Covenant believers to live by, and that Christians should not be too quick to dismiss them. How then should we regard the sabbath today? And could there be a divinely enforced global sabbath happening as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
he said to them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” Exodus 16:23 (Given before the Ten Commandments)
THE SABBATH WAS A WITNESS
“to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.” Second Chronicles 36:21
Ezra’s re-telling Judah’s history and its eventual downfall is described by him as the consequence of Judah not keeping the sabbath. There were at least two types of sabbath that God required of Israel. The first was a weekly sabbath, and other was a sabbath which occurred every seven years.
but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. Leviticus 25:4
Ezra described Judah’s downfall and exile to Babylon a penalty for not keeping this every-seven-year sabbath. Judah’s forced seventy-year exile was a kind of catch-up for their missed sabbaths of which Israel were warned about in the Law of Moses – ¶ “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths” (Lev. 26:34).
“You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. Exodus 31:13
But why did Yahweh make such a big deal about the sabbath? It seems that the answer was both natural and supernatural. The supernatural aspect was to be a sign and witness to the nations (Exo. 31:13). In the natural, it didn’t make sense that 6-days-of-work-plus-one-day-of-rest could be as productive as seven-days of work. But God promised that it would be, if His people rested on the sabbath.
And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day. Exodus 16:28-30
By taking a day to rest and worship together on that day, it set Israel apart from all other nations and declared that God was worthy of their full attention, surrender and devotion. This was to be an integral component
Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. Exodus 31:16
This is why the sabbath was so important to Jews and after they returned from the exile to Babylon it became even more important, as evident by the fuss that the pharisees made about it during the ministry of Christ.
“But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:2
Therefore, the question worth considering: Is this aspect of the sabbath — as supernatural sign to non-believers — a principle for Christians to apply today?
THE SABBATH WAS A GIFT
The natural aspect of the sabbath was a physical refreshment as people ceased from their ordinary toil. This is why Jesus told the pharisees that the sabbath was made for mankind (Mk. 2:27). Thus, the sabbath was Yahweh’s gift to mankind which gave the under-privileged such as the working-poor, slaves, and hired farm workers, some respite from their arduous toil at a time when this concept was unheard of among other nations. We should also remember that the sabbath was given to mankind at a time when the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt under cruel hard task masters.
And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27
Therefore, the question worth considering: Is this aspect of the sabbath — as gift from God for all people to have at least one day a week to rest from their ordinary toil — a principle for people to apply today? And if it is, what are the consequences for people if this principle is ignored?
THE SABBATH WAS A FORESHADOW
The sabbath was described by the writer to the Hebrews as a shadow of Christ’s atonement which would bring an end to the requirements of the Old Covenant’s ceremonial laws which demanded strenuous works to be performed. That is, by Christ’s finished work on the cross, there is now no requirement for us to ‘work’ for our salvation. The writer to the Hebrews sees parallels between Christ’s finished work of redemption with the sabbath. Firstly, he argues, there is a foreshadow of Christ’s redemption in the description of God resting on the seventh day from His creative work. Secondly, for the believer who receives the merit of Christ’s finished work, they too enter into a ‘rest’ achieved by God’s grace.
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Hebrew 4:9-10
This makes Christianity unique among the world’s religions. While each man-made religion promotes the need for mankind to strive to be acceptable to God in the hope of entering into His heavenly paradise after leaving this dimension of life, only Christianity—established by God Himself—promotes mankind’s utterly helpless plight and reveals to mankind that God in His grace and mercy has reached down to us with a free offer of salvation.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
Because the Old Covenant sabbath was a foreshadow of rest that Christ would bring, it explains why Yahweh was so emphatic about its near-central role in His covenant with Israel. Again, I remind you, that God implemented the command for the sabbath before He gave Moses the Ten Commandments, or established the Mosaic Covenant to officiated by the Levitical priests. Its penalties were severe, and sound shocking to our 21st century ears. But as Moses discovered when he struck the rock (instead of ‘speaking’ to the rock as Yahweh commanded, Numbers 20:8, 12), disobeying God is never a trivial matter and sometimes carries unimaginable consequences—even when the command was ‘just’ a shadow of the New Covenant’s work of Christ.
And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold Me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Numbers 20:12
We now live in the reality of what the sabbath foreshadowed. This truth reveals the utter nonsense of any religious idea that elevates mankind to a level of divine moral purity—including any claim by misinformed Christians who may teach that a person’s salvation and reconciliation with God is made possible because they have: “made a decision”, or, “been water baptised”, or, “become a member of the/their church”, or, “sowed a financial seed into the (tax deductible) kingdom of God”, or, “received holy orders and been ordained”, anything that adds to the simple Scriptural injunction to “put your trust in the Saviour and His finished work on the cross.”
When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. John 19:30
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3:28
¶ Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1
I am writing this at a time when thousands are dying each day around the world from the COVID-19 pandemic. In such perilous times, the need for eternal assurance is now paramount and no-one should settle for some other man’s guesswork or philosophical fancies about the after-life — which all too often spouts some tripe about how we all go to heaven anyway — despite living in complete defiance to God’s command to repent from the deception our sufficient self-righteousness!
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3, the words of Jesus
Therefore, the question worth considering: Since the sabbath was a shadow of Christ’s finished work of salvation for mankind, how should respond to those who promote such religious nonsense that we are essentially good enough to earn our own salvation from God?
THE SABBATH TODAY
Pastor Phil Hills often says, “We don’t rest from works; we work from rest.” Because the New Covenant is the rest foreshadowed by the Old Covenant sabbath, we now work from this rest. This is why the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians saying-
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
We don’t work to be saved — we work because we are saved! These ‘works’ include acts of selfless service toward others who may have done nothing for us. These works of service are acts of grace and reflect what Christ has done for us by graciously saving us. Under the Old Covenant, the motive for obeying Yahweh’s strict requirements was to somehow earn merit with Him. But under the New Covenant, the perfect merit of Christ has been freely offered to us to be received by simply trusting (“putting our faith in”) Christ as The Saviour. And because the grace of God has been extended to us undeserving creatures so lavishly is the reason we know that it—and the God who initiated it— is the epitome of love. When those who surrender to God and admit their helpless state and accept His offer of forgiveness and reconciliation, they too are filled with God’s love toward others-
and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. ¶ For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:5-8
It’s worth now considering that from the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2, thousands upon thousands Jews accepted that Jesus Christ was indeed the promised Messiah and that the New Covenant spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-33) had now been instigated. These Jews immediately transferred their cultural identity bound up in the sabbath, which had always been observed each Saturday, over to Sunday (the first day of the week, which speaks of ‘newness’ and coming ‘after’ the Old Covenant) since this was the day the Christ rose from the dead, and it was also the day that the Holy Spirit was poured out to establish the Church.
Therefore, the question worth considering: How then should those who have entered into the sabbath of the New Covenant live during a time of international crisis?
THE RESULTS OF THE SABBATH REST
Why this understanding of the implications of the various aspects of the sabbath are so relevant for right now should now be immediately apparent. For the world community to respond to the COVID-19 virus with a naturalistic (no consideration for God or His Word) mindset means living with an “every man for himself” worldview. This results in acts of self-centred selfishness (please excuse the tautology done purposefully for emphasis). It looks like shops unnecessarily being stripped bare by panicked horders so that others are deprived of being able to obtain essential household goods. It also looks like thousands of people congregating on Bondi Beach in utter defiance of clear government orders not to do so which has now likely resulted in hundreds of people unnecessarily contracting the corona virus.
He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:11-12
But living with an understanding that the world may now be experiencing a kind of ‘essential solemn sabbath’ where a world that never stops is now forced to do so, should give us all pause for reflection. The late Dr. John R.W. Stott wrote a chapter in his book, Issues Facing ChristiansToday, about the practical applications of the sabbath for today. He formulated a R.E.S.T. approach to how Christians should understand the sabbath’s relevance. He argues based on the teaching of Christ, that the sabbath was meant for man’s refreshment and benefit and therefore should encompass:
Recreation – because this was a break from a person’s ordinary daily toil and is essential for a person’s mental and physical health;
Emergency (services) – such as essential health care providers and first-responders should be rostered on Sundays but also given another day off to sabbath;
Services – such as utilities (electricity, water, gas) food supplies, and opportunities to worship together, which are essential for the well-being of people; and,
Transport – also essential for the well-being of people.
Combatting the deadly and devastating impact of COVID-19 demands the adopting of a Christian worldview where we recognise our mutual self-isolation as acts of selfless love; our acts of kindness toward the elderly and frail as selfless love for the vulnerable; and, our willingness to check-in our neighbours via telephone, social media, or email, as an undeserved kindness that appropriately reflects what God has done for us. In this way, we might expect that the world will also begin to appreciate that our health and our economies do not need to ignore the principles of God’s sabbath gift to mankind.
It was just a few weeks ago that the World Health Organisation (WHO) described COVID-19 (an acronym for COrona VIrus Disease of 2019) as a ‘pandemic’ (a rapidly spreading global disease). But it was the former Australian Broadcasting Commission’s medical correspondent, Dr. Norman Swan who first referred to COVID-19 as “a plague”. When we read through the Bible it also seems to mass dying events as plagues. These Biblical plagues were often a sign of God’s judgment on wickedness – remember the squabble that Moses had with Pharaoh and the resultant plagues that eventually led to Israel’s deliverance? The Christian response to the current pandemic (A.K.A. “plague”) has ranged from responsible to embarrassing. What is called for is a Biblically-informed, Christ-inspired, God-honouring response from Christians and the churches they comprise.
In that hour He [Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. Luke 7:21
“WHERE’S YOUR FAITH?”
I have heard that some Christians have claimed that they are virtually immune from COVID-19 because of their faith in Christ. Maybe they have just cause to believe this because God has actually spoken directly to them about how they will be preserved from this virus. If so, their faith is justified. No Christian can reasonably claim that the Bible itself makes such a promise—after all, none the Bible is written to us (it is written for us though) which is why it would not be faith to believe that such verses as Exodus 15:26 (saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer”) were written to us to take as a promise, it would instead be presumption!
For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. First Samuel 15:23a
RUNNING INTO THE DARKNESS
Molokai, Hawaii, used in the 1800s as a leper colony where Father Jozef Damien was sent to minister to its lepers in Jesus’ Name, until his premature death from Hansen’s disease.
In the 1800s, a Belgian Catholic priest was given an assignment that involved taking up a ministry post in Hawaii. So far so good. But even though this was an Hawaiian island, it was also where Hawaii sent all of its lepers! Father Jozef Damien gladly took up his post and ministered to the hundreds of outcasts who had been exiled to this otherwise picturesque island. Eventually the inevitable happened. He contracted Hansen’s Disease (leprosy). After a protracted deterioration of his health, he succumbed and died at the age of 49. His life and ministry were yet another example of how the Holy Spirit has led faithful followers of Christ to run into the darkness, not away from it.
Christianity has a long tradition of such selfless service for a world cursed by the darkness of evil. Down through the millennia Christians have gone into slums, prisons, leper communities, and concentration camps and given their lives to minister to those in the clutches of evil outcomes. In the second century, it was Christians who went into the forests around the Roman Empire at night to rescue the baby girls that the Romans had abandoned there to “expose” their unwanted baby girls to the elements and the ravenous wolves. When Rome was eventually sacked by the Huns, it was the Church and its leaders who gave moral and civil leadership to reassure and comfort its citizens toward recovery.
In the 20th century, believers like Desmond Doss, served unarmed on the front-line in World War II as a military medic risking his own life to rescue dozens of wounded comrades left for dead from enemy fire. More recently, in the USA, when Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped out New Orleans, it was the Christian community across the USA who immediately mobilised to assist in emergency relief and aid. And even more recently, in Nashville Tennessee when they suffered a devastating hurricane a few weeks ago, the generosity of and response from the nearby Christian community led to the disaster relief coordinators announcing that they no longer needed any further government support and that they now had enough help and aid to more than meet the need. Christians have traditionally run into the darkness, not away from it! To be led by the Spirit in times of calamity is to be a light in the darkness and an expression of the love of God to a community in pain.
A NEW AWARENESS OF MORTALITY
Last Sunday, Arend Pîest said to me, “Isn’t it amazing how a something so incredibly tiny [the Corona virus] is changing the world!” He’s right. It’s so tiny you need a reasonably powerful microscope to even see it. Yet, this tiny microbial parasite is bringing the world to a halt and causing some people to face up to their own mortality – perhaps—for the first time—as reports of its spiralling death toll continues to mount. This is causing a massive shift in priorities. Dr. John Sands, who is giving me Launceston’s regular medical response updates, sent me this delight piece by Richard Hendrick –
by Richard Hendrick, March 13th 2020
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise you can HEAR the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet the
sky is no longer thick with FUMES but blue and clear.
They say that in Italy people are SINGING to each other across the empty squares, keeping their windows open so that those who are alone may HEAR the sounds of families around them.
They say that in the West of Ireland a young woman is spreading fliers with her number through the neighbourhood so that the elders may have someone to call on.
All over the world people are SLOWING DOWN and reflecting and looking at their neighbours in a NEW WAY
All over the world people are waking up to the reality of how big we really are, to our interconnectedness and to how little control we really have.
Waking up to what really matters, to the power of prayer, meditation, kindness, caring and love
So we pray and remember that while there is fear, there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation but
there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is sickness but there does not have to be disease of the soul
And yes there is pain, suffering and death but
there can always be a rebirth of community , peace, harmony and love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live today and now
The birds are singing, the
sky is clearing and love
always encompasses us
Open the windows of your soul and
though you may not be able to touch across the empty square…
SING and give thanks for your life and all you have.
It is arrogant and conceited to deny one’s mortality (that we will all die, Heb. 9:27). This the Caesars were frequently guilty of. Only GOD is immortal (Rom. 1:23). When someone acknowledges their mortality they soon ask the question, “What happens to me after I die?” This is what happened to Job when his horrible afflictions began.
But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? Job 14:10
Questions like this are inevitable when people realise their mortality. This is why during a pandemic, the world needs the church! Governments can’t answer this question. Celebrities with a giddilion Instagram followers can’t answer it. Bloggers can’t answer it. Twenty-year-old Life Coaches can’t answer it. But every Christian—the spiritual bricks and mortar of the Church—can! It is in times like this that people begin to wake up to what the Psalmist declared nearly two and a half millennia ago-
Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. Psalm 144:4
THAT VIRAL PEACE MAY ABOUND
Kim and I went to the supermarket this morning after our regular Friday morning coffee date. There were people everywhere. There were empty shelves. There were even security guards. It’s difficult for the Prime Minister to tell Australians that there is no need to panic-buy months worth of essential items such as toilet paper, when you go into the shop to buy one packet of it and there is none. People are anxious, and they now have reason to be. Australia has now closed its borders, and in a necessary and extraordinary move, so will Tasmania from midnight tonight. But Governments do not have all the answers to this crisis. Fortunately though, in Australia we do not have the “Separation of Church and State”, because our society was founded on the “Cooperation of Church and State”. This means that we are free to live what we believe and practice the consequences of what we believe, which involves front-line services in emergency and crisis accommodation; drug rehabilitation; marriage and family counselling; education; emergency aid and relief; and providing certainty in times of uncertainty. And, in addition to all of these outreach services, now is the time for every Christian to know what they believe and why and then demonstrate its consequences. Consider –
¶ Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
Therefore, do not let your hearts be troubled. Believer, I remind you that our hope is not in this world! It is where our ultimate home is! As for me, I have made a commitment to the Lord that He can use wherever He sees fit. If that should mean that I go into dark places in His Name as a light and comfort to the afflicted, so be it. But please be assured that as long as Lord enables me, I will do all I can to pastor, shepherd, feed, reassure, and remind you of what God’s Word says so that we can launch our own virus: a virus of the Lord’s peace!