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The Sabbath and Discipleship

In the midst of our busy and materialistic modern world, the proper teaching and continual practice of the biblical Sabbath has the potential of becoming one of the most powerful tools for discipling people today. Through both the past and future elements of remembering the day as a time of creation, redemption and release, the Sabbath not only frees us from the world of care, but heals and sanctifies all who come within its sphere of influence.
The New Testament Sabbath

Luke 4:16-22 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In the widespread search for meaning which has become an incessant quest for the individuals in our society, the very heart of modern man’s existence needs to be infused with a wholly objective and deeply subjective encounter with the Creator and Redeemer of the world. Although a generic “sabbath” walk in the woods might be a start for over-wrought secular people, the potential of the Sabbath to inform and motivate our communion with God, our community with one another and our service to others is beyond estimate.

The very heart and center of the divine influence of the Sabbath is supremely focused on the past, present and future creative and redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ. As such, the weekly Sabbath from the very beginning had very deep incarnational and Christological overtones which were further affirmed that day in the synagogue at Nazareth and continued through the ministry of Jesus and Paul.

As Jesus attempted to show his family in Nazareth the full consciousness of a definitive holy and redemptive time is absolutely essential for the ongoing healing and discipline of the spiritual life. In the divinely ordained weekly rhythm of resting and working, the Sabbath not only brings us a much needed rest from our labors but more importantly helps to reshape and redirect the meaning of the very work itself. It is only through a connection with the Creator can the things of creation take their proper place and use.

The Old Testament Sabbath

Genesis 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

It should not be overlooked that the creation week clearly teaches that Adam and Eve’s first day of existence was not spent working but resting in God’s completed work. In our modern society, which has clearly placed productivity over relationships, doing over being, the weekly Sabbath has the potential of reminding us that life was not made to be devoted to the material but the spiritual and relational. The Sabbath teaches that humankind was not made to consume things but made for communion with God and community with one another.

Within the context of the emerging post-modern reality where personal subjective meaning has far more influence than absolute objective truth, people must be encouraged and led to “taste” the Sabbath in order to see its goodness. Those interested in taking advantage of the Sabbath day to disciple people need to first construct simple guidelines to instruct individuals and families on how to usher in and nurture the reality of God’s presence through the word, prayer and worship. Whatever can be done to enrich the communion with God on the Sabbath will not only pay rich dividends for that day but tend to shape the devotional exercises during the week as well.

Next, it is absolutely essential that the community aspect of Christian living be emphasized during the Sabbath through participation in small groups, attendance at corporate worship, sharing a common meal and being with other believers in a variety of ways. Church attendance and small group participation on the Sabbath should not be seen as a duty to be fulfilled but a most essential element in the spiritual and social formation of our Christian characters.

Missional Aspect of the Sabbath

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Lastly, the missional aspect of the Sabbath, the extending of the rest to all those within our gates needs to be recognized and practiced. The Sabbath was not made for self-indulgent spiritual exercises but was created and empowered to bring release to the poor, the oppressed and the heavy burdened. This is especially brought out in the regiving of the Sabbath commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 which reminds Israel that just as they had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt they are to extend the blessings of redemption to others including animals and aliens.

Modern believers need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who used the Sabbath to teach and especially heal those on the margins of the society through His creative word and gentle touch.

Just as Jesus arose on that fateful Sabbath day in his hometown of Nazareth to announce the prophetic fulfillment of His Messianic presence and ministry, He arises today in the world He created and called home for thirty years. He comes willing to impart His Spirit as the balm of Gilead to heal our wounds and strengthen our steps. He comes to sharpen the images of remembrance of both past and future jubilary release. He comes to release His disciples for mission in contemporary North America.