“We never talk about Sabbath.”
Someone shared this in a Red Letter Challenge group last week and it keeps running through my head. She was right, we don’t talk about it. We don’t educate on it, and we certainly do not hold each other to the Sabbath standard that God intended.
God intended for his people to take a breathe.
The odd thing is that Sabbath is consistently in the Bible, yet we still don’t talk about it.
Is it that we are constantly slaves to ‘busy’?
Maybe that we need permission to slow down?
If you need it, you have it…it’s OKAY. Slow down.
Maybe we get too caught up in that Sabbath must be Sunday? Or that Sabbath must be a full day?
Whatever the reason may be, there is this story I don’t remember reading before and I have no markings on it in the last three of my Bibles. In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 12, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field of ripe grain. They were pulling the heads of grain off and munching on them, according to the Message version. Then those legalistic Pharisees say to Jesus, “Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!”
Good grief, would those Pharisees ever leave Jesus alone…oh, wait…nope.
The Pharisees had created 613 laws that were to be obeyed on the Sabbath days, and if you did not obey the laws, then technically you could be put to death. In the Pharisee’s response, they were showing how the ‘rules’ they had created gave unrealistic definitions of what ‘work’ was on the Sabbath.
Before we can move forward, let’s educate from the beginning. In Exodus it sheds a bit more light on Sabbath:
“God spoke to Moses: ‘Tell the Israelites, ‘Above all, keep my Sabbaths, the sign between me and you, generation after generation, to keep the knowledge alive that I am the God who makes you holy. Keep the Sabbath; it’s holy to you. Whoever profanes it will most certainly be put to death. Whoever works on it will be excommunicated from the people. There are six days for work but the seventh day is Sabbath, pure rest, holy to God. Anyone who works on the Sabbath will most certainly be put to death. The Israelites will keep the Sabbath, observe Sabbath-keeping down through the generations, as a standing covenant. It’s a fixed sign between me and the Israelites. Yes, because in six days God made the Heavens and the Earth and on the seventh day he stopped and took a long, deep breath.’” [Exodus 31:12-17 MSG]
This gives us a clear picture of how seriously the Israelites took Sabbath, but we still have the Pharisees who continued to add rules and their own definitions on top of what God has actually instructed. Typical Pharisees…also, enter rebel Jesus…
“There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant—‘I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual’—you wouldn’t be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no yes-man to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.” [Matthew 12:6-8 MSG]
I love this translation and that it says ‘I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual.’ But to give it some more flesh, in the NIV translation it is added as a quote from Hoses 6:6 and it reads: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I’m a word nerd, so it is fascinating to me that this word ‘mercy’ is the same Hebrew word ‘mercy’ used in Micah 6:8 and Zechariah 7:9, among other places. Typically, it translates to ‘loving kindness’ with some veins into a covenant love and covenant relationship.
While Sabbath day is clearly important, we also have Jesus saying that loving kindness is more important than man made rules that the Pharisees were trying to manipulate to incriminate Jesus.
The same story of Jesus in the disciples is also in Mark 2 with an additional response: Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” [Mark 2:27-28 NIV]
If sabbath was made for man, what are our real priorities, and what are we willing to do in order to create space to take a breathe?
Start with a half of a day, and if that is not realistic, start with an hour. You must start somewhere.
Many years ago, I had someone tell me that if I didn’t start creating space for Sabbath, I was going to burn out in ministry and then what would I have to offer anyone. For a lot of years, my Sabbath was Thursdays and now I try to hold that space on Fridays. It doesn’t mean it always works, but most weeks I am able to keep Sabbath. I’m only slightly sheepish in saying that my Sabbath days involve sleeping in and a decent amount of laying on a couch. This is partly, because I want to schedule myself and have things to do, but I have to be intentional about trying to not do that on my Sabbath days. So at least I can definitely say that I take a breathe.
If the God who created the entire universe, us included, declared Sabbath day to be so important that if you did not keep it, you could be put to death…
If the God who created the entire universe declared a holy day for his people…
If the God who created the entire universe declared a day for his people to breathe…
If the God who created the entire universe declares it as a covenant between he and his people…
…it is probably something we should be talking about and paying more attention to around us. Keep speaking out Sabbath, friends. Maybe the more we repeat it to each other, the more we start believing in the importance of it.