Last week I introduced the next sermon in our series on Luke saying that Jesus told the Bible scholars they didn’t know the Bible. In Luke 6:1-11 he really gets in their face. At one point the Pharisees confronted Jesus’ disciples for rubbing grain in their hands on the Sabbath, saying the disciples were harvesting on the Sabbath. It was more than likely just a little snack. Harvesting? Not even close. So in response, Jesus says:
“Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?”
Wow! That’s bold, because you know they did read it, and were quite familiar with the story. What is he really saying to them, then? Basically, he is saying that they are wrong in their view of the Sabbath and they should have known better because it was right in front of them all along in an old Sunday School story. That story shows clearly that exceptions to the Law are needed and good when it comes to caring for people. The very next episode, when Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, tells the same principle.
Jesus shows the Pharisees, and he shows us, that we cannot let our religious system become more important than God’s intent!
One of the big questions about Sabbath is how Christians should apply it. What was God’s intent?
There are Sabbath principles that we need to adhere to. Remember that God’s OT Law was for Israel, not for us. That Law can be helpful to us, but only insomuch as we understand the heart intent of the law. We can apply the heart of the law to the church, to Jesus’ disciples. But we should not apply the law itself to the church.
When the first Christians tried to apply OT Law to the Christian Church, things got messy and the early church had to have a major meeting to discuss what to do. You can read about it in Acts 15. Some Christian Jews wanted the non-Jews who were coming to Christ to start following the OT Law, particularly in the area of getting circumcised. The Apostle Paul says “No Way!” And James, the brother of Jesus, who was the leader of the church at that point said, “Paul is right, we’re not going to bind people to that.”
But Christians through the centuries have still tried to take OT Law, which was only meant for Israel, and apply it to the church many times. One of the recurring mistakes has been when Christians and churches have taken Sabbath law and moved it to Sunday. Many Christians grew up in a day and age in which it was common practice to understand Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, so what I am saying here might be hard to fathom.
Consider this: Not only is the OT Law not applicable to the church as Law, but practicing a Sabbath day is not mentioned at all in the NT in connection with the Christian Church. It is the only one of the 10 commandments that is not somehow repeated in the Apostles’ teaching in the NT. The early Christians chose to gather on Sundays not because they wanted a new Sabbath day, but because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead! They simply wanted to meet to celebrate his resurrection every week. We should do the same. We do not gather for worship on Sunday because we are trying to obey Sabbath Law. We gather together to worship, to fellowship, to refocus on the mission of God’s Kingdom, to practice rest.
So while we don’t apply the Law, we can and should apply Sabbath principles to our lives. The principles of rest from labor and gathering for worship should be very evident in our lives. It doesn’t have to be a 24 hour period. It doesn’t have to be Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. It doesn’t have to be Saturday. We Christians do not need to follow Sabbath law. But we should show that we are following the principle, that we are resting from our labor, that we are trusting in our God to supply our needs.
God required the Israelites to rest so that they would learn to trust in him. By not working that one day per week they were showing great faith in him, that he would provide for them. They could have increased their incomes by 1/7th if they would work that extra day. Imagine how much money you would earn if you increased your wages by 1/7th? That’s a lot of money!
This is why I have great respect for companies that close their doors out of a desire to live out Sabbath principles. They are showing trust in the Lord. Think about their earning potential if they would open their doors a 7th day! You ask any company how they would feel about an opportunity that has a strong potential to increase their income by 14%? They wouldn’t bat an eye. It would be an automatic “Yes! Let’s do it.” But those companies are closed, if they are doing so with the right heart motivation, to say “No Lord, we’re going to trust in you. That potential 14% is yours.”
That’s pretty awesome.
But does that mean Christian companies or owners that keep their businesses open 24/7 are sinning? Nope, not one bit. There is no Sabbath law for Christians. If a Christian wants to make a voluntary sacrifice to the Lord, such as closing their business on Sunday, that is certainly their prerogative, but it is not required. And we should not judge either way. Leave the judging up to the Pharisees.
Instead we should individually ask ourselves “How am I practicing the principle of Sabbath?”
I really struggle with this. When do I intentionally put rest in my life? My Pastoral Relations Committee last year required me to rest on Wednesday afternoons and once a month take a Friday for spiritual refreshment. I will be honest, and Michelle can vouch for this, I have done pretty bad at that. I want to do it. But it is hard.
It is really, really hard to unplug, to disconnect.
We got new cell phones this past week, and I have yet to add my email account on my phone. I am doing that intentionally. But I will tell you that I’m iffy about it. I argue with myself. What would it hurt? What if I get an important email I need to answer right away? Don’t get me wrong, I think answering emails and replying to texts promptly is important. I have my computer open 8-4 everyday (and often in the evening and on Saturday…and on Sunday…). But an email that comes in at 7pm can probably wait til 8 the next morning, right?
I really struggle with the connected society we live in. Email, Facebook, texting, cell phones, etc, etc.
I get a sense that many of us need to apply Sabbath principles in the area of social connectedness. I get a sense that we need to disconnect. This is why I love that Twin Pines has a rule for summer camp about no electronics. We need more of that.
I often take my cell phone to the toilet so I can “redeem the time” and work on my cell phone in the bathroom. When do I ever just stop and think?
After the big snow storm a couple weeks ago, there was a full moon. At around 10pm, I was in our backyard dumping our woodstove ashes into our fire pit. The moon reflecting off the snow was so bright everything had distinct shadows. It was quiet. The sky was clear and you could see constellations.
I wanted to just stand there and look and think. I had that urge within that I need more Sabbath in my life. It was too cold, though, and I dressed only for a quick trip to the fire pit. I had to go inside.
But I could feel it. A need, a yearning for Sabbath. I really enjoy our technological and connected world. Technology amazes me. But in the backyard under that beautiful moonlit night, I remembered Sabbath. Frankly, I can forget about Sabbath. I can become accustomed to incessant work. Social media constantly with me on my phone. The TV seemingly always on. Emails flowing to my computer without end. When I open my computer I rarely have less than 20 emails needing attention each morning. And they do need attention, and I do need to reply. But after dinner time (when I am home) the emails can wait til the next morning. I can rest from that several hours a day.
How about you? Do you get like that about work? When do you rest? I don’t mean sleep. I mean rest from your labor to seek the Lord. Yeah, I do believe we can and should do this on Sundays. Not because that is the new Sabbath day. It’s not. There is no new Sabbath day. We meet on Sunday because that is day Jesus rose from the dead and we gather to celebrate him, to renew our focus on the mission of God’s Kingdom. And Sabbath principle, not Law, but principle, says that we should be passionately committed to opening up our schedules to actively participate in regular worship.
Sabbath is not a law that requires you to be in church every Sunday. But Sabbath principle says that we should be passionately committed to being there because we want to be there, we want to see our church family, we want to sing in worship, we want to give, we want to serve, we want to hear the word of the Lord, discuss it, and we want to refocus on his Kingdom. Sabbath principle is a heart that wants to worship because we love the Lord so much we want to participate in the gathered worship of his church.
I’ve heard it said that nowadays regular participation is once or twice a month attendance in worship. That concerns me greatly. In fact it could be argued that is an ignoring of Sabbath principle.
Do you need to gather for worship more? Do you need to rest and take a break to reflect on Him more? Do you need to show your trust in your loving God in this area?