Monday, May 25, 2009
Before talking about the Sabbath, or Sabbath-keeping, or Jesus as our Sabbath rest, let me first admit that in America, the Sabbath is no longer considered much by the vast population.
In my home town, Grand Rapids, Michigan, when I was a little kid in the 1950’s, the Sunday Sabbath was not only taught in most churches, but was legislated by the city itself, or forced by the pressure of Christian church groups.
Alcohol couldn’t be sold on Sundays, stores and other workplaces were closed on Sunday, sports were strongly discouraged, and in most neighborhoods one would not even mow their lawn on Sunday, because of peer pressure.
While this may sound to some of you like a documentary about some bizarre religious cult, believe me, this was the tradition of much of America before the ‘60’s, and European Reformed Church influence dating back to the Reformation of the 1500’s.
And I’m well aware that much has changed these days. And yet there are many who still think of Sunday as the Sabbath Day, and practice various levels of abstaining from work, or demanding certain practices on that day, to fulfill religious duty. And there are still Christian sects and cults who teach Seventh Day or Saturday Sabbatarianism even to the point of requiring it for salvation.
So I want to look at Sabbath Keeping in this and one other message. This time we’ll deal with the abolishing of Sabbath Keeping in the New Covenant, and next time dig deeper into the subject of Jesus Christ as our new Sabbath rest.
First, Some Old Covenant Scriptures
Exodus 20:8, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy."
Exodus 20:10, "but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you."
Exodus 20:11, "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy."
Exodus 31:14, "Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people."
Exodus 31:15, "For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death."
Before we go any further, notice this: you will notice that this was a covenant with the nation of Israel only. There was no universal Sabbath commandment for the nations, the Gentiles.
“Wait a minute”, you might say. “What about in Genesis? Didn’t God say something about the Sabbath after He created everything in six days, and rested on the seventh?”
Well, here is what He said:
Genesis 2:2, "By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Genesis 2:3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made."
No commands here. Certainly nothing about refraining from doing anything on the seventh day. But way back then, God was filtering into our thinking something about this idea of rest. Rest from working.
How Serious Were The Sabbath Commands?
But back to Israel in the book of Exodus.
Was God serious about this Sabbath-keeping for Israel? He sure was. This was part of what we call the Mosaic Covenant, or Old Covenant which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. And God was VERY serious about the Sabbath. Profane the Sabbath, and you die. That was the Law.
The actual Sabbath commandments for Israel were bad enough. But by the time Jesus walked the earth, the Pharisees were holding up a much tougher bunch of rules that they actually held ABOVE the Law.
For example, the law included detailed regulations regarding what constituted a "burden" that could not be carried on the Sabbath; for example, pieces of paper, horses hairs, wax, a piece of broken earthenware or animal food. Generally a burden was anything as heavy as a dried fig, or a quantity sufficient to be of any practical use (e.g. a scrap of paper large enough to be converted into a note or a wrapper).
It prescribed what might or might not be saved if one’s house caught on fire. Only those clothes that were absolutely necessary could be saved. But one could put on a dress, save it, then go back and put on another. One could not ask a Gentile to extinguish the flames. But if he did so voluntarily, he should not be hindered.
One could eat food on the Sabbath lawfully only if it had been specifically prepared for the Sabbath on a weekday. If a laying hen laid an egg on the Sabbath, it could not be eaten. But if the hen had been kept for fattening and not laying, the egg could be eaten, since it would be considered a part of the hen that had fallen off!
These regulations considered studying the Mishna on the Sabbath more important than studying the Bible. The Hagiographa (the Old Testament "Writings") were not to be read on the Sabbath except in the evening. And there are many other similar examples.
Of special interest to us are the laws regarding harvesting and healing on the Sabbath. Even the slightest activity involving picking grain—removing the husks, rubbing the heads, cleaning or bruising the ears or throwing them up in the hand—was forbidden.
Yet if a man wanted to move a sheaf on his field, he had only to lay a spoon on it; then, in order to remove the spoon, he might also remove the sheaf on which it lay!
Did Jesus Break The Sabbath?
All this is important in order to realize that Jesus never broke the Sabbath. He lived under the Old Covenant, and was expected to obey the Sabbath laws, and He did.
But He did not obey the rules of the Pharisees, and that infuriated them.
Ironically, by adding to the Law of God their own rules, the Pharisees were breaking the Law of God. Listen to Deuteronomy 4:2, "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you."
Is The Sabbath For Us Today?
Now, what about us? Is the Sabbath for us today?
The clear answer from Scripture is no.
We are under the New Covenant, and the Bible in the Book of Hebrews, Chapter 8, makes it clear that the New Covenant has made the Old Covenant obsolete (Heb. 8:13).
That alone is enough to make it clear that Sabbath-keeping is not for us today.
But let’s look at more detailed reasons why we are not Sabbatarians:
1.We read In Colossians 2:16-17,
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Paul clearly refers to the Sabbath as a shadow of Christ, which is no longer binding since the substance (Christ) has come.
2.The Sabbath was the sign to Israel of the Old Covenant (Ezekiel 20:12). Since we are now under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8), we are no longer required to observe the sign of the Old Covenant.
3.The New Testament never commands Christians to observe the Sabbath.
4.The Church met on the first day of the week in the book of Acts (Acts 20:7), and even that is not a command, but merely a practice that sprang up, possibly in honor of Christ who rose from the dead that day.
5.We touched on this already, but nowhere even in the Old Testament are the Gentile nations commanded to observe the Sabbath or criticized for not observing it. That makes it clear that Sabbath-keeping is not meant to be an eternal moral principle.
6.Nowhere in the Bible does anyone keep the Sabbath before the time of Moses, and there are no commandments in the Bible to keep the Sabbath before the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai.
7.The apostle Paul warned the Gentiles about many different sins in his epistles, but breaking the Sabbath was never one of them.
8.In Galatians 4:10-11, Paul rebukes the Galatians for thinking God expected them to observe special days (including the Sabbath).
9.Nothing in Scripture indicates that Sunday has replaced Saturday as the Sabbath. Believers tend to gather on Sunday, which is the first day of the week, but there is no command of Scripture to do so.
Now you may have heard of a book by Jonathan Edwards called “The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath”. I once talked with a conference speaker who promoted Sabbath-keeping. And after the conference I went up to him and I said, "Okay, I'm a Realtor. If I go out and show a house on Sunday, am I in violation of the Sabbath, in such a way that the Church should rebuke me and discipline me?"
And he said, "Well...no...it's not that exactly, it's..."
And I said, "Well, how about 10 houses? How about 15 houses?"
"Well, no...it's not exactly..."
And he hemmed and hawed, and I said, "Isn't it true that the Sabbath has been done away with in the New Covenanat?"
He said, "You need to read Jonathan Edwards' The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath." Which is supposed to prove that the Sabbath has continued and that it's been changed to Sunday.
And I said, "I have read The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath" and I said, "basically it's not a Scriptural teaching at all".
And he became frustrated and said, "Well...", as if to say, "Well, there's just no hope for you if you think Jonathan Edwards is not being Scriptural."
And I said, "Let's examine the Scripture on that."
And all of a sudden he looked at his watch and said, "Uh...I gotta go...uh...I gotta go catch a plane."
And so ended the conversation. Because when brought straight to the Scriptures for the teaching on the perpetuity and change of the Sabbath, it just isn't there.
10.Lastly, Hebrews 4:9-11 makes it clear that the Sabbath was all along meant to be a shadow of Christ who came to be our Sabbath rest.
Now we will be covering this wonderful truth in greater detail in Part 2 of this message, but for now let me say this.
In Him there is a rest for the people of God, wherein they rest from their works.
In the New Covenant, Christ Himself is our Sabbath. He is our rest. We are saved by grace through faith in Him. But not only is our salvation not based on works, but the very love of God for us, His acceptance of us, and His favor on our lives is by grace.
It doesn’t mean we won’t have good works in our lives. God is working those in us through His Spirit. But we rest from our works as the way to earn God’s love and favor. He loves us, period.
Is the Sabbath for today? No, not the legalistic keeping of rules for a special day of the week. But our Sabbath is Jesus, and our rest is in Him, every day of the week, and forever. More in Part 2 next time.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Below I've quoted part of Martin Luther's famous letter he wrote to Melanchton in 1521.
One phrase in it has been sometimes translated, "Sin boldly", and some have called Luther an antinomian (against the law, or lawless) because of it.
But this is a slander that all true preachers of the Gospel of Grace may be occasionally subject to.
Luther loved the law of God, as all who are born again do.
But Luther also knew we could never keep the law with the perfection required by God, and so he "recklessly" pounded home the great truth of Grace, by which Christ on the cross paid for all of our sins.
How many of them?
"Should we sin then that Grace would abound," Paul asked on behalf of his imaginary audience.
"Of course not, you ignoramouses;" he responds to his own question, "don't you know you've died to sin and been born again? You love Jesus now, and hate your sins. What a dumb question!" --VERY loose paraphrase :)
And yet, when we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father. And so there is NO condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. And we can crawl in His lap and rest, and this resting will help us to walk in His Spirit...free.
If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin.
God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.
We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter [2 Peter 3:13] are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.
It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? -- Martin Luther
Monday, May 04, 2009
I’d like us to take a look at a terrific verse of Scripture, Col. 2:6, which reads, "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him."
The only way to become a son or daughter of God is to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to believe in Him (John 1:12, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name ).
Salvation Is A Free Gift
This entrance into the family of God is accomplished by God's GRACE through faith. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Eph 2:8,9).
We can’t brag about earning our salvation, because we didn’t earn it, did we? It’s completely based on God’s Grace, His undeserved favor toward us. It’s a free gift.
Good works are the fruit of our new life, and we are a new creation, with a new life. But no good works have any part in our receiving eternal life, or as the Bible calls it, being saved. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10).
The salvation, the eternal life is an absolutely free gift.
Is Free Salvation Fair?
Some say that’s not fair. It’s too easy. You don’t know the sins I’ve committed. You don’t know how I’ve spit in God’s face for so many years. It’s not just, it’s too simple. Why should I be saved through simply believing in Jesus? We naturally gravitate toward trying to earn acceptance, and that attitude resists the simplicity of God's grace.
Yet the Bible is clear: "But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." (Rom 4:5). "And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. . ." (Rom 11:6). No wonder John Newton's hymn, Amazing Grace, has such meaning to saved people of God!
So we received Him by Grace, didn’t we?
What About After Salvation?
Well, let’s go back to our verse, Col. 2:6, "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him."
What role does God’s grace play in living and growing in Christ? What role does God’s grace play in living abundantly?
Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have [it] more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)
"That they may have life" (that’s salvation, the new birth, the new creation, eternal life).
"And that they may have it more abundantly" (that’s living as a believer AFTER our initial salvation.
What role does grace play in that?!
Well, it is VITAL to the Christian life.
Why? Why can’t I just pull out my Bible, find all the rules and laws for living the Christian life, and live it?
I’m tempted to just say, OK, go ahead and try it. But I know better than that. I know from personal experience, from the experience of others, and from the Bible itself, that this makes a miserable Christian life. It’s what we call Performance-based Christianity, and it stinks.
What's Wrong With Performance-Based Christianity?
First of all, if we make the Christian life about rules and laws, we will find ourselves constantly falling short. If we think we are successfully following the laws and rules, then we don’t really understand them.
We don’t understand how Jesus elevated the laws to reflect how holy and perfect God is. When He said that adultery included even the very THOUGHT of lust in our hearts, He put the cards on the table.
And if we try to live the Law way, we will always be thinking that God is angry with us, His children.
You may already think that God must be angry with you, either directly or by implication. Admit it.
You may even think when you are sinful or disobedient to the Word of God that God sees you as "wicked", and everyone knows "God is angry with the wicked every day", right?
Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon, "Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God" in the 1700's, and the picture has been applied to believers and has stuck...
...with those who don't understand the difference between a Sinner and a Saint. Or who don't understand the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
The devil loves this confusion. He loves confusion between the biblical concept of a "saint" as anyone who is a born-again child of God, and the Roman Catholic nonsense that a "saint" is someone who meets some elaborate criteria of the Mother Church, and is "voted in".
The devil loves confusion between the Old Covenant (which Hebrews 8 says failed in bringing righteousness because of man's inability to keep the Law) and the New Covenant, in which God puts His laws in our hearts, fulfills those laws in Christ on the cross, declares us righteous, and forgives us of all our sins, past, present and future.
Yes, the devil loves confusion.
So it's no surprise (though a crying shame), that children of God think that God is angry at them when they fall short and sin. And otherwise fine Christians who mean well perpetuate this ridiculous notion, without one shred of support from the New Covenant scriptures!
And so Christians often run away from this angry God, instead of toward Him, when they fail. They won't look Him in the face, because they think it's a face of anger. What a tragedy.
This is not the place for an extended explanation of the subject in the scriptures. But here's a challenge for those who doubt what I'm saying: Search the epistles of the New Testament for any teaching that God is ever angry with His children.
By the way, don't think the passages on God's chastisement are regarding some kind of punishment out of anger. Study them closely, and you will see they involve loving, usually gentle correction, from a loving Father, who just wants his kids to be in close fellowship with Him. No condemnation, no unforgiveness, no bitterness, no anger.
Like a daddy teaching his 1-year-old to walk, while the kid keeps wobbling, staggering, and falling...sometimes painfully in the wrong direction, but often into a laughing Daddy's arms for a big hug.
The Biggest Reason Why Grace Is So Important
And that’s the biggest reason why grace is so important to the Christian life. Because it causes us to want to fellowship with Christ. To draw near to Him, and not away. And that drawing near is the very SOURCE of our Life. Christ, who IS our life, the Scripture says.
And ironically, moving away from a law-based life to a grace-based life doesn’t cause us to sin more, but less. That’s why Rom 6:14 says “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” You are not under Law, which says “do”, but under grace, which says “done”.
With apologies to Jimmy Stewart, it can be a Wonder Life between our initial salvation and our glorification, if we heed Col 2:6, and walk in grace just as we received Christ in grace, by simple faith. Faith that He has already forgiven us of all our sins, past present and future. Faith that we are no longer under condemnation, because our sins have been paid for and put away as far as the East is from the West.
So Is God Overlooking Our Sins?
Notice I didn’t say He overlooked our sins. He couldn’t be that unjust. No, He exercised His great justice, by taking our sins on Himself. He became sin FOR us, that we might be made the righteousness of God.
I love the hymn by Annie Johnson Flint that goes,
"His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again."
You see, it’s His love that supplies that grace for salvation and living. His love for you and me.
On Sunday, August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines Flight 225 crashed just after take-off at Detroit, Michigan.
155 died, and one lived.
That one who lived was a little 4-year-old girl named Cecelia. The wreckage was so bad, that the authorities thought at first she had not been on the plane. Checking the flight roster, however, and with Cecelia's own testimony, the following was discovered:
As the crash was developing, Paula Chichan had unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia, and would not let her go! Nothing could separate that child from her parent's love...neither disaster, nor crash, nor flames, nor pain.
Such is our Savior's love for us...
"...that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38,39)