What's Up With the Sabbath?

Recap:

Last night we took a look at the fourth commandment, which is found in Exodus 20:8-11. This commandment is interesting. It stands out because it is the ONLY one of the Ten Commandments to not be repeated in the New Testament. Which naturally begs the question, why? And furthermore, why does it seem that the New Testament has moved on from the Sabbath as it was known in the Old Testament (Col 2:16-17; Rm 14:1-12)? To understand the answer to these questions we have to understand the commandment and its purpose. 

The command to observe the Sabbath had a threefold purpose for the Israelites:

  1. It was part of what set them apart as the covenant people of God.
  2. It was a time to remember and worship God for two of God's most powerful acts, Creation (Ex 20:11) and Salvation from Egypt (Dt 5:15), and to look with anticipation toward the coming of the Messiah.
  3. It was to be a time of rest.

So, the real question here is how has Christ changed all of this?

Christians, unlike the Israelites, are not marked as the people of God by outward, physical symbols like circumcision, dietary laws, or Sabbath keeping. Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit testifies that we are children of God (Rm 8:16). When Christ gave us the Holy Spirit it removed any need for physical symbols of covenant separation (i.e. dietary laws, circumcision, Sabbath keeping). The Holy Spirit is the only evidence any Christian needs that their salvation is genuine (Acts 15:8).

But what about remembrance and worship? Surely Christians still need the Sabbath for remembrance and worship, right? The Bible does command Christians to meet together for the purpose of worship and remembrance (Heb 10:25). But Christ has changed everything about our worship. Ever since the resurrection of Christ Christians have been gathering on Sunday mornings to worship in celebration of his resurrection (Acts 20:7). Our worship is no longer in anticipation of what WILL happen but, rather, in response to what God has already done for us in Christ. The New Testament worship is a gathering of Christians on the day of our Lord's resurrection to celebrate what that death and resurrection achieved and to remember the sacrifice that was made once for all. This is why Paul instructs the Colossians to not let anyone pass judgment on them concerning the Sabbath. "These are a shadow of the things to come," Paul said, "but the substance belongs to Christ (Col 2:16-17)." 

The final purpose of the Old Testament Sabbath was rest. Rest was a part of the rhythm of life that God had first demonstrated in the story of creation. God created in six days and on the seventh He rested. There is no doubting that rest is still a very important part of the rhythm of life. But for the Christian, our rest is completely wrapped up in Christ our Savior. Jesus told his followers to come to him and find rest (Mt. 11:28). The Bible also tells us that Christ has prepared the true Sabbath rest for His followers with Him in heaven (Heb 4:9). The Hebrew word for Sabbath is a musical term. A rest in music is just as important as a note. It serves a vital purpose. It stops the pattern and helps prepare for what is to come. In the same way Sabbath rest for Christians serves to pause from the regular pattern of life for a moment, focus on the Creator and Sustainer of us all, and to prepare for what is to come. And just as the rest is an essential part of any great musical composition, so Sabbath rest is an essential part of the rhythm of Christian life.

It is understandable that there are many ideas and opinions about the Sabbath. There are some Christians who still feel obligated to keep the Sabbath in some way and to some degree. Other Christians feel comfortable celebrating the Lord's day and finding rest in Christ throughout the week. Whatever our conviction on this particular matter it is important to keep in mind that Paul identified Sabbath keeping as a matter of conscience for believers (Rom 14:1-12). We should be careful not to violate our conscience. We should be careful not to cast judgment on those whose conscience leads them to a different conviction concerning the Sabbath. 

Scriptures for Reflection:

During your time of study this week prayerfully read through the following passages. Allow them to help give you a fuller understanding of this command and its New Testament implications:

  • Colossians 2:16-17
  • Romans 14:1-12
  • Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Why is Sabbath keeping different for Christians? 
  2. What do I believe about the Sabbath and its application in my life?
  3. What are my responsibilities as a Christian in worship, work, and rest?

How Shall We Then Live?

Recap:

This morning, as we continued our study in Colossians, we looked at Colossians 1:21-23. The passage is a beautifully written summary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul laid this passage out so that it could be easily understood. Verse 21 describes where we once were apart from Christ and the Gospel of grace. Verse 22 paints a picture of where we now stand because of the love of God and the sufficient work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. Verse 23 then reveals what life should look like after the life changing work of the Gospel is applied to our hearts. 

We could outline the passage like this:

  1. Where we once were (21) - Alienated, hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.
  2. Where we now stand (22) - Reconciled to God and in His eyes holy, blameless, and irreproachable.
  3. How we must go on (23) - Continuing in faith and holding fast to the hope of the Gospel.

This passage sets the stage for the rest of Paul's letter to the Colossians. The simple truth is that our lives should be different because of the Gospel. If we truly have heard, understood, believed in, and experienced the life altering work of the Gospel then our lives, the ways in which we respond to trial, our values, etc... ought to look different. Paul's encouragement to us here is that  we live in light of the Gospel. That our faith should be more steadfast. That our hope should be sure. And that our commitment to the Gospel should be unwavering. 

Scriptures for Further Study:

This week, as you continue diving deeper into the word, consider the following verses:

  • Ephesians 2:1-22
  • Galatians 2:15-21
  • Romans 4:13-25

Questions for Review:

As you study this week, prayerfully answer these questions. 

  1. What has God accomplished through Christ? Be specific. List out the specific things God has done for us through Christ's death and resurrection.
  2. When was Christ's work of atonement finished? When was it applied to my life personally? How was it applied to my life?
  3. What are the practical ways that my life should look and be different because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Be specific and list them out.

Hallowed Be Thy Name.

Recap:

Last night our study through Exodus took us to the Third Commandment found in Exodus 20:7. This command deals with God's name and what we do with it. As with each command we have studied, we talked last night about the negative and positive aspects of the command.

Negatively, the Third Commandment prohibits any empty, thoughtless, irreverent, or vain use of God's name. God's name represents God. To dishonor His name is to dishonor Him. To illustrate this we looked at Acts 19:11-20. This is the story of the sons of Sceva. They were using the name of Jesus for their own gain. They were trying to invoke the name of Jesus to perform a magic trick. This is a prime example of dishonoring and misusing God's name. And they endured the consequence (Acts 19:16). 

Positively, the Third Commandment commands us to honor and revere the name of God. God is worthy of all glory and honor. He is the creator and sustainer of all things. His name is worthy of the highest honor and praise. In fact, Jesus, while teaching his disciples how to pray, instructed them to pray that God's name be hallowed. To hallow something means to honor it, to lift it up in high regard. Jesus tells us that we are to hallow the name of God. We looked together at Psalm 29:2, a verse that tells us to ascribe to God the glory due his name and to worship Him in the splendor of His holiness. That should be our deep prayer and desire. We should seek to give to God the glory that He is truly due. 

Scriptures to Study:

This week as you continue your study read and pray through the following verses:

  • Psalm 113
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:12
  • Exodus 3:13-16

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Why is God's name important? What are His names and what do they tell me about God?
  2. What are examples of empty or vain ways of using God's name? Why are these things violations of the 3rd commandment?
  3. What does honoring the name of God look like in the Bible? What did people do or say to honor the name of God?
  4. What are ways that I can hallow (honor) the name of God in my daily life?

Reconciled through Christ.

This past Sunday during our time together we studied Colossians 1:19-22. The passage is a snapshot of the Gospel. We were separated from God because of sin. But while we were alienated from God and continuing in sin and hostility, God, through Christ, reconciled us to himself.

But passages like these lead to lots of questions. And questions are good. Questions cause us to dig deep into the Word of God to find answers. And digging deep into the Word of God to find answers is REALLY good. So what are some of the questions that this passage leads us naturally to ask?

  1. What on earth happened? How did mankind find itself in such a disparaging condition? How is it that we became separated from God? Why do we need reconciliation?

Okay, I realize that is not one question. But they all deal with the same thing. What happened? How did we get here? That is a very important question to ask. That question (and our answer to it) will shape how we view ourselves and the world around us. And to answer that question we don't need a degree in Old Testament. We just need to follow the Cherub, or Cherubim if we are being technical. 

Follow the Cherubim

Cherubim are angelic beings that serve different roles throughout the Scriptures. But there is one place and one specific role in which we always see them. They are guardians of the presence of God. Now, admittedly, saying that God needs a guardian is like saying that a lion needs a bodyguard. But Cherubim are more like the guys in red coats and funky hats that stand at Buckingham Palace. They represent a reality. The guys in funky hats represent your inability to enter the presence of the Queen of England. Cherubim represent something much more troubling. They represent mankind's inability to enter the presence of God. Let's follow the Cherubim for just a moment.

In Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are removed from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, what is placed at the entrance of the garden to guard it? "He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way (Genesis 3:24)." The Garden of Eden was the place of unhindered fellowship and communion with God. Now, because of sin, there was a separation.

Later, in Exodus, when the tabernacle is being constructed, we see the cherubim again. They are affixed to the Mercy Seat, in the Most Holy Place, the new place of God's presence (Exodus 25:19-20). They are also worked into the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:31-35). In both places, they would symbolize that the separation between God and man still existed.

In 2 Chronicles, when the Temple is constructed, the cherubim are only made bigger and more prominent. They are worked into the walls and tapestries, and two massive Cherubim with wingspans of thirty feet are placed in the Most Holy Place over the Mercy Seat (2 Chronicles 3:10-14). These were a constant reminder of the separation that existed between God and man.

This was a separation that we inherited. We inherited a broken relationship and a sinful nature. But we did and could do nothing to repair what was broken. We only made the problem worse. Our sin further drove the wedge between us and God (Isaiah 59:2). The situation was severe. We could not save ourselves. We were alienated, hostile to God. How then could we be reconciled?

Reconciled through Christ

So we have answered the first question: What happened? We followed the Cherubim. We have seen the deep divide that existed between man and God because of sin. But Paul tells us in Colossians that it was through Christ that God reconciled us to himself. So that leads us to the second question:

2. What has Christ done to reconcile us to God?

In order for mankind to be reconciled to God we needed someone capable of going into the presence of God on our behalf. But no ordinary priest would do. We needed someone capable of entering the presence of God once and for all. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as that someone:

"We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever (Hebrews 6:19-20)

But Jesus did not enter behind the curtain with the blood of sacrificial animals. That would have never been enough. If we are to be eternally and truly reconciled we will need something more.

"But when Christ appeared as the high priest of the good things that have come... He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12)."

Jesus was righteous and holy. He was divine. He was worthy of entering behind the curtain on our behalf. But that still doesnt fix our problem. WE need to go behind the curtain, and WE are NOT worthy. But Paul tells us in our passage that Christ reconciled us by his body of flesh in his death (Colossians 1:21). How does this happen?

"We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have such a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22)."

The way back into the presence of God was opened through the substitutionary death of Christ. That is the message of reconcilliation. That is the message of the Gospel. When Christ took his last breath on the cross the curtain in the Temple, the curtain covered in Cherubim, the curtain that for years had symbolized the separation between God and man, was torn in two from top to bottom.

Christ's work of reconciliation was and will forever be sufficient and complete. No other sacrifice, no other work will ever be needed to reconcile God to His people. 

In the words of the great hymn by Philip Bliss, 

Guilty, vile, and helpless we,
Perfect son of God was he,
"Full atonement!" can it be?
Hallelujah, What a Savior!

The Issue with Images: Unpacking the Second Commandment

The Bible on Images.

Last Wednesday, during our study through the book of Exodus we spent our time looking at the Second Commandment. We talked about the differences in the first and second commands. The First Commandment commands that we worship the RIGHT God (the only God). The Second Commandment commands that we worship the right God in the RIGHT way. Specifically, God tells us that He does not want to be worshiped or equated with images or things made with human hands. 

God isn't just trying to be difficult here. God is infinite, holy, matchless, omnipotent, and the Bible makes it clear that His ways are above our ways and His thoughts above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). The Creator and Sovereign God of the universe cannot be captured or represented accurately by a finite and inanimate object created by the the hands of sinful man. 

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The prophet Jeremiah spoke about the inescapable differences between created images and the Living God. 

"They cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good."

Paul, in Acts 17, addresses a group of men in Athens. His spirit is troubled because of all the idolatry he sees in Athens. Paul wants these people to see the futility of trying to worship God by using these images, statues, and objects. 

"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth... we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man."

You see, the issue with images is that they inevitably dishonor God. They cannot honor God and so they distract and distort and thus dishonor him. This is why God's anger was kindled against the Israelites at Mount Sinai in Exodus 32. God was not angry because they created a NEW God, but rather, because they were worshiping the TRUE God in a dishonoring way.

Today our images rarely come in the form of a golden calf or a carved shrine. But make no mistake, these images still exist. They are still distracting us from God. They still distort God's character and attributes. They still dishonor Him. And thus we must be careful to recognize their presence in our lives and we must be diligent in removing them.

How do we recognize these images?

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The golden calf was an attempt to worship God in the way other people worshiped false gods. The Israelites had spent a lot of time with the idolatrous Egyptians. They were quickly learning the customs of the Baal worshiping Canaanites. The Israelites had been exposed to many forms of idolatry. They liked that these other religions had physical tangible gods to worship. They wanted to have something physical, something they could see and touch. 

But the true and living God has chosen to reveal himself to His people in WORD, not form (Deuteronomy 4:15-16). As God's people we should not need any physical thing to help us worship God. God's people worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). We do not need a special building to worship God. We do not need any special clothes to worship God. We do not need special songs or instruments to worship God. We do not need a pulpit or an altar or a communion table or a cross on the wall or a portrait of American Jesus in the foyer. These things are not bad in and of themselves, but then again, neither is a statue of a cow. But if we begin to think these things are necessary in order for us to have genuine worship then we begin to violate the Second Commandment. Any object, any image, any man-made thing that we believe is necessary for the true worship of the true God has become an idol that will ultimately distract us from true worship and dishonor the true God. All that is necessary for the worship of God is a believer (or group of believers) indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God and equipped with the Truth of God's Word. 

For Reflection.

Consider these questions this week as you continue to dig deeper into the Second Commandment. I would encourage you to put thought, prayer, and Scripture behind your answers. Make sure that your answers are in line with the truth of the Word of God:

  1. What things do I believe are necessary for worship? Are there things that I cannot worship without? Should these things be so essential to me?
  2. Are there things that keep me from worshiping? Should these things keep me from worshiping? 
  3. How can I practice worshiping in spirit and truth? How can I honor God through my worship? What pleases God in worship.