Friday, 1 June 2018

Sabbath Rest?

Some of you might enjoy this story I found during my browsing this week. The wife of a man who died assumed they had plenty of money, so she gave him a very nice funeral and a fancy tombstone that said, “Rest in Peace.” However, when the estate was settled she learned he had wasted all their money on gambling and bad investments. This made her so angry she took the little money she had and added three words to the tombstone. The new tombstone said: “Rest in Peace … Until I Come!”

What I was thinking about at the time was what it is we really need if we are going to find peace. It came out of a discussion with my wife over where we wanted to be buried and what sort of funeral we wanted. A bit morbid some might say but important for a spouse to know. The reflection of my wife was that it did not matter as we knew and had the hope where we were going after we leave this life. As someone once said, you don’t need a tombstone to rest in peace; you only need Jesus.

The Hebrew word for rest is Shabbat. There are no vowels in the Hebrew language, so the word Shabbat is comprised of three Hebrew letters: Shin, Beit, and Tav. In this week’s reading from Mark 2-3 we are able to discern what Jesus taught about the Sabbath Day. Sabbath is one of the most misunderstood topics in scripture. There are two questions that trouble many people and they are: (1) Why don’t we obey the Fourth Commandment that says, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy?” The other question is: (2) When did we change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday?

You know, I have heard it said that there were a group of religious whiners who followed Jesus around criticising everything He did and said. In this passage, they whine about how Jesus didn’t observe the Sabbath the way they thought it ought to be observed. But we also can say that Christians are not required to follow the Jewish Sabbath rules. This is where it gets tricky as there are a number of ideas that have arisen without looking at the history of the development of what we call a day of rest on the Sunday.

Some of the Pharisees confronted Jesus about this hoping to put a wedge between him and the people who followed him. But Jesus made it clear that God saw the necessity of satisfying human hunger even on the Sabbath. He even pointed out that David had acted on that basis when he as a refugee and those fleeing with him ate sacred bread. Then Jesus said, “God created the Sabbath for people not people for the Sabbath.” In other words, God considered keeping people more important than keeping the Sabbath.

As some will know, there are some groups who follow Jesus, but meet on Saturday, and even follow the Old Testament dietary rules. They don’t eat pork or catfish. Some of them judge those of us who worship on Sunday. They say we’re wrong, and that Sunday worship is actually the mark of the beast. Interesting isn’t it.

What is important is that time is set aside as holy – for divine purpose. From my reading and reflection, I believe that God set aside times other than Sundays for people. Christians need to take those times for worship and spiritual renewal.
But all this talk of working on Sunday is skirting the real issue: “Is Jesus Lord of your Sabbath – your time of peace – your time with God?” What do you do on Sunday? What are the rules that may be barriers to you for recharging and finding peace?  

Sadly, this tragedy of what is the Sabbath or what is Sunday remains today. I know we as Christians want people to attend services every Sunday. However, there are some who cannot enjoy worshipping the Lord because they are so consumed with meeting the demands and expectations of others. Some can’t focus on the Lord because they are so busy “policing” the behaviour of others. I am personally thankful for Sundays, and I believe every believer needs to look forward to being in a place of gathering to worship. However, if our demands and expectations regarding Sunday cloud our view of the Saviour, then we have missed the purpose for Sunday all together!

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