Friday, June 25, 2010

Toyota + Rap + Humor = Phat

If you have not yet seen the “Swagger Wagon” music video (an excellent and hilarious piece of hip-hop marketing), check it out!

If you like the song, you can download a free mp3 here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A “Sabbath Testimony”—by Shannon Stewart

Sabbath Study, Part 40

When Cap started studying the Sabbath during the summer we got married, I dreaded the result. Like most Christians I knew, I “kept the Sabbath” by going to church on Sunday mornings and then used Sunday afternoons to finish homework, do last-minute chores, or just chill out with a movie before the week began. When Cap’s study led him to believe that keeping the Sabbath involved a bit more than obligatory church attendance, I wasn’t thrilled. To be quite honest, I didn’t want to think about God all day long. That would be boring.

At the time, I was halfway done with my Master’s Degree in English Literature, a task that required more work than I could give. Despite constant labor, I still went to bed every night with many assignments unfinished. Days upon days of often unrewarding work, with no end in sight, made me exhausted, stressed to the point of physical ailment, and regularly depressed. I spent Sunday afternoons frantically catching up on homework, though these afternoons were usually when I suffered most from exhaustion.

Cap did lead me to keep the Sabbath that summer, and when he did, he was also leading me to a closer relationship with God and with him. I found that I suddenly had time for spiritual work that I usually put off during the week: reading books about God, having long quiet times, thinking about sins and spiritual questions that I usually gave myself no time to consider during my busy weekdays. I enjoyed spending hours at a time talking with Cap about God during walks or snuggled up on the couch, with no distracting errands or chores on my mind to make me want to rush through the conversation. I came to enjoy and guard our restful Sundays together. I realized that, like all God’s other commandments, the Sabbath was a liberating blessing, not a gloomy restriction.

When fall semester rolled around again, I was actually sad to see my Sabbaths go. But I knew—or thought I knew—that taking an entire day off of grad school every week was crazy. I suppose that since I had never kept the Sabbath before, I felt more comfortable taking time off from the fourth commandment than from “Thou shalt not lie” or any of the others.

Three weeks into the semester, I was already a basket case, crying hysterically almost every night and remaining depressed for days at a time. Even though I was working all day, every day, I still couldn’t finish everything required of me, and I was despairing. Realizing that rest—real rest—was necessary for my sanity, I agreed with Cap that I should give the Sabbath a trial run in the midst of the busy semester. I had finally come to the point where I saw that, in my own strength, I could not finish everything. But these two verses made promises to people like me: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for He gives to His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2); “O LORD, you will ordain peace for us; you have done for us all our works” (Isaiah 26:12). It was not in my power to complete grad school successfully or sanely. But it was in God’s power, and God told me to keep the Sabbath—and that He could easily take care of the rest.

The Sunday we picked to start Sabbath-keeping again was, ironically, the Sunday before what looked to be one of the most challenging weeks of my grad school career. Instead, that week was one of the most joyful weeks I had ever had there. When unexpected problems popped up, I found that trusting God with my time by keeping the Sabbath put me in a posture of trust for other trials, too, and I was able to meet them joyfully and flexibly. I finished all the homework for that week, and it felt like a refreshing miracle rather than a thankless labor. And when I didn’t finish assignments, I found that my world didn’t end.

The Sabbath is not some magic ritual that suddenly made my schedule go right. But it certainly is a tool to help my heart get right. Much that I consistently struggled with—keeping priorities straight, trusting God with my work and schedule, not being a slave to schoolwork, fostering affection for Cap in the midst of a stressful life—are what the Sabbath helps grow in me. The Sabbath is also a statement to my doubting heart of God’s reality. Every week as God proves faithful to provide for us and help us with our work, the proof builds.

The Lord’s Day should be our favorite day of the week, but it was a day I dreaded because of all the last-minute catching up I had to do on Sunday afternoons. Now I can honestly say it is my favorite day, a day I look forward to every week. I gladly give up television and chores on one afternoon for this blessing and this spiritual benefit.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Conclusion: Sabbath Principles and Practices (Cont.)

Sabbath Study, Part 39

The first half of our conclusion to this Sabbath study (see the previous post) detailed the first three “Sabbath principles.” Here are the final four.

Fourth, the weekly Sabbath has changed from Saturday to Sunday. Within the realm of orthodox Christianity, this is almost universally acknowledged. Christ’s death and resurrection inaugurated a new era of Sabbath application. There are some who argue that the Christian Sabbath is on Saturday. I have not found these arguments to be convincing—or, in the long run, Scripturally credible.

Fifth, the weekly rest should, in at least a general sense, look different from the other six days of the week. We do ourselves a disservice to call Sunday a day of rest while treating it like any other day. In a more specific sense, the weekly rest should involve both corporate and private worship; it is a “holy convocation” (i.e., a large, formal assembly), as well as something to be observed “in all your dwellings” (see Lev. 23:3).

Sixth, it takes work to enjoy a weekly rest. Hebrews 4:11 (KJV) says, “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest.” As paradoxical as it may sound, true soul-rest takes work. Obedience to any of God’s commands is an act of faith, and faith is far from a cakewalk. It is, in fact, a fight (1 Tim. 6:12). The remnants of our sinful nature will battle us every step of the way, and we will need to fight back in order to slow down enough to truly enjoy a rest from our weekly toils. Part of this fight of faith involves what we discussed in the first principle: viewing a Sabbath rest as truly beneficial. Another part of this fight involves a sufficient preparation on the evening beforehand (i.e., not always staying up late on Saturday night). If we prepare our minds and our hearts for the coming Sabbath, we can glean more benefit from it.

Seventh, the weekly rest is designed to point New Testament believers to the eternal rest we will enjoy with God in Heaven. Charles Spurgeon said, “To be with God is to rest in the most emphatic sense.” (Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith, 332). Whatever would help us grow in having an eternal perspective would be a worthy Sunday pursuit. After all, if we want to prepare to be with God for all eternity, why not start by learning to rest in Him now?


In the next (and last) entry in this blog series, my wife will share her personal “Sabbath testimony,” which I think will aid us in applying the Fourth Commandment to our own lives.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Conclusion: Sabbath Principles and Practices

Sabbath Study, Part 38

For the last several months, we have studied the doctrine of the Sabbath (i.e., what the entirety of the Bible has to say about the Fourth Commandment). During this time, I have attempted to explain why I think the weekly rest is far from an outdated command—and why it is a source of abundant grace and soul-satisfying pleasure. Properly viewed and obeyed, the Fourth Commandment can greatly benefit the Christian’s life.

So what about application? What exactly does a Sabbath rest look like? What are we allowed and/or forbidden to do during this day? Christian authorities have not been in complete agreement over the answer to these questions, and I won’t pretend to have unlocked all the secrets to a proper application of the Fourth Commandment.

I think it is best to answer the above questions with a short list of principles rather than a list of specific steps. Application points can be debated, but I think the Biblical principles are more clear-cut…and they can lead each of us to a God-honoring, soul-satisfying application, even if that application slightly differs from person to person. The following are the first three of seven guiding principles for enjoying a Sabbath rest. (The last four will be given in the next post.)

First, the weekly rest was designed for our good. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, we are prone to ignore the “unblushing promises” of God and the infinite joy He offers us because we are so familiar with “making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea.” Similarly, I think we are prone to view the Sabbath rest as a legalistic inconvenience because we do not understand its blessings (which are explained in especially poignant language in the Isaiah passages we looked at earlier). The study of God’s Word and the refreshment of the soul are far from inconveniences: they are life. The solution is to change our views of what is truly restful and beneficial. Far from being a burdensome prescription, the Christian Sabbath is a refreshing provision.

Second, the weekly day of rest is more than a mere suggestion. It is a command from God Himself. His glory and our good are at stake. At the same time, observing a day of rest cannot and will not add anything to our right standing with God. Adhering to the law never makes a person more justified in God’s sight. We are accepted by God because of Christ alone. No amount of rule keeping can add to our right standing with our heavenly Father. A Christian who doesn’t observe a day of rest is no less justified than a person who does.

By saying this, I am not treating the Fourth Commandment as inconsequential. Far from it. (After all, I’ve spent the last seven months arguing to the contrary.) The Fourth Commandment is incredibly important. It is not, however, a means of justification. If we obey any of God’s commands with the intent of impressing Him or adding to our worth or making us acceptable in His sight, our law keeping is nothing more than skin-deep righteousness—or, as Isaiah calls it, “filthy rags” (see Isa. 64:6). The only reason we have hope to be accepted by God is because Jesus Christ, the only perfect Sabbath-keeper, suffered in the place of all of us who scorned His law (including the Fourth Commandment).

Third, the weekly rest is not a rule to keep in and of itself; it is a means by which we can know God more intimately. Like any other directive, the Fourth Commandment reveals to us aspects of the nature of God—who He is, what He is like, what His purposes and intentions for the world are. Through the Sabbath, we see God’s provision for us more clearly: in His goodness, He calls us to rest in His sufficiency, knowing that we could never achieve salvation—and, to a lesser extent, we could never achieve all we intend to do each week. (In other words, the Sabbath provides a unique weekly opportunity to preach the gospel to ourselves.) Our Savior supplies us with abundant grace and promises both to finish what He starts and to provide for us with His sufficiency. To remind ourselves of these truths on a weekly basis is to revel in the nature of God.

In the next post, we will look at the last four principles.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Eternal Rest

Sabbath Study, Part 37

Just as believers enter into rest when they pass away, so the Sabbath is a form of rest for us now. “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10). Indeed, this Sabbath rest finds its ultimate fulfillment in Heaven:

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” (Revelation 14:13)

The Greek word translated as “labors” in this verse denotes intense labor united with trouble and toil. This word is used in several other places in Scripture, including 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

“From such [painful, earthly] toils the redeemed in heaven will be released; for although there will be employment there, it will be without the sense of fatigue or weariness. And in view of such eternal rest from toil, we may well endure the labours and toils incident to the short period of the present life, for, however arduous or difficult, it will soon be ended” (Albert Barnes).

In this passage, we see that the rest a believer will experience in heaven is at least twofold. The first part is a cessation of laborious activity; that is, painful toil will finally cease. The second part is enjoying the benefits those labors procured: “their works follow them.” Every good work (though painful and filled with toil) is deposited in Heaven like a check in a bank, only to be withdrawn at the end of days, to be enjoyed forever (Mt. 6:1-4, 16:27; Mk. 9:41; Lk. 6:35; 1 Cor. 3:14; Heb. 11:26; 2 Jn. 8; Rev. 22:12).

It is also, I think, safe to assume that work itself will not completely cease in Heaven—only sin-stained work (i.e., painful toil). Work itself is not sinful. Indeed, it is sin and rest that are antithetical, not work and rest. Before the Fall, God placed Adam in the garden to “work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15, NIV). In the perfect world God created, before we see the entrance of sin, mankind was called to restful labor. When the New Heavens and the New Earth arrive, restful labor will be restored to humanity and will continue on into eternity, free from the hindrance of condemning, enslaving, indwelling sin.


At this point, we have reached the end of our search through Scripture in our study of the Sabbath. We will wrap up this blog series with a few concluding posts. None of these posts have been written, however, so I ask for your patience as I work on them in the next coming days/weeks. Thank you!

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Lord’s Day

Sabbath Study, Part 36

In the book of Revelation, we find one more reference to the Christian Sabbath (i.e., Sunday). The Apostle John authored Revelation while on the island of Patmos, having been exiled there for preaching the gospel. Halfway through the first chapter, John gives the occasion of the book’s origin.

I, John, your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet… (Revelation 1:9, 10)

On the Lord’s Day. Believers have typically put the Lord’s name on practices He instituted:

The Lord’s Prayer (which He taught us to pray; see Mt. 6:9-13).

The Lord’s Supper (which He commanded to be practiced in remembrance of Him; see Lk. 22:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:20, 23-26).

The Lord’s Day (Sunday, which He evidently instructed His followers—probably during one of His first meetings with them after His resurrection—to observe as the continuation of the fourth commandment). This is not to be confused with “the day of the Lord.”

You will recall that in Mark 2, Jesus stated that He was “Lord of the Sabbath.” This statement may very well have been part of the inspiration for the early church opting to call the Christian Sabbath “the Lord’s Day.”

“In the earlier apostolic writings the day was called ‘the first day of the week’ [Ac 20:7 1Co 16:2], but by the close of the century it began to be called ‘the Lord's day,’ as here. Epistles of Barnabas, Ignatius and Dionysius, written near this time, so style it, and the name is of common occurrence from this time onward, and is confined to Sunday” (B. W. Johnson).

“Deissmann has proven (Bible Studies, p. 217f; Light, etc., p. 357ff) from inscriptions and papyri that the word kuriakov was in common use for the sense ‘imperial’ as imperial finance and imperial treasury and from papyri and ostraca that hmera sebasth (Augustus Day) was the first day of each month, Emperor’s Day on which money payments were made (cf. 1Co 16:1f). It was easy, therefore, for the Christians to take this term, already in use, and apply it to the first day of the week in honour of the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection on that day (Didache 14, Ignatius Magn. 9). In the N.T. the word occurs only here and 1Co 11:20 (kuriakon deipnon ye lord'v supper). It has no reference to hmera kuriou (the day of judgment, 2Pe 3:10)” (A. T. Robertson).

Albert Barnes comments on this passage at length and I want to quote him in his entirety. If you are not convinced that the phrase “the Lord’s Day” is a reference to the Christian Sabbath, follow the logical progression of Barnes’ thoughts. He makes a compelling argument.


The word here rendered Lord's—kuriakh—occurs only in this place and in 1Co 11:20, where it is applied to the Lord’s Supper. It properly means pertaining to the Lord; and, so far as this word is concerned, it might mean a day pertaining to the Lord, in any sense, or for any reason—either because he claimed it as his own and had set it apart for his own service; or because it was designed to commemorate some important event pertaining to him; or because it was observed in honour of him. It is clear

(1) that this refers to some day which was distinguished from all other days of the week, and which would be sufficiently designated by the use of this term.

(2.) That it was a day which was for some reason regarded as peculiarly a day of the Lord, or peculiarly devoted to him.

(3.) It would further appear that this was a day particularly devoted to the Lord Jesus, for

(a) that is the natural meaning of the word Lord as used in the New Testament, (compare on Ac 1:24) and

(b) if the Jewish Sabbath were intended to be designated, the word Sabbath would have been used. The term was used generally by the early Christians to denote the first day of the week. It occurs twice in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, (about A.D. 101) who calls the Lord’s day “the queen and prince of all days.” Chrysostom (on Psalms 119) says, “It was called the Lord’s day because the Lord rose from the dead on that day.” Later fathers make a marked distinction between the Sabbath and the Lord’s day; meaning by the former, the Jewish Sabbath, or the seventh day of the week, and by the latter, the first day of the week kept holy by Christians. So Theodoret, (Fab. Haeret. ii. 1,) speaking of the Ebionites, says, “They keep the Sabbath according to the Jewish law, and sanctify the Lord's day in like manner as we do.”—Professor Stuart. The strong probability is, that the name was given to this day in honour of the Lord Jesus, and because he rose on that day from the dead. No one can doubt that it was an appellation given to the first day of the week, and the passage therefore proves

(1) that that day was thus early distinguished in some peculiar manner, so that the mere mention of it would be sufficient to identify it in the minds of those to whom the apostle wrote;

(2) that it was in some sense regarded as devoted to the Lord Jesus, or was designed in some way to commemorate what he had done; and

(3) that if this book were written by the apostle John, the observance of that day has the apostolic sanction. He had manifestly, in accordance with a prevailing custom, set apart this day in honour of the Lord Jesus. Though alone, he was engaged on that day in acts of devotion. Though far away from the sanctuary, he enjoyed what all Christians hope to enjoy on such a day of rest, and what not a few do in fact enjoy in its observance. We may remark in view of this statement,

(a) that when away from the sanctuary, and deprived of its privileges, we should nevertheless not fail to observe the Christian Sabbath. If on a bed of sickness; if in a land of strangers; if on the deep; if in a foreign clime; if on a lonely island as John was, where we have none of the advantages of public worship, we should yet honour the Sabbath. We Should worship God alone if we have none to unite with us; we should show to those around us, if we are with strangers, by our dress and our conversation, by a serious and devout manner, by abstinence from labour, and by a resting from travel, that we devoutly regard this day as set apart for God.

(b) We may expect, in such circumstances, and with such a devout observance of the day, that God will meet with us and bless us. It was on a lonely island, far away from the sanctuary and from the society of Christian friends, that the Saviour met “the beloved disciple,” and we may trust it will be so with us. For on such a desert island; in a lonely forest; on the deep, or amid strangers in a foreign land, he can as easily meet us as in the sanctuary where we have been accustomed to worship, and when surrounded by all the privileges of a Christian land. No man—at home or abroad; among friends or strangers; enjoying the privileges of the sanctuary, or deprived of those privileges—ever kept the Christian Sabbath in a devout manner without profit to his own soul; and when deprived of the privileges of public worship, the visitations of the Saviour to the soul may be more than a compensation for all our privations. Who would not be willing to be banished to a lonely island like Patmos, if he might enjoy such a glorious vision of the Redeemer as John was favoured with there?


As Barnes notes above, that John observed the Lord’s Day even though he had no other believer with which to commune. He knew that His communion was ultimately with the Lord Jesus Himself, who was (and is) not limited by time or space. Even when exiled from the rest of humanity, John still honored God on the Christian Sabbath and experienced communion with the Savior.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
People's New Testament Commentary, by B. W. Johnson
Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A.T. Robertson
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Eternal Sabbath: Application Points

Sabbath Study, Part 35

The last post was admittedly long, and we covered a lot of material. Hebrews 4 is not the easiest passage to study, so I’ve asked Albert Barnes to help us by giving four application points. (Okay, Albert Barnes is dead, so I didn’t specifically ask him for his help. I am, however, going to quote his commentary, which I hope will serve us in applying a lot of what we have been studying.)


Learn hence,

(1.) that heaven is a place of cessation from wearisome toil. It is to be like the “rest” which God had after the work of creation, (Heb 4:4) See Heb 4:4, and of which that was the type and emblem. There will be employment there, but it will be without fatigue; there will be the occupation of the mind, and of whatever powers we may possess, but without weariness. Here we are often worn down and exhausted. The body sinks under continued toil, and falls into the grave. There the slave will rest from his toil; the man here oppressed and broken down by anxious care will cease from his labours. We know but little of heaven; but we know that a large part of what now oppresses and crushes the frame will not exist there. Slavery will be unknown; the anxious care for support will be unknown, and all the exhaustion which proceeds from the love of gain, and from ambition, will be unknown. In the wearisome toils of life, then, let us look forward to the rest that remains in heaven; and as the labourer looks to the shades of the evening, or to the Sabbath, as a period of rest, so let us look to heaven as the place of eternal repose.

(2.) Heaven will be like a Sabbath. The best description of it is to say it is
an eternal Sabbath. Take the Sabbath on earth, when best observed, and extend the idea to eternity, and let there be separated all idea of imperfection from its observance, and that would be heaven. The Sabbath is holy; so is heaven. It is a period of worship; so is heaven. It is for praise, and for the contemplation of heavenly truth; so is heaven. The Sabbath is appointed that we may lay aside worldly cares and anxieties for a little season here; heaven, that we may lay, them aside for ever.

(3.) The Sabbath here should be like heaven. It is designed to be its type and emblem. So far as the circumstances of the case will allow, it should be just like heaven. There should be the same employments; the same joys; the same communion with God. One of the best rules for employing the Sabbath aright is, to think what heaven will be, and then to endeavour to spend it in the same way. One day in seven at least should remind us of what heaven is to be; and that day may be, and should be, the most happy of the seven.

(4.) They who do not love the Sabbath on earth are not prepared for heaven. If it is to them a day of tediousness; if its hours move heavily; if they have no delight in its sacred employments, what would an eternity of such days be? How would
they be passed? Nothing can be clearer than that if we have no such happiness in a season of holy rest, and in holy employments here, we are wholly unprepared for heaven. To the Christian it is the subject of the highest joy in anticipation, that heaven is to be one long, unbroken SABBATH—an eternity of successive Sabbath hours. But what, to a sinner, could be a more repulsive and gloomy prospect than such an eternal Sabbath?


So the ultimate rest the believer looks to is the eternal rest of Heaven. As we have seen before, the Sabbath is only a type of that which is to come. And since the antitype has not yet arrived, the type still remains in effect. If the Sabbath really does point us to Heaven (which we eagerly anticipate), what storehouses of joy await us as we seek to honor God by sanctifying one day in seven!

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Rest is Yet to Come

Sabbath Study, Part 34

In Hebrews 3, we are reminded how, during their trial in the wilderness, many of the Israelites hardened their hearts through unbelief, leading the Lord to declare, “They shall not enter My rest” (v. 11)—i.e., the Promised Land. This sobering example from Hebrews 3 prepares the reader for chapter 4, where the author applies the principle of promised rest to the life of the believer found in Christ—and ultimately found in Heaven.

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’” [Ps. 95:11] although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; [Gen. 2:2] and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” [Ps. 95:11]

Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Ps 95:7, 8]

For if Joshua had given them rest*, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11)

* “Given” and “rest” are one word in the Greek, divided in English by the word “them.”

A promise remains of entering His rest.
In this passage, there are three different Greek words used to describe the idea of rest. The most prominent (highlighted in blue) is utilized 9 times in the New Testament, 8 of which are found in Hebrews 3 and 4. (The only other place is Acts 7:49: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, or what is the place of My rest?”) This Greek word can mean either “a putting to rest (as in a calming of the winds)” or “a resting place: metaphorically, the heavenly blessedness in which God dwells, and of which he has promised to make persevering believers in Christ partakers after the toils and trials of life on earth are ended.” So the idea behind the main word for “rest” in this passage is the ultimate and heavenly respite promised to the Christian.

The second Greek word for rest in this passage (highlighted in red) is defined as, “to cause to be at rest, to grant rest.”

We will look at the third Greek word (highlighted in green) when we get to verse 9.

We…do enter that rest.
A.T. Robertson informs us that the phrase “do enter” is in the “emphatic futuristic present middle indicative” tense. In other words, it is a present tense Greek term used to indicate a future action. Thus what it means is, “We are sure to enter in, we who believe.” While this rest is certain, it is not fully realized yet.

“There is a rest promised to believers now as really as there was to believers in the days of Moses; and true Christians have a foretaste of it. It is a spiritual, holy rest, like the rest of God on the Sabbath after he had finished the work of creation; and of which the right keeping of the Sabbath is to believers an emblem” (Justin Edwards).

As He has said.
“God’s saying that unbelief excludes from entrance implies that belief gains an entrance into the rest. What, however, Paul mainly here dwells on in the quotation is that the promised ‘rest’ has not yet been entered into” (JFB).

I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest.”
God’s wrath means, at least in part, a withholding of true rest. The first generation of Israelites wasn’t allowed to enter into the Promised Land because their unbelief (and consequent disobedience) aroused God’s wrath; they were refused access to the rest of Canaan. As a result, they wandered in the wilderness for the remainder of their earthly lives.

In the gospel age, God’s wrath is revealed—again, in part—through a lack of true rest for the soul. And in the age to come, Divine wrath will have its final say, declaring a punishment of eternal restlessness apart from God. “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night” (Revelation 14:11).

Although the works were finished.
“Although God had finished His works of creation and entered on His rest from creation long before Moses’ time, yet under that leader of Israel another rest was promised, which most fell short of through unbelief; and although the rest in Canaan was subsequently attained under Joshua, yet long after, in David’s days, God, in the ninety-fifth Psalm, still speaks of the rest of God as not yet attained. THEREFORE, there must be meant a rest still future, namely, that which ‘remaineth for the people of God’ in heaven” (JFB).

If Joshua had given them rest.
The Israelites did eventually enter into the rest of the Promised Land, but the writer of Hebrews is showing that the true and ultimate rest promised by God was not the land of Canaan.

There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.
The word “rest” in this verse is translated from the Greek sabbatismos, which is used only this one time in all the New Testament. Many versions translate it as “Sabbath rest” because the word literally means, “keeping of a sabbath.” If this future heavenly rest is referred to as a Sabbath rest—that is, if the Sabbath is a precursor to Heaven—it stands to reason that the earthly Sabbath celebration would not cease until the Heavenly Sabbath arrives.

“Moses, the representative of the law, could not lead Israel into Canaan: the law leads us to Christ, and there its office ceases, as that of Moses on the borders of Canaan: it is Jesus, the antitype of Joshua, who leads us into the heavenly rest. This verse indirectly establishes the obligation of the Sabbath still; for the type continues until the antitype supersedes it: so legal sacrifices continued till the great antitypical Sacrifice superseded it, As then the antitypical heavenly Sabbath-rest will not be till Christ, our Gospel Joshua, comes, to usher us into it, the typical earthly Sabbath must continue till then. The Jews call the future rest ‘the day which is all Sabbath’” (JFB).

Be diligent to enter that rest.
Our ultimate rest is still in the future, something to which we are called to look for in faith. Elsewhere in the book of Hebrews, we see this future-oriented mindset exemplified through the Old Testament patriarchs, who eagerly anticipated the fulfillment of God’s promised rest—not in Canaan, but in Heaven:

  • “By faith Abraham…waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:8, 10).
  • “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland…. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
  • “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

When we finally enter our homeland, and the city prepared for us, we will enjoy true and lasting rest—the eternity that is “all Sabbath.”

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A.T. Robertson
The Family Bible Notes, by Justin Edwards
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary

Monday, April 05, 2010

Sunday Collections

Sabbath Study, Part 33

In 1 Corinthians 16, the Apostle Paul gives some instructions regarding another Sunday Sabbath activity: receiving an offering.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2)

As…the churches of Galatia, so you must do.
It seems that a special collection was taken up at Galatia, and Paul is giving the Corinthian church instructions on how to go about doing the same thing, so that he might take the money to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (see Rom. 15:26). His instructions for the Corinthians were the same as that for the Galatians, including not only the action to be taken, but also the day in which it was to take place.

On the first day of the week.
Paul is not commanding a corporate meeting on Sunday, he is assuming it. Thus, it appears that the practice of meeting on Christ’s resurrection day was well established. The church was celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday, setting the Jewish and Gentile Christians apart from the nonbelieving Jews.

“It appears from the whole that the first day of the week, which is the Christian Sabbath, was the day on which their principal religious meetings were held in Corinth and the Churches of Galatia; and, consequently, in all other places where Christianity had prevailed. This is a strong argument for the keeping of the Christian Sabbath” (Adam Clarke).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The First Day of the Week

Sabbath Study, Part 32

In the last two posts, we looked at several instances where Paul and other Christians sought evangelistic opportunities on the Jewish Sabbath. Acts 20 records a different kind of gathering: Paul and other Christians come together and break bread on a Sunday.

Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

First day of the week.
This phrase can be literally translated, “one of the Sabbaths,” leading some to believe that the Sabbath is still on Saturday and not Sunday. A helpful article by William D. Mounce (author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words) helps us see otherwise: “Words are rarely simple; they are usually nuanced and sometimes idiomatic. The fact that every modern translation goes with ‘first day of the week’ [in Acts 20:7] shows that here is an idiom at work, and no theological doctrines should be drawn from this usage (other than the fact that the early church saw no conflict in worshiping on the first day of the week and not the last…).”

Some believe that this practice of meeting corporately on Sunday shows that the Sabbath is no longer in effect. But I would ask: what, then, is the reason for treating one day in seven as special/sacred? The early church’s emphasis may have switched from Saturday to Sunday, but how does that make the foundational principle of the Sabbath null and void? If our Sunday celebration is not a Sabbath rest, what exactly is it?

Came together to break bread.
It is probable that the disciples observed the Lord’s Supper each Sunday. Whatever the case, the atmosphere described here—one of fellowship between believers—stands in stark contrast with the visits Paul made to various synagogues on the Jewish Sabbath. The purpose of those Saturday pursuits was blatantly evangelistic, whereas the purpose of this Sunday meeting was corporate worship.

Continued his message until midnight.
The Jews observed the Sabbath from sunset to sunset. Here, Paul began a message that continued well past sunset on Sunday. Because he was about to depart and (possibly) never see this group of people again, he may have wanted to extend the length of this last meeting. Whether that is the case or not, it seems that the New Testament Christians may not have been as stringent on the starting and stopping times of the Christian Sabbath observance.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A River Runs Near It

Sabbath Study, Part 31

There is one Saturday-Sabbath story in the book of Acts that does not take place in a synagogue. In Acts 16, Paul and his fellow missionaries travel to the city of Philippi. It appears that for some reason the city did not have a synagogue. This didn’t stop the Christians from setting out to find a Jewish gathering where they could preach the gospel.

And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And…she and her household were baptized… (Acts 16:13-15)

Where prayer was customarily made.
This phrase could be translated, “Where there was thought to be a proseuche [i.e., a place of prayer]” (Robert Young).

The sense of this phrase is not that the Christians were in the habit of meeting at a certain place (as I mistakenly used to think). On the contrary, the sense is that the Christians sought out a location frequented by the Jews and proselytes. “It appears that the apostles had heard from some of the Gentiles, or from some of the Jews themselves, that there was a place of prayer by the river side; and they went out in quest of it, knowing that, as it was the Sabbath, they should find some Jews there” (Adam Clarke).

“Places for prayer were erected by the Jews in the vicinity of cities and towns, and particularly where there were not Jewish families enough, or where they were forbidden by the magistrate to erect a synagogue. These proseuchae, or places of prayer, were simple enclosures made of stones in a grove, or under a tree, where there would be a retired and convenient place for worship” (Albert Barnes).

We sat down and spoke to the women who met there.
“Probably this was before the time of their public worship, and while they were waiting for the assembling of the people in general; and Paul improved the opportunity to speak concerning Christ and salvation to the women that resorted thither” (Adam Clarke). “Luke’s use of the first person plural implies that each of the four (Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke) preached in turn, with Paul as chief speaker” (A.T. Robertson).

Lydia…worshiped God.
This woman was a Greek proselyte, not yet a Christian (as is evidenced by what follows). The rest of the women were either Jews or fellow proselytes, or a combination of the two.

The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
She heard Paul preach, and through God’s work in her heart she was enabled to respond to the gospel with saving faith. Following her conversion, “she and her household were baptized.”

For me, this used to be the most confusing story involving Paul’s Saturday missionary activities. It seemed to indicate that Christians gathered together on Saturdays, just like the Jewish synagogue attendees. Learning about the distinction between Gentile Christians and Greek proselytes (see previous post) helped me see the true nature of this and other stories. As we will see in the following posts, genuine Christians met corporately on Sundays, not Saturdays.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
1898 Young’s Literal Translation, by Robert Young
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes
Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A.T. Robertson

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ministering on the Jewish Sabbath

Sabbath Study, Part 30

The book of Acts includes several instances of Christian leaders attending Jewish Sabbath services to share the gospel with those in attendance. Examples include Acts 13:43; 14:1; 16:14; 17:4, 17; and 18:4. These passages mention the presence of religious Gentiles as well as Jews, leading some to believe that Christian and Jew alike celebrated the Sabbath on the same day. Otherwise, why would Gentiles be participating in the Saturday Sabbath?

At first, this had been my conclusion as well. After digging deeper, however, I realized that, in order for us to really understand who these non-Jewish worshipers are, we need to understand the different types of Gentiles the New Testament deals with. There are at least three groups:

  • Gentile believers
  • Gentile unbelievers
  • Greek proselytes—i.e., Gentile converts to Judaism (divided by some into two sub-groups: “proselytes of righteousness” and “proselytes at the gate”; the former were more fully integrated into Judaism than the latter)

(For more information on Greek proselytes, see here and here.)

When they mention non-Jewish synagogue attendees, the above Sabbath passages in Acts are referring to Greek proselytes. These Gentile adherents to Judaism were bound to certain Mosaic laws and customs—including the Jewish Sabbath. The Greek proselytes are noted as being “devout” (Acts 13:43; 17:4), and the New Testament even describes them as fearing God (10:22) and worshipping God (16:14). Paul uses this terminology in the synagogue in Antioch when he addresses both the Jews and proselytes: “Men of Israel [Jews], and you who fear God [Greek proselytes], listen” (Acts 13:16).

In Acts 14:1, we see a “great multitude” of Jews and proselytes believing in the gospel. When Paul preaches in the synagogue at Thessalonica for three Saturdays in a row, many are persuaded, including “a great multitude of the devout Greeks” (Acts 17:4). We are told in Acts 17:17 that when Paul visits the synagogue in Athens, he reasons with two groups of people: the Jews and the Gentile proselytes. Once again, in the synagogue at Corinth, Paul repeatedly preaches the gospel to “both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

In each of these circumstances, we see a blatantly evangelical intent on the part of Paul and the other Christians. They are not preaching to fellow believers. They are visiting the synagogues to minister to the Jews and proselytes, not to celebrate the Saturday Sabbath with them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Day that Changed Everything

Sabbath Study, Part 29

Jesus was crucified and buried on a Friday. During the Jewish Sabbath, His body remained in the tomb. Early Sunday morning, at the beginning of a new week, Christ arose, victor over sin and death. After first appearing to Mary that morning (Jn. 20:14ff), He met and traveled with two disciples on the road to Emmaus later that day (Lk. 24:13ff). When He vanished from their presence, they realized whom they had been talking with and they immediately returned to Jerusalem. That evening, while they were describing to the other disciples their encounter with the risen Savior (see Lk. 24:36), Jesus appeared to them all.

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

The first day of the week.
John makes a point of mentioning what day it was when Jesus first appeared to them. “Christ arose on the first day of the week, and it might have been sufficient to say here Joh 20:19, he appeared the same day at evening; yet, to put an honour upon the day, it is repeated, being the first day of the week; not that the apostles designed to put honour upon the day (they were yet in doubt concerning the occasion of it), but God designed to put honour upon it, by ordering it that they should be altogether, to receive Christ’s first visit on that day. Thus, in effect, he blessed and sanctified that day, because in it the Redeemer rested” (Matthew Henry).

Thomas was not with the twelve when Jesus appeared to them, and he refused to believe their testimony, citing that unless and until he saw the risen Christ himself he would not believe. He had to wait until the following Sunday, for there is no mention of the disciples meeting corporately until a week later. While we can’t be certain, it seems probable that Jesus gave them instructions on when to gather together again.

And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” (John 20:26)

After eight days.
This count of eight days shows that the first Sunday is being considered as well as the second. (It’s similar to the measurement used for Christ’s death: He rose on the third day, with Friday being counted as day one.)

Jesus came.
Scripture teaches some truths explicitly and others implicitly. Implicit truths hold no less authority than explicit ones. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is never mentioned anywhere in Scripture, and yet it is a core doctrine of the Christian faith. Likewise, the New Testament never explicitly states that the Sabbath switched from the last day of the week to the first day of the week, and yet we find sufficient evidence to show that a Sunday Sabbath was designed to be a staple of the church after Christ’s resurrection.

“From this it appears that they thus early set apart this day for assembling together, and Jesus countenanced it by appearing twice with them. It was natural that the apostles should observe this day, but not probable that they would do it without the sanction of the Lord Jesus. His repeated presence gave such a sanction, and the historical fact is indisputable that from this time this day was observed as the Christian Sabbath” (Albert Barnes).

“[The] Lord designedly reserved His second appearance among them till the recurrence of His resurrection day, that He might thus inaugurate the delightful sanctities of THE LORD’S DAY (Re 1:10)” (JFB).

“That one day in seven should be religiously observed was an appointment from the beginning, as old as innocency; and that in the kingdom of the Messiah the first day of the week should be that solemn day this was indication enough, that Christ on that day once and again met his disciples in a religious assembly” (Matthew Henry).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sabbath Preparation

Sabbath Study, Part 28

Jesus, the man characterized by the Pharisees as a sinner (a glutton, a drunkard, and a Sabbath breaker), suffered and died in the place of sinners (including gluttons, drunkards, and Sabbath breakers). Shortly thereafter, Joseph of Arimathea (a member of the Jewish council and a follower of Christ) had the body of Jesus buried in a stone tomb. All this took place on a Friday.

That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 23:54-56)

That day was the preparation.
The hurried manner in which Jesus’ body was taken down and buried is due to the approach of the Sabbath. For the Jews, proper observance of the fourth commandment required preparation before the Sabbath day actually arrived. Once more, their days were reckoned from sunset to sunset, not from morning to morning (as we do today). Thus, the Sabbath began on a Friday evening at sunset and ended on a Saturday evening at sunset (see Lev. 23:32).

And the Sabbath drew near.
“Though they were in tears for the death of Christ, yet they must apply themselves to the sanctifying of the sabbath; and, when the sabbath draws on, there must be preparation. Our worldly affairs must be so ordered that they may not hinder us from our sabbath work, and our holy affections must be so excited that they may carry us on in it” (Matthew Henry).

They rested…according to the commandment.
Even in the midst of an event as paradigm-shattering as the death of their Savior, Jesus’ followers still observed the Sabbath rest, in accordance with the law of the God who had walked with them in the flesh for thirty-three years.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blind Man, Blind Leaders

Sabbath Study, Part 27

In John chapter 9, we read of Jesus passing by a blind man on a Sabbath day and stopping to help. He spit on the ground, made mud with his saliva, and anointed the man’s eyes with the mud. Jesus then told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. When he did so, his sight was completely restored. Eventually, the man was brought to the Pharisees to be examined.

They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. (John 9:13-16)

They brought him…to the Pharisees.
With Jesus repeatedly using the Sabbath observance as an object lesson, it almost seems as though He is trying to get under the Pharisees’ skin. I think Matthew Henry’s comments on this passage are helpful, if for no other reason than to provide us with another reminder of what we have already been studying. (And if Jesus felt the need to remind his hearers of the importance of the Sabbath, it would do us well to follow His lead.)

“But it may be asked, ‘Why would Christ not only work miracles on the sabbath day, but work them in such a manner as he knew would give offence to the Jews? When he had healed the impotent man, why should he bid him carry his bed? Could he not have cured this blind man without making clay?’ I answer,

“1. He would not seem to yield to the usurped power of the scribes and Pharisees. Their government was illegal, their impositions were arbitrary, and their zeal for the rituals consumed the substantials of religion; and therefore Christ would not give place to them, by subjection, no not for an hour. Christ was made under the law of God, but not under their law.

“2. He did it that he might, both by word and action, expound the law of the fourth commandment, and vindicate it from their corrupt glosses, and so teach us that a weekly sabbath is to be perpetually observed in the church, one day in seven (for what need was there to explain that law, if it must be presently abrogated?) and that it is not to be so ceremonially observed by us as it was by the Jews? Works of necessity and mercy are allowed, and the sabbath rest to be kept, not so much for its own sake as in order to the sabbath-work.

“3. Christ chose to work his cures on the sabbath day to dignify and sanctify the day, and to intimate that spiritual cures should be wrought mostly on the Christian sabbath day. How many blind eyes have been opened by the preaching of the gospel, that blessed eye-salve, on the Lord’s day! How many impotent souls cured on that day!” (Matthew Henry).

He does not keep the Sabbath.
In actuality, Jesus is the only one to have ever fully and completely honored the fourth commandment. What Jesus perpetually violated was human tradition (which had misinterpreted the Sabbath law).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry

The Letter or the Spirit?

Sabbath Study, Part 26

A couple chapters after healing the lame man by the pool (John 5:1-18), Jesus brings this incident up during His interaction with a Jewish group on the Feast of Booths.

Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work [the healing of the man by the pool], and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:21-24)

Jesus answered.
“The sabbath day (which is here set before us as a standard of all ceremonies) was not appointed to hinder, but to further and practise God’s works, amongst which the main one is the love of our neighbour” (Geneva Bible Notes).

I did one work.
According to commentators, Jesus had healed the man at the pool eighteen months prior, and yet the Jewish leaders viewed this act with such hatred that their memory of the event remained vivid. That being the case, Jesus used the incident as a reference in order to make His words all the more impactful.

You circumcise a man on the Sabbath.
The command in view was the mandatory circumcision of a male child on the eighth day after birth. “If that day happened to be the Sabbath, yet they held that he was to be circumcised, as there was a positive law to that effect; and as this was commanded, they did not consider it a breach of the Sabbath” (Albert Barnes). In this case, the Jews rightly interpreted the law. Jesus made His appeal using this same interpretation.

Are you angry with me…?
“The argument is this: You blame me for healing an impotent man on the Sabbath; yet you break the Sabbath to circumcise a child if the eighth day after its birth falls on the Sabbath. You say that the law of circumcision was given to Abraham, is older than the Sabbath law, and must be kept if the Sabbath is to be broken. Now the law of love and mercy is older than Moses; why find fault if it is kept on the Sabbath? They should judge righteously, instead of by outward appearances” (B. W. Johnson).

Do not judge according to appearance.
Adhere to the spirit, and not just to the letter, of the law. “In appearance, to circumcise a child on the Sabbath might be a violation of the law; yet you do it, and it is right. So, to appearance, it might be a violation of the Sabbath to heal a man, yet it is right to do works of necessity and mercy” (Albert Barnes).

Whereas the Pharisees were prone to adhere to the letter of the law so rigidly that they violated the spirit of the law, modern-day Christians seem to err in the opposite regard. That is, in an effort to avoid the sin of the Pharisees, we throw out both the letter and the spirit of the law, leaving nothing but an empty command, devoid of meaning, purpose, or application.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Geneva Bible Notes (1599 Geneva Bible)
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes
People's New Testament Commentary, by B. W. Johnson

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Working Prerogative of Jesus

Sabbath Study, Part 25

In Jerusalem, Jesus encounters a man who has been debilitated by an infirmity for 38 years. After asking if he wants to be healed, Jesus proceeds to miraculously restore the man’s health.

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:8-18).

It is not lawful.
“In this case a man lying on his bed, away from home, is suddenly healed. Under such circumstances Jewish tradition said that he must either spend the rest of the day watching his bed, or else he must go off and leave it to be stolen. But He who rightfully interpreted the law of his own devising, and who knew that ‘the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath’ (Mr 2:27), ordered the healed one to carry his bed along home with him” (J. W. McGarvey).

My Father has been working until now.
“God created the world in six days: on the seventh he rested from all creating acts, and set it apart to be an everlasting memorial of his work. But, though he rested from creating, he never ceased from preserving and governing that which he had formed: in this respect he can keep no sabbaths; for nothing can continue to exist, or answer the end proposed by the Divine wisdom and goodness, without the continual energy of God” (Adam Clarke). The world will not stop turning if we take a break from our work—precisely because God never ceases to work.

And I have been working.
“He not only said that God was his Father, but he said that he had the same right to work on the Sabbath that God had; that by the same authority, and in the same manner, he could dispense with the obligation of the day” (Albert Barnes). The Jews rightly understood that, by saying this, Jesus was equating Himself with God.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentaries and Topical Studies, by J. W. McGarvey
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Our Good, God’s Glory

Sabbath Study, Part 24

Because of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, it is right for us to ask in humble bewilderment, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Ps. 8:4). Why does God show kindness to sinners by offering them rest (among many other acts of mercy and grace)? The answer to this question is illustrated in our next Sabbath story.

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”

The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him. (Luke 13:10-17)

The ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation.
“He condemned Jesus for relieving on the Sabbath an infirm woman, who had suffered for eighteen years, when he would himself perform more labor for the relief of an animal from thirst for a single day” (Justin Edwards).

Does not each one of you.
“It was their tradition and not the Sabbath which Jesus had broken, and he here attempts no other justification of himself than to show that he is guiltless under a fair application of their own precedents” (J. W. McGarvey).

Loosed from this bond.
The miracle Jesus performed was not a work of necessity, for this woman had been sick for 18 years and could have gone another day without being restored. However, her healing was an act of mercy, and as such fit perfectly well within the bounds of Sabbath limitations.

In these New Testament stories of so-called Sabbath breaking (and there are more examples to follow), Jesus is showing us the greatness of both His love and humility. He said elsewhere that He came to serve, not to be served (Mr. 10:45). We learned in Mark 2:27 that God designed the Sabbath for the good of man, and we see throughout the New Testament Jesus illustrating this principle by healing people on the Sabbath. Through His example, Jesus demonstrated that the Sabbath was designed to be in the service of man: to benefit him, to restore him, to improve his quality of life.

That’s not to say that man is at the center of God’s purposes. On the contrary, God is most concerned with glorifying His name; that is ultimately why the heavens exist (Ps. 19:1, 97:6; Rom. 1:18-21), why the world exists (Num. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; Is. 6:3; Hab. 2:14), why God came to the earth as a man (Jn. 12:28; 17:1, 5), and why Christ is coming back to establish His kingdom for all eternity (2 Thes. 1:9, 10). God’s glory is at the center of all He does, and it should be at the center of all we do (Mt. 5:16; Rom. 15:6; 1 Cor. 10:31).

The reason God condescends to serve mankind is so that His name might be glorified. As John Piper famously says, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. This story in Luke is a good example: “She was made straight [Jesus served her, for her benefit],” and the result was that she “glorified God [the final end product of any and all God’s works].”

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
The Family Bible Notes, by Justin Edwards
Commentaries and Topical Studies, by J. W. McGarvey

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Works of Mercy

Sabbath Study, Part 23

The preceding incident (Matthew 12:1-8) is immediately followed by another “Sabbath encounter” Jesus had with the Pharisees:

Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. (Matthew 12:9-13)

When He had departed from there.
Jesus went into the synagogue on the same day of the previous incident (see Mt. 12:1-8), but it appears that He stayed there—or in the vicinity—for at least a week before this particular instance occurred (see Mr. 3:1, Lk. 6:6).

Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
Jewish law allowed for medical treatment only if a man’s life was in danger. Other acts of healing were forbidden. The nuances of these man-made Sabbath laws had reached outlandish levels of self-contradiction. For example, according to John Gill, spice could not be rubbed against the teeth as a healing agent, but the same spice could be used without limitation in eating. This shows that the Jews had lost sight of the purpose of the Sabbath—for the benefit of man, not to place a needlessly heavy yoke upon him.

How much more value then is a man than a sheep?
If it is allowable to show mercy to sheep (and other animals) on the Sabbath, how much more allowable should it be for us to provide aid for our neighbor in time of need?

From this story, we learn that the Sabbath law allows for “works of mercy” (as church leaders have often called them) in addition to works of necessity. When we come across someone in need on the Sabbath, it is more than lawful to provide help.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by John Gill

Monday, February 22, 2010

Works of Necessity

Sabbath Study, Part 22

The book of Mark describes the incident we examined in our last post, but with an additional statement by Jesus that sheds more light on the purpose of the Sabbath:

“And He [Jesus] said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.’” (Mark 2:27)

The Sabbath was made for man.
“That is, the Sabbath was intended for the welfare of man; designed to promote his happiness; and not to produce misery, by harsh, unfeeling requirements. It is not to be so interpreted as to produce suffering, by making the necessary supply of wants unlawful. Man was not made for the Sabbath. Man was created first, and then the Sabbath was appointed for his happiness, Ge 2:1-3. . . . The laws are to be interpreted favourably to his real wants and comforts. This authorizes works only of real necessity, not of imaginary wants, or amusement, or common business, and worldly employments” (Albert Barnes, on Matthew 12:6).

The functional purpose of the Sabbath is to be of service to man. In His infinite wisdom, the Creator of the universe provided one day out of seven to be a blessing to man, and that blessing is in the form of rest. This truth is not, of course, an excuse to do anything and everything we want on the Sabbath. Wants and needs are two separate categories; sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. Because we are sinners by nature, we should be careful not to equate all wants with necessities. Sometimes something we want may not actually be good for us. In providing us with the Sabbath, God designed to meet our real needs, not our imagined needs.

From this Scripture passage, we see that the Sabbath law allows for “works of necessity” (as church leaders have often called them). Jesus appeals to the example of King David: when he and his men were fleeing from Saul and faint with hunger, the High Priest allowed them to partake of the holy bread (i.e., food set aside only for the priests), even though in normal circumstances that was forbidden. Similarly, Jesus’ disciples plucked heads of grain on the Sabbath because of their need to eat. With the Sabbath having been created for man’s well being, it is ludicrous to deny man’s well being in order to “honor” the Sabbath.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Field of Grains

Sabbath Study, Part 21

The New Testament helps flesh out the true nature of the Sabbath rest. It is interesting to note that many of Jesus’ healing miracles were intentionally performed on the Sabbath. There seem to be at least two reasons for this: 1) By expanding (so to speak) on the concept of the Sabbath, Jesus was establishing His divinity, putting Himself on equal footing with God; and 2) Jesus was correcting the misuses and abuses of the Sabbath rest, helping His people to more fully enjoy God’s provision of it.

We must not make the mistake of calling Jesus a Sabbath breaker, simply because the Pharisees accused Him of such. They also accused Him of being a glutton and a drunkard (Mt. 11:19). It is easy and convenient for us to say that Jesus broke the Sabbath all the time, but to say that is to side with the viewpoint of the Pharisees. In reality, Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father. No divine law—including the commandment to honor the Sabbath day as holy—was ever broken by the Savior.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus never revoked God’s command for a weekly Sabbath rest. On the contrary, His repeated use of the Sabbath as a catalyst for confronting the Pharisees shows the importance of the commandment. Jesus wanted to make sure that its purposes did not continue to be misconstrued.

Christ’s first confrontation with the Pharisees over the Sabbath is recorded in Matthew 12.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:1-8).

At that time.
It is important to note what “time” this took place. Jesus had just finished talking about the subject of rest. Look at what he said just prior to this incident: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Straightaway after offering a promise of rest for the souls of men, Jesus used the Sabbath as an object lesson.

Your disciples are doing what is not lawful.
This was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to proclaim the end of the Sabbath requirement (if it really had ended), or the upcoming end of its usefulness (if it was going to soon be abolished). Instead, Jesus responded with several statements that served to clarify the application of the Sabbath rest.

Profane the Sabbath, and are blameless.
The priests were commanded to offer sacrifices even on the Sabbath (Num. 28:9-20), and if a newborn’s eighth day fell on the Sabbath, he was still supposed to receive circumcision (Jn. 7:22, 23).

“The Sabbath was the busiest day in the week for the priests. They baked and changed the showbread; they performed sabbatical sacrifices (Nu 28:9), and two lambs were killed on the sabbath in addition to the daily sacrifice. This involved the killing, skinning, and cleaning of the animals, and the building of the fire to consume the sacrifice. They also trimmed the gold lamps, burned incense, and performed various other duties. The profanation of the Sabbath, however, was not real, but merely apparent. Jesus cites this priestly work to prove that the Sabbath prohibition was not universal, and hence might not include what the disciples had done. The fourth commandment did not forbid work absolutely, but labor for worldly gain. Activity in the work of God was both allowed and commanded” (J. W. McGarvey).

Greater than the temple.
“The Jews had a saying, that in the temple there was no sabbath. They looked upon the temple as sanctifying all actions done there. To obviate this, (saith our Saviour), In this place is one (that is, I am) greater than the temple. The temple was but a type of me. If the temple can sanctify so much labour, will not my authority and permission, think you, excuse this little labour of my disciples?” (Matthew Poole).

The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.
Notice the wording Christ chose. He gave Himself a title: Lord of the Sabbath. It would be meaningless to call Himself the master of a defunct institution. No, as Lord of the fourth commandment (and every other commandment), He claimed the authority to explain the purpose and practice of the institution, as God originally designed it.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentaries and Topical Studies, by J. W. McGarvey
Annotations upon the Holy Bible, by Matthew Poole

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More Sabbath Blessings

Sabbath Study, Part 20

In Jeremiah 17, there is a lengthy description of Judah’s sin (doubling as a description of the sin of all mankind), followed by Jeremiah’s plea for deliverance. God’s answer begins with an exhortation to honor the Sabbath:

Thus says the LORD: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.

“And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the LORD, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the LORD.

But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.” (Jeremiah 17:21-27)

Take heed.
Adam Clarke is only one commentator among many who believes that a neglect of the Sabbath leads to a neglect in other areas of Christian duty: “From this and the following verses we find the ruin of the Jews attributed to the breach of the Sabbath; as this led to a neglect of sacrifice, the ordinances of religion, and all public worship, so it necessarily brought with it all immorality. This breach of the Sabbath was that which let in upon them all the waters of God's wrath.”

And it shall be.
Matthew Henry points out the magnitude of the blessings God promises for those who hallow the Sabbath by ceasing from their labors:
  1. The court shall flourish (v. 25) with the unbroken continuation of the Davidic line, ruling in glory and prosperity.
  2. The city shall flourish (v. 25) and remain forever (i.e., it shall not be destroyed), so that it may answer to its title, “The Holy City.”
  3. The country shall flourish (v. 26) with an increase in people and produce (evidenced in part by the abundance of offerings).
  4. The church shall flourish (v. 26) as the people bring their offerings of praise to the house of the Lord; that is, they will worship the one true God and not serve manmade idols.
“And this is the effect of sabbath-sanctification; when that branch of religion is kept up other instances of it are kept up likewise; but, when that is lost, devotion is lost either in superstition or in profaneness. It is a true observation, which some have made, that the streams of all religion run either deep or shallow according as the banks of the sabbath are kept up or neglected” (Matthew Henry).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Delight and Joy

Sabbath Study, Part 19

[Just so there is no confusion: we have not examined, and will not examine, every Old and New Testament passage on the Sabbath. This study, while extensive, is not designed to be exhaustive.]

In Isaiah 58, we find a Sabbath passage that helps correct our natural thinking. We are prone to consider the Sabbath command a burden, but we are encouraged to see it for what it really is: a blessing.

If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and shall honor [glorify] Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13, 14)

If you turn away…from doing your pleasure.
There is a kind provision in this prohibition. In our modern western culture, we allow ourselves to enjoy just about any pursuit or activity on the Sabbath in the name of Christian liberty. (It is legalistic—an unnecessary burden—to restrict our activities on Sunday, so the argument might go.) This passage instructs us not to do that, not because God is trying to keep us from enjoying ourselves, but because He wants us to find and experience true delight.

Because of indwelling sin, we are prone to avoid what we are commanded to pursue. We’ve all experienced this principle at work in our minds when we settle down for a time of extended prayer or Bible study: suddenly we are acutely aware of all the projects we need to work on, all the chores we need to complete, all the unresolved issues we need to deal with…and with everything vying for our attention, we wonder if now really is the best time to commune with God.

So it is with the Sabbath rest. God commands us to abstain from going our own way because He knows indwelling sin will kick in and desire to do anything but take advantage of the Sabbath. It isn’t legalistic or burdensome to avoid “what we want” on the Sabbath, for indwelling sin is quick to blur the line between what we think is good for us and what really is good for us.

My holy day.
“This is the very way in which the Sabbath is mostly broken; it is made a day of carnal pleasure instead of spiritual ‘delight’” (JFB).

Call the Sabbath a delight.
“Man's ‘own words’ would ‘call’ it a ‘weariness’; it is the spiritual nature given from above which ‘calls it a delight’ (Am 8:5 Mal 1:13)” (JFB). Our required response to the Sabbath is possible only because of God’s heart-changing grace, for we are naturally prone to call the Sabbath a duty and not a delight.

Nor speaking your own words.
“In all we say and do we must put a difference between this day and other days” (Matthew Henry). Shannon and I have been trying to avoid conversations about “normal” weekly matters (i.e., business or school projects that need working on). It is helping us to enjoy a more consistent state of rest throughout the Sabbath day. By the grace of God, the troubles of Monday can (generally) wait patiently enough until Monday.

Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD.
Delight in the Sabbath is directly linked to a delight in the Lord. That doesn’t mean that all who delight in the Lord delight in the Sabbath (just as it is true that not all of God's elect believe in election), but God promises that when His children find delight in the Sabbath rest, they will also find delight in the giver of that rest.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry

Monday, February 08, 2010

A Sabbath Song

Sabbath Study, Part 18

Of the 150 Psalms, only 1 is listed as being written specifically for the Sabbath. We aren’t going to go through the whole thing, but I wanted to look at the first few verses.

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night, on an instrument of ten strings, on the lute, and on the harp, with harmonious sound. For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands. O LORD, how great are Your works! Your thoughts are very deep. A senseless man does not know, nor does a fool understand this. (Psalm 92:1-6)

A song for the Sabbath day.
“The subject is the praise of God; praise is Sabbatic work, the joyful occupation of resting hearts. Since a true Sabbath can only be found in God, it is wise to meditate upon him on the Sabbath day…. The Sabbath was set apart for adoring the Lord in his finished work of creation, hence the suitableness of this Psalm; Christians may take even a higher flight, for they celebrate complete redemption” (Charles Spurgeon). As much as the Psalmists and other Old Testament patriarchs benefited from the Sabbath, how much more can we benefit, having a view of redemption from the other side of the cross.

It is good to give thanks.
“When duty and pleasure combine, who will be backward? To give thanks to God is but a small return for the great benefits wherewith he daily loadeth us; yet as he by his Spirit calls it a good thing we must not despise it, or neglect it. We thank men when they oblige us, how much more ought we to bless the Lord when he benefits us. Devout praise is always good, it is never out of season, never superfluous, but it is especially suitable to the Sabbath; a Sabbath without thanksgiving is a Sabbath profaned” (Charles Spurgeon).

Made me glad through your work.
We have seen on several occasions that the Sabbath is an opportune time to remember the work of God on our behalf; it is because of His work that we can find rest. It should be no surprise, then, that the Psalmist mentions this truth in his Sabbath song.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
The Treasury of David, by Charles Spurgeon