Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thoughts on the Sabbath

My good friend David Robertson (who is also our lead translator at Highlands) sent me these thoughts on my sermon on Luke 6.1-5). They are so insightful, I thought I'd share them with everyone.

"Jesus has just, in the previous chapter, shocked the crowd and appalled the Pharisees by telling them he has the authority to forgive sins. He makes lots of other statements about himself in the gospels that would actually be blasphemous if they weren't true (cf. G. K. Chesterton & C. S. Lewis' "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord" trichotomy). Statements like, "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8). I had thought of at least one other example, but it slips my weary mind.

The Sabbath, as you mentioned in your sermon, is a creation ordinance. It is also in the Ten Commandments. For Jesus to call himself Lord of the Sabbath is thus a claim of authority both as creator and as law giver. He is showing that he, under the authority of his Father, has the final authority to interpret and apply God's law. Jesus, in his preincarnate state, was actively involved in creation (Col.1). It stands to reason that Jesus himself rested on the 7th day after his intimate and unique involvement in the creation of the cosmos in which I write this email to you. When we rest on the Sabbath day, we are merely imitating God in flawed obedience. For Jesus in the flesh, keeping the Sabbath was not only perfectly obedient submission to God's law, but in a sense a manifestation of his divine nature that is inherently his that we can only feebly imitate. Telling Jesus how to keep the Sabbath was thus utterly ludicrous! It would be like telling your wife to look more like herself when what you mean is to look more like what you remember her portrait looking like the last time you looked at it. Not only would it be like telling Mozart how to write a symphony, it would be like telling Mozart how to write a symphony in the distinctive style of Mozart.

As for the Ten Commandments, when Jesus says he is Lord of the Sabbath, it is like saying he is Lord of Marital Faithfulness or Lord of Honesty or Lord of Loving Your Neighbor. And he is all of those things and more. This is why I think the main point of Luke 6:1-5 is to reveal something about who Jesus is and what kind of authority he has. I think the passage also points to his incarnation and his perfect obedience to the law for our salvation. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus radically reinterpreted for us the meaning of the commandments, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and "Thou shalt not kill," not to mention "Love your neighbor as yourself." I think here is is doing the same with the Sabbath. Not a jot or tittle has fallen away from it, but it is being radically reframed for us. The gospels, also, as in the verses immediately following, show us how Jesus beautifully and perfectly modeled for us what it means to keep the Sabbath, just as his whole life perfectly modeled the whole of the moral law for us. Thus he perfectly wedded word and deed in his life.

Thank you for the sermon! It was helpful and challenging to me. I particularly appreciate the reference from Matt. 24 because I had never stopped and thought about it, and it seems to me to be the most explicit scriptural proof that the Sabbath still applies to us today.

Another thought I'm having: since the Sabbath, as you have mentioned, was unique to the Jews (unlike any other of the Ten Commandments except maybe the 2nd), and was a point of sacred honor for them, maybe Jesus' observance of the Sabbath, teaching on the Sabbath, and teaching about himself with reference to the Sabbath say something about the new covenant and the extension of the blessing of the Sabbath to the nations."

Well said!

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