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Knocking off work Friday Night

May 10, 2019

As I was reviewing material for my upcoming gig teaching Pentateuch at our Bible school, I found myself going over materials relating to the Sabbath.

And then I looked up at the calendar, and realized that today is Friday– traditionally, heading into the Sabbath in just a few hours.

What? Oh, that’s right. Some Christians are used to thinking of Sunday as the Sabbath. The church initially shifted its day of worship and gathering to Sunday, not because it was the Sabbath; it was the day after the Sabbath. They shifted to meeting to worship on Sunday (the first day of the week) because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday.

Which was, back then, their Monday, that is, the first day of the week.

Over time, Christians remembered that God told His people in the Old Testament to remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy, and so by not working. God, after all, knocked off work on the Seventh day, after making the heavens and the earth. We ought to, as well. Additionally, it also says that God’s people had been slaves, but now they were not, so they get a day off once a week.

The Jewish people didn’t always keep the Sabbath; God got after them in the Prophets for this. It was a commandment; it was also about whether or not they would honor Him and own their identity that He gave them as His people.

The author of the book of Hebrews also points out that the true rest for God’s people isn’t to be found in knocking off work Friday night, but the true rest for God’s people comes by faith in Jesus– as opposed to having a hard, rebellious heart towards God. By faith in Jesus, and what He did on the cross, we can rest from having to try and be righteous with God by trying to slavishly follow the law. There is quite a lot to be said there, to say the least!

On this Friday, however, this is not my main point.

As I said, originally, the Sabbath was Saturday. By Biblical reckoning, the day was figured as beginning at Sundown– so the Sabbath began Friday evening (still does, for observant Jews, at least) and lasted until Saturday evening. When Christians shifted to thinking of Sunday as the Sabbath, they adopted some of the concerns for keeping the Sabbath that were found in the Old Testament. After the Reformation, several branches of the church really picked up on this tradition. Puritans, for example, had all sorts of things that they said should not be done on the Sabbath, as it is meant to be a holy day. Curiously, they also would say that it was appropriate to be doing God’s work on the Sabbath– just not working on your own behalf. There were all sorts of rules describing what could or could not or should or should not be done on Sunday– which is, itself, kind of a commentary.

Give people enough time, and they can take a gift commandment like “take a day off every week, because I did, and you should; you’re not slaves after all” and they can turn it into a set or list of rules, and regulations, and things that you have to do, and should not do. On the flip side, others end up saying that “Jesus is the fulfillment of all the law, so we don’t have to worry about keeping any of it, anymore– we can ignore it all.” I don’t think it works that way.

The New Testament often calls the people of God to avoid immoral behavior, and points to the fact that the moral imperatives of God’s word are still meant to help define our lives, and right living. So it is that we are– really!– still not supposed to kill, or steal, or bear false witness against each other.

The Sabbath remains a bit of a curiosity, though. On the one hand, the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 says “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Following his train of thought here, the Sabbath in many ways has its fulfillment in Christ giving us rest from the law. Don’t let people stand in judgment over you, based on your keeping or not keeping such religious observances. One might relegate the Sabbath to the same place where we have the rest of the ceremonies and sacrifices in the Old Testament, all no longer required of us to do.

One might do this– but I don’t know that this is entirely helpful.

We all have to continue to look at God’s word, and have the opportunity to respond to it in faith. How we put it into practice– in many ways– remains something between us and God (though there are a lot of obvious lines that we should not cross!) I don’t want to establish a list of rules, or get overly excited over which day of the week we must keep the Sabbath, if we keep it at all. Some people have gotten excited about this; I think that this misses the point, in exactly the same way that coming up with a lot of rules for the Sabbath also misses the point. At the same time, remembering the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments; I don’t know that it can easily just be set aside and completely ignored.

Curiously, modern Jews seem to have caught the spirit of the day rather well. They have things that they do and do not do on the Sabbath, but they are ingrained as custom. For the most part, however, they see keeping the Sabbath as a gift. They say it is a mini-miracle day; God, who created in six days, finished His work and rested. God sets us free from bondage, and we also take a day and rest. We are, for that day, free from being busy, and having to worry about our plans. We are meant to take the day slower, enjoy time with family, as well as to take time for prayer and worship.

I think that there is quite a lot to this. On this Friday, I would encourage that we think about what it would look like if we took God’s words seriously, about taking a day off– desisting from having to try and make life work, or get caught up, or figure out the next thing. Set aside things that make us busy and exhausted (this might just include email and social media, as well!) — take the day slower, and spend it reconnecting with God and our families. This might be done on Saturday. It might be done on Monday. Or Wednesday.

I don’t know that God would send any sort of punishment on us if we continue to ignore this often-ignored command from the Ten Commandments. I don’t know that He would need to– the slavish, unrelenting, unresting pace that we set will probably punish us more than adequately. We run at such a pace, with so few breaks. I don’t think the manufacturer recommends this in the manual.

He calls us to come to Him, that we may have rest for our weary souls. As an act of faith– consider taking Him up on that offer, and taking a day off. You might find you like it; you probably need it. It might just become a weekly habit.