‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 21. Sabbath Rest – Pause for Reflection
Jn 12:12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem
And now: It would appear that the events we saw earlier in Jn 12, that we suggested were on the Friday, have overflowed on to the Saturday. There is no mention of the Saturday, the Sabbath but being a day of rest, it must surely have been observed by the religious Jews congregating in Jerusalem. There is an element of confusion here for John, we have already observed, records Jesus going to Bethany (Jn 12:1) and has him going to a dinner in honour of him, but when we read carefully, although Mary, Martha and Lazarus are all mentioned – reminding us of what had happened in the previous chapter, we actually aren’t told that it was their home, just that they were part of it all.
Now we need to recognize that there were two such occasions recorded with very similar things happening. The first is much earlier on in Lk 7 and is in the home of a Pharisee named Simon which, if Luke’s account is chronologically ordered, was in or near Nain (Lk 7:11) which is in Galilee, and a ‘sinful woman’ weeps over Jesus’ feet and Jesus uses the occasion to teach about hospitality and love. The second event is in Bethany in the south, near Jerusalem and involves a man, previously known as a leper, yes, also known as Simon, and on this occasion oil is poured over Jesus’ head (Mt 26:6,7) as a token preparation for Jesus’ burial (v.12) although John suggest she also did it over his feet (Jn 12:3) and the woman in question was Mary, sister of Lazarus, of whom there is no suggestion of impropriety that we find in the earlier incident.
Sabbath: We have identified this day above as the Friday, a week before Jesus is actually crucified. In two days’ time will come the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we refer to as Palm Sunday. That was not a solemn day of rest as the Sabbath must surely have been but, as I’ve said previously, there appears no reference whatsoever to this day, either its timing or what happened on it. We are left presuming that Jesus and his disciples and followers are respecting it and obeying the Law to honour it, but as far as the story goes, it is a non-day!
But???? Now you may be feeling frustrated that we don’t push on with the story and move on to Palm Sunday but this is a series about uncertainty and certainty, and this day presents us with further uncertainties which in turn should lead our thinking about our lives generally. We don’t know what Jesus did on this day. Uncertainty. We don’t know what the scheming authorities did on this day. Uncertainty. But actually, isn’t this exactly how life often is – days of uncertainty, non-days where nothing of apparent significance appear to happen? One of the biggest threats throughout the shut-down period of the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 was the sense of gloom that many felt at the thought of being shut in for weeks if not months on end, a threat that, for some at least, was almost worse than the thought of catching the virus.
Non-days, uneventful days, can be days when the enemy whispers over the fence, “You’re a waste of time. All these needy people around you and you’re not doing anything about it. Loser!” (Aside: he’s not allowed into your patch, your life, he can only whisper or shout over the fence so to speak, hence the call to ‘stand’ that comes a number of times in Eph 6) But that’s when we need to take note of this present day.
Using the Sabbath: It’s the Sabbath, a day for remembering the sovereignty of God as Creator (Gen 2:2, Ex 20:8-11) and also the redeeming work of the Lord (Deut 5:6,15) It’s a day to refocus. Yes, if you were Jesus, his mind might have been full of all the amazing things the Father had led him to do over the past weeks and months. But also his mind might be full of all that is to come in Jerusalem in a week’s time, but it is a week off so not too much stress, but enough time for the enemy to play on his mind. So it is the Sabbath so, like us, he needs to refocus on his Father, refocus on the plan, refocus on the will of the Godhead formulated before the foundation of the world, and put aside all distractions.
Do we see how important this is? The future may be ‘the great unknown’ and so we need to refocus on our Sabbath, our time when everything has been put aside as we have been shut in, so we can focus on Him alone. It is only as we do this that the problems of the world dwindle to the size they truly are before God – minuscule! How will I get by today? How will I get by tomorrow? How will I get by the weeks and months ahead? I don’t know but He does and He is here with us and He has the resources that do away with uncertainty, that enable us to walk the days ahead in peace, or to walk the days ahead with resources for others.
The problem with standing still, putting aside all of our usual busyness, putting aside all that has been going on, is that it can be a bit like waking at two o’clock in the morning where all of the worries about the coming week seem to congregate and burst out into the open and overwhelm us. This is the place where we really do need to take every thought captive (2 Cor 10:5) and surrender them to Christ. But to do that means first focusing on him, worshiping him, declaring his greatness and using that to scare away the enemy (Jas 4:7) so that we find ourselves in the eye of the storm where it is utterly still and we know Him. “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psa 46:6) Is this why the Lord let that Pandemic to sweep over us, to slow us up, to shut the world down to enable us to refocus? This Sabbath may be a non-day, a day not mentioned, but everything in me suggests that this was what was happening on that day. By not being a day full of events, it didn’t come to the fore in the collective memory that produced the Gospel accounts. It happened so that in the stillness the essential refocusing could take place. If I am right and this is what Jesus did, how much more do we need to do it?