Saturday, 28 March 2020

AN ESSENTIAL SOLEMN SABBATH

AN ESSENTIAL SOLEMN SABBATH
“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 On the one hand, there are those who point out that where an Old Testament law is not repeated—or is actually repealed—in the New Testament, it is not binding on the New Covenant believer, and the sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament (and arguably it is repealed).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 20:812), 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 Christians Today, 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.
-Pastor Andrew Corbett 

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