6. Rememberand Revere (2)

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  6. Remember & Revere (2)

Ex 20:8-11   “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

In the previous meditation I said we would look at what the Law said first of all and then how it was applied and then at what Jesus said about it for us today. We noted, in considering what the Law actually said, that it was a call to remember or mark the seventh day of every week  and make it holy (distinct and special, a unique day), and that was for every man, woman, child and beast in the community. The remembrance appeared to be two fold – to remember God as Creator and to remember God as deliverer.

Now we have to consider how they applied it and how Jesus applied it for us.  An incident before entering the Promised land shows how it was applied in their early days: “While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Num 15:32-36)

Today we  might think the death penalty for collecting sticks was harsh in the extreme. But the sticks were not the issue; the issue was a man who basically said, “I may be part of the covenant community but I am not going to do what God says.” It was that simple. He separated himself from that community by his attitude and actions. They could have banished him from the nation but in the middle of the wilderness on his own he would probably have died anyway. Stoning would certainly have contained a strong message but the end result was the same.

In the centuries that followed, as we see Israel again and again drifting away from the Lord, it is probable that this command, with many others was disregarded, but whenever there was a return to God it is obvious that this law came back into its own.  Even after the exile we find it was an issue: “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day,” (Neh 10:31) and then later, “In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing–desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn’t your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.” When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day.”  (Neh 13:15-19) Nehemiah saw disregarding the Sabbath keeping as one of the causes of the Exile itself.

Now into the New Testament and we find the religious Jews having a problem with Jesus over Sabbath keeping: “At that time Jesus went through the grain-fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” Jesus appeals to the historical testimony: He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. He also appeals to the Law:  Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. There are bigger issues to be followed: If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” His conclusion is that as God HE decides what is best use of the Sabbath. Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. The opposition looks for trouble over healing:  Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He appeals to their practice: He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! His conclusion: Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:1-12) Mark added to the grain field incident – “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mt 2:27,28) From these verses we can suggest the following:

  1. Jesus, the Son of God, is the ultimate arbiter of how to use the Sabbath. It can be used for good!
  2. In ‘using it’ he doesn’t detract from its original purposes of remembering God the Creator and God the Provider, but in fact demonstrates Him doing that still.
  3. The Sabbath law is not to become a legalistic straight-jacket but as an instrument to bless and protect us – it was made for our benefit.
  4. The Jews added many minute detailed applications of the original law but that made it man-focused and not God-focused.
  5. We now have freedom to use the Sabbath (Sunday as followed by the early church  e.g. Acts 20:7) for anything that might be considered ‘good’ while not detracting from using it as a day to specifically remember the Lord’s goodness.
  6. As those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the truth is that anything covered by 5 above can also be done on any other day of the week as well. Nevertheless when we work it is not always easy to ‘remember the Lord’ and so opportunities to meet together as church and perform such things as the Last Supper, are wisely, from a general administrative point of view, done on a ‘standard’ agreed day.
  7. History suggests that when people (maybe those disillusioned by church) cease meeting on a Sunday, they separate themselves off from the rest of the Church and soon become those for whom the writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25) Recognising the value of meeting together for witness, worship, ministry and teaching, why not make it on the same day as the rest of the church. If we feel disillusioned by ‘church’ rather than abandon it, work to change it. Enough said.

We live in a day and a society which largely disregards God and one outworking of that (to our detriment)  is that business is carried on seven days a week often. Arguments can be made for caring in hospitals etc. but the issue is not so much what constitutes ‘work’ as what are our feelings towards God. That we have gone beyond what is wise in terms of procedures as a society will no doubt become clear in the future. The big issue, though, is what is our attitude towards God?

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5. Remember and Revere (1)

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  5. Remember & Revere

Ex 20:8-11   “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Christians seem to fall into two extreme, so often, in respect of this verse. There are those who hold to it so legalistically that Sunday becomes a day of imprisonment. My wife, and others I know who grew up in Christian families over forty years ago, tells of Sundays where you were hardly allowed to do anything at all, days of misery almost! The other extreme are those people who say, “Well this is the Old Testament law so it doesn’t apply to us any more so we can do what we like.” This view gains followers in a day when certain jobs require you to work on a Sunday.

I say these are extremes because I want to suggest there is a middle way. Let’s look at what the Law said first of all and then how it was applied and then at what Jesus said about it for us today.

First of all what it says: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (v.8) That is the basic law and everything else is a) an explanation of  what it covers and then b) an explanation of why it is to be like this.  The Sabbath simply means the seventh day. The call was to make it special, to remember or mark it and make it holy (distinct and special, a unique day).

There is, before we get on to the explanations, a clarification: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” (v.9,10) It is all about resting from work, or at least that is the first expression of it.

So next the explanation of what it covers: “On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” (v.10) i.e. this abstaining from work is to cover every member of the community, man or beast. It is a total rest – for everyone.

Now comes the reasoning behind it: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (v.11) Now intriguingly, when you look at this verses, it doesn’t say that you should remember God’s creating role, but I suggest that is implied in it. The reason for this day to be special each week is that it is to follow God’s example. (A necessary aside: whether that means God took six 24 hour periods or simply six eras or six steps to create the world, or He shared it over six days with Moses, is uncertain and Christians unwisely proclaim one of those options and thus create unnecessary divisions. We don’t know!)  The implication, at the very least, has to be to remember God as the Creator (and provider) of all you know. Stopping work on that seventh day of every week  is thus a statement of faithful obedience and reverence.

What is interesting is in Moses reiterating the Ten Commandments in Deut 5, one of the few differences comes here and is first an emphasis on the totality of the rest – “so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do,” (Deut 5:14) – and the background of it – “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deut 5:15) If we assume both passages were inspired, we must see the Creation as the example to be followed and the Exodus as the acts of deliverance to be remembered. Remember the prologue of these commands: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deut 5:6) These commands, you may remember, in Deuteronomy are being given to Israel just before they enter the Promised Land. They need to remember the wonder of what the Lord has done for them, and one way will be to take out this day of rest.

A thought about helps to remember. The Lord, it seems, is very much aware that we are people who have a propensity to forget things and therefore Scripture is scattered with examples of things done to help remind people. The Feasts and the fasts of the law did just this; they provided an opportunity to remember (e.g. Ex 12:26,27). The twelve stones at the side of the Jordon were to act as a reminder for future generations of the miraculous crossing of the Jordon (Josh  4:6).  For us, Communion or the Lord’s Supper has the same effect – “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).

Now we have got a lot more to cover – how they applied it and how Jesus applied it for us – so rather than rush this or make it too much to take in at one sitting, we will continue it in the next meditation.

49. Sad Cynics

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 49. Sad Cynics

Mk 3:1,2   Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

We have a continuation in “Mark’s studies of the Pharisees”!   When he says, “Another time” he is simply giving another example of the sort of opposition Jesus had been receiving from the religious people of the day. How tragic that sometimes Jesus’ activity is opposed by the very people who ought to be the most open to it!

Again it is a Sabbath incident. As was his habit he went to the synagogue. This time there is a man there who has a shrivelled hand. Already the opposition to Jesus has hardened so that they are actively looking for reasons to criticise him. No what is interesting about this is that there was no question about Jesus’ ability to heal people and so even the opposition expect it to happen now, and that fact puts them on the alert to see what he is going to do today. Today is a Sabbath and work is forbidden on the Sabbath. Yes, I know we’ve been through that but they haven’t got the message yet!

So here they are watching, knowing there is a man in their synagogue with a shrivelled hand and knowing Jesus has the power to heal people. Will the two things come together? Now there are obviously two sad things about this. First there is the matter of Jesus’ power. Surely he wouldn’t be able to do what he is doing in this whole healing realm if it wasn’t God at work in and through him. These religious people are cynically watching for him to step out of line, but can healing a person ever be stepping out of line?  So, secondly, here is the man with an obvious infirmity and these religious people appear to have not a jot of compassion for him and so when the possibility of him being healed walks through the door, all they are concerned with is that it is the Sabbath.

Now this only goes to show us how easy it is for people who live by rules to lose perspective. I always remember a story from the early days of House Churches of a group meeting in a sitting room when an elderly person upstairs was taken ill and had to be stretchered out through the meeting in the sitting room, which steadfastly continued as if nothing unusual was happening! The order of Sunday morning was not to be disturbed. That is the same spirit as appeared here in this synagogue and it appears in churches today! How crazy!

 

46. Shut down or…

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 46. Shutdown or Set Free

Mk 2:23-24 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

This concept of legalistic opposition combined with the idea of the change from the old religion to the new, continues in Mark’s mind (or Peter’s if it is he dictating to Mark) and so now he comes up with yet another illustration of how Jesus and his disciples were under constant scrutiny by those religious groups that existed in Israel at that time.

The example is very simple. Jesus and his disciples are going somewhere on the Sabbath (their Saturday), a day which the Ten Commandments say should be respected and used to honour God. Unfortunately for them there are Pharisees in the neighbourhood. They were a conservative religious group who saw it their duty to uphold the Law. Unfortunately, again, they had taken the Law and split it down so they could administer it in every situation so when the Law said don’t work on the Sabbath they started to detail just what was and what wasn’t work.

The fact that they focused more on things you shouldn’t do rather than things you could do, meant that in their minds, life was shut down on the Sabbath. In the minds of many people (then and now) this meant that the Sabbath had become a miserable day. Was it not possible to remember God AND enjoy the world on that day? Obviously not according to the Pharisees!  When they see Jesus’ disciples picking the ears of corn to stave off their hunger as they passed this field (a legitimate thing to do) they object that this is a form of work and breaking the Sabbath rules.

They have successfully shut down life and convey a God who is picky and miserable, a far cry from the wonderful Creator who has provided this incredible world purely for our enjoyment. Therein is freedom, the freedom of Christ – to be able to use and enjoy this world, even on the Sabbath, and to be able to give glory to God for its wonder and for His love – on any and every day. God shouldn’t be remembered just on one day a week. That was a law for protecting a sinful world that so easily gets caught up in fearful money-generation, forgetting the glory of the One who is our provider. No, may we, the new people of God, remember His goodness and love and provision, every day of the week and may we give thanks. Are you shut down or set free?

 

19. The Deformed Man

People who met Jesus : 19 :  The Deformed Man

Mk 3:1,2 Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

There are times when ‘religion’ is helpless and even positively a hindrance to ‘life’. When we come to the story of the man with a shrivelled hand, there is one thing that particularly stands out and brings great significance to it: the fact of its location. This happened in a synagogue and what makes it worse, it was on the Sabbath. So here is a man with a particular need and ‘religion’ seems completely oblivious of his need because ‘religion’ is utterly powerless to do anything about it. Now when I speak of ‘religion’ I mean a life of ritual, a life that has no life. Week in, week out, this man could have come into this gathering and remained unchanged. They could do nothing for the fact that he had this shrivelled hand.

We don’t know why it was like it, what caused it, or how long he had been like it, but the truth was that he was stuck with it. We have many people today who are ‘disabled’. The politically correct brigade may try and call them something else to soften their state, but they know that in some way, some part of their body has been disabled and is not working properly – and they are stuck with it. Oh that Jesus would come in power as he did here! Do we ask him to, I wonder, or have we just accepted their state, like the people in this synagogue had done?

But then Jesus arrives. It is the Sabbath and so, as was his custom as a good Jew, he went to the synagogue, and when he arrives in this particular one, there are three groups of people there. First of all, of course, there is the man with a need that no one cares about. Then there are the bulk of ordinary people who are just there and have no strong feelings one way or another. The third group are those who are truly ‘religious’ and are there to protect the status quo and make sure nothing changes. Now for them, it is bad news that Jesus arrives, for he has a reputation, and part of that is that he is good at healing people, and part of it is that he seems somewhat unorthodox and doesn’t mind upsetting the establishment.

Thus there are some there who, the moment he comes in, are on the alert to criticise him. In fact Luke tells us who they were: “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.” (Lk 6:7) These were the self-styled guardians of the Law. They had taken the Law and broken it down and added to it as they sought to apply it. They ‘knew’ that it was wrong to work on the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-10 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.”) However, the tricky bit was deciding what constituted ‘work’ and so they had categorized whole lists of things that they considered work, so many things in fact, that it was virtually impossible to do anything on the Sabbath. Thus they thought they were honouring God. ‘Religion’ does this! It thinks it honours God when it worries all about what is right or wrong and manages to completely miss the point.

Matthew tells us that it was these men (possibly seeing Jesus eying up the ‘congregation’ to see who he could bless?) who took the initiative: “Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Mt 12:9) but Jesus understood the motivation for their question: But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.” (Lk 6:8) Now that is interesting! Jesus gets the man to stand up at the front. He is going to make a point – and the man complies. We might think, how awful of Jesus to put this man in an embarrassing situation, but that is just our ‘religion’ showing again, for Jesus knows the outcome and he knows that the man will be so overcome by joy that he won’t worry about what people might of thought about him being put on display.

But, as we said, Jesus wants to make a point, so he turns to those who want to criticise him and who apparently know the Law and asks them a question: He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:11,12) OK, he says, you know you would help one of your animals in need, so shouldn’t we much more help a person? Both Mark and Luke just then indicate that Jesus healed him, but Matthew, remembering clearly what happened expresses, it seems, his total surprise as he writes, “Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.” (Mt 12:13) We might say his hand was made ‘just as good as new’ but Matthew, having been there remembers that after Jesus healed him you couldn’t tell one hand form the other. A nice touch!

So, we aren’t told much about this man but we are about ‘religion’ and therein comes the challenge. I always remember the story told of something that happened in an early house church last century. The new group was worshipping in the downstairs of the leader’s house when an ambulance had to be called to attend to an elderly person upstairs. The ambulance men carried the person out on a stretcher through the worshipping company who continued as if nothing was happening. How unreal is ‘religion’! We have to perform and heaven help anyone who suddenly has a real need. The ‘service’ must come before the person. That is not ‘life’ and that is what this story points out to us. Have you felt uneasy or even annoyed with my account? You probably have a problem because you are ’religious’. Jesus came to bring life not legalism, reality not ritual. Let’s get free so we can be free, and Jesus can be free to be himself in our midst today! Then we might see some of the same things happening as we’ve just read.

24. Sabbath Laws

Lessons from the Law: No.24 : Sabbath Laws

Ex 23:10-13 “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.

Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

Within the Ten Commandments we have already seen, as the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” (Ex 20:8-10) The use of the “Sabbath” brings together reverence for God, with His very practical caring for man. The fourth commandment was to make the seventh day holy, or different, by not working on it. As a command immediately following three about God, and coming before the practical commands about man, it seems to be a caring for man while at the same time thinking of God.

In these further laws, mostly about life in society, first of all here in our verses today, the law is about having a year off work. This would have been a real act of faith because it would mean waiting two years for harvest supply. Several points are worth noting here. It is suggested that leaving the land for a year increases its fertility, .i.e. wise use of land. Some have suggested it was calculated from when a person received the land, which meant staggered Sabbaths across the land. Care for the poor and for the environment generally (animals in particular) are also seen as purposes in God’s mind.

Then we come to the more usual aspect of the Sabbath, a rest on the seventh day. Again the emphasis here is on the workers (including animals) having a much needed rest and being refreshed.  Resting up from work would have meant it was a great communal day, as people had opportunity to get together in relaxation, as well as to specifically remember the Lord together. Societies that do not do this have lost much. This is God’s wisdom and we reject it at our peril.

The strength of these injunctions is in the fact that they occur again and again in Scripture, for example, Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, `You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.” (Ex 31:12-17) There again we have all the ingredients of the Sabbath: the activity – no work; the reason – it is a holy day; the background – on the Seventh day of Creation God stopped work;  the penalty for disobedience – death.  But there is something additional here: it is to act as a sign to show the special relationship that Israel had with God. Adhering to it would be a sign to the Lord of their obedient hearts; following it would be a sign to Israel of their relationship with the Lord; following it would be a sign to the rest of the world of their relationship with Him. The Sabbath would thus become almost a signpost pointing to the Lord.

Following this injunction in this part of the Law, we find:Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. It is first a call to obedience and then a call to uniqueness of relationship and the two things are inextricably linked together. If they turned to other gods then that would mean that they relationship with the Lord was disappearing and when that happened they would no longer bother with the Law. The reality was that keeping the Law was completely tied in with their having a relationship with the Lord. One went with the other. No relationship = no law keeping. No law keeping = sign of absence of real relationship. It is also true of Christians. A sign of a real relationship with God through Christ is a godly spirit-led life. Absence of godliness and spirit life suggests an absence of a real and genuine relationship.

6. Rest & Respect

Lessons from the Law: No.6 : Rest & Respect

Ex 20:9-11 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The first two commandments were about having just the one Supreme Being, one true God. The second two commandments are about honouring Him. The third was about honouring or remaining true to His name.  This fourth one is about remaining true to His memory. If every seventh day you stop work, it is a reminder of the Lord. (Is this why many nations don’t have a day of rest like this, because they don’t want to honour the One True God?). Indeed it is all about reminding. Remember the Sabbath day” is how these verses start. The noun ‘Sabbath’ comes from the Hebrew verb usually translated ‘rested’. Its origin is in the Creation account when God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh.

Now if you look at that account in Gen 2:2,3 you will see a footnote to the effect that ‘rested’ can also simply mean ‘ceased’. Now the Lord doesn’t need to ‘rest’ but when He came to the end of His Creation work He ceased, which indicates a satisfactory completion.  We have also previously noted that when He had finished, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) We may suggest, therefore, that when we rest on the seventh day, it is a reminder not only that God is the One who created this world, but also that when He first made it, it was very good. That should act as a stimulus to seek Him to continue His work of restoration through salvation in Christ, to bring us back into that original place of sin-free relationship with Him.

The point is that the Lord made the seventh day special:For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” When the Lord blesses something or someone, He declares a decree of goodness over it or them. It was like the Lord took great pleasure in the sense of a job well done and so when He ceased, when He finished the work of Creation, He simply stopped and celebrated the next day when nothing needed to be done. He made it ‘holy’ or ‘different’, a day of thinking back to the work of the previous six days, of rejoicing in a job well accomplished, of a day with no necessity to add anything more to the work.

Sadly, when we think about the day of rest we see it through the tinted glass of the old sinful nature and think about being stopped earning more or making more, and having to have this day of inactivity, instead of rejoicing over the wonder of God’s gift of Creation to us and the wonder of His provision that is so lavish that it means we can pause up and have a day when we simply look, remember and rejoice and don’t feel we have to get on with things.

How do you feel about “commands”? Do you view “commands” as harsh instructions or do you see these are God’s words of protection and provision. The first and second ‘commands’ protect us from falling into superstitious worshipping of the elements or nature and from losing contact with God our provider. The third one protects us from drifting away from the reality of who the Lord is, so that we eventually become deceived and turn right from Him. This fourth one protects us from falling into materialistic naturalism that sees the world and life as utterly meaningless, the result of pure chance. From that all sorts of horrors follow.

Tragically we, as we’ve said, we so often see through tinted glasses of the old sinful nature and as such we focus on the “what we have to do” rather than the wonder behind it. Probably because of that, few of us wake up on a Sunday and immediately give thanks to the Lord for the wonder of the provision of His Creation – life in abundance. The Christian church made the day of rest a Sunday instead of the Saturday that the Jews had ‘honoured’, to add the focus of God’s provision of salvation through Jesus, the Sunday being the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mt 28:1, Acts 20:7).

If you read the Gospels carefully, you will see that the legalistic Jews had completely misunderstood the focus of the Sabbath and so we find a number of conflicts over the use of it (e.g. Mt 12:2, 12:10). God’s purpose was not to make the day of rest a day of misery and limitation; indeed quite the opposite.  It was supposed to be a day of joy and celebration. How we have lost this, how we have made it just another day, a day of work for many, a day of materialism for many, and a day of ignoring and forgetting the Lord, or at least limiting Him to a couple of hours of remembrance. The loss has been ours. We are the poorer for it.