This is the last mention of the word “Sabbath” in the scripture. I’m going to be honest. I find the Book of Hebrews to be one of the most difficult books in the Bible to understand and apply to our lives. It has been called by some scholars, the riddle or mystery book of the New Testament and I would agree. I find William Barclay’s introduction to this book helpful when he points out that to the writer of Hebrews, religion is all about “access to God.” Read through that lens, the Book of Hebrews is a bit easier to understand. In this passage … the opportunity to enter into a “Sabbath rest” with God is a privilege that many have rejected. It remains our choice. But to embrace and enter that rest is a choice we make. That seems a pretty good place to end our study of what the Bible says about Sabbath. Resting in the company of God is a command, it’s a privilege, it’s a gift and finally — it is our choice.
Thought for the Day: Sabbath rest is a privilege.
Prayer: I know, Oh God, that your motivation is always love. When you ask us to do something, it is for our own good and blessing. May I be obedient so that I might obtain the full blessing of Sabbath and enter into rest with you. Amen
Hebrews 4:9-11 9 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.
Acts 17:1-5, Acts 18:4
Paul and Silas take their message to the people. Knowing Jews will gather in the synagogue, that’s where they go on the Sabbath. And they begin to talk about Jesus, to tell the story of what God was doing through Jesus and how. This happens three Sabbaths in a row. Obviously some folks were very interested. But Paul and Silas begin to encounter the same kind of resistance Jesus met. The authorities begin to cause trouble. It’s just so hard, isn’t it, to believe that God might actually be doing something new? It’s easy to criticize the religious leaders of that day but truth be told, we have the same problem. We are so much more comfortable when God just stays in a box of our making. But think about it —- Wouldn’t it be great if we gathered for worship expecting to hear of something new and wonderful God was doing? What if every time we met as a community of faith, we were changed in some new and wonderful way? It could happen. I think it could. What do you think?
Thought for the Day: God is always doing something new.
Prayer: O Lord, some days I’m the folks who hear of what new things you are doing and I am excited and changed. Some days I am the ones who resist the idea. Open my eyes that I might see! Amen
Acts 17:1-5 17 After Paul and Silas[a] had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah[b] to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah,[c] Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.” 4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. …
Acts 18:4 Every Sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks
Text: Acts 16:13
Paul has gone to Europe. And his commitment to the Sabbath leads to the establishment of the very first church in Europe. Isn’t that great? Being strangers to the community and not knowing where to begin, Paul and his companions begin by keeping the Sabbath. Without a synagogue to attend, they decide to go to a place by the river that they somehow know (perhaps they’ve asked around?) is a place of prayer. There they meet a group of women and most importantly, they meet Lydia. It is her home that becomes the first Christian church in Europe. You know, many believers feel that attendance at worship and the observance of the Sabbath is optional. In the writings for this blog, we’ve uncovered a host of reasons why Sabbath Keeping should never be considered optional. There are far too many blessings to be found in keeping the Sabbath. Here’s one more. When believers come together to rest in the company of God, great things can happen. Because of their commitment to stopping and being with God and other believers, Lydia met Paul, Paul met Lydia and the Church came to Europe. I believe God is still using Sabbath Keeping to accomplish his purposes. Maybe even through you. Maybe even through me.
Thought for the Day: Great things can happen for God when His people come together.
Prayer: Lord forgive me when I have considered gathering with other believers to be optional. Remind me of the strength I can find in the presence of others and the way you choose to work through unity and community.
Acts 16:13-15, 11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district[c] of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
40 After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters[g]there, they departed.
Text: Acts 15:21
This verse is part of James’ (brother of Jesus and leader of the early church) speech concerning the place of Gentiles in the Christian movement. He was speaking to leaders at what is known as the Jerusalem Council and his comments carry the day. It is confusing, though, to understand exactly what this verse has to do with what goes before or what comes after. I don’t have an answer for that but I do think there is a truth here we can understand and claim. Moses has been read aloud every Sabbath in the synagogues for generations. In other words the tradition has a life of its own. We would do well to remember that truth. People have been gathering to worship, to praise AND to hear the word of the Lord for generations. That is no small thing. Sometimes when I sit in church and sing The Old Rugged Cross or How Great Thou Art, I think about my grandmother. Mama Julie was a founding member of her little Inman Mills Methodist Church. She loved those hymns. When I hear them, I think of her, about the countless times she sang the same songs, heard the same word read and I — well I feel stronger. Sometimes when we sing This is My Prayer, I think about my friends and parishioners in England. We sang that song in worship together, celebrating the unity of the church across all national borders. When I sing it now and think of them I — well I feel stronger. We do not praise, sing, and hear the word in isolation. Countless before us and countless after us have done and will do the same. That’s tradition. And it’s one more reason to be thankful for the Sabbath — for rest in the company of God can also be rest in the company of His people.
Thought for the Day: We can find strength in the tradition.
Prayer: Thank you God for the faithful who have gone before and for the faithful who will come after. Your word binds us across all divisions. Amen
Acts 15:21 For in every city for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every Sabbath in the synagogues.
Acts 13:13-15 and following
The great missionary, Paul, sets out to win the world to Christ. It’s interesting, that as Paul and his companions travel, they go first to synagogues on the Sabbath. In other words, they go where the people are. When asked to speak, Paul rises and gives a wonderful summary of how Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises made throughout the tradition. We preachers could learn a great deal from the way Paul preaches. Having gone to where the people are physically, he begins his message at that point where the people are spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Then … he moves them step-by-step to where he wants them to be — open to what God is doing through Jesus. And they are! They ask him to return the next Sabbath and tell them more. Isn’t that what every preacher longs for? To finish one sermon and have the listeners asking for more? All of us can learn a great deal from the way Paul and his partners shared the good news of Jesus. They left the places that were comfortable and familiar to them (our homes, our neighborhoods, our churches) and went to where the people were. Then they affirmed the people, acknowledged where they were spiritually and invited them to consider the possibility that God might be doing something new. That pretty much describes what every Christian should be doing. Even you and even me.
Thought for the Day: The Gospel is meant for all people.
Prayer: Oh Lord, give me the courage and commitment to leave my familiar and comfortable places to reach others with your good news. Amen
Acts 13:13-1513 Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.”
Text: Acts 1:12
Let me give you a little context. The resurrected Lord Jesus has just appeared to his followers at Mount Olivet. He tells them to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit empowers them. This verse then describes the return to the city. It was a “Sabbath day’s journey.” I wasn’t sure how long that was so I looked it up. The law allowed a person to travel 2000 cubits on the Sabbath — less than ½ a mile. Of course most people would be traveling on foot in that day so ½ a mile would have seemed like a longer distance than it does today. Still, the whole idea of limiting travel on the day set aside to “rest in the company of God” is interesting. When I begin to apply this to my own experience of Sabbath, I discover I have to worry more about the way my mind travels than the way my body travels. If we truly want to claim all the benefits of “rest in the company of God”, we probably need to limit the distance we “travel” in a variety of ways. We need to do what we can to “stay close” to God to fully experience the value of Sabbath keeping. Maybe we need to stay away from internet and TV. Maybe we need to put the cell phone away. Maybe we need to return to an old fashioned book — even a Bible we can hold in our hands. Maybe we need to claim a little time on our own. All of these would be ways to limit our distance and also sharpen our focus so that we might truly “rest in the company of God” and — stay close.
Thought for the day: Many things can take my focus away from God.
Prayer: Oh Lord, forgive me for my failure to truly focus upon you in those times I claim as Sabbath. Help me to limit the distance I “travel” away from you when we are together, so that I can claim the full blessing of being in your presence. AMEN
Acts 1:12 Then thy returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.
Text: John 19:31-37
There is great irony here. John tells us that the Romans act to protect the solemnity of the Sabbath. The Jews do not want bodies hanging on the cross during the Sabbath so they ask Pilate to break the legs of Jesus and the thieves. Pilate agrees. (Jesus is already dead so his legs are spared.) Here’s the irony. The “Enemy” is protecting the Sabbath. I fear that happens more than we realize. Institutions and individuals regularly act in ways to “protect” the church, the Sabbath, Prayer but their motives are not always so clear. We should always look behind the actions to the motive. Maybe more worrisome is when those inside the church do the same thing. The Sabbath is, for Christians, so much more than a day. It is “rest in the company of God.” Let’s be sure that when that is being protected — it’s for right reason.
Thought for the Day: Sometimes “the enemy” does the right thing for the wrong reason.
Prayer: Oh Lord, help me to examine my motives before I act. AMEN
31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows[g] that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”