“Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing.” Eugene Peterson
After 14 weeks of seeking to understand what “Keeping the Sabbath holy” means, I am still wandering around clumsily. My Sabbath-keeping is very much a work in progress. But there is progress, and the fog is lifting. I am starting to see this gift, what an “immeasurably, abundantly more than anything we can ask for or even imagine to ask for”1 kind of gift this is.
But so many are pushing back. A favorite refrain is, “But Jesus did away with the Old Testament law. This is the New Testament; we live in an age of grace.”
To which I might reply, “Who needs grace for a gift?”
What is your image of the OT God versus the NT Jesus? Let me guess: the OT God is angry, vengeful and all about punishing, and the NT Jesus is warm, soft and fuzzy?
And your image of the OT laws versus this NT grace? The OT is hard, rigid, black & white, and the NT grace means: “Oh, it’s alright. Just do your best and it will be okay.”
So when it comes to keeping the Sabbath holy, no need to get worked up about something as archaic as the Sabbath. We live in an age of grace, right?
But this is because you are still stuck in the mindset that God is about prohibiting you, not protecting you. You still view the Sabbath commandment as a restriction, not a refuge.
So, you are still a slave to this destructive misconception, and therefore you are missing perhaps God’s greatest gift for you. Remember, whatever is important to God, is only important to him because he knows how important it is for you.
I would like to command all of you to spend some time with the Lord each morning, first thing, before you get your day started, because I know how important it would be for you. I would also like to command you to sleep eight hours, exercise regularly, and eat more protein – as well as listen to more Earth, Wind and Fire. Why? Not because I get off on commanding people around; I know how good it would be for you. Especially the Earth Wind & Fire part.
And so it is with your Heavenly Father.
The “NT Jesus” comes along and starts his ministry by clarifying his teaching mission: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17
He then proceeds to fulfill the Sabbath commandment by knocking the props out from under the Pharisees’ legalistic approach to the Sabbath. But if you think Jesus is abolishing the Sabbath, please think again.
Jesus is saying, “Lighten up, but tighten up: Lighten up you stiff-necked legalists, you’ve lost the heart of my Father; but tighten up, you who think you can ignore my commandments. All my laws are about the heart, first, but they are still commandments.”
So if you still think Jesus is the warm and fuzzy God, full of grace and only grace, think about this:
Is it easier to not kill or to not get angry? Easier to not commit adultery or to not lust? Easier to swear an oath or “simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’? Is it easier to revenge an eye for an eye or to turn the other cheek? To love your neighbor or love your enemy? To forgive once or forgive over and over? Matthew 5-6
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about “Lighten up, but tighten up, too.”
When we see how Jesus plows right over our keenly crafted rationalizations and our carefully arranged loopholes we might just long for the ‘rigid’ OT approach. At least then we could ignore the spirit of the law, as long as we kept the legal part.
But Jesus tells us “… the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23 Bold added) So no loopholes and no rationalizations.
The Truth is: “keeping the Sabbath holy” is a commandment. The Spirit is: God’s Holy Spirit will show you the heart of this commandment.
So when the Pharisees went nuts over Jesus’ disciples picking a few pieces of grain on a Sabbath, he responded with an incredulous, 6-8 “There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—‘I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’—you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.” Matthew 12 The Message
I can hear Jesus saying, “Lighten up, it’s about your heart, not a ritual, and surely not a restriction. But tighten up, because I am still in charge of the Sabbath. And I am commanding you, ‘Rest, relax, remember, refresh, rejuvenate, rejoice – and revere your holy Father.’”
Don’t ignore the Sabbath, explore it. See what God has in store for you. Just try it. Start with waking up and saying, “Today is the Sabbath. It’s God’s day.” Just start with that. And maybe, just maybe, put your to-do list aside, just for a day. Try it, it’s not that scary.
Accomplish … nothing. Play, and pray more.
After 14 weeks I’m starting to feel protected from the mayhem of our push, push, push culture. This past Sunday that urgent voice in my head kept saying, “For crying out loud, dosomething. Accomplish something!” Instead I just read some more. I read, walked, thought, and reflected. A special day. His day. A soft, gentle day.
If you want a little more scripture:
Lighten Up & Tighten Up
Lighten Up: Mark 7: 14 “ … Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. – Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked.“Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
Tighten Up: 20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Tighten Up: Matthew 16: 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
But Lighten Up: Matthew 11: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”