The Sabbath and The Sacrifice

This is the final post in our series on “The Sabbath.”  In the preceding posts, we’ve traced the Sabbath from it’s beginning in God’s creation rest, through it’s inclusion in the Mosaic Covenant God made with Israel to remind them continually of their rescue from Egyptian slavery and their singular privilege as God’s people, through their dismal record of disobedience to it, ending with the Lord Jesus’ absolute honoring of it.  This, however, as we saw in the 12 incidents that the Gospels record, wasn’t in accord with what the religious leaders taught, but according to His own deity and authority.  Since the Lord ministered for more than three years, these 12 occurrences are just a drop in the bucket compared to what must have happened dozens of time, indeed, probably every Sabbath.

There are those who stop right there and say, “All right.  Since the Lord kept the Sabbath, we have to keep it as well.”  However, Scripture doesn’t end with the Crucifixion or even the Resurrection.  Luke refers to all that Jesus began to do and teach, Acts 1:1.  Though absent physically from His people, He is still active through the Spirit in His people.  However, this activity is in agreement with the Word of God as it was revealed to and through the first two generations of the church.  There is no new revelation, nor has there been since the giving of the last book of the New Testament, the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

So what does the rest of the New Testament have to say about the Sabbath?  You might be surprised.

There are 109 references to the Sabbath, by name, in the Old Testament.  There are 50 references in the Gospels.  That’s 159 references total.

In the rest of the New Testament, starting with the Book of Acts, there are –

10….

Ten.

Nine of those are in Acts.

Acts 1:12 tells of the disciples returning to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, where the Lord Jesus had just left them, returning to heaven, but giving them  their last instructions before doing so.  The “Sabbath day’s journey” was the distance the Rabbis had decided was the distance someone could travel on the Sabbath without breaking it. Perhaps based on their interpretation of Exodus 16:29 and Numbers 35:5, this was said to be 2000 cubits, or 3000 feet, about 3/5 of a mile.

The four references in Acts 13:14, 27, 42, 44 refer to about two weeks of Paul’s ministry in Antioch of Pisidia.  In v. 14, he and his party visited the Synagogue on the Sabbath and were given the opportunity to “exhort” the people, v. 15.  Vs. 16-41 give us Paul’s remarks to the people there, a wonderful summary of Israel’s history, finishing with David and God’s promise of a Savior coming from his line, vs. 23.  Then there’s the application to the Lord Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise, through His crucifying as fulfillment of prophecies read every Sabbath in synagogues, but not understood by those reading or hearing them.  Also promised, Jesus rose from the dead, as witnessed by his disciples, v. 31.  Paul closed with a warning to heed what he was saying.

As a result of his teaching, v. 42, the Gentiles begged to hear more the next Sabbath.  A lot of people followed Paul and Barnabas after the service, and they encouraged these people to continue in the grace of God, v. 43.  The next week, nearly the whole city turned out to hear Paul.  This aroused the enmity of the Jews, and they chased Paul out of the city.

Acts 15:21 is part of the account of the Jerusalem Council given in Acts 15, which convened as a result of opposition to Paul’s teaching by those who insisted that Gentile converts had to be circumcised according to the custom of Moses, without which you cannot be saved, v. 1, and to command them to keep the law of Moses, v. 5.

Peter answered these assertions by pointing out that Gentiles had been saved through his ministry without the necessity of becoming or acting like Jews.  This referred to the salvation of Cornelius, his family and friends, Acts 10.  By the way, Acts 10 also has something to say to those who insist that one can’t be saved without baptism.

Note carefully the decision of the council in Acts 15:24-29.  First, they had never sent out anyone insisting that keeping the Law was necessary for salvation.  What the Holy Spirit and they did want for Gentile converts were that they abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, vs. 28, 29. Not a single reference to keeping the Sabbath for these Gentile believers.

Acts 16:13 tells of Paul’s meeting in Philippi with Lydia and other women.

Acts 17:2 tells us of the three Sabbath Paul spent in a synagogue in Thessalonica, reasoning from the Scriptures, and seeking to persuade them that this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ, that is, the Messiah.  Notice that Paul reasoned FROM the Scriptures.  There a lot of people who try to reason TO the Scriptures, that is, they think that if you can present enough “evidence,” people will receive Christ.  However, the Pharisees had all the “evidence” in the world about the Lord Jesus, but, with very few exceptions, all of them rejected Him.  The same is true of the Sadducees and Herodians, though there is no record of any of these ever being saved.

Acts 18:4 tells us of a man named Aquila, who reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

With the exception of Acts 16:13, these accounts all concern Jews and their required observance of the Sabbath.  But even in Philippi, I think we see Jewish influence because these women gathered together on the Sabbath.  Evidently there was no synagogue, which by Jewish law required ten men to start.

Peter and Paul and the others went to synagogue because they were Jews, yes, but also that they might witness through the prophets the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no evidence anywhere in Scripture that Gentiles were or are required to observe the Sabbath.  Many Gentiles did go to the synagogue because it was through the Jewish nation that one came to God.  However, as soon as opposition arose, the Gentiles and those Jews who believed Paul and the others separated themselves.

We mentioned the Holy Spirit.  Since we believe that the New Testament writings were inspired in their giving by the Holy Spirit, what does He have to say in the rest of the New Testament about the the Sabbath?

In the twenty-two remaining books of the NT, Romans – Revelation, containing about 3,146 verses, there is –

1 verse –

one-

which mentions the Sabbath.  That verse is,

Colossians 2:16, So let no man judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths. 

Not a ringing endorsement of Sabbath-keeping.  Instead of being concerned that these believers weren’t observing the Sabbath, he worries that they were.  This verse is the conclusion of a section in which Paul tells us that Christ supercedes Moses, that it is through His death on the Cross that we’ve been made alive spiritually, not through keeping the rituals and requirements of Moses.  The writer of Hebrews makes the same point.

Hebrews was apparently written to Jews who were being tempted, perhaps by persecution and hardship, to return to their old way of doing things, that is, to the Temple worship and sacrifices.  Hebrews is a book of warning against doing that.  The theme of the book may be summarized by Colossians 1:18, that in all things He might have the preeminence.  In the first three chapters, the writer compares and contrasts the Lord Jesus with the Old Testament prophets, with angels and to Moses and Aaron.  In view of this superiority, the writer warns against “drifting away,” that is, not holding fast to His words, because He is God, but being influenced by the things they were experiencing.  Faithfulness in following the Lord Jesus is the evidence we are truly His, not legalism or formal ritualism.

Then, in 3:7-16, the writer turns to a familiar OT story, the failure of Israel to enter the land and the consequent 38 years wandering in the wilderness.  Because of their rebellion, God said, “They shall not enter My rest.”  See also 4:3.

It might be objected that the writer never refers to the Sabbath as such.  That’s true.  But Israel never achieved the “rest” the Sabbath foreshadowed.  They never achieved the completion, the “success,” if you will, of God’s creation rest.  In the wilderness, in the land, out of the land, returning to the land, being defeated as a nation in AD 70, spending centuries scattered among the nations, being recognized again as a nation in 1948, fighting with her enemies now in 2014 – Israel has never achieved that state of peace and perfection typified in the perfection and completion of creation.  They have never entered that rest.  Indeed, dark, dark days are ahead for her, Zechariah 14:1, 2.

Furthermore, as part of the Mosaic Law, the Sabbath was a only a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, Hebrews 10:1.  Though it was called “a rest,” it was always only temporary;  Israel always had to go “back to work.” They could never “cease” because they were never done.  Though they offered sacrifices for centuries, they never achieved the righteousness which would have allowed them to “be done”.  Redemption was never achieved.

In contrast, the writer speaks of the ONE sacrifice of the Lord Jesus by which sin was purged, 1:3.  No other sacrifice is needed. Sin has been paid for, redemption has been accomplished.  In contrast to Israel, the writer says that we who have believed do enter that rest, 4:3.   There is a rest for the people of God, 4:9.  Hebrews 4:8-10 tells us that our “rest” isn’t found in a day of the week, but in a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 16:9 tells us that Jesus rose early on the first day of the week.  John 20:19, that same first day of the week, Jesus appeared to the eleven as they huddled in fear in a closed room with a locked door.  Acts 20:7 tells us that the disciples came together to break bread, that is, to observe the Lord’s Supper, not just to “fellowship.”  In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul refers to the first day of the week as the time to prepare for a certain offering which was to be taken up.  The disciples met together on Sunday because that is the day the Lord Jesus arose, not because of some church edict.

Beyond these few references, there is no emphasis on a particular day of the week.  I believe that, if necessary, believers could decide to meet together on a Thursday morning at 3 AM and still please God with their worship.  It’s not a DAY, but a DEATH that brings us to God.

Those who worship on the Sabbath in effect say that redemption has still to be accomplished, sin has still to be paid for, God’s justice has still to be satisfied.  But redemption has been accomplished, sin has been paid for, God’s justice has been satisfied.

There is much more that could be said on all the subject we’ve written about in this series.  We hope that what we have written at least gives you something to think about.

He is not here,” said the angel on that first day of the week, “He is risen!”

That’s why we meet on Sunday.

The Sabbath has been realized.

 

 

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