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Entries in New Testament (2)

Tuesday
Apr092019

Jesus: The Lord of the Sabbath

Mark 2:23-28.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 7, 2019.

Historically, many Christians have developed an odd theology concerning what the Bible calls the Sabbath day.  The word Sabbath is a Hebrew word that means rest.  Under the Law of Moses, Israel was commanded not to work on the last day of the week, which for them was sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.

Living in Israel, the first Christians found themselves continuing the Sabbath observance, mostly because it was their culture, yet also celebrating the first day of the week on which Jesus was resurrected.  They called it the Lord’s Day.  By A.D. 70, most Christians had been scattered out of Israel and many Gentiles in other countries had been converted.  They understood from the beginning that they were not under the Law and the necessity to cease work on the Sabbath.  Yet, in some ways Sunday came to replace the Sabbath of the Old Testament, even to the point of being called the Sabbath by many. 

This creates a theologically murky disconnect between what the New Testament is saying and what became the practice of many in the Church.  If we say Sunday has replaced Saturday as the New Sabbath, and true believers will not work on that day, then we are testifying that we are under a law that is similar to that of Israel.  Of course, it is impossible to find a verse in the New Testament that puts believers under such a charge.  In fact, we find quite the opposite.  We find verses which state that the day on which we worship and hold holy is not what is important.

In our passage today, we will see another complaint that the Pharisees had with the disciples of Jesus and how the answer that Jesus gives, teaches us the true meaning the Sabbath was intended to have under both covenants.

Another complaint against the disciples

Our passage opens by telling us that it is the Sabbath, which was a day that Israel would not be working.  Instead, they would go to the Synagogue and then stay at home while focusing upon the worship of God.  It seems most likely that Jesus and his disciples are on their way to the Synagogue, which explains why the Pharisees are there to see what the disciples are doing.

Before we get into the complaint of the Pharisees, we should recognize a pattern that can be seen in Mark 2 and many other places throughout Scripture.  We see the Pharisees complaining to the disciples about Jesus on one hand, and then we see them complaining to Jesus about his disciples on the other.  This is a ploy that the devil loves to employ.  It is really about trying to drive a wedge between Christ and his disciples.  It is safe to say that the weak link in this relationship is us.  This happens all the time in our society today.  May God help us to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of such manipulative questions, which surface in our culture and therefore in our own minds.  We can be assured that Christ will remain faithful to us and not refuse to stand with us, if we will not refuse to stand with him.

The Pharisees see the disciples breaking heads of grain off and eating them as they walk through a field.  They ask Jesus why his disciples are breaking the Sabbath law.  So, are the disciples actually breaking the Sabbath laws?  According to Scripture, we know that they were not stealing.  In their culture it was not considered stealing if a person walking through a field only used their hand to take some food.  It was a command from God that they take care of the poor in this way.  They would have needed to be reaping the field with scythes and packing off bundles for it to be theft.  The issue involves the meaning of the word “work.”  Israel was commanded not to work on the Sabbath.  Over the years, the rabbis had built up a whole tradition around this issue.  What constitutes work had developed a long, intricate, and even head-scratching list of rules.

Jesus knew that his disciples were not working and therefore breaking the Sabbath.  They were only guilty of breaking the rules that the rabbis had built up over the years.  By the way, this does not represent a great meal.  They clearly hadn’t had breakfast and were merely staving off hunger.  They went from feasting in the house of Levi to eating a pittance of small grains in a field.  Sometimes following Jesus doesn’t put a lot of food on the table, but always he will take care of you.

Jesus gives them an answer

Jesus defends his disciples and yet he does it in a way that teaches everyone involved the truth as to why the Pharisees are in error.  He is going to use an example from Scripture that conflicts with their view, and then give the logic behind the Sabbath.

Jesus reminds them of a passage in 1 Samuel 21.  David is one of King Saul’s generals at the time and realizes that Saul is wanting to kill him.  David and some of his men flee town and hide for three days until the dust settles.  He then goes to the tabernacle, which was in the town of Nob at the time.  It had been set up at Shiloh for over 300 years, but the Philistines had recently captured the Ark of the Covenant and destroyed the town where the tabernacle had been.  It is believed that the news of the defeat of Israel’s army had arrived soon enough for the priests to dismantle the tabernacle and remove it before the troops arrived at Shiloh.

In the story David asks the priest to give some bread to him and his men.  However, the priest explains that they only have the holy showbread, and only the priestly families could eat it.  By the way, the showbread refers to the 12 loaves that were made each week.  They would be placed on a table in the tabernacle and remain there until they were replaced a week later.  Once replaced this bread was considered still holy and not to be eaten by a non-priestly family.  It appears that the High Priest then enquires of the Lord and gets permission to let David and his men eat the bread as long as they are ceremonially clean, and they were.  Now, the thing that is amazing about this example is that it qualifies as a real breaking of the commands of the Law of Moses.  Second of all, it seems clear from the passage that God gave His permission for it.

Notice how Jesus sets up the story by saying, “Have you never read…?  Clearly these Pharisees had read the passage, but they hadn’t really taken to heart the ramifications of it.  In fact, their traditions that had been built up over the centuries stood in condemnation of David and this event.  Yet, God did not, who was the one who gave the Law in the first place.  If we are to develop opinions and traditions through our contemplations of the Bible, we must make sure that they account for all of the biblical data and not just some of it.  No matter how satisfying our ideas about Scripture are, they shouldn’t run into logical problems like this one.  If my teaching ends up condemning God Himself then there is something wrong with my teaching, not God.  I am the one who has not understood something critical in the issue.  Now, this doesn’t tell us why it was okay for David to eat the bread, but it does show us that there is something wrong with the way the Pharisees interpret the Law.

The Christian Church today has many different groups that hold to varying teachings that often are at odds with each other.  Sometimes none of the interpretations of a particular issue perfectly fit all of the biblical data.  In such cases, we should hold our interpretations lightly and not use them as a whip against our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

After using the example from Scripture to show the Pharisees that they didn’t completely understand the Law, Jesus gives them the logic behind why David could eat the bread and why his disciples were not even close to breaking the law.  He explains that the Sabbath day, or the day of rest, was given for the benefit of God’s people.  In fact, rest is a large part of the human condition.  If we do not rest 8 hours, plus or minus depending on our age, our bodies quickly begin to fail and shut down.  Yet, we also need rest on longer cycles.  Humans typically worked every day of the week during the days when Israel was coming out of Egypt.  God was promising Israel that if they would refrain from working on the 7th day and worship Him, then He would bless them so that they didn’t lack for doing it.  In fact, He often blessed them to the point they had more than if they worked all the time.  They were not born to honor a particular day for its sake.  The day was created for them so that they could have rest and enjoy their labor with God.  Yes, it was made into a command, due to our human nature.

For example, if I were to tell you that God was now promising to bless everyone who took a one-week staycation each year, would you do it?  Of course, He hasn’t told me this, but you can take my point.  It is easy to say God will bless you, but then as you approach the week, you look at your bank account and start to waffle in your faith.  There is nothing inherently sinful about working on Saturday.  However, once God makes it a command it becomes a moral issue of loyalty to Him. 

God wanted something better for Israel than working seven days a week.  The Sabbath taught them that they didn’t have to rely solely upon their own work.  They could trust God to bless their work to the point that they didn’t have to drive themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually into the dirt in order to get ahead.

Now, Christians are not under the Law of Moses and the command not to work on Saturday.  However, we still need rest, and we still need to learn the lessons of the Sabbath from the Old Testament.  The answer is not to create a new, Christian Law which changes the day to Sunday, but to hear God’s heart for us.  He wants you to be blessed, but He doesn’t want you to kill yourself trying to be blessed.  He doesn’t want you deceiving yourself about the true source of your blessing.  That is a life that is anything but peaceful and filled with rest.  You can work hard, and yet take breaks at appropriate intervals because God is not a slave driver, but our flesh is.

The Pharisees had lost sight of the whole purpose of the Sabbath day.  Just like the purpose of the showbread and the prohibitions upon who could eat it, the prohibitions of the Sabbath were not intended to make things harder and worse for Israel.  These men were hungry and had nothing to eat in both cases.  God is not an uncaring legislator.  These laws were symbolic of spiritual truth and not inherently about a moral issue.  Thus, in times of difficulty, the symbol could be put aside for the sake of God’s people.  Yet, all of this misses the further point, that the disciples were merely picking heads of grain.  The Pharisees have lost the heart of God who was behind the law.

So how should Christians view the Sabbath Day?  The New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament Sabbath is not that it has now been moved to Sunday.  I know that historically this is what it seems like.  Christians should not take Sunday off and worship the Lord because they are commanded to do so.  We could meet on any day of the week that we want.  We could meet on multiple days.  It is just that over the years, Sunday became that day, and for many good reasons.  It is now a part of our culture and the easiest day to have Church gatherings.  We need rest and should take a day off, gather with other believers, and worship the Lord.  However, we should do it because it is good and healthy for us in every way, not because we believe we are staving off the anger of God.

Yet, the Old Testament Sabbath law was pointing to something greater than just a change of the day upon which we rest.  It was about believing in Jesus and resting from the work of trying to save ourselves, trying to measure up through our excellent law-keeping.  Technically, everyday for the Christian is the supposed to be the Sabbath Day because in Christ we have entered into that peaceful place, that rest, which God intends for us in Jesus.  Sure, we continue to work for God, but not in order to be saved and measure up.  We work for Him out of joy, not drudgery and fear of breaking a law.  God wants us to have a spiritual peace in our hearts.  Yet, He doesn’t want us to cast off all restraint and walk away from His Holy Spirit.

Are you resting in Jesus today, and every day?  Has He become your peace and joy?  This is what the Father desires for you.  He wants to bless you as you trust Him each day!

Lord of Sabbath Audio

Tuesday
Aug292017

The City of the Living God

Hebrews 12:18-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 27, 2017.

As we continue through this chapter about the believer’s faith, it may appear that this section is a tangent.  However, it is important to recognize that the unseen, heavenly realities are a critical part of our faith.  We have put our faith in the God of far more glorious things than those of this earth.  The temptation to gravitate towards that which can be seen must be overcome by faith in God.

When early Jews began turning towards Christ and His Church, it left many of them with a sense that they were losing some very awesome and amazing things, at least during the 40 years from the death of Jesus to the destruction of the Temple.  The pomp and circumstance of Jerusalem and its temple, priests and sacrifices had no physical correlation in the Church.  Just as idols tempted early Israelites away from worshipping the Living God (or at least mixing His worship with the surrounding idolatry), so early Christians were tempted to go back into Judaism because of its greater physicality (or, again mixing the two).  The writer of Hebrews, and in fact the Holy Spirit, was encouraging early believers that our faith is based on glorious, spiritual realities that far outshine the Old Covenant established by Moses.  Thus Christians should stand firm against the pull of their flesh back towards the Old Covenant.  We too have a tendency to try and build physical things that become more important to us than those spiritual realities.

Christians have a city, a temple, and a high priest that is spiritual and in the heavens as opposed to the earthly Jerusalem.  This does not mean that the earthly Jerusalem is no longer important to Christians.  Prophecy tells us that much is still to take place at that place on this globe that is important to God.  So let’s look at this comparison between the Old Testament (or covenant) of the Law and the New Testament of the Gospel.

The Old Covenant through Moses

In verses 18-21 we are reminded just what the covenant of Moses entailed.  As mentioned earlier, the terms Old Testament and Old Covenant are synonymous in this context.  Both are a reference to the agreement made between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai.  The Old Covenant was made at a specific place on earth.  Thus he emphasizes that it can be touched, which is indicative of the Old Covenant.  It was full of material things here on earth that could be touched and seen.  For example, when a person sinned they physically took a cow, ram, or dove to the temple and it was killed on a literal altar by a human priest.  Though the problem of sin is ultimately a spiritual problem before a spiritual God, the actions proscribed were mostly physical.

We are also reminded of the terrifying nature of their experience at Mt. Sinai.  This would be a fact that the early Christians could forget because they were 1,400 years after this event.  The biblical passage that underlies this passage is Exodus 19-20.  In this passage we are told that as they approached the mountain it was covered by a dark cloud with thunder and lightning.    Then it says that the LORD descended on the mountain as a fire, which caused smoke to ascend from it like a furnace.  On top of this all, the mountain shook from an earthquake.  As if that wasn’t enough to get their attention, a loud trumpet blast sounded from the mountain and got louder and louder.  Then Moses spoke to the LORD and an audible voice from the mountain commanded Moses to come up the mountain. 

We are also reminded that the people were also threatened with death.  God warned the people that any person or animal that touched the mountain would be put to death.  Thus a barrier was constructed between the people and the mountain.  It is clear that the giving of the Law is purposefully associated with a terrifying fear of the LORD by God Himself under threat of death.  The Law hedged them in on every side pointing out their sins.  If not for God’s mercy they could not have survived this relationship.  Over and over again they broke God’s covenant as a people and as individuals throughout those 1,400+ years.

But, the New Covenant through Jesus

In verses 22-24 he shows them that the New Covenant through Jesus is so much better and more desirable.  In a parallel manner we are shown the better aspects of the New Covenant.  As the old was made on earth, the new was made in heaven.  Yes, Jesus died on earth, but the New Covenant is actually created in heaven.  Hebrews 9 speaks of Jesus ascending into the Heavenly Temple, presenting Himself before God, and purifying the heavenly altar once and for all with His own blood.  This is much of the imagery we see in the Book of the Revelation.  The term Mt. Zion was often used of the earthly area in Jerusalem where the temple was.  However, throughout the prophets it is clear that they also speak of the heavenly temple of God as the higher Mt. Zion.  Thus just as we have an earthly city called Jerusalem with the temple of God or Mt. Zion as the place of God’s throne, so there is a Heavenly Jerusalem with a heavenly Mt. Zion upon which the Heavenly Temple, Throne of God resides.  From there God and His Divine Council govern the affairs of the heavens and the earth.   Again, this is the backdrop for most of the Book of the Revelation.  Though we cannot fly airplanes or rockets to God’s throne room, it is real.  In fact, it is more substantial than the temporary courts of mankind, which pass like the flowers of the field.  Now I understand that it can be terrifying to think of standing before God in heaven, but here we see that the Covenant of Christ bids us to come and join the family of God.  That is why it is called the Gospel, or Good News.  The atmosphere of the New Covenant is this invitation to intimate relationship with our Maker.

We are then told that this heavenly city is full of heavenly beings.  There are an innumerable company of angels (Revelation speaks of myriads of myriads).  Though some of them have fallen with the devil, there are still millions, if not billions, that are faithful to God.  Next we are told that we are a part of the General Assembly.  Some see this as synonymous with the next phrase “Church of the Firstborn.”  However, the General Assembly seems to be everyone, both angels and humans, all the faithful of creation.  The Church of the Firstborn refers only to humans who have been called out of the world to belong to Jesus, who is the Firstborn.  Our names are not registered in an earthly place where the nation could be destroyed and records lost.  Instead our names are registered in heaven where nothing can touch it or destroy it.  It is kept safe by God Himself.  We are also coming to God, who is the Judge of all things.  We are also coming to the spirits of just men made perfect.  This is our destiny.  We too will enter the spirit realm and take our place among the just that have been made perfect.  At this point we are not perfected yet.  But by faith we trust Jesus as the author and finisher/perfecter of our faith.  They are spirits now because they have left their earthly bodies behind, but the Resurrection has not occurred yet.  Eventually we will all have immortal, heavenly bodies.  This reminds us that God is bringing us to a higher order of existence, which is similar to what angels enjoy now.  Imagine being a part of a nation of angels and immortal, perfected men.  Who would want to go back to any earthly nation of this world from that?

One being is left to be mentioned and that is Jesus Himself.  In Jesus the New Covenant has much more precious service than the Old Covenant.  Jesus is the mediator between us and God.  This mediation occurred at the time that the Covenant was created.  This means that Jesus is our High Priest and He serves us in heaven.  This will never change or be handed down to a descendant.  Jesus does not offer multiple sacrifices throughout all of time.  Instead, He offered himself once and for all.  1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.”  This past mediation becomes the foundation for His present intercession on our behalf.  It also mentions the “blood of sprinkling.”  This refers to the sacrifice.  Blood from the sacrifice would be sprinkled upon the altar, thereby removing sin from the individual.  Notice that it says the blood of Jesus speaks of better things than that of Abel’s.  Some have connected this to the blood of Abel’s sacrifice.  This makes sense if you focus upon the sacrificial aspect of the death of Jesus.  However, the passage emphasizes what the blood is saying (Abel’s blood speaks something that is not better and Jesus’ blood speaks something better).  This clearly links to the record in Genesis 4 where God says that Abel’s own blood (shed by Cain) was crying out to God from the ground.  Though we are not told what this blood cries out for, we must compare it to what Jesus cried out when He was dying.  “Father, forgive them.  They do not know what they are doing.”  If the blood of Jesus cries out to the Father to be forgiving then Abel’s blood cries out for something less than forgiveness.  It would seem that Abel’s blood is crying out for justice because God places a curse upon Cain for what he has done.  So what is God’s response to the Blood of Jesus and it’s cry of forgiveness?  His answer is this.  He will forgive anyone who repents of their sins and puts their faith in Jesus.  Have you done this today?  If you have done this, are you tempted to add to the Gospel all manner of visible aspects of the Law to assuage your flesh?  Let us hear the call of Jesus to those who are weary and heavy laden.  Come to Him and find rest.  Repent of your sins today and follow Jesus by faith.  Don’t be tempted to go back under the Law of Moses, but instead, walk with the Spirit of God and live out the righteousness of Christ.  Our destiny is to take our place in the Heavenly Jerusalem among the glorious beings and having a glory of our own.

City of the Living God audio