8. Remember & Revere (1)

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 8. Command Four: Remember & Revere (1)

Ex 20:8-11   “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, 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.

Two Extremes: Christians seem to fall into two extremes, so often, in respect of these verses. First, there are those who hold to them 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! Second, the other extreme are those people who say, “Well this is the Old Testament law so it doesn’t apply to us anymore 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 suggest 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.

The Basic Command: First of all note what it says: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (v.8) That is the basic law and everything else is

  1. an explanation of what it covers and then
  2. an explanation of why it is to be like this.

The Sabbath here simply applies the seventh day. This basic law or call was

  • first to remember or acknowledge this day or mark it out and,
  • second, you did that by making it holy (distinct and special, a unique day).

So in a moment we’re first going to ask the question, remember what? Then, second, we’re going to ask how do we go about remembering?

The Command Explained: There is next a clarification: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” (v.8-10) So there it is, a differentiating between the rest of the week of work and this one day whose objective is succinctly put by the ‘Easy to Read’ Bible: “You must remember to keep the Sabbath a special day. You may work six days a week to do your job. 10 But the seventh day is a day of rest in honour of the Lord your God.”

Sabbath? Now something fascinating about this is that the word ‘sabbath’ (from the Hebrew verb shabbat meaning ‘to rest from labour’) first arises in this form a few chapters earlier in the context of gathering the manna, which they were told they could do for six days but then not collect it on the seventh for it “is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord,” (Ex 16:23) “So the people rested on the seventh day.” (v.30)  It is all about resting from work, or at least that is the first expression of it.

Having said that, in Genesis 2 we find the origin of the thinking behind this command: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen 2:1-3)

Think about this! Now I believe we need to think about this carefully. I recently heard someone preach that God had to rest on that day. In human terms and, perhaps why the command is given for our blessing, human beings have limited energy, need to rest, need to sleep, need to take food etc. God does not! God is all-powerful and His energy, if we dare put it like that, never runs out. Remember Isaiah’s word, “The Lord is the everlasting God,  the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary.” (Isa 40:28)

So yes, when in Gen 2:2 it says God rested it does come from the root of the Hebrew shabbat but because it is God and in the light of what we have just said, it is better to suggest it is better read, “he stopped” His work, not because He was tired and needed refreshing but because, as it said earlier in v.2, he “had finished the work he had been doing.” i.e. it was complete, it didn’t need improving on, it was “very good” (Gen 1:31). And in passing, remember that chapter 2 is a different view on what had already happened, He had already, by the end of chapter 1, made male and female (v.27). It’s all done, He doesn’t need to do any more so He simply stops and, wanting to make a point about the completeness of His work, He emphasises it by the ‘seventh day’, a special day in which nothing happens except, perhaps, He looks on His completed work with satisfaction. Note there is no ‘eighth day’ in Genesis 1 & 2 so the seventh day is specifically to make the point of completion. So the reasons given for this day to be remembered:

Reason 1 – To Pause up to Remember and be Refreshed: This is what comes over first of all for us. Yes, we need to stop and get reinvigorated by stopping work, that is God’s blessing, the way He has made us and, yes, we ignore that at our peril.

Reason 2 – To Remember God’s Greatness: Now the bigger reason, for the people of God, is 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 and trust in Him

Reason 3 – To Remember the Exodus: 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 first see the Creation as a key element of belief (see the start of the faith list in Heb 11:3) to be proclaimed, and then second, 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 to do it.

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.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord, thank you that you have revealed yourself to us as Almighty Creator of all things, the Lord who is all powerful and holy. Thank you that you are not only my provider but you are first and foremost my Redeemer. Thank you Lord for saving me and giving me this wonderful world to enjoy. Amen.”

29. Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable – Sunday

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 29. Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable! – Sunday

 Jn 20:1   Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.

Uncertainty??????????: If you are not expecting something… no, if you know something is impossible, then if you were trying to measure the ‘uncertainty factor’, on this day you would be right off the scale! At the risk of sounding tedious, but ever making this point about trying to get into the shoes of the disciples from this point of history, put aside (and I know it’s impossible but imagine it) the fact that you have read Matt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24 and Jn 20 before. If you were one of the disciples, you DIDN’T know any of this. You are just shut in behind closed doors, grieving, fearful and no doubt full of guilt. And one further thing that you have learnt through life – dead men stay dead! You might have seen the Master raising the occasional person from the dead, but that was him. He’s now dead, hung on a cross for hours, struggling to breath as he hung there until his body collapses, and some Roman sticks a spear in his side to make sure he was dead. No question about this; these guys are professional executioners and their lives depend on it – he’s dead!

Expectancy Levels: Somebody said to me the other day that ‘hope’ is a great word, but hope went out the door before sunset on Friday. When Jesus was put in a tomb and a mega-stone rolled over the entrance, what is the point of even thinking about rolling it back and taking the body out? Friday night they were all too devastated to even think about it – and what would you do with a dead body anyway? The Jewish authorities hadn’t given it any thought then; it was only the next day that they thought about putting a guard on. (Mt 27:62-66)

At the end of Friday as sunset came Luke notes, “It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin,” (Lk 23:54) then adding in respect of the women who had wanted to bring spices, “they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” (Lk 23:56)  No one has any expectations whatsoever now, of anything happening. But then early on Sunday morning there is a violent earthquake and the stone is rolled away (Mt 28:2), all this caused by an angel who scared the life out of the guards (Mt 28:2-4). The guards report all this to the authorities and are bribed to say the disciples stole the body (Mt 28:11-15). Confusion (and unbelief?) among the authorities. Uncertainty where Jesus’ body might now be.

Further Struggles to Believe: The two Mary’s who had gone to the tomb are spoken to by the angel and told that Jesus has risen (Mt 28:5-7). As they leave they meet Jesus (v.9,10). They dash back to the rest of the disciples and tell them, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Lk 24:11). Nevertheless Peter and John go and see for themselves that the body had gone. (Lk 24:12). Later in the day two disciples, on the way to Emmaus encounter Jesus, although they initially don’t realise who it is, and return hastily to Jerusalem to tell the others (Lk 24:13-35). While they are telling them, Jesus appears with them.

Their responses to him are instructive: “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost,” (Lk 24:37) and when he seeks to reassure them, “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement.” (v.41) Their expectancy level, again and again, despite having been told of his resurrection by the women and then later by the two disciples returned from Emmaus, is zero. Don’t be hard on them, you and I would have been the same. Dead men stay dead – even if they have prophesied this. Some things are just too hard to believe.

There is some more to come but that is for another day. This day has ended, Jesus is back but we don’t know where he went after he had met them all. Uncertainty! It keeps on and there is more to come. The fact that he is back doesn’t make everything great, there are still some questions to be answered, some serious conversations to be had, and we must be patient.

Certainty: But there one certainty that is impossible to deny – unless you are of the closed mind type – that Jesus has risen from the dead. If you’ve never come across it before, the book, “Who Moved the Stone,” by lawyer, Frank Morison, is worth a read, a very thorough and detailed assessment of all that happened with the ultimate-certainty conclusion, He is risen! One of the most compelling reasons to believe, I find, is the fact that these scared-for-their-lives disciples within a very short period are utterly fearless in their testimony that he had risen and of the remaining eleven (Judas having committed suicide), ten of them died martyrs deaths, John being the only one who died of old age, but even that after having been persecuted and sent for a time to the prison island of Patmos.

Bad Explanations: Various people over the years have sought to deny the possibility of Christ rising from the dead. One favourite was that the Jesus on the cross was a stand-in. Who would do that and would the disciples give their lives for a lie? Another favourite is that it was Jesus but he never actually died. Read again what happened to him, the awful beatings he received before being taken out, the awfulness of the crucifixion process, the spear in the side, the certainty of the Roman executioners that he was dead, being left in a cold tomb for hours, and then you expect us to belief this wreck of a body is able to walk about without causing consternation in those who met him, that he walked miles in the heat to Emmaus – and back at high speed – and again appeared fine to his followers; who are you kidding? A fourth favourite was that his body was stolen by the disciples. If you believe that you haven’t been listening to the last few days, taking in this utterly dispirited bunch of disloyal, denying failures, who struggle to believe it when they meet him. These men don’t have the ability to pull off such a thing – and then live and die in the face of what they know to be a lie.

All of these lame explanations actually fall at the first hurdle, and that being the required unbelief that says the whole story is a fairy-tale, and made up, and such wilful unbelief can only be put forward when the intellect is put to sleep and somehow you believe that all these writers, all these witnesses, and all the millions whose lives have been transformed by this piece of history, were utterly conned. Why should such large numbers give their very lives for such a belief if it were not true.

And So?  At the end of this day our response need to be that of believing-Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28) and if it takes a while, with him, to believe, that’s all right, we’ll see that next. Slow belief is better than no belief.  For those who want to be secure with God, carefully read the records prayerfully, come to your own conclusions – and worship. Anything less than worship and you haven’t seen the truth.  To conclude: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Lk 1:1-4) Such clarity, such certainty. And, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make your joy complete.” (1 Jn 1:-4) In a world of uncertainty, let this clarity, this certainty, dispel your uncertainties and rejoice in it, so that on this day we can be confident with all uncertainties swept away in this final, glorious truth: He IS risen, He us still with us! Hallelujah!

9. Afterwards

Meditations on Aspects of Easter: 9.  Afterwards

Lk 24:40-43    he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

My original intention had been to finish these Easter meditations with Easter Sunday and yet as I read back over them I am aware of two further aspects of Easter that I feel I have neither adequately covered nor sufficiently emphasised and I will deal with them both in this final consideration.

The first aspect I will simply call ‘Ragged Recollections”. In the previous two meditations, I have emphasised the chaotic nature of the Easter weekend. Now I have never heard this spoken about and indeed virtually every Easter Sunday sermon I have ever heard seeks to lay out neatly all that went on. Now this is natural and good and I have done it many times myself. The intent is to leave the congregation with a clear picture of the historical accounts of the weekend. Now just in case anyone has jumped to a wrong conclusion about where I come from in respect of this, let me make it clear. Do I believe the things happened exactly as they are relayed in the Gospels? Absolutely! Do I believe it is all neatly laid out in such a manner as to preclude questions? Absolutely not! Let me explain what I mean.

I have often challenged the questioning of sceptics of the Bible who claim there are contradictions all over the place, with the request to consider the witnesses to a multi-vehicle accident. Lay out all the witness reports and one talks about the lorries involved, another the cars involved and so it goes on. Different aspects but no contradiction. Contradiction occurs when one says, “Three lorries were involved,” and another says, “No lorries were involved.” Now let’s look at the neat packaging of Easter.

Earlier on we considered the specific case of the order of events about Palm Sunday. The fact of different accounts of what Jesus said on the Cross, exactly fit my major accident analogy above. When it comes to Jesus’ resurrection the witnesses are all over the place.

Matthew’s Account: Matthew has Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb (Mt 28:1). There is an earthquake that moves the stone on the tomb and an angel comes down and scares the life out of the guards (Mt 28:2-4). The angel speaks to the two women when they get there and tells them Jesus is risen and will be going ahead of them to Galilee (28:6,7). As they go to leave, Jesus meets them and confirms the message (28:8-10). The women go to return to the others (28:11) and after a reference to the authorities (28:11-15), Matthew jumps straight to Galilee where they meet Jesus and he gives them the Great Commission. (28:16-20) End of story.

Mark’s Account: Mark does a very brief summary in Chapter 16 – Mary Magdalene meets Jesus (v.9), she tells the others who were mourning and weeping (note their state in the light of what we said yesterday) (v.10) but they didn’t believe her (v.11). Then there is the meeting with the two on the road (v.12) who reported back and weren’t believed either (v.13) (ditto what we said yesterday) Then the meeting with the rest and their struggle to believe (v.14 ditto), then his commissioning them (possibly weeks later – v.15-18), then his ascension (v.19) then the Gospel taken out (v.20). End of story.

Luke’s Account: In Luke 24, Luke has ‘the women’ going to the tomb where they find the stone rolled back and two angels are present (v.1-4) who tell them he is risen, just as he had told them previously (v.5-8). They go and tell the others (v.10) who didn’t believe them (v.11). Peter goes and has a look at the empty tomb (v.12). We then have the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus encountering Jesus who eventually teaches them about all that had happened (v.13-32). They return to tell the others and Jesus appears to them all (v.33-49). Luke then clearly jumps several weeks to conclude his Gospel with Jesus’ final instructions and ascension (v.50-53). End of story (but picked up in Acts 1).

John’s Account: John writing possibly thirty years later than the others, reflecting back with the sharp memories that come with old age, picks up things the others had missed. In shorthand in chapter 20, he recounted Mary Magdalene going to the tomb, then returning to the others (v.1,2). Peter goes to look, accompanied by John, saw the empty tomb and returned to their lodgings (v.3-10). Mary M comes back to the tomb, sees two angels and encounters Jesus and then returns to the others (v.11-18). Later Jesus, on that first evening of the week – Sunday evening – came to them all behind locked doors (v.19-23) Thomas who had been absent refused to believe when they told him what happened and so a week later Jesus came to them again, especially for him (v.24-29). Chapter 21 is given over to his meeting with them in Galilee.

Now take each one of those incidents and put each one on a separate piece of paper and juggle them around and you find a coherent account like my vehicle crash analogy. The only time it requires some more thought is in the account of the women. John follows Mary M and only mentions her although her “we” of Jn 20:2 implies she was with the others. When you patch the stories together like this you find there are no discrepancies, just different witness accounts, one stressing one thing, another something else. Yes, there are questions about Jesus walking through locked doors, travelling across country so quickly etc. but those you can ask the Lord about yourself.

Now why am I taking this time and space to cover all this? Two reasons. First, it is only genuine seekers who work through to find answers. Will that be you and me? Second, the slightly chaotic reporting confirms the nature of what was going on and all that they felt, as we considered in the previous two meditations. It affirms the very nature of all that happened. Why don’t preachers like to face this? We prefer to package a neat orderly, “He is risen” simple package to make it easy for people – but it ISN’T easy!  Which brings us to the second aspect: the Failures of the Followers.

This we have covered fairly extensively earlier in the week, but why have I emphasised that? Two reasons. First, because so often in modern evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal circles we like to emphasise triumph and as much as that is right and appropriate, it fails to address the reality of what happened. Second, the reality of what happened has a specific pastoral bearing for each of us. There is a superficial teaching that preaches triumph and only triumph which so often leaves people feeling guilty inside, that they do not match up, and that distances them from God.

The reality is that the disciples were, over Thursday night through to Sunday night, in a state of shambles and unbelief and, as I have sought to show previously, that was partly because they were locked into the ‘Jesus of power and miracles’ picture, the Jesus who left the authorities in confusion. What they witnessed was doubly bad because of the wonder of all they had experienced previously of him. They could not cope with (as they saw it at the time) Jesus’ failure that resulted in his death and ministry termination. They, like us so often, failed to see the big picture of the plans and strategies of God for His world.

We are not good in the modern church at facing our frailties, weaknesses and failures. The lesson comes loud and clear – and hold this as we leave this series – God did not abandon them because they struggled to cope throughout this weekend. To the contrary He poured out His Holy Spirit on them to send them out with the message that came through the weekend. Jesus has died for our sins so face your frailties, weakness and failures and know you are still loved. Face them and receive his forgiveness and the outpouring of His Spirit so you and I can be his witnesses, witnesses of his love, mercy and grace, and of his forgiveness, acceptance and reconciliation, and then go on with his enabling to be the wonderful people we are called to be.  Take the lessons of this week with you and be blessed and be a blessing!